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Canada’s Conservative Party picks Andrew Scheer in a nail-biting race

VICE News - May 27, 2017 - 7:25pm

In a huge upset, Andrew Scheer is the newest leader of the Conservative Party.

The Saskatchewan member of Parliament, and former speaker of the House of Commons, managed to overcome frontrunner Maxime Bernier, despite a quiet, and underfunded, campaign.

Scheer, a quiet, no-frills politician from the prairies, will be an odd fit going up against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Scheer ran on a campaign that largely echoed many of the policies and priorities of his predecessor, Stephen Harper, in a clear sign that the party membership weren’t quite ready to take a huge jump into the unknown. Scheer gets high marks from the Campaign Life Coalition, a pro-life lobby group, but, like his predecessor, he has also pledged to not re-open debates around abortion and gay marriage.

Yet his promise to leave behind divisive social issues could be made harder by the strong showing of the party’s socially conservative base.

The nail-biting result of the race, which boasted a crowded field of 13 candidates — including TV personality Kevin O’Leary, who quit and yet came in 11th place — went down to the very last ballot, leaving centrist Erin O’Toole as the kingmaker.

The incredibly tight results were a clear sign that Bernier, the brash self-styled libertarian from Quebec, failed to crystallize the membership after O’Leary, the one-time frontrunner, endorsed his campaign.

The results were also a stark reminder that the unified Conservative Party, which has been helmed by Harper for most of its existence — a leader who forcefully forbade social conservatives from agitating for pro-life or anti-gay issues too publicly — still had a powerful social conservative lobby in its midst.

As the first ballots came in, it became clear that victory was further from Bernier’s grasp than expected.

It is virtually tied. Just 700-odd points separate Scheer and Bernier. Crowd here seems very, very surprised.

— Justin Ling (@Justin_Ling) May 27, 2017

Moderates in the race posted disappointing results, with former cabinet minister Lisa Raitt placing eighth, and reform-minded MP Michael Chong coming fifth.

O’Toole, who became a late-stage consensus candidate for many establishment Conservatives came third — which many on his team admitted, the night before, was the likely outcome. Yet he captured just half the points of his nearest rival, Scheer, and little more than a third of the frontrunner, Bernier.

This is an incredible result for the social conservatives. They’re definitely showing some power in these results.

— Justin Ling (@Justin_Ling) May 27, 2017

The result that shocked many in the room was the impressive support for avowedly social conservative candidates Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost.

As the ballots wore on, it became increasingly clear that the two had tapped into an undercurrent of support amongst family-minded Conservatives, even though their message — unapologetically pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and hostile towards affording more rights to transgender Canadians — is considered well outside the mainstream.

Both Trost and Lemieux, in their closing speeches the night before the results were unveiled, made a forceful pitch for a Conservative Party that is willing to rehash the social debates that many in the party want to move on from.

Gosh, this is close. #cpcldr pic.twitter.com/zVJbCBkvf3

— kady o’malley (@kady) May 27, 2017

Even Rona Ambrose, the immensely popular interim leader, pitched a Conservative Party that can reach out to a broader swath of Canadians, spending much of her outgoing speech as leader talking about women’s issues and telling her party that it must be a large tent — pointedly mentioning “whether you’re straight or gay.”

Kellie Leitch, who ran an avowedly nationalist campaign that was frequently compared to Donald Trump and took up much of the airtime at points in the race, posted a dismal result.

i can’t help thinking this might not have been the leading narrative some Conservatives were hoping would emerge. https://t.co/5SP9FoiImW

— kady o’malley (@kady) May 27, 2017

The way in which the votes were tabulated, which gave all of Canada’s 338 ridings equal weight, regardless of members in the riding, no doubt led to the surprising results.

Kushnergate Update: Was It Really All About Syria?

Mother Jones - May 27, 2017 - 6:17pm

Here's an interesting new tidbit on the Jared Kushner front. The New York Times account of Kushnergate says that the reason Kushner wanted to set up backchannel comms to Russia was so that Michael Flynn could hold private conversations about Syria. The Times didn't characterize their sources for this information, but it turns out it was people providing Kushner's side of the story. So why didn't this detail make it into the Washington Post story?

We talked to these "people" too. We would not publish their account unless we could signal they were speaking for Kushner. They refused. https://t.co/UpNrh7UHDV

— Scott Wilson (@PostScottWilson) May 27, 2017

So these sources said Kushner was setting up a channel to talk about Syria, which sounds fairly benign. But they refused to allow themselves to be quoted even as "sources close Kushner" or somesuch. So the Post passed.

Obviously this makes a difference. If the Syria story is Kushner's alibi, it means a lot less than it would if it came from some relatively neutral source who happened to know what was going on. Discount it accordingly.

The Kushner Backchannel Story Is Hard to Make Sense Of

Mother Jones - May 27, 2017 - 12:57pm

Last night the Washington Post and the New York Times both reported that Jared Kushner buttonholed the Russian ambassador last December about setting up a secret communications backchannel with Moscow. This was during the transition period, six or seven weeks before Trump was inaugurated. The stories differ in the details they provide:

  • The Times reports that the purpose of the backchannel was for Michael Flynn to discuss Syria, but doesn't report how the backchannel would work.
  • The Post reports that Kushner proposed using secure facilities in the Russian embassy, but doesn't report what Kushner wanted to talk about.

The White House has not denied this story. It has simply refused to comment.

What do we make of this? Even after pondering it for several hours, I'm not sure what to think. I assume the Post has good sources for its report that Kushner wanted to use Russian embassy facilities, which suggests he was looking for a channel that was safe from monitoring—and leaking—by American intel agencies. In fact, the Post directly asserts this. But if the Times is right about Syria, that doesn't make sense. There have been a lot of leaks recently, but not last December. And certainly there was no reason to suspect that any intel agency would leak conversations about Syria.

So maybe they really wanted to talk about something else. But what? It would need to be something that was (a) highly sensitive, and (b) dodgy enough that some do-gooder in the intel community might feel like it needed to be leaked. There's been plenty of speculation about what that could be, but nothing grounded in reporting.

Also unknown: did Trump know about this? Or were Kushner and Flynn freelancing?

Also: what was the rush? In a few weeks Trump would have access to all the secure comms he wanted. Why was it so urgent to have galactic-class secure comms right away?

And: who wrote the anonymous letter that first tipped off the Post in mid-December?

The whole thing will remain something of a mystery until we know more about it. However the Post reports that the Russian ambassador was taken aback by Kushner's naivete in thinking that Russia might agree to expose its embassy facilities to an American. Subsequent commenters have used stronger terms than naivete.

Also, everyone agrees that Kushner's multiple meetings with various Russians were withheld from his security clearance application. That's not good.

Yet More Quotes of the Day

Mother Jones - May 27, 2017 - 11:51am

On Donald Trump:

President Trump reportedly complained to world leaders about roadblocks he has faced setting up golf courses in the European Union....“Every time we talk about a country, he remembered the things he had done. Scotland? He said he had opened a club. Ireland? He said it took him two and a half years to get a license and that did not give him a very good image of the European Union,” a source told Le Soir.

On Jared Kushner:

Harleen Kahlon was an experienced digital media maven when she was hired by Kushner in 2010 to boost the paper’s digital outreach....At the end of the year, when she went to collect her performance bonus at his real estate office for meeting agreed upon metrics on page views and audience growth, Kushner told her that they couldn’t pay, citing financial concerns, and asked her to “take one for the team.”

....Just before the election, Kahlon described her former boss on Facebook thusly: “We’re talking about a guy who isn’t particularly bright or hard-working, doesn’t actually know anything, has bought his way into everything ever (with money he got from his criminal father), who is deeply insecure and obsessed with fame (you don’t buy the NYO, marry Ivanka Trump, or constantly talk about the phone calls you get from celebrities if it’s in your nature to ‘shun the spotlight’), and who is basically a shithead.

On Trump again:

After the "family photo" group shot, the other leaders convivially walked down the narrow Sicilian streets to their luncheon. Trump hung back and, minutes later, opted instead to ride in a golf cart.

Low energy. Sad.

The next Conservative leader will have to party to rebuild

VICE News - May 27, 2017 - 10:25am

When Maxime Bernier first entered Parliament, he could’ve hit the prime minister with a spitball.

The Quebecer, who entered government as the minister of industry, was just a few seats away from then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He, a lawyer, entrepreneur, and wonk, somehow waltzed into Parliament and, on day one, sat at the cool kids’ table.

Now, Bernier is on the cusp of taking control of Canada’s second-largest party, which has never been more rife with schisms and fracture. His job now is to pull together all those loose ends and hold them — something that he, black sheep of the Conservative Party, might not be all that cut out for.

Bernier’s ascension to Harper’s cabinet wasn’t entirely a lark. After all, the Conservative Party had barely snuck into power with a razor-thin minority in 2006. They won just 10 seats in Quebec, a province that had become a target for the prime minister for more seats.

“This is the first convention where we’re the normal ones.”

Of those 10, four got portfolio posts in the early days of the government. Of those, Bernier was the only real political neophyte. Being plucked from relative obscurity was no small feat — especially given that, just a year later, he was bumped up to minister of foreign affairs.

For those familiar with Bernier, what comes next is a tired story: a less-than-stellar performance for a foreign minister, and Bernier’s on-again-off-again relationship with Julie Couillard, who had launched her own security firm but who had previous links with organized crime. When it came to light that he had left sensitive NATO documents on her coffee table, Harper fired him.

Bernier was banished, in 2008, to forgotten benches of the House of Commons. His seat-mate was Michael Chong, who had kiboshed his own cabinet post by resigning in protest. In the seat in front of him was Mark Warawa, a noted social conservative with no real stature in the government. Bernier was effectively in exile.

At a leadership event at a blank, white-and-gray convention centre in suburban Toronto, near the airport, stuck next to a significantly more exciting anime convention, Bernier’s team seemed almost giddy with excitement.

