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Here’s why Michael Cohen could be Trump’s “biggest vulnerability”

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 2:23pm

Michael Cohen once billed himself as the “fixer” who could make Donald Trump’s most vexing problems disappear. Now, he’s poised to become one of the president’s biggest problems.

On Friday, the world got a glimpse of the sort of trouble Cohen may pose for his former boss, when the New York Times revealed he secretly taped a conversation with Trump two months before the 2016 election. The recording captures the two men discussing a payment to a Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with Trump.

The existence of that tape, which could be one of many, suggests Cohen’s greatest value to investigators may not be what he knows about Russia, but what he knows about Trump’s business and financial dealings, legal experts and former prosecutors told VICE News.

“Based upon what we know publicly, the legal issues surrounding Michael Cohen represent one of the biggest threats to the Trump presidency,” Renato Mariatti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, told VICE News. “It’s never a good thing when you’re caught on tape talking to a suspected criminal about the matters he’s being investigated for.”

On the recording revealed Friday, Trump can reportedly be heard giving Cohen advice about how to handle a potential payment to the company that bought the rights to Playboy model’s story, according to The Washington Post. The detailed discussion indicates both the close working relationship the two men had — and that Trump may find it difficult to distance himself from the actions of his longtime deputy.

Read:Michael Cohen secretly recorded tapes of Trump discussing payments to a former Playboy model

“Of all the individuals on the planet that could potentially do significant harm to Mr. Trump, there’s little question that Michael Cohen is at, or very near, the top of that list,” Michael Avenatti, lawyer for Daniels, told VICE News. Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claims she was paid by Cohen for her silence right before the election, a decade after her affair with Trump.

“The legal issues surrounding Michael Cohen represent one of the biggest threats to the Trump presidency.”

Now the question is: what exactly does Cohen know?

Cohen is now under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, but he hasn’t been charged with any crime.

Legal experts and former prosecutors gave VICE News a rundown of the subjects investigators will likely want to ask him about — if he ultimately decides to cooperate.

The Affairs

The Playboy model, Karen McDougal, has said she had an affair with Trump over a decade ago that lasted roughly a year.

She was paid $150,000 in August 2016 by AMI, the parent company of The National Enquirer, for the rights to her story. But the Enquirer, which is owned by a friend of Trump’s named David Pecker, never published anything — effectively burying the story.

In their September 2016 conversation, Cohen and Trump discuss a plan by Cohen to attempt to purchase those rights from AMI for roughly $150,000, The Washington Post reported Friday, citing an unnamed person familiar with the recording. On the call, Trump tells Cohen to make sure he properly documents the agreement, and urges him to use a check — rather than cash — to preserve a record of the transaction, the person told the Post.

In a statement, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, confirmed the existence of the tape but told the Post that no payment was ever made. “Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of [the AMI payment] in advance,” Giuliani said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence.”

“If Trump did know about it and directed Cohen, that could link Trump to campaign finance violations.”

But McDougal isn’t alone. Cohen has admitted to organizing a $130,000 payout and nondisclosure agreement for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who has said she slept with Trump in 2006. Trump has said he didn’t know that Cohen made the payment at the time it happened.

Cohen reportedly raised the money to pay Stormy from a home equity line of credit, which might be fraud if he misled the bank about the purpose of the funds, according to Mariotti. If so, and Trump knew about it, that could mean legal trouble for Trump, too, Mariotti said.

Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

The payouts to women for their silence could constitute improper campaign contributions, and may mean trouble for Trump depending on the circumstances and how deeply he can be shown to have been involved, according to Mimi Rocah, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.

“If Trump did know about it and directed Cohen, that could link Trump to campaign finance violations,” Rocah said, referring specifically to Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels. “But they’d have to show it was for the benefit of the campaign, and not just personal. It can’t just be, like, ‘I don’t want my wife know.’”

For an example, look no further than former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who was indicted in 2011 on charges of using illegal campaign donations to conceal his mistress from voters.

Just days before the election, Cohen created a shell company called Essential Consultants LLC to pay Daniels.

After Trump entered the White House, Cohen used the same company to receive millions in payments from international corporations who wanted insight into the Trump administration, including AT&T and Swiss drugmaker Novartis.

Cohen also scored a $1 million consulting contract from a U.S. hedge fund closely linked to a Russian billionaire with longstanding Kremlin ties named Viktor Vekselberg, in a deal that’s already drawn the scrutiny of federal investigators.

Investigators will likely want to know whether Trump knew about these payments, and whether any of them involved any kind of explicit promises for favorable treatment in exchange for the payments, said Harry Sandick, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.

“Did he enter into any of those consulting agreements with the president’s knowledge?” Sandick asked. “It would have to be more than just Cohen saying, ‘Hey, I’ll get your voice heard,’ because that would be legal. There would have to be some sort of a quid pro quo.”

The Organization

Cohen recently scrubbed his position as executive vice president and senior counsel at the Trump Organization from his LinkedIn page in a move received as creating distance between himself and Trump.

But pressing delete doesn’t scrub years of insights from inside the Trump Org. Cohen appears to have held a wide-ranging portfolio during his tenure under Trump, which included serving as the point man for potential projects in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

Cohen worked on setting up a Trump Tower project in Moscow right up until just weeks before the presidential primaries kicked off, and he was involved in scoping out projects in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and in Kazakhstan.

Prosecutors will likely want to ask whether all those far-flung business dealings were carried out by the book. And if they weren’t, investigators will want to ask whether Trump knew about it, Mariatti told VICE News.

Read: Taxi mogul who borrowed millions from Michael Cohen swears it wasn't for his weed business

Cohen’s expansive role as Trump’s all-purpose fixer suggests he might know about unorthodox — and, potentially, improper — modes of doing business at the Trump Organization, observers said.

To name just one potential pitfall, businessmen operating abroad are often cautioned not to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, which in essence forbids American citizens from paying bribes to foreign government officials to win business.

“If that happened, and if there were internal discussions of that happening, that would be a problem,” said Jens David Ohlin, vice dean at Cornell Law and an expert in international criminal law.

The Trump Organization has explored business opportunities in countries with low rankings on Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions IndexPanama and India, to name a few.

