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Donald Trump sees you seeing what’s happening

VICE News - July 21, 2018 - 9:53am

Donald Trump wants you to know that he sees you, and more importantly, he sees… that you see… what’s happening.

If you’ve watched our video on Donald Trump’s public speaking tricks, then you’re aware of the standout methods our president employs to not only hold an audience’s attention but also connect deeply with them.

Now we can add “You see what’s happening” to that bag of tricks.

How does it work exactly? Well, it’s very simple: Just say “You see what’s happening with …” and then slot in any topic of your choosing. It can be specific (say, the company Chrysler) or vague to the point of meaninglessness (what they’re doing with certain countries) or ominous-sounding to stoke fear (what's happening in our country). And — boom! — you accomplish multiple things at once. For one, you convey the impression that you have some knowledge of the topic, without having to provide specifics (Uh-oh, I’m in the middle of an important policy speech and I just realized I don’t have the precise details or statistics on this subject at my fingertips). Not a problem! You already see what’s happening, so I don’t need to give you those details.

Just as importantly, “You see what’s happening” flatters the audience by telling them you realize they’re smart and savvy enough to already see this thing themselves. And what is it that they see, exactly? Well, that’s the genius of “you see what’s happening”: You give the audience the freedom to fill in that blank with whatever opinions/hopes/fears/fantastical conspiracy theories they might have. By saying “You see what’s happening,” you’re not only complimenting your audience’s intelligence, you’re also implicitly saying that you share whatever opinion they fill that space with.

It’s just one more rhetorical trick Trump uses to give people the feeling that he feels what they feel. And he's got a bagful of 'em.

The Trump administration is prioritizing money over endangered species

VICE News - July 21, 2018 - 9:50am

The Trump administration proposed sweeping to the Endangered Species Act this week that could make ignoring the impacts of climate change on dwindling plant and animal populations easier for the federal government.

Since Donald Trump took office in 2017, his officials have already rolled back dozens of environmental regulations and hired climate-skeptics for key roles related to environmental health and safety. The new regulations, which alter the language of key provisions in the 1973 act, would continue that trend, according to environmentalists. In many cases, the changes elevate economic impact and private interests, like those of oil and timber companies, over a species’ need for protection.

The government has opened a 60-day period of public comment before implementing these changes — and environmental groups have already threatened to sue over them. But if the changes do go into effect, protecting endangered species in the face of a warming planet would become even more difficult, according to experts.

“It's clear that the Endangered Species Act will not be used to protect species threatened by climate change” said Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at the University of Vermont.

The changes to the act could even leave wiggle room for an administration notoriously unfriendly to environmental regulations to essentially gut the Endangered Species Act, experts said.

Downplaying and ignoring climate change

To start, the federal government wants to change the definition of a technical but crucial term within the Endangered Species Act: “foreseeable future.”

That term currently helps define what species can be listed as “threatened,” the category for species that aren’t quite “endangered” but are still at risk for extinction. The language was left vague and open to interpretation, which allowed regulators to take the effects of climate change — which could be far off in the future — to be considered.

But the Trump administration now wants to define that term to apply “only as far as they can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are probable,” according to the Department of the Interior. So if the risks posed by climate change aren’t deemed “probable,” the government wouldn’t have to act on them.

That has environmentalists worried that, under an administration that’s deeply skeptical of climate change, the new language will be used to limit the species listed as endangered — that species under threat from climate change won’t be seen as threatened for the “foreseeable future.”

New limits on protections for habitats

As climate change warms the Earth, some habitats will shrink and change, potentially cutting the available land for species to live. Despite the need for more flexibility in environmentalists’ eyes, the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act could making protecting habitats more difficult and limited.

Under the Obama administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which designates these certain habitats as “critical” to a species survival, considered areas where the species currently lived alongside areas where they might grow and thrive although weren’t currently living.

The Trump administration, however, wants to limit the scope of habitat designation to first consider the places an endangered species currently lives — and only designate habitat where the animals might survive as a last resort. Officials will also prioritize public land as protected habit. That means privately owned land, even if it’s a perfect place for an endangered species to live, would be less likely to be considered.

“They’re essentially giving landowners veto power,” said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center Biological Diversity, a left-leaning nonprofit dedicated to saving species.

That’s exactly what’s at stake in a current Supreme Court case involving the critically endangered dusky gopher frog. There’s only about 200 currently living in the wild, and the Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to designate a logging company’s land, where the frog doesn’t currently live, as critical to its survival.

“When critical habitat is designated for a species, areas that haven’t seen the species in decades, are suddenly designated as critical habitat for the species. All of the rules and regulations are applied to these areas that don’t contain habitat or the species,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents the oil and gas industry, told VICE News. “This seems pretty common sense.”

The new regulations also specify that certain threats that result from climate change, like “melting glaciers, sea level rise, or reduced snowpack but no other habitat-based threats” might “not be prudent because it would not serve its intended function to conserve the species.”

Deciding whether species are endangered or not

Right now, the federal government can only consider biological and ecological factors when deciding whether to designate a species as endangered or threatened.

But the Department of the Interior wants to strike a line from that rule and allow the government to consider how much those classifications would cost the government and private interests in the long run. Environmentalists worry that places the interests of big business above those of endangered species.

“That is dead wrong as a matter of law. The statute explicitly says that listings are to be based “solely” on biological evidence and every single court to consider the question has so concluded,” Parenteau said in an email. “In the meantime, it will delay or deny protection for hundreds of species that will continue to spiral down and perhaps go extinct.”

Cover image: The critically endangered dusky gopher frog at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans on Sept. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Director Debra Granik talked to Portland vets with PTSD to make "Leave No Trace"

VICE News - July 21, 2018 - 8:00am

Director Debra Granik — whose 2010 Oscar-nominated film "Winter’s Bone" introduced the world to a young Jennifer Lawrence — is back with another indie hit, "Leave No Trace."

It's about a father — a veteran who suffers from PTSD — and teenage daughter who choose to live off the grid. Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (breakout star Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) have lived in Portland's public parks for years, and they're quite self-sufficient — only going into town to collect disability checks and buy things they can't grow themselves.

Their idyllic life is shattered when they're discovered by social services. They're given a home, and a job on a horse farm, but they clash with their new surroundings, and they end up abandoning their home for the wild.

Granik co-wrote the screenplay based on Peter Rock’s novel "My Abandonment," which was based on an article in The Oregonian about a father and daughter who were living undetected in Portland's parks for four years.

Granik sat down with VICE News to explain how she consulted vets In Portland, to be able to put very precise language to what it feels like to have PTSD, and how it affects the families of veterans.

“The teenage children of vets don't get to just put it away. You too have a legacy," says Granik. “That person who's very dear to you is waging something inside their mind and using a lot of their energy to learn how to operate back in society after after combat.”

Granik also shared the lighter side of her production for this film: what it was like for her crew to have to wear bee costumes while filming, and the joy she found studying 4H, the national community of teens who take care of barnyard animals.

“I couldn’t imagine that it would be stirring to see a chicken ministered to, bathed underneath its wing, and to see teen boys doing that,” says Granik. “When teens are doing that, I'm all kinds of happy.”

In VICE News’ Storyboard series, creators explain the inspiration and process behind making films. This segment originally aired July 3, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Chuck Schumer’s Actions on the National Stage Get Little Scrutiny From His Local Press

FAIR - July 20, 2018 - 4:34pm

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer seldom faces scrutiny from New York City’s reputedly tough press.

In the recent flare-up over “civility,” the leading Democrat in the Senate attacked Rep. Maxine Waters’ call for public confrontation with Trump administration officials as “not American.” Many activists in Brooklyn, Chuck Schumer’s home, were upset by the McCarthyite smear. Yet while the right-wing New York Post praised his stance towards Waters (6/26/18), New York’s senior senator faced little criticism in the local press for it.

