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Senator John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer

July 19, 2017 - 7:46pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 19, 2017 - 7:44pm

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

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

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

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

Here are the main takeaways from this CBO report:

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

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

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

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

July 19, 2017 - 4:18pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

July 19, 2017 - 3:36pm

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

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

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

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

July 19, 2017 - 3:32pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labeaume told CBC that the referendum results were “sad”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Palestinians spying for Israel risk execution by Hamas

July 19, 2017 - 3:31pm

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

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

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

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

Spent Part Two

July 19, 2017 - 3:13pm

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

Trump stops by voter fraud meeting he’s not supposed to influence

July 19, 2017 - 2:00pm

The first meeting of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud task force featured a surprise guest: President Trump.

While federal law dictates that the commission shouldn’t be influenced by the president, Trump’s visit was largely ceremonial. His remarks, however, raised the curtain on Wednesday’s meeting and contradicted comments from commission co-chairman Vice President Mike Pence about the “fact-finding” goals of the bipartisan group.

Since his election, Trump has made no secret of his belief that 3 million to 5 million “illegals” voted, which he has repeatedly claimed cost him the popular vote. During his brief remarks, Trump reiterated the claim, with some heavy innuendo.

Voter fraud, he said, is carried out by “some large numbers of certain people, in certain states.” And as for the 14 states that are refusing to comply with the voter data request from Kris Kobach, the commission’s deputy chairman, Trump said: “For those that don’t want to share, what are they worried about?… There’s something. There always is.”

But according to Pence, the commission is a bipartisan group of “fact finders” who haven’t made up their minds about whether voter fraud is a problem. During the meeting Wednesday, he said the group had “no preconceived notions or preordained results.”

On the other hand, Trump — who touts his devotion to preserving the “sacred integrity of the ballot box” — didn’t appear particularly open to the possibility that voter fraud is not a widespread issue. (That’s the view held by election experts across the board; according to a study from the Brennan Center, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than voter fraud to happen.)

“I look forward to the findings,” Trump said. “The full truth will be known and exposed, if necessary, in the light of day.”

In light of Trump’s comments, Justin Levitt, elections expert at Loyola Law School, isn’t buying the fact-finding mission that Pence described.

“The president came out and announced his firm and unshakeable belief that individuals were voting illegally in large numbers,” said Levitt, who served as deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “This is a commission that was set up from the get-go to find facts to fix their pre-ordained conclusions.” He also noted that, despite the attention paid to bipartisanship, the first four speakers at the meeting were Republicans. And Kobach, a diehard voter fraud truther, is leading the commission.

.@KatyTurNBC to Kris Kobach: Are you saying Hillary Clinton didn't win the popular vote?

Kobach: "We may never know the answer"

— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) July 19, 2017

Of the 12 members of the commission, five are Democrats, including Alabama probate judge Alan King and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

“I informed them that there was not any voter fraud in Jefferson County, and there has not been any voter fraud for 30 years or more than that,” said King, who also underscored states’ need for more money to upgrade aging voting technology.

The commission is off to a rocky start as the target of seven federal lawsuits and concerns from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about its intended effect on voting rights.

“Given [Kobach’s] history, I would expect a process where all views are not given robust consideration,” Levitt said. “Regardless of what individual commissioners think, if they say things that align themselves with Kobach’s beliefs, I’m sure he’ll be all too willing to cite them.”

Jeff Sessions just made it easier for the cops to take your stuff

July 19, 2017 - 1:47pm

Starting Wednesday, local police will be able to take cash and property from suspected criminals under federal law before they are convicted of a crime, even if state laws prohibit the practice.

The new rules will allow local police to seize the assets of suspected criminals even if it’s prohibited under local law, provided they get permission from federal authorities. This type of “civil asset forfeiture” was banned under the Obama Administration, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions is bringing it back, with a vengeance.

In a speech Wednesday, Sessions introduced his new policy, reversing a 2015 reform by Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, that scaled back the practice. It means local law enforcement will be able to seize the assets of suspected drug dealers, with permission from the DEA.

