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A foreign disinformation campaign is targeting Democrats ahead of 2020, report says

VICE News - 12 hours 8 min ago

Democrats are already feeling the effects of information warfare in the 2020 cycle.

A calculated disinformation campaign is targeting the Twitter mentions of four prominent Democrats and 2020 contenders, and foreign actors are likely responsible for the attacks, according to a new report from Politico.

The four targets are Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom are running for president, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who's expected to run, the report said. The coordinated social-media attacks seem to exist to sow discord between Democrats by circulating fake images, with one example showing a blackface doll in Elizabeth Warren’s kitchen. Politico also reported that a tweet employed “racist and sexist stereotypes” to humiliate Harris, the most targeted of the four.

The analysis comes from Guardians.ai, a tech company that attempts to disrupt cyberattacks, which said that the cyber propaganda is targeting politicians on other platforms like Facebook as well. In total, Guardians.ai identified about 200 accounts that existed solely to attack Harris, Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke. Specifically on Twitter, however, between 2 and 15 percent of all Twitter mentions for the four Democrats (altogether 6.8 million tweets) had a connection to the cluster of bots and accounts pushing propaganda since the beginning of 2019.

The researchers said that the social-media attacks have similar characteristics to the ones carried out against Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential and the Democratic National Committee.

“It looks like the 2020 presidential primary is going to be the next battleground to divide and confuse Americans,” Brett Horvath, a co-founder of Guardians.ai, told Politico. “As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it — we’re already in the third inning.”

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a Politics & Eggs campaign event, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Covington Catholic teen has brought a $250M defamation suit against the Washington Post

VICE News - 12 hours 59 min ago

The family of the Kentucky teen whose confrontation with a Native American advocate in D.C. sparked nationwide controversy is suing the Washington Post for $250 million in damages, arguing the student was defamed, “targeted and bullied” as a result of the reporting.

The lawyer for Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School junior featured in the viral video that stirred public outrage, compared the reporting of the Post and others to “modern-day” McCarthyism in the lawsuit. The suit was filed in a U.S. District Court in Kentucky Tuesday by Nick’s parents, Ted and Julie Sandmann, since Nick is a minor. The family also hired a PR team associated with GOP leader Mitch McConnell after the incident.

WaPo says the lawsuit is seeking $250 million because that’s the amount that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — the richest person in the world — paid for the Post when he acquired it in 2013.

“The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump,” the lawsuit alleges.

President Donald Trump tweeted in support of the lawsuit Wednesday morning, writing: “Go get them Nick. Fake News!”

The short video that lit up social media last month showed Nick in a red “Make America Great Again” cap, smirking in the face of the Native activist, Nathan Phillips, in a standoff at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Phillips had approached Sandmann and his classmates beating a ceremonial drum in what he said was a plea for peace amid an escalating situation between the teens and a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites protesting nearby. Phillips was in D.C. to take part in the Indigenous Peoples March; Sandmann was there on a school field trip to the anti-abortion March for Life event. After the video went viral, other videos surfaced showing the lead-up to the standoff, where students were being berated by the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Sandmann told the “Today” show that he was confused by the interaction and was trying to “defuse the situation” by standing there and smiling.

Earlier this month, Sandmann’s lawyers sent letters to several media outlets including the Post, the New York Times, CNN, NPR, the Guardian and others, saying they’d “crossed the line,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The letters asked the organizations not to destroy any documents in connection with the incident, seen as a possible first step in a series of defamation lawsuits.

“We plan to mount a vigorous defense,” Kristine Coratti Kelly, the vice president of communications for The Post, said in a statement sent to numerous media outlets.

In their lawsuit filed Tuesday, Sandmann’s attorneys argue the teen is a private figure and that the Post acted with “actual malice,” or a standard for libel where the plaintiff has to prove the defendant published a statement “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." The “actual malice” standard, established through the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan ruling, can be difficult to prove. In a separate matter unrelated to this case, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas criticized the ruling and the “actual malice” standard on Tuesday, saying it was an example of “policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law.”

Cover: Snow covers the grounds of Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. The school has received national attention in the wake of videos showing students from the school mocking Native Americans outside the Lincoln Memorial after a rally in Washington. (AP Photo/Lisa Cornwell)

Bernie Sanders’ 2016 success may hurt him in 2020

VICE News - 14 hours 20 min ago

Bernie Sanders is running for president again. He made the announcement Tuesday, promising bold policy ideas that will empower everyday Americans to challenge the wealthy and powerful.

“We're gonna win,” the Vermont senator told CBS’ John Dickerson. “We are gonna also launch what I think is unprecedented in modern American history, and that is a grassroots movement, John, which will have at least one million people from every state in this country, coming together to not only defeat Donald Trump, not only to win the Democratic nomination but also to lay the groundwork for transforming the economic and political life of this country.”

It sounds a lot like Sanders circa 2016, when he earned rock-star status with young voters by backing single-payer healthcare and other progressive policies. But he’s coming out for his encore only to find his opponents are remixing his greatest hits. Nearly all of them support Medicare for All. And a lot of them are offering up progressive goodies of their own, from Elizabeth Warren’s universal child-care plan to Cory Booker’s proposed “baby bonds.”

Sanders says this is a feature of his campaign, not a bug.

“All of those ideas and many more are now part of the political mainstream, and a majority of the American people now support them,” Sanders, 77, told CBS. “So what this campaign is about is understanding that three years ago we began the political revolution. Now it's time to complete that revolution and to take that vision and implement it into reality.”

He's also trying to stand out by forcefully taking on President Trump, calling him a “racist” and a “sexist” on Day 1 of his new campaign. But that effort will be complicated by Sanders’ struggle to win over black voters in 2016; by the perception of his followers as “Bernie Bros”; and by accusations that multiple 2016 campaign aides sexually harassed staffers.

Mostly, though, it will be complicated by the fact that what made him a trailblazer last time—his bold policy agenda—now just makes him part of a very large and diverse pack of competitors.

This segment originally aired February 19, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Inside El Chapo’s jury: A juror speaks for first time about convicting the kingpin

VICE News - 14 hours 35 min ago

Listen to "Chapo: Kingpin on Trial" for free, exclusively on Spotify.

For the first time since the trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán ended on Feb. 12, a member of the jury has described what it was like be part of the historic case.

In an exclusive interview with VICE News, the juror claimed that at least five fellow jurors violated the judge’s orders by following the case in the media during the trial. The juror also shared details of the deliberations, the extraordinary security precautions that were in place, and the jury’s views on Chapo, his lawyers, the prosecution, and several key witnesses.

The juror requested anonymity “for obvious reasons” and declined to provide a real name, noting that the jurors didn’t even share their identities with one another. They did form friendships, though, and referred to one another by their numbers or used nicknames based on tastes and personalities. The cast included Crash, Pookie, Doc, Mountain Dew, Hennessy, Starbucks, Aruba, TJ, 666, FeFe, and Loco.

“We were saying how we should have our own reality TV show, like ‘The Jurors on MTV’ or something like that,” the juror said.

The juror reached out to VICE News via email a day after the guilty verdict came down, and we spoke for nearly two hours on a video chat the following day. The 12 jurors and six alternates were anonymous under orders from the judge, and cameras were strictly forbidden inside the courtroom. But they sat in open court for all 44 days of the trial, their faces plainly visible to Chapo and anyone from the press or public who chose to attend.

“You know how we were told we can't look at the media during the trial? Well, we did.”

I was a regular at the trial, and I recognized the juror from my time in the courtroom. The juror shared detailed notes taken during the trial, which were kept against the instructions of the court. Information from the jury selection process provided further corroboration about the juror’s role in the case.

The jury deliberations dragged on for six days largely because of one stubborn holdout, the juror claimed. The juror said another factor before the deliberations began was the prospect that Chapo would be forced to spend the rest of his life alone in a prison cell.

“A lot of people were having difficulty thinking about him being in solitary confinement, because, well, you know, we're all human beings, people make mistakes, et cetera,” the juror said. A handful “talked about whether or not he was going to be in solitary confinement for the rest of his life, because if he was, they wouldn't feel comfortable finding him guilty.”

Now that Chapo has been convicted, he’ll likely be sent to the so-called “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” a federal “supermax” prison in Colorado where many high-profile inmates are kept in solitary.

