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Trump is about to sign a bill letting internet providers sell personal information to advertisers

March 28, 2017 - 6:58pm

Internet service providers will soon be allowed to sell your browsing history, financial and health data, and other personal information to third-parties according to a bill passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon.

The Senate pushed the measure through in a party-line vote earlier in March, and the White House has signaled its support of the legislation, meaning that it will almost certainly become law. Though House Democrats mounted a last-minute stand against the rollback of Obama-era rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission last year, they came up 10 votes shy; the bill passed by a margin of 215 to 205.

The Obama-era rules that the new law will nullify mandated that internet service providers ask for opt-in consent from users before selling sensitive information to advertisers, a revenue stream that ISPs have long wanted to tap.

“If the bill is signed into law, companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon will have free rein to hijack your searches, sell your data, and hammer you with unwanted advertisements,” Electronic Frontier Foundation legislative counsel Ernesto Falcon wrote in a blog post.

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the Free Press Action Fund, said in a statement that House Republicans “voted to take away the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans just so a few giant companies could pad their already considerable profits.”

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who as an FCC commissioner disapproved of the privacy rules when they were introduced last year, said he believes internet providers’ privacy policies are best regulated by the FTC. Pai said in a press release that “the FCC’s own overreach created the problem we are facing today.”

“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected through a consistent and comprehensive framework,” said Pai, who previously worked as a lawyer for Verizon. “In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

The best way for consumers to shield their internet behavior from an ISP is to use a VPN — a virtual private network. There are several options from which to choose depending on one’s tech savvy and budget.

Sean Spicer deflects reporter’s questions by scolding her body language

March 28, 2017 - 5:34pm

White House press secretary Sean Spicer interrupted his own briefing Tuesday to scold a reporter about her body language.

Spicer was answering questions from April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, when he twice noted that she was shaking her head at him, eventually asking her to stop.

It was just the latest headline-grabbing encounter between Ryan and the Trump administration. In a February press conference, President Donald Trump asked Ryan, who is black, if any members of the Congressional Black Caucus were her friends. Former reality-show villain Omarosa Manigualt, who is now a White House communications aide, then allegedly threatened to blacklist Ryan and warned her the White House was keeping a dossier on her. (Manigualt told the New Yorker the story was “Fake news.”)

If you want to know why @AprilDRyan just tweeted “Lawd!!!!” — this is why. Watch the whole thing.

— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) March 28, 2017

Tuesday’s dust-up occurred when Ryan asked Spicer about the recent barrage of negative stories concerning the administration. “You’ve got Russia, you’ve got wiretapping — ” she was saying when Spicer interrupted her.

“No, we don’t have that… you’ve got Russia,” Spicer said. “If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection…. I appreciate your agenda here. At some point report the facts.”

Those facts, Spicer said, include bipartisan agreement that the Trump administration did not collude with the Russians. (Possible collusion with the Russians is something the FBI is currently investigating.) As he spoke, Spicer noted Ryan’s body language.

“I’m sorry that that disgusts you,” Spicer told her. “You’re shaking your head.”

Ryan and Spicer talked over each other briefly before he continued. “Understand this: At some point, the facts are what they are. And every single person who’s been briefed on this situation… have all come to the same conclusion. At some point, April, you’re going to have to take No for an answer with respect to whether or not there was collusion.”

When she asked a follow-up question about a lack of support from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Spicer once again criticized her body language.

“It’s interesting that you ask those two questions back to back,” he said. “On the one hand, you’re saying what are we doing to improve our image? And then here he is once again meeting somebody that hasn’t been a big supporter of his…. It seems like you’re hellbent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays…. I’m sorry, please stop shaking your head again.”

The fight against ISIS in Mosul has killed 307 civilians in about a month

March 28, 2017 - 4:44pm

The United Nations urged Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces to try harder to spare civilian lives on Tuesday, after announcing new civilian death tolls in the battle to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State.

At least 307 civilians were killed and 273 were wounded between Feb. 17 and March 22 in western Mosul, according to the U.N. Its currently investing whether IS or a U.S.-led coalition carried out a March 17 attack that killed at least 61 people, but possibly as many as 240.

The organization’s high commissioner for human rights said IS often uses civilians as human shields against airstrikes, contributing to the death toll.

A lone senator just declared war on America’s biggest opioid makers

March 28, 2017 - 3:53pm

A leading Senate Democrat wants to know whether opioid makers have something to hide.

On Tuesday, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill demanded a wide range of documents from five leading opioid manufacturers in an attempt to determine whether the pharmaceuticals companies knowingly hooked Americans on powerful painkillers in order to increase profits.

“There are some similar comparisons to the early days investigating the health risks related to tobacco, but we are just at the beginning,” said McCaskill, who launched the inquiry as the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

McCaskill sent letters to the heads of Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Insys, Mylan, and Depomed asking for information including internal or third-party risk estimates on opioid use, marketing plans to both consumers and physicians, and quotas for sales reps.

As a member of the minority party, however, McCaskill does not have subpoena power to compel the companies to actually produce the documents. The investigation could be damaging to the companies regardless, and McCaskill says she believes Republicans, whose constituents have also been greatly affected by the epidemic, will step up with subpoena power if the companies do not cooperate.

But Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the committee chairman, has yet to sign on to the investigation — and his spokesperson did not appear to share McCaskill’s optimism about Republicans joining her.

“Contrary to the committee’s longstanding bipartisan traditions, Senator McCaskill chose to make her requests unilaterally despite widespread interest in coming together to address the root causes of America’s opioid addiction,” Johnson spokesperson Brittni Palke told USA Today.