The Trump Tower meetings

Another crucial question for Cohen will be what he knew about the Trump campaign’s links to Russia during the campaign.

One event he might be able to shed light on: The Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between the top brass of the Trump campaign and a lawyer from Russia who’d been billed as having dirt on the Clinton campaign.

“You’re either in or you're out — or else you’re really going to screw yourself.”

Cohen told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in early July that taking the meeting was a bad idea. And he pointedly refused to say whether Trump might have known about it in advance.

“I believe it was a mistake by those from the Trump campaign who did participate,” he said. "It was simply an example of poor judgment.”

Cohen has repeatedly denied the claim that first emerged in the infamous Steele dossier, compiled by former U.K. intelligence officer Christopher Steele, that he personally traveled to Prague to coordinate Russia’s involvement in the presidential campaign.

On the heels of Friday’s bombshell, the stakes of Cohen potentially reaching a cooperation agreement with prosecutors seemed to ratchet up even higher.

And if he does accept a deal, prosecutors will expect him to divulge everything he knows, Rocah said.

“The worst thing you can do is halfway cooperate,” Rocah said. “You’re either in or you're out — or else you’re really going to screw yourself. Someone who pleads guilty to something, and then messes it up, is in a worse position than if they never pleaded guilty in the first place.”

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen leaves his hotel in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Kentucky Republicans are determined to kill Medicaid

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 1:58pm

BEVERLY, Kentucky — When a federal judge struck down Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to force Medicaid enrollees to work for benefits in June, Bevin responded by abruptly cutting vision and dental coverage for nearly 500,000 low-income people, claiming the state had no way to pay for them.

The move threw Kentucky’s health system into disarray, and patients arrived at dental clinics unaware that they no longer had coverage.

“I had abscesses that ate into the bone,” said Susan Wells, a patient at the nonprofit Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center in West Louisville. “I'm getting dentures on the top, which is embarrassing to say in front of people, because [it] shows how poor you are when you don't have teeth.”

Democrats and healthcare advocates criticized the move as vindictive and petty.

“It was clear to us that that [the governor’s] decision was punitive, that it was in retaliation to the court case not going the way that he wanted to, and he chose to take that out on almost half a million Kentuckians who use that coverage to keep them healthy so that they can work,” said Angela Koch, the state outreach director for an advocacy group Kentucky Voices for Health.

But the Bevin administration insisted the cuts were an “unfortunate consequence” of the judge’s decision to reject the state’s plan to implement a work requirement for some people on Medicaid, a waiver that had been approved by the federal government back in January.


Gov. Bevin’s desire to shake up Medicaid reflects a growing movement by the Trump administration to shrink the federal government’s role in healthcare. Trump’s economic advisory council published a report this month extolling the benefits of implementing work requirements, and Kentucky has been seen as a test case by the administration to see its ideas about entitlements play out.

Susan Wells, of Louisville, was one of nearly 500,000 Kentuckians who had their dental and vision benefits cut by Gov. Bevin on July 1. The benefit cuts came after a judge ruled against Bevin's plans to put work requirements and premium increases on Medicaid enrollees. (Photo: Daniel Vergara/VICE News)

"Non-disabled working-age adults have become increasingly reliant on welfare and experienced stalled employment growth, in part because of the disincentives welfare programs impose on increasing one’s own income," the White House Council of Economic Advisers argues in the paper.

A longtime critic of the Affordable Care Act, Bevin — the state’s first Republican governor in nearly 40 years — made ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion one of his signature campaign promises.

Since taking office in 2015, he developed Kentucky HEALTH (Helping to Engage and Achieve Long-Term Health), a waiver that would drastically change how many people can remain on the health insurance program he has called a “dead-end entitlement trap.”

At the heart of the Bevin administration’s waiver is a work requirement for able-bodied adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. If you’re between 19 and 49 years old in Kentucky, you would have to prove you’ve worked 80 hours a month to be entitled to medical care, and log those hours online.

The plan also puts in place additional barriers to dental and vision care. Currently, people on Medicaid are covered for basic services and annual check-ups. The new system asks that Medicaid expansion recipients earn virtual credits — through things like community service, getting a GED, or completing a wellness program — that convert into dollars that can then be used to cover those preventive health services.

Medicaid expansion recipients will also face higher premiums under the program, increasing to up to 4 percent of household income — the highest premiums ever permitted in the Medicaid program.

“It’s easy for a lay person to say a $9-a-month premium isn’t a big deal, but what people forget is we’re talking about incredibly impoverished citizens,” said Koch, who noted that patients who fail to pay those premiums will face lockout periods with no coverage for 6 months.

Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), worked to help craft the Kentucky proposal, which has formed the model for similar proposals in at least 11 other states. Verma says she recused herself from approving the Kentucky proposal.

“Toxic charity”

By its own admission, Kentucky estimated that 95,000 people would fall off Medicaid as a result of the waiver. That fact was seized upon by D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg in June when he struck down the waiver. Boasberg expressed concerns that the plan undermines the inherent purpose of Medicaid, when he sided with the 16 Kentucky residents who brought a class action lawsuit against CMS.

Among those residents is Sara Woods, 40, who earns around $10 an hour working odd housekeeping jobs for neighbors in Floyd County and had never had health insurance until the Affordable Care Act was enacted.

“Poor people have health problems like rich people, but I mean we just can’t pay for it like rich people”

“Everybody should be treated the same. Poor people have health problems like rich people, but I mean we just can’t pay for it like rich people,” she said.

When the Medicaid expansion kicked in, she was able to get suboxone treatment for a heroin addiction, and access basic preventive medical and health services as a result. “We work hard every day and don’t want handouts,” Woods added. “That’s how people were raised around here. To work for whatever, you know.”

It’s unclear at this stage if the judge’s ruling on Kentucky will have any impact on the four other states — including Arkansas, Indiana and New Hampshire — that have work requirement waivers already in play.

The debate at the heart of the battle over work requirements is a philosophical fight over what Medicaid is: For some, it’s a health insurance program where the more people you have insured, the better. For others, it’s a welfare trap, so it should have as few recipients as possible.

“I think that there is dignity in work,” said Rep. Addia Wuchner, a Republican congresswoman representing a district in Northern Kentucky. “And you know so often I say that sometimes our charity becomes toxic to people in our wanting to help them sometimes. We've hurt them. We've hurt them in a way that we didn't even realize.”

