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GOP candidate for Arizona Senate and gun rights advocate killed his own mother

VICE News - 3 hours 29 min ago

A GOP candidate for Arizona Senate says he knows from experience that a good guy with a gun is the solution to gun violence, because he shot and killed his mother when he was a teenager.

“You can pass all the laws you want to in this world, and when you've got somebody out there that wants to harm somebody, they're going to do it if you don't stop them,” Bobby Wilson told a crowd at an event put on by the gun control group Moms Demand Action last week.

The crowd, predominantly backers of Moms Demand Action, booed and heckled Wilson.

According to the Arizona Republic, Wilson was 18 when he shot and killed his mother in an incident that also left his 17-year-old sister dead.

“[My mother] was hell-bent on killing me in my sleep one night. At 3 o'clock in the morning, I woke up to find a rifle in my face — a semiautomatic rifle at that — and the bullets started to fly, and I started diving for cover,” Wilson told the crowd.

He told the Arizona Republic that his mother, Lavonne Wilson, had entered his room and shot at him multiple times, missing each shot before hitting Wilson’s sister in the back of the head with her gun and killed her. Wilson told the paper his mother continued shooting at him but hit a container of gasoline, giving Wilson time to grab his gun and fire back. When he ran to the living room to call for help, he said he had to turn a light on, creating a spark that ignited fumes from the gasoline, blowing up the house.

The Arizona Republic points out that news coverage of the case differs dramatically from Wilson’s version, with reports indicating the burnt bodies of Wilson’s mother and sister were found in their beds in a way that would have indicated they had died of smoke inhalation, if an autopsy hadn’t shown they’d been shot.

After the shooting, Wilson was charged and confessed to the murder of his mother and sister, according to court records and newspaper articles obtained by the Republic. He later recanted his confession and said he didn’t remember any events from that night. The case was taken to court twice, but the evidence was “inconclusive.” Eventually, the charges were dismissed in Oklahoma.

Ultimately, Wilson says, the larger issue isn’t what happened in the house that night but rather the lesson he learned from it: The only magic bullet is an actual bullet.

“I don't think you can control people's behavior by passing laws,” Wilson told the Republic. “They keep looking for a magic-bullet law that they can pass where it’s gonna put an end to the killings and the gun violence, and they're not gonna find the magic bullet. There is no magic bullet."

Cover image: Gun shop owner Jeff Binkley displays AR-15 'Sport' rifles at Sarge's Sidearms on September 29, 2016 in Benson, Arizona. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

NYPD gives the feds an ultimatum on Eric Garner: Charge the officer who choked him to death, or we will

VICE News - 4 hours 28 min ago

Exactly four years ago, Eric Garner, a black man, died in a police chokehold after they approached him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. His final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry against police brutality and a slogan for the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.

Four years later, New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo has not been charged for using the banned chokehold tactic on 43-year-old Garner, and remains on the NYPD payroll on “modified duty.” That’s because the federal civil rights investigation into Garner’s death has dragged on, in part due to a disagreement between New York federal prosecutors and civil rights officials at the Justice Department in D.C.

Now, frustrated by the slow pace of action, the New York Police Department has given the feds an ultimatum: Announce civil rights charges by Aug. 31, or we'll take matters into our own hands.

“Understandably, members of the public in general and the Garner family in particular have grown impatient with the fact that NYPD has not proceeded with our disciplinary proceedings,” wrote the Department’s Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs Larry Byrne in a letter Monday. “They have difficulty comprehending a decision to defer to a federal criminal investigation that seems to have no end in sight.”

Read: Police shoot far more people than anyone realized, a VICE News investigation reveals

In December 2014, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges, a decision that touched off renewed protests across New York City. Garner’s death was captured on video. He was first approached by police officers who suspected that he was selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk.

Should the Justice Department fail to meet the Aug. 31 deadline, Pantaleo will undergo an internal disciplinary trial, which an NYPD deputy police commissioner will oversee.

Departmental charges, as recommended by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an external watchdog agency, could result in Pantaleo being fired or suspended from the NYPD.

Career civil rights officials at the DOJ have been pushing to indict Pantaleo, the New York Times reported in April. But the decision whether to proceed with an indictment now sits entirely with top-level Justice Department officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who have appeared skeptical as to whether Pantaleo committed a crime, according to the Times.

“We agree that the Justice Department’s leadership should move to close Police Officer Pantaleo’s case and put an end to what has been a highly irregular fishing expedition by those seeking an indictment at all cost,” said Police Benevolent Association Patrick J. Lynch in a statement. “Police Officer Pantaleo is entitled to due process and an impartial consideration of the facts.”

Cover image: Rally participants hold signs near the site of Eric Garner's death in 2016. (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

India’s fake news epidemic is killing people and Modi’s government has no plan to stop it

VICE News - 4 hours 46 min ago

NEW DELHI — Sukanta Chakraborty was hired in June by the Information and Culture department of the Indian state of Tripura to teach Indians how to spot fake news on apps like WhatsApp. He was dead before July.

With a loudspeaker in hand, the 33-year-old travelled from village to village in the north eastern Indian state of Tripura state in his new job as a “rumor buster,” trying to warn people against the dangers of believing the salacious rumors about child abductors, organ thieves, or cow killers that they were reading on their cell phones.

"Don't believe in fake news about child abductions. Don't take law into your own hands," Chakraborty shouted, as he travelled from village to village.

One recent fake news rumor Chakraborty was hired to debunk included a video claiming to show a gang of men kidnapping children in order to harvest their organs and that residents needed to be on the lookout for strangers in their neighborhood. The video turned out to be an edited version of a Pakistani child safety video.

But villagers were on edge after the brutal murder of an 11-year-old boy in the western part of the state, and willing to believe whatever they read.

On June 28, Chakraborty entered the tiny village of Kalacherra, less than 15 miles from the border with Bangladesh, to help defuse the situation. That’s when the mob, fearing him to be the mythic child abductor he was hired to dispel, turned on him.

They beat him to death with stones and sticks. The two policemen who attempted to intervene didn’t fare much better — both were hospitalized from injuries suffered in the mob violence.

On the same day in the same state, while Chakraborty was being beaten to death, a hawker and a woman were also killed because people believed they were child abductors based on WhatsApp rumors.

So-called fake news has been blamed for stirring outrage in the U.S., distrust throughout Britain and parts of Europe, and ethnic violence in Myanmar. But in India, it’s killing people. Mob lynchings fueled by fear-mongering rumors on WhatsApp have surged across the subcontinent in recent months, sparking hysteria and violence, baffling police, and leaving a trail of 18 dead since the beginning of May, with dozens more seriously injured.

