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For-profit jail accused of ignoring dying inmate’s cries for help

May 25, 2017 - 11:00pm

“I can’t breathe.”

That’s what Michael Sabbie told corrections officers nearly 20 times, as he lay gasping and heaving for breath in the hallways of a private jail in July 2015 — just hours before officers found him dead in his cell. His death was later ruled to be from natural causes, but in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, Sabbie’s family accuse the jail and several of its employees of violating the 35-year-old’s civil rights and ultimately causing his death through “deliberate indifference” to his medical needs.

Sabbie, who was jailed after a verbal domestic dispute with his wife, told intake staff at Texas’ Bi-State Justice Center that he “suffered from heart disease, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and other medical conditions,” according to the lawsuit, conditions for which he took several prescription medications. But in the three days that Sabbie waited in jail, he allegedly never received that medication and was never properly medically evaluated.

By the time Sabbie, who was black, showed up in court to plead “not guilty” to a misdemeanor assault charge days later, court officials apparently noticed that Sabbie was struggling to breathe and sweating. But it was after that court appearance that Sabbie’s condition appeared to deteriorate markedly.

That deterioration was caught on two separate videos.

The first, which lacks sound and was apparently shot by a jail hallway camera, appears to begin as Sabbie and several other prisoners are being led back from court. Sabbie stops and leans forward, seemingly struggling to breathe, as an officer approaches him. Sabbie walks away from the officer, who grabs him roughly and throws him to the ground. Several other officers pile on top of Sabbie.

The second video, which does have sound and is shot on a handheld camera to document the use of force, starts soon afterwards. An officer sprays Sabbie with what the lawsuit alleges is pepper spray. Then Sabbie, who repeatedly tells corrections officers, “I can’t breathe,” is taken to a room marked “medical.” A woman who appears to be a nurse examines Sabbie for less than a minute, though an officer’s body obscures from the camera what exactly the examination consists of.

Sabbie gasps for breath almost constantly throughout the video; his heaving is audible even when he’s buried under the pile of corrections officers. At one point, while in the shower — which he was shepherded into for “decontamination,” one of the officers claims on video — Sabbie even appears to collapse unconscious.

The video ends after officers lead Sabbie back to his cell, or “pod.” According to the lawsuit, a corrections officer was assigned to check in on Sabbie throughout the night, but failed to do so and falsely claimed she did.

“His body was stiff and cold to the touch. It is not yet known how long Mr. Sabbie lay dead while jail staff ignored him,” the lawsuit reads. “However, had defendants summoned appropriate medical care at any point before his death, Mr. Sabbie could have been saved and would still be alive today.”

“The failure to secure needed medical care for Mr. Sabbie was motivated by constitutionally impermissible profit-driven reasons,” it adds. LaSalle Corrections, the Bi-State Justice Center’s operator and one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment. Other defendants named in the lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified damages, include several of the corrections officers involved in Sabbie’s death, Texas’ Bowie County, and the city of Texarkana, Arkansas.

Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department moved to end its use of private prisons. In February, Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled his plans to bring them back.

One of the Sabbie family’s lawyers, Erik Heipt, told NBC News that the question of whether race played a role in Sabbie’s death will be examined as the lawsuit progresses. But his final words — ”I can’t breathe” — are the same as Eric Garner’s, a black American who died in 2014 after being put in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer.

Reporter allegedly assaulted by GOP candidate says official explanation was a lie

May 25, 2017 - 8:34pm

The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs may have become a factor in how Montanans vote today.  Residents head to the polls to decide who will become the state’s next member of the House of Representatives.

Last night, after Jacobs asked the republican candidate Greg Gianforte a question, the candidate allegedly lost his temper and “body slammed” the reporter.  Gianforte was quickly charged with misdemeanor assault.

The campaign claimed it was Jacobs’ aggressive behavior that landed him on the ground.  But when Jacobs talked to VICE News today, he pushed back on that. “It wasn’t a private office it was an open, open space. That there wasn’t, you know, a door that I pushed through or crawled through a window… This was a public event,” Jacobs said.

He is attempting to extricate himself from the story as much as possible. “It’s not about me,” Jacobs said. “This is about reporters being able to ask basic policy questions of candidates on important issues of the day and be able to…expect to not get violently assaulted in the course of doing that.”

While all of this could affect the way some people vote today, more than a third of registered voters in Montana had already cast their mail-in ballots before the incident happened.

The Bubble Is Deflating

May 25, 2017 - 4:31pm

Less than two months ago, Toronto’s housing market was roaring. Just a single new listing on the market, especially of single-detached homes, would send buyers into a feeding frenzy, clamouring over each other to view properties and upping their bids by as much as 30 to 40 percent in some cases.

“I’ve never ever seen a surge like this before.”

 

Sure enough, in February this year, Toronto home prices, which have been on a steady increase since mid-2014, reached a ridiculous high — a 25 percent spike from the year before. There are many reasons for that, but what stood out that month was the utter dearth of homes available for sale. February saw just 9834 new homes come onto the market, a 12.5 percent decrease from the year before. In January, there were 7338 new listings on the market, down by 17.6 percent from the year before.

Then in late April, in a move that some say was unnecessary and politically-motivated, the Ontario government intervened to cool the housing market, by slapping a 15 percent tax on foreign buyers, whom they believe were using the rising market to engage in speculative activities. That rule came alongside 15 other new regulations under Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Fair Housing Plan.

Soon after, there seemed to be a sudden surge in the number of residential real estate listings in Toronto and nearby towns like Barrie and Newmarket.

“There were 140-plus listings in the downtown core alone earlier this week. I’ve never ever seen a surge like this before,” said David Fleming, a Toronto-based realtor with Bosley Real Estate.  “April was a weird month too — we suddenly started seeing all this inventory creep onto the market.”

Figures from the Toronto Real Estate Board show that new listings shot up by 33.6 percent in April, compared to April 2016. Indeed, in the real estate world, it’s not too unusual for inventory to spike in Spring — that’s traditionally the season where sellers emerge from winter hibernation.

What’s odd though, is the fact that the number of listings that have come onto the market, based on anecdotal evidence alone, seems to be much higher than usual. “There was one and half months of inventory in the GTA in the first two weeks of May alone,” said Lauren Haw, CEO of Zoocasa, one of Canada’s biggest real estate websites.

“I think there’s a change in the psychology of home buyers and sellers, ever since the government intervened.”

Could this be the first sign of a cooling market?

Although Toronto’s real estate market has clearly been in bubble territory for at least the last year, the fundamentals that drive home price movement still apply. The higher the supply of homes available for sale, the more options people have, and the lower prices will be.

Granted, in a city as vibrant, safe and populated as Toronto, you’re not going to see prices go down anytime soon. But an increase in the number of listings is a clear sign that the lunacy of homes selling for up to 40 percent above their asking price, might be over.

“I think there’s a change in the psychology of home buyers and sellers, ever since the government intervened,” Bruce Joseph of Anthem Mortgages told VICE Money. “Perhaps the big cash out is at play now, people listing their homes and wanting to sell because they think prices are going to go down.”

Buyers too, seem to think prices are may taper off. One buyer, Oakville resident Vijayalakshmi Govindasamy was surprised to see that open houses in her neighbourhood were deserted. “I went to view three properties in Oakville over the weekend. In the first house, there were only two other people. In the second and third houses, I was the only interested buyer.”

Govindasamy says that she was told by one of the realtors present to make an offer for “even just $1 million”, despite the fact that the said home, a single-detached house, was being listed for $1.4 million. “Why are people desperate to sell in a supposedly hot market?”

Joseph, a mortgage broker in Barrie, Ontario, has long believed that Toronto and its surrounding towns never had a supply problem. “That’s just what real estate players want you to believe. Our home ownership rate is one of the highest in the world. If you just go on Kijiji, you’ll see that there is no lack of places for people to live in.”

So what then, prompted the freeze in listings earlier this year? Joseph’s theory is that it was a result of intervention by the Federal government in the mortgage market back in October, where lending requirements rules were aggressively tightened.

“My speculation, and it’s just speculation, is that nobody was listing their properties because there was this change in credit availability. People got spooked. They felt it was best to just hold on to whatever they had at that point.”

“It’s one of these situations where the new rules have created certain perceptions.”

May data from the Toronto Real Estate Board will be released early next month. The figures will be crucial in piecing together the extent to which federal and provincial intervention in Toronto’s housing market worked in slowing down the home price momentum.

“In the past, a house listed for $799,000 would have easily sold for $1.1 million. But now, and this is somewhat confusing to me, people are holding back offers, meaning that they are not in a hurry to have buyers submit an official bid for their home,” said Toronto realtor Fleming.

There is no one answer to the question of whether the housing market in Toronto is cooling. What’s evident at this point, is there is a high degree of trepidation in market — buyers are waiting to see if prices might actually go down, some sellers are worried that prices may go down and are desperate to sell, while others are holding out, banking on the usual uptick in Spring season sales.

“It’s one of these situations where the new rules have created certain perceptions, and those perceptions almost have the effect of cooling the market more than the rules themselves,” said Lauren Haw of Zoocasa.

“At some point the growth rate (of home prices) will have to come down. There might be a couple of years of flat growth or no growth, but the fundamentals of the market have not changed enough for home prices to decline.”

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Changes to Canada’s Indian Act could give up to 2 million people Indian status

May 25, 2017 - 1:30pm

The Liberal government is planning to reject an amendment to the Indian Act proposed by the Senate that could give as many as two million Indigenous people Indian status.

The Indian Act dates back to 1876, and has been described as a fundamentally racist document.

Two years ago, a Quebec court ordered the government to make changes to the act, after finding that it had, for decades, discriminated against women.

The act has always allowed men with Indian status who married non-status women before to pass their Indian status to their grandchildren and beyond. But the act, historically, stripped status from status women who married non-status men, and their children, until it was changed in 1985. That gendered distinction has withheld Indian status from thousands, if not millions, of First Nations people.

The Indian Act dates back to 1876, and has been described as a fundamentally racist document.

While the act has been updated several times over the past hundred years, there are still First Nations people who do not have status because of the historical language from the act. To try and rectify that — and to satisfy the court ruling — the Trudeau government introduced a bill S-3 into the Senate. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told the Senate committee that she envisioned the legislation offering Indian status to some 35,000 First Nations people in Canada.