Judge Brian Cogan routinely admonished the jurors to avoid news coverage and social media, and to refrain from discussing the case with each other, so that the verdict could be decided only on evidence from the courtroom. Those rules were routinely broken, according to the juror: “You know how we were told we can't look at the media during the trial? Well, we did. Jurors did.”

A courtroom sketch of Judge Brian Cogan. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Part of my coverage of the trial included sharing news, analysis, and observations from the courtroom on Twitter. The juror said they routinely checked my personal Twitter feed and tweets from other journalists. “We would constantly go to your media, your Twitter… I personally and some other jurors that I knew,” the juror said.

The juror reached out to another juror at the request of VICE News but said nobody else wanted to speak on the record. VICE News agreed to withhold personal details at the juror’s request. To further protect the juror’s identity, gender-neutral “they” pronouns are used throughout this story, and VICE News is not disclosing whether the juror was an alternate or one of the 12 people involved in deliberations.

Judge Cogan informed the jurors after the verdict was handed down that they are allowed to speak to the media, though he cautioned them against it. No other jurors have spoken out publicly, and because they are anonymous and not reachable for comment, parts of this juror’s account could not be independently verified.

If multiple jurors were indeed reading about the case in the media, Chapo’s defense team could seek a new trial.

Chapo’s lawyers declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn also declined to comment.

The juror’s recollection of testimony and details from the case suggested they had paid close attention and carefully considered the evidence. They said speaking out after convicting the world’s most notorious drug kingpin wasn’t easy. At one point in the interview, I mentioned it was brave to come forward after serving on Chapo’s jury.

“I'm either brave or stupid,” the juror responded. “It could go either way.”

The verdict

Some jurors were reportedly indifferent, while others were willing to consider an acquittal.

“There were jurors already with their minds made up,” the juror said. “There were jurors that still weren’t sure, and there were jurors that were looking to find possible ways, possible discrepancies to find him innocent.”

Prosecutors called 56 witnesses to testify against El Chapo, including 14 cooperators — among them his mistress and high-ranking cartel members — who testified in exchange for reduced sentences and government protection. The defense called just one FBI agent, who testified for 30 minutes. Still, it took six days of deliberations to reach the verdict.

“There were jurors already with their minds made up.”

The juror said one woman was the holdout: “She would say ‘yes,’ then she would come home and the next day she'd say, ‘You know what: I thought about it and I changed my mind,’” which forced the jury to restart deliberations on certain charges.

While the 12 jurors deliberated, the six alternates were stuck in a small room, where they passed the time playing poker with Monopoly money and watching movies on a court-issued laptop.

The juror claimed two people essentially refused to participate in the entire process: “They said that basically, ‘I'm here, I don't care what you decide, guilty or not guilty. I disagree with whatever you want to do. I'm not going to participate because I've been in so many juries that at this point I don't care.’”

But eventually, the jury unanimously found Chapo guilty on all 10 counts of his indictment.

After the guilty verdict was handed down, the juror recalled, “We were all pretty sad, in a way.” The juror was nervous and fighting back tears, and said at least four people wept.

The juror said the emotions weren’t out of fear or relief; they felt bad about sending Chapo away for life: “People probably think, ‘Aren't you happy you convicted this guy for all these things that he had done?’”

The juror said they were overwhelmed about the magnitude of the decision to convict.

“Before I even entered the room to read the verdict, I was about to have a panic attack,” the juror said. “I was really nervous. I was shaking.”

Extreme security

Chapo’s trial was in the Eastern District of New York, and to find jurors the court mailed a 31-page questionnaire to roughly 1,000 people across Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island. Many respondents were eliminated because they claimed knowledge of the case or feared for their personal safety.

The juror who spoke with VICE News said they were being honest about not knowing much about Chapo beyond his alleged status as a Mexican drug lord. They realized the trial was going to go on for months and be dangerous enough to require anonymity and an armed escort to and from the courthouse.

The allure was being part of history: “It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. This is the case of the century. Do I want to live it… or do I want to watch it on the screen?”

In this courtroom sketch, Chapo, right, is seated at the defense table with his interpreter. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

The jury was a diverse group that included four native Spanish speakers, several African-Americans, and a roughly even mix of younger and older people. But they were random New Yorkers who were thrown together for hours in a cramped room.

The juror described an instance where two people had to be separated by a U.S. Marshal when an intense argument broke out over personal space in the jury room.

Cell phones were confiscated, and the judge had warned them not to discuss the case. With everyone paranoid about the prospect of being threatened or killed by the Sinaloa cartel, the topics of conversation were initially limited to the Knicks and the weather.

“No one wanted to talk about their personal life,” the juror said. “We didn't want to give out what we did for a living.”

The jurors were allowed to return home every night, and they were escorted to and from the courthouse each day in groups of five in vans driven by U.S. Marshals, and the juror described scanning their surroundings and being nervous until they entered the vehicle.

“It was pretty weird,” the juror said. “We had to meet up in a secret location.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service declined to discuss “specific security measures” that were in place for the jurors.

The juror said some conversations happened on the ride home. Other times they would whisper to each other or mouth words. In some instances they would write notes on paper in the courtroom. The topics ranged from guesses about the identity of the next cooperating witness to the latest media coverage: “The judge said, ‘You can't talk about the case among each other,’ but we broke that rule a bunch of times.”

Media exposure

Reporters were not allowed to have recorders, phones, or laptops inside the trial, but we were allowed to have electronics inside the building, and it was common to share updates on Twitter about developments that occurred without the jury present.

The juror said several people followed this coverage, which included reporting on evidence that Judge Cogan ordered withheld from the jury at the request of the defense and prosecution. Court documents unsealed at the request of VICE News and the New York Times on the eve of jury deliberations contained allegations from a witness who claimed Chapo had drugged and raped girls as young as 13.

El Chapo’s lawyers denied the allegations, saying they “lack any corroboration and were deemed too prejudicial and unreliable to be admitted at trial.”

I mentioned on Twitter that the judge was likely going to meet with the jurors in private and ask whether they had seen the story. The juror said they read my tweet before arriving at the courthouse and reported what was coming to other jurors: “I had told them if you saw what happened in the news, just make sure that the judge is coming in and he's gonna ask us, so keep a straight face. So he did indeed come to our room and ask us if we knew, and we all denied it, obviously.”

The juror who spoke with VICE News said that “for sure” five jurors who were involved in the deliberations, plus two of the alternates, had at least heard about the child rape allegations against El Chapo. The juror said it didn’t seem to factor into the verdict.

“We did talk about it. Jurors were like, you know, ‘If it was true, it was obviously disgusting, you know, totally wrong. But if it's not true, whatever, it's not true,’” the juror recalled. “That didn't change nobody's mind for sure. We weren't really hung up on that. It was just like a five-minute talk and that's it, no more talking about that.”

Asked why they didn’t fess up to the judge when asked about being exposed to media coverage, the juror said they were worried about the repercussions. The punishment likely would have been a dismissal from the jury, but they feared something more serious.

“I thought we would get arrested,” the juror said. “I thought they were going to hold me in contempt.… I didn't want to say anything or rat out my fellow jurors. I didn't want to be that person. I just kept it to myself, and I just kept on looking at your Twitter feed.”

The juror said at least seven people on the jury were aware of a story published Jan. 12 by the New York Post about an alleged affair between Chapo’s lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman and one of his clients. At the request of the lawyers, Judge Cogan met privately with the jury to ask a vague question about whether anyone had been exposed to any recent media coverage. The juror said the group responded honestly: They hadn’t seen anything. But moments after the judge left, someone allegedly used a smartwatch to find the article.

The juror said several people had already been put off by Lichtman’s style of questioning during the trial: “They thought he was mean and he was nasty because of the way he would talk to the witnesses, and you know, I always told them he's doing his job. That's his job.”

The case

The juror said many people were skeptical of the cooperators who cut deals with the government and flipped on Chapo, pointing to several instances where they appeared to contradict themselves or each other.

Read more: The 10 wildest moments and stories from Chapo's trial.

Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, a Colombian drug lord known as Chupeta, or Lollipop, with a ghoulish face from multiple plastic surgeries, made an especially strong impression. The juror jotted down a note: “Scary-looking dude.”

Photos of Chupeta, provided by the Chapo's defense team.