As a Senator, Sessions opposed Eric Holder’s reform, calling it a “huge detriment” to local law enforcement. Thirteen states have laws against seizing and forfeiting assets without a conviction, including Oregon, Missouri and and New Mexico, according to the Institute for Justice.

Local police say civil asset forfeitures are an effective tool to combat drug crimes, especially those involving cartel networks, allowing local law enforcement to seize the proceeds of drug deals or possessions like cars or homes. But a March 2017 Inspector General report found that the Department of Justice lacks data that shows asset forfeitures aid in criminal investigations.

Federal prosecutors across the country cheered the announcement Wednesday. “The new policy recognizes the important role asset forfeiture plays in depriving criminals of the lifeblood that drives criminal organizations,” the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys said in a statement.

But Freedom Partners, a political group backed by Koch Industries, called the new policy “unjust and unconstitutional.”

Koch group: DOJ Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Unjust and Unconstitutional pic.twitter.com/a5fU96JjqL

— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 19, 2017

Many Republicans in Congress, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, supported the 2015 reform limiting forfeiture.

“We’re going to have a fairer justice system because of it,” Grassley told the Washington Post in 2015. “The rule of law ought to protect innocent people, and civil asset forfeiture hurt a lot of people.”

According to the Inspector General, the DEA seized more than $3 billion worth of assets without obtaining convictions from 2007 through 2016. Annual DEA seizure amounts were cut by more than one-third after the 2015 reform.

Senator Mike Lee, a member of the Judiciary Committee, released a statement Wednesday opposing Sessions’ new policy. “Instead of revising forfeiture practices in a manner to better protect Americans’ due process rights, the DOJ seems determined to lose in court before it changes its policies for the better,” Lee said.

This is Sessions’ second direct about-face on an Eric Holder policy; the first was a May reversal of Holder’s mandatory minimum sentencing reform.

If you’re flying to America, you’ll need to get to the airport another hour earlier

July 19, 2017 - 10:39am

Nobody is quite sure what they are, yet, but new airport security measures take effect today which will lengthen security screening times for passengers headed to the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security announced last month that it would be upping security measures for airports in 105 countries with direct flights to the U.S., including passenger screening, checks on personal electronics, and checks of airports and airplanes themselves.

What exactly that means, however, remains to be seen.

It seems that the new delays will be aimed at larger electronic devices.

A press release from Canadian airline Westjet warned anyone travelling with a device larger than a cellphone that there would be more screening measures for laptops and tablets.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, tourism and aviation minister for the Bahamas, told a local newspaper that delays due to screening may only get worse.

“We are now at two hours, that may go up to three or even a little more. We are not 100 percent sure at this time and we know that it is going to be a little rocky in the beginning,” D’Aguilar said.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has pegged the new measures to credible threats to American airlines by terrorist groups. Similar intelligence appears to be behind his decision to ban laptops and larger electronic devices from carry-on luggage for flights originating from a handful of Middle East countries — a ban that is now effectively over, as those countries have implemented new electronic screening procedures.

In justifying the new measures, Kelly told a security conference in late June that terror groups see American aviation as a “crown jewel.”

Homeland Security says the new measures will stay in place “until the threat changes.”

Canada isn’t keeping track of suicides in Indigenous communities

July 19, 2017 - 10:01am

Canada does not have a complete picture of the suicide crisis among Indigenous communities, with neither the federal government nor the largest organization representing First Nations keeping track. And while Canada’s health minister says it would be helpful to have exact numbers on the epidemic, she says it’s not a top priority as First Nations continue to grapple with new tragic instances of youth taking their own lives.

“I would say certainly, ideally it would be helpful to know and it’s something that we need to work toward,” Jane Philpott, the federal health minister, said in an interview with VICE News. She said that the topic of data collection on the crisis has come up during her meetings with First Nations leaders, but it isn’t being pursued at this point.

“Obviously [a] big priority for leaders in the communities is getting at the root causes of why their young people have lost hope. And there’s so much work to be done just in terms of addressing issues of justice and social equity,” she said.

