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Robert Mueller Just Agreed to Testify Before Congress

June 25, 2019 - 9:31pm

Americans will soon hear testimony on the Mueller report from the man who wrote it — former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III.

Mueller, who oversaw a two-year investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has agreed to testify about his findings in an open session before Congress on July 17, House Democrats announced Tuesday.

Mueller agreed to comply with subpoenas issued from the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California.

It’s a blow to President Trump who has repeatedly mischaracterized the more than 400-page report as an exoneration. In fact, the Mueller report documents actions by Trump that hundreds of career prosecutors have said clearly amounts to obstruction of justice.

“The American public deserves to hear directly from you about your investigation and conclusions,” the chairmen wrote. “We will work with you to address legitimate concerns about preserving the integrity of your work, but we expect that you will appear before our committees as scheduled.”

READ: The Mueller report makes a damning case that Trump obstructed justice

Mueller has resisted testifying publicly and declined to express an opinion on the interpretation of his report offered up by Trump’s handpicked attorney general, William Barr.

But his testimony before Congress could reignite Democratic efforts to keep the report in the news and advance the cause of impeachment.

Mueller has already said that his public comments won’t go beyond what’s in his report. But Democrats and legal observers have argued that the facts in the report are bad enough — and that even a public recitation of those details could help raise awareness of Mueller’s findings.

READ: Trump is stonewalling congress after Mueller. It will probably work.

“This stuff is pretty damning, and they ought to just get it out there,” said Nick Akerman, who was a member of the prosecution team during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. “Nobody out there is reading the report except for nerds like myself, so let’s have him read it for everybody on television. There is a lot of meat there.”

Cover: Special Counsel Robert Mueller speaks on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, at the US Justice Department in Washington, DC, on May 29, 2019. Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that charging Donald Trump with a crime of obstruction was not an option because of Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Weed Is Now Legal in Illinois

June 25, 2019 - 4:25pm

Illinois, the sixth most populous state in the nation, just became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday, it marks the second time, following Vermont, that weed legalization was passed by the Legislature rather than by voters at the ballot box. Vermont was first, but the Illinois law establishes statewide distribution regulations, legalizing the sale of cannabis, right out of the gate.

Illinois’ law will let people have licenses to grow and sell cannabis, as well as allow adults 21 and older to possess and consume it. It allows residents the purchase and possession of up to one ounce of weed and non-residents up to 15 grams.

Before the bill goes into effect at the start of 2020 and legal dispensaries are set up and running, possession of pot will remain a crime in Illinois.

But as for the 800,000 people in Illinois with criminal records for purchasing or possessing a maximum of 30 grams of marijuana, the bill may mean their records are cleared. However, the governor said people with records of committing violent crimes won’t be able to receive pardons for weed possession.

By legalizing marijuana, the state can slap a tax on it, and it’s estimated to eventually rack up $500 million a year in revenue. The governor plans to take 25 percent of the marijuana tax revenue and put it toward local businesses that sell cannabis in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods. This is part of the Recover, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) Program that invests in communities held victim by the decades-long war on drugs.

At the signing ceremony, Pritzker said, “This legalization of adult use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Cover: This photo taken June 10, 2019, shows a DeKalb, Ill., man smoking marijuana from a bowl at his home. (Mark Busch/Northwest Herald via AP)

Wayfair Workers Are Outraged the Company Is Selling Furniture to “Border Camps”

June 25, 2019 - 3:35pm

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Employees at e-commerce company, Wayfair, are planning to walk off the job Wednesday in protest of the company selling beds and other furniture for use at facilities where migrants are detained.

A Twitter account named “wayfairwalkout” tweeted Tuesday that many employees of Wayfair were upset with the company’s management over its furniture sales to “border camps,” specifically a non-licensed shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, “that will be outfitted to detain up to 3,000 migrant children seeking legal asylum,” according to a letter that Wayfair employees sent to management.

The account implored Wayfair employees at the headquarters in Boston to leave their desks at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and walk to Copley Square. It’s unclear who’s running the account, which did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

“Employees asked for the order to be canceled and management said no,” the account tweeted. “Everyone deserves a home they can feel safe and loved in, especially children, no matter where they're from.”

The account also claimed that 547 employees signed onto the letter sent to the CEO asking the company to discontinue its relationship with contractors who furnish border camps. The CEO, Niraj Shah, refused, according to the Twitter account. Wayfair did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

“We believe that the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the Southern border do not represent an ethical business partnership Wayfair should choose to be a part of,” the letter reads. “At Wayfair, we believe that ‘everyone should live in a home that they love.’ Let’s stay true to that message by taking a stand against the reprehensible practice of separating families, which denies them any home at all.”

The letter also demanded that Wayfair donate $86,000 in profits it made from these sales to RAICES, a non-profit that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants.

Government contractor BCFS put in a $200,000 order for “bedroom furniture” meant for border facilities, the Boston Globe reported. An anonymous employee also confirmed to the Globe the authenticity of the employees’ letter to the company.

Trump’s border detention camps — which several progressive Democrats have recently called concentration camps — reportedly subject detainees to often unsafe, unsanitary living conditions. At least 24 people in ICE custody since President Trump took office. Six migrant children have died in government custody since September.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighed in and expressed her support of the walkout.

Wayfair has more than 12,000 employees, which means a walkout would possibly count as a major work stoppage (more than 1,000 workers), per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Major work stoppages, usually caused by labor strikes or other workplace actions of disobedience, saw their first major uptick in more than three decades in 2018.

Cover image: This April 17, 2018, file photo shows the Wayfair website on a computer in New York.(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Campaign Cash and 5 Affairs: Duncan Hunter’s Corruption Trial Just Took Another Wild Turn

June 25, 2019 - 2:11pm

Federal prosecutors are going after California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter for using campaign cash to bankroll five extramarital affairs, a court filing issued Monday night revealed.

Hunter is accused in the filing of campaign funds to wine and dine his partners, and even take them on vacation. In his defense, Hunter is arguing that the prosecution is politically biased against him because he supports President Donald Trump.

The filing alleges that Hunter, a congressman with a reputation as a heavy-drinking bro who once vaped on the floor of the House, used his campaign funds to fund his relationships with a woman who worked for his office, three lobbyists, and another who worked as a House leadership aide.

Last year, Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were charged with using more than $250,000 in campaign cash to pay for family vacations and their kids’ college tuition, charges that Hunter’s fighting but that his wife has already pled guilty to. She’s agreed to provide “substantial assistance to the United States in the investigation and prosecution of others,” and “tell everything (she) knows about every person involved,” according to a Justice Dept. Statement obtained by the New York Times.

The prosecutors, in the filing, are saying that airing the details of these relationships is necessary for them to make their case: They need to show that Hunter spent campaign money on personal expenses in a manner that he knew to be illegal.

“This evidence is necessary to establish the personal nature of the expenditures to demonstrate Hunter’s knowledge and intent to break the law, and to establish his motive to embezzle from his campaign,” they said in the filing.

The congressman allegedly used the money on everything from a road trip to Lake Tahoe, to Ubers to and from his partners’ houses, to drinks at the bar.

Hunter’s defense is basically the same as Trump’s has been in response to the Russia investigation: “Witch hunt.”

The congressman and his attorneys are claiming that the federal prosecutors on his case are biased against him because they supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Two of the assistant attorneys working on the case were at a Clinton fundraiser in 2015, the defense alleges. Hunter’s lawyers tried to get the case thrown out on that basis, which didn’t work.

“You have criminally political prosecutors in this case on a personal smear campaign,” Hunter told Politico on Tuesday.

