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‘Another Arrow in Our Quiver’: Indigenous Voters Rally Ahead of Canadian Election

VICE News - 5 hours 24 min ago

From coast to coast, water walks and pipeline tensions have heated up an already sticky summer election season in Canada. With rampant boil water advisories, missing and murdered indigenous women and the Truth and Reconciliation commission grabbing headlines this year, Aboriginal issues are top of mind for voters and parties alike on the campaign trail.

And grassroots organizers are hoping those issues will motivate indigenous electors to get out and vote like never before. Across social media platforms, First Nations chiefs, average Canadians and even the recently crowned Mrs. Universe, who is from Alberta's Enoch Cree Nation, are ramping up their calls to bring out the indigenous vote in Canada's fall federal election on Oct. 19. The question is: Will they work?

Some efforts, including Indigenous Rock the Vote Facebook groups, are non-partisan, while others, like Mrs. Universe Ashley Callingbull's tweet encouraging First Nations electors to kick Prime Minister Stephen Harper out of office, have been more targeted.

Meanwhile, Elections Canada, the federal agency charged with overseeing the voting process, has earmarked $1 million to help Aboriginal people navigate new ID rules, and the Assembly of First Nations has targeted 51 ridings — out of a total of 308 — with AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde saying indigenous voters could make the difference between a minority and majority government.

But the demographic has been historically absent in federal elections, and with Aboriginal electors having understandably conflicted ideas about participating in Canadian politics, it's unclear whether mobilization efforts will actually work.

Already, though, the rallying calls seem to have made an impact on the three main contenders for prime minister, who are falling over each other to pander to the demographic.

The Liberals recently promised to invest $2.6 billion in First Nations education, and promised to implement all 94 recommendations from a commission that probed the historic, and since abandoned practice, of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their homes and sending them to so-called "residential schools." This year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized the government policy as "cultural genocide."

I urge all First Nations people in Canada to vote in this upcoming election. We are in desperate need of a new PM. Fight for your rights.

— Ashley (@AshCallingbull) August 31, 2015

The NDP has said they will create a cabinet-level committee to respect treaty rights, and both the NDP and the Liberals have vowed to call a national inquiry into the 1,200 indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered across the country since 1980.

The Conservatives are mostly playing to their base, but they have committed hundreds of millions toward First Nations economic development, education and on-reserve school infrastructure, but have remained non-committalon the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations.

Chief Bellegarde, who has repeatedly called on First Nations electors to flood the polls — although he has never voted himself — has been watching the three main parties closely. At a press conference on Wednesday, he said his concerns boil down to quality of life for Aboriginal people.

Canada ranks between 6th and 8th on the UN's human development index while First Nations within the country fall between 63rd and 78th on the same scale. High unemployment rates, high suicide rates and rampant boil water advisories are just a few of the urgent issues indigenous people face across Canada. Bellegarde called the gap "enormous and unacceptable," and said it would take billions of dollars in investment to close it.

Bellegarde admitted Wednesday the AFN may have "slightly" inflated the amount of influence the indigenous vote could have in those 51 ridings, but he was resolute in his rallying cry.

"Get involved, exercise your own personal sovereignty. The individual right to vote, we've got it since '61. It's another arrow in our quiver. It's another tool that we can utilize to bring about change," he said.

The AFN represents about 900,000 First Nations people from coast to coast. About 1.4 million people identify as Aboriginal in Canada, or 4.3 percent of the total population. Actual numbers of registered Aboriginal voters are harder to determine because Elections Canada does not track voters by background. Numbers are determined by ballots cast on-reserve, which gives a limited picture of participation.

As — Perry Bellegarde (@perrybellegarde) August 2, 2015

When Canada was founded in 1867, Status Indians were allowed to vote under the Indian Act, but only if they gave up their treaty rights and Indian status. It wasn't until 1960 that Canada officially gave First Nations people the unconditional right to vote.

In the early 1960s, First Nations turnout was high for federal elections, but through the mid-'60s, declined dramatically. Since then, issues of marginalization combined with questions of indigenous sovereignty have minimized the appeal of the federal ballot box for Aboriginal electors.

Turnout on reserves in the last federal election was about 45 percent versus 61 percent for the rest of Canada — a gap of about 16 percent that has remained consistent over the last three elections. But now, Bellegarde argued, use of social media and increased awareness of political issues combined with the idea of dual citizenship has increased the potential for indigenous people to cast ballots.

The get-out-the-vote message has spread quickly on Facebook, especially, and one of the largest online mobilization efforts has its home in Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Indigenous Rock the Vote Facebook group started as a local organizing effort for the city's municipal election last fall. Now it has ballooned into separate local and national Facebook groups run by volunteers. Other than posting voting information and election news, the non-partisan group, which counts about 2,400 members, has been registering new voters and holding voter ID clinics, with bigger events planned closer to Oct. 19.

"Knowing historically that the indigenous turnout for voting has been very low, our whole hope and whole idea of what we want to do with this is not telling people who to vote for, but encouraging people to realize that it's in their best interest for all of us if we exercise our right to vote," Sylvia Boudreau, co-organizer of the Winnipeg group, told VICE News.

"Not voting is really still giving a vote," she argued.

The group faces an uphill fight, though. In the last four federal elections, Manitoba reserves have posted voter turnouts lower than average for on-reserve turnout.

And organizers worry new voter ID rules could further discourage those numbers. New requirements under the Fair Elections Act mean all voters now need their current address displayed on their ID, and the voter information cards mailed out weeks before election day no longer count. On reserves, there are often no formal street names or house numbers, making it tough to prove residence.

Vouching rules have also changed. Bellegarde said chiefs previously vouched on behalf of their entire band to prove address, but now they can only vouch for one other person.

But the new rules may actually motivate electors to vote. Organizers with Winnipeg Indigenous Rock the Vote say that when people hear about the Fair Elections Act, they often feel disenfranchised, which motivates them to register and get their ID in order.

However, a political scientist who has been watching this election closely told VICE News the efforts of groups like the Winnipeg organizers are admirable, but realistically, they may not work.

Voter turnout is on a historical downward track across Western nations, York University associate professor of political science Dennis Pilon said Wednesday, and the people who consistently show up on election day tend to be rich and white with grey hair.

In general, he said, Canada's indigenous population is a historically disenfranchised group, facing barriers to voting, including poverty. That said, Pilon believes peer-to-peer and social media efforts to rally the vote "are absolutely the right thing to do" to bring indigenous people to the polls.

For people who do not vote, or vote inconsistently, the number one predictor of whether they will vote is contact, he explained: The best way to engage a non-voter is for someone who looks like them to talk to them directly about voting.

The only question, he says, is whether they have the people power to pull it off. If Aboriginal turnout does increase, though, there is a chance the demographic could make a difference in certain ridings, he said.

"We're looking at an election that appears to be very competitive," he told VICE News. "None of the three parties appears to be heading for slam-dunk victory, so that means that a lot more seats are in play."

Whether they will be decisive will depend on the particularities of each region, though.

He notes that voter turnout is a big, complicated issue and that the first step is mobilization.

"We can't just passively sit back and say, let the people come, because that's not what the people who aren't interested in indigenous issues are doing," he told VICE News. "The people who have other priorities are actively organizing their constituencies, so to the extent that indigenous people are saying, we need to actively organize ourselves, that's great, but people should have realistic ideas of what can be accomplished, because in an electorate of millions of people, it's really hard work."