Standing next to the raucous line for the open bar in one of his competitor’s hospitality suites, a prominent endorser for Bernier held court with a gaggle of eager young Conservatives, telling them:

“This is the first convention where we’re the normal ones.”

The social conservative cabal

Bernier spent years clawing his way back up the ladder. But while in the political wilderness, Harper’s Conservative Party began to fracture.

In 2013, Mark Warawa — the one sitting just ahead of Bernier — stood up and led a caucus mutiny.

The broad-shouldered, square-jawed Conservative wanted to introduce a motion to condemn sex-selective abortion. Warawa sat in an undercover cabal inside his party: The pro-life caucus.

As a unit, they pushed against their minders and babysitters in the prime minister’s office, disregarding the edict that abortion mustn’t cross the lips of any sitting member of the Conservative Party.

He and his cohort put the screws to their political masters — speaking at pro-life rallies; filing Parliamentary grievances against their own party, decrying censorship; introducing motions and bills to advance the pro-life cause.

Brad Trost, one of the club, bragged that he leveraged the pressure to have the prime minister drop funding for foreign abortion services. It was remarks like this that made Trost none-too-popular in the prime minister’s office.

It was a rare display of independence for the social conservatives in their unified Conservative Party, and the first real evidence that an unlikely political marriage may, one day, end in divorce.

As this schism within the party faithful was going on, Bernier was returning into Stephen Harper’s good graces. First, he was made minister of state for small business and tourism. In 2013, not long after Warawa’s revolt, he picked up agriculture. His seating assignment edged closer and closer to the seat of power, and away from the island of lost boys.

The Canada-first crowd

When plain-spoken Member of Parliament Larry Miller, in 2015, instructed niqab-wearing women to “stay the hell where you came from” when she protested his government’s ban on the face-covering at citizenship ceremonies, his party clutched their hair in dismay. Miller was contrite in his apology.

It was just one in a long line of gaffes and policies that made it hard for party, which had prided itself on outreach to immigrants and ethnic communities, to kick the image that it was a party of, and for, white men — “old stock Canadians,” as Harper would later infamously utter.

Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

There were those in his party who worked tirelessly to fight that stereotype. Deepak Obhrai, born in Tanzania into a Hindu family, was first elected as a Reform Party MP in 1997 and saw his party morph from a Western protest party into a modern, centrist conservative party that managed to hold onto power for nearly a decade. That success was thanks in no small part to Obhrai and a phalanx of other diverse faces on the Conservative benches who contested the idea that the Liberal Party had a monopoly on the voice of Canada’s cultural communities.

But even then, the party pursued quixotic policies that endeared the base but genuinely offended the broadstream of Canadian politics.

Chris Alexander traded on his experience as ambassador to Afghanistan as cache in a government whose depth on foreign affairs matters sometimes came up short. (Bernier’s tenure as foreign affairs minister proved that.)

Kellie Leitch came in mid-way through the Harper era, and had neither allegiance to the progressive nor the reform Conservative crowds. She billed herself as modern, but pro-life.

It was fitting that she and Alexander were paired together to make a mid-campaign announcement that the government was set to launch a tip line for barbaric cultural practises, a perfect illustration of the cognitive dissonance between a party obsessed with reaching out beyond its traditional lilly-white base, but doing it in the most caustically counter-productive way imaginable.

The PC Club

The Harper government’s early days were tumultuous, at best.

He went through four foreign ministers in the first five years of his government, cycled through ministers of the environment almost yearly, and lost ministers like Chong and Bernier outright.

Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

So it’s no great surprise that, over the years, once Harper found a minister he liked, he stuck with them.

Lisa Raitt is a prime example: An East Coast Progressive Conservative from suburbia Toronto with labor bona fides who represented the symbol of growth for the Conservative Party.

Yet, while serving as the tax minister, Raitt waded into a swamp of trouble by getting caught on tape calling government file involving cancer “sexy” and denigrating her cabinet colleagues. And, yet, Harper kept her in cabinet and even promoted her to labour minister.

But serving in the Harper cabinet wasn’t exactly a glorious job. The grind of helming a party that appeared set to burst at any time, underneath a leader whose obsessive top-down message control never truly let up — it grew tiresome.

The steady-handed moderates in the party all began to ride off in the sunset, one-by-one. Shelly Glover, John Baird, James Moore, Peter McKay. Some, like Leona Aglukkaq, lost their seats in ridings rubbed the wrong way by three consecutive Conservative governments. Rona Ambrose put in her hat for one last job before leaving politics.

One of the few trusted technocrats left was Raitt.

Madly off in all directions

When the Harper government was ousted in 2015, and the odds-on favourites to succeed him began to drop one-by-one, despair in the Conservative ranks began.

The eventual crowd that filed their registration papers did not inspire confidence amongst the party establishment, but it certainly energized different wings of the base.

If you were sitting in the back of the Gayety Theatre in Collingwood, you saw a dedicated crowd of old-and-new-stock Canadians, thrusting KELLIE signs into the air. One woman yelling “Canada first!” was easily audible over Kellie Leitch’s thin voice, even with the theatre’s sound system. Since that launch, her campaign has been lurching toward disparate policy points, working diligently — and, in the beginning, effectively — to gin up curious media coverage. But as the race wore on, so did patience for her increasingly bizarre efforts to copy-and-paste Donald Trump’s electoral playbook into Canada, from her tweeted threat at Canada’s sanctuary cities to her dogmatic defence of pepper spray, an unlikely dark horse became simply unlikely.

They are radical left-wing activists trying to deconstruct traditional social norms…”

It was the opposite, if you were sitting amongst the 40 enraptured supporters at Toronto’s Canada Christian College, where Brad Trost stood between two standing signs that bore his name. He ran as an unapologetic bannerman for some of the party’s most controversial and hardline position. He would defund abortion services, ramp up prosecutions for gun crime, return power to parents to pull their children from school if they feared education on sexuality and gender. And his Leave It To Beaver nostalgia worked well on the crowd and, indeed, it seems to be emulsifying into a voting bloc that can’t be ignored. Between Trost and fellow so-con Pierre Lemieux, the two began to register in the polls, boasted serious membership sign-ups, and dragged in a significant pot of cash. Neither will win in Saturday’s vote, nor are they likely to place in the top five, but their presence can’t be ignored. Lemieux’s speech on Friday night, decrying the liberal consensus on gay marriage and abortion, actually lit up the crowd in a way that other front-runners did not.

Sitting on the private box at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto, overlooking the stage where the leadership contenders were going at it, the media began wondering if the party had made a mistake by giving the audience alcohol before the event. Boos, catcalls, raucous cheers all erupted from the crowd as they mocked and jeered at various candidates. But they actually quieted, and even applauded, when Lisa Raitt took the stage to follow Leitch, thundering “When I take my son to basketball, and I see a diverse sea of parents, I don’t want them to think that I expect them, as a Conservative, to write a test to prove to me how Canadian they are.” It was a loud, ringing endorsement of a reasonable wing of the party that had been oddly quiet and confusingly marginalized for the months-long contest.

It’s perhaps not surprising, given the field in front of the party members — and with a Kevin O’Leary-sized hole in the race — that Bernier is thoroughly in the lead, within a clear path to victory. He’s managed to dance in a lot of circles.

Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

Pro-life, pro-gay, and generally socially progressive, Bernier turned heads as a different kind of conservative. Over the years, he had consistently voted to extend human rights protections to trans people, even as his party’s leadership counselled against it.

But as he struggled to elbow-out Leitch, and with the looming threat of Kevin O’Leary entering the race persisted — and as social conservatives began to flex some muscle in the race — Bernier took a sharp right turn.

“There has been a proliferation of groups that claim various sexual identities in recent years. Some of these groups are not fighting for equality of rights and respect for sexual minorities,” Bernier wrote on Facebook. “They are radical left-wing activists trying to deconstruct traditional social norms and impose their marginal perspective on everyone, including by forcing us to change the way we talk.”

He was announcing that he would not longer support transgender rights legislation. From there, he posed arm-in-arm with alt-right folk hero Jordan Peterson, and trumpeted an endorsement from hard right-wing Albertan politician Derek Fildebrandt, who was suspended from his party last year after a transphobic remark targeted at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

On immigration, Bernier has also tipped his hat to Leitch. He vowed to cap immigration to Canada at roughly 250,000 — despite an economic consensus that Canada needs to expand its labour pool as birth rates decline — and to tool an immigration system towards the goal of preserving Canadian identity, whatever that may be.

“Our immigration policy should not aim to forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada, as radical proponents of multiculturalism want,” as his official policy book reads.

What comes next

Bernier supporters, when asked whether they expect him to unify the party, shrug.

One Bernier booster, cornered at a pub where Erin O’Toole was glad-handing a mob of supporters — some of whom remain optimistic he could rally enough second-and-third-and-fourth-choice support to overcome Bernier, and others who admit he’s likely to come third — admitted that mugging for the social conservatives and the nationalists throughout the race may have been a mistake. Now those various wings of the party expect something from him.

But still others are honestly just worried about his grasp of policy. While his campaign was originally run as an unlikely eventuality, his campaign team may now be required to actually put those policies into action. One such policy, shredding the Canada Health Act, might prove toxically unpopular with the general public.

And long-time party faithful are concerned that he doesn’t have the depth of experience to pull it off. At the centre of his campaign is Kory Teneycke, the hard-headed former communications director for Harper who is reviled for his antagonistic approach to the media. Around him is a mix of mid-level Conservative staffers, relatively inexperienced young Conservatives, and former party interns.

Many who currently staff interim leader Rona Ambrose aren’t expected to stick around under Bernier’s party, and his supporters have already mused openly about cleaning house in the party, should they win. It’s not surprising that many of the central crowd to the party has backed either O’Toole or Andrew Scheer, the former speaker who has both social conservative chops but little of the baggage of his other candidates.