The “pull them up by their bootstraps” notion is outmoded, for many in the health advocacy space. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that at least six out of 10 Medicaid recipients are already working, and most people on Medicaid who aren’t in employment are looking for work, disabled, or caring for a child or family member.

“A lot of people felt insulted by that,” said Hasch, who has been fighting against the governor’s proposals, and rejects argument that providing health benefits to people is harmful. “The Medicaid expansion population by definition is already the working poor. That is why they couldn't qualify for standard Medicaid - because they're making too much.”

“We’ve got some of the same problems that Third World countries do”

There are serious doubts as to how these work requirement programs will be implemented and how the state will possibly be able to enforce the rules. Many of the people we talked to in rural Kentucky didn’t have access to the internet, or couldn’t afford internet plans as part of their cell phone services.

“We’ve got some of the same problems that Third World countries do. The geographic area just has a lot of barriers here, and some people don’t understand that,” said Dr. Bill Collins, former president of the Kentucky Dental Association and current clinic director of the Red Bird Mission in Eastern Kentucky. ”Many of the patients don’t have cell phones, they don’t have internet service. And many of them can’t afford it, so it’s really hard for them.”

The situation in one state where work requirements have come into play has already cast doubt on the efficacy of work requirements. Only 4 percent of Medicaid recipients in Arkansas who were expected to record their June work hours online did so, according to Arkansas Human Services.

Kentucky ranks near the bottom of the states for almost every health indicator — from smoking and obesity, to diabetes and heart disease. It recently came in 36th for dental health, and the American Dental Association report on Oral Health and Well-Being in Kentucky state found that 52 percent of patients avoid dentists due to cost and lack of insurance.

The state is already grappling with a highly publicized pension debt crisis - leading to teacher protests and verbal spats between unions and the Republican Legislature — and it has a significant $330 million shortfall in its Medicaid fund.

Kentucky’s Department of Health says the waiver will save around $331 million.

But critics of the governor’s plan say any savings the administration might achieve will be undermined by the multimillion-dollar cost of implementing the waiver, and the higher costs incurred when patients who’ve lost their coverage invariably return to the emergency room.

Kentucky announced on Thursday it is working with CMS to address the court’s concerns, indicating it hopes to get approval to roll out the changes to Medicaid by September 1.

Governor Bevin didn’t respond to repeated attempts for comment.

Cover image: Sara Woods never had health insurance until 2014 when the Affordable Care Act kicked in. Woods, pictured here with her 2-year-old granddaughter Layla, sued the federal government for approving Kentucky's plan to impose work requirements on Medicaid enrollees. (Photo: Daniel Vergara/VICE News)

Families separated by Trump's "zero tolerance" policy face an impossible choice

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 12:51pm

Hundreds of parents separated from their children at the border by the Trump administration have already been cleared for deportation, and now they’re facing an impossible choice: return together to the country they fled or leave the child to apply for asylum in the U.S. alone.

The ACLU asked the government Thursday to provide a list of the parents who have final removal orders so that attorneys can speak to them as soon as possible about their options. The government insists that all parents who have already been deported or who have final removal orders have agreed to be deported. But immigration attorneys worry that parents may have been so desperate to get their kids back that they agreed to be deported because they believed it was the fastest way to get them back. Some may not have known what they were agreeing to.

“These parents may only have a matter of days to make the momentous decision whether to leave their child behind in the United States,” the ACLU wrote in their request.

Nearly 30 percent of parents of kids over 5, 719 total, had been cleared for deportation as of Thursday.

Earlier this week, Southern California U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw blocked the government from deporting any separated parents for seven days after the ACLU raised concerns that the government was planning to deport parents with their kids immediately after reunification without a chance to review their legal options with an immigration attorney. Some parents may be able to reopen their cases with the help of a lawyer.

Read: The Trump administration keeps losing family separation lawsuits

Next week Judge Sabraw will decide whether to extend the halt on deportations.

After three months of systematically separating immigrant families as part of the zero tolerance immigration policy, the government is working to reunite them under a court-ordered deadline of July 26. By then, all 2,551 separated kids aged 5-17 must be reunited with their parents, but so far government officials have returned just 364 of those kids.

The government has complained reunification takes time. Before it can happen, the Department of Homeland Security, the agency holding the parents, and the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency holding the kids, must run background checks on each parent and confirm they are, in fact, parents. This process has been slow because when officials separated families at the border and put them in the custody of these two separate agencies, they didn’t track them together.

Read: Reunited immigrant families grapple with how to repair damage caused by separation

Some kids will not be reunited by the July 26 deadline because the parents have already been deported, have criminal histories, are incarcerated, or are not in fact the parents, all conditions that make them ineligible under Sabraw’s framework for expedited reunifications. The government has already determined 91 parents of kids over 5 have disqualifying criminal history.

Forty-seven of the 103 separated kids under 5 remain separated for these same reasons. The government missed the court-mandated July 10 deadline to reunite those “tender age” kids; 56 were reunited by July 12.

Sabraw will likely consider the cases of parents deemed ineligible for these deadlines individually after all eligible parents are reunited. Lawyers for the government and ACLU were due back in court Friday.

Cover image: Immigrant families leave a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility after they were reunited, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

We need a new model for tech journalism

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2018 - 11:48am
A lowly tech employee was trying to do some simple task online and found out it was really hard. Inspired by that difficulty, he—and it was almost always a he—used his spare time to build a better way to do it, and then were amazed at how quickly it took off. So he quit his […]

The Arctic is on fire, and you can see it from space

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 11:08am

Wildfires are ravaging parts of the Arctic Circle, and they’re big enough to see from space.

The wildfires started in early June, and more than 50 have now cropped up in parts of Sweden inside the Arctic Circle, according to the European Space Agency, which has kept tabs on the situation with satellites from space. Sweden doesn’t often have to deal with fires, but so far the blazes have swallowed up $70 million worth of land, according to Swedish news agency TT. The country has asked for help from Norway and Italy, which sent along helicopters and planes to help contain the flames, according to the New York Times.

