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Updated: 4 hours 43 min ago

Chaffetz says Michael Flynn probably took money from Russia and there will be “repercussions”

5 hours 6 min ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Tuesday it appears that Trump’s former national security advisor retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn broke the law and received money from Russia.

“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey, or anybody else,” Chaffetz said in a joint statement with Rep. Elijah Cummings on CNN. “And it appears as if he did take that money, it was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law.”

“If that money was received by General Flynn and we believed that it was, that money needs to be recovered,” he said.

Trump’s White House has denied the Committee’s request to provide documents on Flynn related to his security clearance and foreign payments.

Rep. Cummings called for a “thorough and robust investigation,” the House Oversight Committee said in a tweet, using the hashtag #protectourdemocracy.  

.@RepCummings .@RepCummings: We need a thorough and robust investigation. #protectourdemocracy #Flynn #Russia pic.twitter.com/tCAZsSDRX9

— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) April 25, 2017

The conclusions of unlawful behavior by both House Oversight Committee leaders comes after reviewing classified memos and Flynn’s financial disclosures in a private briefing on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

Rep. Cummings called the documents “extremely troubling” and said he believed they should be declassified, according to a prepared statement.

In March, Flynn offered to testify to the House and Senate committees investigating the Russian interference in last year’s presidential election in exchange for immunity.

“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit,” his lawyer said. The Senate committee denied the request at the time, saying it was premature. While it’s unknown if Flynn’s “story” would be relevant to the committees’ investigations, the latest revelation shows why immunity could be very valuable to Flynn.

Flynn resigned from the Trump administration after only 23 days following revelations that he had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia with the country’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration.

Trump administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence had backed up Flynn’s claim he did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak. Flynn’s conversation, however, was picked up by the intelligence community and contradicted Flynn’s account.

President Trump ultimately asked for Flynn’s resignation, saying he had lied to the Vice President.   

Trudeau opens door to helping pot convicts

5 hours 6 min ago

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t ruled out issuing pardons for those convicted of cannabis-related offences, but said that any remediation will come after his government legalizes the drug next year.

The comments, made at an exclusive talk on legal weed with VICE Canada, mark the first time Trudeau, as prime minister, has opened the door to doing something for those with pot criminal records — something that’s at odds with recent statements made by members of his cabinet.

“Our focus is on making sure we’re changing the legislation to fix what’s broken, a system that’s hurting Canadians,” Trudeau said Monday, in response to a question from Malik Scott, a 22-year-old who is currently facing possession charges after allegedly getting caught with a small amount of pot.

And then we will take steps to look at what we can do for those people who have criminal records for something that will no longer be criminal.”

Trudeau made the remarks after acknowledging the inherent unfairness baked into a justice system that favors the elite. He said his own family had been confident his younger brother would be able to get out of a possession charge thanks to his father’s resources and “connections.”

“How am I going to become the next Prime Minister if I can’t get a decent job because of these charges?”

Scott — who sat on a panel that also included Jodie Emery, a former dispensary owner charged with marijuana trafficking and Zoë Dodd, a harm reduction worker who pressed Trudeau on his response to the opioid crisis — told the audience about how he was worried that if he ends up getting convicted for his current marijuana charge, he would be barred from leaving Canada to visit family members abroad.

“In addition to that, how am I going to become the next Prime Minister if I can’t get a decent job because of these charges?” Scott continued. “Given that all of this is going to be legalized in about a year, what would you say to someone in my position?”

Trudeau then delved into the story of his younger brother, Michel, who died in an avalanche 20 years ago at the age of 23.

“Six months before, he was driving back home from the west coast across the country, and he got in a terrible, terrible accident,” the prime minister explained. “And his truck tumbled and a Sucrets box went flying across the highway and when the police were helping him clean up and tow, they opened the Sucrets box and there was a couple of joints inside, so he was charged with possession.”

“My dad said ‘ok, don’t worry about it,’ reached out to his friends in the legal community.”

But after Michel returned home to Montreal, Trudeau said his that his father — former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau — helped make it all go away.

“My dad said ‘ok, don’t worry about it,’ reached out to his friends in the legal community, got the best possible lawyer, and was very confident that we were going to be able to make those charges go away,” Trudeau admitted. “We were able to do that because we had resources, my dad had a couple connections, and we were confident that my little brother wasn’t going to be be saddled with a criminal record for life.”

Trudeau had previously, while campaigning in 2015 to be prime minister, suggested his government would look at overturning the criminal records held by people convicted of marijuana crimes.

Trudeau’s retelling of the story of his brother on Monday has further fueled criticism of his government’s refusal to halt new marijuana possession charges.

As usual, articulate, with a clear awareness of how criminalization targets the vulnerable. But no logic in continuing charges of possession https://t.co/Ljy3LBBmCR

— Neil Boyd (@NeilBoydSFU) April 25, 2017

However, Scott was never confident his question would result an in immediate change, and told VICE News before the event that he would continue pushing for broader decriminalization of cannabis and raising awareness about its medicinal benefits.

I’m also pretty calm about my charge because I’ve been to court six times now, and I still haven’t received any disclosure from the cops,” he said. “I’m confident that my charges will be dropped in the future, but I know that not everyone in my case will be as lucky.”

Trudeau’s pledge, which didn’t specify when or how the government would review the hundreds of thousands of criminal records held by Canadians previously convicted of cannabis crimes, comes after his public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, told reporters last week that the Liberals had no plans to issue blanket pardons of past convictions for marijuana possession, and that the transition would not be a “free-for-all.” Nor will it allow for a moratorium on new possession charges laid in the lead-up to the implementation of recreational cannabis market.

Under the proposed legalization bill, people in Canada will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, and grow up to four plants per household. However, there are still hefty penalties for those who break the law and operate outside of the regulatory framework, with maximum punishments for some offences reaching 14 years in jail.

This week, VICE News revealed new numbers that show more than 5,000 Canadians were prosecuted for cannabis possession in 2016, the year the Liberals announced their plans to introduce their legalization bill.

Canada will likely sell legal weed online

5 hours 10 min ago

There will be a way to purchase legal weed “in every corner of this country” — likely through a federally regulated system online — regardless of any limitations provinces may decide to put in place, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a live conversation with VICE Canada on Monday night.  

In a forum on cannabis legalization that included former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, the government’s point person on the issue, Trudeau said provinces and territories that might choose different approaches to selling marijuana much like different regimes around alcohol were “important” partners.

That leaves provinces to figure out whether weed will be sold in dispensaries or by liquor control boards.

“The provinces have well over a year now,” he said. “Fifteen months to put in place their system that suits them. If a province chooses not to, there will still be a way through the federal regulated system for people in every corner of this country to purchase marijuana.”

The much-anticipated legalization bill tabled last Thursday puts the federal government in charge of licensing producers and making sure the supply is safe.

That leaves provinces to figure out whether weed will be sold in dispensaries or by liquor control boards, and to set a minimum age for someone to purchase it. The minimum age must be no less than the federal legal age of 18, however.

All this will have to be figured out before legalization comes into effect, which will likely be on or before July 1, 2018.

Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has said there’s “lots of work ahead” for the provinces. His government has, in the past, suggested that selling marijuana alongside alcohol in provincial liquor stores may be the best approach.

“Social responsibility is going to be a very important aspect of our deliberation.”

“Social responsibility is going to be a very important aspect of our deliberation,” he told reporters last week. “Just like alcohol and tobacco, even though they’re legal, we know they’re products with harmful consequences and we spend a lot of time and resources in getting that message across.”

Alberta’s Attorney general Kathleen Ganley said the timeline was “definitely ambitious,” and Premier Rachel Notley agreed the deadline would be tough to meet.