The bill aimed to offer Indian status to anyone descended from those who were either denied status, or who lost their status, before changes were introduced to the act in 1985. The changes will primarily apply to the children and grandchildren of women who lost their status after marrying a non-Indian man and to those born out of wedlock.

The government’s changes only apply to certain Indigenous people who were denied their status between 1951 and 1985 and, by extension, their children and grandchildren.

“If we stay under the Indian Act for status, within 50 years there will be no more status Indians in Canada.”

But the Senate wanted the legislation to go further, and introduced amendments aimed at removing those distinctions for descendants of men and women who married non-Indians before 1951, going back to the 1800s. Those amendments still need to be approved by the whole Senate chamber.

Another amendment made to the bill, introduced by Senator Murray Sinclair, would require the government to offer status to applicants based on the evidence in front of them, “without being required to establish the identity of that parent, grandparent, or other ancestor.”

Indian status under the act offers increased autonomy for First Nations peoples, and ostensibly includes local decision-making on control of their land, education, and resources — though the extent to which that is actually the case is a matter of debate, and a source conflict with the federal government. The act does not cover Inuit and Métis peoples, and many Indigenous people believe the act ought to be scrapped altogether, and replaced with a more modern document that guarantees more autonomy.

Bennett told the committee that the proposal could mean bill S-3 would apply to “hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of new people and radically alter the composition of communities.” The government’s estimates, sent to the Globe & Mail, put that number at anywhere between 80,000 and two million.

While she noted the “many potential inequities not addressed in this bill,” Bennett added that the planned changes “absent adequate consultation and without knowing the practical implications beforehand would be irresponsible, and we will not be able to accept such an amendment.”

The clock is now ticking down, and a showdown between the two houses of Parliament appears to be looming.

An extension granted by the Superior Court of Quebec gave the government until July 3, 2017 to fix the issues with the Indian Act. If they don’t, a crucial part of the Indian Act will be inoperable, meaning the government won’t be able to offer new status to a huge swath of First Nations people.

But, for the government to meet that deadline, both the House of Commons and the Senate — which has been exercising its independence in recent months — will need to agree on the text of the bill. 

These changes are not just tinkering — as Perry Bellegarde, National Chief for the Assembly for First Nations, pointed out to the committee in November, it is a matter of continuing the very concept of First Nations identity.

“If we stay under the Indian Act for status, within 50 years there will be no more status Indians in Canada,” Bellegarde said, calling it “a totally racist, discriminatory act.”

“It would appear that now that you are government, you’re no longer supporting that position.”

Denise Stonefish, Deputy Grand Chief with the Assembly of First Nations, said the government’s legislation simply exacerbates the problem.

“The basic approach of this bill is to continue arbitrary federal control over First Nations identity and push the residual gender-based discrimination down one generation,” Stonefish, who also chairs the assembly’s women’s council, told the Senators.

The Assembly of First Nations supports broadening the legislation, but urged caution and consultation.

Sinclair pointed out during the committee hearings that the Liberal Party itself proposed an amendment that would allow people who had been discriminated against in the past to be able to register under the bill.

“It would appear that now that you are government, you’re no longer supporting that position,” said Senator Murray Sinclair.

Bennett said while in opposition, the Liberals were able to “propose where we haven’t really understood all of the implications, or we haven’t had the resources to go and do the kind of consultation that is required.

“So, I wouldn’t say we have changed our minds,” she said. “I would just say that, as government, we have to do the due diligence and due the proper consultation.”

The government has committed to consider further changes to the Indian Act, on broader issues related to Indian registration, band membership and citizenship.

While they haven’t been finalized, the issues on the table will likely include things like other distinctions in Indian registration, issues relating to adoption, as well as unstated or unknown paternity.

How an 18-year-old gamer went from neo-Nazi to Muslim to alleged killer

May 25, 2017 - 1:26pm

On Friday night, Devon Arthurs, an 18-year-old with no criminal record, ran into a smoke shop in Tampa, Florida, took people there hostage, and said he was angry about America bombing Muslim countries. According to a police report, Arthurs waved a semiautomatic pistol and yelled “Do me a favor and get the fuck on the ground!” He asked a customer, “Why shouldn’t I kill you?”

Police arrived and soon convinced Arthurs to let the hostages go. But when an officer asked if anyone else was hurt, Arthurs said his roommates weren’t hurt — they were dead.

When police took Arthurs to his nearby apartment, they found Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18, dead from gunshot wounds to the head and chest. They also found Brandon Russell, dressed in his Florida National Guard uniform, crying.

“That’s my roommate,” Arthurs told police when they came upon Russell. “He doesn’t know what’s going on and just found [our other roommates] like you guys did.”

The killings, which slowly made their way into the national news this week, look like a case study in the online radicalization of young men. All four of the roommates were brought together by a neo-Nazi ideology developed in online chatrooms. Police discovered explosives and a device that could be used as a detonator in the apartment’s garage, which Russell said belonged to him; he was arrested Sunday on federal charges. The explosive materials were found only because Arthurs went from a neo-Nazi to a radical Islamist to an alleged killer in just over a year.

Two weeks earlier, Himmelman and Oneschuk had moved from Massachusetts into the apartment with Arthurs and Russell. They’d previously all become friends while playing video games and hanging out in chatrooms on platforms like Tinychat, Discord, and Skype, according to members of those chatrooms. The four were members of a white nationalist online group called Atomwaffen — German for “atomic weapon.” (Himmelman’s sister, Lyssa Himmelman, told the Tampa Bay Times that claims her brother was a neo-Nazi were “lies.”)

“People made fun of his religious beliefs a lot and I believe this was him finally pushing back.”

The roommates had, in the parlance of that part of the internet, “edgy” politics. But over the last year, Arthurs had begun to make his online friends uncomfortable. Though he still hung out in the same rooms, his interests had shifted from national socialism to Salafism, an ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam. He’d converted, changing his screen name from Weissewolfe to Kekman Al-Amriki. The first name, Kekman, is a reference to 4chan slang; the second echoes the name of an American member of the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab.

Arthurs had no mortgage, no Facebook profile, and virtually no presence on the internet — at least, not under his given name. But he left a 4-year-long trail showing his shift from teen gamer to neo-Nazi to radical Islamist. VICE News communicated with nine members of chatrooms he frequented in addition to alt-right activists who were aware of Atomwaffen, and read sections of old online chat transcripts with Arthurs and Russell, along with screenshots of private chats among their friends after the crime. Together, they all served to piece together Arthurs’ online extremist evolution.

* * *

Russell and Arthurs were the leaders of Atomwaffen and best friends, according to those who knew them. But about a year ago, Arthurs converted to Salafism, an ultraconservative version of Sunni Islam, and had begun to defend ISIS online. Members of Atomwaffen were wary of having a Muslim in their midst, but Russell defended Arthurs.

“When you hear the word radicalization, what usually comes to mind is young people turning to Islamic fundamentalism,” academic researchers Alice Marwick and Becca Lewis wrote on the site Select/All days before the killing. “ISIS has a host of YouTube channels, chat rooms, and Twitter accounts that are extremely effective at channeling the energy of disaffected and disenfranchised young people. But the far right is doing virtually the same thing — and possibly even more effectively.”

Marwick and Lewis argue that once a community becomes open to one form of extremism, it’s easier for other forms to be introduced. “Some sci-fi, fandom, and gaming communities — having accepted run-of-the-mill anti-feminism — are beginning to espouse white-nationalist ideas.”

According to his friends, Arthurs moved along that same path.

“He went from communist to national socialism to hyper-pragmatic capitalism to full ISIS,” said James, a 20-year-old “American nationalist” who met Arthurs on Tinychat several years ago. James said Arthurs found the American far right to be “soft… because groups like ISIS actually do murder homosexuals etc. and take action, while our group had multiple LGBT individuals.”

“Life isn’t politics 24/7. He and his friends enjoyed playing the same video games. It was fun to have him around.”

“We all connected in the sense that we were introverts that didn’t really connect with the ‘outside’ world,” explained Catherine, a member of a group of friends who came together in a Tinychat room beginning in 2013. Many came to the chat rooms from 4chan and 8chan, message boards that are totally anonymous. In Tinychat, users show their faces, or at least use screen names, so it’s easier to make friends and follow who is saying what over time.

The group of about a dozen mostly young people became close; when one of them committed suicide about a year ago, Arthurs and Russell were both inconsolable. Arthurs helped organize the group to contact the friend’s parents and tell them how much he was missed.

Eventually, the friends got the urge to move into the real world. “Tinychat was just for chatting online,” said a friend who goes by Nero. “[Arthurs and Russell] met there and became friends and they wished to build some sort of real-life community, real-life activism so all their time didn’t go to waste doing nothing and chatting online.”

That’s how the Florida chapter of Atomwaffen came to be. The group formed on Ironmarch, a fascist forum that’s part of the tapestry of far-right sites that expressed rabid support of Donald Trump. Atomwaffen has 50 members at most, and several people in the Tinychat group said they didn’t take Atomwaffen too seriously.

“Most of our [Tinychat] group saw them as a bunch of goofy kids,” according to James. Atomwaffen put up neo-Nazi fliers and stickers and had a YouTube channel. They made flags and posed with guns.

In April, Russell posted photos of their urban exploration trip, writing, “A few of us in Florida explored this abandoned Juvenile Detention Centre on Hitler’s birthday this year.” The captions have the discordant tone of white supremacist Boy Scouts.

“[Russell] once told me it was one of his favorite hobbies aside from national socialism,” Selina Ortiz, who frequently chatted with the pair, said of the urban exploration.

When they heard I’d been asking around about Russell, several of his friends messaged me to praise his character. Friends described Russell’s childlike love of scientific experimentation. Russell can be seen in a “backyard scientist” YouTube video making a watermelon explode, and in a Skype chat from 2014, he talked about building a rocket. Friends insist that the explosive material found by the FBI was pure scientific inquiry.

According to police, however, Arthurs said Russell had participated “in online neo-Nazi internet chat rooms where he threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure.”

Russell “was tied to some very hardcore beliefs but had a heart of gold,” James said. “He said a bunch of shit but wouldn’t hurt a fly. He just got sucked in.”

In a world defined in part by merciless trolling, Russell appeared to be extremely sensitive. “People would go in and make fun of him and he would cry and become visibly upset,” Catherine, a Tinychat user, said. “There were memes with screencaps of him looking sad in the camera like ‘I’M MASTERRACE—PLEASE BE MY FWEND.’ Was pretty funny tbh. But it got to him.’”