The unveiling of the votes on Saturday evening are sure to usher a new era in the Conservative Party. Whether the Conservative Party itself can survive Bernier remains to be seen.

These Stunning Photos Show the Real Cost of a Pipeline

Mother Jones - May 27, 2017 - 5:00am

This story was originally published by Reveal and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As police in riot gear swept the last protesters from camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in late February, two dozen men and women arrived in this small ranching and lumber town 1,200 miles to the northwest. They were armed with maps, posters, doughnuts and coffee, and hoped to sell locals on an oil pipeline—one larger and potentially more hazardous than the Dakota Access.

They wore its name on their matching green jackets: Trans Mountain.

Town officials were already on board. They had signed on in exchange for about $330,000 (420,000 Canadian dollars) from the pipeline's American owner, Kinder Morgan Inc. But a few miles downriver, the Lower Nicola Indian Band was putting the company's offer to a vote the following day.

The 14 other First Nations directly on the pipeline route already had agreed to welcome crews onto their reserves in exchange for money and jobs from the company. By voting yes, the Lower Nicola could get a similar deal—a tempting offer in a remote community where many live in poverty.

Voting no would send a powerful message—a boost for the coalition of indigenous people and environmentalists battling Trans Mountain. But it likely would be largely symbolic: In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared no First Nation would have veto power over this pipeline.

Some Lower Nicola members came to the Trans Mountain open house in Merritt. Two men were looking for construction jobs. One elderly woman asked about cleanup plans if something were to go wrong. She struggled to find a polite way to describe such a disaster until a company official helped her out. "An incident," the official suggested. The room turned tense when another woman wondered why nobody had told her that an alternate route, apparently still under consideration, would run through her backyard.

The following night, at a similar meeting in a hotel ballroom in nearby Kamloops, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Lizette Parsons Bell told a reporter from Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that these events generally draw people interested in jobs or work contracts. Where people have concerns, she said, the team is there to listen with respect.

Kinder Morgan workers, dressed in matching green outfits, host an information session about the Trans Mountain pipeline project in Kamloops, British Columbia. Patrick Michels/Reveal

"Do we have every single landowner that's in favor of it? No," she said. The goal is "to come to a point where there is an acceptance of the pipeline going through their property."

To gain such acceptance, the company has sent letters to and held meetings with not just the small group of First Nations along the pipeline, but with 118 others nearby. Fifty-one have signed agreements. Although the deals are confidential, the company has said they are worth nearly $300 million combined, a cost dwarfed by the pipeline's price tag: $5.5 billion.

Hours into the Lower Nicola vote, elder Maria Savage walked slowly down the icy dirt road from the band office to her home. She's against the pipeline, worried about the land and wildlife if there's a spill. But the negotiations struck her as familiar, reminding her of her childhood, when the federal government forced indigenous children into boarding schools.

"I heard they're going to go through with the pipeline whether we agree with it or not," Savage said. "You know, why ask us for our vote if they're gonna put it through anyway? … That's the same thing when they took us away and put us in the residential schools. Didn't matter what we said or what we did."

As in the U.S., by law, the Canadian government must consult with First Nations about major development on their land. Those consultations haven't been the same as asking for permission. But recent rulings in Canada's courts have said indigenous people could stop a project by withholding their consent—especially in British Columbia, where First Nations never signed their land over in treaties.

The Canadian court cases are grounded in a growing recognition of the moral imperative of reconciliation between indigenous and non-Native people. At the same time, though, the government sees its untapped oil reserves as a key economic engine.

Just in time for the country's sesquicentennial, the Trans Mountain project is forcing Canadian officials to decide how far they're willing to go to honor First Nations' rights.

Oil's journey begins in Alberta

Kinder Morgan's new pipeline is the middle step in the journey from Canada's oil fields to the world market. Tanker ships will complete the trip from Vancouver to Asia.

Steam from oil production facilities blankets the horizon along a highway near a Fort McKay First Nation reserve in Alberta. Since the band began doing business with the oil industry in 1986, its corporation's annual revenue has grown to $73 million. Darren Hauck/Reveal

But the journey begins in northern Alberta, about 2,000 feet below a thick forest of birch, fir, spruce and pine, in a layer of oily bitumen—a remnant of marine life that sank to the bottom of the sea that once covered the province. This tarry paste is what will fill the new Trans Mountain line, unrefined and diluted with a light mix of chemicals to ease the flow.

Bitumen from these oil sands fueled a boom a decade ago, when high oil prices made it profitable to mine. Mining bitumen is expensive and energy-intensive, so with oil selling for about $50 a barrel now, there is less incentive to hurry it out of the ground. Kinder Morgan is betting on a future when the price of oil goes up again.

Far northern regions feel the effects of climate change first. In winter, truckers driving north from Fort McMurray to the village of Fort Chipewyan rely on a road of frozen rivers and wetlands. Lately, the road has been melting away earlier each winter.

This stretch of boreal forest has long been home to caribou, deer and black bears, and indigenous Canadians who hunt and fish to survive. Around the mining operations that will supply Trans Mountain, road signs suggest great deference for wildlife: They warn of caribou crossing the highway and not to feed the bears. To some who knew the place before industry moved in, the signs are a joke: They don't see much of those animals anymore.

Violet Clarke lives on a Fort McMurray First Nation reserve about a half-hour drive southeast of the city. Her grandfather ranched and trapped on this land. She grew up here in the 1930s, when just one struggling plant processed bitumen alongside the Athabasca River. As more companies have moved in, she said, the foxes that her grandfather used to trap on this land have disappeared. The frogs remain, but they're often slicked in oil. The water has become so polluted that she said she's been warned not to eat more than three fish a week.

Violet Clarke, a member of the Fort McMurray First Nation, lives on a reserve in the Athabasca River oil sands area in Alberta. She says the water has become so polluted that she's been warned not to eat more than three fish a week. Darren Hauck/Reveal

In 2010, a study led by University of Alberta researchers, and prompted by concerns from elders such as Clarke, traced a number of carcinogens in the river to oil sands production. The most obvious evidence of trouble in the water is evident to fishermen who catch whitefish or burbot with back tumors and bulging eyes.

"There's an awful lot of people that don't want to talk about it, because an awful lot of people live off of the resources. And you can't blame them in a lot of ways," Clarke said. "Because industry, it's first, because it brings your bread home."

"But," she added, "we had our bread before we got oil."

Trans Mountain is one of four pipelines planned from the oil sands, along with TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL and Energy East and Enbridge Inc.'s Line 3. Thirteen oil producers have contracts for the new Trans Mountain line, lured by the promise of higher prices in Asia. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers projects that by 2030, annual oil sands production will increase 55 percent from 2015, adding 1.3 million barrels a day.

That much business could fill the huge worker dormitories posted along remote stretches of Alberta's highways. It could keep Fort McMurray's extended-stay hotels and bars as busy as they were a decade ago. Canada's official statistics agency says unemployment in Alberta has tripled in the downturn, from a low of 3 percent in 2006 to 9 percent in last fall.

The recession had a pronounced effect on indigenous Canadians, who already face severe disadvantages. Less than half of adults living on reserves are employed. Indigenous people account for about 4 percent of Canada's population but almost a quarter of its prisoners and nearly half its foster care system.

Fort McKay First Nation, a reservation in northern Canada, is home to nearly 400 indigenous people. It began as a trading post for fur trappers, and the land continued to be used that way until the mid-20th century. Then trapping became less profitable, as petroleum operations started to surround the community. Rachel de Leon/Reveal

One local chief says conservationists, not industry, are holding back progress.

In a December speech, Chief Jim Boucher of the Fort McKay First Nation told his counterparts that environmentalists were "the ones who, at the end of the day, were successful in creating poverty in northern Canada."

"Please don't buy into the environmentalist argument," he said.

The Fort McKay First Nation is blessed and cursed with reserve land on the banks of the Athabasca in the heart of oil sands production. The wind blows a pungent smell from surrounding strip mines. Since Boucher's band began doing business with industry in 1986, its corporation's annual revenue has grown to $73 million. Even in the downturn, unemployment is close to zero.

Trans Mountain's eastern end is anchored here in Alberta, where oil has built metropolises on the prairie. Strathcona County, near Edmonton, is a way station from the oil sands to the rest of the world, with pipes and tanks and towers tangled up like a huge high school chemistry project. Twenty pipelines converging underground at the Kinder Morgan terminal will feed the new Trans Mountain line.

One peculiarity of the fight over Trans Mountain is that it's not a new route, but an expansion of an existing line. A larger pipe laid alongside the first will nearly triple the oil-carrying capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

Trans Mountain was a source of national pride when it opened in 1953. It was Canada's second major pipeline and its first one west across the Rockies. Tourists marked its debut with a bus and train journey to see where the pipe had been buried. Thousands toured the storage tanks near Vancouver. Politicians compared it with the first railroad across the Rockies and even "the first white man to traverse the northern continent from ocean to ocean."

Kinder Morgan, a Houston firm once part of the fallen energy giant Enron, acquired the pipeline in 2005. By buying existing pipelines and expanding them, the company has become one of the largest operators in North America today, with 84,000 miles of pipe. The Trans Mountain project would add 615 more.

Skirting Edmonton to the south, the pipeline route cuts straight through fields and forests to the Rockies, where it crosses Jasper National Park. Kinder Morgan already expanded a stretch of pipeline there in 2008, a project that the company says demonstrates its approach to consultation with First Nations and its environmental stewardship. It was among the EcoHeroes of 2010 named by the industry-funded Alberta Emerald Foundation, in a class with BP Canada and a dozen others. In February, a company representative told a reporter with the Jasper Fitzhugh that the pipeline had never spilled in the park.

In truth, the company's record has been mixed. As the Fitzhugh noted, the pipeline has leaked in the park at least six times, according to the company's own reports, including a 1966 incident that released more than 290,000 gallons of oil. Since Canada began collecting reports in 1961, Trans Mountain has spilled its cargo 82 times, 12 of them since Kinder Morgan bought the line.