The Alberta government plans to get public input on the age of majority, and where it will be sold.

“We’re going to try very hard to meet those time limits, and if we don’t, we’ll have to go back and say, ‘You know what? We need more time,’” said Notley.

The Quebec government, meanwhile, has taken issue with Ottawa’s strategy on the file, and have asked for a pledge of support — and money — from the federal government on the issue.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have both taken issue with being saddled with the responsibility for actually putting in place the distribution model. They remain vague about how they intend to actually make the drug available — but are the two likeliest suspects to impose stifling restrictions on how marijuana can be made available.

Trump decides border wall funding isn’t worth shutting down the government

5 hours 25 min ago

Congressional Democrats called President Trump’s bluff; and on Monday night, he folded.

The Trump administration decided to delay asking for Congress to include border wall funding as part of a spending bill, averting a showdown that threatened to shut down the government as soon as Friday.

Instead, Trump told a group of conservative journalists Monday that he’s planning to make his request in September when his administration hopes to pass its first budget.

Over the past week, the Trump administration had pushed a much harder line, insisting that $1.5 billion must be dedicated to the border wall in this week’s spending bill. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told the Washington Post Sunday that “this is what the president ran on” and described their commitment to border wall funding as “strong.”

“My base definitely wants the border wall,” Trump told the Associated Press Friday. “You’ve been to many of the rallies? The thing they want more than anything is the wall.”

But at least eight Senate Democrats are needed to pass this week’s spending bill or the government will shut down Friday night and Democrats have stated they will not vote for the bill with border wall funding included. With Republicans in charge of all three branches of government, many conservatives believes their party will bear the blame if the government shuts down.

The Trump administration scrambled to find a point of leverage over the last two weeks, even threatening to suspend $7 billion in insurance subsidies provided under Obamacare. But Democrats were confident that voters would hold Republicans responsible for taking away health care aid and Republicans seemed to agree as they were unwilling to follow through on their threat.

Trump also may have been feeling resistance from within his own party. Despite claiming the Republican nomination last year with a promise to build a wall, many congressional Republicans are either opposed or squeamish about the idea.

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Grahamof South Carolina told the Washington Post. “I think it’s become symbolic of better border security. It’s a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that’s a bridge too far — but I’m mixing my metaphors.”

No member of Congress along the border from either party publicly supports the wall either, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis Friday.

On to the next hand.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlxThomp

 

British woman held in Iran on spying charges loses final appeal and will spend five years in jail

5 hours 41 min ago

A British-Iranian woman sentenced to five years jail in Iran on undisclosed national security offences has lost her final legal appeal, quashing her hopes of overturning the sentence and prompting calls from her family for the British government to do more to help.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a London-based project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by elite Revolutionary Guards at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she and her daughter were about to return home from a visit to family in the country.

The 38-year-old was found guilty on unspecified charges relating to national security in September. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told VICE News Tuesday that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had still not seen the charges against her, although her lawyer had said they related to membership of organizations working against Iran’s national security. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have publicly accused her of attempting to orchestrate a “soft overthrow” of the Iranian government.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always denied that she has done anything wrong, and her husband has said he believes the Iranian government may be seeking to use her as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the British government.

Now that Iran’s Supreme Court has rejected her last appeal against the sentence, exhausting her final legal avenue, Ratcliffe and the family’s supporters are calling on the British government to do more to help, including publicly declaring that she is not a spy.

“What they haven’t done is ever make a public statement to say, ‘Listen, these charges are nonsense’,” he told VICE News.

“She was a mum on holiday, who works for a development charity in London, whose crime seems to be that it gets funding from the U.K. government. That is not espionage, that is not attempting to overthrow a regime, and it is not working against national security.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, carries out journalism training, but does “not operate in Iran directly or indirectly,” the foundation’s CEO, Monique Villa, said in a statement.

Villa said she was “entirely convinced of Nazanin’s innocence” and that Zaghari-Ratcliffe  had “never had dealings with Iran whatsoever in her professional capacity at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.” The court ruling, she said, “extinguishes the last hope we have had of legally overturning a punishment where the crime remains a mystery.”

She called for Iran to grant clemency and immediately release her, saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe had “suffered terribly over the past year.”

Ratcliffe said that while his wife was now in the general population in Tehran’s Evin prison, she had spent a large part of her time behind bars in solitary confinement, which had taken a huge toll on her physical and mental health. She had suffered a slipped disc in her back which impeded the use of her arms, and had been prescribed sleeping pills, anti-depressants and a neck brace. At one stage, in December, she had considered taking her own life.

He said her situation has been made even more difficult by the fact she holds both British and Iranian citizenship. Iran refuses to recognise dual nationals, and has repeatedly refused British diplomats access to her in prison.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s supreme court appeal has been rejected, while Iran continues to refuse the U.K. access to her,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth office said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had both raised her case with their Iranian counterparts, the statement continued, adding that the government would “continue to do all we can for her.”

Ratcliffe, who has been able to speak to his wife only ten times since her arrest, said her mood had been slightly buoyed by the fact that she could now be visited twice a week by their two-year-old daughter Gabriella. Gabriella has been cared for by her Iranian grandparents since Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest, after the Iranian government confiscated the child’s passport.

“I spoke to Nazanin on the phone in February and she cried during the whole phone call. It was really quite traumatic,” said Ratcliffe.

“When I next spoke to her, in April, she was angry. But anger is better than crying.”

This Republican blocked Trumpcare, and he doesn’t care that it could end his career

6 hours 12 min ago

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Rep. Mark Sanford knows what it’s like to be a political dead man walking. Maybe that’s why the threat of a primary challenge backed by the president of the United States doesn’t exactly faze him, at least on the outside.

As a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, the South Carolina congressman helped stop Trump’s favored Obamacare replacement, the American Health Care Act, in its tracks despite feverish attempts by the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan to get them on board.

The move stopped Trump’s legislative momentum in its tracks, prompting threats of primary challenges from the president to a handful of Freedom Caucus members — including Sanford, according to the congressman.

“It doesn’t make your day when the president of the United States says I’m going to take you out the next primary,” Sanford told a group of AP Government students at North Charleston’s Fort Dorchester High School during a visit there last week. But he goes on to joke: “As best I can tell, his attention span is relatively short. And so, you know, I’m hoping that maybe he’ll forget about that and go on to something else.”

Last week, back in his district during Congress’ recess, he had to explain that call to his constituents — who voted about 54 percent for Trump — for the first time. But that didn’t mean apologizing for his opposition to the AHCA. At nearly every stop during one busy Wednesday, constituents expressed frustration with the Republicans’ health-care efforts.

“One of the most important things that we can do in any legislative process is, at times, stop things,” he said in an interview with VICE News.

At one stop in Charleston, a blue spot in his otherwise red-leaning district, Sanford calmly confronted a woman irate over GOP efforts to cut Planned Parenthood funding at a morning “Coffee with your Congressman” event, before encountering a man angrily railing against Republicans for opposing single-payer health care at a tech startup meeting.

As the man rattled off a list of countries he says have better health care than the U.S., Sanford cut him off, visibly frustrated: “All I’ve heard over the last week is health care! I got it!”

Sanford is careful to point out he was one of three Republicans on the House Budget Committee to vote against the AHCA. “Doing nothing is better than having a bill go in that doesn’t impact people’s premiums, yet the box has been checked, the political energy is gone,” he said, warning that such a scenario would cause significant political repercussions for Republicans in 2018.

But while he’s confident the House will eventually move forward on a bill, Sanford called the idea the Senate would pass that bill in its entirety “a complete fiction.”

“It will be, again, as good a reference point as we can get to in the House…and the Senate’s going to come up with some different stuff and then we’ll go to conference and we’ll argue it all over again,” he said.