No federal agency, nor the Assembly of First Nations, an advocacy group representing nearly one million First Nations peoples across the country, are keeping count of the suicide deaths. A number of other First Nations organizations in other provinces did not immediately respond to requests for numbers, while a spokesperson for the First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia confirmed that it also does not maintain data on the issue there, but has “a data access request underway” for the information.

“Obviously [a] big priority for leaders in the communities is getting at the root causes of why their young people have lost hope.”

One of the only organizations that’s keeping real time data on the issue is the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations communities in northern Ontario, and which has been hit hard recently. Four youth from the fly-in Pikangikum First Nation have died by suicide in the past two weeks, while Wapekeka First Nation has lost three 12-year-old girls to suicide so far this year.  

A NAN spokesperson told VICE News it has counted 22 suicide deaths so far in 2017, including from Pikangikum and Wapekeka, for a total of 543 since it began keeping count in 1986.

There are many factors that make it difficult to collect death and suicide data on a national level as it relates to ethnicity. Health Canada wrote in an email that while it receives and responds to reports from nursing stations in First Nations, it’s unable to systematically track suicides rates in the communities for a number of reasons including the fact that the reporting of suicide attempts or suicides is not legally mandated under provincial public health legislation.

Philpott, like countless First Nations, Métis, and Inuit leaders, links high suicide rates and the many other ongoing health crisis on reserves to the abusive legacy of the government’s residential school regime and other colonial structures.

“The amount of work that needs to be done on reconciliation and addressing social determinants of health is what we are hearing from communities as their top priorities,” Philpott explained.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations communities in northern Ontario, has seen 22 suicides so far this year.

The disproportionate rates of suicide among First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples compared to non-Indigenous people in Canada has been well-documented — suicide rates among Inuit communities can range from six to 25 times higher than the general population.

An AFN spokesperson pointed to a June 2017 report by the federal standing committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs that lists a number of recent reports of suicides within Indigenous communities, but not a total tally.

According to the 2017 report entitled Breaking Point: The Suicide Crisis in Indigenous Communities, data on suicide rates, in general, are likely an underestimation because of inconsistent reporting practices. For example, where deaths are categorized as accidents and not suicides due to misinformation or stigma. It’s also not required to report ethnicity on death certificates.

“As such, these results cannot be compared, making it challenging to provide comprehensive statistical trends across all Indigenous communities,” the report states.

Statistics Canada does release numbers on general deaths and suicides across Canada, however they’re often years out of date. The deaths and suicides reports are based on data it gets from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database, which is a collection of death information compiled annually from every provincial and territorial vital statistics registry. There is typically not a mechanism in these registries to identify ethnicity.

There are many factors that make it difficult to collect death and suicide data on a national level as it relates to ethnicity.

A 2009 Statistics report found there were 3,890 suicides in Canada — a rate of 11.5 per 100,000 people.

Mohan Kumar, a Statistics Canada research analyst from the department’s social and aboriginal statistics division, said its most recent publicly available data on the issue is based on data from 2005 to 2007. Papers released this year found that there were 56 deaths by suicide among female children and youth in “high-percentage First Nations identity areas” in Canada, which could include people living both on and off-reserve. That averaged out to 25.5 suicides per 100,000 people. And the rate was higher among male children and youth in areas identified as predominantly First Nations: 62 deaths by suicide during those two years for a rate of 30 per 100,000 people.

Kumar said the department will be releasing new reports on suicides among Indigenous communities in the near future, and that will be based in part on census data from 1991 and 2006.

Democrats may have trouble taking back congress in 2018, poll finds

July 19, 2017 - 7:00am

Despite President Donald Trump’s record unpopularity — his approval rating stands at about 38 percent — a new poll from ABC News and the Washington Post indicates that, while voters don’t like him, he’s not having an outsized influence on how they plan to vote in the midterms.

Just over half of registered voters said that Trump would not be a factor in how they planned to vote in the 2018 congressional elections, with 20 percent saying they’d vote to support him and 24 percent saying they’d vote against.