“I'll never forget when I saw Chupeta's face as soon as I entered the courtroom,” the juror recalled. “He literally made me jump.”

The juror said their peers were appalled that prosecutors were working with the likes of Chupeta, who took responsibility for 150 murders, including several in New York. Same with Christian Rodriguez, a Colombian systems engineer who worked for the cartel but helped the FBI eavesdrop on Chapo in exchange for immunity and cash payments.

The jurors shared a laugh over testimony by witness Pedro Flores, who along with his twin brother was one of Chapo’s main drug distributors in the U.S. Flores admitted on the witness stand that while he was in DEA custody, he snuck into the bathroom during a visit with his wife and got her pregnant: “We were all just crying hysterically back in the room. That was one of the most hilarious things.”

The juror said they also had fun with nicknames for the prosecutors. Adam Fels was “either Mr. President or Politician because he looks like the type of guy to run for office or be a politician.” Michael Robotti was “Tall Guy.” Andrea Goldbarg was “Glasses.” Amanda Liskamm was “Pearls.” Anthony Nardozzi was “Frat Guy.” And the straight-laced Gina Parlovecchio was “Vicki.”

“One of the jurors was like, 'She looks like a Vicki,’” the juror said. “And we're like, ‘Oh, yeah, she does look like a Vicki.' So that's it, it was no more Gina, just Vicki.”

The defense attorneys were just “two bald guys and Lichtman.”

Ultimately, the juror said, there wasn’t much Chapo’s defense could do. Even if the jury didn’t believe the cooperators, the government showed several videos, dozens of wiretapped phone calls, and hundreds of intercepted text messages. It was plenty to convince 12 people to find Chapo guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Now that the trial is over, the juror has returned to a normal life and job. They are still worried about safety and plan to keep their role in the Chapo case secret from friends, colleagues, and extended family members, at least for the time being.

In the end, the juror left feeling that Chapo was definitely guilty as charged but also a product of his environment: “I think he was just living a life that he only knew how to live since he was young, so it was something normal to him, and not normal to the rest of us.”

Rather than punish the Saudis for killing Khashoggi, Trump wants to hand them sensitive nuclear technology

VICE News - 17 hours 49 min ago

The Trump administration is pursuing a plan to hand Saudi Arabia sensitive nuclear technology despite protests from members of the National Security Council, according to a bombshell congressional report published Tuesday.

The 24-page document released by the House Oversight Committee revealed that the White House wants to build a network of nuclear power plants in the the Gulf State, and that Donald Trump met with nuclear advisers about the idea as recently as February 12.

The Washington Post reported that last week’s Oval Office meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, representatives from the NSC and State Department, and a dozen nuclear industry executives.

Whistleblowers who spoke to the committee warned that the transfer of the sensitive technology to the Saudis could destabilize the region by boosting nuclear weapons proliferation.

“The whistleblowers who came forward have expressed significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia,” the report says.

READ: Senate votes to end U.S. support of Yemen war and unanimously condemns murder of Khashoggi

The memo also highlights multiple conflicts of interest among those trying to get the project up-and-running, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is linked to the consulting firm IP3 International, which is trying to get the deal over the line.

Also entangled in the controversy is Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, who travels to the Middle East — including a stop in Riyadh — next week to discuss the economic portion of the administration’s Middle East peace plan.

What is Trump trying to do?

Citing a tranche of internal White House emails, the report says that Flynn is driving a plan to build roughly 40 power plants across Saudi Arabia.

The Wall Street Journal first broke news of the project in November, but Tuesday’s report offers far more detail, including the fact that Trump is still actively pursuing it.

Flynn began crafting the plan before Trump became president and within seven days of Trump’s inauguration, Flynn and several retired generals from IP3 International met with Derek Harvey, a senior official on the National Security Council.

“Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Harvey directed the NSC staff to add information about IP3’s ‘plan for 40 nuclear power plants’ to the briefing package for President Trump’s call with [Saudi Arabia’s] King Salman,” the report says

There is no indication within the report about whether Trump will greenlight the project.

Is this against the law?

Potentially.

In order to sell nuclear technology to another country, the administration would need to sign what’s known as a “123 agreement” which is linked to the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Act.

The agreement includes nine stipulations the buyer has to meet, including agreeing not to use the technology to build nuclear weapons.

However, the report states that Harvey ignored the need to sign a “123 agreement” and “insisted that the decision to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia had already been made.”

Aside from the legalities, there are also ethical problems.

According to the whistleblowers, officials have already raised concerns about the involvement of Flynn, who was ousted from the administration for lying to about his contacts with Russian operatives.

Prior to being named as National Security Adviser, Flynn worked as an adviser to IP3 — a firm run by retired U.S. generals that calls itself a “global enterprise to develop sustainable energy and security infrastructure.”

It would stand to make a huge amount of money from a deal with Saudi Arabia.

What is Kushner’s role?

Kushner’s connection to the plan — and his close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salaman — has also raised suspicion.

Of particular concern to the committee is Kushner's connection to Westinghouse Electric, a power plant manufacturer that is involved in the administration's potential plans in Saudi Arabia.

Westinghouse is a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, which invested in a Kushner family property when it was deeply in debt.

What can Congress do?

Trump would not require Senate approval for any deal he signs with Saudi Arabia, but Congress would have 90 days to kill any agreement by passing a joint resolution disapproving it.

“If we don’t draw a line in the Middle East, it’s going to be all-out proliferation,” Ben Cardin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said. “We need to maintain the UAE’s [U.S. Atomic Energy] standards in our 123 agreements. There’s just too many other countries that could start proliferating issues that could be against our national interest.”

What is Trump saying?

The Trump administration has been silent on the potential agreement, but Pro Publica reports that officials have begun sounding out advisers on how Congress might react to a deal that gives the Saudis enrichment and reprocessing.

While Democrats have been vocal in their opposition to a nuclear deal with the Saudis, Republicans have been less outspoken, and GOP committee members said they were not included in drafting the report.

“This is a delicate and nuanced issue that Chairman Cummings is approaching without bipartisan input and with far-flung requests for information,” Charli Huddleston, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the committee, said.

Any deal is likely to face significant backlash, especially at a time when relations with Riyadh are strained following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The White House has refused to blame the Crown Prince for directing the murder that took place on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, despite the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Cover image: President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Kim prepares for the big Trump summit by removing several top diplomats, report says

VICE News - 18 hours 10 min ago

Kim Jong Un has replaced several long-serving officials with younger loyalists ahead of his second summit with Donald Trump, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Diplomatic sources said the North Korean leader has excluded officials who served his father and grandfather.

Kim has also charged one of North Korea’s best-known officials with spying for the U.S., likely sending him to a labor camp or possibly executing him, according to the report.

One of those being promoted is Kim Hyok Chol, replacing Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as the lead negotiator with the U.S. ahead of the summit.

Kim Hyok Chol traveled to Hanoi Wednesday where he will meet with U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun to discuss the meeting.

The purge of Choe was triggered in part by recent defections, including that of Jo Song Gil, Pyongyang’s acting ambassador in Rome, who went missing last December.

“It’s a big boys’ game and many diplomats are being neglected, as they face fierce interagency rivalry and questions about their ideological faithfulness given their experience in richer, capitalist nations,” a South Korean official told Reuters.

“Kim Hyok Chol is a career diplomat too, but he apparently has passed a loyalty test to become the point man in the negotiations.”

Han Song Ryol, who was vice foreign minister in charge of U.S. relations until early last year, has also been purged, charged with spying for the U.S. and accepting money in return.

Han was a key diplomatic conduit between Pyongyang and Washington until he returned home in 2013. He has not been seen in public for a year and was last mentioned by state-run North Korean media in February 2018.

A South Korean newspaper reported last month that Han was sent to a labor camp after making an unspecified proposal on the nuclear talks against the ruling Workers’ Party’s guidelines.

Thae Yong Ho, a former deputy ambassador to Britain, who defected in 2016, told Reuters that Han’s expulsion likely meant he has been sent to a labor camp for reeducation or possibly execution.

With a week to go before Trump and Kim meet in Hanoi, negotiators from both sides are hammering out the final details of an expected joint declaration.

READ: North Korea threatens to pull out of denuclearization talks “forever”

South Korea is hoping for something more concrete than the vague statement released after last year’s summit in Singapore.