To figure out the size of the fires and where they’re spreading, the European Space Agency put four of its Copernicus Sentinel satellites on the job. Without the satellite imagery they're providing, the agency would have a tough time measuring the fires or even seeing them at all in some of the sparsely populated areas.

The wildfires follow the longest sustained drought on record in Sweden and heat waves that have engulfed most of Europe. And to scientists, they look a lot like what you’d expect human-caused climate change to look like.

These photos show the west coast of Norway over to central Sweden, where the fires are raging below the clouds. And in a zoomed-in shot, not just the smoke is visible; the satellites caught images where you can see the actual flames.

(Gif courtesy of the European Space Agency)

The heatwave across Europe has shown other signs visible from space. Satellite photos from the UK’s Met Office show England turning brown over the course of two months.

In addition to the usual dangers of massive fires, the flames have started to encroach on a military station in Älvdalens, where ammo’s tested. The flames have cut off access to the base: Emergency workers can’t get within 800 meters and moving any closer would put them at risk should the ammo at the base blow up. Even dousing the flames over the base via helicopter is risky, because the ammo could blow and down a chopper, according to the local government in Älvdalens.

If the base does blow up, the fires could spread even more.

Since 2015, the Europeans have put satellites into orbit to monitor the Earth — and specifically to relay back information to provide info to help with natural disasters like the fires in Sweden. The missions are designed to the monitor problems like vegetation, land-surface temperatures, and the color of the ocean, all with the purpose collecting data on the state of the changing planet.

Michael Cohen secretly recorded tapes of Trump discussing payments to a former Playboy model

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 11:07am

Lordy, there are tapes.

The New York Times reported Friday that President Trump’s longtime personal fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Trump about payments made two months before the 2016 presidential election to a Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump in 2006.

Federal agents seized the tape earlier this year during raids on Cohen’s properties, the paper said, amid a Justice Department investigation into Cohen’s involvement with payments made to women to muffle potentially damaging stories in the midst of the campaign.

Trump’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the existence of the tapes to the Times but downplayed their significance, insisting: “Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance.”

The Times’ bombshell comes at a pivotal time for Cohen, who spent a decade at Trump’s side and once styled himself as Trump’s most doggedly loyal lieutenant. But Cohen has been sending signals lately, amid an investigation into his business affairs, that he may be prepared to share everything he knows with investigators, including potentially revealing information about Trump.

Read : The Mueller probe is hammering Trump's allies with insane legal bills

The model, Karen McDougal, has said she had an affair with Trump before selling the rights to her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000 during the waning months of the presidential campaign.

But the paper, which is run by longtime Trump friend David Pecker, never ran the story, effectively keeping it silent.

Confirmation of the tape’s existence follows months of swirling speculation over whether Cohen recorded his conversations with Trump and others.

Read: Taxi mogul who borrowed millions from Michael Cohen swears it wasn't for his weed business

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York City, U.S., May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

The “gay panic” defense for murder could be on its way out

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 9:19am

In all but three U.S. states, anyone charged with murder can claim in court that they should be held less accountable for their actions because of their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s a defense known as the gay or trans “panic” defense.

But two Massachusetts Democrats think it’s about time to change that. While Congress can’t interfere with criminal state law, the lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the panic defense in federal courts. They’re hoping the bill can serve as a catalyst for states to finally move to outlaw the defense as well. Since the bill's introduction, Pennsylvania has already introduced similar legislation in its state Senate.

“Our legislation would only make an effect on the federal level,” Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy told VICE News. He introduced the bill alongside Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey. “A lot of these crimes are going to take place at the state level. So it’s critically important that other states update their policies.”

California, Illinois, and Rhode Island have already outlawed using the LGBT panic defense in courtrooms, but in all 47 other states, the defense allows perpetrators of violent crimes to blame the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity on “their loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual,” according to the National LGBT Bar Association, an organization of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals that works to promote LGBT rights.

In 2008, for example, Brandon McInerney shot and killed his 15-year-old classmate, Larry King, who occasionally wore makeup and high heels, at their school in Oxnard, California. McInerney allegedly teased King for weeks and vowed “to get a gun and shoot him,” according to the LA Times.

So when his trial started, McInerney claimed that King’s behavior made him feel “threatened” and invoked the LGBTQ panic defense. As a result, he accepted a guilty plea in exchange for 21 years in prison. The case could have landed him behind bars for life, but instead, he'll get out when he’s 38 years old.

Even more recently, a man beat a transgender woman to death in 2016 and received just 12 years in prison for manslaughter after claiming the discovery that she was transgender launched him into a “blind fury.”

“Sexual orientation or gender identity cannot ever excuse violence, and our courtrooms should not be used as chambers of hate,” Markey said in a press release. In fact, the defense could be evidence of a hate crime, according to Kennedy.

These cases show a court system that places LGBT lives lower than their straight peers, says Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He helped write the Illinois law that bans the LGBT panic defense.

“This needs to be one point of conversation in a broader conversation about how LGBT people are treated in the criminal justice system more broadly,” Kreis told VICE News. “It's easy to say that these things don't happen all that often, but that's missing the point here.”

"Sexual orientation or gender identity cannot ever excuse violence, and our courtrooms should not be used as chambers of hate."

Not all politicians agree, though. In Rhode Island, two representatives voted against the bill that blocked use of the gay panic defense. During the House floor discussion in May, Republican State Rep. Justin Price said he was concerned about withholding from jurors “all the information as far as what happened during an altercation,” according to the Providence Journal. “I don’t think that they [can] make a sound decision.”

Regardless of whether states have banned the LGBT panic defense, it’s up to judges to admit evidence, according to D’Arcy Kemnitz, the executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association. The new bill just states that defendants wouldn’t be able to use someone’s gender or sexuality as an excuse to murder them.

“The problem is that when somebody has been attacked or even murdered by virtue of being LGBT or perceived to be LGBT, that does not in any way mitigate the damage that that perpetrator has or has not done,” Kemnitz told VICE News on Thursday. “But it works in the jury member's mind that, hey, maybe that person wasn't as valuable.”

Kennedy isn’t sure how much support the bill will get from his Republican peers. He said no Republicans have come out with any issues against the bill so far, but they haven’t come out in support either.