President Donald Trump pledged during last year’s campaign to end the epidemic and is expected to sign an executive order establishing a commission to address it. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spoke frequently about the opioid epidemic while running for president, is reportedly set to head the effort.

Sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, according to the CDC. A 2016 investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, a state hit particularly hard by opioid addiction, found that in the previous six years drug wholesalers had shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia alone — the equivalent of 433 pills for every person in the state.

In 2012, the Senate Finance Committee conducted a narrower bipartisan investigation into opioid manufacturers’ relationships with other groups meant to establish opioid use guidelines. But after Republicans took back the Senate in 2014, the investigation was never completed.

Thousands of Syrian refugees fled to Turkey only to find more violence

March 28, 2017 - 3:29pm

Developments in the war zone in and around Syria suggest there may be a major shift coming in the American strategy to defeat ISIS.

Hundreds of American Marines have been deployed to Northern Syria to support a coming offensive against the ISIS-stronghold of Raqqa. And new numbers from the U.S. Air Force show that coalition airstrikes have released more than 7,000 munitions against suspected ISIS targets in January and February — up 45 percent from the same period last year.

The Trump administration has been keeping its plan to dislodge ISIS from Syria close to its chest, but in southern Turkey, the impact of those decisions could be profound. Turkey alone is home to around three million Syrian refugees. Many of those families fled the fighting years ago and are still waiting to return.


This segment originally aired March. 21, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

The bizarre case of Rep. Nunes and the abruptly canceled Trump Russia hearings

March 28, 2017 - 3:13pm

A mysterious trip to the White House, an abruptly canceled hearing on Russia, and a growing chorus of calls for his recusal. What exactly is going on with Rep. Devin Nunes, the man accused of using his security clearance to spin the Trump Russia investigation?

Nunes – a Republican from California who chairs the House Intelligence Committee – catapulted himself into the national spotlight last Wednesday after holding an impromptu press conference to assert that there had been an “incidental collection” of information about Trump and his associates during the election.

His announcement came just a day after the heads of the FBI and NSA testified under oath that there was no evidence to support Trump’s claims that he had been wire “tapped” during the campaign. Trump later seized on Nunes’ contradictory assertions to bolster his debunked claims, saying he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ briefing.

Where Nunes got the information remains unclear, and members of his own committee say they still have not been briefed on the evidence or the source. Subsequent news reports indicate Nunes received a mysterious call the night before his press conference, prompting him to jump out a car he was traveling in with a staffer. Nunes has since admitted he was summoned to the White House for a briefing but denies the Trump administration was even aware he was there.

Nunes “met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source,” a spokesperson said.

Democrats say Nunes’ explanation makes no sense because the White House keeps tabs on its visitors and because there were plenty of secure locations outside the White House where a government source could have shown him classified evidence.

“This is done because the White House wanted it to be done,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who also sits on the House Intel Committee said Tuesday on Morning Joe. “And this is what a cover-up to a crime looks like. We are watching it play out right now.”

The bizarre chain of events prompted Republican Sen. John McCain to speak out against his colleague.

“I think there needs to be a lot of explaining to do,” McCain said in an appearance on CBS’s This Morning Tuesday. “I’ve been around for quite a while and I’ve never heard of such thing.”

And the chorus against Nunes grew even louder Tuesday, as news broke he had canceled a House Intelligence hearing on Russia the same day Sally Yates – Trump’s former acting Attorney General – was due to testify about Trump’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. Former CIA director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were also reportedly set to testify.

Yates, an Obama deputy who briefly served as Trump’s acting Attorney General until he fired her for refusing to defend his Muslim ban in January, was expected to discuss her investigation into Flynn, a key figure in the Russia investigation who was forced to resign after it was revealed he had lied to the Vice President about his communications with the Russian ambassador.

Both Yates and Brennan had reportedly informed the Trump administration that their testimony would contradict some statements made by White House officials. According  to documents, the Department of Justice first tried to block her testimony by classifying her communications with the White House as privileged and confidential.

“The president owns those privileges,” Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools wrote in a letter last week. “Therefore, to the extent Ms. Yates needs consent to disclose the details of those communications to [the intelligence panel], she needs to consult with the White House.”

Yates indicated Friday that she intended to testify anyway – “I am advising the White House of Ms. Yates’ intention to provide information,’’ her lawyer wrote. Nunes canceled the hearing the same day.

“We are aware that former AG Yates intended to speak on these matters, and sought permission to testify from the White House,”  Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Tuesday. “Whether the White House’s desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today’s hearing, we do not know.”

And Schiff has bipartisan support. “I just think [Nunes] needs to explain what he did, who he talked to,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday. “Schiff to me is talking more like a prosecutor and Nunes has been acting like a defense attorney. The bottom line is, we’re hoping they can put it together in the House. We hope they can get back on track.”

Nunes, asked if the White House had requested he cancel the hearing, declined to confirm or deny the allegations. “Look, you guys are just speculating. I’m sorry, whenever there’s time we’ll do a press conference,’’ he told a Washington Post reporter.

Rebuffing calls to recuse himself from the investigation Tuesday, Nunes asked the assembled reporters, “Why would I?”

Uber’s diversity numbers are just as bad as the rest of Silicon Valley

March 28, 2017 - 2:51pm

Uber’s first-ever report on the gender and racial composition of its staff shows it’s a lot like the rest of Silicon Valley: very male and very white.

Among the ride-hailing giant’s estimated 6,700 employees (as reported in April 2016, and that doesn’t include independently contracted drivers), 64 percent are men and 36 percent are women. About 50 percent are white, 31 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic, 9 percent are black, and the remaining 5 percent is a mix of multiracial and “other.”

