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Podcast: Time to rethink the media’s Trump coverage?

Columbia Journalism Review - July 21, 2017 - 2:11pm
On the latest episode of The Kicker, we run through some of the week’s biggest stories: what media mergers mean for both journalists and consumers, how to parse all of those anonymously sourced stories, and why Donald Trump keeps sitting down with reporters from The New York Times. Then, Pete Vernon talks with CJR Editor […]

Resist the temptation to make Sean Spicer a martyr

Columbia Journalism Review - July 21, 2017 - 12:40pm
Sean Spicer, who came to office a respected, if combative, Washington insider, resigned on Friday as White House press secretary, leaving office with a damaged reputation after completing an ignoble six months in the office. Spicer, as first reported by The New York Times, chose to resign rather than serve under new White House communications […]

School board race reveals chronic gaps in education politics coverage

Columbia Journalism Review - July 21, 2017 - 10:15am
This story is co-published with The Grade, an independent effort to improve mainstream education coverage in partnership with PDK International. YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW IT if you live outside of Southern California, but the nation’s second-largest school district—Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD)—recently held a nasty and expensive school board election that culminated in the surprise defeat of […]

Sonali Kolhatkar on Afghan Women, Karl Grossman on Space Weapons, T.R. Reid on Healthcare Debate

FAIR - July 21, 2017 - 9:55am
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(photo: US Army)

This week on CounterSpin: Media are celebrating the participation of girls from Afghanistan in a robotics competition in DC, after being denied entry twice by the State Department for reasons never explained, as somehow a feel-good story about America. No one seems to have pondered the irony of the denials, given that Afghan girls doing science is precisely the sort of PR moment the US pretended the 2001 invasion was about, and thus an opening to talk about what visiting decades of unending war on the country has actually done toward that ostensible goal. CounterSpin discussed the war as feminist storyline with author, activist and radio host Sonali Kolhatkar back in 2010. We’ll hear that conversation on this week’s show.

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(image: US Space Command)

US lawmakers pushing for a new branch of the military focused on “deploying extraterrestrial power” is a real thing that is happening. A recent article on Quartz explained that while the plans are unlikely, they do send a message that the US is concerned about the orbital military aspirations of geopolitical rivals like China and Russia. Dystopian? Yes. Absurdly dangerous? You bet—but new the idea isn’t. In fact, CounterSpin talked with journalism professor and author Karl Grossman about the weaponization of space in May 2005. We’ll hear that this week as well.

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(image: Frontline)

Finally, it’s no surprise that healthcare continues to be front-page news. It is disheartening, though, how little the conversation has changed, in terms of the limits of what’s considered possible. Corporate media have an outsized role in constraining that conversation. Producer and author T.R. Reid discovered just how resistant to expanding the conversation media can be. He told his story to CounterSpin in April 2009.

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The media today: Requiem for a lost job

Columbia Journalism Review - July 21, 2017 - 6:31am
For 14 years, a succession of accomplished journalists held “a job few envied but most people in journalism circles paid close attention to.” That job: public editor of The New York Times. In an excellent oral history for CJR, Andy Robinson spoke with the six people to hold the position, gathering honest, often blunt, recollections […]

Q&A: Anna Sale on asking questions about death, sex, money

Columbia Journalism Review - July 21, 2017 - 5:55am
A great interview is one of the journalist’s most powerful tools. It can be informative, entertaining, thoughtful. For the next five weeks, the Columbia Journalism Review and MaximumFun.org will broadcast conversations with some of the world’s greatest interviewers. Hosted by NPR’s Jesse Thorn, the podcast, called The Turnaround, will examine the science and art of […]

Arkansas reporters slam senators for ‘stonewalling’ local news on health care

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2017 - 1:25pm
IN MAY, TOM COTTON—Arkansas’s junior senator, a promising GOP star with ambition and an Ivy League pedigree—became one of 13 Republican senators tasked with drafting new health-care legislation. During the weeks that followed, Cotton stayed conspicuously tight-lipped about the Republican bill. In June, James Arkin wrote for Real Clear Politics: “Cotton hasn’t made any public […]

‘How Can the Arsonists Be the Firefighters Today?’