But if the California, Illinois and Rhode Island votes are at all indicative, they aren’t looking at a tough fight. Only nine state senators and 15 assemblyman voted against the California bill. Illinois passed it unanimously, and in Rhode Island in May, just two representatives voted against the bill.

Whether or not the bill gets the support it needs to pass through the House and Senate, activists see the bill as a success for even reaching this point.

“In any civil rights civil rights movement, or in any movement that is a social movement that is trying to enact legal change and a civil rights cultural change, you're always going to have different types of shifts in momentum,” Kreis told VICE News. “Then at some point you have a critical mass where the idea is no longer just emerging, but it's mainstream and it has currency. I think we're approaching that now.”

Cover image: Two men hold hands in Leeds, on Tuesday March 28, 2017. (Press Association via AP Images)

Germans are wearing yarmulkes to protest rising anti-Semitism in the country

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 8:05am

More than 1,000 demonstrators, many wearing yarmulkes, gathered in Bonn, Germany, Thursday to protest the latest attack on a Jewish man amid concerns of rising anti-Semitism in the country.

The rally came a week after a visiting academic, Yitzhak Melamed, was assaulted in broad daylight by a young German of Palestinian descent. Melamed’s assailant reportedly knocked his kippah from his head while yelling abuse at him, including the phrase “No Jews in Germany!”

Melamed, a 50-year-old philosophy professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told Zeit Online that a pushback against rising anti-Semitism in Germany was overdue.

“The situation for Jews in Germany is concerning right now,” he said. “Many people are scared to go outside wearing a kippah. That's unacceptable and it can't be allowed to continue.”

The brazen assault was just the latest in a string of high-profile recent attacks on Jews in Germany, prompting high-level concern about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country responsible for the Holocaust. In April, similar rallies were held in cities across Germany after footage of a Syrian refugee attacking two men wearing yarmulkes on a Berlin street went viral. In the wake of that attack, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, advised people visiting large German cities against wearing yarmulkes, for their own safety.

The attacks have fuelled a thorny national debate about what Chancellor Angela Merkel described in April as a “different type of anti-Semitism” brought by Arab and Muslim migrants into the country in recent years. But amid attempts by the far-right to hijack the issue to drum up hostility towards refugees, the political mainstream has pushed back, cautioning that anti-Semitism pre-existed the recent migrant influx and has deep roots across the spectrum of society.

That’s backed up by a study released Wednesday, that found anti-Semitic content on German social media had increased significantly in its prevalence and extremity in recent years.

The study, led by Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin, examined 300,000 pieces of online content, mostly from social media sites. It found that anti-Semitic content thrived online, and came from all sectors of society, from liberals and the left as well as right-wing extremists and Muslims.

"We were shocked to see that prejudices against Jews had changed so little over the last hundred years," she told German news outlet DW.

Statistics suggest that the rise in hate speech is spilling over into real world aggression. According to data from Germany’s Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin rose 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 947 cases recorded.

READ: The real reason Merkel’s coalition is in crisis is the rise of the far-right AfD

Speaking at Thursday’s rally, the head of Bonn’s Jewish community, Margaret Traub, said the recent attack was not an isolated incident. “It’s enough,” she told the crowd. “We won’t tolerate being treated with hostility for only one reason – that we’re Jewish.”

An anti-Semitism scandal in April prompted the organizers of Germany’s equivalent of the Grammys, called “Echo,” to announce that they are permanently scrapping the annual event.

The event suffered a backlash after this year’s best hip-hop/urban album was awarded to a rap duo who had anti-Semitic lyrics about the Holocaust, leading organizers to announce that they were planning to relaunch the awards under a different format, as the brand had been so badly damaged.

Cover image: After the anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish professor in Bonn, the city reacts with the 'Tag der Kippa' (Day of Kippa). The picture shows participants of the event with Kippa in Bonn city center. In the background the old City Hall. (Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

India is threatening to sue WhatsApp over mob lynchings linked to fake news

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 7:31am

WhatsApp has again updated how its messaging app works in India to prevent the spread of viral fake videos linked to mob lynchings. Yet despite the latest measures, the government in New Delhi is threatening to sue the tech company for allowing the “rampant circulation of irresponsible messages” on its platform.

WhatsApp Thursday published details of how it would limit the way viral videos and fake rumors spread on its network.

“Today, we're launching a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp,” the company said in a blog post, but it has singled out its service in the subcontinent for even more special treatment.

“In India — where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world — we'll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we'll remove the quick forward button next to media messages,” the company said.

The viral WhatsApp messages are typically spread by people simply forwarding them to family and friends and through large groups allowing the rumors to spread easily and quickly without knowing where the messages originated.

But WhatsApp’s efforts were not enough for the Indian government.

In a strongly-worded statement issued after the company announced its update, India's information technology ministry said:

“Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on [WhatsApp’s] platform has not been addressed adequately. When rumors and fake news get propagated by mischief-mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability.”

The ministry went on to say that if WhatsApp “remain mute spectators” they could face legal action if it didn’t provide “traceability” of provocative messages.

However the end-to-end encryption that is a major selling point of WhatsApp means even the company itself cannot see the contents of chats between users.

WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the government’s threat.

Read: India’s fake news epidemic is killing people, and Modi’s government has no plan to stop it

In recent months, there have been dozens of mob lynchings related to fake rumors spread virally on social media, with at least 18 of those specifically linked to WhatsApp.

While the government has been quick to issue criticisms of WhatsApp, it has provided no coordinated response to the crisis, leaving police forces across the country to resort to the using unorthodox methods to try and combat the wave of fake news.

The government came under further pressure to act this week when the Supreme Court labeled the deaths as “horrendous acts of mobocracy” and urged Modi and the ruling BJP party to enact a new law to punish offenders.

But it appears the government has no immediate plans to coordinate a response, with Union minister of state for home affairs Hansraj Ahir saying this week that the “National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not maintain specific data with respect to lynching incidents in the country.”

Cover image: This photo illustration shows an Indian newspaper vendor reading a newspaper with a full back page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information, in New Delhi on July 10, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Mergers, acquisitions, and the new media landscape

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2018 - 7:02am

While much of the media remains focused on President Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki, an eventful week for media companies has set in motion changes that may alter how Americans get their news.