Hunter even wants the trial moved out of San Diego, on the grounds that the trial should be held in an area where more voters voted for Donald Trump.

“As President Trump’s first and most arduous supporter, it is hard not to see how a juror would be predisposed to cast their vote based on their politics,” Hunter’s lawyers wrote, according to Politico. “Hillary Clinton beat Donald J. Trump in San Diego County by 56.1% to 38.2%.”

Among the places where Hunter’s lawyers have suggested moving the trial is Lassen County, a tiny place with a population of just 31,000 where Trump trounced Clinton, 73% to 21%.

Cover: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) speaks to campaign staffers during a visit to one of his headquarters on November 6, 2018 in Santee, California. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

U.S. Cyberattack on Iran Just Put a Target on American Businesses

June 25, 2019 - 1:43pm

President Donald Trump came within minutes of starting another war in the Middle East last week when he ordered, and then abruptly canceled, a missile strike against Iranian bases. Instead, he launched another strike: a long-planned cyberattack, designed to quietly cripple Iran’s missile defense systems.

Anonymous U.S. officials claimed an instant victory, although Iran insists it failed to penetrate its systems.

The impact of last week’s attacks may remain up for debate, but a consensus among security experts is abundantly clear: Tehran will hit back, targeting both U.S. government sites and private companies with rudimentary but effective cyberattacks.

"Its simplicity belies its effectiveness,” said Sergio Caltagirone, a former NSA hacker who now works for Dragos, a cybersecurity firm that specializes in protecting industrial systems.

“And that is what those of us in the information security field are most concerned about — a lot of organizations who can't protect themselves even against simple attacks that are effective. There is a swathe of targets available to [Iran] with very simple tools and techniques."

In the wake of the American attack on Iran’s missile systems, some experts worried Tehran would respond in kind:

But most cyber analysts don’t think U.S. missile systems are in any real danger.

“Iranian hackers don't have the capability that I'm aware of to disrupt U.S. missile systems,” Michael Carpenter, who served on the national security council during the Obama administration, told VICE News.

Caltagirone agreed, saying that while some external systems may be vulnerable, there is little danger to core networks.

"They do have the ability to cause some disruption in military systems, but I would say the ability for them to disrupt the military command and control across the U.S. armed forces is quite low, given how complex and fortified those systems are," he said.

Instead, analysts expect Iran to focus on easier targets, namely; U.S. infrastructure like oil, gas and electricity companies and private industry.

Such attacks would be well-tread territory for Iran.

After U.S. and Israeli hackers launched a crippling Stuxnet attack on the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in 2010, Iran responded with a spread of rudimentary attacks on major U.S. banks over an 18-month period.

The DDoS attacks wreaked havoc on JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Capital One, leaving hundreds if thousands of customers unable to access their accounts for hours-long stretches over multiple days. The attacks also affected the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq.

Iranian hackers have continued to target U.S. infrastructure and businesses since.

The Iranian regime has denied involvement in all of these attacks, but they haven’t been shy about their intentions for the U.S. under Trump. In May, Tehran announced that it would use cyberattacks against U.S. targets as a countermeasure for Trump’s latest round of economic sanctions.

“U.S. civilian government systems are very weak”

They may now be making good on those promises. Last week, researchers at U.S. cybersecurity firms FireEye and Crowdstrike said they had observed suspected Iranian state-sponsored hacking attempts to access government networks and those of private industry targets using spear-phishing attacks.

Such concerns were shared this week by Chris Krebs, the director of DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who told NPR on Monday that he’d seen “a significant increase in targeting by Iranian actors of U.S. agencies, U.S. industry.”

As the recent spike in ransomware attacks has shown, there are numerous government and private companies vulnerable to outside attacks.

“U.S. civilian government systems are very weak,” Richard Clarke, cybersecurity czar for the Bush and Clinton administrations, told VICE News, “but I also believe they will go after private sector companies and critical infrastructure.”

Cover: President Donald Trump speaks after signing an executive order to increase sanctions on Iran, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, June 24, 2019, in Washington. Trump is accompanied by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, left, and Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Another Day, Another Plan from Elizabeth Warren

June 25, 2019 - 12:44pm

Today's policy paper from Elizabeth Warren: election security and voting rights.

The Democratic 2020 candidate who’s distinguished herself with near-daily plan releases dropped another one on Tuesday, detailing what she’d do to improve election security and expand voting rights. Under the Massachusetts senator’s plan, every state will get “state-of-the-art” voting equipment (every voting machine in the country will be replaced), and the entire nation will adopt uniform ballots.

Warren’s plan will also introduce sweeping changes to voting laws to make voting more convenient and accessible to everyone. Warren’s plan will:

  • Ban gerrymandering
  • Make Election Day a national holiday
  • Enact automatic voter registration
  • Allow same-day voter registration
  • Ban voter roll purges
  • Allow a minimum of 15 days of early voting
  • Expand voting hours
  • Allow voting with a sworn statement instead of ID

“Our elections should be as secure as Fort Knox. But instead, they’re less secure than your Amazon account,” Warren wrote in a blog post announcing her plan.

“Enough is enough. It is time to make high-quality voting in the greatest democracy in the world easy, convenient, and professional. It’s time to secure our elections from all threats, foreign and domestic. It’s time to address election security, administration problems, and voter suppression.”

Warren’s plan, while dramatically expanding voting rights, is also in direct response to Russian interference in the 2016 election, when the Kremlin attempted to humiliate Hillary Clinton to aid President Trump’s candidacy. Voting rights expansion usually assist Democrats. Warren’s plan will establish a new independent Secure Democracy Administration to replace the Election Assistance Commission. The agency will develop new security protocols for elections, which states will be forced to implement.

On top of that, Warren’s plan calls for the passing of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which targets rampant voter suppression in the United States, as well as the Native American Voting Rights Act to “shut down a host of festering discriminatory practices,” according to Warren. To stop gerrymandering, Warren will require states to use independent redistricting commissions to draw federal congressional districts.

“Both parties should compete on a level playing field, not in a rigged game designed to suppress the will of the people,” Warren said.

The plan is part of a major push from 2020 Democrats to expand voting rights. Beto O’Rourke, for another example, introduced his own big voting rights proposal to increase voter registration by 50 million voters to raise turnout to 65% of eligible voters in 2024. Back in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected, that number was below 61%.

Warren has been gaining steam in recent 2020 polls after she initially got off to a rocky start with her campaign. Voters have responded well to her “I have a plan” strategy of introducing detailed policy proposals at a fast pace. She’s now consistently polling in third place — or even second — behind former veep Joe Biden.

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the Poor People's Moral Action Congress presidential forum in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Trump's Border Protection Chief Resigned After Migrant Kids Found in Squalor

June 25, 2019 - 12:24pm

Correction 6/25 1:53 p.m.: A previous headline on this story incorrectly identified John Sanders' title. The headline has been updated.

When John Sanders resigned as the head of Customs and Border Protection, he said the role transformed him “personally and professionally.”

That role included addressing the recent influx of asylum seekers, many of them children, arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, Sanders had to manage another crisis: allegations that children and infants had been held in filthy, crowded Border Patrol stations for weeks.

In a letter to his staff Tuesday, Sanders announced that he’d given his resignation to his boss, Homeland Security chief Kevin McAleenan, a day earlier.

“Although I will leave it to you to determine whether I was successful, I can unequivocally say that helping support the amazing men and women of CBP has been the most fulfilling and satisfying opportunity of my career,” he wrote.