She continued: “He’s a tender emotional kid, just not too mentally stable and got messed up with the wrong people and didn’t have a good father figure. I don’t condone his opinions or beliefs or justify them whatsoever, he just wasn’t all hatred and scorn.”

“He always hopped around ideologies. National socialism and Islam both offer a strong worldview — very masculine, very optimistic.”

After the shootings, according to screenshots sent to me, friends talking among themselves expressed frustration, particularly regarding the explosives. In one Discord chat, a friend complained, “He fucked up keeping that material around.”

Most of the friends from Tinychat were less complimentary of Arthurs — something was “not quite right.” Screenshots show Arthurs “awkwardly,” in his own words, thanking friends for helping him through depression. Friends say they encouraged him to focus on family and getting a job, and to cool off on the radical politics for a bit. They told him Atomwaffen was bad news.

According to friends, Arthurs converted to Islam a little more than a year ago. “It’s hard for me to say it straight up like this, since I considered him to be one of my closest friends at some point,” said a member of Atomwaffen. “I even was shitposting with him as recently as 12 hours before this all went down. But I think he was always unstable, and this Salafism shit got to his head more than anything.”

Another 18-year-old alt-right activist told me, “He’s always been hopping around ideologies…. He wanted to feel like he belonged to something strong…. National socialism and Islam both offer a strong worldview — something very masculine, something very optimistic. Conquest and all that.”

While Arthurs did lose some friends after his conversion, others remained close to him. “Life isn’t politics 24/7,” Nero explained. “They enjoyed playing the same video games, and although I really dislike Devon for what he did, he was a very charismatic and funny guy at times. It was fun to have him around.”

* * *

In transcripts of chats, Arthurs blends alt-right ideas with Islam. “Any state that allows adultery or any other form of degeneration is not worth fighting or dying for.” “Degeneracy” is an alt-right fixation meaning nontraditional sexual mores.

According to screenshots of a Skype chat, Arthurs was disgusted by American culture. “See, I wouldn’t be so mad, if it wasn’t for the fact you literally have millions of western cuckolds ready to defend ‘freedom.’ The freedom for their daughters to be pimped out by pornographic distributors, freedom for their wives to be banged by countless guys while they are home, freedom to have their kids innocence be robbed.”

He also talked about about “white sharia,” which has become an alt-right meme — women are ruining society, the thinking goes, so the only way to fix it is to brutally oppress them. At times, friends say, Arthurs threatened violence.

“He was serious about this. People made fun of his religious beliefs a lot and I believe this was him finally pushing back,” Nero said.

How much of the alt-right’s racism is ironic — and whether that matters — has been much debated over the last year. In an infamous 2016 Breitbart article, Milo Yiannopoulos wrote, “Are they actually bigots? No more than death metal devotees in the ’80s were actually Satanists. For them, it’s simply a means to fluster their grandparents…. They have no real problem with race-mixing, homosexuality, or even diverse societies. It’s just fun to watch the mayhem and outrage that erupts when those secular shibboleths are openly mocked.”

Atomwaffen is far to the right of the alt-right. Many of Russell’s friends said he would never hurt someone, that he might condemn “sodomites” even while having gay friends. But it seems Arthurs took it seriously.

“Arthurs also stated that, before the murder, he had been privy to neo-Nazi Internet chat sites threatening to kill people,” according to a Tampa police statement, “and he had developed a thinking that he should take some of the neo-Nazis with him.”

Some alt-right types have suggested the killings show the danger of Islam. At the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer, Andrew Anglin wrote, “Talk about a narrative collapse. The Jews are trying to say we’re the same as Moslem terrorists. Meanwhile, Nazis are converting to Islam and then killing their old Nazi friends.”

An Atomwaffen member claimed to have worked on personal security for Richard Spencer, the man who coined the term “alt-right.” An alt-right military veteran who has organized security for Spencer told me he would not associate with Atomwaffen, but I asked Spencer if he knew anything about the group.

“Muslims are psychos,” he replied. “Even the White ones.”

Several people from the Tinychat group contacted me fearing a spin on the story. “There’s some sort of narrative being crafted that they were all virgin nerds and that is the cause of voilent [sic] crime and national socialism,” one said. Yet he added that Arthurs and Russell “were drawn to that stupid shit becuase [sic] they never had proper father figures.”

I was sent screenshots of conversations between members, then screenshots of my conversations with members were sent to the private group chat, and in turn, screenshots of those screenshots were sent back to me. One guy said he wanted to make Arthurs “look gay.”

While they were attempting to control the narrative of this story, amongst themselves there were recriminations. “Somebody should have literally stepped up to the plate and been a father figure.” And: “We ignored the fact that cray [crazy] combined with crazy ideology doesn’t go well.” Someone claimed Arthurs had talked to ISIS members on Telegram, a chat app famously used by ISIS. Another responded: “Why the fuck didn’t you report him if you knew that?”

“Frustrated young men do crazy stuff. Why do you think ISIS is so popular?” Ortiz said. “I know testosterone is just a hell of a hormone.”

I asked, in several different ways, if the friends could have anticipated Atomwaffen would end in violence. They answered with a compassion that’s missing in their memeing.

“If you’re looking to make a hit piece on two people that were killed in cold blood then I think we’re done here,” Nero said. His friends had wanted to create a “proper community” that they had found absent elsewhere. “Many of these guys came from bad homes growing up and they wanted that belonging they didn’t have in childhood…. Everyone else in the organization had issues with Devon’s religious beliefs, but they ignored it because they thought that Devon cared about them and that he wouldn’t ever do something like this to them.”

I also asked if it occurred to them that someone, perhaps a mentally ill person, might take everything seriously and actually do something about it.

“Oh of course,” James said. “I’m sure Brandon realized something wasn’t quite right with Devon. Never suspected he would do anything. But again, Devon was his best and closest friend, and many times people will overlook the bad qualities of loved ones.”

The Manchester bomber grew up in a neighborhood struggling with extremism

May 25, 2017 - 12:31pm

The exact pathway to radicalization that led Salman Ramadan Abedi to detonate a suicide bomb and kill 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in his own city Monday is not yet fully known. But a picture has emerged of his links to jihadis in the south Manchester neighborhoods where he lived, as well as his exposure to hard-line Salafist ideology in his family, community, and mosque.

Abedi, 22, was born in Manchester to Libyan parents who arrived in the U.K. as refugees fleeing former dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. He lived at an address in Elsmore Road in Fallowfield, south Manchester, a nondescript suburban street of red-brick terrace houses that was cordoned off by police when VICE News visited Wednesday, after officers stormed the property using a controlled explosion the previous day.

The family belonged to a community of Libyan dissidents that included members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Islamist militia that the U.S. State Department says has links to al Qaeda. Abedi’s father, Ramadan, reportedly fought with the militia during the Libyan revolution in 2011. Ramadan Abedi has lived in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, since 2008 and was joined there by other family members following the revolution; he and another of his sons were reportedly arrested there Wednesday.

During their time in Manchester, the bomber and his family worshiped at the nearby Didsbury Mosque, which hit the headlines in 2011 when it was claimed that worshipers had raised money for the LIFG. One former Libyan worshiper at the mosque, al Qaeda operative Abd al-Baset Azzouz, left Britain in 2009 to join the terror group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Pakistan, before heading to Libya to run an al Qaeda network in the east of the country.

Didsbury Mosque, where the Abedi family worshiped. Credit - Associated Press.

Rashad Ali, senior fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and counter-terror expert, told VICE News the mosque preached a “fairly radical, puritan” brand of Salafist Islam and was “effectively taken over at certain points by various Libyan militia groups, including ones associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.” He said the Abedi family subscribed to a radical political strain of Salafism – a background which suggested the bomber would have had a shorter pathway to radicalization than others.

“It is easier because the mindset is there,” Ali said.

Investigators believe Abedi, who dropped out of university last year and had been working at a bakery, was part of a wider terror network, and there have been reports that the bomb he used had same type of explosive as seen in the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, which were both claimed by ISIS.

“The level of sophistication of the attack is something that we have not seen since the attacks in London in 2005,” Rizwaan Sabir, a counterterror expert at Liverpool John Moores University, told VICE News, adding that support had “definitely” been provided.

Neighborhood extremists

The hunt for Abedi’s collaborators has thrown up links to other extremists active in the south Manchester area, which has produced at least 16 other terrorists in recent years. These include Raphael Hostey, a prolific ISIS recruiter who was reportedly a friend of Abedi’s and worshipped at the Didsbury mosque, believed to have been killed in a drone strike in Syria last year. Another is Abdal Raouf Abdallah, a fellow member of Manchester’s Libyan community who was jailed for nine and a half years in 2016 after being convicted of funding and preparing acts of terrorism.

“When they go home on their smartphones, they’re watching this weird heretic stuff”

Ismael Lea South is the director of a deradicalization programme known as the Salam Project, which works with young Muslims in the south Manchester neighborhoods around where Abedi lived – although the bomber never came into his orbit. South told VICE News that radicalization has long been an issue in the area’s Muslim communities, but that the problem had escalated in recent years with the rise of jihadist propaganda on social media – to the extent where he would encounter 4-5 radicalized individuals in the community each year.

“When they go home on their smartphones, they’re watching this weird heretic stuff,” he said. “They start with videos that are middleweight then go into something more hard. It’s like drug users would start smoking weed, then you put a little heroin or crack in the weed and become a cokehead or a heroin addict.”

Attempting to win back extremists

South’s work focuses on a neighborhood called Moss Side, about 1.6km from Abedi’s home, and the center of the recent wave of jihadists from the area. The neighbourhood became a heavily Muslim area after an influx of Libyan, Somali, Kurdish, and Afghan migrants in the 1990s. Moss Side has high levels of deprivation and unemployment, with one-in-five people out of work, as well as struggling with an entrenched gang problem.

“You’ve got many young guys who have graduated from university and can’t get a job, they’re looking to move to London because they don’t see any opportunities for them in Manchester,” he said.

The street where Abedi lived in Manchester. Credit - Tim Hume.

In neighborhoods like this, where people struggled to find meaningful work or social engagement, people were particularly vulnerable to radicalizing narratives, South said. Members of the local Libyan community have said that local British-Libyan youth had battled to find their place in U.K. society. “They don’t belong to either society. They are neither Libyan nor British. They are not accepted anywhere,” Akram Ramadan, who fought with Abedi’s father during the Libyan revolution and worshiped at Didsbury Mosque, told the Guardian.