In the past several days, Disney has bested Comcast in the battle for 21st Century Fox, Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune Media was torpedoed by the FCC, and the Justice Department attempted to block the AT&T–Time Warner merger that is already underway. “In the media business, this past year has been something like the summer of ’68—a tumultuous, chaotic collision of personalities and companies,” Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo writes in his look at the merger frenzy. “It has felt like the vanishing of one world order, where consumers were reliant on a cable provider, and the emergence of a brave new one, where everything is accessed on the phone, and traditional players must join forces in a fight for survival against incipient challengers.”

The race for scale has been driven, Pompeo notes, by the power of Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, along with the rise of Netflix, which this spring was the most valuable media company in the world. By consolidating media properties, Disney’s Bob Iger, Comcast’s Brian Roberts, and AT&T’s Randall Stephenson have cemented their positions of high influence.

RELATED: Our monster island of media companies

On a separate front, Sinclair’s bid to become the dominant force in local news is in serious jeopardy. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, announced Monday that he would send the Sinclair deal out for review by an administrative law judge—a likely death blow to the plans.

One of the winners to emerge from the spasms of change appears to be a figure familiar to the old media world. “Three times this summer, government regulators have had to make major decisions regarding media ownership,” CNN’s Hadas Gold writes. “Three times, the decision has gone the way that [Rupert] Murdoch and his company, 21st Century Fox, would have wanted.” The patriarch of the Fox empire, now 87, is close with President Trump; the most visible stars at Fox News are some of the president’s closest advisors. There is no proof that those relationships have touched government action, yet Gold writes that “Murdoch’s string of good fortune has set some tongues wagging.”

Below, more on the new world of media.

  • Conservative media winners: Politico’s Jason Schwartz writes that rival conservative TV news outlets are celebrating the FCC’s action on the Sinclair–Tribune Media deal. Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network all opposed the move.
  • What’s left for Comcast: Pompeo notes that by bowing out of the bid for 21st Century Fox, Comcast is left with few appetizing options. A media executive described the company’s remaining choices as “a dog’s breakfast of media leftovers. A lot of shitty deals. Lionsgate, MGM, Sony, Viacom, CBS, Discovery, AMC.”
  • Looking abroad: The New York Times’s Prashant S. Rao and Edmund Lee report that Comcast is turning its focus to acquiring Sky, “which, with more than 23 million customers across five countries, is one of Europe’s most prized media companies.”


Other notable stories

  • As criticism of his meeting with Vladimir Putin continued, President Trump on Thursday invited him to Washington. In attempting to shift the narrative, Trump “was deploying a familiar tactic: barreling into the next news cycle by supplying the next bit of incendiary programming,” write Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.
  • For CJR, Gabe Schneider reports from Oakland on troubles at the East Bay Express, where racism charges have prompted resignations and a reckoning.
  • The Atlantic’s Megan Garber examines Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s performance as press secretary after a year on the job. “It is a well-worn cliché of the Trump presidency—which is also to say, it is a well-worn cliché about the Trump psyche—that, within a White House as vertically integrated as this one, loyalty counts above all,” Garber writes. Few in the administration demonstrate that loyalty more publicly than Sanders does from the briefing room.
  • The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright reports that, to suit up against a Washington Post investigation, Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes, “hired a law firm that boasts about ‘killing stories.’” The investigation in question concerned what CBS executives knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Charlie Rose, and Cartwright reports that aggressive legal tactics “effectively neutered” the result.
  • After the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking into the servers of the DNC and other groups, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple revisited campaign coverage of hacked emails. Wemple has collected comments from editors at The New York Times, The Washington Post, HuffPost, and elsewhere—the consensus seems to be that, though the full scope of the hack wasn’t known, the emails were still newsworthy.
  • The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is putting out a public call for nominations for the 2019 Freedom of the Press Awards.

ICYMI: Press newly energized by White House contradictions

The father of two Parkland survivors was shot dead in a grocery store robbery

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 6:45am

The father of two Parkland school shooting survivors was shot dead in his own convenience store during an armed robbery earlier this week.

Ayub Ali, a father of four and a Bangladesh native, was killed shortly after noon Tuesday at Aunt Molly’s Food Store, the store he owned in Parkland, Florida.

According to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect held up the store at around 12:45 p.m., took money from the cash register, and then left. He then returned, forced Ali, 61, into the office at the back of the store, and shot him.

The sheriff’s office released surveillance video Thursday showing a man they believe to be the suspect, whom they are still seeking, clad in a black vest, red shorts with a black and white stripe down the sides, reddish-orange slides and a skull cap with “Miami” stitched on the front.

Two of Ali’s children, a son and a daughter, are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, and survived the Valentine’s Day massacre five months ago, which left 17 people dead and dozens injured. His daughter was in the classroom of the school’s 1200 building, where the shooting occurred, an NBC affiliate in Miami reported.

Students from Parkland are leading a nationwide movement against gun violence after the February shooting, with many of them now on a summer tour across the country.

Local news outlets described how residents of Parkland had put together a makeshift memorial outside Ali’s store, which reopened Thursday.

Cover image: Two rings of chairs encircle the words "NEVER AGAIN" in a silent protest on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting outside Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., Friday, April 20, 2018. The inner ring chairs have names of the Columbine victims, the outer ring chairs have names of the Parkland High School shooting victims. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Everything we know about the fatal Missouri duck boat tragedy

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 6:26am

At least 11 people, some of them children, are dead and six others are missing after an amphibious duck boat capsized during a severe thunderstorm on a Missouri lake Thursday.

Here’s what we know so far:

The “Ride the Ducks” boat was carrying 31 people when it capsized shortly after 7 p.m. local time on Table Rock Lake, a popular tourist attraction near the town of Branson, according to Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.

He said 14 passengers were rescued, with six still unaccounted for. Diving teams scoured the lake Thursday night before suspending their search due to poor light, and will resume Friday morning.

Brandei Clifton, a spokeswoman for a local hospital, said four adults and three children were brought in shortly after the incident. Two of the adults were in critical condition, she said.

The capsized vessel, which authorities said had lifejackets on board, was one of two duck boats that hit problems as a heavy storm rolled in across the lake. Video footage showed the boats struggling to make it to shore through choppy waves, with one eventually reaching land while the other was swamped.