Sanders, previously the agency’s chief operating officer, was promoted to acting director in April. The position was previously held by McAleenan, who was tapped to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as DHS secretary after she resigned in April.

During Sanders’ brief tenure as head of the agency, three child migrants — one 2-year-old and two teenagers — died in CBP custody. And in June, a group of attorneys visited two Texas Border Patrol facilities and noticed children languishing in filth.

One attorney who visited the Ursula processing center in McAllen, Texas, Hope Frye, told VICE News that interviewed one teenage mother who had been in the facility with her premature baby for a week without proper medical treatment. Dozens of other children had the flu.

Warren Binford, another attorney who visited a different facility in Clint, Texas, said several children had told her they had been forced to sleep on the floor and go days without showers. Like the children in the Ursula facility, dozens of children at the Clint station were sick with what appeared to be the flu. Many also had lice.

Here’s Sanders’ full statement to the agency’s employees:

As some of you are aware, yesterday I offered my resignation to Secretary McAleenan, effective Friday, July 5. In that letter, I quoted a wise man who said to me, “each man will judge their success by their own metrics.” Although I will leave it to you to determine whether I was successful, I can unequivocally say that helping support the amazing men and women of CBP has been the most fulfilling and satisfying opportunity of my career.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the last several days reflecting on my time at CBP. When I began this journey, Commissioner McAleenan charged me with aligning the mission support organizations and accelerating his priorities. Easy enough, I thought. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how the journey would transform me professionally and personally. This transformation was due in large part to the fact that people embraced and welcomed me in a way that was new to me – in a way that was truly special. To this day, I get choked up when speaking about it and I can’t adequately express my thanks. As a result, let me simply say I will never stop defending the people and the mission for which 427 people gave their lives in the line of duty in defending. Hold your heads high with the honor and distinction that you so richly deserve.

Throughout our journey together, your determination and can-do attitude made the real difference. It allowed CBP to accomplish what others thought wasn’t possible…what others weren’t able to do. And even though there is uncertainty during change, there is also opportunity. I therefore encourage everyone to reflect on all that you have accomplished as a team. My hope is you build upon your accomplishments and embrace new opportunities, remain flexible, and continue to make CBP extraordinary. This is your organization…own it! Don’t underestimate the power of momentum as you continue to tackle some of this country’s most difficult challenges.

I will forever be honored to have served beside you. As a citizen of this great country, I thank you for your public service.

Take care of each other,


Cover: Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner John Sanders speaks at a news conference proposing legislation to address the crisis at the southern border at the U.S. Capitol on May 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The White House Has a New Press Secretary: Stephanie Grisham

June 25, 2019 - 12:09pm

Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s spokeswoman, will become the next White House press secretary, the first lady tweeted Tuesday.

“@potus & I can think of no better person to serve the Administration & our country. Excited to have Stephanie working for both sides of the @WhiteHouse,” Melania said.

Grisham will replace Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who took over after Sean Spicer resigned in 2017 and last week announced she's leaving the White House at the end of the month. President Trump has repeatedly called on her to run for governor of Arkansas.

News of Sanders' departure sparked stories about all the times she has lied or misrepresented the truth when speaking to the press.

For example, after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, Sanders said it was because FBI employees had lost faith in him. It later came out in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that her claim was baseless and was said in the “heat of the moment.”

Grisham is known for being a fierce defender of the first lady. She criticized the media for reporting on a green jacket reading “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” that Trump wore to visit a border patrol facility housing migrant children. Grisham said the jacket lacked any “hidden meaning.”

Melania Trump’s tweet seemed to imply Grisham would also continue to lead communications for the first lady, but it’s unclear whether that’s happening.

Before working for Trump, Grisham worked as Spicer’s deputy press secretary. She was also a spokesperson for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

Grisham also served as a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. During that time, she was present during a 2014 botched execution. The person on death row, a convicted murderer, lived for nearly two hours after the execution began and was left gasping for air. Grisham denied media reports that the execution went awry. She said he “looked to be snoring,” according to an Associated Press report.

“This was my first execution, and I was surprised by how peaceful it was,” Grisham said in an email to the AP at the time. “There was absolutely no snorting or gasping for air.”

Cover image: In this June 21, 2019 photo, Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, watches as President Donald Trump and the first lady greet attendees during the annual Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Wild Story of the FBI Lovers Who Used Agency Phones to Go Off on Trump Is Now a Play

June 25, 2019 - 11:39am

WASHINGTON — Lots of people have long forgotten about the whole Peter Strzok–Lisa Page affair, but plenty of conservatives just can’t let go of it. That’s where the play "FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers" comes in.

The new “verbatim theater” production in D.C. focuses on the texts between the former senior FBI agents (Strzok was on Robert Mueller’s team) having an extramarital affair in 2016, who flirted, gossiped, joked — and discussed their hatred of Donald Trump — on government-issued cell phones. They shared their hatred of Trump, mocked his supporters, texted during presidential debates, and expressed horror that Trump was winning. And though the DOJ’s inspector general found they’d had no impact on the investigations into the president, they still fuel conspiracy theories that he was spied on by law enforcement officials out to get him.

VICE News went behind the scenes of the show that conservatives hope bolsters their claim about how the investigations into Trump got started.

This segment originally aired June 18, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Willie Nelson's Son and His Band Want You to Get Off the Internet

June 25, 2019 - 10:30am

In case you didn't know, Willie Nelson has a son. His name is Lukas Nelson, and unless you've been living under a rock or you have an aversion to Hollywood blockbusters, you've probably heard one of his songs in the movie, "A Star is Born." He also played in Bradley Cooper's backing band in the movie.

This month, Nelson released an album with his band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real called "Turn Off The News (Build A Garden)" — one to be taken quite literally.

Instead of tuning into the news, Nelson and his band want you to turn off, tune out the news, and do something active with your life.

"For every two hours you spend watching news coverage of a single tweet, you could have gone to a park and cleaned up trash," said Nelson's bandmate and pianist, Logan Metz.

The album's focus was based on the "flowering of consciousness" and activism of the '60s.

"I feel like I'm trapped in this world of info constantly being thrown at me," said Nelson, "and a lot of the info I can't do a thing about, and just serves to make me anxious throughout the day."

Nelson and Metz stopped by to break down their song, "Bad Case," whose chorus — "you've got a bad case of wanting what you can't have, must be a terrible feeling" — serves as a wake up call to anyone who's living in an anxious daydream.

"I sang these vocals with the intention of talking to everybody that I'd ever known who I felt like they were stuck in their own mindset." said Nelson.

Nelson came up with the melody on a trip to Ireland, while fiddling with his guitar. He had the melody to Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" in mind. From there, he and his band pulled inspiration from their favorite bands– from the drumming style of The Who and The Rolling Stones, to the sitar vibes of George Harrison.

"I was feeling them a lot when I was writing this music," said Nelson. "I was feeling their energies."

Nelson and Metz also play in Neil Young's band. And as fans of his more folksy, lyric-dominated music, Lukas said he struggled at first to make a more poppy, radio-friendly song. But he's also a music-making machine.

Nelson said that when making a song, "everybody has to be not just OK with it. They got to be stoked. And if they're not then we'll scrap it and come back. We've got plenty of material. I write too many songs to even count."

This segment originally aired June 17, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

The Trump Administration is Endangering Teens’ Access to Birth Control and STI Tests

June 25, 2019 - 10:07am

After a courtroom victory for the Trump administration last week, American teenagers may no longer be able to rely on a federal program that lets them access birth control and STI testing on the cheap.