FAIR - July 20, 2017 - 10:11am

Janine Jackson interviewed Maurice Carney about the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the July 14, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The fighting between the coalitions of President Joseph Kabila—who refused to step down December 19 as the constitution mandates—and opposition forces is devastating the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN has just reported 80,000 people fleeing the latest fighting in Fizi Territory, joining nearly 4 million people already uprooted by violence. In the central Kasai region, the Catholic Church reports more than 3,300 people killed since October. Accounts include two-year-olds with limbs chopped off and babies with machete wounds, as well as whole villages destroyed. And now the fighting is being presented as reason to postpone elections still further.

Like other African nations, Congo is of limited and irregular interest to US media. That isn’t justified by the scale of the crisis the country is enduring: More than 5 million people have died since 1998 from violence and mostly from hunger and disease faced while trying to flee violence.

Nor can US media plausibly claim that the US isn’t implicated in Congo’s hardship, though you’d be hard pressed to understand the US role—past or present—from media accounts.

Here to help us understand what’s happening is Maurice Carney, co-founder and executive director of the group Friends of the Congo. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Maurice Carney.

Maurice Carney: Hi, it’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for having us.

JJ: The current violence between the government coalition and opposition forces that’s having such a shattering impact on the people—is that connected, or how much is it connected, to Kabila’s refusal to step down last December?

Maurice Carney: “Kabila has benefited, he has been strengthened, by his support from the West over the last decade and a half.” (image: Democracy Now!)

MC: Well, the overall instability in the country is overwhelmingly due to the fact that President Kabila wants to stay in power, and stay in power by any means necessary. This is critical for people to understand, that you have a president whose term is expired, but yet he wants to remain in power against the will of the people, and in contradistinction to the constitution of the country. So that’s really the crux of the instability in the country today.

And when you have this leader that lacks legitimacy, local issues that would normally remain local issues, they’re quickly escalated to be national issues. Thus the disputes that you find that occur locally, the federal government, the national government, usually intervenes on one side or the other, and the question then becomes, are you in support of the president or against the president? And when you have a grouping or formations that are against the interests of the president, then the president and the Kabila regime itself sends in military forces to try and clamp down on any kind of dissension that we may see. And this is what has been the source of the issue in the Kasai, for example, the region that you mentioned at the outset.

JJ: Yes, what happened in Kasai, was that a traditional leader, they tried to remove him and folks protested?

MC: Yes, a traditional leader who was supposed to assume the position of chief. However, this leader was against the Kabila regime and against the way the government had been running things. So the federal government, through the Ministry of Interior, tried to intervene in what was a traditional process, and intervene to the point where they wound up killing the chief.

And this spiraled out of control, to where the followers of the chief then started to resist by any means that they could. They saw that the chief had been killed, and it was done at the behest of the Congolese government, and the people were not going to stand for that.

And in an effort to show that the government was in control, the regime was in control, the Kabila regime sent in military forces that, as you stated at the outset, were killing women and children, babies, and even, many believe, played a role in the assassination of two United Nations investigators, who had gone in to document the crimes that were being committed in the Kasai region. Recently, this week, the United Nations reported that there’s some 80-plus mass graves that have been found in the region as a result of the instability.

JJ: When the Washington Post reported in late June on the reports which came from the Catholic Church, which has been doing this research on the killings in Kasai, they told the story, and then when it was time to give some context, the Washington Post said this:

Wars and explosive ethnic rivalries have riven Congo for decades, reaching a peak in the 1990s and 2000s when conflict in neighboring Rwanda spilled across the border.

That strikes me as incomplete, to say it nicely.