That leaves a four-point margin between those who are voting to support Trump and those who are voting to oppose, which is less than it was leading up to the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Leading up to both of those elections, 27 percent of voters said that they’d pick Congressional candidates to oppose President Barack Obama. In 2006, 35 percent of voters said they’d vote to oppose President George W. Bush.

And Republicans are more likely to vote to support Trump than Democrats are to oppose: 52 percent of registered Republicans said they’d vote to back Trump while only 41 percent of Dems said they’d vote to oppose him.

Nonetheless, the majority of voters do want a Democratic majority in Congress in 2018 — but by a margin that is widest among all adults and thins as voting likelihood increases. Fifty three percent of the general population say they’d like to see a Democratic majority in Congress act as a check on Trump, while 38 percent said they wanted a Republican Congress to support Trump’s agenda. But among likely voters, only 50 percent said they wanted Dems in Congress to oppose the president, and 41 said they wanted Republicans there to support him. The margin shrinks from 14 points among the general population to 9 points among likely voters.

In another recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, only 37 percent of respondents said they thought that the Democratic Party “stood for something” — the majority see the Democrats as only standing against Trump. And according to a Bloomberg poll released yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s popularity has declined since the election — making her the first president in 25 years to become less popular after losing the election, and even less popular than Trump.  

Even with a deeply unpopular Republican-led government, the Democrats may still be fighting an uphill battle to take back control of Congress in 2018.

Nuns are standing in the way of a massive Pennsylvania pipeline

July 19, 2017 - 6:53am

At the edge of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, near the Susquehanna River, stands a trellis in a clearing in a cornfield. The trellis serves as an altar in a recently dedicated open-air chapel on land owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an order of Catholic nuns that has considered this “sacred ground” for nearly a century.

And it may soon be torn up to install part of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl is currently hearing arguments regarding the use of eminent domain to build the 37-mile Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, which will connect natural gas production in northeast Pennsylvania to the existing Transco natural gas pipeline near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. Williams Corporation, the Tulsa-based energy company building the pipeline, spent nearly three years lobbying residents and business owners along the proposed path to lease or sell their land to the company so it could build and maintain the pipeline.

And it’s now hoping to win eminent domain over the remaining land owned by people who have refused to cooperate with the construction. Schmehl’s decision is expected later this week.

“Once complete, this project will create a crucial connection between Pennsylvania and consuming markets all along the East Coast, delivering enough natural gas to fuel more than 7 million homes,” Williams spokesperson Christopher Stockton said in an email.

Several Amish and Mennonite families would be impacted by the proposed pipeline, which would run under their property. Even though many of the families have either sold or agreed to lease portions of their land to Williams, there is growing concern over the logistics of maintaining the farmland during and after construction.

“Who’s taking care of the pigs and taking care of the cows?” said Mark Clatterbuck, a co-founder of Lancaster Against Pipelines, a local nonprofit comprised of local residents who are “unwilling to believe Williams Corporation’s insistence that the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would benefit their community,” per the group’s website.

For its part, Williams says it has tried to accommodate local residents unhappy with construction plans.

“We have made more than 400 route adjustments to more than 60 percent of the total route as a result of stakeholder feedback,” Stockton said.

But the Adorers of the Blood of Christ has refused to so much as meet with Williams, according to Stockton.

“We believe that all land is sacred because it was created by God, and we do not want something like a pipeline that will be carrying fossil fuels to go through on our property,” says Sister Janet McCann, who has been with the order for 38 years. “It goes against what our values are.”

Some of the nuns in court. (Photo via Ann Neumann)

The Adorers’ land is managed by a tenant farmer, whose farming — the crops provide a source of revenue for the nuns — will be only temporarily affected, according to Williams, which says it has provided others with compensation for any anticipated impact on crops.

“Use of the property will not change once the pipeline is installed, since the pipe will be installed three to five feet underground,” Stockton said. “In other words, the property can continue to be farmed.”