South said that as well as the threat posed by online propaganda, which had been put to devastating effect by ISIS to recruit support worldwide, locals were also vulnerable to radicalization through Salafist street preachers, who he said had a tendency to target “gang members, or people with a violent, aggressive, or volatile nature, because they are easy to brainwash.”

“Their conversion to jihadi Salafism is very easy, since it has the same aggressive confrontational and intolerant narrative and culture as the gangster street life they are used to,” he told VICE News.

Once his group identifies a radicalizing individual, he said, they would try to introduce them to “a moderate scholar who will tell them this is not the teachings of Islam.”

“What it takes is mentorship, where they can be with someone on a regular basis. But the reality is there’s no resources in this. Sometimes you just call the police.”

First hand experience

Adam Nazar, a former Muslim extremist, told VICE News that he had become radicalized during his late teens in London, when he had come into the orbit of young fundamentalists from Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamist organization banned in several countries, that seeks the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

“It was cool because it was this movement of young people,” Nazar explained, saying that as a young Muslim finding his identity in modern Britain, being affiliated with the radicals gave him a strong sense of belonging.

“I didn’t see anything wrong, because nothing was telling me it was wrong”

Nazar was “wowed” by their lectures, and as a young man, lacked the intellectual wherewithal to challenge what he was being taught. “All young people are driven by emotion. If they can rattle your emotion they’ve got you hooked – radicalism has nothing to do with logic.”

Nazar’s radicalization occurred in the 1990s – when at one stage he planned to wage jihad in Bosnia – and he has long since changed his views.

But while new technology has handed a whole new set of tools to those who seek to lure young men into extremism, Nazar says the message – and draw to young Muslims – remains the same. Radicals preach that Western society is a corrupting force and foster a sense of Muslim victimhood, pressuring their targets to fight on behalf of Muslims. “There’s a utopia they build in your head,” he said.

In Abedi’s case, investigators believe there was a network supporting the bomber. A U.S. official told CNN Thursday that Abedi likely received ISIS training in the months before the bombing, while the UK’s terror threat level has been raised to its critical amid fears that his conspirators are at large and plotting another attack. Police have now arrested eight people in the investigation, and seized “very important” items in raids, Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said Thursday.

Manchester may have its own problems with extremism to confront, but the proliferation of online propaganda, much slicker and universally accessible, has allowed groups to propagandize events from anywhere in the world to an international audience.

“It triggers a spark inside you,” said Nazar. “You can easily become radicalized just on your own.”

 

Trump travel ban will remain blocked, federal court rules

May 25, 2017 - 11:39am

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld the injunction against the Trump Administration’s ban on residents of six Muslim-majority countries entering the United States. 

In a 10-3 ruling, judges sided with the lower court in its decision to indefinitely block central parts of Trump’s March executive order barring people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for a 90 day period and suspending the refugee program for 120 days.

Although the revised executive order (after an earlier version was ruled likely unconstitutional by a judge in Seattle) did not explicitly mention Muslims or Islam, the court ruled that the intent was to target people based on religion.

The new version, Chief Judge Roger L Gregory wrote in his ruling, contained “vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”

Gregory referred to a number of statements made by Trump on the campaign trail, including his statement vowing to pursue a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Gregory also cited an interview Trump gave with Christian Broadcasting News on Jan. 27 2017, in which he said that his executive order was designed to give preference to Christian refugees.

Gregory wrote that the order “cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it,” and that the national security explanation was a “post hoc, secondary justification for an executive action rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country.”

“President Trump’s Muslim ban violates the Constitution, as this decision strongly reaffirms,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement. “The Constitution’s prohibition on actions disfavoring or condemning any religion is a fundamental protection for all of us, and we can all be glad that the court today rejected the government’s request to set that principle aside.”

The next stop, should the Trump Administration choose to pursue the ban, would be the Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit is weighing a separate appeal to the ban, but has not indicated when they plan to rule on it. Even if that court rules in Trump’s favor, the ban cannot be reinstated while the nationwide injunction, affirmed by the Fourth Circuit, is in place.

Sessions promises crackdown: “Drugs and crime go together”

May 25, 2017 - 11:38am

Two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke in Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday, a 6-year-old boy’s video plea to end gun violence went viral on Facebook.

Sessions hopes everyone saw it.

“This is happening in the United States of America — and we will not stand for it, “ the U.S. attorney general said before 80 local, state, and federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers in Memphis. The video provided the perfect backdrop to discuss his plans to revive the era of being “tough on crime.”

Under President Barack Obama, criminal justice reform had been a priority, and lawmakers from both parties decried skyrocketing prison populations and costs. Since taking office, however, President Donald Trump and Sessions cling to advocating more resources and tougher policies toward fighting crime.

“The more murderers in jail, the fewer people are going to be murdered in this country,” Sessions said. “I don’t think the increase is a blip. Yes, we did have 30 years of a decline in crime, which we did with tough sentencing, and tough prosecution.”

During his remarks, Sessions made no secret of his disdain for the reforms sought by his predecessors. The DOJ would “do work that furthers law enforcement, not undermines law enforcement,” he said.

Sessions also doubled down on his belief that drug use and violent crime are tightly correlated. “Drugs and crime go together,” Sessions said. “If they don’t fear you, they don’t pay you.” But reform advocates argue that increased criminalization of drugs breeds competition between distribution networks and perpetuates violence.

“Violent crime surged, federal drug prosecutions fell. We’re going to reverse that trend,” Sessions added. “There’s been too much legalization talk and not enough prevention talk.”

During his time in Memphis, Sessions met with Mayor Jim Strickland, who previously told FOX13 he wanted “federal involvement” in Memphis to beef up the city’s fight against violent crime.  “We don’t know if that is money or manpower, one or the other,” Strickland said.

“Money or manpower” might be in the cards for Memphis, which saw a record of 228 murders in 2016 and 84 so far this year. Sessions’ visit comes days after the Trump administration unveiled its budget proposal for 2018, which increases DOJ funding to Project Safe Neighborhoods by 1,077 percent — a $64 million bump up. Troubled cities seeking to stop violent crime can apply for help from the program, which includes money for hiring more federal and state prosecutors,training, and community outreach efforts. The budget also proposes an additional 300 prosecutors, two-thirds of whom would be directed to prosecute violent crime.

While Sessions didn’t refer to Project Safe Neighborhood by name during his remarks in Memphis,he did describe a similar kind of help that he hopes to bring to cities struggling to combat recent crime waves.

Democrats just united on a $15-an-hour minimum wage

May 25, 2017 - 11:01am

Bruised after a crushing defeat in November, Democrats are uniting under a cause they believe could pay off in 2018: the $15 federal minimum wage. On Thursday, Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, reflecting local laws that have raised the minimum wage in 19 states earlier this year.

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since taking effect in July 2009, an eight-year stagnation that evinces the broader trend of stalled wages across the U.S. economy.

The Raise the Wage Act would be the biggest federal minimum wage increase in history, and it would additionally peg future minimum wage increases to inflation. The bill would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage, the separate minimum standard of $2.13 an hour that is paid to workers, like those in restaurants or bars, who earn at least $30 a month in tips.

Though the legislation has virtually no chance of getting through a GOP-controlled Congress and White House, it marks a sharp turn to the left for Democratic economic policies. It also reflects the lasting impact of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ upstart 2016 campaign for the presidency, and the activism of groups like the nationwide Fight for $15 movement.

The Raise the Wage Act is sponsored in the Senate by Sanders and Sen. Patty Murray, and in the House by Reps. Bobby Scott and Keith Ellison. Critically, it has the support of major center-left Democratic players like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In 2015, when similar legislation was introduced, it had the support of a half-dozen Democrats; today, that number is 31 Democrats.

@BernieSanders Here's the list of all current Senate D co-sponsors, via source in negotiations. "Activist pressure here is really working," source says pic.twitter.com/IjzaLwejDw

— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) May 25, 2017

“Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage today is worth less than it was 50 years ago,” said Sanders at a Thursday press conference. “If you want to know why people all over this country are anger, bitter, disenchanted with government… they are asking why it is the people on top who are doing fantastically well, and yet their standard of living is going down.”

The popular momentum for an increase in a minimum wage has been building for some time now. Earlier this year, millions of workers across nineteen states — under both Democratic and Republican control — got a minimum wage increase at the beginning of the year. Another 19 states, however, still stick by the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Policy advocates on the left and in the center have largely agreed that the U.S. has needed a minimum wage hike for a while now, although they’ve disagreed on the size of such an increase. Economists Paul Wolfson and Dale Belman, two of the most respected authorities on the effect of minimum wage policies, wrote in an award-winning 2014 book that “modest minimum wage increases raise wages for the working poor without substantially affecting employment or work hours, providing solid benefits with small costs.”

Previously, the more center-left wing of the Democratic Party advocated for a federal minimum wage increase to $12 an hour.

Backers of $12 an hour (instead of $15) included Hillary Clinton, and Senators Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, and others. Schumer and Booker, perhaps recognizing the increasing popular support for a $15 minimum wage among the Democratic base, have changed their tune on this and other economic issues since the 2016 election The Center for American Progress, the most important think tank in the Democratic Party, recently came out and endorsed a federal job guarantee program — a longtime progressive hobbyhorse.

Chuck Schumer, speaking after Bernie Sanders at the Thursday press conference introducing the Raise the Wage Act, said that Democrats were going to be “bold” and not  “nibble around the edges” of economic policy. His remarks appeared to foreshadow how the Democrats might be talking about the Trump administration and Republican agenda going into 2018’s midterm elections.

“This president ran on a promise he’d stick up for the American worker. He tried to talk like a different type of Republican,” Schumer said. “But since he’s come into office, he has completely turned his back on the American worker.”

It is very hard to use foreign money to influence Canadian elections

May 25, 2017 - 10:26am

Happy slightly belated Victoria Day, Vice-istas!

Let’s get started with a perennial-ish topic experiencing a sudden resurgence in the headlines, courtesy of a still-unseen-but-allegedly-incendiary report alleging possible electoral shenanigans on the 2015 federal campaign trail: foreign interference!

Specifically, the as-yet-uncorroborated claim that sinister outside interests — including, but not limited to, U.S.-based environmental and social justice groups — may have funnelled cash into avowedly anti-Conservative advertising and activism on the hustings, in an effort to get voters to rally behind the candidate most likely to defeat the local Tory nominee — and, on a macro level, oust then-PM Stephen Harper’s incumbent government from office.