Yet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has largely remained silent about the problem, and analysts say there’s a reason for that: Much of the fake news now spreading like wildfire has been promoted, if not created, by some of Modi’s most fervent supporters.

“You have to understand, we are battling a technological machinery of fake news.”

“While the media in India and elsewhere have focused on WhatsApp deaths, we have to realize that this is only a specific way in which fake news is being spread by right-wing Hindu supremacists, many of them closely linked to the ruling BJP and its parent body, the openly fascist RSS,” Amrit Wilson, a writer and activist, told VICE News.

WhatsApp told VICE News it has offered to meet with the Indian government over the issue, but a source at the company with knowledge of its dealings said they have yet to receive a response.

In the absence of a greater national response from the capital, local police forces are resorting to low-tech solutions like passing out flyers, using loudspeakers, and even hiring musicians to educate people about the dangers of fake news.

“You have to understand, we are battling a technological machinery of fake news,” Jal Singh Meena, a police chief in Tripura where Chakraborty was killed, told VICE News. “I tour the interior districts of the area I am in charge of. Wherever I see groups of 10-15 people, I talk to them about fake news. Local police officials, while on their duty vigils, are constantly telling the people about this menace from social media rumors.”

Meena’s hardly unique in this regard. VICE News spoke to multiple police chiefs in rural villages and major cities, and all of them expressed feeling overwhelmed and under-resourced to cope with the current crisis.

Some police chiefs are even desperately turning to ancient practices and rituals to fight the increasingly fatal phenomenon.

In Telangana State, Rema Rajeshwari, who serves as district police chief, was struggling after initial efforts to educate 400 villages under her control hit a brick wall. So she turned to the dappus, an ancient drum used mostly in Hindu religious music.

The police chief trained drummers to use them as a way to gain trust and reach villagers most prone to believing fake news.

“I head one of the 34 most backward districts in the country. People are very poor and most are illiterate,” Rema told VICE News. “They don't have any means to verify the authenticity of these fake news that they are subjected to."

But drums, loudspeakers, and leaflets can do little to tackle a problem born on a platform with 200 million registered users. Especially when many of those toxic messages are believed to be coming from allies to the country’s prime minister and his ruling party, the BJP.

India’s Troll Factory

Just as the Kremlin has been linked to the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, analysts in India say there is reason to believe that Modi’s BJP party is behind much of the fear-based fake news being pushed on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. Modi’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

Recently, the main opposition party hit out at Modi for “aiding and abetting” the spate of lynching links to rumors spread via WhatsApp.

“When the state gives the ‘License to Kill' with impunity and abdicates its solemn responsibility to uphold the ‘Rule of Law,' resulting in vigilantism, death, and merciless killings of innocent lives, then each one of us should castigate it, decry it, and question it,” Abhishek Singhvi, spokesperson for the National Congress Party, told reporters.

Facebook’s struggles to track and effectively curb fake news are amplified on WhatsApp, where messages are encrypted so that even WhatsApp can’t see their content. While it is one of the app’s biggest selling points, the added layer of security makes it almost impossible for the company to track and remove fake news. In India, where many users are illiterate and don’t have access to the wider internet, this means WhatsApp rumors spread like wildfire.

Fake news has been an issue in India for many decades, dating back to the 1980s when cassette recordings of fake gunfire, screams, and chants of “Allah-ho-Akbar” were played through speakers to stir up anti-Muslim hatred. In the internet era, rumors about Pepsi making Kurkure (Indian Cheetos) out of plastic were spread widely, while the makers of a popular mango drink had to give guided tours of their facilities after a rumor went viral online saying its drink contained HIV-positive blood.

But the advent of WhatsApp, combined with increased access to the internet, means rumors and fake news in India spread to all parts of the country with a speed never before seen.

Troll armies like those used by Modi’s BJP have taken advantage of the platform’s closed messaging to push divisive, ethnically charged content with the desire to stoke fear and discord.

When the body of 11-year-old Purna Biswas was found near his home of Mohanpur in West Tripura last month, no one knew why he had been killed. Hours later, Ratan Lal Nath, a local BJP politician, appeared at the boy’s home and falsely claimed that his kidney had been cut from his body by organ traffickers. A day later, the police had arrested the two murderers who revealed Biswas’ death was related to a family land dispute.

This was hardly the first time BJP attempted to use dangerous social media rumors for its political gain; it has been at the bedrock of the party’s staggering success in recent years.

In her book, “I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army,” journalist Swati Chaturvedi explains how the party orchestrates online campaigns to intimidate perceived government critics through a network of trolls on Twitter and Facebook. And she cites multiple people who worked inside the BJP’s social media machine to make her case.

“There are people who see themselves as dedicated warriors.”

They’re not alone. Chaturvedi’s findings were backed by another former BJP cyber-volunteer, Sadhavi Khosla, who left the party in 2015 because of the constant barrage of misogyny, Islamophobia, and hatred she was asked to disseminate online. And Prodyut Bora, one of the masterminds of the BJP’s early technology and social media strategy, recently offered a similar outlook. He described his creation as “Frankenstein’s monster,” and said that it had morphed from its original aim of better connecting with the party’s supporters. “I mean, occasionally, it’s just painful to watch what they have done with it,” he told HuffPost India last month.

Right-wing publication Postcard News — dubbed “a mega factory of fake news” — hit the headlines in March when its founder, Mahesh Vikram Hegde, was arrested for spreading false information about a Jain monk being assaulted by a Muslim youth. The monk was in fact injured in a minor road accident, and police said Hegde was fully aware of this fact when he made his claim.

Despite trying to incite religious conflict between two communities — or perhaps because of it — Hedge and Postcard News received robust support from the BJP’s social media network. Within hours, the #ReleaseMaheshHegde hashtag was trending on Twitter. As of this week, prominent BJP politicians were still promoting stories from Postcard News.

This network is an example of what Harsh Taneja, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, describes as the “hierarchical tree-like structure” of the BJP’s social media machine.

The highly structured nature of the network allows national messages to flow down to every district in the country, and conversely for a local volunteer to flag something up to the national conversation, Taneja explained.

“It is very well-structured, it is well-funded, and they have a lot of volunteers," Rohit Chopra, a media studies professor at Santa Clara University, told VICE News of the BJP social media machine. "There are people who see themselves as dedicated warriors.”

While the rumors on WhatsApp warn of child abductors and cow killers, the messages often also come tinged with anti-Muslim or anti-Christian sentiment, and fit into the wider policy of Hindu nationalism that Modi’s government has been accused of promoting above all.