President Moon Jae-In spoke with Trump Tuesday, putting out a statement that said the American leader “expressed his expectations that the North-U.S. summit would serve as a significant turning point to materialize complete denuclearization, peace regime on the peninsula and development in U.S.-North Korea relations.”

Trump was less enthusiastic when he spoke Tuesday, telling reporters that he has “no pressing time schedule” for North Korean denuclearization.

“I’m in no rush. As long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal. But there has been no testing.”

Cover image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks after watch the gymnastic and artistic performance at the May Day Stadium on September 19, 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool/Getty Images)

A British ISIS bride wants to come home from Syria. So the UK revoked her citizenship.

VICE News - 18 hours 40 min ago

The British government revoked the citizenship of a teenager Tuesday who ran away to join ISIS — a decision her family’s lawyer says leaves her stateless.

Shamima Begum was 15 when she and two friends from her London school travelled to Syria to marry ISIS fighters in 2015.

Now 19, she has been the focus of renewed media attention after journalists found her earlier this month in a Syrian refugee camp containing hundreds of wives, widows and children of ISIS fighters. She told reporters that she wanted to return home to the UK.

Begum, who gave birth to her third child last weekend, was unrepentant, saying that while she disagreed with some of ISIS’s positions, she had no regrets about her actions.

She said she had been aware of the group’s atrocities before she travelled to join, but had been comfortable with them because “from what I heard, Islamically that is all allowed.”

She also described the 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack, at which 22 people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert, as “retaliation” for Western strikes on ISIS strongholds.

Her case has sparked fierce debate in Britain on how the country should treat its nationals who joined ISIS and are now, with the caliphate reduced to a sliver, seeking a return. The news that the Home Office had ordered her citizenship to be revoked was welcomed by those who claimed it was a necessary move to protect the country, and condemned by others who saw it as potentially illegal step that shirked Britain’s obligations.

What has the British government said?

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has publicly taken a hard line against ISIS returnees, vowing on Friday: “If you have supported terrorist organizations abroad, I will not hesitate to prevent your return.”

It was revealed Tuesday that his department had made good on that pledge. A letter sent from the Home Office to Begum's mother, obtained by ITV News, said: “In light of the circumstances of your daughter ... the order removing her British citizenship has subsequently been made.”

Her family's lawyer, Mohammed Tasnime Akunjee, said they were “disappointed” with the decision and are considering “all legal avenues” to challenge it, in line with her right to appeal.

He says the move has effectively made his client stateless, which is against British law.

The British Nationality Act of 1981 allows the government revoke somebody’s British citizenship if it would be "conducive to the public good" — only so long as that would not make the person stateless.

Government sources have indicated that Begum is eligible for Bangladeshi nationality through descent, making the move to revoke her British nationality valid, although Akunjee says Begum has never held a Bangladeshi passport nor visited the country.

Begum, who was alerted to the news by ITV Wednesday, said the move to strip her citizenship was “kind of heartbreaking” and “a bit unjust on me and my son.” The 19-year-old gave birth to two other children in Syria, both of whom died in infancy from malnutrition and illness.

The teenager, who is married to a Dutch ISIS militant who surrendered to Syrian fighters two weeks ago, said she might explore seeking Dutch citizenship through her husband. “If he gets sent back to prison in Holland I can just wait for him while he is in prison,” she said.

What has been the reaction to the move?

While the Home Office’s move was hailed by many, it has also faced criticism as a potentially illegal decision that sought to shirk the British government’s obligations to administer justice — and potentially attempt to rehabilitate — its own extremists.

“If the government is proposing to make Shamima Begum stateless it is not just a breach of international human rights law but is a failure to meet our security obligations to the international community,” said Labour’s Diane Abbott. “Potential citizenship rights elsewhere are entirely irrelevant.”

The decision faced criticism even from within the ruling Conservative party, with MP George Freeman labelling it “a mistake and a dangerous precedent.”

“She was born here, educated here and is our responsibility. We should defend our system and she should be brought back to face the UK courts,” he said.

Others have said the case highlights the need for an update of British laws to fit the current security climate — by overhauling treason laws to deal with people who join terror groups, for example.

How common is the move to strip extremists of their citizenship?

Javid told MPs this week that more than 100 dual nationals had already been stripped of their British nationality for belonging to terror groups — including two members of the notorious ISIS execution cell dubbed “the Beatles.”

More than 900 Britons had travelled to Syria or Iraq to join the terror group’s so-called caliphate, he said. “Whatever role they took in the so-called caliphate, they all supported a terrorist organization and in doing so they have shown they hate our country and the values we stand for.”

READ: Trump wants to keep U.S. troops in Iraq to spy on Iran. That’s causing big problems in Baghdad.

Javid added that the government would refuse to risk the lives of any British officials or military officials to help them.

Despite President Donald Trump’s call for governments to take back their citizens who joined ISIS, European countries have been reluctant to do so.

Begum’s case mirrors that of Hoda Muthana, a jihadi bride who left Alabama to join the terror group aged 19, and is now appealing through media interviews to be allowed to return home with her 18-month-old son.

Cover image: A screen grab taken from the ITV News interview with Shamima Begum.

Burberry is sorry its "nautical" hoodie drawstring looks like a noose

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 3:39pm

Another fashion house is facing backlash over a design detail. This time it’s Burberry, which showcased a hoodie that had a noose-like drawstring at London Fashion Week.

The luxury British brand’s own model, Liz Kennedy, criticized the design on Instagram and pointed out that it evoked imagery of lynchings to make a fashion statement. She also thought the design was making light of suicide.

“Suicide is not fashion,” she wrote in her now-viral post, saying her concerns over the design were dismissed.

"I had a brief conversation with someone, but all that it entailed was, 'It's fashion. Nobody cares about what's going on in your personal life, so just keep it to yourself,'" she said.

Burberry responded to the controversy by apologizing and saying it was supposed to be a design in line with the show’s nautical theme.

"We are deeply sorry for the distress caused by one of the products that was featured in our A/W 2019 runway collection," Marco Gobbetti, Burberry CEO, said in a statement to CNN. "Though the design was inspired by the marine theme that ran throughout the collection, it was insensitive and we made a mistake.”

The Burberry scandal is the latest instance of inadvertently racist clothing to draw public backlash in the past few weeks. Earlier this month, Gucci pulled an $890 sweater from shelves after consumers pointed out that the black “balaclava knit” with big red lips to pull up over the face seemed to draw on blackface imagery for its inspiration.

Adidas cancelled its plans for an all-white shoe to celebrate Black History Month. Back in December, Prada pulled figurines from its stores in New York that had characteristics resembling blackface tropes.

Cover: This Feb. 17, 2019 photo shows a model wearing a creation by Burberry at the Autumn/Winter 2019 fashion week runway show in London. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Where the investigation into Jussie Smollett's alleged "MAGA" attack stands now

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 3:28pm

Chicago police said Tuesday that they’re looking into a tip that Jussie Smollett, the black and gay actor at the center of a brutal hate crime investigation, was seen riding in an elevator in his apartment building the night of the attack with the two men later arrested as his suspected assailants.

The update in the case comes amid mounting suspicion — much of it fueled by media reports citing unnamed police sources — that Smollett paid his alleged assailants to stage the attack. The FBI and United States Postal Inspection Service are also reportedly looking into allegations that Smollett sent a threatening letter containing crushed-up Advil to himself.

Smollett, 36, said he was out getting something to eat at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, when two masked men hurled homophobic and racial slurs at him, beat him up, shouted “MAGA Country,” threw a chemical substance on him, and placed a noose around his neck. Smollett returned to his apartment after the attack and then called the police, who took his report and suggested he take himself to hospital for evaluation.

Days later, Smollett appeared on stage for a sold-out concert in Los Angeles with no visible injuries apart from a small mark under one eye. “I had to be here tonight,” he told his fans.

The brutal nature of the allegations against a backdrop of rising hate crimes nationwide thrust the case into the national spotlight and generated an outpouring of support from prominent lawmakers, including 2020 contenders Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

But in the days immediately following the alleged attack, Chicago Police said they were struggling to locate evidence that could help them identify Smollett’s assailants, which only fueled speculation — mostly from the right — that the whole situation could be a hoax. Even Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, jumped in and retweeted posts promoting the theory that Smollett had faked his own attack.