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont

Libya's Migrant Trade: Europe or Die (Trailer)

VICE News - 5 hours 39 min ago

In a desperate bid to seek a better life in Europe, thousands of refugees and migrants leave the shores of Libya and cross the perilous Mediterranean Sea every month. Over 2,000 people have died making the journey in 2015 alone.

The routes to and journey through Libya are also dangerous, however, and since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, the country has struggled to achieve and maintain stability. Porous desert borders, rival fighters, and weak governance have left much of Libya in complete chaos.

With militias controlling large swathes of land, their attentions have turned to the people that cross their territories. The fighters assert they are bringing order to the country as they detain the refugees, yet these people's lives have become valuable commodities to the militias as they try to solidify their positions in the country.

VICE News secured exclusive access to a camp outside Tripoli, run by a militia that has seized hundreds of migrants. Food is scarce, dehydration and disease is rife, and control comes in the form of whips and warning shots. The militia claims to have the migrants' interests at heart, but what emerges is a very different story.

Watch "People Smuggling in Sicily: Europe or Die" 

Read "As Many as 200 Migrants Feared Dead After Boat Sinks Off Libyan Coast" 

The Hidden Victims of California's Drought

VICE News - 6 hours 6 min ago

California is struggling through the fourth year of a historic drought. It has included the driest calendar year in the state's history (2013), and the year with the lowest snowpack in the state's history (2015). Because California is America's largest agricultural producer, the world's eighth largest economy, and home to fish and wildlife that are found nowhere else on Earth, California's response to drought could very well impact the entire world — and be a test run for a future in which climate change likely makes droughts more frequent and more severe.

Much of the focus of media coverage of California's drought has focused on the agriculture sector, which uses about 80 percent of the water used by humans in California. Although many farms have installed drip irrigation and improved their water-use efficiency in recent decades, nearly 50 percent of all the irrigated acreage in California still uses inefficient flood-and-furrow irrigation, in which fields are covered by standing water. And despite the drought, Wall Street investment firms and other corporations have bought up farmland and planted hundreds of thousands of acres in recent years, often planting almond orchards or other permanent crops on land that has never before been irrigated, relying ever more heavily on over-drafted groundwater supplies.

Indeed, in the midst of the drought, many California counties are reporting record agricultural revenues, farm labor has actually increased by some measures, and fruit and vegetable prices have generally remained steady. In short, California agriculture appears to be more resilient than the doom-and-gloom stories propagated by agribusinesses and their supporters in Congress.

Yet part of the reason for that resilience is that farmers — along with some cities — have dramatically increased groundwater pumping. The VICE News documentary Flooding Fields in California's Drought — watch it below — shows that while groundwater pumping has reduced the potential economic impacts of the drought in the near term, it also comes at a huge cost.

In places like East Porterville, Fairmead, and other rural disadvantaged communities, households have seen their drinking water wells dry up completely as farmers dramatically increase groundwater pumping and those with the money dig ever-deeper wells in a race to the bottom. In some cases, the same day that groundwater pumps were turned on for new orchards and farmlands, drinking water wells dried up completely. NASA reports that groundwater is being depleted from the San Joaquin Valley at such high rates that the ground is sinking at a rate of 2 inches per month in a process known as subsidence. This is causing roads and canals to buckle, causing hundreds of millions of dollars (or more) in damages to public infrastructure.

The depletion of groundwater reserves in the state is also threatening the ability to respond to future droughts and ensure safe drinking water in the future, as these groundwater levels may never completely rebound. In some cases, the groundwater being pumped has taken thousands or tens of thousands of years to accumulate.

What's more, extensive lobbying by agribusiness has led to waivers of the minimum environmental protections for fish and wildlife in California's rivers and streams, driving some salmon runs and other native fish and wildlife to the brink of extinction so that farmers and cities can divert even more water during the drought. As a result, the director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife warned that the state's commercial and recreational salmon fishery may have to be closed and a fishery disaster declared in the next few years. Despite this, agribusinesses continue to lobby Congress to overturn state and federal environmental laws so that they can divert even more water from our rivers and streams, going so far as to advocate for permanently drying up the state's second-longest river, the San Joaquin.

These hidden victims of California's drought — disadvantaged rural communities and California's native fish and wildlife populations — are suffering because of unsustainable water use by farms and cities. But it doesn't have to be that way. Despite all the depressing news of the drought, there is some hope on the horizon. Last year, the state enacted the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, making California the last state in the nation to require local and statewide management of groundwater resources. While the law is intended to force an end to unsustainable groundwater pumping, the law will not fully come into effect for several decades. Governor Jerry Brown recently indicated the need to do more to protect and manage groundwater more aggressively.

Last year, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pacific Institute released our Untapped Potential report, documenting how improved water management through improved agricultural and urban efficiency, water recycling, and urban stormwater capture can create millions of acre feet of new, sustainable water supplies that would actually exceed the average groundwater overdraft in California in recent years. Over the last several months, urban residents have stepped up to meet the state's mandatory urban water conservation requirements. These efforts saved more than 180,000 acre feet of water in the month of June alone, which is more water in a single month than the average annual yield of two environmentally destructive new dams proposed on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. Newly adopted standards for water efficient shower heads and other fixtures and appliances have the potential to save even more water in the future, and help demonstrate how small improvements in efficiency and conservation add up.

Although Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst, recently concluded in the New York Times that California is winning the drought, that's not true for California's environment, groundwater supplies, or rural disadvantaged communities. It will take far more public attention and public pressure to ensure that the state's economy and environment can continue to thrive. Since fruits and vegetables grown in California are eaten across the nation and the world, and since people come from far and wide to marvel at and enjoy the natural beauty of California, we all have a vested interest in helping ensure that the state's water use remains sustainable.

Doug Obegi is a senior attorney in the water program at the NRDC, where he works on water management and the protection of fish and wildlife in California.

In Shocker, Media Learns That Donald Trump Doesn't Know Anything

Mother Jones - 6 hours 7 min ago

Color me surprised. I read Hugh Hewitt's interview with Donald Trump yesterday and commented on it, but it didn't even occur to me to say anything about the substance of Trump's replies. I mentioned as an aside that Trump, as usual, was "comically ignorant" of pretty much everything, and thought no more about it. That's all just standard Trump.

But today's headlines are all about Trump's "struggles," "stumbles," and "gaffes." That's all totally fair, but why did it take this interview to suddenly wake everyone up? Trump has been responding to questions this way for the entire campaign. Ask him about China, and he says he'll send Carl Icahn over. Ask him how he'll get Mexico to pay for a wall, and he says "management." Ask him about taxes and he says he'll be great for the middle class. Ask him for his favorite Bible verse and he claims that's too personal to share.

This has been his MO all along. His ignorance—and his shameless lack of interest in fixing it—has always been obvious. He doesn't even try to hide it. He'll hire good people. He'll delegate. He'll learn it when he needs to. He's entirely up front about not knowing squat, and it's barely even caused a ripple. Until now. Suddenly everyone is shocked to learn that Trump doesn't know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.

I guess it was bound to happen sometime. Perhaps the Trump show was just too entertaining to ruin with this kind of pedantry back in August. What would we all have written about without him?

A Canadian Warplane Mistakenly Broadcast Its Location Over Islamic State Controlled Territory

VICE News - 6 hours 11 min ago

For what appears to be an entire sortie, a Canadian warplane broadcast its flight location while flying over so-called Islamic State (IS) controlled territory.