In 2007, a city contractor accidentally pierced the pipe in suburban Vancouver, opening a fountain of oil in the middle of the street. Sixty-two thousand gallons of crude oil ran to the sewer and into waterways. According to a government investigation, "a number of shore birds were contaminated after coming into contact with the oil."

Kinder Morgan paid a $250,000 settlement that time, some of which went to an oil spill cleanup fund. Workers recovered most of the oil by scooping up soil and skimming the water's surface.

Diluted bitumen from the new pipeline would be tougher to clean up. The largest test case so far is a 2010 spill from an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan, which released dangerous levels of benzene into the air and forced 150 families out of their homes. Unlike crude oil, bitumen sinks in water. Seven years later, over a million gallons of oil were cleaned up, yet clumps of bitumen still sit at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

Oil companies' payments to communities are meant to smooth over concerns about risks like these.

But when the first Trans Mountain line went in, neither the company nor the government was obligated to consult First Nations. Indigenous Canadians weren't allowed to vote in federal elections then and had only just gained the right to hire lawyers.

Today's consultation over Trans Mountain bears the weight of that history. Many land defenders wonder how much has changed if construction plans can roll right along even though—as the resistance slogan goes—their answer is still no.

Chiefs make unilateral decisions for all

The president of Kinder Morgan Canada, Ian Anderson, has made an enthusiastic show of his outreach campaign with chiefs and councils. The company's deals, Anderson has said, "represent not only an agreement to share opportunity and provide prosperity, but a symbol of recognition of a shared respect."

But the chief-to-chief negotiations behind those deals are fraught from the start, rooted in the colonial system that carved up indigenous nations into legally recognized bands and appointed a single chief to decide for the people.

Last year's federal filings from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc nation showed about $2.2 million in a trust account labeled "Kinder Morgan mutual benefits agreement." With fewer than 1,400 registered members, the deal is worth around $1,600 a person. First reported by the local paper Kamloops This Week, it's the only deal amount that's been made public.

In an interview, Chief Fred Seymour said the final amount could change. He said the deal includes a clause that would raise the payment to match any larger agreements Kinder Morgan might make with another nation.

But there was no vote on the deal. Instead, Seymour said he consulted about 100 people who spoke for families within his nation.

In the Alexander First Nation, near Edmonton, Kinder Morgan's negotiators parachuted into a fiery internal conflict. Shortly after signing an agreement with the company, Chief Kurt Burnstick was tried for the sexual assault of another band member. He was cleared in January, but activists within the nation had marched through the reserve calling for his removal.

According to two activists, Janet Campbell and Rodney Yellowdirt, council members agreed to use First Nation money—including proceeds from its deals with oil and gas firms—to pay Burnstick's defense team.

Burnstick would not comment for this story. For their part, Campbell and Yellowdirt supported the Trans Mountain agreement but said their experience exposes the fact that oil wealth doesn't always benefit the community. Companies, they said, should keep track of where their money goes.

From Jasper, the pipeline runs westward down the Rockies along the Yellowhead Pass pioneer trail. It's about 250 miles to Kamloops, where the line makes one of its two major river crossings, under the Thompson. Just north of the city sits the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band reserve, home to a 162-person First Nation where Kinder Morgan negotiated its first deal for the project three years ago.

Michael LeBourdais, who was chief at the time, said the agreement is "equal to or greater than what we get now from the federal government." In 2011, the most recent tally published by the government, the band received nearly $470,000 from Canada's indigenous affairs office. Kinder Morgan also agreed to extra safety precautions, LeBourdais said, such as laying thicker pipes where the line crosses waterways.

Michael LeBourdais, chairman of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics and former chief of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band, is organizing a group of First Nations on the Trans Mountain pipeline route to fight for the right to tax the oil. Patrick Michels/Reveal

"There wasn't a 'Do you approve of this pipeline?' question because they would never ask that," LeBourdais said. "They asked about our thoughts, because we don't have the right to say no."

Today, LeBourdais is chairman of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics, which offers financial skills training. He sees Trans Mountain as a teaching moment: He's organizing a group of First Nations on the pipeline route to fight for the right to tax the oil, which he believes could yield an extra $73 million a year.

He said the plan would let his nation profit off its land while remaining good stewards.

"My grandfather always said, 'There is no right and wrong in nature,' " he said. " 'There's only balance.' "

Most importantly, he said, these financial arrangements are opportunities to force industry and government to recognize First Nations' land rights—empowerment through bureaucracy.

"Tax represents jurisdiction," he said.

A brutal history

LeBourdais' office sits in a century-old building that stands as a testament to how brutally Canada has used its bureaucracy against indigenous people. The steeple-topped brick behemoth was once the Kamloops Indian Residential School, one of 130 state-funded and church-operated facilities that carried out what the government called its "aggressive assimilation" program from the 1840s until 1996. While the city of Kamloops grew on the south side of the Thompson River, the school dominated the north bank.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was once part of the Canadian government's "aggressive assimilation" program for indigenous children. After the school closed in 1977, local First Nations took ownership of the building. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Attendance was mandatory; over the decades, officials made sweeps to collect about 150,000 children. The system was modeled on similar U.S. boarding schools, which housed around 100,000 Native American children through the 1960s.

After the Kamloops school closed in 1977, local First Nations took ownership. Some hoped to see it torn down, but leaders decided to keep it for practical reasons—lots of office space—and to remind people across the river of the horrors that took place as they and their ancestors looked on.

LeBourdais is in his early 50s and attended a neighborhood public school. But his parents were taken from home and brought to residential school. Even with LeBourdais working out of a big third-floor office, his father wouldn't set foot inside.

"It's creepy when you work here at night, that's for sure," LeBourdais said.

Men and women have come forward over the past decade describing beatings and sexual assault by priests who ran the schools. Thousands of children taken to the schools disappeared and are presumed dead. In the 1940s, federal researchers withheld rations from children at six schools to study the effects of malnutrition.

Much of what's known about the schools came out in the final report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which delivered its conclusions in 2015. By then, Canada had established a $1.4 billion fund for survivors of the residential schools. But the commission called for deeper change:

"Reconciliation is not about 'closing a sad chapter of Canada's past' but about opening new healing pathways of reconciliation that are forged in truth and justice," it said.

Aaron Sam, chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, was an early critic of the way Canadian officials handled the Trans Mountain pipeline project. He's worried about the environment and believes the government's consultation was too cursory. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Aaron Sam represented hundreds of residential school survivors in their legal claims as a lawyer in Kamloops. He was 40 years old when the Lower Nicola Indian Band elected him chief in 2013.

"Residential school was a terrible place," Sam said in an interview in the band office. "It was a place where our children were beaten down."

Sam was raised on the reserve by parents and grandparents who attended residential schools.

"What happened at residential school … still affects all aspects of everything that happens in our communities politically, in the family and in places like this—in our offices—and even in our negotiation tables with these big multinational corporations," he said.

Sam was an early critic of the way Canadian officials handled the Trans Mountain project. He was worried about the environment and believed the government's consultation was too cursory. But he decided it was important that his nation reach a communal decision.

"The current pipeline's been in the ground for over 60 years and, you know, if this one actually gets built, it's going to probably be in the ground longer than that," Sam said. "The decision we make, I believe, is going to affect our people for generations."

So Sam and the Lower Nicola council negotiated a deal with Kinder Morgan, including cash payments, a new bridge and a new power line. It would take effect only if members approved it in a vote. This is the decision that Lower Nicola members were weighing at the company's open-house meeting in Merritt.

The Lower Nicola have an activist streak, which surfaced in a 2015 fight against a program that trucked treated waste from suburban Vancouver into their valley. The campaign was successful, and "No Sludge" signs around the reserve still serve as reminders of that victory.

Signs around the Lower Nicola Indian Band Reserve remain from a victorious 2015 campaign to stop a program that trucked treated waste from suburban Vancouver into their valley. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Near the end of the three-day vote, Sam wouldn't guess the outcome or, if it failed, whether the Lower Nicola would file a court challenge, following the example of the nearby Coldwater Indian Band. But he explained why many probably would vote no.

"A lot of our people are still very, very reliant on our traditional foods, through hunting and fishing salmon in our rivers," he said.

The pipeline and the river might run downstream to Vancouver, Sam said, but the fallout from a spill would ripple back up if the salmon died in an oil slick before coming upstream.

At the same time, he acknowledged many would welcome Kinder Morgan's money. One of Merritt's two big lumber mills closed in December, leaving hundreds jobless. For some, pipeline construction couldn't start soon enough.

Protests along the way

In the late 19th century, government officials in most of Canada and the U.S. were busy applying a veneer of legality to their claims to native land. But British Columbia remained an outlier. Colonial Gov. James Douglas signed a few land treaties on Vancouver Island, but no others in the province. Most of British Columbia remained "unceded territory," a fact that people often recite at the start of community meetings.

Indigenous activist and author Arthur Manuel wrote that while the government and private owners could buy and sell this land, their claims would only ever sit on top of the immutable indigenous title. Manuel died in January, having spent his last months organizing to stop Trans Mountain.

A Kinder Morgan Canada sign marks the spot where the Trans Mountain pipeline crosses the Thompson River in Kamloops, British Columbia. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Now his daughter Kanahus Manuel and her siblings have a plan to oppose the pipeline by establishing villages that run on a traditional way of life. Manuel lived at a protest camp near Standing Rock and wants to bring that spirit to the territory of her people, the Secwepemc. Their land once reached from Kamloops to Jasper National Park, an area larger than Missouri.

"That's how we want to fight the pipeline … is being an example," she said.

North in British Columbia, indigenous protesters have spent seven years in a camp organized on those same principles, called Unist'ot'en. In practice, it has stood in the way of a series of pipelines planned through the forest, but its organizers describe it is a "homestead" and "not a protest or demonstration."

