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Updated: 5 hours 54 min ago

How to protect your online history now that Republicans want to let internet providers sell it

6 hours 49 min ago

Internet service providers will soon be able to sell information like what websites you visit to third-party advertisers, if all goes according to House Republicans’ plan Tuesday. But not all is lost – or public.

Because the Senate last week approved this bill, and because the Republicans supporting the bill control both chambers of Congress, it is widely expected that this rollback of Obama-era privacy protections will be signed into law.

The reason that ISPs want to be allowed to collect and sell this data is fairly straightforward: They want to make more money. Facebook and Google, which together have a de facto duopoly on digital advertising dollars, already collect this sort of information and use it to help advertisers better target users. Internet providers want a slice of that pie.

Though state governments are considering maneuvers to protect customer data, there are other steps that privacy-minded internet users can take on their own to conceal their information.

The easiest way is a VPN – virtual private network – which is kind of software that allows the user to mask what they are doing online. It’s not a protection against sustained, malicious hacking, but it can offer protection against mass surveillance and data collection. Outside the U.S., VPNs are commonly used to shield users from government monitors and to trick streaming services like Netflix into thinking that you’re in a different country.

VPNs do not offer complete security, and you should be careful about which VPN you trust; theoretically, a VPN could protect your data, only to collect information itself and then sell to others. And, as Electronic Frontier Foundation civil liberties experts noted earlier this month, “the only way to protect your privacy from your ISP is to pay for a VPN” — meaning you shouldn’t use freebie services.

If you’re interested in using a VPN, here are a few strong options to look at:

 

  • Hotspot Shield (Elite version): One of the most popular VPNs — and one of the more highly priced ones — parent company AnchorFree talks a big game about protecting users from government surveillance.
  • IPVanish: Another popular, paid service that offers extensive support options including for mobile.
  • NordVPN: A popular option that’s generally cheaper than the competition.

 

And if you’re more technically inclined, or want to avoid using a corporate VPN, you can set up your own VPN for your home internet network using open source tools. Here’s a how-to guide.

 

Oil is now flowing into the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe

6 hours 49 min ago

Oil is flowing into the Dakota Access Pipeline below Lake Oahe, the main point of contention in a months-long battle against the controversial project.

“Dakota Access is currently commissioning the full pipeline and is preparing to place the pipeline into service,” the company behind the project states in a status update filed late Monday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“We estimate that the line fill process will be complete in the next several weeks which allow us to put the Dakota Access Pipeline into service,” a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, told VICE News. Once complete, the $3.8 billion pipeline will move up to 570,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

The section of proposed pipeline under Lake Oahe drew an estimated 10,000 people to camps nearby last November. They opposed the pipeline in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who said the flow of oil under the lake threatened their water downstream.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe along with three other Sioux tribes is currently fighting the pipeline in U.S. District Court. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, an intervenor in the case, said in a statement Monday the pipeline “endangers waters the Tribes rely on for their very existence,” but that they are “undeterred” by Monday’s news that oil is in the pipeline under Lake Oahe.

“My people are here today because we have survived in the face of the worst kind of challenges,” Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said in a statement. “The fact that oil is flowing under our life-giving waters is a blow, but it hasn’t broken us. Our legal fight is very much alive and we believe that ultimately we will prevail.”

In their court filings, the tribes allege the Army Corps of Engineers ignored federal statutes and treaties when it approved the easement under Lake Oahe at the order of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Where in the world is Kim Jong Un’s dead half brother?

7 hours 10 min ago

It’s been more than a month since a pair of female assassins killed Kim Jong Un’s half brother with a toxic nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur’s airport, and Malaysian authorities are still trying to decide what to do with his dead body.

In the weeks since the death of 45-year-old Kim Jong Nam on February 13, the corpse of the North Korean leader’s estranged elder sibling has been kept in a hospital morgue in Malaysia’s capital. On Tuesday, however, Malaysia’s New Straits Times newspaper reported that preparations were underway to put the body on a plane to Beijing, where it make a stopover before heading to Pyongyang.

But it looks like that hasn’t happened — at least not yet. Local media outlets have offered conflicting accounts of what’s going on with the corpse.

Malaysia’s China Press reported Monday that the body was removed from the morgue and possibly sent to a crematorium, but reporters from New Straits Times spotted medical officers bringing a coffin back to the hospital on Tuesday “wrapped tightly in plastic with a red ‘fragile’ sticker on it.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam insisted that it would only hand the remains over to Kim Jong Nam’s next-of-kin.

Hospital workers move a body cart to the gate of the forensics wing of the Hospital Kuala Lumpur, where the body of Kim Jong-Nam is being held, in Kuala Lumpur on March 21, 2017. MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Sathasivam said Malaysian authorities are awaiting instructions from “those responsible for the body,” before deciding how to proceed. He said Kim Jong Nam’s family members, who reside in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau, “have not come forward to provide assistance on how the body is to be treated.”

“We have to check with the forensics department if there was any requirement to bring the body out, but as far as we are concerned there is no change in status quo,” Subramaniam told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

In addition to the fate of the dead body, actual lives might be stake. Ever since Malaysian authorities accused North Korean agents of masterminding the plot to kill Kim Jong Nam, nine Malaysian citizens have been held in Pyongyang and blocked from leaving the country.

The situation arose after Malaysia ignored protests by North Korea and conducted an autopsy that determined Kim Jong Nam had been poisoned with VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon that North Korea is thought to possess. Two young women from Vietnam and Indonesia claim they were duped into carrying out the assassination, but Malaysian police are still seeking seven North Korean suspects in connection with the killing, including three hiding in the country’s embassy in Malaysia.

 

Rust Belt despair translated into support for Trump — and Putin

7 hours 35 min ago

The mysterious warmth between Donald Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin was one of the odder elements of the 2016 presidential race. But Trump’s affection for the former KGB officer — not generally a figure of great appeal to Americans — also spread to his supporters.

In late 2016, approval of Putin was up sharply among Trump voters, reaching 35 percent in December, compared to 21 percent for the country as a whole and just 8 percent among Clinton voters, according to research by polling firm YouGov.

It’s not completely clear what led Trump voters to suddenly see the sunny side of one of the U.S.’s top global adversaries, but the ideological ground had already been softened up by years of favorable right-wing coverage of Putin’s social conservatism and Syrian military adventures, set against a supposedly feckless Obama administration.

The blending of outright pro-Trump Russian propaganda from entities like Russia Today into the polarized media diet of right-wing Americans likely also played a role, as did Trump’s bizarre and relentless positivity toward Putin, with whom he shares authoritarian tendencies.