The revelation regarding a refueling plane flying as part of Operation IMPACT in Iraq, comes from civilian website Flightradar24.com — a collective of thousands of volunteer antenna networks all over the world streamlining location data of planes using something called automatic dependent surveillance-broadcasts (ADS-B).

ADS-B capability is an air traffic control technology which, in a sense, replaces ground control radars. Instead of relying on ground radars to locate and identify aircraft, planes with ADS-B transmit information about their identity, location, and velocity. Both civilian and military aircraft all over the world now use ADS-B. And, occasionally, military planes will forget to turn off their ADS-B transponders, exposing both their GPS-location to the public and giving potential threat actors the chance to identify them.

That was the case for the plane nicknamed "HOSER 15" by aviation enthusiasts monitoring Flightradar24 online that identified a Royal Canadian Air  Force (RCAF) A310-CC-150 in the skies of Iraq as it flew overtop of parts of IS controlled territory.

Still taken by aviation enthusiasts from Flightradar24.

Polaris CC-150 aircraft are strategic air-to-air refuelers for Canada's CF-18 Hornet fleet currently carrying out a bombing campaign against IS targets all over Iraq and Syria.

The Canadian Department of National Defense confirmed to VICE News the incident was indeed a mistake by pilots — which, theoretically, could've allowed IS forces to identify them in the sky and fire on the warplane.

Strategically, the mistake can also prepare an adversary for your next move: the very presence of a refueling plane in the sky can alert the enemy, like IS, that airstrikes are inbound, given that they refuel F-18 strike aircraft.

"In this particular instance, the aircrew mistakenly selected the wrong transponder mode," said Captain Kirk Sullivan a public affairs officer with the Canadian military. "They have been made aware of this and corrective action has been taken. In this instance, it is assessed that the aircraft and crew were not exposed to additional threat."

Sullivan would not elaborate on whether or not the warplane was exposed to IS anti-aircraft capabilities.

"To ensure mission success and for the safety of CAF personnel, no additional information will be provided at this time," said Sullivan to detailed questions VICE News pressed on the incident.

No coalition aircraft since the Jordanian pilot incident have been shot down by IS forces, but the terrorist organization currently controlling large swaths of Iraq and Syria is constantly inheriting new war technologies from American weapon stockpiles left to Iraqi forces after the 2013 withdrawal.

Nonetheless, it is not immediately clear whether IS antiaircraft weapons are capable of shooting down a CC-150, let alone the almost zero percent chance of it mounting its own air force, but there is some evidence claiming they possess both the firepower to down helicopters as well as Western planes carrying out airstrikes against them.

Canadian pilots are not the only ones guilty of the ADS-B mistake, either. During the bombing campaign against Muammar Gaddafi forces in March 2011, American planes in Libya were identified mid-air as well as other incidents in Afghanistan and Syria.

The revelation of the transponder mishap comes on the heels of allegations another RCAF bombing mission northwest of the Iraqi town of Mosul is allegedly responsible for the deaths of up to 27 Iraqi civilians. That claim has been denied by the Canadian government. 

CC-150 Polaris' refueling Canadian fighters mid-air. Flickr/Robert Taylor

Follow Ben Makuch on Twitter: @BMakuch 

Kentucky Gay Couple Receives Marriage License After Kim Davis Is Jailed

VICE News - 6 hours 14 min ago

A county clerk's office in rural Kentucky issued a marriage license to a gay couple on Friday morning after defying a federal judge's orders for months.

After Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed on Thursday for refusing to follow the orders of US District Judge David Bunning, her deputies processed a license for James Yates and William Smith, who had previously been denied a license five times. The issuance of the license followed months of legal wrangling between Davis and the courts that drew global attention and protests from both supporters and opponents of gay marriage.

Davis, who has become a darling of social conservatives, had refused to issue any marriage licenses under an office policy she created after the US Supreme Court in June made gay marriage legal across the country. She cited her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Yates and Smith, who held hands entering and exiting the building on Friday, paid $35.50 in cash for the license. Deputy clerk Brian Mason, who had a sign in the office reading "marriage license deputy," shook their hands and congratulated them.

News reporter Claire Crouch with local station Lex 18 News tweeted video from the clerk's office this morning showing Yates and Smith entering the building, along with video of protesters at the scene.

Video of couple arriving to get marriage license. — Claire Crouch (@clairecrouch) September 4, 2015

No shortage of protest from — Claire Crouch (@clairecrouch) September 4, 2015

As Yates and Smith exited the building, supporters chanted "Love has won!" Yates said all he wanted to do was hug his parents.

"We were more optimistic today," Yates said when asked if the couple had been nervous about their sixth attempt to get a license. They now have 30 days to get married; he said they had two dates picked out, depending on when guests can attend.

Nearby, a Davis backer holding a bible preached against homosexuality.

Cheers erupt as James Yates & William Smith Jr. get their marriage license. — Claire Crouch (@clairecrouch) September 4, 2015

It was the 100th marriage license issued by the clerk's office this year, and the first one since the Supreme Court ruling. Last year, the clerk's office issued 214 marriage licenses.

Emotions have run high on all sides as both Davis and an attorney for one of the four couples who sued the county clerk said they had received death threats. A Kentucky legal trade publication reported the judge had also received a death threat.

Outside the Morehead, Kentucky courthouse where the clerk's office is located, there were about 40 demonstrators, far fewer than the 200 or so who showed up on Thursday in Ashland, the site of the federal courthouse where Davis was found in contempt and jailed. Morehead is about 90 miles from the state capital of Frankfort.

Davis's husband stood outside the courthouse on Friday morning,holding a sign that read, "Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah." He said his wife was in good spirits after her first night in jail at a county detention center, adding she had no plans to resign and was prepared to remain in jail for as long as she felt it necessary.

"We don't hate these people," he told reporters. "That's the furthest thing from our hearts. We don't hate nobody. We just want to have the same rights that they have."

Describing himself as an "old country hillbilly" with an 11th grade education, Davis said he knew more about the law than most because he worked in corrections. He said he disagreed with the Supreme Court's June ruling.

On Thursday, Bunning ordered Davis jailed, saying he did not think a fine would be effective. He also got pledges from five of Davis's six deputy clerks that they would issue licenses to anyone, including same-sex couples, in her absence. The judge told them they would be ordered to return to the US District Court in Ashland, Kentucky, if they did not.

Some reluctantly agreed, saying they were balancing personal convictions, family responsibilities, and faith. The sixth deputy clerk, Davis's son Nathan, would not agree to issue licenses, but he was not jailed.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @ViceNews

Climate Change Is Actually Helping Whale Hunters — Here's How

VICE News - 6 hours 31 min ago

VICE News is closely tracking global environmental change. Check out the Tipping Point blog here.

A ship carrying endangered whale meat dodged anti-whaling activists by heading to Japan via the Russian Arctic, a passage conservationists say illustrates another threat posed by a warming climate.

The 260-foot Winter Bay put into Osaka at the end of August with an estimated 1,800 tons of meat from fin whales caught by an Iceland-based company. The conservation group Sea Shepherd, which tries to disrupt whaling operations, followed the Winter Bay as far as the Norwegian port of Tromsø, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson told VICE News.

"The Winter Bay stayed in Tromsø until mid-August before leaving," Watson said. "We couldn't really do much, because the Norwegians dispatched two of their coast guard vessels to shadow us everywhere we went."