For such a powerful figure, Schumer gets relatively scant scrutiny from New York City’s press corps, long considered the toughest in the United States. Instead, the tabloids dutifully cover the Senate minority leader’s Sunday news conference warnings about the latest consumer “outrage,” whether it be hurricane-damaged used cars flooding the market or sunscreen pills that surprisingly don’t work.

In the heyday of the tabloid wars of the late 20th century, many NYC politicians feared the wrath of influential columnists like Jimmy Breslin, Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill. But today’s leading columnists seem willing to give Schumer a free pass.

Errol Louis makes infrequent mention of Schumer in his Daily News column, and on his nightly show about city and state politics (NY1’s Inside City Hall), Louis hosted a roundtable discussion (2/16/17) with Schumer’s former press aides, in which they touted the virtues of Sunday news conferences. In his Sunday column in the Daily News, Harry Siegel regularly pillories Mayor Bill de Blasio, but rarely if ever places Schumer’s actions under the microscope.

Meanwhile, at the time of the 2016 election, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer (11/8/16) went so far as to compare Schumer—then the prospective heir to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid—to LBJ, the legendary “Master of the Senate.” Since taking office, Schumer has been more akin to the ineffectual Reid—unable to keep his ranks in unison over the Pompeo or Haskel nominations, or the rollback of Dodd/Frank. But Dwyer has not followed up on his over-optimistic prediction.

Michelle Goldberg (New York Times, 1/22/18) was one of the few New York columnists to criticize Schumer–as well as one of the only pundits to reject the Democrats’ cave-in on the Dreamers (FAIR.org, 2/2/18).

Occasional criticism of New York’s most powerful politician can be found in the Times’ op-ed pages. “It’s hard to overstate how disgusted many progressive leaders are,” observed Michelle Goldberg (1/22/18) regarding Schumer’s willingness to drop DACA protections in the fight over a government shutdown this past winter. Four years ago, Paul Krugman (12/5/14) was angry that Schumer viewed Obamacare as a mistaken priority for the Dems. More recently, Nicholas Kristof (6/16/18) chided the senior New York senator for his hostility to Trump’s negotiations with North Korea. But in general, the columnists in the leading media ally of the Democratic Party seem to overlook the actions of the hometown pol.

The city’s editorial boards have only intermittently picked up the slack. When the Obama administration pushed the Iran deal in the summer of 2015, Times editorial board member Carol Giacomo (Taking Note, 7/20/15) kept a close eye on Schumer’s position. When Schumer announced his opposition, Giacomo (Taking Note, 8/7/15) called it “wrong-headed and irresponsible,” arguing that it placed the aspiring Senate leader in accord with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but not Obama. When Trump shredded the deal this past May, Schumer claimed he was for it—but the Times said nothing about the latter’s dubious stance, which the president happily ridiculed.

The Daily News editorial board is unequivocally pro-Israel, as evidenced by its enthusiasm for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. Last October, two months before the administration announced its position, Schumer urged Trump to overcome his “indecisiveness” regarding what the senator viewed as the appropriate relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. But in its two editorials (12/6/17, 5/14/18) championing the administration’s embrace of that move, the Daily News made no mention of Schumer’s pivotal role. Nor has any editorial board criticized his position in the wake of the 60 Palestinians killed (and over 2,750 wounded) by Israel as the embassy’s change of address was celebrated.

There’s little evidence that the Dems have mounted effective opposition to the Trump administration, yet the Times nonetheless managed to place Schumer at the forefront of the “Resistance.” In late March, the editorial board (3/27/18) found “the Democratic leadership in full resistance mode” as Schumer was able to kill some egregious riders to an omnibus spending bill that prevented a government shutdown. As part of the same negotiations, Schumer was able to maintain funding for the Gateway Tunnel project that will make necessary improvements in transportation between New Jersey and New York. But that deal came at the expense of protection for Dreamers. Once again, Schumer’s maneuverings didn’t get full scrutiny in the NYC press.

One of Chuck’s signature moves is to make a “reasonable”-sounding plea that is destined to be unheard. Amid the uproar over the Trump administration’s family separation policy, the senator called for the president to appoint an “immigration czar” to coordinate the various federal government agencies involved in the issue. In the wake of the most recent Mueller indictments, Schumer first called for Trump to cancel his Helsinki meeting with Putin; when it became clear that the meeting would proceed, Schumer then advised the president, “Ask [Putin] to hand over the indicted Russians.” Such empty posturing by the nation’s top Democrat seems to escape the critical eye of his hometown media.

Given that Schumer will be at the forefront of the Democrats’ effort to stop Brett Kavanaugh from becoming the next Supreme Court justice, his ineffectual role in pushing the Obama administration’s doomed selection of Merrick Garland also deserves attention. Schumer was confident that his Republican colleagues would support the moderate judge, because Garland was not an “ideologue” and would just “follow the law.” To drive home the point, Schumer recently recommended that Trump nominate Garland.

Schumer’s advocacy for Garland famously went nowhere. Whether he can successfully mobilize the Resistance against Kavanaugh remains to be seen. Why he gets treated with kid gloves by the NYC press continues to be a mystery.


Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. He is the editor of Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn.


Calls to Abolish ICE Get Cold Shoulder on Newspaper Opinion Pages

FAIR - July 20, 2018 - 2:46pm

The Washington Post (7/5/18) tells activists they’re doing outrage wrong.

“Abolish ICE,” once a rallying cry for a small number of leftists and activists, has become a national slogan of dissent against the Trump administration and policies that target Latino communities. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in cities across the US to call for an end to family separation, detention and deportation.

Despite this, corporate media decided to push the status quo—or at least a version of it without Trump as commander-in-chief. Of the 90 opinion pieces on the subject of ICE that were published in papers across the US from June 28 to July 18, 85 were explicitly against abolishing ICE, while only five were supportive.

Five of the ten top newspapers by circulation, including the Washington Post (7/5/18), USA Today (7/3/18), Newsday (7/10/18), New York Post  (7/4/18) and New York Daily News (7/6/18), published editorials that rushed to defend ICE and condemn a progressive stance. No Democrats have called for open borders, which would allow citizens and noncitizens alike to cross into or out of the US with few restrictions; at their most radical, they have called for rebuilding the US immigration system to be more humane. Even so, editorial boards urged Democrats to stick to a moderate work-within-the-system approach. ICE, which was created in 2003 in response to the September 11 attacks, was repeatedly hailed as a necessary agency that is unfortunately being manipulated by Trump for his own agenda. The Washington Post’s editorial board relayed this message:

The problem with ICE isn’t its existence or its mission. It’s that the Trump administration, in its xenophobic zeal, has weaponized it to go beyond protecting the United States and into the darker realms of oppression.

Michelle Malkin thinks abolishing ICE is a bad idea (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, 7/20/18)–but then, she thinks putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps was a good idea.

Fifty-nine of the 90 published opinion pieces were signed columns rather than unsigned editorials. Forty-four percent of these columns were written by Republicans or self-described conservatives, and 11 percent by Democrats or self-described liberals. Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative magazine National Review, and right-wing author Michelle Malkin were the most published columnists on the subject of abolishing ICE, with both of their columns appearing six times in various publications.

Though the number of Democrats who wish to see dramatic changes to immigration policy is small, the response from editorial boards and columnists was resounding. Even op-eds that weren’t from self-identified conservatives argued that progressive stances would result in Democratic losses in the upcoming midterm elections. USA Today (7/3/18) contended that problems with the US immigration system stem from Trump, not ICE or any systemic problems. The editorial board called for Democrats to turn their grievances toward the president:

Ultimately, however, the push for inhumane immigration positions isn’t coming from ICE. It is coming from the White House. If Democrats want a less cruel immigration policy that will resonate with moderate voters, they should focus their energy on abolishing the Trump administration.