"While there is no evidence of it being organized, there are all the symptoms of it being organized," said Pratik Sinha, who runs the fact-checking website AltNews.com. He cited the fact that every time an election approaches, the level of fake news he has to deal with increases.

Government silence

For all the deaths, the government has said very little. A month after it held a meeting vaguely designed to discuss measures to fight malicious content appearing on social media, it suddenly issued a stinging rebuke of the messaging app, telling WhatsApp senior management “that necessary remedial measures should be taken.”

WhatsApp responded by offering to meet with government officials to discuss the problem. Despite its efforts, the company has still not had any direct contact with the Indian government, a source familiar with the issue at WhatsApp told VICE News.

This week the company took matters into its own hands, launching an ad campaign in India designed to educate people about how to spot fake news and bogus warnings. It also launched a feature that indicates when a message has been forwarded, versus written by a friend or relative.

The company is also offering $50,000 grants to social scientists who want to investigate possible solutions for the spread of misinformation on its platform.

The source at WhatsApp, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told VICE News that people within the company are especially worried about the scale of disinformation being spread on its platform in the run-up to next year’s elections and this week’s efforts are a way of starting to address those concerns.

But after trekking across the country to meet families of victims of these mob lynchings in recent months, activist Harsh Mander believes it’s the state that is ultimately responsible to stop the violence, not Silicon Valley.

“Most mob violence is spurred by rumors, but this was true even before we were connected by the internet,” Mander told VICE News. “The bigger responsibility lies not with social media companies but with the state that is facilitating this environment of hate and impunity.”

Watch a lava bomb crash through the roof of this boat full of tourists

VICE News - 6 hours 27 min ago

Passengers on a tour boat near Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano got to see lava way closer up than they’d hoped when a bowling ball–sized lava bomb crashed through the boat’s roof, injuring 23 of the people aboard.

The tourists wanted a close-up view of the eruption of the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, and they definitely got one. The tour boat driver, Shane Turpin, told the Associated Press that, as they were about 500 yards from the volcano, he didn’t see any explosive activity and motored up a little closer. Turpin estimates that he was about 250 yards from the lava flowing into the ocean when the lava bomb crashed through his boat’s roof.

The size of the explosion wasn’t clear to Turpin until he saw a video of it, taken by one of the tourists, once they were safely back on shore.

“It was immense,” Turpin told the AP. “I had no idea. We didn’t see it.”

One woman was in serious condition with a broken leg. Thirteen of the passengers were treated at a nearby hospital, and the rest got treatment for superficial injuries once the boat docked.

Most boats aren’t supposed to be closer than 300 meters from the point at which lava hits water, but tour boats and scientific vessels can apply for permission from the Coast Guard to get within 50 meters of lava, and Turpin’s boat was allowed to get closer than 300 meters.

The Coast Guard is investigating Monday’s incident, and is now requiring that all boats, even those that previously had permission to get closer, stay 300 meters away, the Coast Guard told VICE News.

Turpin told the the Associated Press that he’d been doing this kind of work since 1983, and had never seen anything quite like this explosion.

"It was suddenly bedlam. There was screaming,” Kirk Olsen, one of the tour boat’s passengers told CBS News. “You'd look on the floor and there were hot lava rocks glowing.”

READ: Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano just threw a huge ash cloud 2 miles into the sky

Since Kilauea started erupting in early May, the lava pouring from the volcano has engulfed over 700 homes in flames, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, and has become more violent in recent weeks. What started as a seeping, slow eruption, with lava moving slowly over the Big Island, has more recently been erupting with force, sending chunks of molten rock flying into the air.

The eruption has so far added 690 acres of land to the Big Island, according to the USGS. It completely filled up the beloved Kapoho Bay, a popular snorkeling site whose tide pools attracted residents and tourists alike.

The lava also evaporated the island’s largest freshwater lake — within just a few hours. Green Lake, a popular swimming spot which was 200 feet deep, is now totally dried up.

In May, about two weeks after the volcano started erupting, it shot ash thousands of feet into the air, prompting evacuations and prompting official warnings to pilots to avoid the area.

Cover image: This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows damage to the roof of a tour boat after an explosion sent lava flying through the roof off the Big Island of Hawaii Monday, July 16, 2018, injuring at least 23 people. The lava came from the Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting from a rural residential area since early May. (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP)

Putin is still pushing the "absurd" idea of a U.S.-Russia cybersecurity unit

VICE News - 6 hours 28 min ago

Shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump publicly undercut his own intelligence agencies Monday at a press conference in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin, perched on the adjacent podium, floated the idea of a joint working group to analyze U.S. claims of Russian election interference.

Or put more simply, Putin, whom U.S. intelligence officials say ordered the Russian attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, asked for a hand in determining whether the attack he ordered ever took place.

During his opening remarks, the Russian autocrat appeared exasperated that he had to again deny any knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 vote. But then he casually suggested the following:

“Any specific material — if such things arise — we are ready to analyze together. For instance, we can analyze them through the joint working group on cybersecurity, the establishment of which we discussed during our previous contacts.”

As ridiculous as the suggestion sounds, it wasn't the first time such a proposal has been made.

Almost a year ago, Trump trumpeted the possibility of creating “an impenetrable cybersecurity unit” in cooperation with Russia.

Hours later, facing major backlash, Trump walked back his suggestion, and nothing was ever heard about the initiative again — until Monday.

According to Putin, Trump is still considering the possibility of granting a country like Russia — which has repeatedly attacked the U.S. and numerous other countries in cyberspace — intimate access to the U.S. intelligence agencies most guarded networks. Former intelligence agents and analysts all agree that such a proposal is almost unworkable and sharing any intelligence with them could be even more destructive to U.S. national security.

“The idea of a joint cybersecurity unit between the United States and Russia is preposterous,” Michael Carpenter, a former top Defense Department official overseeing Russia and Eurasia, told VICE News.

Priscilla Moriuchi, who spent 12 years working in the U.S. intelligence community, was equally forthright.

“Enabling Russia to gain an even greater understanding of U.S. cyber defenses and analytic capabilities would put American citizens and businesses at even greater risk of attack,” she told VICE News.

The suggestion is all the more astonishing given the circumstances: It came just days after the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned that the persistent threat of cyberattacks from Russia was similar to the increased warnings the U.S. received prior to 9/11.

“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

Coats' comments came on the same day that 12 Russian military intelligence officials were indicted in the Mueller probe for hacking the Democratic National Committee.

READ: Republicans remind Trump: “Putin is not our friend”

“Given the indictments that came out last week, that detail in an incredibly compelling way how Russian military intelligence has used cyberwar against the United States, the idea that the U.S. would then seek a more cooperative relationship on cyber after such profound breaches, is quite absurd,” Alina Polyakova, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told VICE News.