The Winter Bay had permission from the Russians to sail the Northern Sea Route, an increasingly ice-free stretch of the Arctic Ocean that hugs the Russian coast. The Russians refused that permit to Sea Shepherd, leaving it unable to follow, Watson said.

Iceland and Norway still allow commercial whaling in defiance of a 1986 international moratorium. Whale meat is still eaten by some in Japan, and Japan has allowed whaling under an exemption for scientific purposes — an assertion that the International Court of Justice at the Hague dismissed in 2014.

Patrick Ramage, the director of whale programs at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told VICE News the voyage of the Winter Bay "is certainly not a milestone that we welcome."

"It can't be seen to portend anything good for the conservation of the Arctic environment, or for whales or other species that depend on that environment and already face more threats today than at any time in history," Ramage said.

Fin whales are the world's second-largest animal, growing as large as 80 feet (24 meters). They're classified as an endangered species, with fewer than 90,000 believed to remain worldwide, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

"We're hoping to get the Russians to agree that they shouldn't be allowing whale meat from an endangered species to pass through their territory," Watson said.

Moscow is a signatory to the CITES treaty, which bars international trade in endangered species. Actress-turned-animal-rights advocate Pamela Anderson went to a Russian economic conference in Vladivostok this week to lobby the country's environment minister in support of banning future shipments, but Russia rejected her earlier pleas to deny passage to the Winter Bay.

"Russia could lead the way in worldwide protection and conservation of cetaceans by banning all whale and dolphin products and banning the capture of orcas and other dolphins for display in marine aquariums," Anderson said in a statement from the conference.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and its sea ice cover has been shrinking for decades. That's opening up new sea routes along the northern shores of North America, Europe, and Russia — and causing "unprecedented changes" to traditional cetacean habitats, WWF Arctic species specialist Pete Ewin told Vice News.

Fin whales usually live in the northern temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But warming temperatures have driven them to higher latitudes, putting them in competition with existing Arctic species like bowhead and beluga whales or narwhals, said Ewin.

"Those whales are highly stressed, especially by ice retreat at unprecedented levels," he said.

Meanwhile, the prospect of increased commercial fishing in the region threatens to reduce the amount of food for the massive mammals. And as warming driven by fossil fuel consumption makes the Arctic more accessible, it's made the estimated reserves of oil and gas in the region more accessible.

All of those pose threats to whales, which also can die when snagged in fishing gear, hit by ships' propellers, or fouled by an oil spill. Ewin said humans need to come up with "a smarter and better-balanced" approach to the Arctic before pouring into the North the way they have swarmed other frontiers.

"Most sentient people agree that humans appear to be crashing along and are about to set up the same mistakes," he said. Whale populations will need to be monitored and managed long-term for both those species and the indigenous Arctic populations that still depend on them for subsistence, he said.

"Unfortunately, at the regional and local level, resource-hungry nations right now are prioritizing GDP as the basis, maximizing economic growth," Ewin said.

There have been some steps taken to slow the rush. The United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark agreed in July to ban commercial fishing in the currently ice-bound central Arctic until further studies of the area can be conducted, for instance. Arctic Council countries are trying to remap the region's waterways to get a better picture of their navigational hazards.

But if there's a major oil spill — either from a shipping accident or a blowout at an offshore well like the one Shell has begun off Alaska — "there's no proven technique to recover oil from those icy waters," Ewin said.

Whale populations have been rebounding since the nearly 30-year-old commercial whaling ban took effect, he said. But he said the long-lived animals will need centuries to return to the levels before the era of large-scale commercial whaling began 200 years ago.

Both the United States and the European Union have protested Iceland's refusal to halt whaling, and Ramage said Icelandic lawmakers have become increasingly uneasy with it. The island nation has no domestic market for whale meat, and Japan's taste for it is rapidly diminishing: Only 14 percent of Japanese reported eating whale meat in a 2014 newspaper poll.

Meanwhile, Watson said Sea Shepherd is pondering whether to redeploy its ships to the Bering Strait to harry any future whale meat cargoes that pass through the Arctic. But he said tourism in Iceland, where only one company still hunts fin whales, may soon get them out of the business.

"It's starting to become a threat to whale watching, which is become a much more profitable industry to Iceland than whale killing," he said. 

Watch the VICE News documentary California's Sea Lion Die-Off here:

Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl

Suspects' DNA in Deadly Thailand Bombing Turns Out Not to Match Evidence

VICE News - 7 hours 10 min ago

Forensic tests on two suspects have failed to find a link to the site of Thailand's deadliest bomb attack, police said on Friday, dealing a blow to the investigation.

DNA examination of the two foreigners tie them to a stash of explosives found in a Bangkok apartment block, but not to evidence collected at the Hindu Erawan Shrine where 20 people were killed August 17, police said in a televised announcement. The lack of a link complicates a high-profile case shrouded in mystery, with authorities no closer to establishing a motive for the attack carried out in one of Bangkok's busiest commercial areas.

The military has speculated the perpetrators could have been members of a human trafficking gang frustrated by a police crackdown. Thailand has rejected the possibility that a militant group was involved.

Thai authorities arrested a suspect on August 29, but claimed he was not cooperating with interrogators. The arrest came after police raided the man's apartment, where they reportedly found bomb-making materials and more than 200 forged passports. 

The man's identity has not been revealed, but he has been described as a "foreigner," and police are reportedly considering the possibility that he was part of a network that provided fake passports to migrants. All of the fake passports were reportedly from the same country, though police did not say which.

Police were testing DNA samples of the second of two foreigners to establish if he was the chief suspect — a yellow-shirted man caught on surveillance footage placing a rucksack at the shrine before the explosion.

"There's no evidence to confirm he is the yellow-shirt man," police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri told reporters. Prawut did say, however, that police believed he was "definitely involved in the bombing."

Police seized a large amount of bomb-making material in raids on two buildings in north Bangkok, but nothing that ties the two men, whose nationalities are unknown, directly to the attack.

The bomb killed 14 foreigners, including seven from China and Hong Kong, and wounded more than 100 people.

Investigators were trying to match the second detained man, who was arrested at the Thai-Cambodia border on Tuesday, with DNA left by the prime suspect in a cab, on fragments of the backpack and on a banknote given to a motorcycle taxi driver.

The man was carrying a Chinese passport which gave his name as Yusufu Mieraili, and his place of birth as the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, but it was unclear if it was authentic.

If the China link is proven it would add weight to theories by some security experts that the bombing could have been revenge by sympathizers of the mainly Turkic-speaking Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang.

In July, Thailand deported 109 Uighurs to China, where many suffer persecution. That struck a chord in Turkey, which has a large Uighur diaspora.

Police have established a firmer Turkish connection, using the language to interrogate the suspects, one of whom was arrested with fake Turkish passports. Two other suspects are believed to be in Turkey.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

Guatemala's President Resigned and Spent the Night in Jail. What's Next?

Mother Jones - 7 hours 10 min ago

Otto Pérez Molina resigned as president of Guatemala late Wednesday night, stepping down after being implicated in a widespread corruption scheme that earlier this year cost his vice president her job. Pérez Molina, a former military general, had refused to leave office almost until the end, defying the wishes of tens of thousands of protesters who have been calling for his resignation for months. Now he sits in jail, awaiting the results of a hearing examining the evidence against him.

But it is what happens next that is of interest to Guatemalans and regional experts. Alejandro Maldonado, who took over the vice presidency after Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8, was sworn in as president Thursday afternoon, but the nation faces elections this weekend that could determine whether the country's brand new era of accountability will last.