The urgency of the push to keep Democrats on a mend-it-don’t-end-it agenda is puzzling, considering again that those who support abolishing ICE are in the minority. Still, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory over Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York City congressional primary has shown some Democrats that there is the possibility for a more progressive immigration agenda. Two of the five supportive op-eds were written by Democratic officials, and one was written by a gubernatorial candidate.

One of a handful of opinion pieces that supported rather than opposing the abolition of ICE (Daily News, 7/12/18).

One op-ed published by New York Daily News (7/12/18), written by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and councilmember Carlos Menchaca, argued that ICE is not supporting public safety, and should be dissolved with its functions taken up by other agencies:

ICE is an indiscriminate deportation and detention machine, leaving families and communities broken, not safer. Its tactics, which spread fear throughout immigrant communities, fly in the face of one of our nation’s most hallowed and time-honored traditions as a beacon to those fleeing persecution and looking to build a better life.

Of the op-eds by those with identifiable ethnicities, this was also the only one written by a Latino; Menchaca is the chair of the New York City Council’s Immigration Committee.

Many have expressed dissent at the way the US handles immigration–from government officials to activists, civil rights advocates and immigrants themselves. Grassroots organizations have spoken against ICE tactics long before Trump became president. Yet corporate media chose to publish only a handful of these voices. The debate among editorial boards and columnists was focused on fear of Democratic Party extremism, rather than the widespread impacts of ICE and immigration policy.


Here’s why Michael Cohen could be Trump’s “biggest vulnerability”

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 2:23pm

Michael Cohen once billed himself as the “fixer” who could make Donald Trump’s most vexing problems disappear. Now, he’s poised to become one of the president’s biggest problems.

On Friday, the world got a glimpse of the sort of trouble Cohen may pose for his former boss, when the New York Times revealed he secretly taped a conversation with Trump two months before the 2016 election. The recording captures the two men discussing a payment to a Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with Trump.

The existence of that tape, which could be one of many, suggests Cohen’s greatest value to investigators may not be what he knows about Russia, but what he knows about Trump’s business and financial dealings, legal experts and former prosecutors told VICE News.

“Based upon what we know publicly, the legal issues surrounding Michael Cohen represent one of the biggest threats to the Trump presidency,” Renato Mariatti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, told VICE News. “It’s never a good thing when you’re caught on tape talking to a suspected criminal about the matters he’s being investigated for.”

On the recording revealed Friday, Trump can reportedly be heard giving Cohen advice about how to handle a potential payment to the company that bought the rights to Playboy model’s story, according to The Washington Post. The detailed discussion indicates both the close working relationship the two men had — and that Trump may find it difficult to distance himself from the actions of his longtime deputy.

Read:Michael Cohen secretly recorded tapes of Trump discussing payments to a former Playboy model

“Of all the individuals on the planet that could potentially do significant harm to Mr. Trump, there’s little question that Michael Cohen is at, or very near, the top of that list,” Michael Avenatti, lawyer for Daniels, told VICE News. Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claims she was paid by Cohen for her silence right before the election, a decade after her affair with Trump.

“The legal issues surrounding Michael Cohen represent one of the biggest threats to the Trump presidency.”

Now the question is: what exactly does Cohen know?

Cohen is now under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, but he hasn’t been charged with any crime.

Legal experts and former prosecutors gave VICE News a rundown of the subjects investigators will likely want to ask him about — if he ultimately decides to cooperate.

The Affairs

The Playboy model, Karen McDougal, has said she had an affair with Trump over a decade ago that lasted roughly a year.

She was paid $150,000 in August 2016 by AMI, the parent company of The National Enquirer, for the rights to her story. But the Enquirer, which is owned by a friend of Trump’s named David Pecker, never published anything — effectively burying the story.

In their September 2016 conversation, Cohen and Trump discuss a plan by Cohen to attempt to purchase those rights from AMI for roughly $150,000, The Washington Post reported Friday, citing an unnamed person familiar with the recording. On the call, Trump tells Cohen to make sure he properly documents the agreement, and urges him to use a check — rather than cash — to preserve a record of the transaction, the person told the Post.

In a statement, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, confirmed the existence of the tape but told the Post that no payment was ever made. “Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of [the AMI payment] in advance,” Giuliani said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence.”

“If Trump did know about it and directed Cohen, that could link Trump to campaign finance violations.”

But McDougal isn’t alone. Cohen has admitted to organizing a $130,000 payout and nondisclosure agreement for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who has said she slept with Trump in 2006. Trump has said he didn’t know that Cohen made the payment at the time it happened.

Cohen reportedly raised the money to pay Stormy from a home equity line of credit, which might be fraud if he misled the bank about the purpose of the funds, according to Mariotti. If so, and Trump knew about it, that could mean legal trouble for Trump, too, Mariotti said.

Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

The payouts to women for their silence could constitute improper campaign contributions, and may mean trouble for Trump depending on the circumstances and how deeply he can be shown to have been involved, according to Mimi Rocah, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.

“If Trump did know about it and directed Cohen, that could link Trump to campaign finance violations,” Rocah said, referring specifically to Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels. “But they’d have to show it was for the benefit of the campaign, and not just personal. It can’t just be, like, ‘I don’t want my wife know.’”

For an example, look no further than former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who was indicted in 2011 on charges of using illegal campaign donations to conceal his mistress from voters.

Just days before the election, Cohen created a shell company called Essential Consultants LLC to pay Daniels.

After Trump entered the White House, Cohen used the same company to receive millions in payments from international corporations who wanted insight into the Trump administration, including AT&T and Swiss drugmaker Novartis.

Cohen also scored a $1 million consulting contract from a U.S. hedge fund closely linked to a Russian billionaire with longstanding Kremlin ties named Viktor Vekselberg, in a deal that’s already drawn the scrutiny of federal investigators.

Investigators will likely want to know whether Trump knew about these payments, and whether any of them involved any kind of explicit promises for favorable treatment in exchange for the payments, said Harry Sandick, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.

“Did he enter into any of those consulting agreements with the president’s knowledge?” Sandick asked. “It would have to be more than just Cohen saying, ‘Hey, I’ll get your voice heard,’ because that would be legal. There would have to be some sort of a quid pro quo.”

The Organization

Cohen recently scrubbed his position as executive vice president and senior counsel at the Trump Organization from his LinkedIn page in a move received as creating distance between himself and Trump.

But pressing delete doesn’t scrub years of insights from inside the Trump Org. Cohen appears to have held a wide-ranging portfolio during his tenure under Trump, which included serving as the point man for potential projects in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

Cohen worked on setting up a Trump Tower project in Moscow right up until just weeks before the presidential primaries kicked off, and he was involved in scoping out projects in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and in Kazakhstan.

Prosecutors will likely want to ask whether all those far-flung business dealings were carried out by the book. And if they weren’t, investigators will want to ask whether Trump knew about it, Mariatti told VICE News.

Read: Taxi mogul who borrowed millions from Michael Cohen swears it wasn't for his weed business

Cohen’s expansive role as Trump’s all-purpose fixer suggests he might know about unorthodox — and, potentially, improper — modes of doing business at the Trump Organization, observers said.

To name just one potential pitfall, businessmen operating abroad are often cautioned not to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, which in essence forbids American citizens from paying bribes to foreign government officials to win business.

“If that happened, and if there were internal discussions of that happening, that would be a problem,” said Jens David Ohlin, vice dean at Cornell Law and an expert in international criminal law.