"Every single man, woman and child has a right, and a say, about whether we consent to a pipeline or not. But right now, there's no process for indigenous peoples to say no," Manuel said. "When we go out and say, 'Let's assert it. Let's go out and occupy the land to stop the ski resort or the mining,' then we are criminalized."

Clashes between police and indigenous protesters have turned violent before, famously at a golf course in Oka, Quebec, in 1990 and at Gustafsen Lake, northwest of Kamloops, five years later. A 2015 report revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have targeted indigenous environmental activists for surveillance.

Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson knows protesters are eyeing his project.

"They'll look for soft spots in the system," he told reporters last fall, "and it's my job to make sure there aren't any."

As the Trans Mountain pipeline nears Vancouver, it runs underneath increasingly resistant communities. From Kamloops and Merritt, it crawls down sheer cliffs and canyons, emerging into the farmland of the Fraser Valley, and then heads west toward the sprawl of Vancouver. It ends in the waterfront suburb of Burnaby, where contractors pierced the pipe a decade ago and residents are wary of another spill. The mayor has tried to bar the company's workers from city land.

If demonstrators do make a stand against the pipeline, many people expect Burnaby will be the spot. Recent history offers a lesson in how the company and police might respond.

In August 2014, Kinder Morgan wanted data on the geological makeup of Burnaby Mountain, where the company plans to bore a tunnel connecting its storage tanks to its shipping terminal near Vancouver. When workers began clearing trees to make way for drilling equipment, a few locals began a protest. Within days, it was an occupation.

One of the early demonstrators was Stephen Collis, a poet and writing professor at Simon Fraser University, which sits atop Burnaby Mountain. His writing often touches on themes of resistance and revolution. He helped rally the crowd by posting updates in a Facebook group.

In late October, Collis received notice that Kinder Morgan was suing him and four other demonstrators for disrupting its work. The company wanted more than $4 million from the protesters for getting in the way.

Separately, Kinder Morgan requested a federal court order to clear demonstrators from its work site. An environmental advocacy firm filed a challenge to block it, but before a judge ruled, Mounties began clearing the camp.

The arrests began early on a Thursday morning, roughly at first, as officers in yellow vests dragged demonstrators from their tents.

After two days, the police operation took on a ceremonial air. Mounties hung police tape from the trees, and protesters volunteered each morning to cross the line. A video from the last day of arrests shows Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, British Columbia's highest-ranking chief, carefully ducking under the tape and onto the protected work site, holding on to an officer's hand for support.

He and more than 100 others were arrested. Their charges later were dismissed because the company had listed the wrong coordinates on its court order.

Collis and four other protesters watched from behind bulletproof glass in a downtown Vancouver courtroom as Kinder Morgan's attorney, William Kaplan, argued why the five owed the company millions. At one point, he said protesters had intimidated pipeline workers by making angry faces.

At another, Kaplan read one of Collis' recent poems as evidence of his complicity: "As barricades were assembled from garbage dumped down a hillside from a parking lot in Burnaby Mountain … an old rusted oil barrel was uncovered and rolled up the hill. It's a talisman, a symbol of the old world we are trying to resist and change. It is, we hope, the last oil barrel that will have anything to do with this mountain forest."

"So," Kaplan told the judge, "underneath the poetry is a description of how the barricade was constructed."

Collis and other protesters remember the ordeal as a darkly comic time – but the company's show of legal force offered enough cover to let workers finish their job. On the day Kinder Morgan's lawyers argued that Collis and the others were disrupting their work, the job was done. Helicopters were lifting the drilling gear off the mountain. Kinder Morgan dropped its suit soon after.

Legal challenges ahead

Through Burnaby Mountain, the oil will run one last line before being loaded onto ships to take it across the sea.

After a journey that began on the prairie, in the shadow of smokestacks and office towers, the Trans Mountain line emerges into a different world. Tankers load the oil at a terminal in the still Burrard Inlet, surrounded by forested hills and expensive homes. Today, about one tanker loads up each week; if the second pipeline opens, the rate will increase to one a day.

Tankers load oil in the Burrard Inlet, a port of Vancouver. Today, about one tanker loads up each week; if the second Trans Mountain pipeline opens, the rate will increase to one a day. Darren Hauck/Reveal

This new traffic is at the center of opposition here to Trans Mountain.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose name means "people of the inlet," sits about a mile across the water from the terminal.

"When this project came into our territory, it was not a matter of whether we could profit off of it economically, but just really preserving who we are or what we are," said Tsleil-Waututh council member Charlene Aleck. "We reached out to our community, and everybody just saw no huge benefits, even though there was millions of dollars offered."

Thousands of Tsleil-Waututh once lived in villages on the water around Vancouver, but their population was cut to dozens amid 19th-century conflict and epidemics introduced by white settlers. They survived by adapting to life in the growing port city, working as longshoremen. Much as Fort McKay leaders have capitalized on resource extraction, Tsleil-Waututh leaders have built a tourism company, a driving range and real estate developments with waterfront views.

With the money from those projects, they've teamed with other First Nations nearby to buy more land. They've led initiatives to restore the salmon population that has suffered in polluted port waters. And they've repeatedly fought back plans, such as the Trans Mountain expansion, that would industrialize their coastline.

"A project like this would totally decimate any kind of work that we had been doing for the last 15 years," Aleck said.

Charlene Aleck, council member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose name means “people of the inlet,” says her community has adapted to life in a growing port city with some development, but collectively, the Tsleil-Waututh "saw no huge benefits" from the Trans Mountain pipeline. Darren Hauck/Reveal

She and other Tsleil-Waututh leaders have become some of the pipeline's most outspoken opponents. But they mostly stepped aside during the Burnaby Mountain protest in 2014, and Chief Maureen Thomas has made it clear she doesn't want to see "another Standing Rock" here.

"We each have a piece of the puzzle," Aleck said, "and Tsleil-Waututh has always been trying to go by legal means."

They've joined other First Nations in legal claims accusing the government of approving the pipeline without proper consultation.

It's a claim similar to one the Standing Rock Sioux made in American courts. But in Canada, a series of landmark Supreme Court rulings suggest there's a chance for success. The Tsleil-Waututh's challenge is one of nine currently pending against the pipeline in British Columbia's federal courts, seven of them from First Nations, that could build on recent legal precedent.

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that bands in British Columbia had the right to stop a logging operation on land occupied by their ancestors. Last year, a federal appeals court threw out the government's approval for another big pipeline through British Columbia, called the Northern Gateway, agreeing that indigenous people on the route hadn't been consulted adequately.

On the campaign trail in 2015, Justin Trudeau pledged that as prime minister, he'd honor the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including that "aboriginal peoples need to become the law's architects and interpreters where it applies to their collective rights and interests." Trudeau also said he'd implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires that indigenous people consent to development on their land.

On Trans Mountain, though, Trudeau's decision wasn't so simple. Noting that there are First Nations on both sides of the issue, he has said no single group can block it. His approval of the project at the end of last year was part of a political compromise on climate change, combining new pipelines with mandatory carbon caps across Canada.

Ian Campbell, chief of the Squamish Nation near Vancouver, said that the decision seemed like a foregone conclusion—and that Trudeau delegated the government's consultation to Kinder Morgan.

"We felt that that was inappropriate because the duty of consultation lies with the crown," he said.

The Squamish also have challenged the pipeline approval in court, claiming the government failed in its constitutional duty to consult them. Campbell believes more should have joined the cause.

"I'm certainly disappointed that some of the First Nations would accept what I equate to be some trinkets," he said.

Squamish First Nation Chief Ian Campbell says his band thinks that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline was a foregone conclusion and that the government shirked its duty to consult First Nations. Darren Hauck/Reveal

How much consultation is enough? What should that consultation look like? And how many First Nations must support a project before it can proceed? These questions are part of a rapidly shifting area of Canadian law—a delicate dance between the competing goals of development and reconciliation.

The Tsleil-Waututh and the other First Nations challenging the Trans Mountain approval could be the ones that set the next precedent.

Along a beach near the Tsleil-Waututh reserve, smooth rocks and weathered shells crunch underfoot. The shells are remnants of mussels and clams eaten by Tsleil-Waututh ancestors. Since the oil tankers began arriving 60 years ago, Aleck said, their wakes already have washed away some of the beach.

"There was no consultation that happened," she said. "They just kind of came into the territory and told us that they would make our land prosperous for us and that we would see jobs come out of it. Kind of like what they're saying today."

On the Tsleil-Waututh reserve, a totem pole overlooking the inlet stands as a symbol of their resistance to the pipeline. Four salmon swim in a circle around the pole's base, signifying their charge to protect the water. The main figure is a wolf, the symbol of the Tsleil-Waututh. According to the band's origin legend, the creator transformed a wolf into its first member and made him protector of the land.

In between the salmon and wolf, two men and a boy are standing up, carrying the fight from one generation to the next.

'Our voice is important'

Voting on the Lower Nicola deal with Kinder Morgan ended Feb. 25. By the time Chief Aaron Sam arrived that night at the meeting hall, the votes already had been counted. One-fifth of the nation's 964 registered members had weighed in: 111 in favor and 75 opposed.

Kinder Morgan now could claim support from all of the First Nations directly on the pipeline route.

After the vote, Sam was as careful with his words as he'd been before. He and the council would get to work finalizing the deal, he said. "Sometimes, you have to put your personal feelings aside."

But the results put him in the mind of the recent past, when his people's stewardship of the land wasn't even in question, and of a future—not here yet, but drawing nearer—when they can claim that role again.

"In our territory, it was 1808 when Simon Fraser first came down the Fraser (River)," Sam said. "And the area didn't have a lot of settlers in here until the middle or late 1800s. And back then, it was our land.

"And I think as people become educated and learn and realize that we have a real voice, and that what we decide actually matters, then people are going to say, 'We have a voice. Our voice is important.'