Weeks later, the skepticism has now started moving across party lines. Cardi B said on Instagram Live Monday that she was “really disappointed” in him. “I feel like he fucked up Black History Month, bro,” Cardi said.

For his part, Smollett has vehemently denied any suggestion that he was complicit in his own attack. “Nothing is further from the truth, and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” his lawyer said.

The arrests

On Jan. 31, after scouring “hundreds of hours of surveillance video,” Chicago police published a grainy image taken from an overhead camera showing “persons of interest,” two individuals in the approximate place and time where Smollett said he was attacked.

Nearly two weeks later, on Feb. 13, police took two brothers, Abimbola Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, into custody after they arrived at Chicago O’Hare airport. According to CBS News, the brothers had left for Nigeria the day after the alleged attack. Police had also raided their home in Chicago and removed bleach, a red hat, black masks, and an “Empire” script, among other items that lined up with Smollett’s accusations.

In an emotional appearance on ABC’s "Good Morning America" on Feb. 14, Smollett discussed the alleged attack and said he believed he’d been targeted because of his outspoken criticism of the Trump administration.

Later that day, citing “sources familiar with the investigation,” ABC-7 and CBS Chicago reported that Chicago Police were looking into whether the two men they’d taken into custody had colluded with Smollett to stage the attack. Their motive for staging the attack, sources told ABC-7, was because Smollett was being written off "Empire." (Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement saying the idea that Smollett would be written off the show was “patently ridiculous.”)

Ongoing investigation

In response, Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote in a statement on Twitter that such reports describing the attack as a “hoax” were unconfirmed by case detectives. “We have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed [Chicago Police Department] sources are uninformed and inaccurate” he tweeted.

But on Friday, Feb. 15, the Osundairo brothers were released without charges “due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations,” Guglielmi wrote on Twitter.

The next day, Smollett’s lawyer released a statement denying his client’s complicity in the attack and said one of the brothers was “Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video.” He added that it was “impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie.”

That same day, CBS reported — once again citing unnamed police sources — that the Osundairo brothers told police that Smollett had paid them to stage the attack and fessed up after detectives confronted them with evidence linking them to the rope that was tied around the actor's neck in a noose.

CBS also reported, via anonymous sources, that Smollett paid the Osundairo brothers $3,500 before they left for Nigeria on Jan. 29 and promised them $500 more upon their return. CNN, also citing unnamed police sources, reported that Smollett paid the brothers to “orchestrate the assault.

In a statement that evening, Chicago police said that information they learned from the Osundairo brothers during questioning had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” adding that they’d reached out to Smollett’s lawyer to request a follow-up interview.

On Monday Feb. 19, Smollett’s lawyer released a statement that any reports of his client planning to meet with police for a second interview that day were false.

By that point, conservative media and pundits that had labeled the case a hoax from the beginning were claiming victory. Donald Trump Jr. shared an article on Twitter by the Daily Wire, a conservative publication, with the headline “The Jussie Smollett Hoax Is What Happens When A Culture Fetishizes Victimhood.”

The next day, according to the Associated Press, Chicago police were following up on a tip from someone who lives in Smollett’s apartment building that they saw him riding the elevator with the Osundairo brothers the same day of the attack.

CBS Chicago, again citing unnamed police sources, reported Tuesday that Smollett orchestrated the attack because he was upset that a threatening letter sent to Fox Studios and addressed to him last month “didn’t get enough attention.” CBS also reported that Chicago police are no longer referring to Smollett as a “victim,” and now refer to him as “the individual who reported the incident.”

And according to Deadline, Fox is taking steps to minimize Smollett’s role in "Empire" and cutting some of his scenes, in response to the controversy.

The Chicago Police did not respond to VICE News' request for comment.

Cover image: File Photo by: zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 2018 5/14/18 Jussie Smollett at The 2018 Fox Network Upfront in New York City. (NYC)

What to look for before writing a story about an academic study

Columbia Journalism Review - February 19, 2019 - 1:46pm
Facebook is 15 years old. And there are certain things, if we believe the reams of headlines we see based on social science studies, that we now think we know about its effect on human behavior. It can cause people to commit hate crimes, one set of headlines suggests. Older Americans spread more fake news, […]

Elizabeth Warren proposes universal child care funded by taxing America's richest

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 12:17pm

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has announced plans for a universal child-care program as part of her 2020 agenda in her bid for the White House, and she plans to fund it with a wealth tax on America’s richest.

The Massachusetts Democrat said the plan will allow the federal government to partner with local child-care providers to create daycare centers, preschools, and in-home options for everyone. The government would pick up a chunk of the total costs by providing all of it for free to families who make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which starts at $12,490 per year for a household of one and adds an additional $4,420 per year for each additional family member. That means a family of four would get free child care unless their income exceeds $51,500. No family will have to pay more than 7 percent of their income on child care.

“My plan provides the kind of big, structural change we need to transform child care from a privilege for the wealthy to a right for every child in America,” Warren said in a blog post announcing the proposal. “That means free coverage for millions of children.”

No other 2020 candidate has put forth a formal policy plan for child care.

Warren noted that her entire plan could easily be covered by revenue generated under her wealth tax proposal, which she’s nicknamed the “ultra-millionaire tax.” Warren’s tax would rake in 2 percent of a person’s wealth annually if they are worth more than $50 million, which accounts for just a fraction of a percent of the total U.S. population. The tax would generate about $2.75 trillion in a decade, according to the senator’s estimates.

Warren, a former Harvard law professor, also said that her universal child-care plan would end up giving the economy a “huge boost.”

“More than a million child-care workers will get higher wages and more money to spend,” she wrote. “More parents can work more hours if they choose to, producing stronger economic growth. And a generation of kids will get the early instruction they need to be healthier and more productive members of society after high school and beyond.”

Warren is one of an increasingly crowded field of 2020 Democrats, and she has attempted to differentiate herself by pushing progressive economic ideas that benefit the middle class and poor while attacking the nation’s wealthiest. She pushed for and helped set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, two years before she became a senator.

Cover: Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at an organizing event Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

At least 13 states aren’t covering abortions under Medicaid like they should, federal report says

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 12:01pm

Under federal law, states have to cover abortion costs for Medicaid beneficiaries who’ve gotten pregnant through rape or incest. But for the last 25 years, South Dakota hasn’t done that.

That fact was one of the more striking findings uncovered in a report released this month by federal investigators at the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. The report, which broadly examined abortion access across the country, also dove into whether states are complying with Medicaid requirements. Thanks to a federal law known as the Hyde Amendment, federal dollars typically cannot be used to pay for abortion services, but state Medicaid programs must cover the cost of an abortion if the pregnancy either endangers the life of the woman or if it’s the result of rape or incest.

If someone is seeking an abortion in one of those circumstances, state Medicaid programs must cover a pill that induces abortions, called Mifeprex. But in another example of flouting federal rules, 13 states and Washington, D.C. won’t pay for the medication, the report discovered.

“Without such coverage, Medicaid beneficiaries seeking abortions in these states would have to find another way to pay for the drug or undergo a surgical abortion instead,” the report noted.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicaid, didn’t know that so many states were out of compliance, according to the report — though it did know about South Dakota. The federal agency first sent a letter to South Dakota about the problem back in 1994, according to the report, but hasn’t done anything to force the state to comply with federal regulations.

Some states also require that people seeking abortions fulfill more requirements, such as having a health care provider certify that the pregnancy is due to rape or incest, before they can get their procedures covered by Medicaid. (Under federal law, physicians must certify that continuing a pregnancy would endanger a patient’s life; if a state wants to require certifications in other circumstances, they’re generally free to do so.) Fourteen states even require that survivors of rape or incest file a report with either police or another public agency before they receive coverage for abortions.