But the growing willingness among Americans to see the bright side of non-democratic systems predates Trump. An attention-getting paper in the Journal of Democracy last year found rising support for authoritarian alternatives to democracy among well-established democratic nations. In the U.S., for example, the share of people who agree that it would be better to have a “strong leader” who didn’t “bother with parliament and elections” rose to 32 percent in 2011 from 24 percent in 1995.

I couldn’t help but think about those shifts of political sentiment while reading through the devastating new paper from Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and Princeton health economist Anne Case.

In the already dismal science, the husband-and-wife team have broken depressing new ground in recent years, sifting through U.S. mortality data and spotlighting a truly shocking rise in deaths among middle-aged white Americans who don’t go to college, a trend that stands in sharp opposition to overall trends among most countries, as well as declining death rates among better-educated whites and Americans of color who are the same age.

In their new paper out last week, Case and Deaton update and expand their original analysis — which went through 2013 — to 2015, finding that death rates for middle-age, working-class whites continued to rise relentlessly in the most recent data. The result? In 1999, the mortality rates of whites aged 50 to 54  without college degrees were 30 percent lower than blacks in the same age group. In 2015, the white mortality rate was 30 percent higher, driven by jumps in drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver disease.

The uptick in such “deaths of despair,” as economists call them, is often thought to be rooted to stagnation in economic opportunities. And there is likely some link. But it can’t be the whole story, as incomes among black Americans stagnated in similar ways over the same period, but they saw no spike in death rates. The broader story, Case and Deaton write, is related to “the collapse of the white, high school–educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline.”

In other words, the spike in death rates is related to the end of an era.

And it’s hard to overstate the significance of an uptick in mortality along these lines. Few examples in modern times — such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic that pushed mortality rates sharply higher in sub-Saharan Africa — seem comparable. But there is one comparison worth thinking about.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was followed by the worst economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression. Estimates said the GDP of the former Soviet states collapsed by as much as 40 percent, in a chaotic process of privatization, corruption, currency collapse, and violence. Seemingly overnight, the old order disappeared. And while it had been rife with inefficiencies, corruption, and repression, at least the old order was some kind of order.

Lost amid the American triumphalism of the period was the fact, for an entire generation of Russians raised in the certainty of the Soviet system, the end of the USSR was not only a personal financial disaster, it was profoundly painful and socially disorienting. The costs of the transition to capitalism, in terms of human life, were incredibly high.

Between 1990 and 1995, the spike in mortality rates above trend was roughly equivalent to over 2 million additional deaths. Russians lost five years of life expectancy between 1991 and 1994. The surge of deaths was mostly concentrated in those between the ages of 30 and 60, and largely due to increased alcohol consumption. The worst of the crisis was over by 1995, after which mortality rates stabilized. (Though life expectancy in much of the former Soviet Union didn’t return to 1989 levels until 2013.)  

But in retrospect, the trauma of the post-Soviet transition largely doomed Russia’s fledgling democracy. By 1999, a relatively unknown former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin had maneuvered himself into position as the acting president of the Russian Federation. His grip on power has only tightened since then, as he’s refined his trademark brand of authoritarianism, press repression, nationalism, and heavy surveillance, packaged under a thin veneer of democratic legitimacy.

Which is not to say that Putin isn’t genuinely popular. He is. Largely because his rule has coincided with rising living standards and sharp downturns in the mafia-driven violence that dominated the early 1990s. Putin is seen as a guarantor of order and economic prosperity, and, thanks to a series of audacious international gambits— including the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s bold-faced interference in the U.S. presidential election — he’s the man who has put Russia back on the map in terms of national dignity.

My point is you can see the appeal of strongman to a culture that’s gone through the social stress of an economic collapse that erased the old order and the way of life that went with it.

True, the decline of the U.S. industrial economy hasn’t been as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the entry of China into the world economy, cemented by its arrival into the World Trade Organization in 2001, was a clear tipping point.

Before that, U.S. manufacturing employment was largely flat, though shrinking as a share of total employment. Since then some 5 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and that’s having profound implications on communities and human lives. There’s a lot of desperation out there.

And it seems some of that desperation translated to support for Trump. A recent research brief by sociologist Shannon Monnat showed that Trump performed much better than Mitt Romney did in counties with higher rates of suicide and alcohol and drug deaths.

That despair drove some not only to Trump, but — if their views on Putin are any guide — to something other than traditional American democracy.

Trumptax might split Republicans just like Trumpcare did

7 hours 39 min ago

Trumpcare is out, Trumptax is in.

That’s the message from the Trump administration and most Republicans in Congress this week in an effort to move on from their failure to achieve consensus on a plan to replace Obamacare last week.

“Working with this Congress, President Trump is going to pass the largest tax cut since the days of Ronald Reagan,” Vice President Mike Pence told a crowd in West Virginia this past weekend.

Asked when Trump would touch health care reform again, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “When it breaks.”

But Trump’s moving on from Trumpcare doesn’t leave behind the Republican divisions that undid that vote.

Already there is sniping within the Republican conference over House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax reform proposal. The criticism centers on the border-adjustment tax that would levy a 20 percent tax on imports from all countries, a protectionist measure that would also help pay for other tax cuts. While most members of Congress have yet to take a position, outlines like we saw in the health care debate are already appearing.

Speaker Ryan and some of his close allies, like Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, are again on one side of the debate supporting the tax as President Trump shows openness and mild support. Brady is convening Republicans on his committee Tuesday in the hopes of achieving some consensus.

That may be difficult since conservative groups aligned with GOP mega-donors the Koch brothers, like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, are against the tax. Republican senators are openly hostile to it. And Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a member of the Freedom Caucus, has said he has a “natural hesitancy” to support the tax.

Democrats, emboldened by Trump’s defeat on health care, again look poised to be unified against Trump tax reform, making Republican unity critical for passage. “The American people are not crying out for tax breaks on the wealthiest Americans,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “God bless the wealthy. They’re doing just fine without the tax breaks.”

These same intra- and interparty divisions will also be tested in the coming weeks and months by more than just tax reform. By April 28, Congress must pass a budget, or the government will shut down. Many conservative members of the House have suggested that the budget must cut funding for Planned Parenthood, but such a budget will almost certainty not pass the Senate. But without cutting Planned Parenthood funding, it’s uncertain whether the budget can pass the House.

And then there’s the debt limit, which is the amount of money the United States is allowed to borrow to keep meeting its financial obligations. Some time in the fall, it will have to be increased so the government can pay the bills.