Last week, a panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit ruled to let the Trump administration rewrite the rules of Title X, a $286 million federal family planning program. Under the new rules, Title X beneficiaries — the program helps about four million low-income people — are banned from referring patients for abortions. They must also physically and financially separate services that involve abortions from those that don’t.

“You can imagine that sets up a pretty unhealthy relationship right out of the gate.”

But those changes, which abortion rights advocates condemn as a “gag rule,” aren’t the only ones providers must contend with. Clinicians must also now document their efforts to “encourage” minors, as the rule puts it, to tell their families about their plans to get family planning services.

Those requirements, health care providers say, are not only frustratingly vague, but threaten their ability to help adolescents through Title X.

“If I say, ‘Why aren’t you involving your parents? Why are you doing that? Why are you doing that?’ — you can imagine that sets up a pretty unhealthy relationship right out of the gate,” said Evelyn Kieltyka, a board-certified nurse and senior vice president of program services for Maine Family Planning. The organization provides treatment to about 4,400 minors every year through its $1.8 million Title X grant, which is doled out to 47 clinics throughout the state. “And they’re likely to communicate that to their cohort, and they’re less likely to come in because they fear their confidentiality will be compromised.”

Right now, adolescents make up nearly a fifth of all Title X patients. Though providers already try to persuade them to talk to their parents, minors don’t have to let their parents know that they’re participating in the program. Payments are also scaled off their own, often nonexistent income, so teenagers don’t need to rely on their parents’ insurance to defray costs. (There are exceptions: Health care providers must still let authorities know if a minor is being sexually abused.)

“If told that their parents will find out about the services they’re receiving, [minors] will just not get the services.”

These provisions are particularly crucial to making sure adolescents get birth control and STI testing; 18% of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 say they wouldn’t get sexual or reproductive health care if their families could find out.

“If told that their parents will find out about the services they’re receiving, [minors] will just not get the services. But it won’t change their underlying behavior,” explained Adam Sonfield, senior policy manager for the Guttmacher Institute. “So they’ll still be having sex. They just won’t be getting the contraception they need or the STI services they need.”

The changed rule requires providers to use “specific recordkeeping” to document their attempts to get minors to involve their parents in their family planning decisions, or to explain why they didn’t bother. Sonfield raised the possibility that officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Title X, may be able to look into providers’ records.

Read more: Here's how Democrats could turn Roe v. Wade into law.

“It also opens them up to second-guessing from federal officials, who would then be able to review those records and call providers out,” Sonfield said. They may ask things like, “‘Why aren’t you involving parents more often? Here are 20 cases where we think you should have,’” he said.

Monica McLemore, a nurse at Zuckerberg San Francisco General, is mystified about what, exactly, officials want her to even document. She said she has no way to gauge how much of a strain it could put on already overworked providers.

“It’s unclear whether or not the rule requires us to use specific language of what we did and did not say,” said McLemore, who is also an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing and testified against the Title X changes in Congress last week. Providers of course take notes to document their appointments with patients, McLemore said, “But what we write, what we say, what we check off — that has never been legislated.”

Kieltyka first started seeing teenage patients almost four decades ago, but she’s still impressed whenever one walks in for an appointment. They’re always sharp, able to talk about their lives eloquently.

“It’s a big deal to make an appointment or come in or walk into a health care facility on their own,” said Kieltyka, senior vice president of program services for Maine Family Planning. The rule change also worries her because the added scrutiny will cut into the time she has with them — already only 15, 20 minutes “on a good day.”

“So all the sudden, if 10 minutes are taken up by this questioning that’s not relevant to why the patient is there — it’s not addressing his or her needs — then I’ve lost a really golden opportunity to get to really connect with them,” Kieltyka said.

In response to several questions about providers’ concerns, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said in an email, “We are still evaluating the full implications of the decision and the appropriate next steps given several considerations. We have not yet begun monitoring or enforcing the new rule. We will provide further guidance in due course.”

Scores of states and Title X grantees, including Maine Family Planning, are challenging the Ninth Circuit’s decision and the rule changes in court. Many have suggested they’d have no choice but to leave the family planning program if they’re forced to stop referring patients for abortions (including Planned Parenthood, which serves more than 40% of all Title X patients). Others say they’ll need to surrender their grant money because they’re simply unable to afford to set up a “clear financial and physical separation” between their services — a mandate that could force clinics to, say, build an entirely separate facility for abortions. (It's already illegal to use federal dollars for abortions except in the case of rape, incest, or life endangerment.)

No matter the reason why grantees leave Title X, clinics across the country are sure to close if they lose access to its money. Including, potentially, clinics funded by Maine Family Planning.

“We’re still looking at all of our options,” Kieltyka told VICE News on Friday. But, “If we aren’t there to provide that access, this is going to be extremely difficult for [teens] to seek services confidentially and to figure out how it will be paid for.”

Cover: A protester wears a pro-birth control costume as she speaks to a crowd of protesters outside Rep. Jackie Walorski's office Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in Mishawaka, Ind. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

Who's More Left?: 4 Key Differences Between Bernie and Warren

June 25, 2019 - 9:54am

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Just a few years ago, the composition of the 2020 presidential field would have seemed impossible: There’s not one but two viable Democratic candidates with policy ideas that court the left, instead of center-liberals.

The Bernie vs. Warren narrative has captured the attention of young voters and the Democratic party’s more progressive wing. Will voters back Bernie Sanders, who’s running again after mounting a shockingly successful insurgent campaign against Hillary Clinton, or his Senate colleague, Elizabeth Warren, who’s surging in the 2020 polls after unleashing a slew of detailed policy proposals.

Both Bernie and Warren have expressed reluctance over pitting themselves against each other. But elections are a contest, after all, and Bernie appears to be feeling the heat. On Tuesday, Warren came out with a big lead (more than 20 points ahead of Bernie) in a MoveOn poll.

Last week, the Vermont Senator tweeted an implicit attack against Warren when he identified himself as the only non-corporate Democrat, though he’s denied the tweet was about his colleague. Bernie’s so far responded to Warren’s “I have a plan” strategy by leaning hard into calling himself a democratic socialist who has the better chance of defeating President Trump. Warren, meanwhile, is a proud capitalist who believes in markets.

The competition between the two, who call each other friends, has resulted in an unusual surfeit of progressive ideas for voters to mull over as they pick their party’s 2020 candidate. While the two leftist candidates have similar ideas, their proposals to accomplish them have some key differences.

College debt

Bernie introduced a bill Monday in the Senate that calls for total student debt cancellation in the United States. It’s the most radical plan yet to address the student debt crisis and one-ups Warren’s version: Her proposal calls for a maximum of $50,000 in debt cancellation for people with student loans.

It’s worth noting that Warren is not a co-sponsor of Bernie’s bill, but Sanders isn’t rallying for total debt cancellation alone: Reps. Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal are co-authors of Bernie’s bill and introduced it in the House.

Under Warren’s plan, the amount of debt cancellation also staggers as people earn more money. For every $3 people earn beyond the $100,000 threshold, they lose $1 of the $50,000 in debt forgiven. To put it more simply: If someone makes $100,003, just $49,999 of their debt will be canceled. Nobody in a household making above $250,000 a year will get student-debt relief.

Both candidates support free undergraduate tuition at public universities.

Taxing the wealthy

Bernie and Warren have both made a name for themselves as the chief nemeses of Wall Street and big banks on Capitol Hill. Both, of course, support aggressive taxation on the nation’s wealthiest people and frequently cite it as a method for paying for their ambitious policy ideas.