At his district events, Sanford rarely strayed from his critique of President Trump, which is decidedly harsh for a fellow Republican. He called the president’s budget proposal a “make-believe budget,” and said Trump’s numerous policy reversals “makes people that much more cynical about the political process.”

In one instance, seemingly taking no heed of Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Nazi gaffe the same week, Sanford compared the current political atmosphere to the rise of Hitler. Summarizing economist Friedrich Hayek’s book, “The Road to Serfdom,” he described a situation in which a “strongman” offers citizens fed up with inefficient government more safety in exchange for more freedom.

“I think we better be careful in our country — and I’m not liking Trump to Hitler or anything like that, I want to be very clear. But I’m saying some of those phenomena are at play in our country, in that people are really hurting, in some cases, and they’re very frustrated in the way that they feel like their government is not listening to them,” Sanford says.

Most politicians who’ve survived as long as Sanford know to steer clear of Hitler-anything, but Sanford is enjoying a third life in politics and he’s clearly playing it by his own rules. This is his second stint in Congress after two terms as governor where he was made a national media figure with an odd disappearance and an extramarital affair with an Argentine journalist in 2009. Now he’s back in Congress and becoming better known for his outspoken advocacy for fiscal conservatism, delivered in frank and accessible terms, and an easy affability with voters from across the spectrum.

At this point in his career, he’s circumspect about his political survival, even that possible primary challenge. “You take it all seriously, and so I’m doing all the things that you gotta do to prepare for a race, and we’ll see what comes,” he said.

While Sanford’s bullish on prospects for Republicans progressing on health-care reform, he’s got a much gloomier view of the overall political climate in Washington. Recounting his town hall last Tuesday, which opened with one man “flipping the bird to another guy,” Sanford says the vitriol in Washington didn’t necessarily start there.

“We live in a very fractured political environment right now. And what you see in Washington at times is very much representative of what’s happening at home,” he says.

 

Migrants are hiding deep in forests as they attempt to enter Europe

6 hours 15 min ago

Fierce anti-migrant rhetoric, the construction of a second border fence in March and the installation of motion censors have done a lot to deter asylum seekers attempting to cross illegally into Hungary, but it hasn’t stopped a desperate few.

Small groups of asylum seekers, mainly from South Asia, are hiding in the woods of northern Serbia in the hopes of crossing the Hungarian border and traveling onwards into the greater European Union. In February, hundreds gathered on the border in the hope that they might sneak past the guards and further their dream of reaching western Europe. Most have now admitted defeat – fearful of harsh beatings and the possibility of being detained in closed container camps.

The Croatian and Romanian borders are now seen as the only viable entry points into the EU, and dozens of makeshift camps have sprouted up across the borders as a result, most notably in Šid on the Croatian border of western Serbia. But on the Hungarian border near the town of Subotica, around 50 unregistered asylum seekers hold out hope that a new entrance point will reveal itself.

The few remaining migrants on the Hungarian border are difficult to find, having taken to hiding deep in the woods. Behind a disused factory on the outskirts of the Serbian city of Subotica, a dirt track leads past train tracks and into the woods, opening out onto newly sown fields and dense trees.  When VICE News visited the area in early April, evidence of recent food consumption led straight to the demoralized few holding out in the woods hoping for a better life.

In the forests near the Serbian-Hungarian border, refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan play a game of cards to pass the time. Credit - Edward Crawford.

Spring brings relief — the group doesn’t have to deal with freezing temperatures anymore, but they still battle strong winds and occasional torrential downpours.

Under the shelter of the trees, some asylum seekers from Pakistan play cards around a fire. Two tents, bracketing a square of blankets used as a cooking and socializing space, flap helplessly in the wind.

“First we lived in the Barracks in Belgrade, then we came here to try for the Hungarian border. Things are different now,” say two Pakistani asylum seekers, Anam and Bisma. “We have been here three months now and people did make it across, but the last three to four weeks it’s impossible.”

The conversation turns to the Hungarian border guards’ alleged cruelty. “It was deep, deep snow last time we tried. We got past the fence and around 10km [6 miles] into Hungary. Then we saw the lights of police cars. In an open field of snow, we were fucked. What could we do. They could find us even if we ran. The police lined all 40 of us up and took turn[s] to beat us on the legs, arms, and stomach.”

A group of refugees from Pakistan take refuge in the forests of northern Serbia waiting for their chance to cross the border into Hungary. Credit - Edward Crawford.

“After 2–3 hours of beating and insults they drove us to the border with Serbia and just kicked us out shouting ‘Go on fuck off’ and other bad things in their language,” says the pair. “Our group was lucky. I had a friend who was with another group and the Hungarians beat him, put water on him then took one shoe. Imagine walking back, beaten and with one shoe in the snow.”

Anam’s and Bisma’s stories were similar to others who shared their stories with VICE News. These stories of abuse and cruelty have spread unabated across Serbia, scaring many would be asylum seekers away from Hungary. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have documented several cases of brutality eked out by Hungarian border guards against refugees, though government officials have consistently rejected these claims.

The men say they left Pakistan because of the country’s problems with terrorism, corruption, unemployment and a disregard for human rights.

“When will the borders open?” was the one pressing question asked by all the asylum seekers with whom VICE News spoke.

There are currently an estimated 8,000 asylum seekers in Serbia alone and more are expected to arrive in the coming months. April has seen Serbian police rounding up hundreds of unregistered migrants along the borders and placing them in official camps. But with the legal process of asylum taking many months or even years, many pin their hopes on crossing illegally into countries like Italy.

“Once we are in Italy we can get the papers, no problem. Then no one can deport us back to Bulgaria. We stay in Italy and then after a few years can go anywhere.”

A Pakistani man waits on the train line leading to Hungary. Two days later he boarded a cargo container and made it across the border. Credit - Edward Crawford.

The journey to Italy from Serbia is fraught with danger. Hiding in container compartments of trains and underneath lorries is difficult and dangerous, and many have died from being crushed — recently two people were electrocuted as they tried to climb atop moving trains. Even if they make it to Croatia’s capital Zagreb,  there is no certainty they will pass on to Italy. People have been deported back to Serbia from Zagreb and Ljubljana only to try again the next week.

“We will not go back, not deport, not live in Serbia or Bulgaria. We will keep trying and inshallah one day I will be in Germany, France or even Belgium.”

The borders can get tighter, fences can get higher, border security forces can use more aggressive tactics, but none of this will successfully end the flow of asylum seekers attempting to come to the EU. The average person from Pakistan or Afghanistan claims to have invested around €10,000 to get to Serbia and they refuse to consider giving up on their European dream.

In an increasingly divided Europe, there still appears to be no workable solution to the ongoing refugee crisis. The only certainty is that thousands more will arrive each month this summer and wait on the European Union’s door for their chance to gain asylum in a western European country. The woods on the Hungarian border may not empty for some time yet.

Facebook video of man killing his infant daughter was live for almost 24 hours

6 hours 27 min ago

A 20-year-old man filmed himself killing his baby daughter in an abandoned hotel in Thailand while streaming the incident live on Facebook, before taking his own life. The horrific footage – posted in two videos that lasted over four minutes – remained accessible on the man’s Facebook page for almost 24 hours.

The crime took place Monday on the island of Phuket, and the alarm was raised by the baby’s mother who contacted police to say her boyfriend had posted a video on his Facebook page which showed him tying a noose around his daughter’s neck before lowering her body over the edge of the third floor of the abandoned hotel.

“You can hear the girl crying [on the video] and finally the crying stops. Then he pulls her up onto the rooftop and unties the rope from her neck,” a local police officer said Tuesday, describing the contents of the videos. Before they were removed Tuesday, the two clips had been watched 370,000 times.

