Chinese raids hit North Korean defectors' 'Underground Railroad'

A decade after leaving her family behind to flee North Korea, the defector was overwhelmed with excitement when she spoke to her 22-year-old son on the phone for the first time in May after he too escaped into China.
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Michael Che to star in HBO Max sketch comedy series from Lorne Michaels
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De Blasio doubles down on NYPD disbanding anti-crime unit despite violent weekend
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With one twist, RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars became a lot more compelling and a lot like Survivor
Alexis Mateo, center, was the queen pulled into the show’s biggest drama so far. | VH1 A chaos agent got the queens on Drag Race: All Stars to stop playing nice and start getting real. One Good Thing is Vox’s recommendations feature. In each edition, find one more thing from the world of culture that we highly recommend. The best sport airing on television right now is not what most would think of as a sport. Instead, it’s VH1’s campiest reality competition show, RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars. The queens of Drag Race bring their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent week in and week out. Like starathletes, drag queens have their strengths and weaknesses. Some queens are better at giving us looks, others are better at being funny, and a few excel in pageantry or dance. Determining the best of the bunch means looking for a queen who’s excellent in their specialty and the other elements of drag performance. Drag Race has always emphasized the importance of being an all-around skilled performer, but the All Stars installments of the series feature only the best of the best (well, the best of the best of any drag queen willing to give herself up to the wolves of reality TV for a second round, that is). As the queens out-funny, out-fashion, and even out-sing each other, the real winners are the viewers at home. The result is something so joyous, so silly, and sometimes even inspiring. And with a new twist, this season now has some dastardly drama. The rules of Drag Race have changed (again) After 11 years on the air and multiple iterations, the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise is an undeniable force of mainstream pop culture. Host RuPaul’s catchphrases “Shantay, you stay” and “Sashay away” are as recognizably quotable as those from any other reality TV phenomenon — right up there with Survivor’s “the tribe has spoken” and Top Chef’s “please pack your knives and go.” Ru usually drops one of these lines at the end of the show’s elimination round, where two low-scoring queens face off in a lip-sync battle. The losing queen must “sashay away”; the winner is granted the comforting “Shantay, you stay,” and moves on to the next episode. But for Drag Race: All Stars’ past four seasons, these elimination rounds have transformed into ones less conventional and more strategic — and, best of all, way more dramatic. This time, for the All Stars edition’s fifth season, the powers that be changed the format again: Queens are now allowed to vote each other out. Once Ru names the week’s worst entertainers after a main competition, the remaining safe queens have to vote for which contestant they want to see go home. There is no limit to the number of queens Ru can choose to face elimination, which is already one big difference from the standard show. A more meaningful change is that the week’s single top performer can override these votes and send whoever they want packing. But in order to kick out a contestant of their choice, the challenge winner needs to defeat a “lip-sync assassin” — not a literal killer of drag queens, but a former Drag Race contestant from a previous season who is best known for being proficient at lip-syncs. Facing one of these assassins is its own extra challenge, though, so a more compelling option is for contestants to try wooing each other into voting out the same person. These new elimination rules open the door for gamesmanship and subterfuge as the queens can conspire against one another in ways more conniving than we’ve ever seen on a Drag Race series. Since no one on the chopping block knows who exactly voted against them in the moment, it keeps them all on their toes about whom they can trust. A possible scenario: A frontrunner who’s having a bad week could get suddenly ousted by other queens who can manipulate the game by rallying a vote. And the frontrunners are clear in All Stars season five, with mega-talented Shea Couleé and hilarious Jujubee as the true competition. They’re leagues better than their competitors, and if this were any other reality show, they’d be voted out by the other contestants as soon as they got a chance, for being the biggest threats. Yet no one’staken advantage of this option. Everyone’s been playing nice. Until last week. Drag Race: All Stars’ twist shocked fans with a midseason revelation The current season of Drag Race: All Stars has been a two-horse race almost from the beginning. Shea Couleé and Jujubee have consistently been the highlight of every episode by stunning on the runway and dominating in challenges. Jujubee is effortlessly funny, a clutch skill since the show is mostly based around challenges that involve making an audience laugh. Shea’s strengths, meanwhile, are more about her looks, ingenuity, and show-stopping performances. When another queen