The numbers, released Tuesday, basically line up with other comparable firms in Silicon Valley, such as Google (69 percent male, 90 percent Asian and white) and Facebook (67 percent male, 90 percent Asian and white in the U.S.). Uber’s senior leadership, according to the new stats, is 78 percent male and 77 percent white.

The San Francisco-based company has been notably slow to release information about the gender and ethnic/racial breakdown of its staff. Recode has reported that CEO Travis Kalanick for years refused requests from employees to publish such numbers, because he believed that race and gender were not effective measurements of diversity. After departing employee Susan Fowler Rigetti revealed in February sustained sexual harassment during her time at Uber, Kalanick pledged to release diversity figures.

The company recently appointed a new HR chief, Liane Hornsey, whose public comments suggest the company is now moving in a different direction.

“It’s no secret that we’re late to release these numbers,” Hornsey wrote in a blog post. “And I’d like to thank our employees for their tenacity in arguing the case for greater transparency — because what you don’t measure, you can’t improve.”

Uber, meanwhile, is still conducting an internal investigation of its workplace culture and policies as a result of the widespread backlash the company received after Fowler Rigetti published her blog post. Uber leadership has said that the results of that investigation, which is being co-led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, will be published by the end of April.

The company remains busy putting out other fires. One of Uber’s investors, Google parent company Alphabet, alleged in a lawsuit that an ex-Google executive stole proprietary information before founding a self-driving car startup that was later acquired by Uber. Many of Uber’s top autonomous driving staffers have left the company in recent months, and in December Uber was forced to relocate a self-driving pilot program from San Francisco to Arizona under regulator pressure.

Fatal police shooting of Chinese man sparks protests in Paris

March 28, 2017 - 2:26pm

Clashes erupted in Paris Monday after protesters in Paris’ 19th arrondissement gathered to honor the memory of a slain Chinese national. Police say 35 demonstrators were arrested and three officers were injured in the melee.

The subject of the protests, Shaoyo Lui, was allegedly shot to death in his home on Sunday night after police responded to a nearby noise complaint. Police argue that shots were fired in self-defense against Shaoyo, who allegedly attacked the police with a pair of scissors. Shaoyo’s family disputes the police account, saying that he answered the door holding scissors because he was scaling fish for dinner and alleging that he did not attack the police officers until he was fired upon.

Shortly after the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the shooting Tuesday calling for answers, French police announced they would conduct an inquiry into the incident.

Conservative leadership candidates one-up each other on immigration, as membership deadline looms

March 28, 2017 - 2:25pm

As the Tuesday night deadline looms to purchase Conservative party membership, leadership candidates are scrambling to upstage each other on immigration and border security. One has said he’d consider deploying the military to the border to deal with the influx of asylum seekers to the U.S., while another has said he’d use the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to override their charter protections.

Asylum seekers have been flooding into Canada from the U.S. in greater numbers since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and his crackdown on undocumented immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries. In light of this, refugee advocates have been calling for the suspension of Canada’s Safe Third Country Act with the US, which requires asylum seekers to make claims in their first country of arrival.

But the agreement applies only to crossings at official points of entry, and not to  people who cross the border between points of entry — once someone is on Canadian soil, regardless of how they got here, they’re entitled to have their claim heard.

With the leadership vote just two months away, here’s what those vying to lead the Conservative party of Canada have said on the topic of immigration and refugees.

Kevin O’Leary

O’Leary said earlier this month that refugees who cross into Canada illegally from the U.S. are exploiting a “loophole,” taking the place of legitimate refugees who are trying to get to Canada through legally. He has called for an end to the exception to the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows asylum seekers to have their cases heard if they make it onto Canadian soil, calling it “unfair to the thousands in refugee camps legally trying to escape persecution.” O’Leary has also said he’d use the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause, to override Canada’s obligations to asylum seekers, established by a 1985 Supreme Court decision, known as the Singh ruling.

Refugee advocates and academics were alarmed by the proposal. University of Waterloo constitutional law professor Emmett MacFarlane pointed out that this would effectively strip asylum seekers who can’t be returned to the US of their rights, and they’d be deported to their country of origin. “Think about that for a minute and let me know if you’re a human being or not,” he tweeted.

Maxime Bernier

On Monday, Bernier said he’d allocate more resources to the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to address illegal crossings at the U.S.-Canada border, and if that fails, that he’d look into other temporary measures, like sending the military to the border. Bernier echoed O’Leary, saying he’d also consider using the notwithstanding clause. “We need to use all the tools that we have to be sure that our border would be respected, and in the meantime, to fix the loophole in that agreement that we have with the U.S.,” Bernier told the CBC.

Bernier’s plan isn’t exactly that cut-and-dry, however. Under the National Defence Act, Ottawa may only dispatch the military in exceptional circumstances with the consent of the province. Unless, of course, Bernier plans on introducing the War Measures Act, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father used to deploy the military nation-wide following the October Crisis.

Kellie Leitch

Kellie Leitch, whose controversial immigration policies have been the bedrock of her campaign, has said as prime minister, she’d require all immigrants to be questioned about whether or not men and women are equal, whether it’s ever acceptable to use violence against people who disagree with their views, and whether they recognize that they will have to work hard and “can’t expect to have things [they] want given to [them]. Leitch would require immigrants to be tested for “anti-Canadian values” and go through an in-person interview with an immigration official.  A recent poll for Radio-Canada showed that almost three out of four Canadians — 74 percent — do agree that believe immigrants should be tested for anti-Canadian values.

The basis for much of her immigration policy is Points of Entry, a book by Canadian sociologist Victor Satzewich. Problem is, he’s called Leitch’s plan a “terrible idea,” says he was never consulted on her plan, and generally rejects her interpretation of the issue.