MC: Oh, yeah, totally incomplete. In fact, not only the Washington Post, the BBC and other corporate media, they lead with the ethnic narrative. And at the core, this is a political question. And not solely a political question, but also a geopolitical one. Because you have President Kabila, who has been supported by the West since 2001, when he took over from his father; they stood behind him in 2011 when he cheated in the election, and basically appropriated what was a fraudulent election.

So they backed Kabila for the last 16 years, and now when Kabila wants to stay, he’s developed such a strength that it’s difficult for him to step down, or for the people to remove him from power. So the West has been complicit in the situation that we see today. In fact, we see the West, some of the nations in the West who are trying to impose sanctions on Kabila, and we’re saying, well, they’re the arsonists, how can they be the firefighters today? So that’s really critical for people to understand, that Kabila has benefited, he has been strengthened, by his support from the West over the last decade and a half.

JJ: Yes, there’s a very strange feeling when you read Nikki Haley, our UN representative, saying that the United States is extremely interested in a democratic transfer of power in Congo.

Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, assassinated in 1961 with the help of the CIA.

MC: What you’ll see in the media, you often see that it’s said that there hasn’t been a peaceful transfer of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there’s a part that’s left off of that. There hasn’t been a peaceful transfer in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the United States overthrew the first democratically elected leader in the country, and that was Patrice Emery Lumumba in 1960, one of Congo’s independence heroes and first democratically elected prime minister.

And since that time, every leader that has risen to power in the Congo has done so with the backing of the United States. There hasn’t been a leader since Lumumba who’s assumed power without the backing of the United States. So to your listening audience, it’s important for them to understand the role that the West, and the United States in particular, has played in what has transpired in the Congo.

And part of the reason for the destructive role that Western institutions and nations have played is because of Congo’s tremendous wealth. It’s a storehouse of precious and strategic minerals that are vital to major industries in the West. Even today, one of the burgeoning industries is the automotive industry, the green industry, where we’re seeing more electric cars, like Tesla and Prius and others. Well, Congo has a key mineral that’s vital to the functioning of that industry, and that’s cobalt. And Congo’s the largest producer of cobalt, largest reserves of cobalt, and it’s one of the hottest minerals on the market today. So that’s part of the reason why there’s so much interest in what happens in the Congo, from the corporate sector in particular in the West.

JJ: I just wanted to ask you, finally, I know that Friends of the Congo has been taking part in demonstrations there in DC, the Women’s March and the various marches since the inauguration, in which you are bringing together these global concerns and concern with what’s happening in the DRC and local concerns. And you see every reason to see connections there, between the economic and political struggles we have here and what’s happening there. I mean, is that the way forward?

MC: Oh, absolutely. And it’s probably best exemplified by the social justice movement we see unfolding in the Congo today among Congolese youth. The organizing and the mobilizing that we see in the streets of the United States, they’re happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well, where young people are standing up. However, and unfortunately, the stakes are much higher in the Congo, because the police, who have been equipped in part by the United States, the Congolese police, they shoot to kill. They jail young people at the drop of a hat.

In fact, as I’m speaking to you today, we have two of our young people, Jean-Marie Kalonji and Sylva Mbikay, who were picked up by the Congolese military and placed into a detention camp, and they’ve been there since June 23, for three weeks now.

And we don’t know why. They haven’t done anything. These are young people who provide services to the local community. Like the Black Lives Matter movement here has the bail project where they bail mothers out of jail, that’s what the youth are doing in the Congo, they go in and they bail mothers and their babies out of jail. They provide services to the handicapped community, and they provide scholarships to young people. They support education and health of their communities. But yet they’ve been picked up and placed into a military detention camp.

So the kind of resistance that you see here in the US also exists there. And that’s really critical for people who are here in the movement to understand, that the issues are not fundamentally different. And that what Dr. King said is so true, when he stated that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And it’s the injustices that the youth in the Congo are fighting, and they’re not fundamentally different from the injustices that are being fought here in the United States.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo. You can find their work online at FriendsOfTheCongo.org, and they’re on Twitter at @congofriends. Thank you so much, Maurice Carney, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MC: Thank you. It’s been my pleasure.