Members of the Freedom Caucus have been reluctant to raise the debt ceiling before, and if they are again — President Trump and Paul Ryan may have no choice but to try to make a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, which would further erode the relationship with the Freedom Caucus. Plus, the Democratic Party’s base is pressuring their representatives in Congress to not cut any deals with Trump.

In other words, Trumpcare may be just the opening salvo of many fights to come.

 

Kansas wheat farmers look to Cuba to solve U.S. agriculture crisis

8 hours 45 min ago

This segment originally aired March. 20, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

A surplus of wheat and a strong U.S. dollar have created the worst economic downturn in American agriculture in decades. The market slump is clearly affecting the farming community of Claflin, Kansas, where stores are going out of business and banks have slowed on lending.

The Kansas Wheat Institute is looking for a way out of the crisis, and researchers there think the solution to the surplus lies on an island 1800 miles away.

“Wheat farmers would love to resume trade with Cuba” Aaron Harries, Vice President of Research and Operations at Kansas Wheat told VICE News.

But the solution won’t be easy. At a G20 Summit earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin refused to sign the group of 20’s stance against economic protectionism, opening the door for the Trump administration to levy tariffs or import taxes against other countries.  That aggressive trade position could make things harder for U.S. exporters – including the wheat farmers in Kansas who were hoping to unload their surplus in a new foreign market.

Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran has clashed with his party for nearly two decades by advocating for open trade with Cuba. He believes the embargo only hurts American farmers since Cuba continues to receive wheat from Canada and Russia. “In rural America, in ag country, America first would mean the sale of what we produce here around the globe” Moran told VICE News.

Westminster killer’s family apologize to victims of London attack

11 hours 40 min ago

The wife of the man who killed four people in an attack on the U.K. Parliament last week said Tuesday that she was “shocked and saddened” by the actions of Khalid Masood, expressing her condolences for the victims and their families.

In a statement issued through the police, Masood’s wife, Rohey Hydara, said: “I am saddened and shocked by what Khalid has done. I totally condemn his actions. I express my condolences to the families of the victims that have died, and wish a speedy recovery to all the injured. I would like to request privacy for our family, especially the children, at this difficult time.”

Hydara is thought to have lived with Masood since 2010. She was among those arrested in the wake of the attack but has since been released and completely cleared of any involvement in it. The Telegraph reported on Sunday that Masood, killed by police in the attack, had lied to Hydara, telling her he was traveling to Saudi Arabia before carrying out the attack.

Masood, born Adrian Elms and also known as Adrian Ajao, took just 82 seconds to kill four people in the attack last week. He drove across Westminster Bridge in a hired car, knocking down and injuring 50 people before driving the car into the fence surrounding the Houses of Parliament. He then fatally stabbed a policeman before being shot dead by another officer.

Hydara’s comments follow those of Masood’s mother, Janet Ajao, who said Monday she was “deeply shocked, saddened, and numbed by the actions my son has taken that have killed and injured innocent people in Westminster.” She added that she had “shed many tears” for the victims, and said she did “not condone his actions or support the beliefs he held that led to him committing this atrocity.”

The so-called Islamic State initially claimed credit for the attack, but Scotland Yard Monday ruled out any direct link between Masood’s actions and the terrorist group. The deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Neil Basu, who is also the senior national coordinator for U.K. counterterrorism policing, said that there was no evidence Masood had discussed the planning of his attack with anyone else.

Basu added that the main line of inquiry now was the messages the attacker sent just prior to carrying out the atrocity. According to reports, Masood was active on WhatsApp just before he drove onto Westminster Bridge, and on Sunday U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd called on Facebook — which owns WhatsApp — to stop giving terrorists a “secret space to communicate.”

Trump’s latest executive order guts Obama-era environmental protections

March 27, 2017 - 9:59pm

With the swoop of a pen, President Donald Trump is set to dismantle what Barack Obama once hoped would be one of his administration’s defining legacies: aggressive environmental protection.

Trump will sign a sweeping executive order Tuesday that will require the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, a crucial Obama initiative that aimed to cut power plants’ pollution, a senior White House official said Monday. The order will also rescind several Obama-era environmental protections, such as a moratorium on leases for mining coal from federal land and the requirement that federal officials consider the “social cost of carbon” emissions when making decisions.

The goal of the order, the White House official said, was to further domestic energy production, protect jobs, and ensure that the EPA sticks to what the Trump administration believes to be its core mission: protecting clean air and water. It will serve as a blueprint for the Trump administration’s energy and environmental policies.

For the Trump administration, the Clean Power Plan goes beyond the EPA’s mission and puts American jobs at risk. Intended to reduce emission levels more than 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the plan never actually took effect — thanks to a lawsuit brought in part by the now-EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the Supreme Court halted it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard arguments on the lawsuit back in November, but its judges have yet to issue an opinion.

But this order doesn’t mean that lawsuit is over, since the Clean Power Plan isn’t going to disappear overnight.

“For any [revision] of the Clean Power Plan, we would also expect a lengthy process by which the public has an opportunity to comment,” said Sanne Knudsen, an environmental law professor at the University of Washington. (The original Clean Power Plan received over 4 million comments.) “Those processes can take a few years… And then at the end of the process, we would expect to see judicial review and litigation.”

If the Trump administration instructs the Department of Justice to stop defending the Clean Power Plan in court, Sanne said, there are a number of states and environmental groups that could step up to maintain the legal battle. The White House is prepared for that possibility, the official said.

A drawn-out legal war seems all but certain, since many environmental groups are already protesting the executive order. “The safeguards Trump wants to shred — like the Clean Power Plan — are on a strong legal footing and the public will have the chance to voice its objections as the Trump administration tries to roll them back,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

States may also take steps on their own to improve their carbon emissions. Even without the Clean Power Plan, an Environmental Defense Fund analysis found that 18 states are already on track to hit the plan’s 2030 emissions reduction targets.

The order will also require a review of Bureau of Land Management regulations that limit hydraulic fracking on public lands.

Other parts of the order, such as ending the coal-leasing moratorium, will be easier to enact. Usually, executive orders, presidential memorandum, or administration directives don’t need to be reviewed — Trump can just rescind them immediately.

Many of the executive order’s directives will help Trump keep his campaign promise to bring coal industry jobs back, the White House official said. Thanks to cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources, coal-fired plants shuttered across the country.