Even if Schmehl rules in favor of Williams this week, the dispute will be far from over. Clatterbuck says that more than 1,000 people have pledged to engage in nonviolent direct action should eminent domain be granted. Lancaster Against Pipelines has been hosting weekly training sessions in coordination with Greenpeace over the last few months to prepare local residents.

The community is bracing for a demonstration of “peaceful, nonviolent, direct action” Clatterbuck says.

The training was inspired in part by his own experience in North Dakota last summer. Clatterbuck, a professor of Native American religion at Montclair State University, participated in the nonviolent protests against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline there with one of his children and says that the protests gave him insight into organizing the effort in his own town.

“The power that local communities hold in their hands to stop projects like this… the sheer sort of power and effectiveness of a grassroots movement that became so huge, was inspiring,” he said.

Even the nuns are preparing for immediate seizure of their property if eminent domain is granted.

“We believe that it’s our responsibility to continue to provide great stewardship [of the land],” Sister Janet said. “We want to provide that for the future generations to come.”

North Korean defector may have been abducted and returned to Pyongyang

July 19, 2017 - 6:52am

South Korean authorities are investigating the possibility that a North Korean defector who fled to Seoul and became a reality-TV star has been kidnapped by Pyongyang. Officials said Wednesday that they were made aware of Lim Ji-hyun’s return home after a video was posted online where she denounced her time in the south as “hellish.”

Lim Ji-hyun left North Korea some years ago for China, where she married a Chinese national. Having ended the arranged marriage, Lim arrived in Seoul in January 2014 and soon found fame as a TV star on talk shows and reality television, including shows that featured defectors from the North.

However, on July 15, a video appeared on YouTube showing Lim back in Pyongyang. In it, she says her return to the hermit kingdom was voluntary and that she had travelled to the South, “led by fantasy that I could eat well and make a lot of money.”

In the video Lim is interviewed by another defector who has returned to North Korea, and she introduces herself as Jeon Hye-Sung. Lim says her time in Seoul was “hellish” and criticizes South Korea as a “country where everything is judged by money,” adding: “I was haunted by physical and psychological pain, although I worked my butt off at bars and other places.”

Lim says she is back “in the motherland” and has moved back in with her parents. However authorities in the Seoul are now investigating whether the star was abducted after she travelled to China in April.

By all accounts, defector Lim Ji-hyun was living large, enjoying her newfound fame, even had her own online fan clubhttps://t.co/nQbzI8w2RE

— Noon in Korea (@NoonInKorea) July 18, 2017

Police in Seoul, where Lim lived after she defected, are now scouring her financial records, bank accounts, and phone records to find out if the defector actually moved back to North Korea of her own accord.

Korean media reports that at her three-month defector orientation meeting, she was classified as “not to be concerned,” meaning authorities there did not fear her returning to Pyongyang.

Most defectors, however, wish to bring remaining family members to SK via China. Why her friends think she was possibly lured to China.

— Noon in Korea (@NoonInKorea) July 18, 2017

Some other defectors fear Lim was lured back to China under the illusion that she might have been able to help her family flee the country. Lee Hyun-ho, a refugee who currently lives in Canada, said it was very obvious Lim’s interviews were forced, and that she was deliberately targeted by North Korea as a warning to other defectors starring in South Korean TV shows.

Television shows like those Lim starred in are smuggled into North Korea, and authorities there fear that this inspires others to defect to the South.

Netflix keeps growing even though you still use a friend’s login

July 19, 2017 - 6:14am

Netflix’s corporate office proudly revealed Tuesday it’s been doing a binge of its own this quarter — for new subscribers.

That was the big takeaway from the company’s latest quarterly report on sales and profits, and the numbers were very good: Netflix said it added more than 5 million subscribers in the period from April to June, obliterating Wall Street expectations for a mere 3 million.

That’s thanks to the strength of Netflix’s programming, which also helps explain why the company is currently burning through cash at a startling rate. The company reports spending $6.9 billion in cash on streaming content in 2016, a figure that could still grow another 25 percent this year, according to Goldman Sachs’ estimates.