"And we're not going to ask people to listen to us, right? They're going to have to listen to us."

How to Know If You're a "Super Taster"

Mother Jones - May 27, 2017 - 5:00am

On our latest episode of Bite, we talked to political journalist Dylan Matthews, someone who couldn't care less about food. Matthews opts for cheap burritos over caviar and dislikes eating certain textures. The conversation got me thinking—what about those who really enjoy the taste of food?

 

You've probably heard of the legendary "supertasters," people with a higher sensitivity to taste stimuli. I always envied these people—how enjoyable it must be for them to sink their teeth into milk chocolate with a gooey caramel core, or have a leg up in identifying complexities in a glass of red wine from Bordeaux. But that's not quite the case. Linda Bartochuk, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Florida's Center for Smell and Taste, says supertasters tend to be pretty picky eaters and prefer to stick to bland food, which means they may have more in common with Dylan Matthews than with restaurant critics.

Here are some more things you may not realize about super tasters and the science of taste:

  • Supertasters aren't inherently better at things like blind wine tastings.

Being able to recall the varietal, year, region, and make of wine with such accurate (and perhaps smug) detail isn't due to having more taste buds. It's often associated with practice and the ability to learn vocabulary and remember taste associations, according to Steven Munger, director of the Center for Smell and Taste. "What [wine expertise] may be doing is changing your ability to access information more efficiently and put it in a context of a memory," Munger said. 

  • Being a supertaster has health advantages...

Supertasters tend to avoid alcohol and cigarettes because of the strong flavor and unpleasant taste.

  • ...and disadvantages.

Given the bitterness or often distinct texture of certain vegetables like leafy greens, super tasters tend to dislike their strong flavors. Bartochuck says this may lead them to incorporate these healthy foods a lot less in their diets than the average eater. 

  • Supertasters tend to be women.

Bartochuck estimates that about 15 percent of Americans are supertasters, and women fall into the category more than men. She proposes this may have to do with how we evolved: A pregnant woman's sensitivity to bitter foods (sometimes a sign of poison) would have been an advantage for her fetus.

  • Illness can have a negative affect on your taste buds—supertaster or not.

Having a lot of taste buds doesn't mean they'll all stay on your tongue forever. Taste nerves found in the inner ear and the back of the throat can be damaged by infections or surgeries on the middle ear or tonsils.

  • You don't taste certain flavors on certain parts of your tongue.

When a Harvard researcher mistranslated a German scientist's 1901 study, the idea of "tongue maps" spread and is still found in textbooks today. The concept that sweet is tasted on the tongue's tip and bitter on the back is a taste myth scientists are still trying to dispel. We experience all five tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (think broth or soy sauce)—on the front, sides, and back of our tongue.

Taste test: Find out if you're a supertaster

Tongues are covered with fungiform papillae, mushroom shaped-structures that house our taste buds, and supertasters have a lot more papillae than the average taster. The best way to test if you're a supertaster, Bartochuk says, is to take a close look at your tongue and compare it with friends' or family members'.

Here's an easy test you can do with a group of people: 

1. Get some Q-Tips, blue food coloring, and a magnifying glass.

2. Have everyone put a couple of drops of blue food coloring on a Q-Tip and swab their tongues. Taste buds won't get as saturated with color as the rest of the tongue—they may remain pink or turn a lighter shade of blue.

3. Use a magnifying glass to look at the tongues. Supertasters' tongues will be visibly covered by more fungiform papillae.

Then again, if you'd rather avoid dying your tongue bright blue, you can always order a supertaster kit online.

These Early '70s Ads Tried to Convince Kids the US Army Wasn't Totally Uptight

Mother Jones - May 27, 2017 - 5:00am

In the early 1970s, the US Army had a serious problem with its brand. It was stuck in an unpopular and bloody war. Morale stank; even President Richard Nixon conceded to West Point cadets that "it is no secret that the discipline, integrity, patriotism, self-sacrifice, which are the very lifeblood of an effective armed force…can no longer be taken for granted in the Army." Plus, Nixon had promised to stop the draft and the Pentagon had agreed to reintroduce an all-volunteer force in 1973. That meant military brass could no longer rely on a steady stream of warm bodies to fill the ranks—they would have go out and convince new recruits that Army life wasn't a drag.

Iconic and unseen war photos from Vietnam and Iraq AP Photo

So in 1971, the Army enlisted Madison Avenue to help. Not literally Madison Avenue, but N.W. Ayer, a venerable Philadelphia advertising firm that held the Army recruitment account and had coined copywriting gems such as "A diamond is forever." Armed with a $18.5 million budget—a sixfold increase from 1970—would-be Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons started brainstorming ways to sell the Army to a target demographic that had come of age amid peace protests and love beads.  

This wasn't the first time Ayer had tried to convince young Americans that the military got them. In 1969, it created an ad targeting young women titled "The Army Needs Girls as Well as Generals." Beneath a photo of an aging staff officer and his fresh-faced assistant—his hand creepily touching hers beneath a manila folder—the ad gushed about the need for "girls who can keep things moving in the office." And if the chance to wage bureaucratic warfare in a potentially hostile work environment wasn't enticing enough, the copy promised the chance to meet "young people who want to go places and do things."  

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The generals who oversaw the 1971 Army rebranding project were unimpressed by Ayer's initial pitches. One rejected concept, described by historian Beth Bailey, featured an image of a chicken wearing dog tags with the tag line "Bye Bye Birdie." (Sorry, Sal Romano.)

Eventually, the firm sold a reluctant Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland on the slogan "Today's Army Wants to Join You"—a twist on the old "I Want You for U.S. Army" posters that one ad exec said was meant to evoke "individual expression and changing lifestyles." (The other branches of the armed services also deployed new slogans to woo the Me Generation: the Navy: "If you're going to be something, why not be something special?" The Air Force: "Find yourself in the United States Air Force.")

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The resulting youth-friendly campaign featured a variety of print ads published in mainstream magazines such as Popular Science and Field and Stream. Ads aimed at African Americans ran in Ebony, Jet, and other black magazines. "When was the last time you got promoted?" asked an ad depicting a young African American woman in an office. There was no mention of doing a general's paperwork; instead, the ad talked up interesting work—"at the same starting salary our men get."   

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The campaign also included TV and radio ads as well as records like the one below. Inconveniently, Bailey notes, the TV spots rolled out just as Lt. William Calley was being tried for his role in the 1968 My Lai massacre. A survey found that the ads didn't shift young men's interest in enlisting; some unswayed viewers called them "slick garbage." The TV campaign ended after three months and its funding was not renewed. But Westmoreland later reported that the short-lived campaign was "eminently successful."

The external rebranding effort was matched by an internal one. In preparation for the end of the draft, the Army rolled out reforms at a few bases as part of Project VOLAR (Volunteer Army). Changes included an end to reveille and bed checks, fewer inspections and more privacy, and other moves toward easing discipline and breaking down military hierarchy. Commanders could even allow the sale of low-alcohol beer in mess halls and barracks.

Operation Dessert Storm: The military loves giant cakes National Archives

In 1971, a couple of recent enlistees hit the road on their motorcycles on a new kind of recruiting mission. "Rapping with kids on street corners, at dances, at bowling alleys and high schools from New York to Baton Rouge," according to the Soliders magazine, the duo talked up the perks of the new, laid-back Army. At one high school, Specialist Mike Speegle boasted about his two-person room: "I had black light posters, peace signs, a little styrofoam beer cooler in the corner."

The changes went all the way to the top. Following "an extensive study of Army policy on haircuts," restrictions on longer hairstyles, sideburns, and mustaches were eased. A LIFE magazine article on "liberated" Fort Carson, Colorado, reported that the new three-inch haircut rule allowed "enough for a spectacular Afro." One recruitment ad focused on the new hair policies. "You'll find that today's Army is pretty relaxed about how you cut and style your hair," it read. "You'll discover that we care more about your head than we do about your hair."

In 1971 LIFE asked cartoonist Bill Mauldin to view "the new Army" through the eyes of his grizzled World War II dogfaces.  Life/Google Books Soliders

The closest the "Today's Army" campaign came to acknowledging the Sexual Revolution was an ad that suggested a tour of duty in Germany was a chance to see some action. In it, a GI in civvies and almost-civilian-length sideburns fraternizes with an attentive blonde at what looks like a Parisian café.

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution A photographer follows soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan—and back. Peter van Agtmael

By the mid-1970s, many of the VOLAR reforms were scrapped. Officers and lawmakers alike worried that the changes, exemplified by the "Today's Army…" slogan, were indicators of deteriorating post-Vietnam morale and readiness. "Because of slogans like that, and because of the felling that they have beer in the barracks, no reveilles, and things like that, it was perceived by a great many Americans that the Army would be an undisciplined Army," Secretary of the Army Bo Callaway told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1974.

In 1973, "Today's Army Wants to Join You" was replaced with a new slogan, "Join the People Who've Joined the Army." (N.W. Ayer would later lose the Army account after a kickback scandal.) But the campaign's basic message—that a stint in uniform was a chance for self-realization rather than mindless submission to conformity—would remain a fixture of future recruitment campaigns, from "Be All You Can Be" to "An Army of One."

“Tampon tax” set to end in Florida

VICE News - May 26, 2017 - 8:26pm

The so-called “tampon tax” took another hit this week as Florida joined the growing number of states looking to end what one lawmaker has dubbed a “gender inequality.”

On Thursday, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a tax relief package that included a provision that will end the state’s sales tax on feminine hygiene products in January. The push to end states’ tampon taxes surged into the national consciousness in 2015 and 2016, earning the title of “viral legislation” among reporters, but the media hubbub over the movement has largely died down in the wake of the Donald Trump presidency.

Nevertheless, lawmakers have persisted in their efforts to end the tampon tax. So far in the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers in California, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Virginia, and Washington state have all proposed bills to end their state’s tampon taxes.