“This is an appalling incident and our hearts go out to the family of the victim,” a Facebook spokesman told VICE News. “There is absolutely no place for content of this kind on Facebook and it has now been removed.”

Facebook took down the videos following a request from Thailand’s ministry of digital economy. “We contacted Facebook today and Facebook removed the videos,” a spokesman said. The ministry added it will not be taking any action against the company. “We will not be able to press charges against Facebook, because Facebook is the service provider and they acted according to their protocol when we sent our request. They cooperated very well.”

However because the clip was available online for so long, it has been widely shared on social media in Thailand – one TV station even broadcast the clip. While it blurred the faces of those involved, this decision was strongly criticized.

The man, who has been named as Wuttisan Wongtalay, had an argument with his girlfriend in the early hours of Monday morning, threatening to kill her because he believed she was having an affair, according to multiple media reports of his partner’s own account of the incident. She then fled the house, but when she returned on Monday afternoon, Wuttisan left with the child, saying he would be home later. Soon after, the video footage was posted on Facebook.

Facebook is still reeling from a controversy earlier this month when footage of Steve Stephens killing Robert Godwin in Cleveland on Easter Sunday was posted to the social network and remained there for hours before finally being taken down. At the time Facebook said it was “constantly exploring ways that new technologies can help us make sure Facebook is a safe environment.”

A new wave of state bills could allow public schools to teach lies about climate change

7 hours 8 min ago

Legislation proposed across the country since Donald Trump’s election threatens to bring climate change denial into the classroom under the guise of “academic freedom.”

Currently, six states have legislative measures pending or already on the books that would allow anti-science rhetoric, including the rejection of global warming, to seep its way into schools’ curricula. While these types of proposals have become fairly routine in certain states, some of the most recent crop have advanced farther than in the past.

Senate Bill 393 in Oklahoma, for example, would permit teachers to paint established science on both evolution and climate change as “controversial.” The “controversy,” however, doesn’t really exist — more than 97 percent of actively publishing, accredited climate scientists agree that global warming trends over the past century are directly attributable to human activity. And some teachers might already be misleading students.

Since its initial proposal in early February, the bill passed out of the Senate and into the House, where it circumvented the House Education Committee and now heads for a full House vote.

“It’s important to note that this exact bill in Oklahoma has been proposed in the past seven times, and it’s only this year, at a time when there’s federal policy that’s egregiously anti-science, that the bill made it so far,” said Lisa Hoyos, the director of Climate Parents, a Sierra Club–affiliated organization that supports climate change education. In fact, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Josh Brecheen, has introduced similar legislation every year since 2011. He’s said he wants “every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution.”

A bill similar to Oklahoma’s is currently working its way through the Texas Legislature. And Florida has two bills pending aimed at letting local residents object to the use of certain instructional materials, such as textbooks that teach human-induced climate change, in public schools.

Some states are passing resolutions, which have a less direct influence but send strong signals about where the state Legislature stands on climate change. In February, Indiana successfully passed its Senate resolution supporting teachers “who choose to teach a diverse curriculum,” giving climate denial and creationism the chance to enter classrooms. A similar “academic freedom” resolution has already made its way through the Alabama House. Finally, Idaho locked in a legally binding Senate resolution in March that deletes material about climate change and human impact on the environment from the state’s science standards.

Teenage environmental activist Aji Piper, 15, holds up a tee shirt he was symbolically presenting to Bill Gates.

“Academic freedom bills are the new normal,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education. According to him, state legislators across the country have filed over 70 academic freedom bills since 2004. That’s when state-level legislation began using vague language to protect teachers’ “academic freedom” by permitting educators to teach about the “strengths and weaknesses” of existing scientific theories. The bill pending in Texas, for example, includes “climate change, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning” among its controversial theories.

“We’re very familiar with this type of language, and it has clearly morphed from the anti-evolution education perspective into the anti-climate change perspective,” said David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teacher Association, which played a key role in shaping the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards, adopted by 18 states and Washington, D.C., since 2015, included the first-ever recommendations for students to learn about human-induced global warming.

These old proposals are being made new again along with a stark ideological switch at the federal level. The president has called climate change a “hoax.” The EPA administrator doesn’t believe carbon dioxide contributes to global warming. And the White House’s continued rollback of environmental regulations reflects those viewpoints. In fact, a series of Pew studies shows 2016 marked the largest gap yet between Republicans and Democrats over belief in human-caused global warming. 

“It’s no coincidence when you have an administration banning climate science material from federal websites that science deniers in states would feel emboldened. But at the end of the day, it’s our kids that get shortchanged,” Hoyos said. Her organization, Climate Parents, is circulating a petition — with over 2,250 signatures so far — that urges Republican Gov. Mary Fallin to veto Oklahoma’s bill and stand by the science standards she passed in 2014.

While groups like Climate Parents, the National Science Teachers’ Association, and the American Association for Advancement in Science have all openly opposed the passage of Oklahoma’s bill, no group has promised a legal challenge — mostly because no one quite knows what that would look like.

“Laws like these aren’t easy to litigate against, unfortunately,” Branch said. “If [Oklahoma’s bill]  were enacted, it would be hard to argue — between its vagueness and its not requiring anybody to do anything — that on its face, it is unconstitutional.” The laws permit, rather than require, teachers to miseducate students on the grounds of scientific “controversy.”

These new “academic freedom” bills cast the word “controversy” precisely in such a way that they’d be able to withstand a court challenge, according to Evans. Now, as conflicts over science education have expanded beyond just evolution and creationism, legislation purposely doesn’t explicitly ban or endorse either side to avoid violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

“I’m not uncomfortable with teaching science controversy, but I am uncomfortable with teaching a controversy where there isn’t one in the science. If you want to debate the evidence for and against dark matter versus a modified theory of gravity, that’s a good controversy to bring up in the classroom,” Evans said.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to students at Montgomery Blair High School about climate change, the Oceans, and energy issues.

As these bills continue to move forward, the lack of legal weapons worries many educators, especially after free-market think tank The Heartland Institute has vowed to send anti-climate change books and DVDs to every public school in the country.

“There’s a very clear anti-science threat right now that’s in practice,” Evans said. His organization, with around 100 others, endorsed the March for Science in Washington, D.C., and more than 400 satellite events on Earth Day last Saturday. Thousands poured into the streets with a mission to uphold and protect scientific integrity and transparency for the common good.

With voices on both sides of the climate debate growing louder than ever, how far this spate of new bills will travel remains to be seen. But parents and teachers won’t stop fighting.

“Students need to learn everything they can as innovators and solution finders,” Hoyos said. “And you don’t do that by putting them in the dark or actively misleading them.”

An 80-year-old chemist is not happy his drug is being used in Arkansas’ execution spree

8 hours 43 min ago

The state of Arkansas executed two death row inmates Monday night, the first double execution in the United States since 2000. Among the many people all over the country opposed to the killings was 80-year-old Armin Walser, the retired Swiss chemist who first synthesized one of the key drugs Arkansas used in the lethal injections.

While working for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey in 1974, Walser invented midazolam as a safer, more comfortable sedation alternative to injectable Valium. Today the drug is listed on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines needed in a health system because of its utility in sedating patients before medical procedures. But it is also the first drug administered during the three-drug protocol Arkansas and many other states use to conduct lethal injections.

Midazolam is meant to sedate the prisoner prior to the injection first of vecuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart. To date, midazolam has been used in 21 executions in the United States, including botched killings in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Alabama.