That spending also helps explains why, for all the excitement around Netflix, it isn’t making that much money. The company reported a second-quarter profit of only $65.6 million, or 15 cents a share, on revenue of $2.8 billion.

For the moment, nobody seems particularly worried about that ratio. And for now, at least, investors are willing to give Netflix the benefit of the doubt under the theory that the more users it acquires now, the more powerful it will be down the line.

 

In a note to clients following Netflix’s report, Goldman Sachs analysts specifically noted the company’s torrid spending “raises the risk profile.” But Goldman nevertheless raised its revenue, profit, and stock-price targets for the company this year, saying, “We believe that Netflix remains on track in building out an unmatched global entertainment platform.”

Here are a few other key details from Netflix’s big quarter:

– Aside from growing in raw numbers, Netflix’s subscriber base is also becoming much more global in composition. The company now has 52.03 million international subscribers, slightly more than its U.S. total for the first time in history.

– Netflix shares jumped more than 13 percent Tuesday, closing out at $183.60 a share — a gain of nearly 50 percent this year. Over the last 10 years, Netflix is up a staggering 6,200 percent.

 

– With all the focus on subscriber growth, Netflix investors essentially ignored the yardsticks that traditionally get more attention in earnings releases, at least in part because the company’s quarterly revenue and profit clocked in as expected.

– Hollywood traditional networks and studios are increasingly feeling the pinch of bidding against the free-spending Netflix for popular content — hence the sheer cattiness of its competitors in this New York Times dispatch from the ATX Television Festival in Austin last month.

Finally, this improbable tidbit caught our attention in the numbers Netflix released yesterday: 3.8 million people still subscribe to mail-in DVDs from the company. And they’re probably screening those for their friends too.

China’s great internet firewall is now coming for WhatsApp

July 19, 2017 - 6:00am

The Chinese government has blocked certain features of Facebook’s encrypted messaging service WhatsApp inside the country — another sign of President Xi Jinping’s ever-tightening grip on internet use.

WhatsApp users and security researchers reported Tuesday that certain aspects of WhatsApp’s service were no longer working in China. Videos and images, as well as voice messages, were not being delivered. Text messages continued to work however.

Up until now, WhatsApp was the only Facebook product allowed to operate in China, with the social network’s main site being banned in 2009 following ethnic unrest in western China. Instagram was blocked in 2014 in the wake of protests in Hong Kong.

It is unclear why WhatsApp is now being blocked in China, but the government is preparing for the 19th Party Congress in a couple of months, a time typically associated with increased censorship online.

WhatsApp only working properly in #China using VPNs. The Govt says it'll block all VPNs. Remember OlympicChina that seemed to be opening up?

— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) July 18, 2017

WhatsApp is not as popular as local service WeChat, but the fact its messages are encrypted end-to-end and cannot be monitored makes it an appealing tool for certain groups of people, including activists, journalists, dissidents, and those seeking to communicate securely with the rest of the world.

According to researchers monitoring WhatsApp’s infrastructure, the Chinese government appears to be targeting the servers that route image, audio, and video files between users, while ignoring the servers handling text messages. There is no evidence the Chinese government is capable of decrypting the messages being sent.

The Chinese government said Tuesday that it was not speaking about the issue, and WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment on the situation.

The move does not bode well for WhatsApp. When the Chinese government first started restricting Gmail use, it did so unevenly before rolling out a complete block in 2014. The crackdown on WhatsApp is just the latest effort by the Chinese government to increase the country’s ability to filter and control what citizens access online, a system commonly known as the Great Firewall.