The Trump Organization has explored business opportunities in countries with low rankings on Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions IndexPanama and India, to name a few.

The Trump Tower meetings

Another crucial question for Cohen will be what he knew about the Trump campaign’s links to Russia during the campaign.

One event he might be able to shed light on: The Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between the top brass of the Trump campaign and a lawyer from Russia who’d been billed as having dirt on the Clinton campaign.

“You’re either in or you're out — or else you’re really going to screw yourself.”

Cohen told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in early July that taking the meeting was a bad idea. And he pointedly refused to say whether Trump might have known about it in advance.

“I believe it was a mistake by those from the Trump campaign who did participate,” he said. "It was simply an example of poor judgment.”

Cohen has repeatedly denied the claim that first emerged in the infamous Steele dossier, compiled by former U.K. intelligence officer Christopher Steele, that he personally traveled to Prague to coordinate Russia’s involvement in the presidential campaign.

On the heels of Friday’s bombshell, the stakes of Cohen potentially reaching a cooperation agreement with prosecutors seemed to ratchet up even higher.

And if he does accept a deal, prosecutors will expect him to divulge everything he knows, Rocah said.

“The worst thing you can do is halfway cooperate,” Rocah said. “You’re either in or you're out — or else you’re really going to screw yourself. Someone who pleads guilty to something, and then messes it up, is in a worse position than if they never pleaded guilty in the first place.”

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen leaves his hotel in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Kentucky Republicans are determined to kill Medicaid

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 1:58pm

BEVERLY, Kentucky — When a federal judge struck down Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to force Medicaid enrollees to work for benefits in June, Bevin responded by abruptly cutting vision and dental coverage for nearly 500,000 low-income people, claiming the state had no way to pay for them.

The move threw Kentucky’s health system into disarray, and patients arrived at dental clinics unaware that they no longer had coverage.

“I had abscesses that ate into the bone,” said Susan Wells, a patient at the nonprofit Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center in West Louisville. “I'm getting dentures on the top, which is embarrassing to say in front of people, because [it] shows how poor you are when you don't have teeth.”

Democrats and healthcare advocates criticized the move as vindictive and petty.

“It was clear to us that that [the governor’s] decision was punitive, that it was in retaliation to the court case not going the way that he wanted to, and he chose to take that out on almost half a million Kentuckians who use that coverage to keep them healthy so that they can work,” said Angela Koch, the state outreach director for an advocacy group Kentucky Voices for Health.

But the Bevin administration insisted the cuts were an “unfortunate consequence” of the judge’s decision to reject the state’s plan to implement a work requirement for some people on Medicaid, a waiver that had been approved by the federal government back in January.


Gov. Bevin’s desire to shake up Medicaid reflects a growing movement by the Trump administration to shrink the federal government’s role in healthcare. Trump’s economic advisory council published a report this month extolling the benefits of implementing work requirements, and Kentucky has been seen as a test case by the administration to see its ideas about entitlements play out.

Susan Wells, of Louisville, was one of nearly 500,000 Kentuckians who had their dental and vision benefits cut by Gov. Bevin on July 1. The benefit cuts came after a judge ruled against Bevin's plans to put work requirements and premium increases on Medicaid enrollees. (Photo: Daniel Vergara/VICE News)

"Non-disabled working-age adults have become increasingly reliant on welfare and experienced stalled employment growth, in part because of the disincentives welfare programs impose on increasing one’s own income," the White House Council of Economic Advisers argues in the paper.

A longtime critic of the Affordable Care Act, Bevin — the state’s first Republican governor in nearly 40 years — made ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion one of his signature campaign promises.

Since taking office in 2015, he developed Kentucky HEALTH (Helping to Engage and Achieve Long-Term Health), a waiver that would drastically change how many people can remain on the health insurance program he has called a “dead-end entitlement trap.”

At the heart of the Bevin administration’s waiver is a work requirement for able-bodied adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. If you’re between 19 and 49 years old in Kentucky, you would have to prove you’ve worked 80 hours a month to be entitled to medical care, and log those hours online.

The plan also puts in place additional barriers to dental and vision care. Currently, people on Medicaid are covered for basic services and annual check-ups. The new system asks that Medicaid expansion recipients earn virtual credits — through things like community service, getting a GED, or completing a wellness program — that convert into dollars that can then be used to cover those preventive health services.

Medicaid expansion recipients will also face higher premiums under the program, increasing to up to 4 percent of household income — the highest premiums ever permitted in the Medicaid program.

“It’s easy for a lay person to say a $9-a-month premium isn’t a big deal, but what people forget is we’re talking about incredibly impoverished citizens,” said Koch, who noted that patients who fail to pay those premiums will face lockout periods with no coverage for 6 months.

Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), worked to help craft the Kentucky proposal, which has formed the model for similar proposals in at least 11 other states. Verma says she recused herself from approving the Kentucky proposal.

“Toxic charity”

By its own admission, Kentucky estimated that 95,000 people would fall off Medicaid as a result of the waiver. That fact was seized upon by D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg in June when he struck down the waiver. Boasberg expressed concerns that the plan undermines the inherent purpose of Medicaid, when he sided with the 16 Kentucky residents who brought a class action lawsuit against CMS.

Among those residents is Sara Woods, 40, who earns around $10 an hour working odd housekeeping jobs for neighbors in Floyd County and had never had health insurance until the Affordable Care Act was enacted.

“Poor people have health problems like rich people, but I mean we just can’t pay for it like rich people”

“Everybody should be treated the same. Poor people have health problems like rich people, but I mean we just can’t pay for it like rich people,” she said.

When the Medicaid expansion kicked in, she was able to get suboxone treatment for a heroin addiction, and access basic preventive medical and health services as a result. “We work hard every day and don’t want handouts,” Woods added. “That’s how people were raised around here. To work for whatever, you know.”

It’s unclear at this stage if the judge’s ruling on Kentucky will have any impact on the four other states — including Arkansas, Indiana and New Hampshire — that have work requirement waivers already in play.

The debate at the heart of the battle over work requirements is a philosophical fight over what Medicaid is: For some, it’s a health insurance program where the more people you have insured, the better. For others, it’s a welfare trap, so it should have as few recipients as possible.

“I think that there is dignity in work,” said Rep. Addia Wuchner, a Republican congresswoman representing a district in Northern Kentucky. “And you know so often I say that sometimes our charity becomes toxic to people in our wanting to help them sometimes. We've hurt them. We've hurt them in a way that we didn't even realize.”

The “pull them up by their bootstraps” notion is outmoded, for many in the health advocacy space. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that at least six out of 10 Medicaid recipients are already working, and most people on Medicaid who aren’t in employment are looking for work, disabled, or caring for a child or family member.

“A lot of people felt insulted by that,” said Hasch, who has been fighting against the governor’s proposals, and rejects argument that providing health benefits to people is harmful. “The Medicaid expansion population by definition is already the working poor. That is why they couldn't qualify for standard Medicaid - because they're making too much.”

“We’ve got some of the same problems that Third World countries do”

There are serious doubts as to how these work requirement programs will be implemented and how the state will possibly be able to enforce the rules. Many of the people we talked to in rural Kentucky didn’t have access to the internet, or couldn’t afford internet plans as part of their cell phone services.

“We’ve got some of the same problems that Third World countries do. The geographic area just has a lot of barriers here, and some people don’t understand that,” said Dr. Bill Collins, former president of the Kentucky Dental Association and current clinic director of the Red Bird Mission in Eastern Kentucky. ”Many of the patients don’t have cell phones, they don’t have internet service. And many of them can’t afford it, so it’s really hard for them.”