Arkansas and other states that conduct lethal injections have had a hard time getting access to midazolam since most pharmaceutical companies that distribute the drug refuse to allow it to be used in executions. Gov. Asa Hutchinson had planned to execute eight death row inmates in 11 days before the state’s current supply of midazolam expired at the end of April. So far, four of the eight scheduled executions have been stayed by courts, three executions have been carried out, and one is scheduled for Thursday.

We asked Walser, who retired in 1994, what he thinks about his drug being used to kill. (The transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

What was midazolam originally intended for?
Armin Walser: There were some difficulties with injectable Valium because it’s not water-soluble by itself, and the formulations they tried had some problems at the injection site that precipitated and caused pain…. So we were happy to find midazolam. They thought it would be perfect for sedation before anesthesia or for sedation for minor procedures; dentists, I think, like to use it also. And it was used on myself when I had a colonoscopy later in life and I found it very convenient. Very good.

Do you consider it to be the biggest success of your career?
Oh, well, midazolam was maybe the most successful venture of my chemist career. Not every medicinal chemist is in the situation to bring a drug to the market.

How is midazolam supposed to be used today? It’s used as a sedative, not an anesthetic, correct?
Yeah. It is a sedative, like, it is similar to Valium…. In Europe, it was also introduced as a sleeping aid, as a hypnotic, and many people use this also on airplanes to get some sleep. So, it’s a short-acting oral sleeping aid as well, but it was never introduced in the U.S. as an oral form.

When did you find out that the drug was being used in executions?
For the use of the execution drug, I was called I think about two years ago from a reporter from Oklahoma, and she told me that they [are] thinking of using or they [were] using midazolam for execution or sedation before execution. And, of course, I was surprised, and I was not pleased, because if your drug is used for executions, it’s not a successful drug. But the doctors, I guess, can do with it what they want to do [but] any drug company doesn’t want their drug to be used for pre-execution. And I don’t see why they couldn’t use Valium or triazolam or anything else for that purpose.

How did you feel when you found out?
I was disappointed. I did not work on the drug to kill people. On the contrary, it’s to help them. I didn’t raise a campaign to stop using midazolam, that’s not my job. But I was pleased to know that the company that introduced it was fighting against its use as a sedative for execution. They should do away with executions, anyway. I mean, there are many countries [that] don’t have life [sentences] or executions. And they’re doing all right, as far as the law is concerned and all.

The Arkansas executions were expedited because there’s an expiration date on the state’s supply of midazolam. Can you explain what that means exactly?
Well, I don’t know how long those solutions they prepare… can be kept without any changes. So I guess expiration date means after a certain time, maybe a year or half a year, some of the integrity of the drug is lost. And of course in a case for execution, you don’t want to use any drug that is expired. I’m sure it’s still good, but it’s not 100 percent, maybe just 98 percent.

Do you think that pharmaceutical companies need to be stricter about their distribution so that this doesn’t happen again?
I don’t know why they choose midazolam. I mean, this is a mystery. Why don’t they use Valium, which is an older drug and veterinary medicine uses it? Why they switched to midazolam, I have no idea. Maybe it’s a patent — of course these expire so they can use it, when they can get it on the market somewhere. This just happened to me, and I’m sorry that they use it.

Jordan ready to scrap law shielding rapists who marry their victims from prosecution

April 24, 2017 - 8:12pm

In Jordan, perpetrators of sexual assault have long had available a unique method to escape punishment: marrying their victim.

But Jordan’s cabinet moved to scrap that legislative loophole Sunday, endorsing the removal of a penal code article that currently drops all charges against rapists who marry their victim for a statutory minimum of three years.

“It’s 2017. How can a rapist be allowed to go free and at the same time make a girl or a woman’s life living hell?” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a consultant for the feminist campaign group Equality Now in the Middle East and north Africa region, told the Independent last month after Jordan’s Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing the Rule of Law first recommended getting rid of the law in February.

That recommendation, activist Laila Naffa told the Jordan Times at the time, was “a Jordanian dream that has come true.”

Last year, Jordanian lawmakers also narrowed the law to only apply if the victims were between 15 and 18 years old, and if the assault was regarded as “consensual.” The law was kept, officials said at the time, in order to keep victims from being harmed by their own families if they refused to marry her rapist.

Jordan is far from the only country to have such a law. A parliamentary panel in Bahrain recently agreed to remove a similar article from the country’s penal code, but Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia all still offered similar loopholes as of December 2016, according to Human Rights Watch. On Saturday, Lebanese activists protested their country’s version of the law by hanging wedding dresses from nooses alongside a Beirut beach.

The cabinet’s endorsement now heads to Jordan’s parliament, whose members must vote on the measure; they could still potentially block it.

Justin Trudeau called out on Canada’s opioid crisis

April 24, 2017 - 8:12pm

A harm reduction worker with personal experience of Canada’s opioid crisis accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not going far enough to combat the overdose epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives across the country.

Zoë Dodd has lost five friends and 30 people she works with this year because of the opioid crisis, fuelled by contaminated street drugs across the country, she told the crowd at a VICE Canada exclusive talk with Trudeau on his plan to legalize weed.

Zoë Dodd asks a question of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo: Anthony Tuccitto/For VICE Canada

“We are here to talk about the legalization of cannabis, and yet we are in this national devastating crisis. It is a significant loss,” she said to Trudeau, adding that 1,400 people in B.C. alone have overdosed and died over the last 14 months. “So my question to you, Mr. prime minister is will you legalize all drugs so that we can end the overdose epidemic and save lives?”

Harm Reduction worker Zoe Dodd asks if PM @JustinTrudeau will legalize all drugs to combat the overdose crisis. #VICExTrudeauTalkWeed pic.twitter.com/yimGQWBBsA

— VICE Canada (@vicecanada) April 25, 2017

Trudeau held fast to his previous stance against legalizing or decriminalizing any other drugs beyond cannabis, and defended his government’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, including making it easier to open safe injection sites and import bulk quantities of prescription heroin for severe addicts.

“Be brave.”

“We made a commitment and we got a mandate to legalize marijuana to protect our kids, to protect Canadians, to make sure that we’re removing the criminal elements from that,” he told Dodd at the event, which also included a 22-year-old facing cannabis possession charges, and a former owner of an illegal dispensary.

But that didn’t satisfy Dodd, who repeated that Trudeau’s government isn’t doing enough. “The bodies keep mounting,” she said. “We need millions of dollars. I am a frontline worker who’s not been on her job the last 6 weeks because people keep dying around me and I am completely traumatized because we don’t have the resources to do our work.”

She also implored the prime minister to look to places like Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2000, as an example. “Be brave,” she said. “You talk about the safety of children, you talk about the safety of youth. It is young people who are dying and it’s young people who elected you.”

When pressed again about decriminalizing other drugs, Trudeau quashed any hope he would reconsider.

“I’m not there yet,” he said.

The event that also included Bill Blair, Toronto’s former police chief and the Liberals’ point person on the legislation they tabled earlier this month to make marijuana legal for recreational use. He also rejected the idea that decriminalization would work. “The evidence is not strong,” Blair said.

Anthony Tuccitto/VICE Canada

Dodd is among many critics who have been urging the Liberals to decriminalize other drugs as a harm reduction method, or if not, call for a moratorium on all new cannabis possession charges between now and when the drug is legalized sometime before July of 2018.

However, Trudeau has shut down that option, too, saying that providing amnesty for new criminal charges — and pardons for past cannabis possession convictions — would go against his goal of strictly regulating cannabis, and keeping it out of the hands of children and organized crime.

“The only people who are going to be growing and allowing to sell it will be criminals themselves,” he argued. “It’s still going to be organized crime, Hells’ Angels controlling the sale of marijuana and we don’t want that.”