It’s unclear just how many people are getting their abortions covered through Medicaid, since state reports on the matter are often inaccurate or incomplete. In the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ annual reports to Congress, the agency says that federal funding is claimed in about 550 abortions. The Government Accountability Office report, however, found that states claimed federal funding for almost 5,000 abortions between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2016.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Twenty-one states will use their own funds to cover abortions in circumstances beyond rape, incest, or life endangerment.
  • In interviews with eight providers, federal investigators found that six said they often didn’t even submit claims for state Medicaid reimbursements because it’s so challenging and because states frequently deny claims anyway.
  • Fifteen states gave investigators information about how many Medicaid claims they denied. About half of those states denied claims 60 percent or more of the time, the report found. Investigators didn’t ask states why they denied claims, but a few provided it anyway — and the denials sometimes stem from stringent federal regulations. For example, one state said that if a claim for abortion in the case of life endangerment lacked the Medicaid beneficiary’s address, the state would automatically deny the claim, as the feds require.

Cover image: An exam room in the Trust Women South Wind Women's Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. Six licensed physicians are providing services, including abortions, OB-GYN care, family planning, adoption and emergency contraception. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Alabama publisher calls for KKK to ride again and "clean up D.C."

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 11:35am

As far as the publisher of a small Alabama newspaper is concerned, it’s time for the Ku Klux Klan to “night ride again,” because politicians are touting a “socialist-communist ideology.”

Goodloe Sutton, publisher of the Democrat-Reporter in Linden — a rural town of under 2,000 residents, about 41 percent of whom are black — wrote in a Feb. 14 editorial that the white supremacist group should “raid the gated communities” as “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.” The newspaper doesn’t have a website, but the editorial was seen by another Alabama paper, the Montgomery Advertiser. The Advertiser called Sutton to follow up on the meaning of the editorial, at which point he suggested lynching “socialist-communists.” Sutton also disagreed with the paper that the Ku Klux Klan is a recognized, racist hate group.

Politicians in the state, including Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, are now calling on Sutton to resign from the paper, which the Sutton family has owned for a century.

“Words matter. Actions matter. Resign now!” Jones wrote in a tweet Monday night.

The editorial reads, according to the Montgomery Advertiser:

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again.

Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.

They do not understand how to eliminate expenses when money is needed in other areas. This socialist-communist ideology sounds good to the ignorant, the uneducated, and the simple-minded people.

People who do not understand the constitution do not like to be responsible.

Slaves, just freed after the Civil War, were not stupid. At times, they borrowed their former masters’ robes and horses and rode through the night to frighten some evil-doer. Sometimes they had to kill one or two of them, but so what.

This is the same so what was used (sic) when Democrats got us into World War I and World War II. Then they got us fighting in Korea. Next when the industrial Northeast wanted more money, they got us in the Vietnam war, and now in the Middle East war.

If you haven’t noticed, they did away with the draft so their sons would not have to go into battle.

Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there. They call them compounds now.

Truly, they are the ruling class.”

The Sutton family has owned the paper since 1917, and it won several journalism awards for reporting on a corrupt county sheriff’s department in the late 1990s, according to AL.com. The paper was even honored on the Congressional floor in 1998, when Democratic Rep. Earl Hilliard said Sutton’s “story is a shining example of the best and the brightest which occurs in America when a single citizen has the bravery to stand alone, in the face of mounting pressure and odds, and stands up for justice and equality,” according to the Washington Post.

Cover: Members of various Ku Klux Klan organizations from Alabama, Florida, Texas and Louisiana marched through downtown Jennings, La., Saturday, April 28, 2001, for a rally in front of the Jennings Public Safety Building. In all, about 40 KKK members marched and held a 40-minute rally. (AP Photo/American Press, Shawn Martin)

Must aid be an ethical dilemma?

Columbia Journalism Review - February 19, 2019 - 11:05am
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing 200,000 people, destroying Port-au-Prince, and leaving more than a million people homeless. Reporters from the United States flew to the scene, and a debate quickly emerged about the role of journalists in such a desperate situation. Doctors who worked as medical correspondents for major news […]

Trump’s sanctions have forced some Iranians to abandon their cultural traditions

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 10:26am

Iranians rallied in the streets of Tehran on February 11, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of Reza Shah Pahlavi's U.S.-backed monarchy by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Since the Islamic Revolution, U.S.-Iranian relations have largely been defined by sanctions. While President Obama offered Iran respite from some sanctions with the 2015 nuclear agreement, President Trump has imposed the toughest unilateral sanctions on Iran to date. This pushed Iran’s economy further into crisis: Since last year, inflation is up almost 40 percent year over year.

Because of the Trump administration’s sanctions, Iranians like Masoumeh Karimi and her son Amir have been forced to choose between economic survival and maintaining their cultural traditions.

Last year, Amir’s grandmother died, so the Karimi’s buried her in Zahra’s Paradise, Iran’s largest cemetery. Now, they’re struggling to pay for her plot.

Most burials in Zahra’s paradise happen in a section where graves are stacked in threes. The bottom ones are given away for free, in compliance with Iranian law that ensures everyone the right to a grave. The Karimi’s took a free grave, but they also wanted to stick to their traditions, which means purchasing the rest of the graves in the plot.

“My grandmother is buried on the first level, and I don’t want them to bury someone else on the second or third level,” Amir Karimi told VICE News. “I wanted to keep those for our family. I didn’t want a stranger in the grave.”

Other Iranians under pressure from sanctions are considering abandoning tradition altogether. Sima Saeedi, a local cafe owner, is having trouble keeping her business afloat under the new sanctions.

“2018 saw more serious sanctions by the U.S. that have become very real, which resulted in a decline in our quality of life,” Saeedi told VICE News. “People used to order individual plates, now they order one meal and share it.”

Saeedi has owned a grave plot next to her father in Zahra’s paradise for 24 years, but she's thinking about selling the plot to make ends meet.

Reporting contributions from Katy Arsanjani, Leila Amini, Yasmin Afshar. Editing by Ross Laing and Adam Deniston

This segment aired on VICE News Tonight on February 11th, 2019.

Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and breaking up Wall Street: Here’s what’s on Bernie Sanders’ 2020 agenda

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 10:20am

Sen. Bernie Sanders officially announced his long-expected 2020 run for the White House, and his agenda will position him as perhaps the most progressive candidate in the already crowded Democratic primaries.

Sanders’ agenda includes a host of ideas, many of which are now widely supported by presidential candidates. It’s a stark contrast to what unfolded in 2016 when his opponent Hillary Clinton repeatedly said Sanders’ policy proposals were too radical and unachievable.

A non-exhaustive list of Sanders’ policy proposals, according to aides and a campaign announcement:

  • Medicare for All
  • Green New Deal, an overhaul of the U.S. economy to invest in green infrastructure and jobs
  • free public college by abolishing tuition at four-year universities
  • student debt reduction by cutting interest rates in half
  • $15 minimum wage
  • break up Wall Street’s biggest banks (Sanders has already unveiled legislation.)
  • marijuana legalization
  • end private prisons
  • gender pay equity (Sanders co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act.)
  • protections for DACA recipients and immigration reform
  • paid family leave (Sanders co-sponsored Kirsten Gillibrand’s universal paid family leave bill.)

In a packed field with widespread support of progressive ideas, Sanders will face a tougher challenge to differentiate himself than he did in 2016 when he ran a surprisingly successful campaign against a super PAC-supported candidate favored by the Democratic National Committee. Sens. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren, for example, all support Medicare for All and have signed on as co-sponsors to Sanders’ current legislation, which proposes the establishment of a state-run single payer healthcare system. The senator also unambiguously supports the abolition of the private insurance industry, a contrast to most of his opponents who have either flopped or remained ambiguous on the issue.

What could set Sanders’ apart is his longstanding commitment to populist ideas — and his antagonism to big banks. Along with Elizabeth Warren, Sanders is the most hated 2020 candidate on Wall Street. A big talking point of his on the 2016 campaign trail was the dirty money in campaign finance. One of his most frequent attacks against Hillary Clinton was the fact the she took in big paychecks to give closed-door speeches to big banks. His 2020 campaign website already includes a note that says, “Paid for by Bernie 2020 (not the billionaires).”

In 2018, Sanders unveiled legislation to take out JPMorgan CHase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and any other institution that has a total exposure worth more than 3 percent of the entire U.S. economy, or about $584 billion. It’s a bold and direct rebuke to establishment Democrats and former leaders, including Barack Obama, who has long faced criticism for going easy on Wall Street . (No big bank executives, for example, served jail time in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the Obama administration supported the foreclosure of about 9 million homes.)