  • On Monday, a report by the the University of Toronto’s citizen lab revealed that the Chinese government had systematically scrubbed social media of references to Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died last week. The government’s control over the web allowed them to filter out images commemorating Liu in real time in one-on-one chats on the hugely popular messaging service WeChat. The findings reveal the extent of the government’s control over platforms like WeChat, which are legally bound to cooperate with Chinese security agencies.
  • Beginning on June 1, a new cybersecurity law came into effect in China, with the stated aim of boosting the protection of personal data online. However critics warn this is just another part of the government’s efforts to control all aspects of the internet. It is also expected to make it harder for foreign companies to do business in China. One strand of the new law requires all companies to store data in China, and partner with a local company to do so, a move some have claimed will make it easier for the Chinese government to carry out espionage. Apple last week announced plans for a data center in China to comply with the new rules.
  • In August, the Communist Party will hold the 19th Party Congress, where top leadership positions are allocated. The recent moves to clamp down on content being shared via WhatsApp and WeChat suggest that the party is once again preparing tighter restrictions on internet usage in the run-up to the summit. Five years ago, during the last Congress, the government limited access to Google — it was banned completely in 2014 — as well as restricting access to U.S. publications like the New York Times and Bloomberg.
  • Earlier this week, there was an unexpected victim of China’s censors, when it appeared that images of Winnie the Pooh were being filtered out of social media posts. Once again the Chinese government said nothing, but AA Milne’s character has in the past been used in online memes comparing the slow-witted, honey loving bear to Xi.

 

White House confirms Trump had a second, undisclosed meeting with Putin at the G20

July 18, 2017 - 9:45pm

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a second, undisclosed meeting that lasted roughly an hour long at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, the White House confirmed Tuesday.

The second meeting followed an initial conversation at the summit that reportedly ran so long that First Lady Melania Trump had to intervene.   

The White House confirmed that the two spoke on the sidelines of the G-20 couples-only dinner. National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton also told CNN that the two world leaders spoke “toward the end” of dinner and that there were no staff, only translators, present.

Sidebar conversations are typically a useful way for leaders to talk informally, but the context of the Russian investigation and the fact that there is no government record is what makes the interaction “worrisome,” Stewart Patrick, the director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations told VICE News.

“In normal circumstances, I think that this sort of bilateral sidebar conversations are actually really useful,” said Patrick. “It seems more disturbing if one takes it in the context of the problematic relationships.”

“It’s just surprising that this is coming out now and that it wasn’t disclosed before by the Trump administration,” he said.

According to the Washington Post, which quotes a senior administration official, Trump got up from his table halfway through the meal and sat in an empty seat next to Putin.

The men were joined only by Putin’s Russian translator — a breach of national security protocol, political scientist and head of the Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer told Charlie Rose on Bloomberg.

“Never in my life as a political scientist have I seen two countries — major countries — with a constellation of national interests that are as dissonant, while the two leaders seem to be doing everything possible to make nice and be close to each other,” Bremmer told Charlie Rose on Bloomberg Tuesday.

Trump was reportedly seated next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin was seated next to First Lady Melania Trump.

Trump announces plan to nominate “John Huntsman” as ambassador to Russia

July 18, 2017 - 9:00pm

The White House announced Tuesday it intends to nominate former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. to be the new U.S. ambassador to Russia.

“Governor John Huntsman (sic) has had a distinguished career as a politician, diplomat, and businessman,” the  Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement Tuesday that misspelled Huntsman’s first name.

“His robust record of public service includes service as U.S. Ambassador to China and to Singapore, Deputy United States Trade Representative, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Trade Development,” the statement said.

Like Trump, Huntsman is a billionaire whose family chemical company, Huntsman Corporation, has reportedly had numerous business dealings in Russia. And like many of Trump’s relationships, theirs has been fraught with tension, insults, and rude tweets.

Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no, he gave away our country to China! @JonHuntsman

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2012

And though Huntsman formally endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election despite “fundamental philosophical differences” between them, he later urged Trump to drop out of the race after the “Access Hollywood” tapes were released.

“In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom — at such a critical moment for our nation — and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket,” Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune after the audio of Trump discussing grabbing a woman “by the pussy” became public.

The Trump administration still has of 114 roles out of 124 in the State Department to fill, according to the Washington Post citing data from the Partnership for Public Service. Ninety-one of those positions still don’t have a nominee.

Toronto cop charged after teen beat with steel pipe and blinded in one eye

July 18, 2017 - 5:21pm

A Toronto police officer is facing multiple charges after allegedly beating a 19-year-old with a steel pipe, so badly he suffered broken bones and will have to have an eye surgically removed. And the lawyer for the teen is accusing police of a coverup.