There is no indication of when — if ever — such a working group will be established, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Russian threat

Russia has for years been among the most aggressive actors in cyberspace. Not only is it implicated in meddling in the U.S. presidential election, it is also accused of interfering in the Brexit referendum and the French presidential election.

The Kremlin has also been linked to numerous high-profile attacks on critical infrastructure in Ukraine, including knocking out the electricity grid for hundreds of thousands of users. Russia has also been publicly blamed for the devastating NotPetya cyberattack that cost billions of dollars worldwide and the Kremlin has also been accused of infiltrating U.S. power grids.

And the threats show no signs of abating. Officials in Ukraine recently warned that Russian hackers were preparing for a major cyberattack, while intelligence officers in the U.K. are preparing for the possibility of an attack against a piece of critical national infrastructure.

So the idea that U.S. intelligence officials would share information with their Russian counterparts seems ludicrous.

“We're supposed to now launch a joint unit to combat such attacks?” Carpenter asks. “The mere suggestion of it is a political ploy by Putin to focus attention away from the 12 Mueller indictments, which squarely point the finger at Russia.”

The suggestion likely remains on the table only because Trump wants to debunk the collusion allegations that have dogged his presidency.

READ: Trump’s Putin press conference just made Republicans’ lives way harder

“Trump sees any mention of cyberattacks around the elections as a question about his own legitimacy as president,” Polyakova said. “He always sees it through this lens, he doesn't see the bigger picture, that this was a national security risk and that our country is vulnerable. He always sees it through the lens of politics.”

For Putin, it's unlikely that he really cares whether his officials work with their U.S. counterparts on cybersecurity. More likely he's just looking for an edge.

“Putin does not seek transparency in cyber operations with the United States. He seeks an advantage in what he views as a zero-sum power struggle with the West. A joint cyber-operations working group would grant him that advantage,” Moriuchi said.

Or, as Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, puts it, the simple truth is that “Putin is trolling here.”

Cover image: US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

One European leader wants to be Trump and Putin’s other BFF

VICE News - 7 hours 57 min ago

The reviews are rolling in on Donald Trump’s cozy one-on-one with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, with most observers calling it the biggest foreign policy dumpster fire yet of his chaotic presidency. But in Europe, at least one high-profile onlooker liked what he saw.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a nationalist strongman in the mold of the Russian and American presidents, was so impressed with the display on Monday that he invited the two leaders to hold their next summit in Italy.

“Good job, Presidents!” the head of the far-right League wrote on his Facebook page. “I would like the next summit to take place in Italy so that they [Putin and Trump] can speak with strength and courage about security, peace, work, and economic growth.” Indeed, Trump sided with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the issue of Russian election meddling, and he now faces intense criticism for it.

Salvini, an immigration hard-liner who has emerged as Italy’s most influential politician since he became deputy prime minister last month, is a longstanding admirer of both Putin and Trump, and has vowed that his coalition government will pursue pro-Russian policies.

Marco Guili, a policy analyst at the European Policy Center, told VICE News that Salvini was seeking to boost his standing among Italian voters by positioning himself alongside the two nationalist leaders in Helsinki, whose nativist rhetoric reflected his own politics.

“He’s capitalizing by promoting himself as a member of this sort of ‘Internationale of nationalists,’ whether it actually exists or not,” he said. “He’s benefiting by promoting himself as someone who might be friendly with Putin, Trump, or [Hungary’s nationalist leader Viktor] Orban.”

Salvini was in Moscow Monday to meet his counterpart, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, having attended the World Cup final the previous day. Speaking at a press conference, Salvini ramped up his calls for the European Union to drop its sanctions against Russia, imposed following the annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine.

Salvini has called for the sanctions to be lifted before, but on Monday he ratcheted up his demands – saying he wanted them gone by the end of the year, and that he could be prepared to use Italy’s veto power in the European Union to achieve this.

"Vetoes are only a last resort, but I am not excluding anything," he told reporters.

Salvini, whose coalition government is seen as one of the Kremlin’s strongest supporters in Europe, said Italy had suffered more than any other European country as a result of the sanctions. Russia banned many food imports from the European Union in retaliation for the sanctions, impacting Italy’s agricultural sector.

Salvini also repeated his calls for Russia to be readmitted to the G-8, saying such a move would be "absolutely legitimate" – echoing a similar suggestion from Trump last month.

The Italian nationalist, who shot into government last month on the back of a hard-line anti-immigration platform, has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Putin. Earlier this month, he told a crowd that “Italy could do with dozens of men like [Putin], who act in the interest of their citizens”; when in opposition, he repeatedly met with the Russian leader and was photographed wearing a T-shirt bearing his image in Moscow. He has also previously offered to host joint U.S.-Russia talks.

Giuli said Putin was popular among the Italian electorate, many of whom admired what was perceived at a distance as the Russian leader’s strong, effective leadership – in contrast with their own messy democracy.

“There’s a perception of Putin as an effective leader, and of Russia as a country with effective leadership with national interest at the forefront,” he said. “Italians often feel disappointed by their own leadership.”

But Giuli said he believed Salvini’s demands for sanctions against Russia to be lifted were mere posturing, given that his government had recently consented to an extension of the sanctions until next year. “The whole idea of Italy taking unilateral leadership over this issue does not seem very realistic,” he said.

Cover image: Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini speaks during the press conference at Viminale Palace in Rome, Italy, 05 July 2018. ANSA/MASSIMO PERCOSSI (ANSA via AP)

Trump's Putin press conference just made Republicans' lives way harder

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 8:18pm

The president of Russia and the president of the United States holding a press conference is not unusual. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all took questions with their Russians counterparts at some point in their presidencies.

What made President Trump and President Putin’s appearance Monday in Helsinki so unusual was the fact that, when asked about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump seemed to side with Putin instead of the conclusions of 17 intelligence agencies, his own director of National Intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department.

And asked if he would denounce what happened in 2016 and warn Putin to never do it again, Trump, well, didn’t. Instead, he responded, “My people came to me, Dan Coats [the Director of National Intelligence] came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be.”

Coats later put out his own statement emphasizing Russia's involvement.

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security," Coats said.

Republicans back in America were also quick to distance themselves from Trumps remarks.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world," Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said in a statement. "The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”

Perhaps the president realized he had caused a problem for Republicans back home, because in a tweet after the press conference he reiterated how he has “GREAT confidence” in his intelligence people.