“Generally, immigrants in Canada do integrate, and Canada actually does a pretty good job of integrating immigrants,” he told BuzzFeed. “It seems to me what she’s proposing is kind of a solution in search of a problem.”

Michael Chong

Chong’s campaign has taken a decidedly different tone on immigration. In the aftermath of a mass shooting in Quebec where a gunman killed six people praying at a mosque and Trump’s first executive order on immigration, he praised Canada on having one “of the most robust screening systems in the world” and strongly condemned Leitch’s proposal for a values test, arguing that it plays to fears and prejudices.

“Demagogues and wannabe demagogues, playing to fears and prejudices, have created the space for hate to grow,” Chong wrote in a statement. “The politicians espousing these policies may do it in a genteel fashion that sounds acceptable, but check out the comments on their social media platforms and you will find cesspools of hate.” He hasn’t outlined his own policy, however.

Lisa Raitt

Same with Lisa Raitt, who has criticized and Kevin O’Leary — even launching a website called — and Kellie Leitch for emulating elements of Donald Trump’s divisive campaign. In January, Raitt said on Leitch, specifically, that she’d embraced the half of Trump that “wins votes by pinning our problems on immigrants,” warning that Leitch was set to destroy a “defining pillar” of the Conservative Party’s success, saying that a decade of work had resulted in it becoming the party of immigrants. She went on to blast O’Leary and Leitch for “embracing a style of negative and irresponsible populism.”

But Raitt has been critical of the current government’s approach to asylum seekers, saying the government “send out tweets to the world saying Canada’s open, get here anyway you can and we’re going to bring you in,” in reference to a tweet sent out by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after Trump issued his first executive order on immigration, Canadians would welcome “those fleeing persecution, terror & war… regardless of your faith.”

Millennials are trapped in debt

March 28, 2017 - 12:10pm

Millennials are much more likely to use payday loans than any other age group in Canada, according to a recent survey by debt management company Hoyes, Michalos & Associates.

As it turns out, 14 percent of Canadians saddled with debt and unable to pay it off are between the ages of 18 and 29 — and 38 percent of this group use high-interest payday loans as a method to pay off their debt, digging them even deeper into the debt hole.

Break down the numbers even further, and a picture emerges of a generation of young Canadians unable to get a grasp on their finances because of student loans, low incomes, or no income upon graduation, and the high cost of urban living.

In 2016, for instance, young Canadians owed almost $30,000 in debt. Their average monthly income? A mere $2,000, before taxes. On that kind of income, you can probably afford to pay back only $200 of your debt each month.

Let’s assume you studied in Ontario and most of that debt is from student loans. Using this handy OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) calculator, you’ll find that $200 doesn’t even meet the minimum payment requirements per month. You’re allowed 14.5 years to pay off your debt — on an interest rate of 3.5 percent, you can only pay off that thirty grand by putting aside $257 per month.

The Danger of Payday Loans

It is indeed easy to succumb to the lure of payday loans when you’re constantly in the red and can’t afford to meet your monthly loan payments. The immediate perk of loan shops like LoanAndGo, Captain Cash, and Cash Money is how quickly you can obtain cold, hard, cash without a credit check. It’s also easy to ignore the ridiculously high interest rates attached to these loans because you need and want the money right away, so you don’t miss payments on the other bunch of outstanding loans that you’ve accumulated.

In 2008, Ontario enacted the Payday Loans Act to limit the interest charged on loans to roughly 15 percent annually. The way the math works, that basically means for every $100 you borrow, you owe $21 to the lender. But it’s rare to find a payday loan shop that actually adheres to this rule. Most strike individual deals with borrowers, capitalizing on their desperation by charging interest rates of up to 40 percent sometimes — you’re now terribly buried in that debt hole.

“Job insecurity and the lack of a financial safety net, including an emergency fund, increases the risk that a young millennial will end up becoming insolvent once they begin to add to their student debt with credit cards, payday loans or other unsecured debt,” write the authors of the Hoyes, Michalos survey.

The Student Debt Trap

Half the debt battle would be won if students didn’t have to take out loans for tertiary education. The most recent calculation of student debt by the Canadian University Survey Consortium pegs the average student debt at $26,819. This, coupled with the fact that Canadians aged between 18 and 29 are the most underemployed and have the lowest income of all age groups, makes paying off student loans in their entirety one of the most daunting post-graduation tasks.

In its 2017 budget, the federal government increased its allowance for the Canada Student Grant program, meaning that a higher proportion of loans you take out for school, are in the form of a grant that you don’t have to pay back.

In the short run, that certainly helps. But the larger issue with debt is the fact that incomes have stagnated for so long in Canada, while the cost of living has gone up, making it impossible to live a debt-free life, especially when you’re young and your income is below average.

What doesn’t help are fairytale stories that tend to go viral (mostly because of their absurdity) about Joe and Jane who paid off $100,000 of debt in a year, and have retired in the Maldives at the tender age of 35. They are, for the most part, anomalies. Realistically, you have to be a high income earner (think doctor, banker, trader, lawyer)  to pay down your debt quickly.

For the rest of us, it’s an uphill battle, one that requires careful long-term planning, and the sacrifice of current consumption for any semblance of future savings.

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How to protect your online history now that Republicans want to let internet providers sell it

March 28, 2017 - 10:41am

Internet service providers will soon be able to sell information like what websites you visit to third-party advertisers, if all goes according to House Republicans’ plan Tuesday. But not all is lost – or public.

Because the Senate last week approved this bill, and because the Republicans supporting the bill control both chambers of Congress, it is widely expected that this rollback of Obama-era privacy protections will be signed into law.