The Public Editor’s Club at The New York Times as told by the six who lived it

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2017 - 9:37am
The public editor is no more at The New York Times. For 14 years, following the Jayson Blair scandal, a succession of public editors read thousands of reader complaints, investigated claims of journalistic malpractices, and published their findings unfiltered, naming names and calling foul when they saw fit. It’s a job few envied but most people in journalism […]

Public editors disappear as media distrust grows

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2017 - 9:37am
Shortly after The New York Times eliminated its public editor position, BuzzFeed asked: Why have a public editor when Twitter will do it for free? In an attempt to answer the question, BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith talked to Margaret Sullivan, a former New York Times public editor who is now a media critic […]

The media today: Unified support for a giant of the Senate

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2017 - 6:56am
On another night jam-packed with news about the president and those in his circle, sad news about one of Washington’s legendary figures provided a moment of unity. Around 8 pm, we learned that John McCain has brain cancer. The longtime Arizona senator, former presidential candidate, and Vietnam War hero recently underwent surgery at the Mayo […]

Q&A: ProPublica’s Lena Groeger on data visualization and writing about design

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2017 - 5:50am
How can typography save your life? Can bad design actually damage our democratic process? How can sneaker and tire treads tell a story? These are just a few of the fascinating questions ProPublica’s Lena Groeger explores in her “Visual Evidence” essay series. She also speaks regularly at conferences about, for instance, the explanatory power of […]

Senator John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer

VICE News - July 19, 2017 - 7:46pm

Longtime Republican Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with brain cancer, his office confirmed Wednesday.

The Arizona senator and former Republican presidential nominee is currently recovering from a July 14 operation to remove a blood clot from above his left eye, which his doctors confirmed had been caused by a “primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma,” his office said in a statement.

McCain, who is being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, is reviewing further treatment options including chemotherapy and radiation.

“The Senator’s doctors say he is recovering from his surgery ‘amazingly well’ and his underlying health is excellent,” the statement said.

McCain has repeatedly been treated for skin cancer, having had four melanomas removed: one on his shoulder in 1993; one on his left arm and one on his left temple in 2000; and one on his nose in 2002. The surgeries became a point of contention for detractors questioning his fitness as a candidate in the 2008 presidential election, though several prominent physicians pointed out at the time that the greatest risk of melanoma recurrence is in the “first few years after detection.”

Doctors surveyed by the New York Times this week said his history of melanoma could have prompted the brain scan that led to his most recent diagnosis.

McCain’s daughter, the former political commentator Meghan McCain, also issued a statement saying she and her family are living “with the anxiety about what comes next.”

32 million people will lose insurance if Republicans repeal Obamacare, CBO finds

VICE News - July 19, 2017 - 7:44pm

If Congress repeals large parts of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, 32 million Americans will lose insurance and premiums will double over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office found in a Wednesday report.

The unfavorable report from by the nonpartisan office arrived as Republicans are scrambling to pass any kind of health care legislation, whether by replacing Obamacare entirely or by repealing its key components. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell said he wanted to move ahead with straight-repeal legislation, but it’s unclear if that will happen — Republicans currently lack the votes needed to pass either option.

This CBO score is an updated analysis that the office did back in 2015, when Congress also passed legislation that would’ve repeal Obamacare. Obama vetoed that bill, but in a Wednesday tweet and a Thursday pep talk for struggling Republicans, Trump made it clear that he’s fine with signing an outright repeal.

“We can repeal, but we should repeal and replace, and we shouldn’t leave town until this is complete,” Trump told Republicans Thursday. “And this bill is on my desk and we can sign it and celebrate for the American people.”