But that doesn’t make it any less difficult to understand why the President of the United States equated the findings of the American government officials and the intelligence community with what President Putin told him. In doing so, he probably didn’t change much for himself domestically — his feelings about the investigation into Russian efforts to undermine the election are pretty clear.

But with respect to the election cycle, he gave Democrats something else to hammer him and Republicans on — and created a situation where Republicans won’t be able to clap back.

This segment originally aired July 16, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, prepare to leave following a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, July 16, 2018. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

These American scholars say the real threat to the U.S. is Russophobia

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 8:05pm

President Trump set off a roar of outrage when he defied U.S. intelligence agencies to defend Vladimir Putin and Russia against allegations of meddling. Republican lawmakers joined Democrats to condemn the president's deference to Putin, but his conclusion that the U.S. and Russia are both to blame for the deteriorated relationship is not without defenders.

Take, for example, two American foreign policy experts, Stephen F. Cohen and John Mearsheimer, who both say they agree with Trump on that point, whether you think that makes them Putin's patsies or not. And they're both afraid anti-Russia sentiment in the U.S. will tank Trump's efforts.

“I’ve seen these things from the inside. I've re-thought and re-thought how we got to the edge of war with Russia, where we haven't been since Cuba in 1962. And I have concluded, and I would be happy to debate my opponents… It is 95 percent our own doing,” Cohen said.

Cohen is used to people calling him a Putin apologist for his views while Mearsheimer created a firestorm in 2014, when he penned a piece arguing that the crisis in Ukraine was largely the fault of the U.S. and its western European allies.

But Cohen and Mearsheimer both maintain that the media has sidelined their unpopular opinions, leading to what they say is a one-sided conversation about Russia.

“There is an unwillingness to engage in debate on this issue, like I have never seen before," Mearsheimer said.

VICE News sat down with the two professors — who happen to be old friends —to hear their opinions on all things Russia.

This segment originally aired July 16, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

What we know about a Russian NRA supporter’s alleged plot to get in with Trump and the GOP

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 5:50pm

Maria Butina, a Russian NRA supporter who reportedly bragged of the work she was doing for the Trump campaign, was arrested Sunday in Washington D.C. and charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian government.

Butina, a 29-year-old from Siberia who lived in Washington D.C. and took classes at American University, entered the GOP’s political circles by way of her support of the NRA. Butina was the founder of the Right to Bear Arms, where she focused on at jump-starting the gun rights movement in Russia — and allegedly ingratiating herself with leaders on the right in the process.

According to the Department of Justice, Butina didn’t act alone in her efforts. Here’s what we know so far about Butina, her alleged co-conspirators, and their alleged plot to influence their way to the White House.

U.S. person 1

According to the unsealed complaint, Butina was aided in her efforts to advance Russia’s agenda by an an American political operative and U.S. citizen identified in court documents only as “U.S. Person 1.”.

According to the FBI, Butina emailed U.S. Person 1 in March 2015 proposing she focus on the NRA, which she said would likely determine the 2016 election. She also noted that the NRA was “the largest sponsor of elections to the U.S. congress, as well as a sponsor of the CPAC conference and other events.”

In the emails cited by the FBI, Butina also underscored her own relationship with the NRA, alluding to meetings she took with various GOP leaders as a “representative of informal diplomacy” of the Russian Federation, and requesting a budget of $125,000 to participate in “all upcoming major conferences” of the GOP to bolster her status leading up to the 2016 election.

In response, the American political operative gave Butina a list of potential media, business and political contacts, suggesting she begin making inroads with them.

U.S. person 2

Later, in 2016 and 2017, another U.S. Citizen, “U.S. Person 2,” was looped into a series of emails that show Butina trying to arrange “a series of diners in the District of Columbia and New York City and U.S. persons having influence in American politics.”

Aleksander Torshin

Butina is also accused of conspiring with Aleksander Torshin, a former Russian lawmaker and senior official from the Central Bank of Russia.

Torshin, who still enjoys influence on the right despite credible allegations of Russian mob ties,, is currently the subject of an FBI investigation into whether the Russian government funnelled money into the National Rifle Association to help Trump win the election. Torshin is an NRA life member and an honorary member of the Right to Bear Arms, and was seated next to Donald Trump Jr. at the NRA’s 2015 annual convention

The GOP and the Trump campaign

Whether Butina was instructed by Russia or not, news reports dating back to at least 2013 place her squarely within the GOP, and later, Trump’s orbit.

For example, in 2013 — the same year she first met “Person 1” — former NRA president David Keene accepted an invitation from Butina and Torshin to travel to Moscow for a meeting hosted by Right to Bear Arms, according to Mother Jones. (The scheduled events included a fashion show of apparel specially designed for carrying concealed weapons.)

And in December 2015, The Right to Bear Arms partially funded an NRA delegation trip to Moscow, which included former Milwaukee Sheriff and Trump surrogate David Clarke, Keene, and Paul Erickson, a longtime political operative. They even visited a gun manufacturer together.

Butina and Erickson bragged of their connections to the Trump transition team, the Daily Beast reported. “She said so in my class. And she said so several times in the last semester,” Svetlana Savranskaya, who taught Butina at American University, told the outlet. “She is a former journalist, so she keeps up her connections in Russia. And she also works and [claims to] keep connections with a member of the Russian Duma.”

Butina and Erickson, who have been linked since at least 2013, apparently became so close that they even formed a company, “Bridges LLC,” in 2016 registered in South Dakota. Erickson said the purpose of the firm was to provide Butina with extra funding for her graduate studies, should she need it, according to McClatchy.

Erickson is perhaps best-known for his reported offer to set up a back-channel of communication between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin 2016, according to the New York Times.

Republicans remind Trump: “Putin is not our friend”

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 3:34pm

Most congressional Republicans do not publicly criticize President Donald Trump even when they privately disagree with him. Monday was an exception.

Trump’s joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday provoked outrage, disappointment, and just plain befuddlement among members of the president’s party.

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement, a sentiment that was widely echoed by his Republican colleagues. “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy."

A seemingly exasperated Trey Gowdy began his statement with a reminder to Trump that “Russia is not our friend.” Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted that “Vladimir Putin is not our friend.” And just in case the message wasn’t clear, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters “The Russians are not our friends.”

Read: 5 times Trump totally agreed with Vladimir Putin

There was good reason for the reminder.

Standing alongside Putin onstage Monday following their private meetings, Trump signaled that he believed Putin’s denials of interfering in the 2016 election, even as the American intelligence community has been unequivocal in its conclusions otherwise.

"My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think it's Russia,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question. “I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

It wasn't the first time Trump has expressed skepticism about the intelligence community’s findings, but it was extraordinary to do so on foreign soil with the world watching both leaders closely.