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Kentucky Gay Marriage Melodrama Is Finally Over (Sort Of)

Mother Jones - 7 hours 33 min ago

From Joe Davis, explaining why his wife, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples:

Just because five Supreme Court judges make a ruling, it’s not a law.

Actually, yes, it is. But Joe could be excused for thinking otherwise given how many allegedly serious Republican presidential candidates seem to agree with him.

In any case, this affair has now ended in what always seemed the most obvious way: with LGBT couples getting marriage licenses from deputies in the county clerk's office. Kim Davis still objects to this, of course, because her name is on the license (by state law). But her deputies apparently aren't as keen on twiddling their thumbs in the county jail as she is. They had to decide whether to obey Davis or obey a federal judge, and they wisely chose to obey the judge.

In theory, this is now over. But Davis remains in jail, all the better to assure her future role as a martyr for the cause and poster child for fundraising appeals by the right-wing email outrage crowd. I imagine she'll stay there just long enough to cement her reputation, and then announce that she's resigning her office. Her moment in the sun is nearly over, but her moment on the rubber chicken circuit is just beginning.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in August

Mother Jones - 7 hours 50 min ago

The American economy added 173,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at 83,000 jobs. The headline unemployment rate fell from 5.3 percent to 5.1 percent. Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annualized rate of 2.9 percent.

Roughly speaking, there was nothing interesting in the guts of the report. The unemployment rate was down both because there were more employed workers and because the size of the labor force shrank a bit. The labor force participation rate stayed steady. There were no big surprises in any particular industry.

This has left everyone free to speculate on what this report means for the prospect of the Fed increasing interest rates later this month. On the one hand, the jobs report fell a bit below expectations. On the other hand, the unemployment rate was down nicely and wages showed a bit of life. On the third hand—well, everyone's just guessing here. Basically, this month's jobs report is ordinary enough that it probably won't have much impact at all. The Fed will consider overseas weakness, labor market slack, and all the other things that have been on their plate for a while. If they were planning to raise rates before this report came out, they probably still are.

First Gay Couple Can Marry In County Where Clerk Went To Jail

Mother Jones - 8 hours 21 min ago

On Friday, William Smith and James Yates became the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Rowan County, Kentucky.

BREAKING: William Smith and James Yates just obtained a marriage license from the Rowan County Clerk's Office. pic.twitter.com/rBcxunFZxb

— Dominic Holden (@dominicholden) September 4, 2015

Video of first couple leaving the courthouse after getting their marriage license #wsaz #ky #kimdavis pic.twitter.com/bcAWGPJozq

— Taylor Eaton (@WSAZTaylorEaton) September 4, 2015

Since the Supreme Court's historic decision invalidating gay marriage bans nationwide in June, county clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue licenses to gay couples citing her religious beliefs. Her continued refusal to do so finally landed her in jail yesterday, after a federal judge held her in contempt of law.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning offered to release the defiant clerk if she promised not to prevent her deputies from processing same-sex couples. Five of the six deputies have agreed to do so. Davis' son, a deputy clerk, was the only one to refuse.

Davis' husband, who insisted his family's opposition to same-sex marriages did not mean they "hate these people," was reportedly seen outside the clerk's office on Friday holding a sign, "Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah."

Smith and Yates' license effectively ends the months-long showdown.

Drowned Syrian Toddler Is Buried in Kobane

VICE News - 9 hours 16 min ago

VICE News is closely watching the international migrant crisis. Check out the Open Water blog here.

The body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi has been laid to rest in the Syrian town of Kobane on Friday, alongside his brother and mother, who also died trying to reach Greece.

The shocking photographs of the drowned Syrian child, washed up on a beach near Bodrum, Turkey, have sparked international outcry this week. The images have reignited the debate as to how to help those fleeing from war and how to solve the European refugee crisis, where thousands have died trying to reach Europe by sea.

The child's father, Abdullah Kurdi, buried his family in the 'Martyrs' Ceremony' in the predominantly Kurdish town, near the border with Turkey. 

Abdullah Kurdi (center) and relatives of Alan Kurdi mourn during the funeral in Kobane. Photo via Dicle News Agency/EPA

Post by Friday, 4 September 2015.

Post by Friday, 4 September 2015.

Speaking at the border crossing, he called upon neighboring Arab countries to help Syrian refugees. Kurdi said: "What I want now is for Arab states, not the European ones, the Arab states, to see what happened to my children."

Post by Friday, 4 September 2015.

In an interview with the BBC, Kurdi described how he lost his family at sea when the boat they were travelling by capsized: "I tried to steer the boat but another high wave pushed the boat over. That is when it happened," he said.

"My children were the most beautiful children in the world. Is there anybody in the world for whom their child is not the most precious thing?"

Abdullah Kurdi (center), father of the drowned three-year-old boy, holds his son's body during the funeral in Kobane. Photo via Dicle News Agency/EPA

It was initially reported that the Kurdi family was refused entry into Canada, yet an aunt in Vancouver clarified that she had tried to sponsor other relatives first.

Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolences to the family during a speech on Thursday, and promised to "do more" if re-elected: "We should be doing everything, we are doing everything and and we will do more of everything," he said.

Yet opposition Liberal leader Justin Trudeau retorted: "You don't get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign. You either have it or you don't."

Other world leaders have also been criticized for not taking in more Syrian refugees, including British Prime Minister David Cameron. He has now vowed to accept "thousands" more people from UN camps bordering Syria. 

On Friday, the UN refugee agency announced that Britain will accept 4,000 refugees from Syrian camps. 

Russia Says Syria's Assad Is Ready to Share Power with Opposition

VICE News - 9 hours 31 min ago

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to hold snap parliamentary elections and could share power with a "healthy" opposition.

Russia, along with Iran, has been Assad's principle international ally in the war that has raged in Syria for four-and-a-half years and has claimed a quarter of a million lives.

Moscow has made clear it does not want to see Assad toppled and has seized on gains made by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to urge his foreign foes, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, to work with Damascus to combat the common enemy.

"We really want to create some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism," Putin told journalists on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, saying he had spoken to US President Barack Obama on the matter.

"We are also working with our partners in Syria. In general, the understanding is that this uniting of efforts in fighting terrorism should go in parallel to some political process in Syria itself," Putin said.

"And the Syrian president agrees with that, all the way down to holding early elections, let's say, parliamentary ones, establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition, bringing them into governing," he said.

Moscow wants the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes on Islamic State militant positions to coordinate with the Syrian and Iraqi armies and moderate anti-Assad rebel groups on the ground, as well as Kurdish forces.

Assad's enemies have refused to cooperate with Damascus, fearing that would help legitimise his rule in Syria, where the West and Gulf states say he is part of the problem, not the solution, and must go.

A flurry of recent high-level diplomatic contacts have so far failed to yield a breakthrough with the question over Assad being the main point of contention.

"If it's impossible today to organise joint work directly on the battlefield between all those countries interested in fighting terrorism, it's indispensable to at least establish some sort of coordination between them," Putin said.

He noted that the chiefs of general staff of armed forces of countries "sitting close" to the conflict visited Moscow recently on that. He gave no details.

Putin also said the West had itself to blame for the migrant crisis that has seen hundreads of thousands of people fleeing the Middle East via the Mediterranean Sea and land routes across the Balkans, with many dying trying to reach the European Union.