Trump slaps a border tax on Canadian lumber, Canada threatens to sue

April 24, 2017 - 6:30pm

President Donald Trump announced plans to slap a 20 percent tariff on Canadian lumber entering the United States in a move that seems destined to inflame relations between the two trading partners.

Speaking to a reception for conservative media in D.C., the president repeated his oft-used criticisms of NAFTA, and said that the new tax would apply to softwood lumber coming in from his northern neighbour.

“Canada has treated us very unfairly,” Trump told the reporters, according to Trey Yingst, a reporter for One America News network, which was invited to the dinner.

“It’s that top 1 percent in the United States that wants to line their pockets.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters by telephone on Monday evening that the tariff would vary by company, with an average of about 20 percent. Hiking prices on Canadian lumber could increase costs in America, especially for new home construction.

“It affects $5 billion worth of lumber coming in from Canada. It’s about 31.5 percent of the total U.S. market, so it’s a pretty big deal in terms of the Canadian relationship,” Ross said.

The softwood lumber dispute between the U.S. and Canada is a long-running trade irritation that goes back more than 30 years, with the Americans arguing that the Canadian government essentially subsidizes its lumber, injuring American industry in the process. Ottawa reject that argument.

“The Government of Canada disagrees strongly with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to impose an unfair and punitive duty. The accusations are baseless and unfounded,” reads a statement sent out by Justin Trudeau’s government on Monday night.

“The Government of Canada will vigorously defend the interests of the Canadian softwood lumber industry, including through litigation,” the statement reads, adding: “We have prevailed in the past and we will do so again.”

The announcement comes amid a provincial election in British Columbia, which is home to much of Canada’s forestry sector. Incumbent Premier Christy Clark slammed “lumber barons” in a campaign speech earlier on Monday.

“They want to raise the price of lumber because they want to make more money. It’s that top 1 percent in the United States that wants to line their pockets at the expense of the middle class,” Clark said at an event.

This is the second time the Trump administration has targeted the Canadian government in recent weeks, with the president slamming the dairy industry north of the border for supposedly being to blame for job losses at home.

In January, the U.S. trade commission found that the U.S. forestry sector was injured by Canadian softwood lumber imports. The 20 percent tariff is designed to offset those losses.

Meanwhile, the American International Trade Administration has been pursuing an anti-dumping investigation against Canada, but has yet to reach a determination — it is expected to reach a decision by June 23 of this year, according to a notice from the trade administration. That could result in additional tariffs, on top of the 20 percent.

Washington has long contended that the Canadian lumber industry, which is partially run by government-owned corporations and largely done on government-owned land, is subsidized. Canada has rejected those characterizations, and argues that U.S. producers are simply unable to compete. The arguments have played out in international trade tribunals, with each side trading victories. The most recent agreement, signed in 2006, expired in 2015.

Both sides of the border had been optimistic that President Barack Obama would have been able to strike an agreement on lumber in the last months of his presidency, but a deal failed to materialize.

 

Thousands of Canadians were prosecuted for pot possession last year

April 24, 2017 - 4:05pm

Last year, more than 5,000 Canadians faced prosecution for cannabis possession, even as the federal government moved forward with plans to legalize the drug.

New numbers obtained by VICE News from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the federal agency responsible for prosecuting drug crimes, provide a glimpse into how marijuana crimes were prosecuted across Canada in 2016, the year the Liberals announced their plan to introduce legislation to legalize the drug. The numbers also reflect the ongoing trend that possession charges make up a significant portion of all cannabis-related charges.

The agency reports there were 6,216 total criminal court files open involving cannabis, with 5,199 of those charges listed as simple cannabis possession. The rest of that number comprises 853 possession for the purpose of trafficking charges, and only 164 trafficking charges, all of which involve only cannabis. The actual total number of criminal files are likely much higher as these numbers do not include all cannabis charges prosecuted in Quebec and New Brunswick, where the provinces prosecute such offences if the arrest was not made by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

These statistics cover only circumstances where the prosecution service pursued charges at trial, and not cases where police issued a warning or a ticket. Police-reported crime statistics, compiled by Statistics Canada, report 21,315 number of people charged for cannabis possession in 2015 alone, a slight decline from the 24,535 people reportedly charged the year before. There were 6,020 people charged with cannabis trafficking in 2015, which is a significant drop from the 7,670 people charged for that offence in 2014.

That agency won’t publish its 2016 numbers until later this year.

Watch Justin Trudeau talk weed legalization at VICE Canada tonight at 6:30

Since the government introduced its bill to legalize cannabis earlier this month, there’s been a growing chorus of legal experts and cannabis activists calling for a blanket moratorium on all future cannabis possession charges, as well as pardons for all those who have been previously convicted of those crimes. But those calls have been quashed by the justice and public safety ministers who say that such measures would go against the government’s goal of implementing a strict regime to regulate cannabis.

Over the last year, police forces have been cracking down on black market cannabis dispensaries that have popped up in most major cities, especially in Ottawa and Toronto. And even though the proposed legislation to legalize marijuana would make it legal to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, it’s currently not a free-for-all even for those who have even a small amount. Just this month, the RCMP slapped a production and possession charge against a 48-year-old Alberta woman over a single marijuana plant at her home.

VICE Canada will sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday evening for a special talk on his cannabis legalization plan.

Arkansas is hours away from 2 more executions in its capital punishment spree

April 24, 2017 - 3:49pm

Two men are scheduled to be put to death in Arkansas Monday evening as the state presses on with an execution spree hastily organized due to the looming expiration dates on its controversial lethal injection drugs.

It would be the first double execution in the United States since 2000.

Death row inmates Jack Jones Jr. and Marcel Williams had asked Arkansas’ Supreme Court to halt their executions and grant them stays, but the state’s highest court rejected their request. Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court are pending.

Jones has been on death row since 1996, after he was convicted of raping and murdering a 34-year-old female accountant in the small town of Bald Knob; he also beat and choked her 11-year-old daughter in an apparent attempt to murder her. In requesting a stay, Jones’ attorneys cited his alleged history of suicide attempts, the sexual abuse he reportedly endured as a child, and his bipolar disorder, which went undiagnosed for years and caused him to have hallucinations. Jones’ lawyers argued that when their client was initially sentenced, the jury did not weigh these things as potential mitigating factors.

Williams was sentenced to death in 1997 for the abduction, rape, and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson. Similar to Jones, Williams’ attorneys contend that their client’s original trial lawyers failed to address the kind of trauma and abject poverty he had endured as a child, including being “routinely” pimped by his mother in exchange for food stamps, and serving time in an adult prison as a teenager, where he was reportedly gang raped.

Attorneys representing the two men had also requested stays on the basis of their poor health conditions. Because Williams is obese, his lawyers argue that his execution would be “a slow, agonizing death experienced as suffocation.” Jones, according to his lawyers, has diabetes and apnea, and they say that the medication he takes could impact the effectiveness of the lethal injection drugs.

The two men are among the eight death row inmates whom the state chose to execute this month before its supply of midazolam — a sedative used in a three-drug lethal injection protocol — expires. Midazolam has becoming a growing source of controversy due to its use in several high-profile botched executions in Arizona, Alabama, and Oklahoma. Arkansas says it has no way to restock its supply after this batch runs out.

The state embarked on its execution schedule last week despite criticism from civil rights groups such as Amnesty International that accused Arkansas of “callously rushing the judicial process by treating human beings as though they have a sell-by date.”

Arkansas’ plan also prompted nearly two dozen former corrections officials to sign an open letter to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying they were worried about the impact this flurry of executions would have on correction officers’ mental health.

Of the eight inmates selected for execution, three have so far been spared by federal judges and granted stays. Another, Ledell Lee, was executed on Friday evening, 35 minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Lee’s final appeals. It was the first execution Arkansas had carried out in 11 years.