The Republican admonitions even prompted the usually headstrong president to attempt to reframe the summit via Twitter on Air Force One.

Trump perhaps was sensitive to the fact that he had publicly undermined members of his own administration. Coats, a former Republican senator whom Trump appointed director of national intelligence, said just last week that Russian was the "most aggressive foreign actor, no question,” in their cyberattacks against the United States. “They continue their efforts to undermine our democracy," he said in a speech at the Hudson Institute.

Read: Trump apparently trusts a former KGB spy as much as his own director of national intelligence

Following Trump’s remarks on Monday, Coats issued a statement saying the intelligence community has "been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

Trump’s deference to Putin over his own intelligence community appeared to disturb his Republican allies and critics alike. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has been largely supportive of the Trump administration, said she was “deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. & his suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia.”

Sen. John McCain of Arizona delivered the most extraordinary rebuke of the president, calling his joint press conference “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory” and that “[n]o prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.” McCain has been a frequent critic of the president, but this rebuke went beyond past statements.

Despite the outrage and condemnation, however, Republicans did not suggest they'd do anything beyond issue statements. No Republicans called for hearings, further investigations, or suggested legislation that would constrain Trump’s relationship with Russia. They did not threaten to withhold their votes on critical issues or nominees in order to get answers or action from the administration about Russia.

With Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, Democrats are powerless to do anything on their own. That didn't stop them from speaking out, however, as the party’s leaders said Trump’s relationship with Putin strongly suggests that the Russian president is actively blackmailing the U.S. president, a dark and conspiratorial accusation that leans in to the unproven findings of the Steele dossier.

“President Trump’s weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the president, personally, financially or politically,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that departed from her recent “wait-and-see” posture when it came to the Russia investigation. “We don’t really know what Mueller has. We have a responsibility, if we have information, to act upon it. But we don’t know what Mueller has,” she told Rolling Stone recently.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York was more circumspect but said that Trump’s behavior will make millions of Americans “wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”

Some Republicans admitted that Trump’s behavior fed such a narrative. Former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, took to Twitter to say so:

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo during a meeting at the Presidential Palace. Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images)

5 times Trump totally agreed with Vladimir Putin

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 2:56pm

When President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin at their first summit in Finland on Monday, some people expected fireworks over Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 election, Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, or the bombing of Syria in support of President Bashar Assad.

Instead, the summit seemed to bring the two even closer — so close, in fact, that within the last few hours, they’ve agreed on half a dozen items:

That the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is bad, and the U.S. is to blame.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted on Sunday, referring to the special counsel's investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded on its official Twitter account: “We agree.”

“I outlined first steps for improving this relationship, to restore the acceptable level of trust and going back to the previous level of interaction on all mutual-interest issues,” Putin said Monday.

“But our relationship has never been worse than it is now,” Trump said. “However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.”

That there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

When asked about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump seemed to take Putin's word over that of his own intelligence agencies.

“I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia,” Trump said. “I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

That they should investigate the meddling together.

Trump and Putin suggested that Moscow and Washington could both conduct criminal investigations into some Russian intelligence officials accused of meddling in the 2016 election.

“The appropriate commission headed by Mueller, he can use this as a solid foundation and send an official request to us so that we would interrogate, hold questioning of these individuals who he believes are privy to some crimes,” Putin said. “Our enforcement are perfectly able to do this questioning and send the appropriate materials to the United States. Moreover, we can meet you halfway. We can make another step. We can actually permit representatives of the United States, including the members of this very commission headed by Mr. Mueller, we can let them into the country. They will be present at questioning.”

Trump called it "an incredible offer."

They agree on securing Israel’s border with Syria.

Putin said he agreed with the U.S. that Syria’s border with Israel should be secured in line with a 1974 ceasefire agreement.

“This will allow us to return calm to the Golan, restore the cease-fire between Syria and Israel, and fully guarantee the security of the State of Israel,” Putin said on Monday. “Mr. President devoted a lot of attention to this. Russia wants this to happen.”

This could be seen as a win for Trump, who has been pushing Russia to help eliminate Iran’s role in Syria. The U.S. presidents said that going back to the cease-fire agreement could help create safety for Israel — “something that both President Putin and myself” want to happen.

That Russia did a great job hosting the World Cup.

“I’d like to congratulate you on a really great World Cup, one of the best ever,” Trump said. “It was beautifully done, so congratulations.”

Cover image: President Donald Trump shows off a World Cup football given to him by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Watch the trailer for VICE on HBO's episode “After The Fall”

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 2:46pm

The fight for the future of Syria has turned the nation into a chessboard for competing world powers. But for civilians in the former ISIS capital city Raqqa, the ghosts of the past make the future hard to imagine.

VICE News' Isobel Yeung returns to Syria to tell the stories of the people who were caught in the crossfire between the most feared terror group on Earth and the U.S.-backed coalition, as they try to rebuild among the ruins.

See it this Friday at 7:30 PM and 11 PM EDT on HBO.

Watch next: This is life inside Assad's Syria after 6 years of brutal war

Trump apparently trusts former KGB spy Putin just as much as America's top intel chief

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 1:09pm

This story has been updated to include DNI Dan Coats' response to Trump's statements.

America’s top intelligence officer, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Russian President Vladimir Putin could be described as mortal adversaries. But when it comes to their assessments of Russian hacking of the 2016 election, President Donald Trump said Monday he finds them equally credible, saying, “I have confidence in both parties.”

When asked about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump responded by casting doubt over his own intelligence agencies. “I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia,” Trump said, standing feet away from Putin at the press conference following their face-to-face summit in Helsinki, Finland.

He continued: “I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Trump’s comments come less than a week since special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators indicted 12 Russian nationals inside Russia’s government for meddling in the 2016 election. It also comes on the heels of DNI Coats likening cyberthreats posed by Russia to warning signs that came before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

When Trump was asked directly by an Associated Press reporter who he believes and if he would now denounce Putin for the meddling in 2016 and warn him never to do it again, Trump raised the unrelated FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server:

So let me just say we have two thoughts. We have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server, and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, [director of national intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have — I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server.

Trump continued on to peddle a conspiracy theory that Imran Awan, a Democratic staffer who recently pleaded guilty to unrelated financial charges, helped steal Democratic data.

What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did, is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.

Despite Trump's comments, DNI Coats stuck to his position, maintaining America's intel community "have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election," and vowing to "continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Putin was asked directly if he had kompromat on Trump. He didn't say no.

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 1:00pm

During a remarkable joint press conference Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked directly if he has any compromising information on Donald Trump. Putin responded with a number of words, but none of them was “no.”