The situation in one state where work requirements have come into play has already cast doubt on the efficacy of work requirements. Only 4 percent of Medicaid recipients in Arkansas who were expected to record their June work hours online did so, according to Arkansas Human Services.

Kentucky ranks near the bottom of the states for almost every health indicator — from smoking and obesity, to diabetes and heart disease. It recently came in 36th for dental health, and the American Dental Association report on Oral Health and Well-Being in Kentucky state found that 52 percent of patients avoid dentists due to cost and lack of insurance.

The state is already grappling with a highly publicized pension debt crisis - leading to teacher protests and verbal spats between unions and the Republican Legislature — and it has a significant $330 million shortfall in its Medicaid fund.

Kentucky’s Department of Health says the waiver will save around $331 million.

But critics of the governor’s plan say any savings the administration might achieve will be undermined by the multimillion-dollar cost of implementing the waiver, and the higher costs incurred when patients who’ve lost their coverage invariably return to the emergency room.

Kentucky announced on Thursday it is working with CMS to address the court’s concerns, indicating it hopes to get approval to roll out the changes to Medicaid by September 1.

Governor Bevin didn’t respond to repeated attempts for comment.

Cover image: Sara Woods never had health insurance until 2014 when the Affordable Care Act kicked in. Woods, pictured here with her 2-year-old granddaughter Layla, sued the federal government for approving Kentucky's plan to impose work requirements on Medicaid enrollees. (Photo: Daniel Vergara/VICE News)

Families separated by Trump's "zero tolerance" policy face an impossible choice

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 12:51pm

Hundreds of parents separated from their children at the border by the Trump administration have already been cleared for deportation, and now they’re facing an impossible choice: return together to the country they fled or leave the child to apply for asylum in the U.S. alone.

The ACLU asked the government Thursday to provide a list of the parents who have final removal orders so that attorneys can speak to them as soon as possible about their options. The government insists that all parents who have already been deported or who have final removal orders have agreed to be deported. But immigration attorneys worry that parents may have been so desperate to get their kids back that they agreed to be deported because they believed it was the fastest way to get them back. Some may not have known what they were agreeing to.

“These parents may only have a matter of days to make the momentous decision whether to leave their child behind in the United States,” the ACLU wrote in their request.

Nearly 30 percent of parents of kids over 5, 719 total, had been cleared for deportation as of Thursday.

Earlier this week, Southern California U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw blocked the government from deporting any separated parents for seven days after the ACLU raised concerns that the government was planning to deport parents with their kids immediately after reunification without a chance to review their legal options with an immigration attorney. Some parents may be able to reopen their cases with the help of a lawyer.

Read: The Trump administration keeps losing family separation lawsuits

Next week Judge Sabraw will decide whether to extend the halt on deportations.

After three months of systematically separating immigrant families as part of the zero tolerance immigration policy, the government is working to reunite them under a court-ordered deadline of July 26. By then, all 2,551 separated kids aged 5-17 must be reunited with their parents, but so far government officials have returned just 364 of those kids.

The government has complained reunification takes time. Before it can happen, the Department of Homeland Security, the agency holding the parents, and the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency holding the kids, must run background checks on each parent and confirm they are, in fact, parents. This process has been slow because when officials separated families at the border and put them in the custody of these two separate agencies, they didn’t track them together.

Read: Reunited immigrant families grapple with how to repair damage caused by separation

Some kids will not be reunited by the July 26 deadline because the parents have already been deported, have criminal histories, are incarcerated, or are not in fact the parents, all conditions that make them ineligible under Sabraw’s framework for expedited reunifications. The government has already determined 91 parents of kids over 5 have disqualifying criminal history.

Forty-seven of the 103 separated kids under 5 remain separated for these same reasons. The government missed the court-mandated July 10 deadline to reunite those “tender age” kids; 56 were reunited by July 12.

Sabraw will likely consider the cases of parents deemed ineligible for these deadlines individually after all eligible parents are reunited. Lawyers for the government and ACLU were due back in court Friday.

Cover image: Immigrant families leave a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility after they were reunited, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Sam Husseini Locked Up for Committing Journalism in Public

FAIR - July 20, 2018 - 12:26pm

The questions Sam Husseini tried to ask (The Nation, 7/17/18).

Journalist and FAIR associate Sam Husseini went to the Trump/Putin press conference in Helsinki with press credentials from The Nation and a couple of questions. Specifically, he wanted to ask both leaders why they aren’t living up to their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and why they’re blocking the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Further, based on the idea that there may be no greater threat than a weapon that is unacknowledged, Husseini hoped to ask Trump if he would acknowledge the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons.

It wasn’t so quixotic: Reuters (7/12/18) had just reported Trump saying his “ultimate” hope for the summit’s outcome was “no more nuclear weapons anywhere in the world.” But, as listeners may have heard, Husseini, also an analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy, didn’t get to ask those questions. Before the conference started, Finnish security took him out of the room, saying someone had told them he had a sign. He did have a small piece of paper, reading “Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty,” that he hoped might draw Trump’s or Putin’s attention, but he was prepared to be told this was against the rules and to hand it over. As he took it out, though, security officers leapt on him, knocked his glasses off, and dragged him out of the room, and ultimately to a detention facility, where they held him incommunicado until the middle of the night.

Coverage of Sam Husseini’s removal in the Sun (7/16/18), a British “newspaper.”

Finnish police couldn’t come up with anything to charge Husseini with. But some media could, implying with quotes around the word “journalist” that Husseini might not be one, or highlighting that he wasn’t hanging out with the rest of the pool. It’s true, Husseini is not one to pal around with corporate reporters and he’s often an unwelcome sight to the political figures he confronts—at the National Press Club and elsewhere—with questions they’d rather avoid.

Confusion about whether it still counts as journalism when it’s challenging to power is as distressing an assessment of today’s elite media as you need, but consider also that, after Husseini’s removal, the press conference went on to leave intact the two leaders’ preferred emphasis on nonproliferation over actual disarmament. It was just that emphasis—more, Husseini argues (The Nation, 7/17/18), about “preserv[ing] the nuclear powers’ monopoly on violence, rather than actually ensuring security”—that he had hoped to interrupt.

We need a new model for tech journalism

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2018 - 11:48am
A lowly tech employee was trying to do some simple task online and found out it was really hard. Inspired by that difficulty, he—and it was almost always a he—used his spare time to build a better way to do it, and then were amazed at how quickly it took off. So he quit his […]

The Arctic is on fire, and you can see it from space

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 11:08am

Wildfires are ravaging parts of the Arctic Circle, and they’re big enough to see from space.

The wildfires started in early June, and more than 50 have now cropped up in parts of Sweden inside the Arctic Circle, according to the European Space Agency, which has kept tabs on the situation with satellites from space. Sweden doesn’t often have to deal with fires, but so far the blazes have swallowed up $70 million worth of land, according to Swedish news agency TT. The country has asked for help from Norway and Italy, which sent along helicopters and planes to help contain the flames, according to the New York Times.

To figure out the size of the fires and where they’re spreading, the European Space Agency put four of its Copernicus Sentinel satellites on the job. Without the satellite imagery they're providing, the agency would have a tough time measuring the fires or even seeing them at all in some of the sparsely populated areas.

The wildfires follow the longest sustained drought on record in Sweden and heat waves that have engulfed most of Europe. And to scientists, they look a lot like what you’d expect human-caused climate change to look like.

These photos show the west coast of Norway over to central Sweden, where the fires are raging below the clouds. And in a zoomed-in shot, not just the smoke is visible; the satellites caught images where you can see the actual flames.

(Gif courtesy of the European Space Agency)

The heatwave across Europe has shown other signs visible from space. Satellite photos from the UK’s Met Office show England turning brown over the course of two months.