Here are the main takeaways from this CBO report:

  • This straight repeal would eliminate states’ expansion of Medicaid eligibility and Obamacare’s individual mandate, among other provisions, but retain regulations protecting people with pre-existing conditions and mandate that plans continue to offer specific benefits.
  • By 2018, 17 million more people will be without insurance than if the Affordable Care Act is left intact. By 2020, that number would grow to 2020.
  • Should the repeal take effect, the CBO predicts, insurers will leave the Obamacare individual marketplace in droves. By 2020, half the country will be living in areas where no individual coverage options could be found. By 2026, two-thirds of the nation’s population will be living in places that lacked individual coverage plans.
  • Changes to Medicaid will lead the program to lose about $842 billion in funding over the next 10 years and leave 19 million people without coverage.

But this bill isn’t all bad news for the government: Between 2017 and 2016, the CBO predicts, federal deficits will decrease by about $1.1 trillion in total.

The CBO has not yet released a report calculating the effects of the most recent bill that proposes to replace Obamacare, which includes an amendment from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz that would free insurers from having to offer only plans that comply with Obamacare rules. Supporters say that this will allow Americans to have more flexibility when choosing their healthcare plans — for example, men wouldn’t have to pay for plans offering maternity care — while critics argue that such a bill will leave people with pre-existing conditions with “virtually no real insurance.”

Corporate Media Largely Silent on Trump’s Civilian Death Toll in Iraq

FAIR - July 19, 2017 - 5:19pm

Amnesty International’s report on the plight of civilians in Mosul, where ISIS “has systematically moved them into zones of conflict, used them as human shields and prevented them from escaping to safety,” while they “have also been subjected to relentless and unlawful attacks by Iraqi government forces and members of the US-led coalition.”

Earlier this week, human rights group Amnesty International issued a lengthy report accusing US-backed forces of “repeated violations of international humanitarian law, some of which may amount to war crimes,” in Mosul, Iraq, causing the deaths of at least 3,700 civilians. Neither this report, nor the broader issue of the civilian toll in the US war against ISIS, has come close to penetrating US corporate media.

The only major radio or television outlet to report on Amnesty’s claims was NPR (7/12/17). While traditional print outlets, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, did run Reuters (7/11/17) and AP (7/12/17) articles, respectively, on the report, neither covered it themselves. Neither Amnesty’s charges, nor the broader issue of civilian deaths in Mosul,  garnered any coverage in television news, with no mention on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN or MSNBC.

The expulsion of ISIS from Mosul by the US-led coalition did receive coverage, but the US role in killing civilians was uniformly ignored.

CBS News’ reports (6/25/17, 7/4/17, 7/9/17) made no mention of US responsibility for civilian deaths, referring only vaguely to “a rising civilian death toll” and “whole neighborhoods” that “cease to exist.” The role of US bombing role in that rising death toll or those no-longer-existing neighborhoods was never mentioned.

In one report (6/23/17), correspondent Charlie D’Agata, standing over a pile of rubble, said to the camera, “Whole buildings, whole neighborhoods have been wiped out, this is what it cost to get rid of ISIS.” Who helped “wiped out” the buildings and neighborhoods is left a mystery.

One slight exception was ABC Nightline (7/14/17), which reported on summary executions and torture by Iraqi special forces, but made no mention of direct US responsibility for the bombing of Mosul. It did, however, accuse the US of “turning a blind eye” to crimes committed by others.  The remaining ABC News reports (7/5/17, 7/12/17), like the others, overlooked US-caused civilian casualties.

One 10-minute report for Nightline (7/12/17) made reference to “thousands killed,” but pinned the blame for those deaths squarely on ISIS. After hearing an airstrike in the distance, correspondent Ian Pannell sang the praises of bombing raids, insisting, “It’s hard to imagine that [Iraqi fighters] would have got this far forward—despite their brave fighting—without their support.” He then profiled two victims of US-led airstrikes and Iraqi army gunfire, but said they were “forced to help [ISIS], they were used as human shields. ISIS fighters made them run into the line of fire of the advancing Iraqi army.”

CNN (6/26/17, 6/29/17, 7/10/17) likewise didn’t mention US responsibility for civilian deaths, repeating the “ISIS using human shields” justification advanced by all major outlets.