That, in a nutshell, is the gist of the claim being put forward by “Canada Decides,” a newly formed group whose members include former Calgary Centre Conservative MP Joan Crockatt, whose riding was among those targeted for such persuasion efforts. (As yet, they have refused to release the formal complaint, but have helpfully shared the highlights with select media outlets.)

Here’s a sampling of some of the ensuing Kady-asking queries:

@kady Is the foreign funding thing real? Am super sceptical.

— Jordan (@GhostTenant) May 24, 2017

@kady @vicecanada I mean, it smells like a politicking scheme to aid fundraising with no actual impact. It’s not like Russia hacked us. (although…)

— Scott Unger (@scottu487) May 24, 2017

@kady @vicecanada Do you think many Canadians will care about the alleged foreign election financing? So far they seem not to :-/

— Barb Adamski (@BarbAdamski) May 24, 2017


Before wading in, I should note that my VICE Canada compatriot Drew Brown has written up a fairly definitive explanation of why there’s little reason to fear that “foreign interference” actually changed the course of the last election, which you can peruse here.

Ebay/deanandreedltd

Features editor Justin Ling also did his best to unpush the collective panic button in a fact-heavy Twitter thread yesterday, albeit with limited success amongst those who really, truly, want to believe.

In a nutshell, under the current laws, it is absolutely, positively illegal to actively collect money from foreign donors for the explicit purpose of mounting an ad campaign in support of, or against a particular party or candidate.

Groups like Leadnow can, however, use their own resources to do so, even if some of that money may have been given to the organization by a group or individual who otherwise wouldn’t be permitted to directly contribute cash to an advertising push. The key is whether the funding was specifically earmarked for advertising purposes, or just added to the organization’s general operating fund. If it was the latter, it can be put to any purpose the group sees fit, including paying for part — or even all — of an advertising campaign.

This, incidentally, is also true for individuals: You don’t have to be a group to register as a third party advertiser. All you have to do is file the necessary paperwork with Elections Canada.

If you raise money to cover the costs, you have to follow the rules as far as eligible donors — which are actually a bit looser than for parties and candidates, as you can accept money from trade unions and corporations, provided they do business (or, in the case of unions, collectively bargain on behalf of employees) in Canada.

There are also no caps on how much you can donate, but there are stringent limits on how much can actually be spent. According to the latest Elections Canada bulletin, the base limit for a 37 day election is $211,200, with a cap of $4,244 in any one riding.

That amount is, however, prorated to accommodate longer campaigns, which is why the marathon-length 78 day election period in 2015 had a final spending limit of $439,410.81 overall, and $8,788.22 per riding.

According to the post-election financial reports, no third party came close to hitting the max — Leadnow, for instance, spent just $137,545.75. What’s more, the same report shows the group raised nearly three times that much from Canadian contributors, which pretty much puts to bed any notion that the campaign was dependent on foreign funding.

That spending limit is also — rightly — far lower than the caps on party spending. which clocked in at just under $55 million for overall expenses, including advertising, in 2015. (No party came close to hitting that cap, either.)

Even if the groups involved — all of whom dutifully registered with Elections Canada as third party advertisers, and have filed publicly available reports on the money they spent during the writ — were relying on ill-gotten gains to pay for their anti-Conservative ad campaigns, the chance that it actually made a difference in the final results is a wee bit of a stretch, barring some sort of dramatic revelation of truly off-book behaviour like literally stuffing ballot boxes with bogus votes, or hacking the results being transmitted to Elections Canada, which no one, not even Canada Decides, is alleging took place.

Which, incidentally, doesn’t mean there aren’t a variety of middling-to-excellent arguments in favour of further limiting the ability of those not directly engaged in the political process — parties and candidates, that is — to spend cold hard cash in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. One way to do that would be to extend the ban on contributions from corporations, unions and associations to include third party advertisers, and possibly put a cap on how much can be donated, period.

The federal Liberals have also mused about bringing in limits on spending outside the election period — which is currently a free-for-all, as the laws only kick in during a campaign. Those could, in theory, apply to all political advertising, regardless of the buyer, although it’s a good bet you’d see some serious pushback from some, if not all, political parties at the prospect of curtailing their unfettered ability to spend their own money outside the writ.

As for right now, though — and again, barring any major revelation of third parties behaving badly — there doesn’t appear to be any reason to fear that sinister globalist forces orchestrated the election of the Liberals, or even the defeat of certain Conservatives.

Moving on (finally, I know!) to the super-thrilling-and-exciting-and-hey-why-are-you-running-away Conservative leadership race, which is set to wrap up this weekend with a “leadership event” at the conveniently Pearson airport-adjacent Toronto Congress Centre.

The eventual victory of Quebecois libertarian Maxime Bernier seems all but assured, which may or may not be what has made Christian Paas-Lang ponder whether it was a fair fight.

@kady @vicecanada Do you see the new Conservative convention rules as disproportionately favouring any particular candidate?

— Christian Paas-Lang (@ChristianPaas) May 23, 2017

So, just like I was able to (fingers crossed) assuage any sudden pang of uncertainty over the legitimacy of the last federal election, I’m delighted to be able to say that — again, barring any unexpected and thunderous developments — there’s no indication that the Conservative leadership process is unduly biased in favour of any particular candidate.

Very very quick backgrounder for anyone who may not be familiar with the selection system: It’s technically one-vote-per-member, with a preferential ranked ballot, but using a weighted system where each riding is worth 100 points, which are allocated based on the proportion of the vote each contestant receives.

(Yes, the Conservatives, who are, by and large, passionately supportive of first-past-the-post on the federal election front, use both a ranked ballot and a variant of proportional representation to choose a party leader. Life is funny sometimes.)

While the fact that all ridings are given equal weight regardless of the number of active members (which, in some western ridings, can be into the thousands, while there are Quebec outposts with fewer than 20 names on the roll) may lead to some imbalance on a micro-level, the number of candidates on the ballot — which still stands at 14, as Kevin

O’Leary is still listed — coupled with the fact that points are divvied up, and not a winner-takes-all system, would make it very difficult to coast to victory by focusing exclusively on the ridings with the highest relative per-vote value.

That might not have been the case if there hadn’t been quite so many candidates in the running, but at the moment, it’s tough to see that the rules are unfairly punishing — or assisting — any one campaign.

@kady @vicecanada Should the NDP be worried that their leadership race is getting very little coverage, or that few seem terribly interested?

— Nick McLean (@Nocmclean) May 24, 2017

Weeeelllll, not actively, acutely worried just yet — as it is still relatively early in the process, which likely won’t really start to pick up until after the Conservative race winds down. Plus, so much of the initial coverage was devoted to those who decided against joining the fray, like Nathan Cullen and Megan Leslie, as well as anticipating the eventual arrival of Ontario provincial New Democrat wunderkid Jagmeet Singh, who finally made it official two weeks ago.

The party also ended up going with a less-than-optimum timeline from a purely news media-centric perspective, as the race will likely start to pick up steam over the summer, which is not great for drawing in those all-important eyeballs.

But now that Singh is on the ballot, there will inevitably be more interest in the next planned leadership debate, as Singh is a comparatively unknown factor outside Ontario NDP politics, which means people will likely tune into this Sunday’s planned leadership debate to see how he performs.

Beyond that, I’d advise nervous New Democrats to wait until September before allowing themselves to quietly freak out at the lack of public — or press — interest.

@kady @vicecanada There’s rumours of an early June  prorogation in Ottawa. If there’s even a modicum of truth behind it: -why- would the gov’t pursue it?

— Richard Forbes (@Richardjforbes) May 24, 2017

Ahh, the traditional mid-to-late May prorogation rumour — a Canadian classic, truly, matched only by the similarly reliable early-July-ish cabinet shuffle speculation.

Which isn’t to say that neither will happen and, in fact, I’d say both are fairly likely to transpire, although I suspect that if the government were able to engineer an early summer recess — by June 9th, say, instead of keeping the Commons fires burning until the scheduled adjournment date of June 23 — it likely wouldn’t be immediately followed by formal prorogation, as there’s no advantage to doing so at that point.

Instead, the prime minister could wait until just before the House was set to reopen for business in mid-September to hit up Rideau Hall with the request, which would allow him to either schedule a Speech from the Throne for the same day that MPs were already scheduled to return, or put it off for a week or two, although there’s no obvious reason why he’d want to delay the launch of a new session.

Prorogation, for those who need a refresher (ed: thanks.) forces an end to the parliamentary session — which started in December 2015 with the opening throne speech — and basically wipes the order paper (list of all House and Senate business) clear, offering a fresh start. Both government bills and private members bills can be easily resurrected in a new session, if the majority of the House of Commons is in favour.

Proroguing immediately after Parliament rises for the summer, however, would be risky, as it makes it much more difficult to recall it in the event of an actual emergency.

And just to respond to what I may be misreading as the unspoken suggestion that prorogation, itself, constitutes a potentially controversial move: No, not really — not when it is done in a majority setting, right around the halfway mark of a government’s anticipated term in office before the next election.

There’s nothing particularly nefarious about wanting to kick off the last half of, what you hope will be, your first of many mandates with a new Speech from the Throne, as it gives the government the opportunity to lay out its priorities for the two years left on the clock. Honestly, if they went much past the end of the year without hitting the reboot button, it would be eyebrow-raising, and fall is as good a time as any to do it.

That’s all for this week! See you next Thursday!

Send all your burning Canadian political questions to @Kady, and they might just get answered next week.

Theresa May will scold Trump over Manchester intelligence leaks

May 25, 2017 - 8:52am

The U.K. government has stopped all information sharing related to the Manchester bombing with U.S intelligence agencies after they continued to leak sensitive information related to the attack. The decision was taken Wednesday, after images purportedly showing bomb debris appeared in The New York Times. U.K. officials are said to be furious about the leaks, and the prime minister is planning to talk directly to President Donald Trump Thursday about her concerns.

The move was first reported by the BBC, which claimed the final straw came late Wednesday evening, when The New York Times published images taken at the scene of the explosion, including those which appeared to show bloodstained fragments from the bomb and the backpack used to conceal it. The paper did not reveal where the images came from, simply saying it was “preliminary information gathered by British authorities.”

Unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major CT investigation undermines our work & confidence of victims

— Terrorism Police UK (@TerrorismPolice) May 24, 2017

Whitehall sources speaking to the BBC said the latest leak was “on another level,” and had left officials in “disbelief and astonishment.” British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday she would be raising the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump later on Thursday at a Nato summit in Brussels.

“I will be making clear to President Trump that intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure,” May said. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham calls the leaks “arrogant,” and said he had spoken to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. about them.

V troubled by US leaking intelligence UK has given them in middle of live investigation where public safety at risk. What is going on?

— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) May 24, 2017

A national counter terrorism policing spokesperson said the leaks undermined and damaged the intelligence sharing relationship between the two countries, adding: “This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter terrorism investigation.”

The emergence of images from the scene of the attack was just the latest in a string of leaks about the bombing which first surfaced in the U.S. media – the result of information from intelligence sources at American agencies.

  • The identity of the attacker — 22-year old Salman Abedi — was leaked by U.S. intelligence sources  to NBC and CBS within hours of the attack, long before the U.K. authorities had planned to release it publicly.
  • The initial death toll from the bombing was reported by NBC before any U.K. media organizations ran it, based on information shared by a U.S. official briefed by British authorities.
  • The fact that this was a suicide bombing was again reported in U.S. media before Greater Manchester Police or Downing Street had confirmed it.

U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd called the leaks “irritating” in an interview Wednesday. “The British police have been very clear they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity — the element of surprise. So it is irritating if it gets released from other sources,” she told the BBC.

The suspension of information sharing only relates to the Manchester attack investigation specifically, as the U.K. continues to share vast amounts of military, police, human, and signal intelligence under the agreement known as Five Eyes – which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“This is pretty serious”

The information sharing suspension marks a significant change in approach from the U.K. government. “To get an idea of how serious this is, just look at how fast this escalated,” Patrick Bury, a former NATO analyst and lecturer in security at Cranfield University, told VICE News. “They are not sharing police-to-police information now, and the prime minister is going to speak to the president about this. That’s pretty serious.”

While the suspension of information sharing is a new departure, such leaks are not. “The disturbing thing is that it isn’t a blip, it has actually come in the wider context of a series of leaks, which have been happening at a vastly accelerated rate in the last six months or so,” Joe Devanny, an intelligence expert at the International Centre for Security Analysis and a former national security analyst for the British government, told VICE News.

Leaks are quickly becoming a major source of worry for the Trump administration. As well as the almost constant stream of leaks from within the administration to U.S. media outlets, the president himself allegedly leaked classified information shared by Israel during an Oval Office meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“The credibility of some of the agencies involved, especially the FBI, are coming into question because of these events,” Bury said.

Leaks are nothing new

Following the 2005 terror attack on the London transport network in which 52 victims were killed, U.S. media published an unseen image of an explosive used in the attack.

“I’m afraid this reminds me exactly of what happened after 7/7, when the U.S. published a complete picture of the way the bombs had been made up. We had the same protests,” Ian Blair, who was Metropolitan police commissioner at the time, told the Guardian. “It’s a different world in how the U.S. operates in the sense of how they publish things. And this is a very grievous breach but I’m afraid it’s the same as before.”

Devanny says this incident will “probably not” have a lasting impact on the intelligence sharing relationship between the U.S. and U.K. — but that is based on the assumption that similar leaks won’t happen again in the future.

“From the U.K. perspective it is a relationship that they very much want to continue, but obviously that depends on mutual trust, because that’s the basis on which highly classified information is shared,” Devanny told VICE News.

There are moves being made to improve how information is shared across the Atlantic. GlobSec is an NGO based in Slovakia that counts former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former David Omand, the former head of GCHQ as board members.

On Friday it will publish its second report, which will lay out the benefits of establishing a permanent intelligence hub, which would provide a secure space for linking existing national counter-terrorism centres with high degrees of mutual trust.

“If intelligence agencies do not continuously innovate and adapt to meet the increasingly transnational, criminal and technologically-savvy terrorists of today, the attacks of the past three years will continue,” according to a copy of the report seen by VICE News ahead of publication.

Dems called Congress 2 million times, but is anyone listening?

May 25, 2017 - 8:22am

During the run-up to the first planned Trumpcare vote in March, Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey decided he’d had enough.

LoBiondo, who represents a southern swing district that Democrats are targeting for 2018, had watched his office be be deluged with calls from people asking him to vote against the Republican bid to replace Obamacare. And so he took to Twitter to beg his constituents to cut it out.

“My vote is a NO so please stopping calling hourly,” he wrote.

Though overshadowed by far more visible marches and town hall heckling, hundreds of thousands of Americans have rediscovered a political technique almost as old as, well, the telephone. Emails, Facebook posts, and texts have been de rigueur for more a decade, but post-Trump, voters in droves are once again communicating with their representatives via phone calls.

With digital updates, of course — like those provided by 5 Calls and Daily Action, two startups that have directed more than 2 million calls combined to congressional offices since Trump’s election.

“It was very organic and very unexpected,” said 5 Calls’ Nick O’Neill, who launched the group with his wife from their home in the Bay Area in January. “People didn’t realize how easy it was to lobby their member of Congress.”

There is nothing new about overloaded Capitol Hill switchboards and phone call campaigns — one Tea Party group publicly shared the personal cell phone numbers of Republican congressmen in 2010 — but many congressional aides say they can’t remember a time with such consistently high call volume. Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said a three-day period in February, when the Senate was voting on Trump’s cabinet nominees, was the busiest in Capitol switchboard history by nearly double. (Congress’ Sergeant-at-Arms declined to comment on switchboard numbers.)

To deal with the relentless ringing, many members of Congress have had to hire extra part-time help. Top aides including chief of staffs are now regularly spending time with interns to help clear out the office voicemail. And some aides to Democrats and Republicans privately admit that they have simply given up trying to answer or log constituent opinions.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin even went on the offensive after getting an extraordinary number of calls from a single constituent the first month of Trump’s presidency. Johnson’s office sent the caller a “cease and desist” letter.

But just because people are calling doesn’t mean Republican members of Congress are listening. LoBiondo may not have voted for Trumpcare, but 217 other Republicans did despite more than 300,000 calls to congressional offices protesting the bill in the weeks before it finally passed.

Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado, who is one of the Democratic Party’s top targets for defeat in 2018, has received thousands of calls this year, including 1,890 from 5 Calls, more than any other Republican in the House. Nevertheless, Tipton has largely supported Trump’s agenda, including the repeal of Obamacare.

“Does a 2 million phone call campaign mean the same thing as it would have in 1983? Probably not.”

“Any time a constituent calls, we take down their message, but it is also obvious when somebody is part of an organized call effort because they are reading off a call script,” Tipton communications director Liz Payne told VICE News. “One of the congressman’s biggest promises to his constituents was to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. I can probably guess that a lot of the people calling didn’t vote for the congressman.”

The inconvenient truth about the Trumpcare vote and other policy decisions in Congress has led activists to wonder how much of a difference the calls are actually making.

“Phone calls are really important and should be done every day, but I started thinking ‘What if the people answering were actually listening?’” said Daily Action founder Laura Moser, who launched her own campaign for the House of Representatives on May 8. “Why not replace the people answering the phone?”

Hundreds of thousands of calls have come from well-funded and established groups like MoveOn.org, the AFL-CIO, and the Center for American Progress’ Action Fund, but new groups that didn’t even exist before Nov. 9 are leading the new smartphone activism made possible by hundreds of millions of devices in voters’ pockets. They’re pulling it off with limited funds and — much like the Women’s March and Indivisible — little institutional support from establishment Democrats.

5 Calls, responsible for 1.3 million calls since January, has run their site and launched their smartphone app with less than $10,000 in donations from users. “We’re hearing agreement from a lot of other groups that there’s not a lot of institutional money flowing for these sorts of causes,” O’Neill said in an email. Some congressional offices have reached out after noticing high volumes of callers reading from 5 Calls scripts, but O’Neill says that no one from the Democratic Party has contacted him.

5 Calls, Daily Action, and an assortment of local Indivisible chapters and small Facebook groups that have popped up in the aftermath of Trump’s victory all help people identify their representative, and provide a call script and phone number.

Calls have long been considered a more effective tool than online submissions because if constituents are willing to dedicate time and effort to a call, a politician reasons they might be willing to dedicate time and effort to defeating that politician in the next election. But the fact that this current onslaught of calls often go through these digital phone banks — some of which even pay for the calls — may actually diminish the effect.

“Does a 2 million phone call campaign mean the same thing as it would have in 1983? Probably not,’” said Zeynep Tufekci, author of the book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. “My argument isn’t against making these phone calls. It’s just not as scary to these representatives as it used to be even 10 years ago given how much easier it is to make and coordinate calls.”

Even if many Republicans have been unmoved, the phalanx of angry dialing has had an effect on some Democrats in Congress who, after expressing a measure of open-mindedness to the new president, have almost uniformly opposed Trump’s biggest agenda items. Congressional Democrats and their senior aides say that the combination of calls, emails, in-person visits, and large marches quickly made them aware that their constituents wanted fight, not compromise.

“I think there was a question hanging in the air as far as how much latitude Democrats in Congress had to appease the administration,” said John Burton, the political director of Daily Action, “and that question has probably been answered.”

Follow Alex Thompson on Twitter @AlxThomp

Crowds cheered as gay men were caned dozens of times in Indonesia

May 25, 2017 - 7:04am

Sharia law is now being enforced legally in the Aceh Province in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

On Tuesday, two men arrested for having sex were publicly caned for breaking Islamic law. The 20-year-old men were caned 83 times, receiving the highest number of lashes ever.

The couple was arrested in March after neighborhood vigilantes broke into their rented room and recorded them having sex.

In Aceh, homosexuality is punishable with up to 100 lashes, 100 months in jail or with a fine of up to 2.2 pounds of gold or about $40 thousand dollars.

VICE News reports from Aceh, the only province in Indonesia where homosexuality is officially criminalized. So far.

This segment originally aired May 24, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Reporter allegedly body slammed by Republican candidate for Montana congressional seat

May 24, 2017 - 8:53pm

A special congressional election in Montana took a turn for the bizarre Tuesday evening as the Republican candidate running for the seat allegedly body-slammed a reporter to the floor and yelled at him to “get out of here.”

The election, which will fill now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vacated seat in the House of Representatives, is tomorrow.

Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses

— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017

According to audio of the encounter released by the Guardian, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked candidate Greg Gianforte about his position on the recently-released Congressional Budget Office score for the Republican health care plan. Someone who appears to be Gianforte tells Jacobs that they’ll “talk about that later” and asks him to “speak with Shane, please.” (“Shane” is presumably Shane Scanlon, Gianforte’s campaign spokesperson.)

The audio then includes what sounds like a struggle and a crash. The person alleged to be Gianforte then shouts, “I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last guy who came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”

“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs answers.

Gianforte repeats, “The last guy did the same damn thing.”

“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says again.

Gianforte again tells Jacobs to “Get the hell out of here.”

Jacobs reported the incident — which allegedly  took place at Gianforte’s Bozeman, Montana, campaign headquarters — to the police.

Alicia Acuna, a Fox News reporter who witnessed the event, validated Jacobs’ account, also alleging that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck and punched him:

Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.

Gianforte’s campaign did not immediately return an interview request from VICE News, but Scanlon had a different version of events, blaming “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.”

“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions,” Scanlon said in a statement. “Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

Buzzfeed journalist Alexis Levinson — who said she was in a room adjacent to the incident but could see some of what happened through a “partially closed door” — partially confirmed elements of both stories. After Jacobs entered a room set up for a TV interview, Levinson tweeted, “All of the sudden I heard a giant crash and Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor… Heard very angry (as did all the volunteers in the room) — sounded like Gianforte.”

Gianforte left the event without speaking after police officers and firefighters arrived, Levison said, adding that the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office — which did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment — also took witness statements. The office has since confirmed to BuzzFeed that they are investigating the incident. 

Democrats haven’t held Montana’s lone House seat in almost two decades, but in the wake of surprisingly competitive special elections, political operatives across the country have poured money and time into the Montana special election. President Donald Trump also made robocalls supporting Gianforte, and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for him.

Gianforte’s opponent in the race, Democrat Rob Quist, called the incident “a matter for law enforcement.” In a statement, Tyler Law, a spokesman for House Democrats’ campaign arm the DCCC, called on Gianforte to “immediately withdraw his candidacy after his allegedly violent assault of an innocent journalist.”

Bad Russian intelligence shaped Comey’s investigation into Clinton’s emails

May 24, 2017 - 8:00pm

Last July, ex-FBI Director James Comey took the unusual step of publicly announcing the end of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server — without telling his boss, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch. According to a new report, he was motivated by a dubious Russian document.

Comey reportedly believed Lynch’s judgment might be compromised, thanks to the document, which appeared to show that Lynch had reassured a Clinton staffer that the investigation wouldn’t go too far. He reportedly thought that the investigation would lose all credibility if that document was leaked.

But the document turned out to be bad Russian intelligence, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, and the FBI knew that only a month after Comey made his announcement. In fact, the document may even be a fake meant to confuse the bureau, officials familiar with its content told the Post.

The document reportedly describes an email sent from then-chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz to Leonardo Benado, who works for the George Soros-founded Open Society Foundations. According to the document, Wasserman Schultz suggested to Benado that Lynch had told Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the email investigation wouldn’t dig too deep.

This document — combined with news of Lynch’s private meeting with Bill Clinton on a Phoenix, Arizona tarmac — led Comey to make his fateful decision to end the investigation on his own. Months later, just days before the president election, Comey again took the initiative to announce on his own that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails had been reopened. Clinton says that decision cost her the election.

But the FBI declined to investigate further, even after deciding the document was bad, and despite its potential election-shaping impact, according to the Post. Wasserman Schultz, Benado, and Renteria all said the FBI never interviewed them about it and contend that they don’t know one another.

“Wow, that’s kind of weird and out of left field,” Renteria told a Post reporter, the first person to tell her that the document even existed.

FBI agents reportedly informed Lynch of the documents’ assertion, which she denied. She also offered to let the FBI formally interview her and her staff, which the FBI declined.

This isn’t the first time the existence of such a document has been alleged — the New York Times mentioned in April its role in shaping Comey’s decision to go public, but didn’t describe the document as Russian. The Times’ article also doesn’t mention officials’ doubts about the article’s veracity.

Still, the mention of the document attracted the attention of Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, of Iowa, who asked Comey about it when Comey testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in early May. Comey declined to discuss it. Days later, he was fired.

Tesla’s Silicon Valley factory workers get hurt a lot

May 24, 2017 - 4:33pm

On Tuesday, Tesla swapped out its HR chief amid a fight against the unionization effort at its Silicon Valley factory. And the latest news only makes things worse.

A report released Wednesday cites OSHA figures that affirm what workers have been saying about injuries at the electric carmaker’s flagship factory, in Fremont, California. The numbers in the new report, by Worksafe, show that the rate of nonfatal injuries there has been well above the national average over the past few years.

Employees at Fremont have said they’ve seen coworkers on the assembly line “hit the floor like a pancake and smash their face open,” and others describe hearing “coworkers quietly say that they are hurting but they are too afraid to report it for fear of being labeled as a complainer or bad worker by management.”

The injury report factors in as Tesla battles a union drive from a United Auto Workers–organized group at the Fremont factory, which CEO Elon Musk has personally condemned. In mid-April, workers filed charges against Tesla with the National Labor Relations Board for anti-union organizing.

The company said in a blog post Tuesday evening that it was replacing its longtime HR chief, Arnnon Geshuri, with Electronic Arts executive Gaby Toledano. The move follows the departures earlier this year of two other Tesla HR executives, according to BuzzFeed News. But a Tesla spokesperson said the move was unrelated to workplace safety and the union drive, and emailed VICE News a company blog post from earlier this month, highlighting the following passage:

“We may have had some challenges in the past as we were learning how to become a car company, but what matters is the future, and with the changes we’ve made, we now have the lowest injury rate in the industry by far,” it read.

Worksafe, a California-based workplace safety organization, says it got the OSHA numbers from Tesla workers at Fremont who’d requested them this year. The group’s analysis says that Tesla’s total recordable injuries rate (TIRR) in 2015 was 8.8 injuries per 100 workers, which is 31 percent higher than the industry rate of 6.7 injuries per 100 workers.

In 2016, the TIRR was 8.1 injuries per 100 workers, although industrywide figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for that time will not be available until later this year. For injuries that require “days away from work, restricted duty, or job transfer,” Tesla’s DART rate of 7.9 in 2015 was the 2015 industry average of 3.9; that number fell to 7.3 in 2016.

A Tesla spokesperson told VICE News that the company’s most recent data from the Fremont factory shows a TIRR rate of 4.6 percent, which is 32 percent below the 2015 industry average. The spokesperson added that the recent changes in HR leadership are unrelated to the ongoing controversy over workplace safety and culture at Tesla.

“We made an effort to verify [Tesla’s] claim,” said Doug Parker, Worksafe’s executive director and a former official at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, on a press call. Parker added that this was because Tesla’s data did not include total hours worked in 2017, downtime on the assembly line, and other factors.

Though it’s been three and a half months since workers went public with their unionization effort at the Fremont Tesla facility, the company’s financial performance hasn’t really taken a hit. Tesla continues to lose a lot of money and take thousands of pre-orders for its cars, and Wall Street doesn’t seem to care.

As of Wednesday mid-afternoon, Tesla stock was trading at around $308 a share, up more than 1.6 percent on the day, and more than 10 percent since the union drive went public.

Intelligence agencies didn’t see Manchester bomber as imminent threat

May 24, 2017 - 3:58pm

When U.K. police confirmed the identity of the Manchester suicide bomber as Salman Abedi, it was not entirely a surprise. U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd admitted Wednesday that Abedi was “somebody that they had known,” but only “up to a point” – meaning that while something had alerted intelligence officials to his activity, he was not deemed a significant enough threat to warrant close tracking of his movement.

The BBC reported that Abedi popped up on a list five years ago for terror activity and resurfaced earlier this year, but that wasn’t enough to stop him from walking into Manchester Arena Monday evening and setting off a nail bomb that killed 22, including an 8-year-old girl and himself. The fact that Abedi was on any list at all has reignited the debate about whether the devastating attack could have been stopped, and raises questions about the value of intelligence in stopping future attacks.

Security experts speaking to VICE News all say that while it is too early to come to any definite conclusions, all the indications point to some sort breakdown in the system which should have flagged 22-year-old Abedi as a threat.

“At this point, there seems to have been some sort of intelligence failure, in that he had not been given the priority that the threat warranted,” Patrick Bury, a former NATO analyst and lecturer in security at Cranfield University, told VICE News.

In the wake of such tragedies, focus typically falls on intelligence services such as GCHQ and MI5, particularly when the perpetrator is someone who had previously been flagged as a threat – as with the recent Westminster attack.

“There has been a pattern we have seen over the past number of attacks, that the perpetrators have one way or another come across the security services radar, but because of prioritization issues or resources, it leads to them not being made a high priority at the time,” said Huw Dylan, a lecturer in intelligence studies and international security at King’s College London.

There are many triggers and indicators that intel operatives will look for when considering if a potential target warrants the full “signal intelligence” treatment – when electronic communications are tracked. While police forces and intelligence agencies can monitor some online usage, travel patterns, and any suspicious changes in behavior, much of the most important information will normally come from the suspect’s community.

“It seems like a lot of the intelligence that leads to people considered a threat actually comes from the community — friends, neighbors, etc. — who have been observing changes in people’s behavior and alerting the authorities,” Dylan said.

Part of the problem in this case appears to have been that Abedi was not a main actor in any of the groups being tracked by GCHQ or MI5. Indeed, the BBC reported Monday that he was seen by officials as a mule, simply there to carry the explosive. Such a target is very hard to track. “If someone is operating on the fringes and isn’t seen as a major threat, the resources in relation to signal intelligence will not be allocated to them,” Bury adds.

#manchesterattack Bomber thought to have been a 'mule' using device built by someone else. More Govt announcements expected today.

— Frank Gardner (@FrankRGardner) May 24, 2017

If travel and behavior are two things which could have flagged Abedi as a threat to U.K. intelligence agencies, it appears there was sufficient evidence of both in recent weeks.

A neighbor of Abedi’s in South Manchester had noticed the family acting strangely in recent weeks, according to a report in the Telegraph, “They have been acting strangely. A couple of months ago he was chanting the first kalma [Islamic prayer] really loudly in the street. He was chanting in Arabic. He was saying ‘There is only one God and the prophet Mohammed is his messenger.’”