In addition to the usual dangers of massive fires, the flames have started to encroach on a military station in Älvdalens, where ammo’s tested. The flames have cut off access to the base: Emergency workers can’t get within 800 meters and moving any closer would put them at risk should the ammo at the base blow up. Even dousing the flames over the base via helicopter is risky, because the ammo could blow and down a chopper, according to the local government in Älvdalens.

If the base does blow up, the fires could spread even more.

Since 2015, the Europeans have put satellites into orbit to monitor the Earth — and specifically to relay back information to provide info to help with natural disasters like the fires in Sweden. The missions are designed to the monitor problems like vegetation, land-surface temperatures, and the color of the ocean, all with the purpose collecting data on the state of the changing planet.

Michael Cohen secretly recorded tapes of Trump discussing payments to a former Playboy model

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 11:07am

Lordy, there are tapes.

The New York Times reported Friday that President Trump’s longtime personal fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Trump about payments made two months before the 2016 presidential election to a Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump in 2006.

Federal agents seized the tape earlier this year during raids on Cohen’s properties, the paper said, amid a Justice Department investigation into Cohen’s involvement with payments made to women to muffle potentially damaging stories in the midst of the campaign.

Trump’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the existence of the tapes to the Times but downplayed their significance, insisting: “Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance.”

The Times’ bombshell comes at a pivotal time for Cohen, who spent a decade at Trump’s side and once styled himself as Trump’s most doggedly loyal lieutenant. But Cohen has been sending signals lately, amid an investigation into his business affairs, that he may be prepared to share everything he knows with investigators, including potentially revealing information about Trump.

Read : The Mueller probe is hammering Trump's allies with insane legal bills

The model, Karen McDougal, has said she had an affair with Trump before selling the rights to her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000 during the waning months of the presidential campaign.

But the paper, which is run by longtime Trump friend David Pecker, never ran the story, effectively keeping it silent.

Confirmation of the tape’s existence follows months of swirling speculation over whether Cohen recorded his conversations with Trump and others.

Read: Taxi mogul who borrowed millions from Michael Cohen swears it wasn't for his weed business

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York City, U.S., May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Andrew Pulrang on Disability and the Election

FAIR - July 20, 2018 - 9:53am
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(cc photo: Javier Robles)

This week on CounterSpin: More than a quarter of the electorate—some 63 million eligible voters—either have a disability or have a household member with one, according to researchers at Rutgers University. Add to that the fact that the poverty rate for working-age people with disabilities is nearly two and a half times higher than that for people without disabilities, and then set that—as did Robyn Powell at Rewire—alongside the  exorbitant costs of campaigning for public office: The average winning  House candidate spent $1.3 million in 2016; for the Senate, that number’s $10.4 million. Now you’re getting close to an understanding of why people with disabilities are so “severely underrepresented in elected office,” which itself goes a way toward explaining why—in 2018—disabled people’s full inclusion in all aspects of social life is still largely framed as a matter of “accommodation” rather than rights.

CounterSpin talked about disability in the election and in the press with Andrew Pulrang, co-founder, along with Gregg Beratan and Alice Wong, of the #cripthevote campaign, and blogger at DisabilityThinking.com.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press, including immigration sources and a journalist’s detention in Helsinki.

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The “gay panic” defense for murder could be on its way out

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 9:19am

In all but three U.S. states, anyone charged with murder can claim in court that they should be held less accountable for their actions because of their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s a defense known as the gay or trans “panic” defense.

But two Massachusetts Democrats think it’s about time to change that. While Congress can’t interfere with criminal state law, the lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the panic defense in federal courts. They’re hoping the bill can serve as a catalyst for states to finally move to outlaw the defense as well. Since the bill's introduction, Pennsylvania has already introduced similar legislation in its state Senate.

“Our legislation would only make an effect on the federal level,” Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy told VICE News. He introduced the bill alongside Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey. “A lot of these crimes are going to take place at the state level. So it’s critically important that other states update their policies.”

California, Illinois, and Rhode Island have already outlawed using the LGBT panic defense in courtrooms, but in all 47 other states, the defense allows perpetrators of violent crimes to blame the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity on “their loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual,” according to the National LGBT Bar Association, an organization of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals that works to promote LGBT rights.

In 2008, for example, Brandon McInerney shot and killed his 15-year-old classmate, Larry King, who occasionally wore makeup and high heels, at their school in Oxnard, California. McInerney allegedly teased King for weeks and vowed “to get a gun and shoot him,” according to the LA Times.

So when his trial started, McInerney claimed that King’s behavior made him feel “threatened” and invoked the LGBTQ panic defense. As a result, he accepted a guilty plea in exchange for 21 years in prison. The case could have landed him behind bars for life, but instead, he'll get out when he’s 38 years old.

Even more recently, a man beat a transgender woman to death in 2016 and received just 12 years in prison for manslaughter after claiming the discovery that she was transgender launched him into a “blind fury.”

“Sexual orientation or gender identity cannot ever excuse violence, and our courtrooms should not be used as chambers of hate,” Markey said in a press release. In fact, the defense could be evidence of a hate crime, according to Kennedy.

These cases show a court system that places LGBT lives lower than their straight peers, says Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He helped write the Illinois law that bans the LGBT panic defense.

“This needs to be one point of conversation in a broader conversation about how LGBT people are treated in the criminal justice system more broadly,” Kreis told VICE News. “It's easy to say that these things don't happen all that often, but that's missing the point here.”

"Sexual orientation or gender identity cannot ever excuse violence, and our courtrooms should not be used as chambers of hate."

Not all politicians agree, though. In Rhode Island, two representatives voted against the bill that blocked use of the gay panic defense. During the House floor discussion in May, Republican State Rep. Justin Price said he was concerned about withholding from jurors “all the information as far as what happened during an altercation,” according to the Providence Journal. “I don’t think that they [can] make a sound decision.”

Regardless of whether states have banned the LGBT panic defense, it’s up to judges to admit evidence, according to D’Arcy Kemnitz, the executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association. The new bill just states that defendants wouldn’t be able to use someone’s gender or sexuality as an excuse to murder them.

“The problem is that when somebody has been attacked or even murdered by virtue of being LGBT or perceived to be LGBT, that does not in any way mitigate the damage that that perpetrator has or has not done,” Kemnitz told VICE News on Thursday. “But it works in the jury member's mind that, hey, maybe that person wasn't as valuable.”

Kennedy isn’t sure how much support the bill will get from his Republican peers. He said no Republicans have come out with any issues against the bill so far, but they haven’t come out in support either.

But if the California, Illinois and Rhode Island votes are at all indicative, they aren’t looking at a tough fight. Only nine state senators and 15 assemblyman voted against the California bill. Illinois passed it unanimously, and in Rhode Island in May, just two representatives voted against the bill.

Whether or not the bill gets the support it needs to pass through the House and Senate, activists see the bill as a success for even reaching this point.

“In any civil rights civil rights movement, or in any movement that is a social movement that is trying to enact legal change and a civil rights cultural change, you're always going to have different types of shifts in momentum,” Kreis told VICE News. “Then at some point you have a critical mass where the idea is no longer just emerging, but it's mainstream and it has currency. I think we're approaching that now.”

Cover image: Two men hold hands in Leeds, on Tuesday March 28, 2017. (Press Association via AP Images)

Germans are wearing yarmulkes to protest rising anti-Semitism in the country

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 8:05am

More than 1,000 demonstrators, many wearing yarmulkes, gathered in Bonn, Germany, Thursday to protest the latest attack on a Jewish man amid concerns of rising anti-Semitism in the country.