On the morning of his campaign announcement, #NeverBernie and the phrase “Bernie Bros,” an insult to male supporters of the senator who didn’t support Clinton in 2016, both trended on Twitter. His critics have also singled out the 77-year-old’s age as a potential issue.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Sherrod Brown have also begun positioning themselves as a pragmatic alternative to the 2020 candidates who have embraced many of Bernie’s 2016 ideas. Harris said over the weekend in New Hampshire that she was not a democratic socialist, an indirect jab at Sanders, who has embraced the label.


Sanders’ supporters, however, say the insults are nothing more than a deflection from Democrats who would rather see the party not change. Popular rising stars in the Democratic party — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who volunteered for Sanders’ campaign in 2016 — rose to prominence by pushing bold, populist ideas. Sanders’ success in 2016 was founded on support of those progressive ideas, and his 2020 opponents’ embrace of them signals the senator’s success in pushing Democratic presidential contenders to the left.

Sanders also has some advantages going into 2020 that he didn’t enjoy in 2016. For example, he has — by far — the greatest following on social media of any 2020 candidate thus far.

Cover image: Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 6/23/16 Bernie Sanders gives his "Where We Go From Here" Speech at a rally at Town Hall in New York City.

45-year-old Mexican migrant is the third person to die in Border Patrol custody since December

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 10:00am

A 45-year-old undocumented immigrant who was arrested in the border town of Roma, Texas, died Monday morning after about two weeks in Border Patrol custody. He's the third migrant to die in the agency’s custody since December.

The person, who crossed the border into Texas without documentation and was arrested by the Roma Police Department on Feb. 2, had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and congestive heart failure, and their identity has not been released. The migrant’s official cause of death isn’t yet known. It’s also unclear whether the person was seeking an asylum claim in the U.S., although Customs and Border Protection said in a statement Monday that the migrant was arrested for illegal reentry.

The day they were arrested, the person asked for medical attention and was taken to the Mission Regional Medical Center, about 50 miles from Roma, and “cleared.” The person was released that day from the hospital into the custody of Customs and Border Protection agents, and requested medical attention again. The next day, Feb. 3, they were taken to the McAllen Medical Center, where they died Monday.

“This loss of life is tragic. Our condolences go out to the family and loved ones,” Andrew Meehan, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in the Monday statement. The agency has faced three consecutive months of a record number of migrants attempting to enter the country, according to the New York Times.

“CBP remains committed to ensuring the safe and humane treatment of those within the care of our custody,” Meehan said in the statement.

The person’s death follows the December deaths of two Guatemalan children in Border Patrol custody: Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old, and Felipe Alonzo Gomez, an 8-year-old. Maquin died about 24 hours after she and her father turned themselves in to Border Patrol in New Mexico, after she was diagnosed with kidney failure, exhaustion, dehydration and shock. Gomez died after he became sick when he and his father crossed into New Mexico; an autopsy showed he tested positive for influenza type B. After the deaths of the the two children, the federal government announced it would conduct more-frequent medical checks.

The Trump administration called Maquin’s death a “horrific, tragic situation” but said it could have been prevented by stricter immigration policies. The third migrant death comes as President Donald Trump faces legal challenges over the national emergency he declared to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Additionally, Congress reached a budget compromise last week that includes $415 million for humanitarian aid, including medical care, at the border — nearly half of what DHS asked for — according to the Washington Post.

Cover: Members of the National Guard watch from the banks of the Rio Grande near the International Bridge, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Roma, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Proud Boys' new leader was sitting right behind Trump at his Miami rally

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 9:46am

The new leader of the far-right group called the Proud Boys made a cameo during President Donald Trump’s latest televised speech, in Miami on Monday. Sitting in the audience clad in sunglasses and a black T-shirt bearing the slogan “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong,” Enrique Tarrio appeared on camera right behind the president.

Tarrio, whose presence was first recognized by the Miami New Times’ Jerry Iannelli, assumed leadership of the Proud Boys — a national group known for glorifying misogyny, engaging in violent street brawls, and having ties to white nationalism — after its founder, Gavin McInnes, announced his resignation in November.

Tarrio, 34, told the Washington Post that Trump didn’t know he was there and that he’d shown up early to get a good seat at the event, which was held at Florida International University. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new Proud Boys leader has made headlines in the past for his apparent chuminess with the president’s longtime adviser Roger Stone and has often been photographed wearing the same “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong” T-shirt, which Stone is selling online to raise money for his legal fees.

Stone was indicted last month on federal charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, alleging that he misled congressional investigators about his engagement with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.

After Stone's indictment, Tarrio appeared alongside him outside a federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Days later, he was photographed entering Stone’s home there.

The Proud Boys also posted a video of Stone to their YouTube channel a year ago in which he recites the group’s mantra. “Hi, I’m Roger Stone,” Stone tells the camera. “I’m a Western chauvinist, and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”

Stone even asked the group to be his security detail at a rally in Oregon earlier this year.

In addition to their support of Stone, the Proud Boys regularly don red MAGA hats as part of their uniform, and many of the group’s members are outspoken Trump supporters. They’ve posed for photos with California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and with Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson.

Ten members of the Proud Boys are currently facing charges in connection to a violent street brawl in New York last October, in which Proud Boys were seen on camera beating protesters and shouting homophobic slurs following a speaking appearance by then-leader McInnes at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan. The group has also shown up at events alongside avowed white nationalists and hardcore skinheads.

Disclosure: The Proud Boys organization was founded by Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of VICE Media. McInnes left VICE in 2008 and has not been involved in the company since.

Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Florida International University on February 18, 2019 in Miami. President Trump spoke about the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

How the spending bill limits where Trump can build his wall

VICE News - February 19, 2019 - 8:23am

The spending bill President Donald Trump signed on Friday, which includes just a fraction of the money he demanded for a wall on the U.S. Mexico border, was a major political defeat on its face. But the fine print shows secondary capitulations: In addition to allocating only $1.37 billion for the wall, the bill includes limitations on where he can build.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, was behind the provisions in the bill that effectively turned some areas along the Texas border into no-wall zones.

“I was able to talk to my Republican friends, senators and House members, about why this was so important,” Cuellar said. “So I think those conversations worked. So we got five protections that were so important.”

The agreement came after Trump shut down the government for 35 days in an effort to secure $5.7 billion to build his long-promised wall along the southern border. After giving up on strong-arming Democrats into agreeing to the funding, he signed a spending bill to keep the government open last week — but simultaneously declared a state of emergency over immigration to unlock $8 billion in funds for the wall.

Read more: Prepare for a legal crisis if Trump calls a national emergency over the border wall.

The five areas the federal government isn’t allowed to build are: the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, the La Lomita Historical Park, the National Butterfly Center, and within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. All of these locations have been named in border wall–related lawsuits.

One of the more notable suits was over land owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. The land is home to the historic La Lomita chapel, which dates back to the late 1800s and inspired the name of the town it sits in: Mission. The diocese claims that the wall, if built in its proposed location, would have cut off the community that worships at the chapel, according to lawyers representing the church. The brief “argues that the wall is fundamentally inconsistent with Catholic values and would substantially burden the free exercise of religion by preventing or restricting access.”

Daniel Flores, the bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, said in a statement to VICE News that he was “grateful” for the bill’s protection. “It is commendable that the authors of this bill recognize the significance of the La Lomita chapel to the Catholic community and to the historical and cultural heritage of the whole Rio Grande Valley,” he said.

The lawsuit brought by the diocese in October 2018 specifically aimed to limit the federal government from even stepping foot on the property to survey the land where they wanted to build the wall. One lawyer in the case, Mary McCord of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said Friday the diocese expects the government will no longer seek to survey the property.

Cuellar thinks part of the reason he was able to secure the protections was that the committee negotiating the spending bill allowed an open line of communication between Democrats and Republicans in Congress as well as with the administration. He said he even thanked Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney for listening to his concerns when he brought it up at a rare bipartisan Camp David meeting that Mulvaney held a few weekends ago with members of Congress.

“I said, 'Look, we're just trying to make people understand that in my area you just can't run over private property rights and some of those sensitive areas like the National Butterfly Center and other areas,’” Cuellar said. According to Cuellar, Mulvaney was a partner in working out language on the protections. Mulvaney had not confirmed this to VICE News by time of publication.

Read more: 9 of the most bizarre moments from Trump's rambling border wall press conference.