Separately, the Times reports a school friend of Abedi saying: “He went to Libya three weeks ago and came back recently, like days ago.” It is unknown if the police were aware of the change in Abedi’s behavior or his recent trip to Libya.

Bury, who has studied the security situation in Libya extensively, says that if he did in fact travel to Tripoli in recent weeks, that’s something which should have immediately set off warning signs for intelligence officials.

“I understand Libyans want to go home, but I have traveled to Libya and it is bloody dangerous at the moment. So how people are able to get into the U.K. [from Libya] is kind of questionable,” Bury said, adding that there are a number of hard-line Islamist groups operating in the Libyan capital, including Ansar al Sharia, which is linked to Islamic State.

Because the method as to which targets are prioritized is necessarily done in secret, the public will often never know when the intelligence agencies actually prevent an attack. The U.K. has been relatively terror-free since the attacks on London mass transit in 2005. But when a decision to monitor somebody has to be made without all the vital information, there is always a chance that authorities will get it wrong.

“Whenever you are dealing with intelligence, you are dealing with an incomplete picture,” Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told VICE News. “You never get a full understanding of what exactly is going on because you can’t get into people’s heads.”

The U.K. has now raised its threat level to “critical” — meaning the government believes another attack is imminent. There will now be a huge amount of pressure on the intelligence agencies to prevent future atrocities, only exacerbated by the growing assumption that Abedi was not acting alone.

For intelligence officials now trawling through information held on Abedi, much of their time will be spent reassessing how the facts they had at the time were interpreted. “Whenever something like this happens, it will immediately make people question what decision they will make, and it will make people revisit old information,” Pantucci says. “Clearly this individual had been less prioritized, so immediately the question will be ‘Who else does he know?’ or ‘Who is in his network and do we need to worry about them?’”

Despite any possible failures in the handling Abedi’s case, Bury points out that the U.K.’s intelligence agencies have prevented a mass terrorist attack in the U.K. for over a decade, despite the threat being higher than it ever has before.

“British intelligence and security services have the reputation of being the second best, if not the best in the world,” Bury said. “They are widely viewed across Europe and even in the U.S. as an example of best practice. Their ability to contain the threat since 2005 has been remarkable.”

23 million will lose insurance by 2026 under Trumpcare, CBO says

May 24, 2017 - 3:57pm

President Trump’s proposed repeal and replace of Obamacare would result in 23 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026, according to a new analysis released Wednesday evening by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

In its first analysis of the bill that Republicans in the House of Representatives passed in early May, the CBO concluded that out-of-pocket costs for mental health and maternity care would increase by thousands of dollars a year in many states. The CBO predicted that the health bill would create government savings of $119 billion over the next 10 years.

Out-of-pocket costs to Americans would depend on which states chose to request a waiver from Obamacare’s “Essential Health Benefits,” a package of coverage requirements including maternity and substance abuse care that conservatives argue artificially inflate insurance costs and Democrats believe prevent insurance companies from peddling skimpy plans.

The waivers are the central difference between this version of Trumpcare and the version that failed to pass the House in March, which the CBO predicted would result in 24 million fewer people having health insurance.

House Republicans argued that the two versions were not that different, which is why they decided to vote without a CBO score. While the topline numbers are similar — 23 million vs. 24 million — the report suggests that the new bill would make some dramatic changes in the insurance market.

The CBO posits that at least one-sixth of the population — over 50 million people — could be dramatically affected by these new waivers and be subjected to “unstable” insurance markets beginning in 2020.

Such changes could significantly increase costs for people with pre-existing conditions and ultimately price them out of the insurance markets. The CBO also predicts that premiums for young, healthy people would go down but significantly increase for older, sicker people.

The bill that failed in March also included $150 billion in savings, $31 billion more than this iteration. Maintaining billions in savings was required in order to pass the bill through the Senate’s reconciliation rules — which will allow Republicans to pass Trumpcare without any votes from Democrats. House Speaker Paul Ryan had put off sending the bill to the Senate until it was clear that the new bill still included sufficient savings.

Next, the Senate Parliamentarian — an obscure unelected official who is the keeper of the legislative body’s rules — will have to determine if the bill will qualify for reconciliation.

Senate Republicans were quick to downplay the significance of the new CBO score, saying they’re walking their own path on health reform and many changes will still be made.

“This is not a finished journey,” Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told MSNBC. Many other Republicans, like Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, have already publicly objected to the $800 billion decrease in Medicaid spending.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the CBO report is evidence that Senate Republicans should throw the House bill in the garbage and work with Democrats on a reform bill. But Democrats, including Schumer, were rallying across the country to protect Obamacare before Trump was inaugurated, so it’s unclear if there is common ground.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to think so, telling reporters yesterday, “We’re not going to waste our time talking to people who have no interest in fixing the problem.”

 

Taiwan inches closer to allowing same-sex marriage

May 24, 2017 - 3:33pm

Taiwan, host of Asia’s largest pride parade, could become the first in the region to allow gay marriage.

The island nation’s top court ruled Wednesday that the current legal definition of marriage as between only a man and woman is unconstitutional. The Taiwan Parliament now has two years to expand that definition through law.

Previous attempts to legislate gay marriage were held up in Parliament. With this new ruling, gay marriage will officially be legal in 2019.

How alternative mortgage lenders work

May 24, 2017 - 3:02pm

If you’re self-employed, a recent immigrant, or you have a less-than-stellar credit profile, you probably won’t qualify for a mortgage from one of the big Canadian banks. That of course, does not mean that you’ll never be able to buy a home — it just means that you will have to borrow at a higher interest rate from mortgage companies known as “alternative lenders”.

The inner workings of alt-lenders have come under intense scrutiny lately because of a fraud scandal that financially drained Home Capital Group, one of Canada’s biggest alternative mortgage lenders. So how exactly to alternative lenders work? How are they able to bear the risk of issuing mortgages to Canadians who aren’t in solid financial health?

VICE Money took a hard look at the balance sheet of another big alt-lender in Canada, Equitable Bank, in order to understand how susceptible these companies are towards the risk of mortgage defaults.

As it turns out, Canada’s alternative mortgage lenders are allowed to sell off the risk associated with some of their more vulnerable mortgages to private investors, thanks to a rule change by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OFSI) that took place in 2013.

Understanding Equitable’s business model

Like most financial institutions, Equitable sells investment products derived from the bank’s mortgages. One kind of product that Equitable sells is derived from prepayable mortgages — they are flexible loans that allow borrowers to make irregular payments, but charge a higher interest rate.

Jonathan Rotondo of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) told VICE Money that before mortgages can be securitized as investments they must be insured, either by the CMHC (who insure roughly 50 percent of residential mortgages in Canada) or through one of two other federally-regulated insurers — Genworth Canada or Canada Guaranty.

Once this is done, Equitable can sell these government-guaranteed investments to private investors.

That’s exactly what Equitable started doing in 2015 — it sold the potential gains or losses associated with these mortgage products to other investors. By doing this, the bank was able to remove these “securitized mortgages” from their books, reducing their financial risk. This process is called derecognition.

The practice of derecognizing securitized mortgages from lenders’ balance sheets was allowed before Canada adopted the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in 2011, which forced lenders to keep these mortgages on their books. This change effectively lowered lenders’ capacity to make new loans because lenders are required to keep a certain amount of money on hand in the case of potential mortgage defaults.

In 2013 one financial institution decided to ask Canada’s financial regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) to reverse the 2011 rule. This institution was Home Capital Group — they wanted to get approval to de-recognize some of the securitized mortgages they held by selling the risks and rewards of those mortgages to third parties.

The more “mortgage offloading” lenders could engage in, the more their lending capacity could increase, meaning they could issue more mortgages to average Canadians and generate greater profits. OFSI approved the proposal.

How Equitable Bank gains from “derecognizing” mortgages

Equitable’s annual reports show that in fiscal 2014, the bank did not derecognize any securitized prepayable mortgages. But by the end of 2015, the bank had derecognized $9.1 million worth of them, and in 2016 Equitable derecognized $748 million worth of the mortgages, a year-over-year increase of more than 8000 percent. This process allowed them to wash their hands of any risk or reward associated with the mortgages and gain greater lending capacity.

The bank’s 2016 annual report describes the process:

“We executed transactions that transferred the risks and rewards of securitized prepayable mortgages to third parties and allowed us to [derecognize] the assets, in order to proactively manage our regulatory Leverage Ratio.”

This practice is legal and isn’t necessarily a problem if all of the mortgages Equitable approves are based on solid borrower credit. But because the bank specializes in lending to high-risk borrowers, the potential for problems is greater than for banks who lend to less-risky borrowers. The only reason why private investors are willing to purchase these mortgage-backed investment products are because they are insured by the CMHC.

Indeed, Tim Wilson, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Equitable Bank told VICE Money that it is the insurers who will be on the hook for any losses resulting from defaults or a fall in home prices associated with the mortgages Equitable derecognized.

In fact, Wilson confirmed that all of Equitable’s prepayable mortgage securitizations are done through the CMHC and that the risks and rewards tied to Equitable’s mortgage securities are sold to institutions such as hedge funds. He did not provide examples of specific buyers, citing confidentiality agreements.

Why buy mortgage-backed securities?

In a rapidly rising real estate market, the potential rewards associated with Canadian mortgage-backed bonds and securities make them attractive investments. What more, investors are insured against any losses tied to the underlying mortgages through mortgage insurance companies which are backed by Canada’s federal government.

According to the CMHC, mortgage insurers are responsible for the risks of Equitable’s derecognized mortgages, and noted that if insurers get overwhelmed by losses, Canadian taxpayers will get stuck with the bill.

“CMHC mortgage loan insurance is backed by the federal government at 100% while the private insurers (Genworth, Canada Guaranty) are backed [by the federal government] at 90%,” the CMHC’s Jonathan Rotondo told VICE Money.

Equitable has publicly stated that the bank has policies in place to prevent bad underwriting, including a policy that separates Equitable’s sales and underwriting teams. But Equitable’s 2015 annual report explained that the practice of derecognition will continue to be a central part of the bank’s business strategy in the future.

“Going forward, we intend to regularly engage in transactions that allow us to derecognize prepayable Multi and Single Family mortgages using this and other transaction structures.”

In other words, as long as the Canadian government will absorb the risk of any kind of real estate crash, don’t expect alt-lenders to alter their business model anytime soon.

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