The rally came a week after a visiting academic, Yitzhak Melamed, was assaulted in broad daylight by a young German of Palestinian descent. Melamed’s assailant reportedly knocked his kippah from his head while yelling abuse at him, including the phrase “No Jews in Germany!”

Melamed, a 50-year-old philosophy professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told Zeit Online that a pushback against rising anti-Semitism in Germany was overdue.

“The situation for Jews in Germany is concerning right now,” he said. “Many people are scared to go outside wearing a kippah. That's unacceptable and it can't be allowed to continue.”

The brazen assault was just the latest in a string of high-profile recent attacks on Jews in Germany, prompting high-level concern about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country responsible for the Holocaust. In April, similar rallies were held in cities across Germany after footage of a Syrian refugee attacking two men wearing yarmulkes on a Berlin street went viral. In the wake of that attack, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, advised people visiting large German cities against wearing yarmulkes, for their own safety.

The attacks have fuelled a thorny national debate about what Chancellor Angela Merkel described in April as a “different type of anti-Semitism” brought by Arab and Muslim migrants into the country in recent years. But amid attempts by the far-right to hijack the issue to drum up hostility towards refugees, the political mainstream has pushed back, cautioning that anti-Semitism pre-existed the recent migrant influx and has deep roots across the spectrum of society.

That’s backed up by a study released Wednesday, that found anti-Semitic content on German social media had increased significantly in its prevalence and extremity in recent years.

The study, led by Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin, examined 300,000 pieces of online content, mostly from social media sites. It found that anti-Semitic content thrived online, and came from all sectors of society, from liberals and the left as well as right-wing extremists and Muslims.

"We were shocked to see that prejudices against Jews had changed so little over the last hundred years," she told German news outlet DW.

Statistics suggest that the rise in hate speech is spilling over into real world aggression. According to data from Germany’s Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin rose 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 947 cases recorded.

READ: The real reason Merkel’s coalition is in crisis is the rise of the far-right AfD

Speaking at Thursday’s rally, the head of Bonn’s Jewish community, Margaret Traub, said the recent attack was not an isolated incident. “It’s enough,” she told the crowd. “We won’t tolerate being treated with hostility for only one reason – that we’re Jewish.”

An anti-Semitism scandal in April prompted the organizers of Germany’s equivalent of the Grammys, called “Echo,” to announce that they are permanently scrapping the annual event.

The event suffered a backlash after this year’s best hip-hop/urban album was awarded to a rap duo who had anti-Semitic lyrics about the Holocaust, leading organizers to announce that they were planning to relaunch the awards under a different format, as the brand had been so badly damaged.

Cover image: After the anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish professor in Bonn, the city reacts with the 'Tag der Kippa' (Day of Kippa). The picture shows participants of the event with Kippa in Bonn city center. In the background the old City Hall. (Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

India is threatening to sue WhatsApp over mob lynchings linked to fake news

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 7:31am

WhatsApp has again updated how its messaging app works in India to prevent the spread of viral fake videos linked to mob lynchings. Yet despite the latest measures, the government in New Delhi is threatening to sue the tech company for allowing the “rampant circulation of irresponsible messages” on its platform.

WhatsApp Thursday published details of how it would limit the way viral videos and fake rumors spread on its network.

“Today, we're launching a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp,” the company said in a blog post, but it has singled out its service in the subcontinent for even more special treatment.

“In India — where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world — we'll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we'll remove the quick forward button next to media messages,” the company said.

The viral WhatsApp messages are typically spread by people simply forwarding them to family and friends and through large groups allowing the rumors to spread easily and quickly without knowing where the messages originated.

But WhatsApp’s efforts were not enough for the Indian government.

In a strongly-worded statement issued after the company announced its update, India's information technology ministry said:

“Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on [WhatsApp’s] platform has not been addressed adequately. When rumors and fake news get propagated by mischief-mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability.”

The ministry went on to say that if WhatsApp “remain mute spectators” they could face legal action if it didn’t provide “traceability” of provocative messages.

However the end-to-end encryption that is a major selling point of WhatsApp means even the company itself cannot see the contents of chats between users.

WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the government’s threat.

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

In recent months, there have been dozens of mob lynchings related to fake rumors spread virally on social media, with at least 18 of those specifically linked to WhatsApp.

While the government has been quick to issue criticisms of WhatsApp, it has provided no coordinated response to the crisis, leaving police forces across the country to resort to the using unorthodox methods to try and combat the wave of fake news.

The government came under further pressure to act this week when the Supreme Court labeled the deaths as “horrendous acts of mobocracy” and urged Modi and the ruling BJP party to enact a new law to punish offenders.

But it appears the government has no immediate plans to coordinate a response, with Union minister of state for home affairs Hansraj Ahir saying this week that the “National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not maintain specific data with respect to lynching incidents in the country.”

Cover image: This photo illustration shows an Indian newspaper vendor reading a newspaper with a full back page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information, in New Delhi on July 10, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Mergers, acquisitions, and the new media landscape

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2018 - 7:02am

While much of the media remains focused on President Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki, an eventful week for media companies has set in motion changes that may alter how Americans get their news.

In the past several days, Disney has bested Comcast in the battle for 21st Century Fox, Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune Media was torpedoed by the FCC, and the Justice Department attempted to block the AT&T–Time Warner merger that is already underway. “In the media business, this past year has been something like the summer of ’68—a tumultuous, chaotic collision of personalities and companies,” Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo writes in his look at the merger frenzy. “It has felt like the vanishing of one world order, where consumers were reliant on a cable provider, and the emergence of a brave new one, where everything is accessed on the phone, and traditional players must join forces in a fight for survival against incipient challengers.”

The race for scale has been driven, Pompeo notes, by the power of Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, along with the rise of Netflix, which this spring was the most valuable media company in the world. By consolidating media properties, Disney’s Bob Iger, Comcast’s Brian Roberts, and AT&T’s Randall Stephenson have cemented their positions of high influence.

RELATED: Our monster island of media companies

On a separate front, Sinclair’s bid to become the dominant force in local news is in serious jeopardy. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, announced Monday that he would send the Sinclair deal out for review by an administrative law judge—a likely death blow to the plans.

One of the winners to emerge from the spasms of change appears to be a figure familiar to the old media world. “Three times this summer, government regulators have had to make major decisions regarding media ownership,” CNN’s Hadas Gold writes. “Three times, the decision has gone the way that [Rupert] Murdoch and his company, 21st Century Fox, would have wanted.” The patriarch of the Fox empire, now 87, is close with President Trump; the most visible stars at Fox News are some of the president’s closest advisors. There is no proof that those relationships have touched government action, yet Gold writes that “Murdoch’s string of good fortune has set some tongues wagging.”

Below, more on the new world of media.

  • Conservative media winners: Politico’s Jason Schwartz writes that rival conservative TV news outlets are celebrating the FCC’s action on the Sinclair–Tribune Media deal. Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network all opposed the move.
  • What’s left for Comcast: Pompeo notes that by bowing out of the bid for 21st Century Fox, Comcast is left with few appetizing options. A media executive described the company’s remaining choices as “a dog’s breakfast of media leftovers. A lot of shitty deals. Lionsgate, MGM, Sony, Viacom, CBS, Discovery, AMC.”
  • Looking abroad: The New York Times’s Prashant S. Rao and Edmund Lee report that Comcast is turning its focus to acquiring Sky, “which, with more than 23 million customers across five countries, is one of Europe’s most prized media companies.”