Cuellar also inserted a provision into the law that forces the Department of Homeland Security to confer with local elected officials of certain cities in Texas and “seek to reach mutual agreement regarding the design and alignment of physical barriers within that city.” It bars wall construction while the consultations are ongoing. Cuellar hopes this can be a model of how DHS works with localities going forward to decide where barriers can be built.

While these provisions were small wins for the Democrats, places like La Lomita and the butterfly center are still not completely shielded. Any money the president may have access to because of the national emergency declaration is not covered by the bill Congress just passed. But as 16 states and several groups including the ACLU and the Center for Biological Diversity have already filed lawsuits to stop the emergency declaration, they’re unlikely to see construction any time soon.

Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on border security during a Rose Garden event at the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Andrew McCabe’s book makes headlines—and sells

Columbia Journalism Review - February 19, 2019 - 7:07am

As has become common in the Trump era, a book tour just jump-started an important news cycle. Last Thursday morning, 60 Minutes dropped clips from its interview with Andrew McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI, pegged to his new memoir, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. Around the same time, The Atlantic released an excerpt. McCabe’s claims on 60 Minutes—that officials discussed how Trump might be removed from office under the 25th Amendment and that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, offered to wear a hidden wire to record the president—have driven sustained media interest in the book, even though, according to NPR, they don’t specifically appear in it. As The Threat hits shelves today, McCabe will be plugging it on NBC’s Today show.

Amid the excited amplification of McCabe’s claims, some outlets took time to assess the reliability of his narrative. Some reporters scrutinized McCabe’s sourcing, stressing, for example, that another striking claim—that Trump took Vladimir Putin’s word on North Korea over that of his own intelligence staff—is second-hand, not a personal recollection. Others pointed out that McCabe was fired from the FBI last year; in a report subsequently delivered to Congress, the Justice Department inspector general accused him of violating the bureau’s media policy, then misleading investigators about it. Writing on Friday, Josh Campbell, an FBI staffer turned CNN analyst, asked, “With so many people involved in the book now caught lying, how are we to make sense of things?”

ICYMI: Matt Gertz tracks how Fox News manipulates Trump

The Justice Department’s motives in painting McCabe as dishonest should be handled with care. Beyond this wheel of intrigue, however, simpler questions beg answers. As Katy Tur asked on MSNBC, is McCabe believable, or is he just selling a book? But those options aren’t mutually exclusive. In McCabe’s case, the answer might be: both.

Many commentators pointed out that McCabe’s allegations about the 25th Amendment and Rosenstein’s wire confirm reporting, by Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, that first appeared in The New York Times last September. Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney, told Tur, “McCabe is not really revealing any new facts here.” Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes struck a similar note; the book rollout, they wrote, “should not in any profound respect change one’s understanding of L’Affaire Russe or the investigation of it.” Nonetheless, McCabe’s media round has moved this story forward. McCabe denied suggestions, ventured in response to the Times’s initial reporting, that Rosenstein may have been joking when he offered to wear a wire. And, as Jurecic and Wittes note, McCabe has moved the story beyond the murky realm of anonymous sourcing.

As has often been the case in the Trump era, the president himself has helped hold an insider account of administration chaos in the spotlight. Ever since the 60 Minutes clip dropped on Thursday, Trump has excoriated McCabe in a series of wild tweets. Per usual, his anger has spiraled round the right-wing mediasphere, with Fox hosts and commentators, in particular, lining up to describe the 25th Amendment discussions McCabe recalls as an attempted “coup.” Last night on Twitter, Trump made the TV–White House feedback loop explicit, quoting Fox News’ Sean Hannity on the “coup” and exclaiming, “Treason!” An hour or so later, Trump followed up: “Remember this, Andrew McCabe didn’t go to the bathroom without the approval of Leakin’ James Comey!”

All this, of course, has done wonders for McCabe’s book sales—overnight, it ascended to the number-one spot on Amazon’s best sellers list, ending the long reign of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. (As of this morning, The Threat is at number two, with Becoming at three.) It’s hard to escape the feeling, once again, that we’re trapped in some sort of Trump–Twitter–media–publishing industrial complex. But the Trump era’s slew of insider accounts—and, at least in McCabe’s case, the publicity surrounding them—helps build a real-time historical record of Trump’s presidency. Massaging egos and bank balances may be an unavoidable side effect of covering it.

Below, more on books:

  • “The president that doesn’t read”: Throughout his presidency, Trump has taken a special interest in books that cover him—often taking to Twitter to promote those that praise him and trash those that don’t. In November, the Times’s Katie Rogers shared a round-up.
  • “A rapid-fire G-man memoir”: The Times’s Dwight Garner weighs The Threat’s literary merits: “McCabe’s prose is lean. (Not that he wrote this book. In his acknowledgments, he thanks ‘a great writing and editing team,’)” Garner writes. The result is “better than any book typed this quickly has a right to be.”
  • “Time to Panic”: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, in which David Wallace-Wells lays out the existential threat of climate change, is also out today. Wallace-Wells, who wrote about the subject for New York in 2017, previewed the book in a weekend op-ed for the Times.


Other notable stories:

  • For CJR, Mya Frazier reports concerns about cost-cutting within the AP’s foreign press service: “Current and former correspondents and bureau chiefs detail a litany of changes, including the shrinking of its global footprint as bureaus are quietly closed; the phasing out of the salaried ‘expat package’ for correspondents; and the reliance on local stringers and staffers, who often are paid far less than full-time American correspondents once were.”
  • CNN hosted its third town hall of the 2020 election cycle last night, with Amy Klobuchar taking voters’ questions in Manchester, New Hampshire. (The broadcast was an improvement on CNN’s previous town hall, with Howard Schultz.) The Post’s Paul Farhi reports that other Democratic candidates are wondering when, exactly, their CNN town hall invite might drop; the network has kept quiet about its selection criteria, Farhi writes. Those candidates now include Bernie Sanders: the Vermont senator just announced he’s running in an interview with CBS This Morning’s John Dickerson.
  • The Post’s Dave Weigel has a useful reminder that, when it comes to covering the campaign, Twitter may not be the most reliable source: “The Democratic electorate showing up to meet its candidates is far less ideological and skeptical than the one that lives on social media,” he writes. Relatedly, the Times’s Astead W. Herndon finds that voters don’t really care about Elizabeth Warren’s DNA-test blunder, despite pundit preoccupation with the issue.
  • Keith Burris, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial director whose Martin Luther King, Jr., Day editorial last year was condemned by that paper’s staff, has been promoted to executive editor, The Incline’s Colin Deppen reports. Burris, who was also linked to the high-profile firing of Rob Rogers, an editorial cartoonist, will continue to direct the editorial pages of the Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade, which were controversially merged last year. Burris’s appointment follows last week’s extraordinary newsroom outburst from John Robinson Block, the Post-Gazette’s publisher. For CJR, Kim Lyons runs through the details.
  • Capitol Forum, a subscription service that produces policy reports on topics including consumer protection and antitrust enforcement, is suing Bloomberg for “free riding” on its output. The case marks a rare claim of “misappropriation” under the “hot news” doctrine, an arcane legal principle that has not faced proper scrutiny in the digital age, Jonathan Peters writes for CJR.
  • In France, 10 government ministers, including Edouard Philippe, the country’s prime minister, are spending today taking questions on Twitch, the video-game livestreaming platform, Politico’s Rym Momtaz reports. Ministers are hoping to engage young people in France’s ongoing “grand debate,” a response to the recent Gilets Jaunes protest wave.
  • German prosecutors are investigating a journalist from the Financial Times as part of a probe into possible market manipulation, Reuters’s Arno Schuetze reports. The paper, which has published a series of stories alleging fraud at Wirecard, a Munich-based payment processing company, denied any suggestion its reporting had been unethical.
  • In the UK yesterday, seven lawmakers broke away from the opposition Labour Party to form a new independent grouping in Parliament, citing, among other things, Labour’s lackluster efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism from its ranks. As one of the seven spoke at a press conference, an unknown voice on a BBC livestream was heard muttering, “between this and Brexit, we’re fucked.”
  • And Aaron Sorkin is reportedly in talks to reboot The Newsroom. Media Twitter does not seem impressed.

ICYMI: Post-Gazette staffers, shaken by publisher’s behavior, stand by their story

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