The state’s flurry of execution attempts comes at a time when executions nationally have sunk to a 25-year low. In 2016, five states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas — accounted for all 20 executions nationally. As a result, for the first time in a decade, the U.S. did not appear in Amnesty International’s top five most prolific executioners worldwide. And according to Pew Research, last year public support for capital punishment hit a 40-year-low.

Ontario announces basic income pilot project

April 24, 2017 - 1:50pm

Three Ontario towns have been identified as testing grounds for the province’s new basic income pilot project. Residents of Thunder Bay, Lindsay and Hamilton will be the first in the province to receive basic income as part of the Liberal government’s experiment to figure out if guaranteed minimum income will help in reducing inequality in Canada’s largest province.

Anyone in these three towns will be able to apply to the pilot project, but only 4000 people will be selected.

Basic income is essentially a form of social security whereby the recipient receives a guaranteed sum of money from the government on a monthly basis, in addition to income earned on their own. The three year program will begin in late spring of 2017 and will compensate participants in this manner:

  • Up to $16,989 per year for a single person, less 50 percent of any earned income
  • Up to $24,027 per year for a couple, less 50 percent of any earned income
  • Up to an additional $6000 per year for a person with a disability

“It’s not extravagant, but it will make a significant difference in people’s lives,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne at a press conference in Hamilton this morning.

Right now, two similar social security programs exist — Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The first, Ontario Works, targets those specifically in financial need, regardless of whether they are employed or not. Under the program, recipients collect a certain amount of money on a monthly basis to help with the costs of basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter. Health benefits that extend to the recipient’s family, are also part of the program.

Basic income will substitute both these social services programs, and will, in theory, be less administratively cumbersome for applicants.

“There’s been a deeply rooted cynicism about what we can achieve collectively with basic income,” said Alex Himelfarb and Trish Hennessy, authors of a recent report on basic income issued by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “That cynicism has long infused Canadian political thinking and policy-making, and prevented our House of Commons from making good on its 1989 all-party commitment to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.”

Approximately 4.9 million people in Canada live below the poverty line. Three million of those are children. The price of poverty, is ironically extravagant — it costs Canadians between $72 billion and $84 billion annually. Ontario, in fact, spends approximately $9 billion on Ontario Works and ODSP each year, and that doesn’t even include the extra costs in our healthcare, education and legal systems as a result of poverty.

All this, mind you, takes place in a country that has one of the highest GDPs in the world, From sheerly a budgetary point of view, we do potentially have the financial resources to reduce poverty. It’s just a matter of whether or not politicians want to make poverty reduction a priority — most don’t want to risk alienating their middle-class voter base.

Proponents of basic income argue that there’s in fact, no better time to implement the system. Precarious employment and housing costs have both dramatically risen in the last five years or so, significantly widening the rich-poor gap. Approximately 800,000 Canadians are seasonally employed — when they are not bringing in an income, they rely on employment insurance.

“It is prudent to ask whether the EI system should be serving this function, and whether there might be a more promising solution like basic income to address cyclical and structural unemployment in Canada,” said Karen Foster, an Assistant Professor at Dalhousie University whose research focuses on rural, seasonal employment.

A discussion paper by basic income proponent and former senator Hugh Segal, challenges the core premise of Canada’s welfare state, calling it a set of “judgement-based” eligibility programs that discourages individuals, penalizes work and savings and imposes a degrading burden on individuals receiving social assistance.

“Basic income can enhance the capacity of individuals to make their own choices about their own lives, as opposed to being subject to a system of automatic transfers that erodes human dignity,” wrote Segal in the report.

Critics however, argue that handing an individual $17,000 a year, disincentivizes able-bodied people from seeking employment. This camp of basic income naysayers say that a one-stop solution for poverty in the form of government dough encourages dependency and discourages people from improving their situation.

And then there’s the money factor. Ontario says it will invest $50 million per year for each year of the three year pilot project, and that’s just for 4000 participants. A recent Fraser Institute report slammed the basic income idea altogether, arguing that Ontario simply does not have the money to afford it.

“Given Ontario’s current state of finances, the government would need to be clear on how exactly it can afford a guaranteed income as high as $22,000 for families, and what kind of social welfare programs will be cut in order for this to be financially viable.”

Robert Reich, former Labour Secretary in the Clinton administration and long-time basic income advocate controversially proposed that a basic income be financed out of company profits that result job automation and technological patents.

“Say, for example, 20 percent of all such profits were split equally among all citizens, starting the month they turn eighteen. The sum would be enough to ensure everyone a minimally decent standard of living, including money to buy the technologies that would free them up from the necessity of working.”

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Flying car startup says you’ll be able to buy one of its rides by the end of 2017

April 24, 2017 - 11:12am

Flying cars have long been a preoccupation of Silicon Valley’s ruling class, and one of the tech industry’s brightest hopes for turning Jetsonian fantasy into a reality is finally making its work public.

Kitty Hawk, a highly secretive startup whose only publicly known investor is Google co-founder Larry Page, on Monday revealed a demo video. The Kitty Hawk Flyer is an “all-electric aircraft” that can apparently land on and take off from either land or water. The company says that users don’t need a pilot’s license to use the Flyer, and that you can “learn to fly it safely in minutes.”

In a letter from founders Todd Reichert and Cameron Robertson, the company says that the Flyer’s “consumer version will be available by the end of this year.”

Kitty Hawk is also encouraging those interested to purchase a three-year “Flyer Discovery Membership” for $100 fee. The perks include a $2,000 “exclusive access” to the Kitty Hawk “flight simulator, flight demonstrations, and events where a select few will get the chance to ride the Flyer.”

It’s a strategy similar strategy to that of Elon Musk at Tesla, who has long asked prospective buyers to put down cash in order to be placed on a waiting list.

Kitty Hawk, whose president is ex-Google artificial intelligence doyen and Larry Page confidante Sebastian Thrun, isn’t the only company with Silicon Valley heavyweights behind it to pursue the flying car dream.

Zee, which has also taken funding from Page, claims it is “developing a revolutionary new form of transportation.” And in September, a senior Uber executive said that the ride-hailing behemoth is also researching VTOL — vertical takeoff and landing — technology.

Death threats prompt workers to wear bulletproof vests while removing Confederate monument in New Orleans

April 24, 2017 - 10:46am

Workers wearing bulletproof vests, helmets and scarves to hide their faces dismantled the first of four Confederate monuments planned for removal in New Orleans on Monday.

The first statue was the Liberty Monument, which commemorates whites who tried to topple a biracial post-Civil War government in New Orleans. The 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League was taken down at 1:25 a.m Monday morning, under cover of darkness.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has called the Liberty Monument “the most offensive of the four.”

“If there was ever a statue that needed to be taken down, it’s that one,” he said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press.

The identities of the contractors removing the monuments are not being revealed due to reported death threats. The removals are taking place late at night or early in the morning to avoid protesters who want the monuments to stay.

New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to approve plans to take the statues down, but legal battles prevented the removal until now. The city is split over the action which aims to eliminate symbols commonly associated with racism and white supremacy. Some locals view the monuments as part of their history, creating controversy around the removal.

In addition to the Liberty Monument, the city will remove three other statues commemorating Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, and President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis. The removed monuments are to be stored and preserved until the city determines an  “appropriate” place to display them.

The New Orleans contractor, Cuzan Services, won the contract for removing the statues with a $600,000 bid, more than three times the $170,000 price tag requested by a Baton Rouge contractor last year.

According to a lawyer for that contractor, the staff received death threats after submitting the proposal, and according to city officials, the car of one staff member was allegedly set on fire.

That contractor backed out before work even began.