Russia criticises the West, especially the United States, for leading to the overthrow of Moscow-allied leaders in Iraq and Libya, where radical and extremist groups are now roaming.

"Naturally, first and foremost this is the policy of our American partners. Europe follows this policy blindly under the so-called allies' obligations, and then takes the brunt of it itself," Putin said.

Watch the VICE News documentary, Kurds Assert Control of Hasakah: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 3):

From Slaughterers to Entrepreneurs: Rwandan Rebels Rebuild Their Lives

VICE News - 10 hours 41 min ago

Through the window, the sun is rising over lush green hills. Hategekimana Valens hurries to wash himself up and make the bed and join his colleagues on the breakfast table before they squeeze inside a corrugated iron classroom. They grab a pencil and try to take clean notes on a piece of paper leaning on their legs.

This is not a school or a prison — it is the Mutobo Demobilization Center, a place where a former killer and rebel can have a fresh start back in his homeland, Rwanda.

The camp is a 40-minute drive from the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, but for many it takes a whole life to cover this route dotted with banana fields and volcanoes. 

"We thank God every day for helping us return to Rwanda," said Hategekimana, smiling shyly. He spent 17 years in DRC. Like thousands of Hutus, he fled to the neighboring country in the aftermath of one of the most terrible crimes in modern history: the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days of 1994.

Mutobo Demobilization Camp in Musanze, northwest Rwanda. Photo by Maria Campo.

In the years before the genocide he fled he had been forced to work as a doctor for the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), which played a key role in the atrocities. "They approached me and asked me to treat their soldiers," he told VICE News. "In that moment, it was absolutely impossible to refuse to join the FAR because it had the area under its control."

He doesn't want to offer many details about his time with the FAR, but states that his main task was to provide medical assistance to the militia men.

In 1998, the young Hategekimana fled the country with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation for Rwanda, or FDLR, a rebel group founded by the leaders of the genocide who have continued to commit atrocities against the Congolese population ever since.

Hategekimana said he spent two decades living in hiding in the jungle in eastern DRC, struggling to get something to eat, longing for his wife and children. One day he couldn't bear it anymore. 

"To be clear, I spent many years thinking of coming back and in my defense, I have to say that I started moving around and I came across a group of the DRC Army soldiers," he said. "I told them that I wanted to come back to Rwanda."

Once he had planned his escape route, he had to keep quiet. "In the FDLR, you cannot tell anyone you are planning to return, not even your friends. They will kill you," he said. The Congolese Army, currently fighting to dismantle the FDLR, ultimately helped Hategekimana reach the city of Goma, where he surrendered to the UN Mission in the DRC.

Hategekimana Valens worked as a doctor at the FDLR in the DRC and now hopes to find a job after completing his demobilization training at Mutobo Camp. Photo by Maria Campo

For Hategekimana and other 54 former rebels, Mutobo is the re-entry ticket to their own country. They must spend here three months before they are free to come back to their communities, find an honest way to make a living and regain the respect of their neighbors.

The reintegration process starts with civic education classes. Sitting next to each other on long narrow wooden benches, the former militiamen learn about the new administrative organization, societal values, and government policies.

More than anything else, they learn about reconciliation: "Before, they said we were different, that there were Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa," explained Mutobo's manager, General Robert Murenzi. "Now, we try to show them that we all are united, that we all are Rwandan."

Over 10,000 former ex-combatants have undergone civic training at the camp, which has inspired similar demobilization programs in countries like Somalia. Everyone arrives with the same principle fear: "They think we are going to kill them," said Murenzi.

It is a bright Saturday morning and a group of strong men, with clenched fists and stern expressions, cannot help getting emotional when the "chorus lesson" begins.

"We have come to build a new country," they sing under the directions of General Murenzi, while cheering for the best dancers of the group. But some of them reveal other motivations for their desire to return. "I was in a foreign country where I had no freedom, I didn't have the rights that citizens have," said one ex-rebel, Jean Claude. "For example, I got sick and the treatment was a problem." 

A group of former Hutu rebels sing during a "chorus lesson" at the Mutobo Demobilization Centre under the directions of General Robert Murenzi. Photo by Maria Campo

The rebel life behind them, they are excited about their future plans. Jean Claude wants to work the land to build himself a future; Batista dreams of rebuilding his hometown parish; Hategekimana still needs time to figure it out. 

Later that night, they will sit together and share stories about their time in the forest. "Here we live in harmony because we all have experienced the same. Now, we compare our lives to the ones we expect to live in Rwanda," said Hategekimana. "We have seen that there is a big change in Rwanda. I want to stay here to get all the information about the social and economic development in Rwanda and I hope to get the spirit to reintegrate into the community."

Their dreams start taking shape inside the camp, where they learn mechanics, carpentry or hairdressing. Once they are out, the government will give them 120,000 Rwandan francs, around $175 dollars, to start their own businesses.

"We don't just brainwash," joked Jean Sayinzoga, president of the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission. He explains that once these rebels get a job and have a family, the chances of them going back to the forest are very slim. This is critical for a regime that regards the FLDR as the most serious threat to Rwanda, beset by buried ethnic tensions that rarely manage to surface.

"The former rebels might find a job here in Musanze, the region where Mutobo is placed, with a majority of Hutu population, but it will be very difficult for them to do it in Kigali. I am a survivor, I cannot trust a murderer," admitted a tourist agent, refusing to reveal his name.

In Kigali, where the political and economic power remains in the hands of the Tutsis, one former member of the FDLR is trying to provide for his family. Three years have passed since Edward Nsanzumuhire, 37, took his first steps back on his homeland. Before, he had spent 18 years in the DRC, where he got married and had four children. 

"I stayed at a UNHCR refugee camp in Goma from 1994 to 1996," he told VICE News. "Then, they stopped giving us food and closed the camp. I was 16. I was forced to join the army, the Liberation of Rwanda group that merged with the Hutu resistance movement into the FDLR. I had no choice."

Nsanzumuhire says he regrets fleeing Rwanda. "Sometimes I cry and think I wish I had come back earlier," he said. He did not because the FDLR's leaders said that "they would kill me or send me to prison." He didn't believe his mother when she called him from Rwanda to tell him that it was safe: "You usually think that it is a lie and that she has been forced to do it."

After going through Mutobo's demobilization program, he now makes a living by doing odd jobs with tools he bought with the government assistance. Even though it is not easy, he doesn't miss the rebel life: "I am not going back to the bush because it is not good."

Nsanzumuhire said his children were what finally sparked him to leave. "I decided to come back when I learnt that the children of the FDLR's leaders were studying, while my kids weren't," he said. "If I am to be killed, so be it, but my children must go to school."

Edward and his wife planned an escape encouraged by the hope of a better life. The six of them reunited in the Rwandan capital, "too late," he regrets.

Many exiled Hutus want to return, but they are afraid. Nsanzumuhire still appears that way that, speaking softly, almost whispering some specific words — "FDLR," "rebel," "kill " — when the bartender comes by to bring another Fanta. 

This former rebel said he never expected his Tutsi neighbors in Kigali to let him have a peaceful life back in the streets where he was born, but that is what eventually happened. Maybe because, as he claims, "as long as you are a good person, they will let you reintegrate."

Inside the Abandoned Paris High School Currently Housing 250 Migrants

VICE News - 11 hours 25 min ago

VICE News is closely watching the international migrant crisis. Check out the Open Water blog here.