The reason that ISPs want to be allowed to collect and sell this data is fairly straightforward: They want to make more money. Facebook and Google, which together have a de facto duopoly on digital advertising dollars, already collect this sort of information and use it to help advertisers better target users. Internet providers want a slice of that pie.

Though state governments are considering maneuvers to protect customer data, there are other steps that privacy-minded internet users can take on their own to conceal their information.

The easiest way is a VPN – virtual private network – which is kind of software that allows the user to mask what they are doing online. It’s not a protection against sustained, malicious hacking, but it can offer protection against mass surveillance and data collection. Outside the U.S., VPNs are commonly used to shield users from government monitors and to trick streaming services like Netflix into thinking that you’re in a different country.

VPNs do not offer complete security, and you should be careful about which VPN you trust; theoretically, a VPN could protect your data, only to collect information itself and then sell to others. And, as Electronic Frontier Foundation civil liberties experts noted earlier this month, “the only way to protect your privacy from your ISP is to pay for a VPN” — meaning you shouldn’t use freebie services.

If you’re interested in using a VPN, here are a few strong options to look at:


  • Hotspot Shield (Elite version): One of the most popular VPNs — and one of the more highly priced ones — parent company AnchorFree talks a big game about protecting users from government surveillance.
  • IPVanish: Another popular, paid service that offers extensive support options including for mobile.
  • NordVPN: A popular option that’s generally cheaper than the competition.


And if you’re more technically inclined, or want to avoid using a corporate VPN, you can set up your own VPN for your home internet network using open source tools. Here’s a how-to guide.


Oil is now flowing into the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe

March 28, 2017 - 10:41am

Oil is flowing into the Dakota Access Pipeline below Lake Oahe, the main point of contention in a months-long battle against the controversial project.

“Dakota Access is currently commissioning the full pipeline and is preparing to place the pipeline into service,” the company behind the project states in a status update filed late Monday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“We estimate that the line fill process will be complete in the next several weeks which allow us to put the Dakota Access Pipeline into service,” a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, told VICE News. Once complete, the $3.8 billion pipeline will move up to 570,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

The section of proposed pipeline under Lake Oahe drew an estimated 10,000 people to camps nearby last November. They opposed the pipeline in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who said the flow of oil under the lake threatened their water downstream.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe along with three other Sioux tribes is currently fighting the pipeline in U.S. District Court. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, an intervenor in the case, said in a statement Monday the pipeline “endangers waters the Tribes rely on for their very existence,” but that they are “undeterred” by Monday’s news that oil is in the pipeline under Lake Oahe.

“My people are here today because we have survived in the face of the worst kind of challenges,” Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said in a statement. “The fact that oil is flowing under our life-giving waters is a blow, but it hasn’t broken us. Our legal fight is very much alive and we believe that ultimately we will prevail.”

In their court filings, the tribes allege the Army Corps of Engineers ignored federal statutes and treaties when it approved the easement under Lake Oahe at the order of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Where in the world is Kim Jong Un’s dead half brother?

March 28, 2017 - 10:21am

It’s been more than a month since a pair of female assassins killed Kim Jong Un’s half brother with a toxic nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur’s airport, and Malaysian authorities are still trying to decide what to do with his dead body.

In the weeks since the death of 45-year-old Kim Jong Nam on February 13, the corpse of the North Korean leader’s estranged elder sibling has been kept in a hospital morgue in Malaysia’s capital. On Tuesday, however, Malaysia’s New Straits Times newspaper reported that preparations were underway to put the body on a plane to Beijing, where it make a stopover before heading to Pyongyang.

But it looks like that hasn’t happened — at least not yet. Local media outlets have offered conflicting accounts of what’s going on with the corpse.

Malaysia’s China Press reported Monday that the body was removed from the morgue and possibly sent to a crematorium, but reporters from New Straits Times spotted medical officers bringing a coffin back to the hospital on Tuesday “wrapped tightly in plastic with a red ‘fragile’ sticker on it.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam insisted that it would only hand the remains over to Kim Jong Nam’s next-of-kin.

Hospital workers move a body cart to the gate of the forensics wing of the Hospital Kuala Lumpur, where the body of Kim Jong-Nam is being held, in Kuala Lumpur on March 21, 2017. MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Sathasivam said Malaysian authorities are awaiting instructions from “those responsible for the body,” before deciding how to proceed. He said Kim Jong Nam’s family members, who reside in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau, “have not come forward to provide assistance on how the body is to be treated.”

“We have to check with the forensics department if there was any requirement to bring the body out, but as far as we are concerned there is no change in status quo,” Subramaniam told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

In addition to the fate of the dead body, actual lives might be stake. Ever since Malaysian authorities accused North Korean agents of masterminding the plot to kill Kim Jong Nam, nine Malaysian citizens have been held in Pyongyang and blocked from leaving the country.

The situation arose after Malaysia ignored protests by North Korea and conducted an autopsy that determined Kim Jong Nam had been poisoned with VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon that North Korea is thought to possess. Two young women from Vietnam and Indonesia claim they were duped into carrying out the assassination, but Malaysian police are still seeking seven North Korean suspects in connection with the killing, including three hiding in the country’s embassy in Malaysia.


Rust Belt despair translated into support for Trump — and Putin

March 28, 2017 - 9:55am

The mysterious warmth between Donald Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin was one of the odder elements of the 2016 presidential race. But Trump’s affection for the former KGB officer — not generally a figure of great appeal to Americans — also spread to his supporters.

In late 2016, approval of Putin was up sharply among Trump voters, reaching 35 percent in December, compared to 21 percent for the country as a whole and just 8 percent among Clinton voters, according to research by polling firm YouGov.