Other notable stories

  • As criticism of his meeting with Vladimir Putin continued, President Trump on Thursday invited him to Washington. In attempting to shift the narrative, Trump “was deploying a familiar tactic: barreling into the next news cycle by supplying the next bit of incendiary programming,” write Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.
  • For CJR, Gabe Schneider reports from Oakland on troubles at the East Bay Express, where racism charges have prompted resignations and a reckoning.
  • The Atlantic’s Megan Garber examines Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s performance as press secretary after a year on the job. “It is a well-worn cliché of the Trump presidency—which is also to say, it is a well-worn cliché about the Trump psyche—that, within a White House as vertically integrated as this one, loyalty counts above all,” Garber writes. Few in the administration demonstrate that loyalty more publicly than Sanders does from the briefing room.
  • The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright reports that, to suit up against a Washington Post investigation, Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes, “hired a law firm that boasts about ‘killing stories.’” The investigation in question concerned what CBS executives knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Charlie Rose, and Cartwright reports that aggressive legal tactics “effectively neutered” the result.
  • After the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking into the servers of the DNC and other groups, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple revisited campaign coverage of hacked emails. Wemple has collected comments from editors at The New York Times, The Washington Post, HuffPost, and elsewhere—the consensus seems to be that, though the full scope of the hack wasn’t known, the emails were still newsworthy.
  • The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is putting out a public call for nominations for the 2019 Freedom of the Press Awards.

ICYMI: Press newly energized by White House contradictions

The father of two Parkland survivors was shot dead in a grocery store robbery

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 6:45am

The father of two Parkland school shooting survivors was shot dead in his own convenience store during an armed robbery earlier this week.

Ayub Ali, a father of four and a Bangladesh native, was killed shortly after noon Tuesday at Aunt Molly’s Food Store, the store he owned in Parkland, Florida.

According to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect held up the store at around 12:45 p.m., took money from the cash register, and then left. He then returned, forced Ali, 61, into the office at the back of the store, and shot him.

The sheriff’s office released surveillance video Thursday showing a man they believe to be the suspect, whom they are still seeking, clad in a black vest, red shorts with a black and white stripe down the sides, reddish-orange slides and a skull cap with “Miami” stitched on the front.

Two of Ali’s children, a son and a daughter, are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, and survived the Valentine’s Day massacre five months ago, which left 17 people dead and dozens injured. His daughter was in the classroom of the school’s 1200 building, where the shooting occurred, an NBC affiliate in Miami reported.

Students from Parkland are leading a nationwide movement against gun violence after the February shooting, with many of them now on a summer tour across the country.

Local news outlets described how residents of Parkland had put together a makeshift memorial outside Ali’s store, which reopened Thursday.

Cover image: Two rings of chairs encircle the words "NEVER AGAIN" in a silent protest on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting outside Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., Friday, April 20, 2018. The inner ring chairs have names of the Columbine victims, the outer ring chairs have names of the Parkland High School shooting victims. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Everything we know about the fatal Missouri duck boat tragedy

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 6:26am

At least 11 people, some of them children, are dead and six others are missing after an amphibious duck boat capsized during a severe thunderstorm on a Missouri lake Thursday.

Here’s what we know so far:

The “Ride the Ducks” boat was carrying 31 people when it capsized shortly after 7 p.m. local time on Table Rock Lake, a popular tourist attraction near the town of Branson, according to Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.

He said 14 passengers were rescued, with six still unaccounted for. Diving teams scoured the lake Thursday night before suspending their search due to poor light, and will resume Friday morning.

Brandei Clifton, a spokeswoman for a local hospital, said four adults and three children were brought in shortly after the incident. Two of the adults were in critical condition, she said.

The capsized vessel, which authorities said had lifejackets on board, was one of two duck boats that hit problems as a heavy storm rolled in across the lake. Video footage showed the boats struggling to make it to shore through choppy waves, with one eventually reaching land while the other was swamped.

“It was having problems through the wind," Rader told reporters. "They were coming back toward land. There was actually two ducks. The first one made it out. The second one didn't."

Branson, located about 200 miles from Kansas City, had been issued with a severe thunderstorm warning shortly before 6:30 p.m. local time, half an hour before the incident, raising questions about why the vessels were still on the lake. Meteorologists said wind speeds topped 63 miles an hour in Branson around the time of the incident and were likely higher over the lake.

The storm was strong enough to cause other damage throughout the county, uprooting trees and causing structural damage.

Duck boats are amphibious trucks that were used during the Second World War to transport materials ashore in places without port facilities, and are now widely used in sightseeing tours. They’ve been involved in fatal accidents before, including a sinking on Arkansas’ Lake Hamilton in 1999 in which 13 people, including three children, were killed.

Cover image: A duck boat is seen at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, U.S., July 19, 2018, in this picture grab obtained from social media video. (Ron Folsom/via REUTERS)

Kim is shouting at factory bosses because sanctions are tanking North Korea's economy

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 6:12am

North Korea’s economy is suffering its worst decline in 20 years, according to figures released Friday — a result of the biting sanctions slapped on the regime in recent years for its nuclear and ballistic weapons tests.

In response, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been visiting factories, berating officials, and cozying up to China in the hope that Beijing can help ease sanctions.

The figures, released by the Bank Of Korea, shows in North Korea gross domestic product (GDP) fell 3.5 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year. This marks the sharpest decline since the regime suffered a 6.5 percent drop in 1997 as a result of a devastating famine.

The pain of western sanctions have been exacerbated by North Korea’s closest trading ally China more strictly enforcing economic measures against the regime in the second half of 2017 following pressure from the United Nations.

The worst hit sector was industrial production, which accounts for about a third of the nation’s total output. It dropped by 8.5 percent, according to the Bank of Korea, as factory production collapsed because Pyongyang was unable to secure enough oil, coal and gas.

Output from agriculture and construction industries also fell by 1.3 percent and 4.4 percent respectively.

It appears Kim was aware of his country’s economic decline before the release of the statistics.

The despot last week was seen visiting industrial facilities, power plants and tourist sites across the country — shifting focus from the regime’s nuclear arsenal to its economy.

According to the state-run KCNA news agency, Kim voiced his ”great anxiety” about poor standards and failing to meet targets, while dressing down ruling party officials for their lack of “revolutionary spirit.”

At the Chongjin Bag Factory, located in the same region as a nuclear test site, which the regime blew up in May, Kim ordered workers to sew twice as much sponge in the shoulder straps to prevent schoolchildren feeling any discomfort.

In Younjin, Kim visited a seaside hotel and asked why the facility remained unfinished six years after construction began. Even worse, at the Orangchon power station he berated officials for failing to complete construction a full 17 years after it began, saying it “doesn’t make sense.”

Wang Enbin, the deputy director of the department of commerce in China’s Liaoning province, which borders North Korea, said this week he was keen for the two countries to work together as soon as possible.

READ: Kim lied at their first summit — so Trump wants to give him a second summit

Kim’s focus on the economy is positive for the U.S., giving Washington leverage as it pushes to enforce the Singapore declaration in which North Korea promises to work towards denuclearization.

“It’s clear from KCNA and government statements, that Kim is serious about putting economic growth at the top of his agenda,” John Hemmings, Asia Director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, told VICE News.

“This gives the U.S. some leverage in offering that in exchange for [denuclearisation], however Kim’s goal will be to try and get economic growth ahead of and separately from denuclearisation, so we can expect to see him weakening the international coalition against him and emphasising the humanitarian impact of sanctions.”

While sanctions are biting hard in North Korea, Kim’s efforts to cozy up to China may be a deliberate ploy to use the current unease between Beijing and Washington over trade to gain sanctions relief.

“Given its current trade war with the Trump administration, there’s a danger that Beijing will loosen sanctions on North Korea in order to leverage its fight with Washington on trade,” Hemmings said.

Cover image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his visit to the under construction Orangchon Power Station in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang July 17, 2018. (KCNA via REUTERS)


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