The order won’t address the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, which saw 195 countries pledge to decrease climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the senior White House official. Though Trump campaigned on the promise that he would “cancel” the Paris agreement — and Pruitt called it “just a bad deal” on Sunday — the official said that the administration is still discussing what to do about it.

Yet if the EPA ends up rewriting or rescinding the Clean Power Plan, it may not matter. Even if the United States stays in the Paris agreement in name, ending the plan would effectively gut the country’s ability to meet its Paris pledge.

Greece’s youth are leaving cities as the country struggles with record unemployment

March 27, 2017 - 4:36pm

This segment originally aired March. 20, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

Maria Terilidou is 28 years old, speaks five languages and has three degrees. For the past year, she has been working in a call center in Athens, where she is paid by the hour. She still lives with her parents. But Maria considers herself to be lucky, since nearly 50 percent Greece’s youth are unemployed – the highest rate in Europe.

Greece’s economic crisis has hit its young adult population particularly hard. While the Greek government is in Brussels trying to qualify for another round of bailout loans from EU creditors, 30 percent of Greece’s highly-educated 25- to 34-year-olds are unemployed. Since 2010, the scarcity of jobs has resulted in more than 140,000 recent graduates leaving Greece to find a career in other countries.

With an entire generation’s future at stake, Greece hopes to persuade The World Bank and Greece’s lenders to support a scheme that would create 450,00 temporary jobs and cost €3 billion euros.

 

Jeff Sessions vows to “claw back” federal money from sanctuary cities

March 27, 2017 - 4:06pm

After months of tough talk about cracking down on jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with the feds on immigration enforcement, the Trump administration just took the first step toward punishing so-called “sanctuary cities.”

In a surprise appearance at the start of the White House press briefing Monday, Attorney General Sessions said he would take “all lawful steps to claw-back” federal funding from sanctuary cities, an undefined term that typically refers to jurisdictions where local law enforcement refuses requests by immigration agents to hold non-serious offenders who face deportation.

Following Trump’s election, more than 100 cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Austin — have affirmed their “sanctuary” status. Trump signed an executive order during his first week in office that called for increased cooperation between local, state, and federal authorities to target, arrest, and detain undocumented immigrants — and threatened to pull federal grant money from jurisdictions that refuse to comply.

Sessions doubled down on that approach Monday. “The American people want and deserve a lawful immigration system that keeps us safe and serves our national interest,” he said in a statement. “This expectation is reasonable, and our government has a duty to meet it.”

Sanctuary cities stand to lose more than $4.1 billion in grants awarded by Office of Justice Programs and Community Oriented Policing Services this year, according to Sessions. Law enforcement agencies rely heavily on federal grants to bankroll training, technology upgrades, and equipment purchases.

Trump has regularly trotted out the family members of American citizens murdered by undocumented immigrants and rehashed those tragedies to fit his hardline immigration agenda. Analyses of crime data, however, consistently indicate that the correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime is overstated.

On Monday, Sessions cited a poll that determined 80 percent of Americans “believe that cities that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to immigration authorities.”

That attention-grabbing statistic — the product of a new and relatively unknown Harvard-Harris survey — was widely circulated earlier this year. Analysts at Politifact, however, found the language of the question misleading. It doesn’t specify “violent crimes,” meaning that anyone arrested for having a broken tail-light or speeding could fall into that category.

A different poll, by Quinnipiac, found that 53 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be deported only if they commit “serious crimes,” compared to 22 percent for “any crime.”

 

DEA says fentanyl company’s synthetic marijuana is less dangerous than real weed

March 27, 2017 - 1:29pm

A troubled pharmaceutical company known for making the powerful painkiller fentanyl just took one step closer to getting into the legal marijuana business — with help from the DEA.

InSys Therapeutics, the Arizona-based manufacturer of the fentanyl spray Subsys, has been developing a new product called Syndros, which is a liquid that contains a synthetic version of delta-9-THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes users feel high.

Syndros has already received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the DEA announced on March 23 that the product will be classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, a less restrictive category of drugs than actual weed. Marijuana is currently list alongside heroin in the Schedule I category, a status reserved for dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medical use” and “high potential for abuse.”

Researchers and activists have long sought to have marijuana removed from the Schedule I category, arguing that it has many medical applications and no risk of causing fatal overdoses. The DEA rejected two requests to reschedule marijuana last year.

The DEA’s announcement about Syndros in the Federal Register notes that the drug has “high potential for abuse,” and puts users at “an increased risk of experiencing serious adverse events,” which “may potentially result in an overdose.”

A DEA spokesman referred questions about the scheduling decision to the FDA, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FDA and Department of Health and Human Services provide drug scheduling recommendations to the DEA, which makes the final decision based on analysis provided by the two agencies.

InSys Therapeutics did not respond to a voice message left by VICE News.

Syndros has been approved as a treatment for AIDS and cancer patients who are struggling to eat because of their condition. Doctors in states that allow medical marijuana commonly prescribe the edible and smokable forms of weed to stimulate appetite and quell nausea.

InSys donated $500,000 last year to the successful campaign to defeat a marijuana legalization ballot initiative last year in Arizona. The company said it opposed the measure because it “fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.”

In December, the ex-CEO of InSys and six other former top executives were arrested and accused of bribing doctors, defrauding insurance companies, and fueling America’s opioid crisis. Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts say the company paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes and kickbacks to doctors who operated pain clinics in exchange for the physicians prescribing the company’s fentanyl spray to non-cancer patients. They pleaded not guilty and a trial date has not been set.

The company’s stock plummeted after the arrests late last year, but rebounded last week after the DEA’s scheduling announcement, with one analyst calling it “the best marijuana stock on the market right now.”

Weed stocks soar on legalization news

March 27, 2017 - 1:10pm

Marijuana stocks rallied this morning in reaction to exclusive news that the Liberal government plans to legalize weed by July 1, 2018.

The stock of Canada’s biggest medical marijuana producer, Canopy Growth Corporation (TSE:WEED) shot up more than 10 percent in value within minutes of the opening bell. As of noon today, WEED was worth $10.88, up $1 from last Friday.

Ontario-based Aphria Inc. (TSE:APH), another large-scale cannabis producer gained 36 cents per share in early morning trading, up six percent from a week ago, while Vancouver-based Aurora Cannabis (CVE:ACB) climbed a healthy 10 percent in value, bringing its stock to $2.50 per share.  

Late Sunday evening, CBC News reported that legislation to legalize marijuana will be announced during the week of April 10, and will “broadly follow the recommendations” of last year’s marijuana task force report, which was a fairly progressive assessment of the benefits of legalizing weed for recreational use across Canada.