manages to win a challenge, it almost seems as though the producers threw them a bone, simply to break up the monotony of every episode ending with a win for Shea or Jujubee. The most the other queens can seem to hope for, though, is coming in third place. Prior to the show’s July 3 episode, queens Alexis Mateo and Miz Cracker were fighting for the honor of being the best performer not named Shea or Jujubee. And below Mateo and Cracker, India Ferrah and Blair St. Clair floated safely along to the top six. And then the status quo changed dramatically. Ferrah is a queen whose most famous moment was a controversial lip-sync performance with another memorable contestant, Mimi Imfurst, during her original season of drag race: For most of this season of All Stars, Ferrah hasn’t really proven why she’s anything more than “the one drag queen that got hoisted into the air by another, much larger drag queen.” After another dismal performance in a challenge, Ferrah was placed in the bottom. RuPaul revealed that along with Ferrah, every queen (except for the challenge winner, Shea, to no one’s surprise) was up for elimination. Seemingly seeing the guillotine on the horizon, Ferrah immediately pulled Shea aside to plead her case. Ferrah told Shea that there was a traitor in Shea’s midst: Mateo and a since-eliminated queen had campaigned to vote Shea out during Shea’s single appearance in the bottom this season, back in episode three. Though the viewers know that Mateo voted for Shea in that episode, Mateo denied campaigning to kick Shea out — though she did not deny voting for Shea, either. The revelation called everything we knew about the game into question. Up until this game-changing episode, the queens had been playing fair and voting off the person with the worst track record. Was Ferrah lying about Mateo’s campaign to ax Shea? If so, then why did Mateo vote for Shea in that episode and not one of the two other queens in the bottom? Did Mateo try to get the other queens to join her in her crusade against Shea? Then why didn’t the other queens say so before? And if Mateo did campaign against Shea, then why didn’t the producers even catch it on camera — every single interaction of the show is filmed, enough for an after-show called Untucked that shows the behind-the-scenes footage of the episode. All the producers apparently have to show for this allegation is Ferrah’s word. Jujubee brought up a salient point: “If India [Ferrah] is lying, she would have been a better actor, which means she would have been better at Snatch Game,” RuPaul’s celebrity impersonation challenge. That noted terrible actor Ferrah sounded so sincere when revealing Mateo’s sabotage is almost enough to convince everyone she was telling Shea the truth. After this revelation of Mateo’s possible crusade against her, Shea was left to choose between sending home one of two queens: supposed ally Ferrah or supposed traitor Mateo. And in the end, Shea chose to send Ferrah home, despite Ferrah’s best efforts to gain Shea’s trust. Her claims against Mateo weren’t enough to save her. Ferrah’s scorched earth tactic changed how Mateo will have to play the game going forward, as the other queens now wonder if anyone can or should trust Mateo. What had started out as a competition built on good-faith decisions, where people based eliminations on contestants’ overall success during the show, turned into something more along the lines of Survivor — a game where no one knows whom to believe. Every queen suddenly learned they have to look out for themselves and no one else. And Ferrah, though underwhelming as a performer, gave All Stars something no other queens could as her parting gift. She single-handedly changed the show int the best kind of sport: one with a bolt of edge and drama and some possible backstabbing. RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars airs Fridays at 8 pm on VH1. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Roger Stone Can Be Tried, Again
Donald Trump’s commutation of his friend Roger Stone’s criminal sentence is one of the most severe affronts to the rule of law during the Trump administration—and that’s really saying something. Fortunately, it’s not indelible. A future Justice Department could indict Stone once again. And this fact highlights that on the ballot in 2020 is not just a forward-looking end to Trump’s corruption and lawlessness, but also a reversal of some of his administration’s worst excesses.Hours before the commutation, Stone said in an interview that he thought Trump would help him because the president “knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.” Stone thought that his silence would buy a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card from his friend. But, like everyone else who’s dealt with Trump, Stone got a raw deal.