(To be clear, as Amnesty pointed out, ISIS certainly is using civilians as human shields, but this doesn’t nearly account for all casualties: The US and its allies “continued to rely upon imprecise, explosive weapons, ignoring the ever-growing toll of civilian death and injuries.” Similarly, civilians in Aleppo were not allowed to leave by jihadist groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, according to the UN, but Russia and Syria still bombed heavily for years.)

NBC/MSNBC stuck to a similar line. In one nine-minute segment (MSNBC, 7/14/17), Andrea Mitchell didn’t mention Iraqi civilians once, much less their massive death toll—and incidentally painted Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, which killed an estimated half million people, as an unfortunate error, insisting it was full of “tragic miscalculations.”

A separate segment by Richard Engel (MSNBC, 7/14/17) on Pete Reed, an ex-Marine who is treating civilians in Mosul, made no mention of deaths caused by US bombing, instead—as with ABC’s Ian Pannell—framing all the deaths as the sole responsibility of ISIS. After showing a 12-year-old girl blinded by shrapnel, Engel opaquely refers to “an airstrike” that caused the injury, but curiously doesn’t say whose airstrike it was. He then insists the doctor treating her wouldn’t be able to do so under the Islamic State, because she is female—thus turning the treatment of a victim of a US airstrike into evidence of why that airstrike was justified. Everything is reframed as pro–US bombing, even when highlighting the victims of said bombing.

Democracy Now! (7/18/17) was one of the few outlets to cover Amnesty’s report on Mosul atrocities.

Can one imagine this frame in reporting on Russia’s siege of Aleppo? Can one imagine highlighting Syrian and Russian doctors, treating the very civilians their governments just bombed, in such an uncritical manner? Can one imagine the US media blaming all the deaths caused by Russian bombing as the sole fault of those occupying the city?  Unlike reporting on Aleppo (FAIR.org, 1/4/17), Engel makes no mention of civilian deaths caused by US bombs, no figures, no mention of war crimes, no mention of Trump’s open disregard for civilian casualties. It’s a breathless Pentagon press release that never questions the motives or effect of Trump’s bombing campaign.

Obviously, the two instances aren’t exactly the same, but the stark 180-degree difference in how the Russian and US sieges were covered is an object lesson in nationalistic ethos. Because ISIS is seen as an unmitigated evil, and the US as an unmitigated good, no death toll is too high. Indeed—no death toll is even worth mentioning. The Americans rode in, the baddies got theirs, and any costs to human life US bombing may have caused are incidental and unworthy of mention.


Trumpcare is back again thanks to a pep talk from the president

VICE News - July 19, 2017 - 4:18pm

After the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace, and then simply repeal, the Affordable Care Act appeared to have crashed and burned on Tuesday, President Trump tried a last-ditch effort to rally GOP senators at a lunch meeting Wednesday, and it seemed to make a difference: Several attendees emerged with a renewed hope of getting something passed on healthcare next week — even if they aren’t sure what they’ll be voting on.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told reporters at the Capitol that Trump had “showed some real leadership.” Johnson said he believed “we are getting close.”

Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who’s been undecided on the latest healthcare proposal, told reporters: “This conversation is far from over.” He added that the senators were still discussing what they’d be voting on next week: a 2015 proposal to repeal Obamacare outright with a two-year delay or the most recent Trumpcare proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Trouble is, Republicans currently don’t have the votes for either proposal.

Shortly after the lunch meeting, the Republicans who opposed the healthcare reform plans announced they’ll be meeting that night in Sen. John Barrasso’s office to sort out their differences and try to get on the same page before next week’s vote, Axios reports.

Trump’s optimistic and insistent tone helped spur the action. He kicked off the meeting by telling the assembled senators and reporters that his goal was still to repeal and replace Obamacare, which he called “a big lie.”