It’s not completely clear what led Trump voters to suddenly see the sunny side of one of the U.S.’s top global adversaries, but the ideological ground had already been softened up by years of favorable right-wing coverage of Putin’s social conservatism and Syrian military adventures, set against a supposedly feckless Obama administration.

The blending of outright pro-Trump Russian propaganda from entities like Russia Today into the polarized media diet of right-wing Americans likely also played a role, as did Trump’s bizarre and relentless positivity toward Putin, with whom he shares authoritarian tendencies.

But the growing willingness among Americans to see the bright side of non-democratic systems predates Trump. An attention-getting paper in the Journal of Democracy last year found rising support for authoritarian alternatives to democracy among well-established democratic nations. In the U.S., for example, the share of people who agree that it would be better to have a “strong leader” who didn’t “bother with parliament and elections” rose to 32 percent in 2011 from 24 percent in 1995.

I couldn’t help but think about those shifts of political sentiment while reading through the devastating new paper from Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and Princeton health economist Anne Case.

In the already dismal science, the husband-and-wife team have broken depressing new ground in recent years, sifting through U.S. mortality data and spotlighting a truly shocking rise in deaths among middle-aged white Americans who don’t go to college, a trend that stands in sharp opposition to overall trends among most countries, as well as declining death rates among better-educated whites and Americans of color who are the same age.

In their new paper out last week, Case and Deaton update and expand their original analysis — which went through 2013 — to 2015, finding that death rates for middle-age, working-class whites continued to rise relentlessly in the most recent data. The result? In 1999, the mortality rates of whites aged 50 to 54  without college degrees were 30 percent lower than blacks in the same age group. In 2015, the white mortality rate was 30 percent higher, driven by jumps in drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver disease.

The uptick in such “deaths of despair,” as economists call them, is often thought to be rooted to stagnation in economic opportunities. And there is likely some link. But it can’t be the whole story, as incomes among black Americans stagnated in similar ways over the same period, but they saw no spike in death rates. The broader story, Case and Deaton write, is related to “the collapse of the white, high school–educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline.”

In other words, the spike in death rates is related to the end of an era.

And it’s hard to overstate the significance of an uptick in mortality along these lines. Few examples in modern times — such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic that pushed mortality rates sharply higher in sub-Saharan Africa — seem comparable. But there is one comparison worth thinking about.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was followed by the worst economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression. Estimates said the GDP of the former Soviet states collapsed by as much as 40 percent, in a chaotic process of privatization, corruption, currency collapse, and violence. Seemingly overnight, the old order disappeared. And while it had been rife with inefficiencies, corruption, and repression, at least the old order was some kind of order.

Lost amid the American triumphalism of the period was the fact, for an entire generation of Russians raised in the certainty of the Soviet system, the end of the USSR was not only a personal financial disaster, it was profoundly painful and socially disorienting. The costs of the transition to capitalism, in terms of human life, were incredibly high.

Between 1990 and 1995, the spike in mortality rates above trend was roughly equivalent to over 2 million additional deaths. Russians lost five years of life expectancy between 1991 and 1994. The surge of deaths was mostly concentrated in those between the ages of 30 and 60, and largely due to increased alcohol consumption. The worst of the crisis was over by 1995, after which mortality rates stabilized. (Though life expectancy in much of the former Soviet Union didn’t return to 1989 levels until 2013.)  

But in retrospect, the trauma of the post-Soviet transition largely doomed Russia’s fledgling democracy. By 1999, a relatively unknown former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin had maneuvered himself into position as the acting president of the Russian Federation. His grip on power has only tightened since then, as he’s refined his trademark brand of authoritarianism, press repression, nationalism, and heavy surveillance, packaged under a thin veneer of democratic legitimacy.

Which is not to say that Putin isn’t genuinely popular. He is. Largely because his rule has coincided with rising living standards and sharp downturns in the mafia-driven violence that dominated the early 1990s. Putin is seen as a guarantor of order and economic prosperity, and, thanks to a series of audacious international gambits— including the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s bold-faced interference in the U.S. presidential election — he’s the man who has put Russia back on the map in terms of national dignity.

My point is you can see the appeal of strongman to a culture that’s gone through the social stress of an economic collapse that erased the old order and the way of life that went with it.

True, the decline of the U.S. industrial economy hasn’t been as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the entry of China into the world economy, cemented by its arrival into the World Trade Organization in 2001, was a clear tipping point.

Before that, U.S. manufacturing employment was largely flat, though shrinking as a share of total employment. Since then some 5 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and that’s having profound implications on communities and human lives. There’s a lot of desperation out there.

And it seems some of that desperation translated to support for Trump. A recent research brief by sociologist Shannon Monnat showed that Trump performed much better than Mitt Romney did in counties with higher rates of suicide and alcohol and drug deaths.

That despair drove some not only to Trump, but — if their views on Putin are any guide — to something other than traditional American democracy.

Trumptax might split Republicans just like Trumpcare did

March 28, 2017 - 9:52am

Trumpcare is out, Trumptax is in.

That’s the message from the Trump administration and most Republicans in Congress this week in an effort to move on from their failure to achieve consensus on a plan to replace Obamacare last week.

“Working with this Congress, President Trump is going to pass the largest tax cut since the days of Ronald Reagan,” Vice President Mike Pence told a crowd in West Virginia this past weekend.

Asked when Trump would touch health care reform again, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “When it breaks.”

But Trump’s moving on from Trumpcare doesn’t leave behind the Republican divisions that undid that vote.