As usual, Warren has a bit more detail on how she would do that. One of her first major policy proposals was the idea for a yearly wealth tax on America’s “ultra-millionaires.” People worth more than $50 million can expect a 2% tax on their wealth, and billionaires will be subject to a 3% tax. Based on Warren’s projections, that would raise about $2.75 trillion over 10 years from just 0.1% of U.S. households.

Bernie hasn’t expressly come out in favor of Warren’s proposal, but it’s hard to picture a planet on which Sen. Sanders wouldn’t be thrilled about a 3% billionaire wealth tax.

"This wealth and income inequality is not only unjust and unfair, the truth is it is a real threat to our economy and to our democracy," Sanders recently said.

But Bernie also has offered his own ideas for taxes on the wealthy. For example, Bernie wants to pay for his student debt cancellation plans by directly taxing Wall Street: 0.5% on stock transactions and a 0.1% on bonds.

Universal healthcare

Healthcare is Bernie’s signature issue. He has long fought for the implementation of Medicare for All in the United States, which would institute mandatory, government-run healthcare for all citizens. His plan would functionally eliminate the private-insurance industry by outlawing private insurers from covering services that Medicare for All covers, which is pretty much everything.

While Warren is a co-sponsor on Bernie’s bill, she is noticeably more tepid on the issue of healthcare reform. She has said that she supports different ways to get to universal healthcare in the United States, which could be in the form of allowing people to use a “private option” — which should make insurance companies much more friendly to Warren than Bernie.

“I’ve signed onto Medicare for All,” Warren said this year of universal healthcare. “There are different ways we can get there.”

On top of that, Warren has a lot of plans on her campaign website, but she does not have one for universal healthcare. That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by her left-leaning critics. She does, however, have more-detailed, smaller plans on the opioid crisis and maternal mortality.

Climate change

Climate change has taken center stage in the 2020 primaries, and for good reason: Scientists estimate that in little more than a decade the climate crisis will become irreversible and result in global catastrophe.

Both Bernie and Warren support the idea of Green New Deal, which calls for the radical restructuring of the U.S. economy to invest in green jobs and infrastructure in response to the climate crisis. But at this point, the Green New Deal is still relatively undefined and candidates’ support could really mean anything. (The closest thing there is to federal legislation is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution calling for support of a Green New Deal.)

The key difference: While Bernie has spoken in mostly broad strokes about the climate crisis, Warren has put out some policy papers that start to poke at how she would address climate change as president of the United States. She’s calling for a $2 trillion investment in the next decade in green research and manufacturing. The plan has three main legs:

• Green Apollo Program: The federal government will invest $400 billion in clean energy research in development in the next 10 years, a more than tenfold increase.

• Green Industrial Mobilization: Warren wants to pour $1.5 trillion into the federal procurement process — basically how the government buys the goods and services it needs — to spur U.S. development of green technology and products that the government will use. (Warren contrasts that idea with the U.S.’s current plan to spend a “bloated” $1.5 trillion on defense in the next decade.)

• Green Marshall Plan: Warren wants to create another new federal office that's entirely dedicated to selling U.S. renewable and emission-free products abroad and allotting $100 billion to help foreign countries implement U.S. green tech.

Warren also weathered some criticism from the left over a plan that called for green military technology. Her plan also set a deadline of 2030 for the Pentagon to achieve net-zero emissions for all of its non-combat bases.

Cover image: Bernie Sanders, left (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)) and Elizabeth Warren, right (Photo by Michael Nigro/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Racists With a Badge: How Police Are Dealing With Officers Spewing Hate Online

June 25, 2019 - 9:29am

Police departments can dismiss employees for fraternizing with hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. But what a department should — and can — do gets a little murkier when officers belong to Facebook groups that deal in hate, or when they share hateful, violent, bigoted material online.

Police officials in three cities — Phoenix, Philadelphia, and St. Louis — have moved more than 100 officers to desk duty after their racist and homophobic Facebook posts were brought to light earlier this month. A group of lawyers in Philadelphia compiled thousands of screenshots by cops in eight jurisdictions, and published them in a database titled “Plain View Project.” In the posts, retired and active-duty officers are shown spewing violent, racist vitriol against minorities, protesters and the LGBTQ community.

The posts in the database run the gamut from sharing images of the “Punisher” skull, which has become closely associated with the pro-police “Blue Lives Matter” movement, all the way to advocating violence against minorities.

They’ve forced police departments to establish their own parameters for deciding what sort of bias should disqualify an officer from doing their job.

“We have a Fuhrman problem”

On a practical level, an officer’s publicized bigotry can create real headaches for prosecutors. This famously played out during the 1994 trial of OJ Simpson, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend.

“Today someone is much more likely to be part of an echo chamber on the internet than they are to belong to some organized group.”

Former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman was called to testify about a bloody glove he’d recovered at Simpson’s estate. Defense attorneys pointed to Fuhrman’s alleged past use of the n-word, arguing he was motivated by racial bias and trying to frame Simpson. Fuhrman testified that he’d never used that term, but he was later charged with perjury after 13 hours of taped interviews — in which he repeatedly used the n-word — were entered into evidence.

“We may see a review with regards to prosecutions in the past if, going forward, they decide ‘we cannot credibly bring this officer into court to make a case, because we have a Fuhrman problem’,” said Levin. “[The posts] are up there, and publicly available. They could torpedo cases.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney (chief prosecutor) Kimberly Gardner banned 22 officers included in the Plain View Project database from submitting cases they worked on to her office for prosecution. Seven of the 22 will be permanently banned. That means Gardner won’t pursue charges based on their investigations, won’t issue search warrants at their requests, and won’t even look at cases that hinge on their testimony going forward. In short: Their credibility is shot.

Read more: Here's how the U.S. could prosecute far-right extremists as terrorists.

Gardner also plans to retroactively review cases that the seven banned officers have worked on in the past, a spokesperson for her office confirmed to VICE News.

“I think there's a strong argument that any time an officer's conduct or comments suggest that their perceptions and conclusions are shaped by unacceptable biases, it makes sense to critically review both their past work and their future work,” said Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law.

Philadelphia’s police commissioner announced last week that 72 officers had been placed on desk duty pending a full investigation. A spokesperson for the department said Monday that there had been no developments since. Phoenix’s police chief placed several officers on desk duty and is investigating the posts. Dallas’ police department says a review is ongoing.

Police officials in York City, Pennsylvania, looked into the posts and found that only 11 were attributed to active-duty officers. Two posts that were considered the most concerning were made by an officer who was employed elsewhere at the time. “In looking at the five remaining posts, they were found to not advocate violence against citizens,” York City’s mayor and police chief said in a joint statement. The remaining police departments included in the database — Denison, Texas; Lake County, Florida; and Twin Falls, Idaho — did not return a request for comment.

24-hour online hate rallies

In 1985, a federal court of appeals held that the sheriff of Jacksonville, Florida, was right to dismiss an employee over his membership in the Klan. Judges agreed with the sheriff that membership in a white supremacist hate group like the Klan was incompatible with police work and would undermine the integrity of the department.

“Efficient law enforcement requires mutual respect, trust, and support,” wrote Judge Paul H. Roney in his opinion. “The evidence is uncontradicted that Jacksonville’s black community in large part would categorically distrust the Sheriff’s office if a known Klan member were permitted to stay on in any position.”

Read more: Unicorn Riot outed a white nationalist in the National Guard.

In keeping with that legal precedent, two Virginia police officers were fired earlier this year after antifascists outed their ties to white nationalist groups.

But experts and law enforcement officials say that the shape of extremism has evolved since the 1980s, and it’s now harder to draw a line in the sand.