On Tuesday, the province’s Special Investigations Unit charged Constable Michael Theriault with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and public mischief. The charges stem from an incident in the middle of the night of Dec. 28, 2016 in Whitby, Ont. while Theriault was off duty.

According to a press release from the SIU, when Durham Regional Police arrived on scene, they arrested the 19 year old, identified by his lawyer as Dafonte Miller, who was taken to hospital with “serious injuries.”

 

Dafonte Miller was allegedly beaten by an off duty Toronto police officer. Photo provided by Miller's lawyer.

The SIU, which investigates all incidents involving police officers in Ontario that result in injury or death, wasn’t notified of the altercation until April 27, and by the teen’s lawyer, Julian Falconer.

While the series of events are disputed by each side, Falconer told reporters on Tuesday that a car break-in allegedly led Theriault to approach Miller and his friends sometime after 2 a.m. When Miller heard yelling, he and his friends began to run. While his friends got away, Miller did not, and an altercation ensued which resulted in his injuries, Falconer stated.

“Dafonte Miller has lost that eye. His eye was actually hanging out at the scene,” said Falconer. Theriault was not injured, according to Falconer. He also alleged Theriault’s brother was with him, although he said he has not been charged.

Falconer alleged that once police arrived that night, Theriault accused Miller of using the steel pipe against him, resulting in the 19-year-old being charged with assault, possession of a weapon, as well as theft and possession of marijuana. All charges were later withdrawn following a pretrial hearing.

“To me, it’s like attempted murder.”

“In the time I have been a lawyer — 28 years — it is easily one of the most inexplicable, senseless, gratuitous attack by a police officer on a member of the public I have ever seen,” Falconer said at a press conference. None of the allegations have been tested in court. 

“To me, it’s like attempted murder,” Miller’s mother, Leisa Lewis, told CBC. “Two, three more blows, my son could have been dead,” she said. “I can’t get that thought out of my head.”

Falconer went on to describe the events that followed as a “breathtaking” coverup. “You have two services. Each had an opportunity to do the right thing. Both ducked and, as far as I’m concerned and in my opinion, actively covered up the crime,” he said, adding that although the incident occurred in front of a home with two witnesses inside, they were never interviewed by Durham Regional Police. He also said that Toronto police were made aware of the incident involving one of their officers.

Photo provided by Miller's lawyer.

“The attack is so extraordinary and so extreme that I think it’s unfair to tar all police officers with this bizarre violent behaviour,” he said, but the “nature of the coverup, that, I believe, goes well beyond these officers.”

He said he doesn’t expect charges to be laid in relation to the failure to notify the police. “I don’t expect the breach of the Police Services Act to have any significant consequence in law for the services. I think that it’s plain as the nose on your face that they are free to flout the law.”

The SIU stated in a press release it would not be discussing the case further as it is now before the courts. A spokesman for Toronto police also declined to comment on the coverup allegations, while Durham Regional Police did not immediately respond. 

Theriault, a constable in Toronto’s 42 division, was suspended with pay, the Toronto Police Service told VICE News, and is expected to appear before the Ontario Court of Justice in Oshawa on August 10.

Ex–Navy SEALs are rescuing children from sex trafficking

July 18, 2017 - 4:26pm

According to the FBI, there were 465,676 National Crime Information Center entries for missing children in 2016.

Frustrated that police don’t always treat runaway and missing children cases as a high priority, private investigator Joseph Travers started Saved in America to pick up these cases where cops leave off.

Saved in America is a San Diego–based nonprofit made up of former Navy SEALS and police officers who, as licensed private investigators, assist parents and law enforcement in tracking down runaways.

Since its inception in 2015, the group has assisted in the rescue of 35 children, finding them from California to Florida, in an average time of nine days and at a cost of $5,000.

VICE News follows the group of volunteers on the ground as they assist a mother from Utah in search of her daughter.

This segment originally aired July 10, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

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