Already there is sniping within the Republican conference over House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax reform proposal. The criticism centers on the border-adjustment tax that would levy a 20 percent tax on imports from all countries, a protectionist measure that would also help pay for other tax cuts. While most members of Congress have yet to take a position, outlines like we saw in the health care debate are already appearing.

Speaker Ryan and some of his close allies, like Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, are again on one side of the debate supporting the tax as President Trump shows openness and mild support. Brady is convening Republicans on his committee Tuesday in the hopes of achieving some consensus.

That may be difficult since conservative groups aligned with GOP mega-donors the Koch brothers, like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, are against the tax. Republican senators are openly hostile to it. And Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a member of the Freedom Caucus, has said he has a “natural hesitancy” to support the tax.

Democrats, emboldened by Trump’s defeat on health care, again look poised to be unified against Trump tax reform, making Republican unity critical for passage. “The American people are not crying out for tax breaks on the wealthiest Americans,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “God bless the wealthy. They’re doing just fine without the tax breaks.”

These same intra- and interparty divisions will also be tested in the coming weeks and months by more than just tax reform. By April 28, Congress must pass a budget, or the government will shut down. Many conservative members of the House have suggested that the budget must cut funding for Planned Parenthood, but such a budget will almost certainty not pass the Senate. But without cutting Planned Parenthood funding, it’s uncertain whether the budget can pass the House.

And then there’s the debt limit, which is the amount of money the United States is allowed to borrow to keep meeting its financial obligations. Some time in the fall, it will have to be increased so the government can pay the bills.

Members of the Freedom Caucus have been reluctant to raise the debt ceiling before, and if they are again — President Trump and Paul Ryan may have no choice but to try to make a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, which would further erode the relationship with the Freedom Caucus. Plus, the Democratic Party’s base is pressuring their representatives in Congress to not cut any deals with Trump.

In other words, Trumpcare may be just the opening salvo of many fights to come.


Kansas wheat farmers look to Cuba to solve U.S. agriculture crisis

March 28, 2017 - 8:45am

This segment originally aired March. 20, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

A surplus of wheat and a strong U.S. dollar have created the worst economic downturn in American agriculture in decades. The market slump is clearly affecting the farming community of Claflin, Kansas, where stores are going out of business and banks have slowed on lending.

The Kansas Wheat Institute is looking for a way out of the crisis, and researchers there think the solution to the surplus lies on an island 1800 miles away.

“Wheat farmers would love to resume trade with Cuba” Aaron Harries, Vice President of Research and Operations at Kansas Wheat told VICE News.

But the solution won’t be easy. At a G20 Summit earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin refused to sign the group of 20’s stance against economic protectionism, opening the door for the Trump administration to levy tariffs or import taxes against other countries.  That aggressive trade position could make things harder for U.S. exporters – including the wheat farmers in Kansas who were hoping to unload their surplus in a new foreign market.

Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran has clashed with his party for nearly two decades by advocating for open trade with Cuba. He believes the embargo only hurts American farmers since Cuba continues to receive wheat from Canada and Russia. “In rural America, in ag country, America first would mean the sale of what we produce here around the globe” Moran told VICE News.

Westminster killer’s family apologize to victims of London attack

March 28, 2017 - 5:50am

The wife of the man who killed four people in an attack on the U.K. Parliament last week said Tuesday that she was “shocked and saddened” by the actions of Khalid Masood, expressing her condolences for the victims and their families.

In a statement issued through the police, Masood’s wife, Rohey Hydara, said: “I am saddened and shocked by what Khalid has done. I totally condemn his actions. I express my condolences to the families of the victims that have died, and wish a speedy recovery to all the injured. I would like to request privacy for our family, especially the children, at this difficult time.”

Hydara is thought to have lived with Masood since 2010. She was among those arrested in the wake of the attack but has since been released and completely cleared of any involvement in it. The Telegraph reported on Sunday that Masood, killed by police in the attack, had lied to Hydara, telling her he was traveling to Saudi Arabia before carrying out the attack.

Masood, born Adrian Elms and also known as Adrian Ajao, took just 82 seconds to kill four people in the attack last week. He drove across Westminster Bridge in a hired car, knocking down and injuring 50 people before driving the car into the fence surrounding the Houses of Parliament. He then fatally stabbed a policeman before being shot dead by another officer.

Hydara’s comments follow those of Masood’s mother, Janet Ajao, who said Monday she was “deeply shocked, saddened, and numbed by the actions my son has taken that have killed and injured innocent people in Westminster.” She added that she had “shed many tears” for the victims, and said she did “not condone his actions or support the beliefs he held that led to him committing this atrocity.”

The so-called Islamic State initially claimed credit for the attack, but Scotland Yard Monday ruled out any direct link between Masood’s actions and the terrorist group. The deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Neil Basu, who is also the senior national coordinator for U.K. counterterrorism policing, said that there was no evidence Masood had discussed the planning of his attack with anyone else.

Basu added that the main line of inquiry now was the messages the attacker sent just prior to carrying out the atrocity. According to reports, Masood was active on WhatsApp just before he drove onto Westminster Bridge, and on Sunday U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd called on Facebook — which owns WhatsApp — to stop giving terrorists a “secret space to communicate.”

Trump’s latest executive order guts Obama-era environmental protections

March 27, 2017 - 9:59pm

With the swoop of a pen, President Donald Trump is set to dismantle what Barack Obama once hoped would be one of his administration’s defining legacies: aggressive environmental protection.

Trump will sign a sweeping executive order Tuesday that will require the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, a crucial Obama initiative that aimed to cut power plants’ pollution, a senior White House official said Monday. The order will also rescind several Obama-era environmental protections, such as a moratorium on leases for mining coal from federal land and the requirement that federal officials consider the “social cost of carbon” emissions when making decisions.