The “tampon tax,” for the uninitiated, is the term for sales taxes on period-related products like tampons, pads, and menstrual cups. Five states lack sales tax entirely, but in the states that do, certain items — such as groceries and medications — are exempt because they’re considered “necessities,” according to the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation. However, in all but eight of the states that do use sales tax, feminine hygiene products are not considered necessities, but categorized as “luxuries,” and are taxed as such.

For decades, this tax went largely overlooked; before 2005, only five states had moved to end it. But critics of the tampon tax now argue that it financially penalizes women, as they can’t just refuse to menstruate.

“Basically we are being taxed for being women,” California state assemblymember Cristina Garcia said in a statement last year when she announced a bill to end her state’s tampon tax. “This is a step in the right direction to fix this gender injustice. Women have no choice but to buy these products, so the economic effect is only felt by woman [sic] and women of color are particularly hard hit by this tax. You can’t just ignore your period.”

Garcia also pointed out that in California, as in several other states, erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra are not taxed. While Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown ultimately vetoed Garcia’s bill after it passed the legislature, citing budget concerns, Garcia reintroduced it this year.

Self-described “menstrual equity” activist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, told Time that 14 states and three major American cities sought to end the tax in 2016. Illinois, New York, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia all succeeded. The movement has also gone international: that same year, Canada eliminated its tampon tax.

Reuters: Jared Kushner Had Undisclosed Contact With Russian Envoy, Say Sources

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 8:10pm

By Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials told Reuters.

    Those contacts included two phone calls between April and November last year, two of the sources said. By early this year, Kushner had become a focus of the FBI investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, said two other sources - one current and one former law enforcement official.

Kushner initially had come to the attention of FBI investigators last year as they began scrutinizing former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s connections with Russian officials, the two sources said.

    While the FBI is investigating Kushner’s contacts with Russia, he is not currently a target of that investigation, the current law enforcement official said.

The new information about the two calls as well as other details uncovered by Reuters shed light on when and why Kushner first attracted FBI attention and show that his contacts with Russian envoy Sergei Kislyak were more extensive than the White House has acknowledged.

    NBC News reported on Thursday that Kushner was under scrutiny by the FBI, in the first sign that the investigation, which began last July, has reached the president’s inner circle.  

    The FBI declined to comment, while the Russian embassy said it was policy not to comment on individual diplomatic contacts. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Multiple attempts to obtain comment from Kushner or his representatives were unsuccessful.

In March, the White House said that Kushner and Flynn had met Kislyak at Trump Tower in December to establish “a line of communication.” Kislyak also attended a Trump campaign speech in Washington in April 2016 that Kushner attended. The White House did not acknowledge any other contacts between Kushner and Russian officials.

 

BACK CHANNEL

Before the election, Kislyak’s undisclosed discussions with Kushner and Flynn focused on fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Russian economic relations, six of the sources said. Former President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia after it seized Crimea and started supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

After the Nov. 8 election, Kushner and Flynn also discussed with Kislyak the idea of creating a back channel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could have bypassed diplomats and intelligence agencies, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine how those discussions were conducted or exactly when they took place.

Reuters was first to report last week that a proposal for a back channel was discussed between Flynn and Kislyak as Trump prepared to take office. The Washington Post was first to report on Friday that Kushner participated in that conversation.

Separately, there were at least 18 undisclosed calls and emails between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked people in the seven months before the Nov. 8 presidential election, including six calls with Kislyak, sources told Reuters earlier this month. . Two people familiar with those 18 contacts said Flynn and Kushner were among the Trump associates who spoke to the ambassador by telephone. Reuters previously reported only Flynn’s involvement in those discussions.

Six of the sources said there were multiple contacts between Kushner and Kislyak but declined to give details beyond the two phone calls between April and November and the post-election conversation about setting up a back channel. It is also not clear whether Kushner engaged with Kislyak on his own or with other Trump aides.

 

HOW KUSHNER CAME UNDER SCRUTINY

    FBI scrutiny of Kushner began when intelligence reports of Flynn’s contacts with Russians included mentions of U.S. citizens, whose names were redacted because of U.S. privacy laws. This prompted investigators to ask U.S. intelligence agencies to reveal the names of the Americans, the current U.S. law enforcement official said.

Kushner’s was one of the names that was revealed, the official said, prompting a closer look at the president’s son-in-law’s dealings with Kislyak and other Russians.

    FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official.

    The head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, Sergei Nikolaevich Gorkov, a trained intelligence officer whom Putin appointed, met Kushner at Trump Tower in December. The bank is under U.S. sanctions and was implicated in a 2015 espionage case in which one of its New York executives pleaded guilty to spying and was jailed.

The bank said in a statement in March that it had met with Kushner along with other representatives of U.S. banks and business as part of preparing a new corporate strategy.

    Officials familiar with intelligence on contacts between the Russians and Trump advisers said that so far they have not seen evidence of any wrongdoing or collusion between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.  Moreover, they said, nothing found so far indicates that Trump authorized, or was even aware of, the contacts.

    There may not have been anything improper about the contacts, the current law enforcement official stressed.

    Kushner offered in March to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s election.

The contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign coincided with what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was a Kremlin effort through computer hacking, fake news and propaganda to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House and damage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

 

 (Reporting by Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by John Walcott, Warren Strobel and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Ross Colvin)

 

The Washington Post Just Published an Explosive Report About Jared Kushner and Russia

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 6:30pm

Shoes continue to drop in the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible connections to Russia. Yesterday, speculation that the FBI was looking into the Trump family was confirmed by reports that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, is under scrutiny. More details are emerging about the investigation.

Enter the Washington Post:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

This story hasn't been confirmed by other publications, so take it with the weight of a single report based on anonymous sources, but having said that: Yikes.

Go read the whole thing.

Quote of the Day #2: Tax Plans

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 6:08pm

The Wall Street Journal provides an example of the criticism leveled at Donald Trump's press operation:

Some Trump advisers have also questioned the judgment of communications officials, citing as an example the rollout of a tax-plan outline in April that featured Goldman Sachs alumnae Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director.

“The left is automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. And we just gave them an image of the rich and of Wall Street,” one Trump former campaign official said.

First off, who else is going to roll out a tax plan? The Secretary of Defense?

Second, the left isn't automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. We're going to say that if it actually is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. But the confusion here is easy to understand since Republican plans are always tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. That makes it hard to parse responses from the left, I suppose.

DHS Public Database Includes Personal Information of Abuse Victims

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 4:24pm

The Trump administration's effort to highlight crimes committed by undocumented immigrants has become a nightmare for immigrant victims of abuse, with the personal information of undocumented victims appearing in a publicly searchable database launched last month by the Department of Homeland Security.

Last month, DHS created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, aimed at assisting the victims of crimes committed by immigrants. At the same time, it rolled out a database called Victim Information and Notification Exchange, or DHS-VINE, ostensibly to provide information on the custody status and detention information of immigrants who have been accused of crimes. But the database appears to contain information about a much broader group of people, including undocumented immigrants in detention who are not suspected of crimes other than lacking legal status—and who are sometimes themselves victims of abuse.

The problem was first highlighted by the Tahirih Justice Center, which supports immigrant women and girls escaping gender-based violence. On Thursday, the group wrote a letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement explaining that the personal information of immigrant survivors was searchable in DHS-VINE.

Earlier this month, the center was able to find the personal information of one of its clients in the database. The group then reached out to attorneys who work with immigrant survivors; together, they confirmed that the names, custody status, and detention location of other survivors were searchable in the DHS-VINE system. The database also includes information about where detainees are housed and sends notifications when they are transferred or released, potentially allowing abusers or traffickers to find their victims and cause further harm. "Their listing in the public database is a violation of federal statute which carries significant penalties under the law, and puts survivors' lives in danger," the center notes in its letter.

Immigrant advocates first notified ICE of the problem earlier this month but received no response. They then sent a second letter on May 25, calling for the information of survivors to be pulled from the system immediately or for DHS-VINE to be shut down by Friday.

"We're concerned that DHS does not seem to be seriously considering the concerns of victims of crime," says Archi Pyati, chief of policy for the Tahirih Justice Center. The inclusion of survivors' information, she says, is a violation of federal law protecting the information of people applying for special visas or other protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking.  

In statements to Mother Jones and other media outlets, ICE said that it was aware of the problems with the database. "ICE continually strives to ensure that information protected both by policy and law is never divulged," the agency said. "When the agency receives evidence suggesting that non-releasable information is unintentionally available, immediate actions are taken to ensure proper mitigation both to correct and to prevent further disclosures." The agency did not respond to questions about how long it would take to remove survivors from the DHS-VINE database. Earlier on Friday, the Guardian reported that some names were removed from the database after the outlet sent an inquiry to ICE. But the names of other survivors remain in the system.

The VOICE office has been criticized for painting immigrants as uniquely engaged in criminal activity despite evidence that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than US citizens. Shortly after the office launched, the Los Angeles Times reported that it was able to find the information of children as young as three years old in the VINE database.

The controversy over the DHS-VINE is the latest blow to immigrant victims of abuse, who have already moved into the shadows as the Trump administration continues to push aggressive immigration enforcement. A recent survey of service providers working with immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault found that three in four providers had worked with survivors concerned about opening themselves up to deportation if they contacted the police or went to court to address their abuse.

Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, reached out to the Tahirih Justice Center on Friday about the issue. "I assure you that we are implementing additional measures to strengthen the information protections of the system," he wrote.

If survivors' names are still in the database next week, Pyati says advocates will reach out to the agency again. "Now that they're on notice, we are going to pursue every avenue that we can to ensure that victims are safe," she says.

Quote of the Day: Pink Donut Boxes

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 4:18pm

From Peter Yen of Santa Ana Packaging, a manufacturer of donut boxes:

Anytime you see a movie or sitcom set in New York and a pink doughnut box appears, you know it obviously took place in L.A.