“Bigotry has changed,” said Brian Levin, who leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “Today someone is much more likely to be part of an echo chamber on the internet than they are to belong to some organized group.”

Back in the ’80s, investigators were typically looking at nationally organized groups, which were structured hierarchically and led by “charismatic ideologues,” said the FBI’s counterterrorism chief, Michael McGarrity, at a recent congressional hearing on white supremacy. Today, the far-right is diffuse, comprised of individuals who self-radicalize online.

“Courts have ruled that active participation in hate groups is grounds for dismissal,” said Levin. “But what the heck is active participation in a hate group in an era when certain portions of social media are 24-hour hate rallies?”

Police officials in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Phoenix say they’re handling the officers’ posts on a case-by-case basis, trying to determine which are acceptable and which are not.

“I think you’ll see some attempt to differentiate between people who might have posted items sparsely, as a joke or for shock, versus those who have a systemic or deeply rooted type of prejudice,” said Levin.

“This is a disaster for community relations.”

Investigators tasked with looking into the posts might consider how frequently an officer posted, whether they had a history of making similar comments in real life, or if they had a track record of disciplinary problems, said Stoughton.

But Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police and a homicide sergeant with the St. Louis Police Department, questioned departments’ commitment to addressing the underlying problems.

She describes bigotry among some officers as an open secret.

“We had reported quite a few of them repeatedly. It’s unfortunate that it’s now playing out in plain view. We need our chief to start addressing these deep, embedded racial issues that we have in our police department.”

And what’s more, experts say that police officers’ public expressions of bigotry is enormously damaging to an already fragile relationship between police departments and the communities they serve. In 2018 alone, police killed 992 people — a disproportionate number of whom were black. And in some major metropolitan cities, like Philadelphia, local officials are making genuine efforts to reform their police departments in light of increased scrutiny over police brutality, particularly against minority communities.

“This is a disaster for community relations,” said Levin. “I think this is what happens when you have modern social media technology — combining with old hatreds — that air all this dirty laundry on the front page of your local paper.”

Cover: Community members and activist give testimony on a resolution regarding controversial social media posts by officers with the Philadelphia Police Department at City Council, in Philadelphia, PA, on June 20, 2019. Commissioner Richard Ross announced that 72 officers were taken off streets duty after an investigation by the Pain View Project into racist posts by police officers. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jussie Smollett Had a Noose Around His Neck When Cops Showed Up: "I Just Wanted Y'all to See"

June 25, 2019 - 9:03am

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Jussie Smollett, the former “Empire” actor accused of staging his own hate crime, had what he said was a noose around his neck when police responded to his report in late January, according to body camera footage Chicago cops released late Monday.

“Do you want to take it off or anything?” one officer asks Smollett, whose face is blurred in the video. The actor, who’s gay and black, had called just Chicago police to allege two men attacked him and bombarded him with racist and hompophobic attacks. He also said the men wrapped a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him.

"I just wanted y'all to see," Smollett says, according to the video. "There's bleach on me,” he adds.

“OK,” the officer responds.

The video is part of a trove of files — nearly 1,200 individual documents and 90 hours of video — that Chicago police released Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, according to the Los Angeles Times. The documents don’t offer much new information but illustrate how Chicago police began to suspect that Smollett orchestrated the attack against himself to boost his image.

Smollett was initially charged with falsifying a police report just weeks after he first called the police in January. Police said the actor paid two men more than $3,500 to stage the assault. But prosecutors suddenly dropped the charges against Smollett with little explanation in late March, although he was never exonerated.

Chicago’s mayor and police department were outraged the charges were dropped after extensive investigative work, and the Chicago Police Department has been gradually releasing the documents that led them to pursue charges against Smollett in the first place. Last month, Chicago police released documents showing all the evidence they collected while investigating Smollett’s claims.

In the documents released Monday, one message shows Commander Edward Wodnicki starting to express doubts just days after Smollett filed his report. On February 1, Wodnicki asked detectives to “verify and I mean verify that the victim got off a plane at O’Hare.”

“Big issue if that was a lie,” he wrote, according to the LA Times. “CALL me as soon as this is completed.”

The city of Chicago sued Smollett to recoup $130,000 in investigative costs, which he has refused to pay. Officials also plan to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate why Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx dropped charges against Smollett.

Cover image: This Jan. 29, 2019, image made from police body cam video provided by the Chicago Police Department purports to show Jussie Smollett, with a white rope wrapped around his neck, talking with police officers in his apartment in Chicago. (Chicago Police Department via AP)

Mexico’s Southern Border Is Now Packed With Troops Trained for the Drug War, Not a Humanitarian Crisis

June 25, 2019 - 8:18am

COMITÁN DE DOMÍNGUEZ, Mexico — The soldiers sped through the dusty backroads of this Southern Mexico town in two military trucks. Many of them had come from the front lines of a decade-long war against drug cartels. Just recently they were hunting drug traffickers and training for battle. Now, wearing the same type of ballistic vests and helmets and gripping the same semi-automatic rifles, they roam from town to town in search of a new target: undocumented migrants.

They comprise the vanguard of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s frenetic push to shore up border security or face U.S. President Donald Trump's wrath in the form of damaging economic tariffs. But Mexico’s rush to appease Trump is raising fears of overreach: The National Guard was designed to cope with Mexico's bloody drug war and soaring violence. Murders in Mexico rose by at least 15 percent in 2018, breaking a new, deadly, record — and they are on path to climb even higher this year.

Now, the guard’s deployment has alarmed many migrant activists and security experts, who say that troops trained to fight powerful criminal organizations are ill-fit to handle a humanitarian crisis. They warn that deploying the military to go after non-violent migrants could lead to serious human rights abuses, while taking away resources from other pressing security problems.

“What you have is the military being deployed for immigration enforcement. They are not trained to do this,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in Mexico City. “You are dealing with children, women, families. My guess is that a lot of mistakes will be committed in the process, like excessive use of force.”

Recent allegations along these lines have underscored those concerns.

Mexican authorities are investigating the death of a 19-year-old migrant from El Salvador who was shot dead earlier this month after the truck she was in sped past a government checkpoint. The attorney general for the state of Veracruz, where the shooting took place, said that people “dressed as police” chased after the truck and opened fire, killing the girl and wounding two others. One of the wounded migrants told the Washington Post that officers in a patrol car first shot at the truck from behind, and then passed it and kept firing through the windshield.

The attorney general’s language suggested that it was possible that the men in police uniforms were criminals posing as police, which has occurred in the past.

Rubén Figueroa, an immigrant rights activist, said he believed police officers shot at the migrants, and that these kinds of incidents could increase as enforcement becomes more militarized.

“Mexico intends to strangle migration with more heavily armed military and police officers along its southern border,” he said. “Migrants flee their countries with a gun pointed at their backs, and when they enter Mexico, they find a police officer with a gun pointed at them.”

The National Guard, which was ratified by Mexico’s Congress in March, will eventually incorporate members of the marines, army and federal police. Jaime López-Aranda, a security analyst in Mexico City, said it’s kind of like if the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, National Guard and Coast Guard operated under a single command.

Military police wearing the insignia of the new National Guard detain migrants from Guatemala to keep them from crossing the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas, late Monday, June 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

“The whole fantasy is that there is this vast, unexplored potential for law enforcement in Mexico,” he said. “It’s new, it’s shiny, and it’s got uniforms.”