The goal of the order, the White House official said, was to further domestic energy production, protect jobs, and ensure that the EPA sticks to what the Trump administration believes to be its core mission: protecting clean air and water. It will serve as a blueprint for the Trump administration’s energy and environmental policies.

For the Trump administration, the Clean Power Plan goes beyond the EPA’s mission and puts American jobs at risk. Intended to reduce emission levels more than 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the plan never actually took effect — thanks to a lawsuit brought in part by the now-EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the Supreme Court halted it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard arguments on the lawsuit back in November, but its judges have yet to issue an opinion.

But this order doesn’t mean that lawsuit is over, since the Clean Power Plan isn’t going to disappear overnight.

“For any [revision] of the Clean Power Plan, we would also expect a lengthy process by which the public has an opportunity to comment,” said Sanne Knudsen, an environmental law professor at the University of Washington. (The original Clean Power Plan received over 4 million comments.) “Those processes can take a few years… And then at the end of the process, we would expect to see judicial review and litigation.”

If the Trump administration instructs the Department of Justice to stop defending the Clean Power Plan in court, Sanne said, there are a number of states and environmental groups that could step up to maintain the legal battle. The White House is prepared for that possibility, the official said.

A drawn-out legal war seems all but certain, since many environmental groups are already protesting the executive order. “The safeguards Trump wants to shred — like the Clean Power Plan — are on a strong legal footing and the public will have the chance to voice its objections as the Trump administration tries to roll them back,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

States may also take steps on their own to improve their carbon emissions. Even without the Clean Power Plan, an Environmental Defense Fund analysis found that 18 states are already on track to hit the plan’s 2030 emissions reduction targets.

The order will also require a review of Bureau of Land Management regulations that limit hydraulic fracking on public lands.

Other parts of the order, such as ending the coal-leasing moratorium, will be easier to enact. Usually, executive orders, presidential memorandum, or administration directives don’t need to be reviewed — Trump can just rescind them immediately.

Many of the executive order’s directives will help Trump keep his campaign promise to bring coal industry jobs back, the White House official said. Thanks to cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources, coal-fired plants shuttered across the country.

The order won’t address the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, which saw 195 countries pledge to decrease climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the senior White House official. Though Trump campaigned on the promise that he would “cancel” the Paris agreement — and Pruitt called it “just a bad deal” on Sunday — the official said that the administration is still discussing what to do about it.

Yet if the EPA ends up rewriting or rescinding the Clean Power Plan, it may not matter. Even if the United States stays in the Paris agreement in name, ending the plan would effectively gut the country’s ability to meet its Paris pledge.

Greece’s youth are leaving cities as the country struggles with record unemployment

March 27, 2017 - 4:36pm

This segment originally aired March. 20, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

Maria Terilidou is 28 years old, speaks five languages and has three degrees. For the past year, she has been working in a call center in Athens, where she is paid by the hour. She still lives with her parents. But Maria considers herself to be lucky, since nearly 50 percent Greece’s youth are unemployed – the highest rate in Europe.

Greece’s economic crisis has hit its young adult population particularly hard. While the Greek government is in Brussels trying to qualify for another round of bailout loans from EU creditors, 30 percent of Greece’s highly-educated 25- to 34-year-olds are unemployed. Since 2010, the scarcity of jobs has resulted in more than 140,000 recent graduates leaving Greece to find a career in other countries.

With an entire generation’s future at stake, Greece hopes to persuade The World Bank and Greece’s lenders to support a scheme that would create 450,00 temporary jobs and cost €3 billion euros.


Jeff Sessions vows to “claw back” federal money from sanctuary cities

March 27, 2017 - 4:06pm

After months of tough talk about cracking down on jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with the feds on immigration enforcement, the Trump administration just took the first step toward punishing so-called “sanctuary cities.”

In a surprise appearance at the start of the White House press briefing Monday, Attorney General Sessions said he would take “all lawful steps to claw-back” federal funding from sanctuary cities, an undefined term that typically refers to jurisdictions where local law enforcement refuses requests by immigration agents to hold non-serious offenders who face deportation.

Following Trump’s election, more than 100 cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Austin — have affirmed their “sanctuary” status. Trump signed an executive order during his first week in office that called for increased cooperation between local, state, and federal authorities to target, arrest, and detain undocumented immigrants — and threatened to pull federal grant money from jurisdictions that refuse to comply.

Sessions doubled down on that approach Monday. “The American people want and deserve a lawful immigration system that keeps us safe and serves our national interest,” he said in a statement. “This expectation is reasonable, and our government has a duty to meet it.”

Sanctuary cities stand to lose more than $4.1 billion in grants awarded by Office of Justice Programs and Community Oriented Policing Services this year, according to Sessions. Law enforcement agencies rely heavily on federal grants to bankroll training, technology upgrades, and equipment purchases.

Trump has regularly trotted out the family members of American citizens murdered by undocumented immigrants and rehashed those tragedies to fit his hardline immigration agenda. Analyses of crime data, however, consistently indicate that the correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime is overstated.

On Monday, Sessions cited a poll that determined 80 percent of Americans “believe that cities that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to immigration authorities.”

That attention-grabbing statistic — the product of a new and relatively unknown Harvard-Harris survey — was widely circulated earlier this year. Analysts at Politifact, however, found the language of the question misleading. It doesn’t specify “violent crimes,” meaning that anyone arrested for having a broken tail-light or speeding could fall into that category.

A different poll, by Quinnipiac, found that 53 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be deported only if they commit “serious crimes,” compared to 22 percent for “any crime.”