“I think late last year, market participants were under the illusion that the legalization would be all wrapped up with a bow by this spring, and selling (recreational weed for) adult use (would begin) by January 2018,” wrote long-time weed analyst Chris Damas of The BCMI Report, in his morning note.

Damas is bearish on weed stocks, frequently arguing that their valuations are a product of hype, and not a reflection of the fundamentals of the cannabis industry. “Licensed marijuana producers are in the midst of expanding their capacity and there will be a huge amount of excess cannabis if Canada delays legalization,” Damas told Bloomberg News earlier this month.

Industry players, however, are optimistic about the Liberal government’s latest timeline.

“I think it’s extremely positive for any cannabis company in Canada, because it increases the certainty that the government is committed to the recreational market,” Marc Lustig, CEO of CannaRoyalty told VICE Money. Lustig’s company, whose stock has gained almost 20 percent in the last week, invests in the marijuana space, and stands to profit handsomely from legalization, partly because of a royalty agreement it has struck with cannabis producer Aphria.

“We own the intellectual property on marijuana products like edibles, skincare etc. When Aphria starts selling our products in the recreational market, we will receive royalty on those sales,” said Lustig.

Licensed cannabis producers have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in this past six months, says venture capitalist Michael Miller, whose company, Initiative Capital, hunts out and pumps money into startups related to the weed industry. “The implication of this news is that the regulators will have to commit additional resources to ensure there is enough safe adult use cannabis to meet the demand at the time of legalization.”

Weed stocks have soared since last November, fuelled by optimism about the potential of the recreational sales market. According to the “Toward the Legalization, Regulation and Restriction of Access to Marijuana” report published by the Canadian government, weed is the most trafficked drug in the world. The illegal marijuana market in Canada brings in a whopping $7 billion in annual income for organized crime — that’s more or less the amount that licensed cannabis producers stand to gain from the legalization of weed for recreational use.

A recent report by James West, author of the investment research report Midas Letter, suggests that police raids on illegal weed dispensaries across Canada were in part, motivated by pressure from licensed medical marijuana operators who are unhappy that these illegal pop-up weed shops might be eating into their profits.

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How cops in Canada could obtain your data without a warrant

March 27, 2017 - 12:06pm

VICE News has obtained details of the Canadian government’s blueprint for restarting a program to allow cops access to your personal information without a warrant.

The Trudeau government has spent nearly a year considering how to bring back a frequently-used police practice which has been mostly forbidden since the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 2014.

According to consultation documents obtained by VICE News, this new legislative scheme would authorize “on demand” access by police to basic subscriber information that has “a low expectation of privacy,” although with “certain safeguards.”

It also proposed creating a new specialized warrant that would allow police to obtain more sensitive, personal information if they have “reasonable grounds to suspect” a crime has been, or will be, committed — a relatively low legislative threshold, but one that still requires approval from a judge or a justice of the peace.

“These options will all be considered by the Minister, who may decide to proceed with one or none.”

The documents shed light on a report drafted by a cyber security working group that was tasked by the federal government to sketch out legislative proposals. That report concluded that a “two-tiered legislative response” was necessary, although it remains unclear exactly what the full conclusion was, because the government has refused to release the working group’s full report. But a summary of its findings are contained in the consultation documents obtained by VICE News and provided to various stakeholders from whom the government is soliciting feedback.

Last week VICE News reported that the government has been drafting new rules that enables police to request and receive personal information about Canadians without a warrant, and often without a paper trail. The government refers to this information as “basic subscriber information,” and it is often provided by telecommunications companies, banks, and other companies. It could be as innocuous as connecting a phone number to a name, but police also used this program to link IP addresses to a name, or determine someone’s email address or even their GPS location. Since being declared unconstitutional, police have lamented that their investigations have been significantly hampered.

The government has convened a roundtable of lawyers, law enforcement professionals, and academics in Toronto on Monday to discuss the proposals. One of the stakeholders provided VICE News with a discussion paper that had been sent to participants.

The office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has insisted that no new legislation has been drafted, although at least some of the details appear to have already been sketched out.

“After the [meeting of the federal-provincial working group], work on policy options was undertaken based on the input received,” a spokesperson for Goodale told VICE News last week. He added: “These options will all be considered by the Minister, who may decide to proceed with one or none.”

The consultation document asks the experts whether other agencies — like the Canadian Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and others — should have access to this warrantless access program, in which type of emergencies police should be able to obtain Canadians’ data without a warrant, and whether police should always need a warrant to link an anonymous IP address to a name and physical address.

“They are trying to get around a clear, unanimous decision of the Supreme Court.”

“One of the fundamental purposes of this consultation is to solicit views on where and how the line should be drawn between BSI that can properly be obtained through an administrative scheme and BSI that should ordinarily only be available with judicial authorization,” the document reads.

David Fraser, a Halifax-based lawyer and partner at the McInnes Cooper law firm, is cautiously optimistic, but still sees an attempt by Ottawa to restart a program that had been declared unconstitutional.

“They are trying to get around a clear, unanimous decision of the Supreme Court,” Fraser told VICE News. He said the documents he’s seen from the government on this file suggest they’re “downplaying” the top court’s ruling on the matter.

For example, if the administrative scheme — that is, the process that won’t require going to a judge to get a warrant — will let police obtain connect an IP address to personal information, Fraser says it’s hard to imagine that the new legislation will comply with what the Supreme Court wrote in 2014.

“Nine judges, who are not subject to appeal, said, with one voice, that they can’t do that. They still want to do that and there is widespread opposition, so they are trying to do all sorts of acrobatics to work around it,” Fraser says.

The Monday session runs all day, and compromises 50 stakeholders from privacy watchdogs to the Federal privacy commissioner, to lawyers who have dealt with the warrantless access program extensively.

Consultation document on basic subscriber information by Justin Ling on Scribd

The stock market’s Trump rally is running out of steam

March 27, 2017 - 11:36am

The one bright spot President Trump has been able to point to in the turbulent first months of his presidency has gone dark.

The U.S. stock market soared after the real estate impresario and reality show television star won the White House. Between Nov. 7 and early march the broad U.S. stock market index known as the S&P 500 was up more than 12.4 percent, amid a surge of optimism that Trump would cut taxes and regulations, especially on financial firms.

The administration wasn’t shy about trumpeting the surge in the stock market as proof that the President was instilling confidence in the country’s business class.