Except for now, the National Guard doesn’t even have uniforms. They are mostly former army members wearing white armbands delineating their presence in the National Guard. Members of the federal police who couldn’t pass their physical exam to join the National Guard are being pushed to become immigration agents until they can lose enough weight, according to a local news report.

“The whole fantasy is that there is this vast, unexplored potential for law enforcement in Mexico”

López-Aranda said the current administration got pushed into a corner in their efforts to appease Trump. “They had to make this huge statement that they were doing something, and for that, you need people on the ground. It’s what the Americans were doing as well — trying to jack up the number of people who were looking for migrants and deporting them.”

While the deployment of the National Guard may be primarily a show of force, they appear to have had an immediate impact. In Northern Mexico, National Guard members were photographed physically preventing Central American migrants from crossing the Rio Grande River so they could turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents.

In Comitán, Mexicans reported having to show identification while on public transit to prove they weren’t a migrant. Private commercial bus companies have also begun requiring passengers to show an identification card, provoking outrage from civil society organizations, who say that violates the Mexican constitution.

“The Mexican state is restricting the rights of the citizens of Mexico, and giving private companies the power to enforce immigration laws,” the Mexico City-based Institute for Women in Migration wrote in an open letter signed by dozens of immigrant rights organizations and shelters.

Still, many residents of Chiapas expressed support for the National Guard, despite the new ID requirements and armed military officers patrolling the streets.

Their sentiments reflect a growing anti-migrant sentiment throughout Mexico, due to a perception that they are jeopardizing U.S.-Mexico relations and contributing to an increase in crime. In a recent poll by a Mexican newspaper, 63 percent said Mexico should close its border to migrants, a jump from October, when roughly half of Mexicans supported letting them stay in the country.

“Nobody stopped them, until now”

Jesús Hernández Méndez, 28, said convoys of big trucks frequently pass through Comitán at night. He believes they are transporting migrants. “Nobody stopped them, until now,” he said. “If they had sent the police, they wouldn’t have done anything. They are corrupt. They just take bribes and let them go.”

Hernández knows the army has a checkered history of human rights abuses, but he said he was hopeful that wouldn’t happen in this case. “They don’t have orders to attack directly,” he said.

For now, residents of Comitán report fewer convoys transporting migrants since the National Guard arrived — although they're still showing up.

Last week, just before midnight, three black, four-door pickup trucks sped past an immigration checkpoint in Comitán one after another, their headlights turned off. They drove at breakneck speed down a four-lane highway before abruptly turning down a side street and disappearing into the darkness. Nobody stopped them.

Gustavo Mohar, a former high-ranking immigration official in the Mexican government, said Mexican officials are hoping that Central Americans decide that migrating to the U.S. isn’t worth the risks.

“But experience shows that when people are in such desperate situations, they will do almost anything for a better life,” he said.

Cover: Soldiers forming part of Mexico's National Guard board a truck to patrol back roads used to circumvent a migration checkpoint, in Comitan, Chiapas state, Mexico, Saturday, June 15, 2019. Under pressure from the U.S. to slow the flow of migrants north, Mexico plans to deploy thousands of National Guard troops by Tuesday to its southern border region. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Trump Denies Rape Allegation With A Familiar Insult: "Not My Type"

June 25, 2019 - 7:45am

In denying E. Jean Carroll’s allegation that he raped her, President Donald Trump insulted her, insisting she was not his “type.”

In a piece published at New York Magazine on Friday, Carroll wrote that in the mid-1990s, Trump assaulted her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. Speaking with The Hill on Monday, Trump denied it.

“I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type,” the president said to the outlet in an Oval Office interview. “Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?”

Trump claimed in a previous statement that he had never met Carroll — despite the fact that New York Magazine had included a photo of the two together — while also saying the writer was making the allegation to get publicity for herself. The president effectively reiterated that statement to The Hill.

“Totally lying. I don’t know anything about her,” he said. “I know nothing about this woman. I know nothing about her. She is — it’s just a terrible thing that people can make statements like that.”

Carroll, a popular longtime advice writer, is the 22nd woman to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct by the Trump. The president has denied every allegation.

Speaking on CNN after Trump’s comments to The Hill were published, Carroll said, "I love that I'm not his type." She described the alleged attack again: Trump pushed her against the dressing room wall and penetrated her as she struggled to wriggle away, eventually escaping. Carroll said she wasn’t surprised that Trump attacked her after she told her story.

"He's denied all 15 women who have come forward," she told CNN. "He denies, he turns it around. He threatens and he attacks."

If Trump’s nonsensical and insulting defense sounds familiar, it’s because it’s not the first time he has denied an assault allegation by calling the accuser unattractive. In 2016, Jessica Leeds accused Trump of groping her when they were sitting next to one another on an airplane in the late 1970s. Trump responded by insulting her appearance.

“Yeah, I’m gonna go after her,” he said in a sarcastic tone at a rally. “Believe me, she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you. You don’t know. That would not be my first choice.”

Cover: E. Jean Carroll is photographed, Sunday, June 23, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Iran Slams "Idiotic" U.S. Sanctions, Says White House is "Afflicted by Mental Retardation"

June 25, 2019 - 5:24am

The Iranian president slammed the latest U.S. sanctions against Iran’s leaders as “outrageous and idiotic” and mocked President Donald Trump, claiming the White House is “afflicted by mental retardion.”

Hassan Rouhani made the comments in a live TV broadcast on Tuesday morning, hours after Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials.

“The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do,” Rouhani said.

Rouhani also said the decision to target Iran’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, showed that the Trump administration was not being honest about its desire for talks.

“At the same time as you call for negotiations, you seek to sanction the foreign minister? It’s obvious that you’re lying,” Rouhani said.

A spokesman for Zarif added that the decision means “the permanent closure of the road of diplomacy with the frustrated U.S. administration.”

Speaking at a trilateral meeting with Israel and Russia in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, National Security Adviser John Bolton said Trump was open to fresh talks about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and “all that Iran needs to do is walk through that open door.”

But he added that the lack of communication from Tehran had been “deafening” and “there is simply no evidence that Iran has made the strategic decision to renounce nuclear weapons.”

The executive order signed Monday was the first time the U.S. has targeted an Iranian leader, indicating that the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran are getting personal.

“Generally, when you target a head of state you’re not turning back. That is when you believe all options are at an end,” John Smith, a former director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), told Reuters.

“Generally, when you target a head of state you’re not turning back. That is when you believe all options are at an end."

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the new sanctions would lock billions of dollars more in Iranian assets.

The latest back-and-forth between Tehran and Washington came after weeks of escalating pressure, including a series of attacks on oil tankers that the U.S. blamed on Iran.

Last week, Iran shot down a U.S. spy drone and claimed it was flying inside Iranian airspace. The U.S. said the drone was in international airspace. In response, the Pentagon launched an operation to hit Iranian missile bases, but Trump cancelled the attack at the last minute, claiming he didn’t want to endanger 150 lives.

Instead, the U.S. reportedly launched a cyber attack against Iranian missile systems.

Cover: In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a ceremony at Imam Khomeini International Airport some 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The Everglades Is on Fire

June 24, 2019 - 5:40pm

This is a breaking story. Please refresh for updates.

A massive wildfire has consumed more than 17,000 acres of the Everglades National Park in less than 24 hours, the Florida Forest Service told VICE News.

Officials believe lightning started the blaze Sunday evening in west-central Broward County. Since then, the flames spread quickly: As of 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon, an area of 17,000 acres was burning — and had been 0% contained.

The fire isn’t currently threatening any structures, according to the forest service. The main concern is for drivers along I-75, which is still open but expected to be engulfed in smoke.