[David Frum: Stone walks free in one of the greatest scandals in history]Sure, Trump helped Stone by invoking his extraordinary constitutional powers to relieve Stone of the consequences of his 2019 conviction for lying to investigators, obstructing a congressional inquiry, and witness tampering. But Trump, characteristically, did as little as possible: He commuted Stone’s sentence but didn’t pardon him. That means—as Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote on Saturday—that Stone “remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.” A commutation does nothing to erase or even call into question a convicted defendant’s guilt.A future Justice Department would be well within its rights to open a new investigation into Stone’s activities. Such an investigation wouldn’t be hard: The very facts the jury found sufficient to convict Stone suggest that he may be guilty of other criminal offenses. For example, Stone was charged with (and convicted of) making false statements under the general false-statements law. That law criminalizes false statements when made in the context of any “matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch.” But another law specifically criminalizes “cover[ing] up … any record” to impede a federal investigation. It appears Stone did just that, as his indictment alleges that he lied about no longer having emails and text messages that he did still possess. That could be the basis for a new charge—and it certainly provides a basis for a reopened investigation. Stone’s claims might also violate the federal perjury statute, which punishes making a false statement under oath.Likewise, Stone was charged with (and convicted of) obstruction of Congress under a federal law. That behavior likely runs afoul of other federal laws, such as the omnibus obstruction-of-justice provision.There’s more. Mueller brought charges against Russian intelligence officials for their hacking of the Democratic National Committee and for conspiring with WikiLeaks to release the hacked emails. Recent litigation has revealed some previously redacted sections of Mueller’s final report. Those passages that the former Trump-campaign chair Paul Manafort told Mueller that Stone knew of the WikiLeaks releases before they happened and, strikingly, that Stone told Trump about those releases before they happened. Put that together, and Stone could be charged with aiding and abetting the hack-and-dump that was the cornerstone of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Again, the point isn’t that Stone necessarily could be charged—it’s that there’s enough evidence to reopen an investigation into him, and that he’s far from being in the clear.[Read: Trump’s most brazen reprieve yet]Ordinarily, protections against double jeopardy forbid trying someone for the same crimes twice. But the crimes above have different elements from the ones Stone was convicted of, so they are not the same—and being forced to prove different facts to establish different elements of a crime is, in general, a key indication that prosecutors are not running into constitutional double-jeopardy concerns. Moreover, one can imagine that a future Justice Department investigation would uncover more facts not available previously due to the Trump administration’s attempts to cover up what happened—after all, the entire second half of Mueller’s report described the administration’s attempts to impede Mueller’s investigation.And it appears that Stone, by dint of his alliance with Trump, never faced true jeopardy. Instead, from what Stone said on Friday, it looks more like Stone wielded his dirt on Trump as a mechanism to secure the commutation. If so, that raises the possibility that Stone’s journey through the criminal-justice process was a bit of a show, even a facade. If he had Trump’s assurances all along, he was really never in jeopardy. And, at least logically, there can be no double jeopardy without a first jeopardy—another argument prosecutors could make in court when bringing new charges.Finally, the commutation itself may be null and void if Trump carried it out to protect himself. As Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who presided over Stone’s trial, said, Stone “was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.” If the commutation itself was the product of nefarious activity, a future Justice Department may well conclude that Stone shouldn’t benefit from it.The law of double jeopardy is notoriously unclear. Had Stone been pardoned, judges might have been reluctant to allow new but related criminal charges, much as judges are more inclined to find double-jeopardy concerns when new charges are brought against someone who has been acquitted. But a commutation “condones” nothing: It eradicates nothing of the guilt found by the jury. It may be the president’s prerogative, appalling as it is, but it’s not an elimination of Stone’s guilt. There’s simply no reason for the commutation to pose an obstacle to future investigation and prosecution.Indeed, Stone’s conviction and commutation may supercharge another avenue: state prosecutions. The same facts that led to Stone’s conviction suggest possible local charges in Washington, D.C.; New York; and Florida, as each appears to be a place where Stone committed his crimes or caused his crimes to be committed. None of this has to wait until integrity is restored to the Justice Department; those investigations can begin now.[Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: How to corrupt the Justice Department]To be sure, none of this is how prosecutors go about their business in ordinary cases, but there’s nothing ordinary here. The president has commuted the sentence of a key witness against him, apparently to reward Stone for his silence. The majesty of the law is that it is supple enough to provide a remedy for this grave action.Like many other times when Trump has shortchanged those he cuts deals with, Trump hasn’t actually protected Stone from further prosecution. If Stone wants to earn the finality he so obviously craves, he should try the same approach used by other convicted criminals: Come clean, and tell prosecutors what they want to know about the crimes in which he was involved.
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