“In his first month in office, the President has already taken numerous actions to boost job creation, and key economic indicators are showing that it’s working. CEO and [consumer] confidence are up, the stock market continues to reach record highs,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters back in February.

But in recent weeks, as Trump’s plans for the health care collapsed and his popularity rating has sunk, the Trump-inspired stock rally has run out of steam. Stocks are down more than 1 percent so far in March. At last glance they’re heading for another decline today.

This isn’t the end of the world. Many seem to think that the stock market needed a bit of cooling off anyway. But to the extent that the market weakness reflects growing skepticism that Trump has the political chops to get his agenda of deregulation and tax cuts enacted, that could leave the market searching for a while to find a new reason to resume its upward climb.

 

Trump and his EPA chief are ready to wage war on environmental protections

March 27, 2017 - 11:19am

Two days before President Donald Trump plans to sign a sweeping executive order to roll back Obama-era environmental protections, his EPA chief called the landmark 2015 international agreement to fight climate change “just a bad deal” for the U.S.

“China and India, the largest producers of CO2 internationally, got away scot-free,”  EPA head Scott Pruitt said in a Sunday ABC interview. Pruitt was referring to the Paris Climate Agreement, in which almost every country in the world committed to decreasing emissions of climate change–causing greenhouse gas, such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Unlike in previous agreements, both developing and developed countries pledged to help.

“[China and India] didn’t have to take steps till 2030,” Pruitt went on. “So we’ve penalized ourselves through lost jobs while [they] didn’t take steps to address the issue internationally. So Paris was just a bad deal, in my estimation.”

While on the campaign trail, Trump said he would “cancel” the Paris agreement.

Pruitt also labeled the Clean Power Plan, an Obama initiative to cut power plants’ carbon pollution, as part of “past administration’s effort to kill jobs throughout the country.” The plan — already stayed thanks to a lawsuit Pruitt helped originally bring — was seen as an important part of meeting the goals the United States set in the Paris accord.

Yet Pruitt’s comment that China and India are the “largest producers of CO2 internationally” may be misleading. While China does emit more carbon dioxide than any other country in the world, the next-biggest emitter is not India, according to the U.S. Energy Information administration. That would be the United States.

While China’s energy consumption led the country to emit more than 9,000 million metric tons of carbon in 2014, the United States released about half that amount — even though the United States has less than a third of China’s population. India emitted only about 1,800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that year.

China and the United States’ carbon emissions have declined in recent years, leading the global rate of carbon emissions to flatten even as the world economy grows. Experts say this trend may represent a “decoupling” of the conventional wisdom that economies cannot grow and go green at the same time.

But the United States’ carbon emissions may soon be on the rise again, as Pruitt revealed in his Sunday interview that Trump’s executive order will review, rescind, or revise several federal environmental protections. And its impact may be immense, according to details of the order shared with Bloomberg News.

Not only will the Clean Power Plan likely be dismantled, but other regulations are also at risk. For instance, during the Obama administration, officials had to often calculate the effects of climate change by factoring a metric called “the social cost of carbon” into their decision-making. Trump’s executive order is expected to end that policy.

These changes may help resurrect the ailing U.S. coal industry, which Trump promised to improve during his campaign.

It’s unclear whether Trump will use the order to withdraw from the Paris accord, but Pruitt said that the Clean Power Plan was “not tethered” to that agreement, suggesting that Trump may pull the United States out of the deal later on.

“This is about making sure that we have a pro-growth and pro-environment approach to how we do regulation in this country,” Pruitt said of the order.

Russia has jailed the Kremlin’s most prominent critic for 15 days

March 27, 2017 - 11:18am

Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been jailed for 15 days for disobeying police orders during huge anti-government protests Sunday.

Navalny, a 40-year-old lawyer and activist who plans to run for president in 2018, was the organizer of protests across the country that called for the resignation of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev over corruption allegations. The mostly unsanctioned protests, held in more than 80 towns and cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, were the largest in Russia since a wave of street rallies in 2011 and 2012 over alleged electoral fraud, and were notable for the young age of the protesters. Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that about half were students.

Navalny was sentenced Monday, by the same court that fined him 20,000 rubles ($350) for organizing the protests earlier in the day.

During the hearing, Navalny was in a combative mood, asking the court to call Medvedev as a witness to account for why so many people had turned out to protest, and at one point compared the judge to his 15-year-old daughter. “When she is wrong she, like you, also becomes rude,” reporters in the courtroom quoted him as saying.

Ahead of the sentencing, Navalny posted a selfie to his Twitter account saying: “The time will come when we will judge them (but fairly).”

Всем привет из Тверского суда. Настанет время, когда и мы будем их судить (только уже честно) pic.twitter.com/zs6ueJMM8o

— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) March 27, 2017

Navalny, who has built his political profile by railing against government corruption on his blog, was behind a report released earlier this month alleging that Medvedev had taken more than $1 billion in bribes. The Kremlin has dismissed the allegations, and on Monday rejected calls from the U.S. and E.U. to release protesters who were still being held, accusing organizers of having paid some of the crowd to attend.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said while the government respected protesters right to voice their position, it could not respect those “who consciously misled people and who consciously did it yesterday and provoked illegal actions.”

Peskov claimed the Kremlin was “sober about the scale of yesterday’s protests, and … not inclined to diminish them or push them out of proportion.”

A Russian monitoring group, OVD-Info, said that 1,030 people had been detained at the protests in Moscow alone, with about 120 still in custody. Most of those released had been charged with taking part in an unauthorized protest. Hundreds were reportedly arrested in other cities.

Keir Giles, a director of the Conflict Studies Research Centre, told VICE News that the demonstrations, though not large in size, were remarkable in Russia’s modern political climate. He said one possible reason for the strong turnout was the arrival on the political scene of a new generation of young Russians “that thinks of things in Western liberal terms – that leadership corruption is actually something you stand up against.”

“It could be that they’re taking an entirely different view to the post-Soviet generation immediately before them, that is nostalgic for the glory days of a Soviet Union they never knew,” he said, conceding that this was “an optimistic explanation.”

Giles described Navalny as the “most popular remaining opposition leader.” “But that’s not saying much, because their popularity is measured in tiny increments compared to the current leadership,” he said.

“Post-Soviet Russia has been good at dividing any liberal democratic movements in order to make sure they don’t constitute a single opposition bloc – and of course from time to time individuals who become particularly prominent are either bought off or bumped off.”

Navalny ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013, coming in second place with about quarter of the vote behind a Kremlin appointee. He has previously been convicted and handed a suspended sentence on embezzlement charges – which were widely seen as politically motivated.