The wind is forecasted to start coming out of the southwest, which will begin to push the fire east toward another highway.

“This is totally different from a regular wildfire; it’s all sawgrass,” said Scott Peterich, a local wildfire mitigation specialist with Florida Forest Service.

Sawgrass is a long, narrow plant that grows well in wet environments. It’s covering an area of some 165,000 acres around where it’s currently burning in the Everglades.

“I do not believe that this area has burned in a couple of years,” Peterich added. “It was designed to burn, but it hasn’t burned in a while.”

Cover image: Courtesy of the Florida Forest Service

The Climate Change Candidate Has a Big New Plan to Bury the Fossil Fuel Industry

June 24, 2019 - 3:47pm

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, the 2020 candidate running on climate change, just announced his plan to prosecute the fossil fuel industry for its role in heating the planet.

As part of his campaign — less a real bid for the presidency than a crusade to promote awareness of climate policy solutions — he’s put forward what environmental groups, including Greenpeace, consider to be the most ambitious climate change plan of any Democrat. And the fourth installment of the plan, which he unveiled Monday, is super ambitious.

He’s proposing a new office within the Department of Justice that’s tasked exclusively with going after polluters and prosecuting them to the full extent of the law and going after fossil fuel companies for climate and public health damages.

That would serve his end-game goal of ultimately phasing out U.S. fossil fuel production — and it would be a complete 180 relative to President Donald Trump’s approach to the enforcement of environmental regulations.

Since Trump took office, Inslee’s plan notes, the EPA’s inspection rate for polluters has fallen to a 10-year low. Criminal enforcement of environmental laws by the EPA has fallen to a 30-year low. The administration has put forward an aggressive agenda aimed at defanging environmental regulations while simultaneously failing to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

In the unlikely event that Inslee becomes president — he’s got less than 1 percent support in early polls of Democratic primary voters — he would do just the opposite of what Trump has.

Of the 23 other 2020 Democratic contenders, only three have released detailed climate plans, and of those, only one has made mention of holding the fossil fuel industry to account for the damages it’s cause. That’s Beto O’Rourke, though the language in his plan is far more vague and less detailed than Inslee’s.

The plan contains echoes of some high-profile climate lawsuits that have sought to use the precedent set in litigation against Big Tobacco to make the fossil fuel industry pay for the extensive damage it’s done to the environment. (Big Tobacco in 1998 wound up settling for $206 billion, to be paid out over 25 years.) Inslee has made it clear that he’s aware of that legal strategy, and wants to apply it to climate change.

“Like tobacco companies, these industries have poisoned our air and polluted our planet for decades without recourse,” Inslee told ThinkProgress. “They must answer for that.”

Besides Inslee’s plans to prosecute polluters, his full climate platform is an elaborate policy platform that amounts to a granularly detailed version of a Green New Deal aimed to turning the country carbon-free.

Here are the other highlights from the portion of the plan released on Monday:

  • An end to all fossil fuel subsidies: The U.S. gives $26 billion a year in direct financial support to the fossil fuel industry.

  • A ban on new federal leasing for fossil fuel production: That would speed the phasing out of all domestic fossil fuel production, and includes a full ban on fracking, the dangerous and leaky process by which natural gas is procured.

  • A “climate test” to govern all federal policy: This would ensure that nothing the federal government does goes against Inslee’s climate plan.

  • Returning land sovereignty to local and tribal communities: The plan says, specifically, that the Dakota Access Pipeline tramples on the land rights of native communities.

  • Ending fossil fuel exports: No more exporting liquefied natural gas, which is a booming industry in the U.S. right now and has doubled in size in just the last five years.

  • Improving corporate climate transparency: The plan cites the prospect of a climate-change driven financial crisis. It would require companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Washington Gov. Jay Inslee points to a map of the Everglades on an airboat ride through the everglades at the Everglades Holiday Park, Monday, June 24, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Senators Want To Put A Price Tag On Your Data To Protect You Against Big Tech

June 24, 2019 - 3:39pm

Imagine knowing how much your personal data is worth to Big Tech. Or how little.

That’s the idea behind legislation set to be rolled out Monday that would require large tech companies like Facebook and Google to put a price tag on the information they collect from users. Such data — app usage, locations, relationship statuses, and more — comprise the core of tech platforms’ highly lucrative and largely opaque business models.

The proposed bill would give users a peek beneath the hood. And tech critics say that could be a crucial step toward holding Silicon Valley giants accountable for data breaches that have grown increasingly common in recent years.

“The consumer protection and privacy laws in the US require you to prove harm,” said David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at The New School. “But it's really hard to say that money was stolen from you because you can't put a price tag on data — even though Wall Street and investors and VCs put a price tag on data. The law just doesn't seem to yet.”

Facebook’s Terms of Service include a clause that limits its liability for security lapses, and the company has argued in court that any damages from such breaches are largely speculative.

But a price tag on user data could provide a bit more clarity to such debates. Sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the new bill would also mandate that large tech companies disclose the types of data they collect and give users the option to delete them.

“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user,” Warner said in a statement. “But that’s not true — you are paying with your data instead of your wallet.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission would be charged with figuring out how to calculate the value of information for individual users. That might be easier said than done.

“You are paying with your data instead of your wallet”

Advertising business like Facebook and Google do hold real-time auctions where brands bid on the opportunity to target highly specific segments of users. And Facebook alone reported that it raked in nearly $35 in average revenue per user in the US and Canada in the fourth quarter of last year.

But that’s an aggregate value of both the user base’s cumulative data and the company’s various ways to monetize it. On an individual level, personal information may be far less valuable. It could also carry vastly different dollar amounts depending on which company uses it, and how.

“My address and purchase history is worth a lot to an e-commerce company, nothing to a healthcare company,” Antonio García Martínez‏, an author and former product manager of Facebook’s ad targeting team, tweeted in criticizing of the proposal. “The whole thing seems impractical.”

The Senate proposal mimics certain aspects of the California Consumer Privacy Act that is set to go into effect next year. That state-level statute requires not only that companies disclose what information they hoover up, but give users the opportunity to opt out of such data collection for a fee up to the value of said data.

To Ashkan Soltani, formerly a senior adviser in the Obama White House and chief technologist at the FTC, the idea that regulators can’t figure out how to price user data represents circular and ultimately self-serving logic from tech companies. The solution is to compel transparency.

“There's a tradeoff you're making in using these services,” said Soltani, who advocated the California privacy law. “The people who are in the best position to know what the tradeoff is are at these companies. And that doesn't seem fair.”

The proposed regulations of Silicon Valley rolled out in recent months are largely aspirational; no such laws are likely to pass a Republican-controlled Senate. But they do point to what appear to be slowly emerging areas of focus for lawmakers in the future: more transparency for political ads, stricter enforcement mechanisms for content moderation, and more.

Some tech giants have signaled that they’re open to new regulations — and in certain cases are taking proactive steps to preempt them. In April, the European Commission announced that Facebook had agreed to accept some liability for future data breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year.

Additional laws could have the unintended effect of cementing big companies’ dominance. A Wall Street Journal report last week suggested that landmark privacy legislation in the European Union, GDPR, is pushing more advertisers toward Facebook and Google. Such huge firms have far more resources to comply with new laws than their smaller counterparts.

As for the proposal unveiled in the Senate on Monday, Facebook Spokesman Andy Stone told VICE News, “We look forward to continuing our ongoing conversations with the bill’s sponsors.”

Cover: In this April 30, 2019 file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, left, makes the keynote speech at F8, the Facebook's developer conference, in San Jose, California.