Three men have just finished mounting a whiteboard to a wall in the lobby. A woman walks up to the board and writes down the week's schedule "Does anyone know how to write 'legal aid' in Arabic?" she asks. Several young men rush to help her. They add the Farsi translation, and suggest adding a trip to the movies and a courtyard cricket match to the schedule.

The scene takes place in a former high school on Rue Jean Quarré, in the north of Paris. Nestled between high-risers and tower blocks, the school, with its tree-lined courtyard, is like a strange island in a sea of concrete. Abandoned since 2011, the building today bustles with the comings and goings of some 250 migrants and refugees — many of them from Sudan, Eritrea, and Afghanistan.

In a corner of the lobby, two young Sudanese migrants help neighborhood residents unload piles of donated blankets.

Jean Quarré high school, Paris (Photo by Pierre-Louis Caron/VICE News)

The former vocational hospitality high school was taken over by volunteers this summer and turned into a temporary shelter, after hundreds of migrants were evicted from other sites in the French capital. Many of the people now living here found themselves stranded in June following the forced eviction of a makeshift camp located beneath the overground Metro tracks between the La Chapelle and Barbès-Rochechouart subway stations in north-central Paris.

Known as the "refugees of La Chapelle," many of the migrants relocated to an improvised camp outside the Halle Pajol — a renovated warehouse in the capital's 18th arrondissement. Following the subsequent evacuation of the Pajol camp on July 29, a group of concerned citizens formed the La Chapelle Migrants Support Committee to rehouse the migrants.

The first people arrived at the school — a four-story building that was built in the 70s — on July 31. Today, they live there in precarious conditions and — in a throwback to the building's former function — take French lessons.

An Afghan man stands in front of a whiteboard during Shaïsta's French lesson (Photo by Pierre-Louis Caron/VICE News)

"My students are at very different levels," Shaïsta, a 22-year-old French teacher, told VICE News. "Some are distracted, but on the whole, they listen to me." Shaïsta was brought up speaking Pashto — the official language of Afghanistan and second largest in Pakistan. Shaïsta shows up at the school several times a week to teach French to those who want lessons.

"I want my French to improve quickly, it will help me stay here and work," Jamal [not his real name], a 29-year-old migrant from Afghanistan, told VICE News. Jamal showed us his notebook, its pages covered in translations and exercises.

When we asked Jamal how he had ended up in Paris, he went quiet. He pulled out his mobile phone and started playing a video. "Look at the people and the waves," he said.

The footage was of a beach in Greece. After a while, shapes began to emerge from the waves that were crashing onto the shore. Shot from a moving vehicle, the video showed dozens of bloated, lifeless bodies, several of them decomposed.

Renovation work
In a surprise move, the Paris town hall announced in August that instead of evicting migrants from the former high school, authorities would convert the building into a shelter.

"These migrants risked their lives to cross the Sahara, the Mediterranean, they fled from war… France, and especially Paris, owes it to them to welcome them and to be hospitable," said deputy mayor Bruno Julliard. The city has issued no official announcement since then.

"Work to secure [the building] in the short term, including work to limit health hazards, is currently underway," a spokeswoman for Paris town hall told VICE News last week. According to the spokeswoman, the city is particularly concerned about the state of the facilities in certain areas of the building. 

"As for the work to convert the site into a shelter," she said, "it all depends on our relationship with the [migrant support] committee." Right now, she added, the two camps were "on good terms." The spokeswoman couldn't say for sure when the work would be completed. "But we are not headed for failure," she said, "and the work should take place."

The main building at the Jean Quarré high school (Photo by Pierre-Louis Caron/VICE News)

Migrant Solidarity
For now, migrants living in the school rely on the support of an army of volunteers, who coordinate much of the aid via social media.

"It's the best solution because many of the volunteers work and have families," explained Camila, a young Italian woman who lives in Paris and volunteers at the school on a regular basis. "Once a week we have a legal aid drop-in service," she said. "Things are going fairly well but the situation remains precarious."

Camila said that migrants lacked food and that there were safety concerns, particularly at night, when the building is particularly vulnerable to intruders. "The volunteers can't do everything, so yes, the situation is sometimes very precarious."

Some of the volunteers and migrants have formed independent committees that are in charge of specific areas, including food, legal issues, and communications.

"The communications committee was set up to translate articles about the school," explained Camila. "Those who live here want to know what the French press is saying about them, they like to be informed."

Local residents — like 52-year-old Francis — are also doing their bit to help the migrants. Today, Francis was dropping off a bag of donated clothing. "I am just a citizen who wants to help, in any way I can," he told VICE News. Camila showed Francis where to drop off his donation, before taking him on a tour of the facilities.

Migrants sleep in the classrooms, which have been converted into dormitories. Mattresses cover the floor and clothes are hung out to dry at the windows. Competing radios can be heard up and down the corridors, which are decorated with bright murals, made by the migrants and volunteers.

At the end of a corridor, one of the classrooms that has been converted into a dormitory. (Photo by Pierre-Louis Caron/VICE News)

Dangerous Conditions
In a statement released shortly after the migrants moved into the abandoned high school, local mayor François Dagnaud warned of the presence of asbestos in the building. Volunteers have since voiced concern over peeling paint, dangerous rooms, and the absence of locks.

"During the last general assembly [on August 22], we mainly went over the incident from the previous night," said Shaïsta, who translated the meeting for the Pashto speakers. "Someone broke into the kitchen at night and stole all of our kitchen appliances."

Another volunteer — who wished to remain anonymous — told VICE News that migrants had a "fairly good" relationship with local residents. "We put posters up to remind [migrants] not to make any noise after 10pm, and to remind them that bringing in alcohol or owning a weapon is not allowed. Some of the people who live here have narrowly escaped death several times [on their way to France], they are on edge," he told VICE News.

A few feet away, a migrant from Afghanistan called us over. "The police, too, are very violent," he said, "even in Paris."

Introducing himself as Saïd [not his real name], he explained that he had arrived in France in 2005. "I wasn't even an adult," he said. Saïd was granted refugee status and then lost it after he got into trouble with some police officers two years ago.

"I had to leave, come back, I tried to reach England, Belgium, everywhere," he explained, adding that he hoped to file a new asylum claim with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People.

On August 27, several of the volunteers at the school attended a rally in central Paris to show their solidarity with the 250 migrants who are currently camping out on Quai d'Austerlitz, in the southeast of the city, steps away from one of the hippest clubs in the capital.

On Monday, two delegations of migrants called a press conference outside the Paris town hall to voice their disappointment over the delay in starting work at the high school. They also expressed their concern that migrants' basic needs were not being met. Migrant representatives are due to meet with the local authorities later in September.

Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter: @pierrelouis_c

California Is Fining a Company That's Supplied Starbucks' Bottled Water—for Making the Drought Worse

Mother Jones - 12 hours 50 sec ago

Sugar Pine Spring Water, a California company that has supplied bottled water to Starbucks, was hit on Tuesday with a complaint and draft cease-and-desist order by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) for alleged illegal diversion and bulk delivery of water in 2014 and 2015. It's the first enforcement action taken against a bottled-water supplier since the state declared a drought emergency in January 2014.  

As I reported this spring, Starbucks' Ethos Water brand has sourced water sold in the chain's western US stores from suppliers tapping the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, areas the US Drought Monitor has declared to be in "exceptional drought" conditions. Starbucks subsequently announced it would be phasing out its use of California water over the next six months. Mother Jones asked Starbucks whether it was still using water from Sugar Pine Spring Water, but the company has not yet responded.