“It was having problems through the wind," Rader told reporters. "They were coming back toward land. There was actually two ducks. The first one made it out. The second one didn't."

Branson, located about 200 miles from Kansas City, had been issued with a severe thunderstorm warning shortly before 6:30 p.m. local time, half an hour before the incident, raising questions about why the vessels were still on the lake. Meteorologists said wind speeds topped 63 miles an hour in Branson around the time of the incident and were likely higher over the lake.

The storm was strong enough to cause other damage throughout the county, uprooting trees and causing structural damage.

Duck boats are amphibious trucks that were used during the Second World War to transport materials ashore in places without port facilities, and are now widely used in sightseeing tours. They’ve been involved in fatal accidents before, including a sinking on Arkansas’ Lake Hamilton in 1999 in which 13 people, including three children, were killed.

Cover image: A duck boat is seen at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, U.S., July 19, 2018, in this picture grab obtained from social media video. (Ron Folsom/via REUTERS)

Kim is shouting at factory bosses because sanctions are tanking North Korea's economy

VICE News - July 20, 2018 - 6:12am

North Korea’s economy is suffering its worst decline in 20 years, according to figures released Friday — a result of the biting sanctions slapped on the regime in recent years for its nuclear and ballistic weapons tests.

In response, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been visiting factories, berating officials, and cozying up to China in the hope that Beijing can help ease sanctions.

The figures, released by the Bank Of Korea, shows in North Korea gross domestic product (GDP) fell 3.5 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year. This marks the sharpest decline since the regime suffered a 6.5 percent drop in 1997 as a result of a devastating famine.

The pain of western sanctions have been exacerbated by North Korea’s closest trading ally China more strictly enforcing economic measures against the regime in the second half of 2017 following pressure from the United Nations.

The worst hit sector was industrial production, which accounts for about a third of the nation’s total output. It dropped by 8.5 percent, according to the Bank of Korea, as factory production collapsed because Pyongyang was unable to secure enough oil, coal and gas.

Output from agriculture and construction industries also fell by 1.3 percent and 4.4 percent respectively.

It appears Kim was aware of his country’s economic decline before the release of the statistics.

The despot last week was seen visiting industrial facilities, power plants and tourist sites across the country — shifting focus from the regime’s nuclear arsenal to its economy.

According to the state-run KCNA news agency, Kim voiced his ”great anxiety” about poor standards and failing to meet targets, while dressing down ruling party officials for their lack of “revolutionary spirit.”

At the Chongjin Bag Factory, located in the same region as a nuclear test site, which the regime blew up in May, Kim ordered workers to sew twice as much sponge in the shoulder straps to prevent schoolchildren feeling any discomfort.

In Younjin, Kim visited a seaside hotel and asked why the facility remained unfinished six years after construction began. Even worse, at the Orangchon power station he berated officials for failing to complete construction a full 17 years after it began, saying it “doesn’t make sense.”

Wang Enbin, the deputy director of the department of commerce in China’s Liaoning province, which borders North Korea, said this week he was keen for the two countries to work together as soon as possible.

READ: Kim lied at their first summit — so Trump wants to give him a second summit

Kim’s focus on the economy is positive for the U.S., giving Washington leverage as it pushes to enforce the Singapore declaration in which North Korea promises to work towards denuclearization.

“It’s clear from KCNA and government statements, that Kim is serious about putting economic growth at the top of his agenda,” John Hemmings, Asia Director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, told VICE News.

“This gives the U.S. some leverage in offering that in exchange for [denuclearisation], however Kim’s goal will be to try and get economic growth ahead of and separately from denuclearisation, so we can expect to see him weakening the international coalition against him and emphasising the humanitarian impact of sanctions.”

While sanctions are biting hard in North Korea, Kim’s efforts to cozy up to China may be a deliberate ploy to use the current unease between Beijing and Washington over trade to gain sanctions relief.

“Given its current trade war with the Trump administration, there’s a danger that Beijing will loosen sanctions on North Korea in order to leverage its fight with Washington on trade,” Hemmings said.

Cover image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his visit to the under construction Orangchon Power Station in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang July 17, 2018. (KCNA via REUTERS)

CNN cameraman has 40 years in the field, and the storage units to prove it

Columbia Journalism Review - July 20, 2018 - 5:55am
After nearly four decades as a CNN cameraman, Dave Rust hasn’t just collected the typical journalists’ larder of press passes and selfies from the thousands of stories he’s covered. He’s become a sort of hoarder of CNN memorabilia, filling storage units with artifacts dating from the earliest days of the network. His treasures include big […]

Email Hacking Was ‘Pearl Harbor,’ Helsinki Presidency’s ‘New Low’: Welcome to the United States of Amnesia

FAIR - July 19, 2018 - 5:01pm

In 1996, interfering in other countries’ elections was considered something to brag about (Time, 7/15/96).

The media maelstrom around the Helsinki meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin obscures at least one point of view: that it’s possible to believe that Russia intervened in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump without thinking that this is remotely comparable to Pearl Harbor, as Politico (7/16/18) declared, or “the worst attack on America since 9/11,” as a Washington Post headline (2/18/18) claimed earlier this year.

Not saying it doesn’t make it less true that both Russia and the United States frequently interfere in other countries’ elections—the US somewhat more frequently, according to a database of electoral interventions maintained by a political scientist at Carnegie Mellon. That’s a lot of Pearl Harbors.

In 1996, Time magazine published a cover story (7/15/96) headlined “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.” Russian President Boris Yeltsin, you may recall, embraced the idea pushed by Western advisors that what the Russian economy needed was “shock therapy,” a policy that resulted in the country losing about a third of its GDP. Yeltsin also created the model for the authoritarian post-Soviet Russia we have today, notably when he called out the military to shell the Russian parliament—just one of many examples that make clear that the difference between US and Russian electoral interference is not that “we” intervene on the side of democracy.

Contrary to this Washington Post op-ed (7/17/18), Trump’s Helsinki performance wasn’t even the presidency’s lowest point in the last six weeks.