Toward the end of the press conference following the Helsinki summit, AP reporter Jon Lemire asked Putin if he had any compromising information on President Trump or his family. Putin has long been rumored to have some sort of kompromat on Trump, including the rumored pee tape, a videotape of prostitutes urinating on a bed once slept on by President Obama, which was allegedly made at the Ritz in Moscow while Trump was in town in late 2013 attending the Miss Universe pageant.

But Putin didn’t answer the question of what, if any, information Russia has on Trump, offering instead a bizarre hypothetical about a recent economic conference in St. Petersburg. In fact, the only thing Putin denied was that he even knew Trump was in Moscow at the time, despite Trump himself once telling a Fox News that Putin “was so nice” during his visit.

Here is Putin’s response in full:

“I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow. Let me tell you this, when President Trump visited Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect. But back then, when he was a private individual, a businessman. Nobody told me that he was in Moscow. Let’s take the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, for instance. There were over 500 American businessmen. High-ranking, high-level ones. I don’t even remember the last names of each and every one of them. Do you really think that we tried to collect compromising material on each and every one of them? Well, it’s difficult to imagine and utter nonsense. Please just disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore.”

Curiously Trump also did not deny the existence of the pee tape — just the proposition that Russia would do anything with it except release it to the masses.

“If they had it, it would have been out a long time ago,” Trump said.

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Immigrants say U.S. is using “tricks” to take their children at the border

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 12:06pm

A group of 54 detained immigrant parents begged to be reunited with their children and said U.S. officials used deception and trickery to remove them in the first place.

"We were not prepared for the nightmare that we faced here,” the parents said in an open letter to the public obtained by CNN Sunday. “The United States government kidnapped our children with tricks and didn't give us the opportunity to say goodbye."

The group of immigrants detained in Port Isabel, Texas, detailed their suffering, a consequence of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy in which parents and kids are systematically separated at the border and detained apart for weeks and even months.

While 57 of the youngest children were reunited last week, more than 2,500 children remain in government custody separated from their parents, according to the most recent figures from the Department of Health and Human Services.

"To the people of the United States, please help us. We are desperate parents,” they wrote in longhand on a yellow pad in Spanish.

Read: The Trump administration separated a 3-year-old from a father who crossed the border legally

Several immigrant parents say their children were taken from them in cruel ways, and many are concerned about the lasting trauma of separation.

Other parents shared similar stories. Immigration authorities told Jose, a 27-year-old Honduran father, that they were taking his 3-year-old son to use the bathroom and then never brought him back. He didn’t see his son again for two months. “It was very hard, the hardest thing that's happened to me,” Jose said.

Ever Reyes Mejia, 30, also from Honduras, said officials took him out of the cell he was sharing with his 3-year-old son, who was sleeping at the time. That was the last time he saw him for two months.

“They didn't even let me give him a kiss goodbye,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “They didn't even let me warn him and tell him: I'll be right back."

Read: Dozens of kids under 5 separated from their parents may never see them again

In total, the government took away 103 kids under 5 from parents at the border. On June 26 a federal court in San Diego ordered the Trump administration to reverse the policy and reunite all of the families it has separated by July 26.

Fifty-seven of the youngest kids aged 4 and under were reunited with their parents last week, including Jose and Reyes Mejia. Forty-six of those young children remain in government custody because their parents were deemed ineligible: 12 have already been deported, 11 have criminal histories, 7 are not actually the parents, one has a contagious illness, one has not been located for more than a year, and one has been accused of abuse.

The ACLU, representing the families, will work with the court to reunify as many of these remaining "tender age" children as possible after the deadlines.

There are 2,551 kids 5 years and older who are still waiting to be reunified. Judge Dana Sabraw, who is overseeing the reunification process, said the government must confirm all parent-child relationships by July 19, one week before the July 26 deadline to reunify all families. In a court filing over the weekend, HHS complained that the tight deadlines are putting kids at risk of being reunited with unfit parents. Judge Sabraw responded bluntly, criticizing the government for instituting the family separation policy in the first place.

“Unfortunately, HHS appears to be operating in a vacuum, entirely divorced from the undisputed circumstances of this case,” he wrote.

The parents at Port Isabel who penned the letter are likely still waiting to be assessed by the Department of Homeland Security and HHS. Some parents have only had one phone call with their children since they were separated, according to the letter.

“The children cry, they don't recognize our voices, and they feel abandoned and unloved,” they wrote. “This makes us feel like we are dead.”

Cover image: El Salvadorian immigrant Ania, 9, removes her shoe laces at Border Patrol request she and her family crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States to seek asylum on April 14, 2016 in Roma, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Can Truth Survive Trump? WaPo Fails to Ask How Well Truth Was Doing to Begin With

FAIR - July 16, 2018 - 11:31am

The Washington Post (7/13/18) fails to examine corporate media’s contribution to declining standards of truth.

Carlos Lozada, the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post, promised “an honest investigation” of whether truth can survive the Trump administration in the lead article in the paper’s Sunday Outlook section. He delivered considerably less.

Most importantly and incredibly, Lozada never considers the possibility that respect for traditional purveyors of “truth” has been badly weakened by the fact that they have failed to do so in many important ways in recent years. Furthermore, they have used their elite status (prized university positions and access to major media outlets) to deride those who challenged them as being unthinking illiterates.

This dynamic is most clear in the trade policy pursued by the United States over the last four decades. This policy had the predicted and actual effect of eliminating the jobs of millions of manufacturing workers and reducing the pay of tens of millions of workers with less than a college education. The people who suffered the negative effects of these policies were treated as stupid know-nothings, and wrongly told that their suffering was due to automation or was an inevitable product of globalization. (Yes, I am once again plugging my [free] book, Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer.)

These claims are what those of us still living in the world of truth know as “lies,” but you will never see anyone allowed to make these points in the Washington Post. After all, its readers can’t be allowed to see such thoughts.

This was far from the only major failure of the purveyors of truth. The economic crisis caused by the collapse of the housing bubble cost millions of workers their jobs and/or houses. While this collapse was 100 percent predictable for anyone with a basic knowledge of economics, with almost no exceptions, our elite economists failed to see it coming, and ridiculed those who warned of the catastrophe.

Incredibly, there were no career consequences for this momentous failure. No one lost their job and probably few even missed a scheduled promotion. Everyone was given a collective “who could have known?” amnesty. This leaves us with the absurd situation where a dishwasher who breaks the dishes get fired, a custodian that doesn’t clean the toilet gets fired, but an elite economist who completely misses the worst economic disaster in 70 years gets promoted to yet another six-figure salary position.