“We can repeal, but we should repeal and replace, and we shouldn’t leave town until this is complete, and this bill is on my desk and we can sign it and celebrate for the American people,” he said during the lunch, referring to the August recess coming up. (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already canceled the first two weeks of the recess to tackle not only healthcare reform but also tax reform and raising the debt ceiling.)

But even with a late show of optimism from Trump, dissent within the Republican ranks leaves them unable to pass any healthcare reform legislation, for now. The president has been criticized for his lack of engagement with the repeal-and-replace push, and as recently as the last 48 hours, vacillated on the approach he favored for Republicans.

Late Monday night he tweeted that Republicans should just repeal Obamacare:

Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2017

Hours later, early Wednesday morning, he claimed to have “always said” that Obamacare should be allowed to fail before its replacement is drawn up.

As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2017

Still, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas left the meeting saying there is a “renewed commitment” to repealing Obamacare, a sentiment echoed by other Republicans. “The gap has been closed in terms of member objections, but we aren’t there yet,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement.

McConnell is continuing to push ahead with a vote scheduled next week — even though he doesn’t have the votes to do it. When three Republican senators, all women — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — stated publicly yesterday that they wouldn’t support the repeal bill, the Republicans, with only a two-seat majority in the Senate, no longer had the votes needed to pass it. And four senators have said they won’t vote for the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Plus, Sen. John McCain is still absent following surgery to remove a blood clot and Republicans will almost certainly need his vote to pass anything.

At the lunch meeting, Trump also touted exaggerated stats about the Republican healthcare plan. “Premiums will drop 60 and 70 percent,” he said. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the Republican plan premiums will drop 20 percent by 2026.

Trump also singled out Heller as he attempted to rally the senators. “The other night I was very surprised when I hear a couple of my friends — my friends,” Trump said, motioning toward Heller, continuing: “They were and are [my friends]. They may not be very much longer, but that’s alright,” he added with a chuckle.

“He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump said, again referring to Heller. “And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do.”

If that sounds like a threat, it might actually be one. A Trump-affiliated super PAC announced, and then withdrew, a major campaign ad buy against Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. White House staff are reportedly speaking with potential candidates to run against the senator from Arizona.


Weed is now legal in an entire country for the first time

VICE News - July 19, 2017 - 3:36pm

Uruguay has become the first country to fully legalize the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The law, which was initially passed in 2013, finally went into effect on Wednesday.

The weed, however, isn’t very strong. Uruguay is offering two different strains, dubbed Alpha 1 and Beta 1. Both have a THC content of just 2 percent, much lower than the levels found in legal recreational weed in the U.S. In Colorado, recreational marijuana contains an average of 18.7 percent THC; in Washington state, it’s 16 percent. The Uruguayan government is also putting a strict quota in place, limiting the amount of weed a customer can purchase.

Regardless, the move could make Uruguay a model for other countries looking to change their drug policies.

Six months after a deadly mass shooting, this Quebec City mosque is receiving a flood of hate mail

VICE News - July 19, 2017 - 3:32pm

The Quebec City mosque that was the target of a mass shooting last January will boost security after a flux of “hateful messages.” And while they report receiving one or two pieces of hate mail per week, one of the most aggressive ones arrived last week.

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec received a package on Friday containing a defaced Quran and a note suggesting the community use a hog farm as a cemetery.

The package arrived two days before a controversial referendum in a nearby town rejected a plan to build a long-sought Muslim cemetery.

The note reads: “You’re looking for a cemetery to bury your dirty carcasses? Then here is an ideal place for you. It will smell like pork anyway.” Last year, a pig’s head with a note that read “bon appétit” was found outside the mosque.

A group that campaigned aggressively against that cemetery say they had nothing to do with the defaced Quran.

While Friday’s package might be the most aggressive message the mosque has received in recent months, the centre’s president Mohamed Labidi says the hate mail has become increasingly common — he told VICE News that the mosque receives one or two hate messages per week.

“We have received a lot of messages like ‘go to your home, you’re not safe here,’” he added. “There is some fear. We try to calm our community to pass through these difficulties … and to fight together to eradicate racism and xenophobia.”