Ethos Water has long been produced in a Safeway bottling plant in Merced, California, that uses Sugar Pine water for the Starbucks brand.

The SWRCB notified Sugar Pine owner Scott Fahey in 2014 "that there was not sufficient water to continue diverting under his permit," and the company was again notified in April 2015. After Sugar Pine delayed making its water collection site available to SWRCB agents for inspection, government personnel deployed surveillance cameras on public roads around the locked site to capture images of tankers accessing the property. The cease-and-desist order says that between July 12 and August 5 of this year, 99 tanker trucks were counted accessing the water transfer station, which SWRCD staff estimated to contain about 653,400 gallons of water just in that time period.

Sugar Pine taps into several springs joined by more than five miles of underground pipes that cross a mixture of private and state-owned land. The SWRCB complaint notes that Sugar Pine taps into water sources that drain into the Tuolumne River watershed and the Don Pedro Reservoir, sources relied on by the city of San Francisco and area farmers.

The company has 20 days to request a hearing. If it doesn't, the state will issue a final cease-and-desist order, which carries a fine of up to $10,000 a day or referral to the attorney general. Fahey's attorney declined to comment to the Associated Press, which reported that "he anticipates a hearing before the state water board."

California's Division of Water Rights staff is recommending a fine of $224,875 to settle the complaint.

From our original investigation, a little more context:

Ethos Water was supposed to help fix the global water crisis: Founded in 2002 in Southern California, the bottled-water company promised that for every unit it sold, it would donate a small amount of money to water charity projects in the developing world.

The idea quickly took off. In 2005, Ethos was acquired by Starbucks. Now, for every $1.95 bottle of Ethos water it sells, Starbucks makes a 5-cent donation to the Ethos Water Fund, part of the Starbucks Foundation. "When our customers choose to buy Ethos Water, they're improving the lives of people who lack vital resources," Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in 2008.

Some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood have lent their names to Starbucks' Ethos brand. Matt Damon starred in an ad campaign, and Starbucks partnered with a company that drives celebrities to the Oscars and filled the cars with Ethos bottles, "so Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz walked into the awards carrying Ethos Water," as Ethos cofounder Peter Thum explained. In 2011, Ethos' other cofounder, Jonathan Greenblatt, became special assistant to the president and head of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Obama himself lauded Greenblatt last fall for his "innovative solutions to America's challenges."

Starbucks says that its partnership with Ethos has raised more than $12.3 million for water charity projects to date.

So far, media coverage has focused on Starbucks' goal to quench the thirst of the world's parched masses; the story behind the bottled water it sells here in the United States has been a nonissue. But now, as California's historic drought wears on, Starbucks is facing a water crisis of its own.

The bottling plant that Starbucks uses for its Ethos customers in the western United States is located in Merced, California, which is currently ranked in the "exceptional drought" category by the US Drought Monitor. Its residents face steep water cuts in their homes, and surface water for the region's many farms is drying up.

Read the full investigation here.

More School Choice Means Long, Lonely Commutes for Kids

Mother Jones - 12 hours 51 sec ago

The school choice movement has sent low-income students commuting far and wide in search of a better education, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University. Whether those long commutes to school are worth the sacrifice isn't so clear.

In a study of more than 24,000 records of Chicago students entering high school in the fall of 2009, JHU education professor Julia Burdick-Will found that the poorer a student's neighborhood, the farther that student was likely to travel to get to school. In areas where the median income was $25,000 or less, kids spread out to an average of 13 different schools. In wealthy neighborhoods with median incomes above $75,000, most kids attended one of just three schools.

The social and geographic consequences of long school commutes can be significant, and another major barrier to success for poor children. Navigating such a complex educational system is a daunting task for even the best-prepared families. "We think of choice as a thing of privilege,” Burdick-Will said in a press release. “But what we see is that there is a privilege of not having to choose."

Continue Reading »

Here's the Conservative Playbook for Tearing Down Black Lives Matter

Mother Jones - 12 hours 52 sec ago

In the wake of last Friday's murder of a Harris County, Texas, police deputy, Fox News pundits have bent over backward to find a way to connect the killing to the Black Lives Matter movement. A guest on the Fox talk show The Five on Monday called the movement a "criminal organization," and several hosts, including Bill O'Reilly, described it as a "hate group."

Harris County law enforcement officials have yet to determine a motive for the shooting, and suspect Shannon Miles had been found mentally incompetent to stand trial on a felony assault charge in 2012. But that hasn't stopped Fox News from showing a recent clip of protesters at the Minnesota State Fair chanting, "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon," as pundits discussed the Texas killing, or from running inflammatory on-screen banners that read "Murder Movement" and "Black Lives Matter Taunts Cop Killings."

But this is not a new tactic from the right. Conservatives have long attempted to discredit black social movements by casting them as criminal. In fact, the law-and-order rhetoric they've espoused since the civil rights movement was invented to do just that.

In the 1950s, for example, Southern conservative lawmakers and law enforcement officials argued that acts of civil disobedience by black civil rights activists violated the law, and they criticized support for civil rights legislation as rewarding lawbreakers. Federal courts that struck down Jim Crow laws, they chided, were soft on crime.

This rhetoric went mainstream in the late 1960s following the major civil rights victories of the decade. Richard Nixon and avowed segregationist George Wallace both ran on law-and-order platforms in the 1968 presidential election. In his speeches and political ads, Nixon appealed to the "non-shouters and non-demonstrators" who were "not racist" and "not guilty of the crime that plagued the land," contrasting them with protesters who had "cities up in smoke," a thinly veiled reference to the race riots of the decade. Nixon blamed the courts for "going too far in weakening the peace forces against the criminal forces." He used this coded language to appeal to racist voters at a time when overt racism was becoming less socially acceptable.

Conservative politicians, pundits, and voters continued using this language to rail against the Black Power movement in the 1970s and tie organizations like the Black Panther Party to neighborhood crime and increased drug use. They pointed to the ongoing race riots and the increase in urban crime that accompanied the migration of black Southerners to Northern cities during that period, as evidence that the Panthers' philosophy of armed self-defense was contributing to violence and criminal activity. Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971, prior to the explosion of the drug trade mid-decade, in a tough-on-crime move that functioned as a crackdown on the black people and communities that were supposedly "causing" crime, and the philosophy of racial equality that had contributed to it. (And similarly coded language was used to justify criminal-justice policies that targeted black communities and produced the nation's mass incarceration crisis in the late 1980s and 1990s.)

Now Fox News has targeted the Black Lives Matter movement in the same way. The movement is calling for an end to violence, and its national voices have condemned violence against the police on numerous occasions. But the right insists it is to blame for murders of police officers. The number of peaceful protests dwarfs the number that have seen looting and property destruction, but conservative pundits insist Black Lives Matter protesters are "thugs" and that the movement's rhetoric encourages violence. Just as they sought to discredit the movement to upset the Jim Crow social order, these right-wing voices now seek to discredit the movement to upend the current system of racist policing.

Murders of police aren't the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement. But don't expect to hear that on Fox News anytime soon.

VICE News Capsule - Friday, September 4

VICE News - 13 hours 1 min ago

The VICE News Capsule is a daily news roundup that looks beyond the headlines. Today: Record heat and smog in the Ukrainian capital, displaced Yazidi children learn English in Iraq, riot police and soccer in China, and what's making the wheels on the bus go round across America.

Watch: "DIY Filmmaking and the End of Hollywood: The Business of Life (Episode 10)"


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