I did not know that! But it turns out that pink donut and pastry boxes are unique to Southern California.1 Why? Long story short, a Cambodian refugee from the Khmer Rouge became the donut king of Orange County during the 80s before he gambled away his fortune in the 90s. When he was starting out he asked his supplier for a cheaper donut box, and the pink box was born. Click the link for the longer story.

1Are they really? Or have they since spread to the rest of the country? Let us know in comments.

Five Years Later, US Admits Lies About Deadly Honduran Shooting

FAIR - May 26, 2017 - 3:59pm

An edited transcript of Dana Frank’s interview ran in the July 2012 Extra!.

A Justice and State Department review reveals that top Drug Enforcement Administration officials lied repeatedly to Justice and to Congress about deadly shootings in Honduras in May 2012—including an incident off the Mosquito Coast in which a boat was fired on, killing four passengers, among them a 14-year-old boy. DEA officials long maintained, and media reported, that those killed were drug dealers who had fired first.

Presented now as a shocking revelation unearthed by government digging, the findings are no surprise to regional experts like University of California/Santa Cruz historian Dana Frank—nor should they be to the press. When CounterSpin (5/25/12) spoke to Frank in May of 2012, she had this to say:

This is a great opportunity to talk about critical thinking about the US media, because this story would never have been broken if it wasn’t for a couple reporters. I saw in the Honduran papers the day after it happened [5/12/12]; it was reported in the Honduran papers as, “DEA agents and Honduran troops killed drug traffickers and had a successful raid.” And over that next weekend, the indigenous people of the region put out a statement, saying, “Wait a minute, we were killed by the military here, and we were shot on from above and we are not drug dealers.”

And that went nowhere, because, frankly, if you follow Honduras closely, those kind of statements [come] from people being killed all the time by Honduran troops and police, and so you have to wait and see who’s even going to confirm that, because no one will believe you.

And then what happened was on Tuesday morning [5/15/12], one Honduran paper reported that the mayor and the congressman from that region, in the Mosquitia, said that the people that had been killed by the troops were civilians, and that they had been killed by the DEA as well as Honduran troops. Thank goodness that was picked up by Bloomberg News, in a piece that didn’t move that far, and AP picked up that story and moved with it, and we really want to celebrate Bloomberg for doing it and AP for doing it.

And then they started talking to the DEA and the State Department, and then of course the spin machine kicked in. The State Department said in its briefing that, yes, they did acknowledge that DEA agents were on board the helicopters, there were two helicopters at least, and they acknowledged that the helicopters are owned by the State Department, and also that there were Guatemalan military on board, which is also interesting. But at the same time, the State Department spin started to be—implying that these people were in fact drug traffickers; there was some remark about, well, local authorities are often drug traffickers, sort of impugning the mayor who had said it, and saying that, well, they had been shot at first.

And, you know, I can tell you as a historian that we don’t want to believe a word that the State Department is saying here. There’s just way too much of a history of lying about things. Of course, we can believe them when they admit to bad things, but I think we have a lot to learn about what was going on in this incident.

So the point isn’t so much now it can be told, as now it can be admitted.

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 May 2017

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 2:05pm

Someone in comments the other day was kvetching about the fact observing that I tend to crop my photos pretty tightly, and that's true. I like sharp, tightly-cropped pictures. Still, variety is the spice of life, and my fondness for close-ups means that you rarely get to see Hilbert or Hopper in action. I use the word "action" advisedly, since that mostly just means walking around. But even that's something, so today you get an exciting action shot of Hilbert.

Even with the fancy new camera, this is surprisingly hard to do. Cats in motion are frequently blurry or out of focus, and the follow-focus feature of the Lumix is pretty hit-or-miss. All that said, here it is. Photographic proof that Hilbert doesn't just sit around 24 hours a day.

Trump: Overseas Trip Has Saved "Millions of Jobs"

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 1:52pm

Donald Trump claims that his world trip this week has saved millions of jobs. Millions!

A White House official said Trump was not talking just about the Saudi deals but “benefits to trade from the entire trip from Saudi Arabia to the G7.” He noted that “any improvement on trade would save many jobs. Stopping even one bad trade deal can save millions. Changing the infrastructure of global trade to tilt it back toward the U.S. would save and create millions.”

Hmmm. Barack Obama made 52 overseas trips during his presidency, and employment climbed 12 million during the same period. That's about 200,000 jobs per trip. Trump says he's responsible for millions just in one trip. That's pretty remarkable, no? But Trump is a remarkable man.

Canadian incomes have only increased by 3 percent since 2012

VICE News - May 26, 2017 - 1:44pm

Canadian incomes climbed a paltry three percent between 2012 and 2015, according to the latest data released by Statistics Canada today. The median after-tax income of Canadian families and unattached individuals stood at a dismal $56,000 in 2015, a mere 0.4 percent increase from the year before.

In 2015, Canadians who were single and under 65, (not married or in a common-law relationship) had a median after-tax income of $29,400. That basically means that half of non-senior single Canadians earned less than $29,400, and the other half earned more.

Another statistic worth mentioning — single-parent families had a median after-tax income of $45,700, less than half the median after-tax income of two-parents families. That number was virtually unchanged from 2012 to 2015, indicating that we have barely seen any kind of income growth for single parents in Canada.

Home prices rise, incomes remain flat

Let’s all pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that most Canadians have experienced very little wage mobility in the last five years. By contrast however, the cost of living sure hasn’t stagnated since 2012.

The best example of this is home prices in Canada. In January 2012, the average price of a residential dwelling in Canada (townhouses, condos, houses) was roughly $350,000. By June 2015, that number had risen by 30 percent to $450,000.

So, just so we are all clear, our incomes have risen three percent between 2012 and 2015,  but owning a home has gotten 30 percent more expensive in the same time period.

Rent data, a key factor in assessing the cost of living, doesn’t paint a much brighter picture of how unaffordable our country has become, especially large cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

It’s misleading to lump rent in all towns and cities across Canada into one category, but if you just take a look at Toronto, rents have climbed at least 30 percent since 2012.

Data from Urbanation, a website that has been tracking the Toronto condo market since 1981 estimates that the average rent for a 1 bedroom condominium in Toronto hovers at around $1990. Back in 2012, that number was perhaps $1600, maybe slightly less.

Of course, incomes in Toronto trend higher than the national average, but not nearly high enough to justify a 30 percent increase of the cost of owning or renting a home in the short span of four years.

Cheap credit fills the income-cost of living gap

The obvious question upon crunching income and cost of living data is how exactly have Canadians been purchasing homes or keeping up with rent? A big part of that answer is debt.

Household debt has climbed tremendously since 1981, but its steepest increase took place in the early 2000s — that trend continued when the Bank of Canada began its low interest rate policy, just after the 2008/2009 financial crisis. In 2011, Canadians owed $1.50 for every dollar they earned. As of 2016, we owe $1.67 for every dollar earned, the highest household debt to income ratio amongst G7 ratios.

(Just for the sake of comparison, back in 1990 when home prices were significantly lower, Canadians were in the black — they owed $90 dollars for every $100 earned).

In late 2016, the credit monitoring agency TransUnion came out with a report that pegged the average Canadian’s credit card debt at a three-year high of $3610.

Statistics Canada will only release the results of their 2016 income survey this time next year, but considering that home prices have climbed even more drastically in 2016, expect affordability to remain a serious issue for the next little while.

Did Michael Flynn Lobby for the Turkish Government?

Mother Jones - May 26, 2017 - 1:27pm

Last year, Michael Flynn received half a million dollars as part of a contract with the Inovo Group, headed by Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkey-US Business Council. Was this legit? Or is Inovo just a front for the Turkish government? David Corn investigates:

The paperwork Flynn filed with the government is confusing. Some of the records note that his company, the Flynn Intel Group, was hired to compile opposition research on Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government claims helped orchestrate an unsuccessful coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last summer....It was through his contract with Inovo that Flynn ended up in a September 19 meeting set up by Alptekin at the Essex House hotel in New York City with Turkish government officials, where reportedly the participants considered kidnapping Gulen. (A Flynn spokesman insisted Flynn had not discussed any illegal actions, and Alptekin has denied there was any talk of abducting Gulen at this gathering.)

OK. But there's also this:

An attachment to the filing, citing an American law firm representing Alptekin, says that "Inovo represented a private sector company in Israel that sought to export natural gas to Turkey".... In March, Alptekin told one reporter that he had hired Flynn "principally to produce geopolitical analysis on Turkey and the region" for a "regional energy company that is considering an investment in Turkey."

Digging up dirt on Gulen doesn't sound like something a private consulting group would be interested in. It sounds like something the Turkish government would be interested in. This is all the more mysterious because we don't know who was funding Flynn's work:

In an interview with a Dutch newspaper in April, Alptekin said the funds for the Flynn project came from a loan from his wife and payments from Ratio Oil Exploration, an Israeli natural gas company.

It seems unlikely that an Israeli oil company would have much interest in Michael Flynn's assessment of the potential market in Turkey for Israeli natural gas—especially since the oil company in question flatly denies that it has any connection with Alptekin at all. And it seems even more unlikely that Alptekin's wife would have any interest in this.

So was Flynn actually acting as an agent of the Turkish government, with the money being thinly laundered through Alptekin? Or was it, as both Flynn and Alptekin claim, really all about Alptekin's belief that Flynn had keen insights to offer regarding geopolitical analysis of Turkey and the region? We report, you decide.

How conservative spin cut up the CBO health bill analysis

Columbia Journalism Review - May 26, 2017 - 1:26pm
THERE WASN’T MUCH FOR THE GOP to cheer about when the Congressional Budget Office released its report on the updated American Health Care Act late Wednesday. That evening, Politico published a rundown of the report’s key points, many of them grim: 23 million fewer people insured within a decade, more than half within a year […]

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