She hopes that authorities will “take things seriously this time.”

The mosque was the scene of a deadly mass-shooting last January, when a gunman opened fire at the end of evening prayers, killing six. Alexandre Bissonnette is set to stand trial for the shooting. He was arrested near the scene of the shooting after reportedly confessing to the crime on the phone to police. His social media presence suggests an affinity for right-wing and far-right causes.

Members of the Quebec Muslim community have increased concern about their safety at the mosque. Labidi said the mosque will be working to implement more security at the front doors and aim to finish in three to four months.

A spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Centre called on worshippers to “remain vigilant and to report to the police and the centre any suspicious threats or behaviour,” on the centre’s Facebook page on Wednesday.

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Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard denounced the “coward” who sent a defaced Quran and a note suggesting a hog farm be used as a Muslim cemetery to the mosque.

“These are Quebecers who are Muslim and no one deserves to be treated in that manner,” Couillard told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s a cowardly act. Someone anonymously delivers a hurtful document to the doors of the Quebec City mosque. That person is a coward.”

Members of the group commented on the post that they are shocked by the “vicious” behaviour and that there should be severe punishment for such an act. One member wrote she hopes that authorities will “take things seriously this time.”

Labeaume told CBC that the referendum results were “sad”

According to CBC, Quebec police are currently investigating who is behind the package sent.

La Meute, a far-right Facebook-based group prominently known in Quebec for its anti-Islam stance with more than 40,000 members, denied any affiliation with the note sent to the mosque on Friday.

La Meute national spokesperson Sylvain Brouillette told VICE News that the group doesn’t “stoop down to that kind of stupid action.” He added that they aim to fight for democracy and fundamental rights.

“This gesture is cowardly and disgraceful, this is not our approach and we strongly condemn this type of action.”

When asked whether he believes the group’s discourse promotes this kind of action, Brouillette said it’s not their action that encourages it, but the media’s portrayal of La Meute as “a group of hateful and racist extreme right radicals.”

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume committed to getting the cemetery approved after the shooting in January. It was to be built in Saint-Apollinaire, a small municipality southwest of Quebec City. Citizens of the small town — at least those who voted — narrowly voted to reject the cemetery.

Labeaume told CBC that the referendum results were “sad” due to the majority of eligible voters staying silent in a province-wide matter. Just 36 residents voted in the referendum — 19 against, 16 in favour.

Couillard dismissed criticism of the provincial government not getting involved in the referendum, but added that the province will now aim to find a solution to the lack of burial space for the Muslim community in Quebec. He said the government’s decision to not influence voters was due to the fact that there were so few registered voters, that it “didn’t seem like a good idea.” He added the government would soon sit down with Muslim community members to find a solution.

No specific agenda was mentioned on how the province plans to combat this issue.


Palestinians spying for Israel risk execution by Hamas

VICE News - July 19, 2017 - 3:31pm

Spying for Israel is perhaps the most shameful act of treason a Palestinian can commit. And yet, a network of hundreds of Israeli “collaborators” within the Gaza Strip forms the backbone of Israel’s security operation against its most hostile and troublesome neighbor.

After the assassination of a top Hamas official by suspected Palestinian informants for Israel, Hamas’ long and intense operation to root out spies has escalated.

What causes Palestinians in Gaza to commit this treachery? For a few, it’s ideological. But for many, Israel’s blockade of Gaza has left them with little choice: Betray your nation and risk execution by Hamas, or face unendurable loss or humiliation at the hands of Israeli security forces.

This segment originally aired July 18, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Spent Part Two

VICE News - July 19, 2017 - 3:13pm

Despite healthy economic growth in Canada’s major cities, it’s only a handful of industries that are really flourishing, leaving even those working in essential civil services struggling to afford the cost of living. In this episode of Spent, host Kourosh Houshmand meets three different people working in three very different industries to see the disparity between old, institutional, and contemporary industries.


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