North Carolina could lose nearly $4 billion because of its anti-trans bill

March 27, 2017 - 10:58am

It’s an expensive gambit, policing bathroom stalls. In North Carolina – the patient zero of the bathroom bill debate – the cost of denying transgender Americans access to facilities consistent with their gender identity is projected to top several billion dollars.

The Associated Press crunched the numbers, and found that North Carolina, which passed its infamous HB2 bathroom bill last year, stands to lose a whopping $3.76 billion in business over the next dozen years. The AP says that it arrived at that figure through open-records requests and interviews with officials.

In the last year alone, North Carolina lost an estimated $630 million in business, according to an analysis by Forbes.  

But proponents of the measure like Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, have shrugged off the idea that HB2 is harming the state economy. “The effect is minimal to the state,” Forest recently assured Texas lawmakers, who are considering a similar bill. “Our economy is doing well. Don’t be fooled by the media.”

The economic fallout when HB2 passed last March was swift. On April 5, PayPal nixed plans to open a new facility in North Carolina that would have created 400 new jobs. On April 8,

Bruce Springsteen canceled a scheduled concert, triggering a flurry of further cancellations by other artists including Ringo Starr, Pear Jam, Maroon 5 and Demi Lovato that month. Charlotte’s Visitation Authority reported in April that 13 groups who were considering holding events or conventions in Charlotte had changed their minds as a result of HB2, including the Virginia-based Southern Sociological Society.

In July, the NBA pulled its all-star game. The National Collegiate Athletics Association, which also pulled a championship game from North Carolina last year as a result of HB2, recently issued a statement saying that they would not be “hosting current or future events in the state” until the law is changed.

Tourism officials consulted by AP estimated that cancelled events tied to HB2 cost the state more than $196 million. And that number doesn’t include the cost of  lost projects, contracts and jobs. In Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, projects that would have brought an estimated 2,000 jobs were lost because of HB2, the AP reports.

And North Carolina can’t really afford to be losing business – the state is $107.6 billion in debt to the federal government.

Thirteen states are currently weighing similar measures. The Texas Senate last week passed a “bathroom bill” with a 21-10 vote. One Democrat, State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. voted in favor of the bill. Still, Texas lawmakers are proceeding cautiously. In San Antonio, where the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball championship will be played later this year, legislators have included a provision which would allow the NCAA to determine their own bathroom regulations in their chosen venues.

 

The U.K. wants to break WhatsApp and Facebook encryption because terrorists

March 27, 2017 - 10:20am

The U.K. government has said it would consider bringing in legislation forcing Facebook to reveal the contents of WhatsApp messages sent by the man who attacked the British parliament last week — part of broader plans to force all tech companies to stop “providing secret spaces for terrorists to communicate.”

Privacy advocates have been quick to criticize the comments from Home Secretary Amber Rudd and others, warning that not only is it impossible to do what the government is asking, but that any move to install backdoors in messaging services will put everyone at risk.

A secret place for terrorists

On Sunday Rudd said it was “completely unacceptable”  that police and intelligence agencies are unable to view messages send by Khalid Masood on WhatsApp, a service he is reported to have been using moments before he carried out the attack which killed four people, including a police officer.

WhatsApp's 'end to end' encryption is "absolutely unacceptable…there should be no place for terrorists to hide" says @AmberRudd_MP #marr pic.twitter.com/aVtDP6FRvD

— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) March 26, 2017

“We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” Rudd told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, adding that she may be forced to legislate in order to gain access to the messages — though she would prefer the companies gave access voluntarily.

Other politicians joined her calls: “To help keep our streets safe, we need to rise up against companies like #Apple and #Whatsapp who provide space and comfort to terrorists,” MP Nadine Dorries tweeted — from her Apple iPhone.

Would a ban on encryption technology have prevented a man getting a knife from his kitchen and driving a car? No, it simply would not.

— Hacker Fantastic (@hackerfantastic) March 26, 2017

Jim Killock, executive director of the U.K.-based Open Rights Group, responded to Rudd’s comments by saying: “Compelling companies to put backdoors into encrypted services would make millions of ordinary people less secure online. We all rely on encryption to protect our ability to communicate, shop and bank safely.”

Responding to this criticism, Dorries said the government was seeking to “develop a terrorist-related exception,” but as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales pointed out, this is just not possible:

Encryption is mathematics. It is not possible to ban encryption or to impose legally that only some weak types are used. Period.

— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) March 27, 2017

“Baking security into products is essential, and designing products with a ‘secure backdoor’ is practically impossible,” a Privacy International spokesperson told VICE News.

The technical aspects of encryption and how it works appears to be at the heart of the confusion, with Rudd’s comments — and subsequent hyperbolic media coverage — widely criticized by privacy advocates and cyber security experts, who question the home secretary’s basic understanding of the issues.

“Understanding the necessary hashtags”

During her interview on the BBC, Rudd said: “The best people who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff ever being put up, not just taken down, but ever being put up in the first place are going to be them.” Unsurprisingly this led to many mocking Rudd’s basic understanding of the issues at play, but beyond her use of a nonsensical phrase, there appears to be bigger gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed.

Firstly, the government cannot force Facebook to reveal the contents of Masood’s WhatsApp messages, as end-to-end encryption means data cannot be intercepted – even by the companies who operate the service.

Secondly, because the police are presumably now in possession of Masood’s phone — as it was being used just before the attack — the only reason they would not be able to access his WhatsApp messages would be if the phone was protected by a passcode. In which case, they will need to talk to the manufacturer of the phone and not Facebook.

Indeed a WhatsApp spokesperson told VICE News that the company is “cooperating with law enforcement as they continue their investigations.” This should come as no surprise, since WhatsApp has regularly handed over sensitive information such as the date and time messages are sent; which numbers are contacted; and even the location of the person sending the messages.

Privacy concerns

In fact, Rudd’s suggestion that she may bring in new legislation to access encrypted messages is moot, given the wide-ranging new powers given to the U.K. intelligence community in the IP Bill, which was brought in in 2016.

These definitions are more than broad enough to apply to WhatsApp. Suggestions of new legislation is power grabbing nonsense. pic.twitter.com/pjjsnlKijz

— Sean Sullivan (@5ean5ullivan) March 27, 2017

“The main reason governments don’t like encryption is because it is a barrier to them indiscriminately monitoring all our personal data,” head of advocacy at Amnesty International Allan Hogarth, told VICE News. “They already have a range of tools at their disposal for surveillance of specific targets. Making the haystack bigger will not help find the needle of terrorism.”