And, departing briefly from my area of expertise, none of the geniuses who thought invading Iraq was a good idea back in 2003 seems to be on the unemployment lines today. Again, there was another collective “who could have known?” amnesty, with those responsible for what was quite possibly the greatest foreign policy disaster in US history still considered experts in the area and drawing high salaries.

When we have a world in which the so-called experts are not held accountable for their failures, even when they are massive, and they consistently look down on the people who question their expertise, it undermines belief in truth. It would have been nice if Lozada had explored this aspect of the issue, but, hey, it’s the Washington Post.

A version of this post originally appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (7/15/18). 

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Exploring the meaning of ‘revanchist’ amid Trump-Putin coverage

Columbia Journalism Review - July 16, 2018 - 11:24am
As President Trump met with NATO and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the news media ramped up its disapprobation. While Trump was “set on ushering in a gauzy new era of cooperation with Mr. Putin,” The New York Times reported, his administration was “set on countering a revanchist power that the White House has labeled […]

How Erdoğan gained near-absolute power in Turkey

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 11:15am

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s critics and supporters call him "sultan," it’s not just a nickname. Although he started his political career as a moderate, his ever-tightening grip on power has since restricted opposition voices and tested traditional allies.

Exactly two years after a military coup failed to remove him from office, Erdoğan on Sunday issued a decree that essentially put the military under civilian control. His second term as president, which began on July 9 after a tight race — gave him sweeping new powers, including the ability to rule by decree.

Just the day before his 15-year rule was extended, Erdoğan used his post-coup emergency decree privileges for the last time to fire over 18,000 civil servants and cancel their passports for alleged ties to terror groups.

Before Erdoğan inched toward more autocratic rule, democratic reforms and economic growth defined his early years as prime minister. Initially lauded by the West, he helped kick off European Union membership talks for Turkey in 2005. But Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies over the past decade — notably his crackdown on political opposition — risks Turkey's shot at joining the EU. Following the 2016 coup, more than 100,000 people, including academics, judges, and journalists, were detained for alleged ties to the failed coup.

Although Erdoğan's party lost its parliamentary majority in the recent elections, his win opened the door to a new executive presidency with unprecedented powers.

"Meet Recep Tayyip Erdoğan" is the second installment of a video series exploring how global leaders rule and maintain power.

Cover image: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a commemoration event for the second anniversary of a botched coup attempt, in Istanbul, Sunday, July 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Trump is holding "both countries responsible" for Russian meddling in the US election

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 10:31am

As President Trump offered criticisms for the way the U.S. handled Russian hacking in the 2016 election, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to come to Russia to pursue their investigation — if Russian investigators can interview Americans, too.

“We can let them into the country and they’ll be present for this questioning,” Putin said at a joint press conference with President Trump in Helsinki on Monday. “But this should be mutual, and we should be able to question law enforcement officers and intelligence officials who we believe have been involved in illegal actions on the territory of the Russian federation.”

Trump responded positively, saying, “I think that’s an incredible offer.”

The comments came during a remarkable joint press conference between Trump and Putin in the Finnish capital of Helsinki on Monday immediately following their first official bilateral summit. Both men declared the event a big success, and the start of a longer process of warming up relations.

“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed, as of about four hours ago. I really believe that,” Trump said. “We had direct, open, deeply-productive dialogue. It went very well.”

Putin, in fact, has an “interesting idea” about the subject of election meddling, Trump said, without immediately being more specific.

Trump and Putin’s much-scrutinized bromance became even more complicated on Friday, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly hacking Democratic email accounts and distributing the contents online in an attempt to undermine the 2016 presidential election.

While standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Putin, Trump took a swipe at the Mueller investigation, and put some of the blame for poor relations between the U.S. and Russia on American shoulders.

“I think we’re all to blame,” Trump said. “It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”

Trump said his campaign couldn’t have cooperated with Putin to undermind the 2016 election because he didn’t know Putin at that time.

“I didn’t know the president,” Trump said. “There was nobody collude with.”

Read More: The Russians hacked Hillary Clinton and the DNC on the very day Trump asked them to

Before the summit kicked off Monday, Trump blamed the downturn on U.S.-Russian relations on the “foolishness” and “stupidity” of American foreign policy — and took direct aim at the Mueller investigation once again.

Trump, who was briefed on Friday’s indictment days before it dropped, met with Putin privately for a little over two hours on Monday before the two leaders sat down for a working lunch with their top advisors, then hit the stage for a joint press conference.

Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin sparked criticism from Democrats and concern from political analysts — including from those who argued that the wily Russian president, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, would likely come well-prepared to get the most out of his encounter with Trump.

The meeting lasted longer than initially planned, having initially been scheduled to last 90 minutes.

“I’m worried that Trump met with Putin alone without his aides,” Anna Borshchevskaya, an analyst who tracks Russian foreign policy closely at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told VICE News. “Putin is a far more skilled interlocutor than Trump. There’s no telling what happened in that meeting.”

Speaking to the press earlier Monday before their meetings, Trump congratulated Putin on hosting the World Cup, which wrapped up Sunday, and didn’t say that he planned to discuss the allegations of election meddling with Putin. Last week in the UK, Trump had promised to “firmly ask the question” of election meddling when he met with Putin in Helsinki.

Cover image: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Trump fist-bumped Turkey’s strongman Erdogan for “doing things the right way”

VICE News - July 16, 2018 - 10:11am

President Trump fist-bumped the President of Turkey for “doing things the right way” during the NATO summit, according to Eurasia Group president and CBS News senior global affairs contributor Ian Bremmer.

While Trump offered sharp criticism of America’s NATO allies, he praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an autocrat whose guards beat protesters on American soil, for saying he would bypass Turkey's parliament to increase its military spending.

The President was frustrated that the leaders of other countries weren’t committing to spend more money on NATO — and suggested that countries should raise their contributions to 4 percent of GDP from 2 percent, which only a few meet. (The U.S. spends more money on NATO than any other country, a topic Trump has been focusing on for weeks).

Read: Erdogan is mad his guards face arrest for attacking protesters in D.C.

According to Bremmer, most of the leaders responding by saying they couldn’t just commit to spending more money: there’s a process, and they have to ask their parliaments.

“Trump turns around to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and says ‘except for Erdogan over here, he does things the right way,’ and then actually fist-bumps the Turkish president,” Bremmer said on CBS.

According to Bremmer, this kind of comradery between Trump and Erdogan makes the rest of the European countries uncomfortable.

“Turkey is hardly a liberal democracy at this point,” he said.

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the opening ceremony at the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters on July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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