“Given threats and violent acts towards previous contractors, we understand the increased costs can be due to increased risks,” City Hall Press Secretary Erin Burns said in an email. “We remain committed to taking down the Confederate monuments and securing the funds necessary to do so.”

The administration said that the removals will be paid for by an anonymous donor.

Watch VICE News Tonight’s interview with Mayor Mitch Landrieu:

 

Duterte could face an international investigation after a lawyer accuses him of mass murder

April 24, 2017 - 10:32am

The controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte could face an investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity after a lawyer filed a complaint Monday with the court based on testimony from a man claiming to be a former member of Duterte’s notorious death squads.

In his 77-page complaint, Jude Sabio accuses Duterte of being a “mass murderer,” and implicates 11 government officials — including the justice secretary and national police director general — in “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” committing crimes against humanity. Under Duterte’s leadership, the killing of drug suspects and other criminals has become “best practice,” Sabio claims.

In a cover letter to the court, Sabio writes: “Your favorable action on this matter would not only serve the noble ends of international criminal justice but would also be the beginning of the end of this dark, obscene, murderous and evil era in the Philippines.”

The basis for the complaint is a story from one of Sabio’s clients, Edgar Matobato, who testified before the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad operating on Duterte’s orders. The Senate concluded there was no evidence to back up Matobato’s claims.

The complaint is also based on testimony from retired policeman Arturo Lascanas, as well as on reports from human rights groups and media reports, including a Reuters series on the killings.

ICC spokesman Fadi el Abdallah declined to comment on any possible filing, which is standard practice for the court. Duterte is also yet to react publicly, though based on his previous comments, it is unlikely he will be too worried about a potential investigation.

“I will not be intimidated and I shall not be stopped just by what? International Criminal Court? Impeachment? If that is part of my destiny, it is my destiny to go,” Duterte told reporters last month.

The complaint says Duterte has been committing crimes against humanity ever since his time as mayor of his home town of Davao – indeed, the president has previously admitted to having links to the so-called Davao Death Squad.

When he became president of the Philippines in June 2016, Duterte expanded his violent campaign targeting both drug dealers and drug addicts nationwide. The program has already claimed the lives of more than 7,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International — with other reports putting the death toll at 9,000.

Duterte was forced to temporarily halt his campaign in February after rogue police officer killed a South Korean businessman. The campaign restarted again in March, though Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said at the time that the new campaign — now called “Operation Double Barrel: Reloaded” — will be “less bloody if not bloodless.”

Toronto police still refuse to delete the data from their carding program

April 24, 2017 - 10:26am

Police forces in Ontario have been sharing information obtained through the practice known as carding with federal police and intelligence services, according to a new report that bolsters calls by advocates to have the historical data deleted.

According to a 2014 document seen by the Toronto Star, municipal police services are required to share intelligence with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP, and the Ontario Provincial Police.

Until four months ago, police forces across Ontario liberally employed the use of carding, which consists of arbitrarily stopping and questioning people who are not suspected of a crime. It’s a practice that gained notoriety in Toronto, where police would regularly collect the individuals’ names, ages, physical descriptors like skin colour, height, weight, address, and names of their friends.

Data shows that the practice disproportionately affected black and brown men. Toronto police’s own data showed that racialized youth were 2.5 times more likely to be subjected to street checks than white youths, according to a 2010 report by the Toronto Star that analyzed six years worth of carding data.

“You’re going to ruin another generation of children’s lives.”

And while new rules have been brought into force that aim to curb the use of carding, Toronto police have remained steadfast in their refusal to destroy the database of information they have built up over the years.

Between 2008 and 2013, Toronto police filled out 2.1 million contact cards for 1.2 million people, according to the Star — of those, 14, 150 were passed along to the service’s own intelligence unit. Critics are worried that sharing the information up the chain will lead to further stigmatization of people who are already disproportionately targeted by police.

A new Toronto police policy states that access to the carding data must be approved by the police chief, and only in situations of significant public interest, but critics say that is simply not enough.

“I plan to stand here in protest until you commit today, here and now, to restricting the police having access to our information going forward,” Desmond Cole, a Toronto journalist and prominent voice on the issue, told the city’s police board this week.

“You’re going to ruin another generation of children’s lives, and I’m not going to allow you to do it.”

Here’s what you need you to know about the new rules, why activists want the trove of data deleted, and why the Toronto police won’t do it.

The new rules

Following years of outcry from racial justice and police accountability organizations, the provincial government introduced legislation designed to stop arbitrary and discriminatory street checks in January.

Saunders has said there will be a “very high watermark” with regards to when the data can be used.

The Toronto police board followed with a slew of measures to prevent cops from collecting identifying information “arbitrarily” or based on someone’s race or presence in a high crime neighbourhood. The new measures also require police officers to provide receipt at the end of a carding stop, including their name, badge number, and information on how to make a complaint.

According to the new policy, requests to access the historical carding data must be approved by Police Chief Mark Saunders and are supposed to be granted only in cases of significant public interest or to comply with a legal requirement.

The chief would be required to publicly report on the the requests, how many have been approved and why, and whether or not the data served a purpose. A panel would oversee the chief’s reports.

Saunders has said there will be a “very high watermark” with regards to when the data can be used. And Mayor John Tory told CP24 there were “safeguards” in place to ensure the data wouldn’t be used improperly.

But while the police lauded their own limitations on the system, Toronto police refused to destroy the information completely, citing ongoing lawsuits against the force.

In an interview with VICE News, Cole said that police violated the privacy of the people they stopped over the years who weren’t suspected of any crime, and essentially built a “non-criminal record of suspicion against people who were not doing anything criminal.

“These restrictions and limitations will not inspire public trust again.”

“If you believe as I do, that the police never had the right to that information in the first place, then they should all access immediately.”

Guilt-by-association

There hasn’t been a report from Saunders yet on how carding data has been accessed since the new rules took effect.

But Toronto lawyer and advocate Anthony Morgan said there’s little trust among the community that the data won’t be misused by police. It was the provincial government, he points out, that stepped in and introduced new legislation on carding, forcing the police to adapt.

“I don’t think it’s sufficient,” Morgan said. “These restrictions and limitations will not inspire public trust again. We have to look at the circumstances under which this data was extracted, and there’s little that we know about all the different ways that information can be used.”

Morgan laid out one possible scenario that resembles many cases he’s seen in the past: Imagine you are a postsecondary student who happens to live in a disadvantaged neighbourhood with a high rate of crime and you go to school, and occasionally socialize with, people “who might be involved in that life.”

“But one time, you happened to be with one of these people when police rolled up on you and carded you, ” Morgan continued.

If the other person ends up being caught up in a criminal investigation by the police, and there’s a record of you being in their presence, there’s a chance you’ll also become a suspect, explained Morgan, even if you never had a clue of their criminal involvement.

“The guilt-by-association nature that comes from these instances of carding actually ends up wasting a lot of police resources because they create these webs of connections of hundreds and hundreds of people,” said Morgan.

”They end up questioning a lot of individuals who frankly should not have had their information extracted in the first place.”

“People just assume that the police have the right to all our information.”

Regardless, Morgan said, police retaining the information has already created a chilling effect on people who have been carded — some have decided against applying for certain jobs, degree programs, and volunteer opportunities in which a police background check might be required.

For example, Cole pointed to George ‘Knia’ Singh, a law student with no criminal record, whose request for a ride-along with the Toronto police for his criminal law class was denied last year because he’d been carded in the company of people with criminal records.

“People just assume that the police have the right to all our information, all our bodies, all our privacy all the time,” said Cole, explaining why the conversation on the carding data has been difficult.

“If they’d go out and talk to average black people, they’d figure out how quickly something like this can have an effect on your life.”

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