A little rant about WhatsApp from over on Facebook pic.twitter.com/81QliCcJzz

— Neil Hughes (@enhughesiasm) March 27, 2017

The debate over gaining access to encrypted data has been raging between tech companies and lawmakers across the globe for several years, with the FBI taking Apple to court over gaining access to an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter in 2016. In the end the FBI reportedly paid $1 million for a so-called “zero-day exploit” to access the data on the phone.

On Thursday Rudd will meet with a number of leading tech companies at the Home Office to discuss tackling extremism. Google has confirmed to VICE News it will be attending, but Facebook and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment about their attendance.

A Buzzfeed report on Monday appeared to show Rudd using WhatsApp herself, with her icon last seen at 08:37 a.m. GMT.

Here’s how Yelp reviews affect restaurant success

March 27, 2017 - 9:34am

Online reviews can have a real, measurable impact on a restaurant’s bottom line. In order to understand how those stars affect restaurant-goers, we spoke to the experts – two economists, a Yelp representative, and a businessman who has turned restaurant owners’ review anxiety into a business opportunity.

Catch up on last week’s episode of Compound Interested: More than 99 percent of coupons are thrown away, so why do they exist?

The Hispanic-American contractors who want to build Trump’s border wall

March 27, 2017 - 9:28am

Rick Aguilar’s parents and grandparents all came to the U.S. from Mexico, but that’s not stopping him from bidding to help erect President Trump’s border wall.

“I want to put up a border and keep people out who aren’t supposed to be in the country illegally,” he said. “It’s another project, and I don’t have any reservations at all to work on it.”

Aguilar is the owner of Construction Technology Network, a small Northern California company that specializes in project management. He’s one of at least 26 Hispanic-American business owners to have registered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to bid on government contracts to build the border wall, according to an analysis by VICE News.  

The wall, which could cost U.S. taxpayers anywhere from $21 billion to $38 billion depending on the design and location, is a massive infrastructure project that has attracted interest from more than 600 firms. Any company that meets the minimum requirements can submit a bid, and while the federal government often gives preference to small or minority-owned businesses, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman wouldn’t comment on whether Hispanic-American-owned companies would have a leg up on the competition.

The agency “wants to consider as many innovative ideas offered by the industry as possible,” the spokesperson said.

For some Hispanic-American contractors, however, working on Trump’s border wall comes with a unique set of baggage. When Trump announced his presidential campaign in June 2015, he promised to build “a great, great wall on our southern border,” which he said would prevent Mexican “rapists” from “bringing crime” into the United States. Since then, the wall has been one of Trump’s signature initiatives, and if it’s ever completed, stands to be a physical manifestation of Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric and policies, including ramping up the detention and deportation of people in the country without authorization.

VICE News contacted nearly a dozen companies that identified themselves in the bidding process as being owned by Hispanic-Americans. Several declined to comment or didn’t respond to inquiries. One employee hung up the phone as soon as the wall was mentioned. The receptionist at another company expressed surprise after learning that her boss had registered to submit a bid.

Aguilar was the most outspoken about his views and motivations. While he hasn’t told his half dozen employees about his interest in building the wall, he insists he has nothing to hide.

“I know my mom and dad[’s] folks were both born in Mexico, and my mom came over the border and my dad, it was — back then, there wasn’t a worry about people trying to kill you,” he said. “Now, we live in a different day and age where people coming over the border, you know, have this purpose to do harm to, so putting up a border is not a big deal.”

But there’s already backlash brewing against the wall contractors. California lawmakers are considering a law that would require the state to divest its pension investments in any companies involved in the project. Oakland and Berkeley have passed measures that forbid the city governments from doing business with wall contractors. And legislators in San Francisco, New York, Arizona, Illinois, and Rhode Island are considering similar measures.

Fierce opposition is also coming from south of the border. Mexico’s economy minister recently warned his nation’s builders that “it would undoubtedly be in [their] interest to not participate in the construction of the wall,” and the country’s Catholic Archdiocese said Sunday that Mexicans who build the wall “should be considered traitors to the homeland.”

Aguilar pointed to a page on his company’s website that highlights his Evangelical Christian faith. He said he doesn’t care whether immigrants are “black, white, orange, or purple,” they shouldn’t be coming into the country without proper authorization.

“I don’t think [being] Hispanic has anything to do with working on the project,” Aguilar said. “If I was a white American, I’d want to work on it anyway. The philosophy or the position that people have is either you want to let unknown folks into the country or you don’t want to let unkown folks into the country. Those are really the two positions you’re going to take.”

Customs and Border Protection has requested plans for two different types of walls —  one made from solid concrete and another at least partially see-through that would be more “operationally advantageous” for Border Patrol agents who want to see what’s happening on the other side. The agency says both walls are supposed to be “physically imposing in height,” but designs as low as 18 feet “may be acceptable.” At various times on the campaign trail, Trump said the wall would be anywhere from 30 to 65 feet tall.

Aguilar’s company, which specializes in costing estimating, scheduling, and quality assurance, wouldn’t physically build the wall. They’d assist larger contractors doing the bulk of the work.

But other companies that registered would be the ones doing the hard labor. Marc Uribe, a federal program manager at De La Fuente Construction in Southern California, said his company specializes in structural concrete and heavy civil engineering, which would make them a natural fit to build the concrete version of the border wall.

“It’s just a project to us,” Uribe said, “just an infrastructure.”

He said the company has 30 to 40 employees and that 50 to 60 percent of them are Hispanic, including the owners. He said the workers haven’t yet been told about the border wall bid, but he doesn’t anticipate any objections. He blamed the media for stirring up controversy.

“It’s the news reporters,” Uribe said. “They’re implying it’s a big deal because everybody is upset, that’s creating this big quandary of ‘Is it right or wrong to put an infrastructure right along the border?’ It’s who’s going to pay for it — it’s politics, you know.”

Uribe said his company’s ambitious proposal, which includes plans to build bullet train tracks through points of entry along the border, would benefit both the U.S. and Mexico. “We got a proposal here that’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it.”

Customs and Border Protection said the wall contracts will be awarded this summer, and prototypes will be built and publicly displayed ahead of time, likely in the San Diego area. The proposals are due March 29.

Uribe said it makes perfect sense his company, which is headquartered in the San Diego area, to participate in the bidding process.

“It’s not only what we do,” he said, “but it’s in our backyard.”

Habibah Abass, Morgan Conley, and Christina Sterbenz contributed research to this report. 

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