Should we talk about electoral interference? Sure. But we don’t have to be led by media who are outraged at Moscow doing things that never bothered them when they were done by Washington—“It’s different cuz it’s us” is not really a moral principle—or whose concern about “foreign” interference in US elections is orders of magnitude greater than that around the interference represented by anti-black and anti-poor voter suppression, inaccessible polling places or partisan gerrymandering.

What justified concern there could be is undermined rather than served by airily ahistorical claims like that of a Washington Post op-ed by Garry Kasparov (7/17/18): “The Helsinki Summit Marks a New Low in the History of the US Presidency.” Suffice to say there are millions who disagree that Trump failing to acknowledge that he had Russian help in getting elected is worse than Bush Jr. invading Iraq, Reagan arming death squads in Central America, worse than Nixon bombing Cambodia, or Truman dropping atomic bombs on civilians, or FDR rounding up Japanese-Americans or, well,  worse than the deliberate separation of children from their families at the southern border. A conversation without that perspective is hardly worth having.

Trump invited Putin to Washington — and shocked his own director of national intelligence

VICE News - July 19, 2018 - 4:08pm

President Donald Trump has apparently invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington in the fall, to the surprise of many — including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

“Say that again,” Coats said Thursday when he was told about the invitation on stage during a security forum in Colorado. The audience laughed.

“Ok. That’s gonna be special,” he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in a tweet that Trump had instructed national security adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to D.C., and that “discussions were already underway.”

Trump’s recent interactions with Putin have shocked politicians, the media, and experts. On Monday, Trump had a private meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, that was only witnessed by two interpreters.

In a joint press conference following the meeting, Trump appeared to side with Putin over American intelligence agencies which say that Putin orchestrated an attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor. Trump later backtracked those comments and said he misspoke.

He also said that allowing Russian investigators to question suspects as part of the Mueller probe sounded like a “great idea,” but the White House walked that back Thursday. “It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” Sanders said in a statement. The Senate voted 98-0 in a symbolic resolution to tell the president not to honor Putin’s request.

Putin himself has heralded the meeting with Trump as hugely successful and said that the media and other forces were attempting to create discord between the U.S. and Russia.

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin next to U.S. First Lady Melania Trump ahead a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP)

Action Alert: Tell NYT Not to Present Center-Right as ‘Left’

FAIR - July 19, 2018 - 4:01pm

The New York Times (7/17/18) brings you the views of the whole political spectrum–as defined by the New York Times.

The New York Times, despite its above-the-fray self-image, is one of most overtly ideological institutions on earth. Its primary editorial purpose—as laid out by its own opinion page editor earlier this year (James Bennett: “We are in favor of capitalism”—FAIR.org, 3/1/18)—is to defend the unimpeachable virtues of capitalism. As such, whoever the Times holds up as “the left”—in its sourcing and in its hiring practices (FAIR.org, 4/20/17)—has to first and foremost accept the primacy of the market and the broader virtue of a US-run global order that promotes this particular ideology.

Even so, when Times reporter Jennifer Jett (7/17/18) wanted to recap reactions—“from the right and left”—to Donald Trump’s recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the choice of pundits she turned to to represent “the left” was exceedingly bizarre. Somehow Alina Polyakova, a conventional wisdom-echoing research director at the NATO-aligned and -funded think tank Atlantic Council,  and Fred Kaplan, a champion of the Iraq War at Slate, were offered by Jett as “the left.”

The third member of this three-person list was Atlantic staff writer James Fallows, the one person included whom you could argue was some species of leftist (though the Radical Middle Newsletter cites him as an example of a “great radical-centrist journalist”). While The Atlantic is generally a center-right publication, Fallows is at least a skeptic of US military power, but by no means a consistent anti-imperialist.

Polyakova has made a name for herself in the emerging cottage industry of Russia experts who are willing to toe the US NatSec consensus line that Russia is the alpha and omega of all bad things in the US, Europe and the Levant. Kaplan, for his part, is simply a dull, reliable partisan. Polyakova and Kaplan pushing the Sinister Russia Puppeteer narrative is anything but unexpected, but one has to wonder: In what universe are they “the left”? They have no history in left-wing activism, politics, academia or media. They are, for better or worse, boilerplate centrist hawks, toeing the exact line 99 percent of our media do.

By contrast, the “right” was represented in the Times feature by pundits from bona fide outlets of the conservative movement: the National Review, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, The Federalist.

The New York Times‘ strange vision of who “the left” is.

Fallows, whom one could argue represents a meaningful segment of “the left,” echoes the MSNBC line that Trump, when he refuses to reject Putin’s denials of US intelligence charges that Russia intervened on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election, is “shockingly advanc[ing] the interests of another country over those of his own government and people. It would be disingenuous to suggest there wasn’t a sizable segment of the American left who believe this to be true—and believe it to be a genuine threat to working-class interests—but this belief is by no means uniform.

Lots of professional opinion-havers on the left, from Noam Chomsky to Matt Taibbi to Katrina vanden Heuvel, are skeptical of the whole premise, and feel trafficking in the prevailing Manchurian Candidate fear-mongering fuels Cold War forces, avoids broader issues of inequality and establishment failures, and could lead to escalation in Syria, Ukraine and possibly even a nuclear war. None of these voices, of course, are permitted to be heard from in the New York Times, whose opinion pages were united in breathless indignation that the US intelligence community was having its good name dragged through the mud.

The only non–“sky is falling” take permitted, per usual, is from the revanchist right wing—in this instance, the American Conservative’s Pat Buchanan. As we’ve noted in the past, anti-interventionist positions are almost always represented by libertarian or nativist voices; this way publications can tell themselves they didn’t uniformly follow the official pro-military line, without allowing actual anti-imperialist or leftist voices that may muddy the waters by making fundamental critiques of our system, rather than the white supremacy–flattering, pseudo-opposition offered up by antisemites like Buchanan.

Given that milquetoast centrists were standing in for the left, one might wonder whom the Times held up to represent the “center”: none other than hotel room doormat USA Today and arch-neoconservative Iraq War–promoter and child-rape apologist Anne Applebaum. The voices of the American center, indeed.

It’s a small but telling example. The Times’ primary charge is to firmly establish the parameters of debate. To do this it must offer up the most banal, NATO-echoing conventional wisdom as representing the acceptable left wing of this debate, and, as it does with its opinion page (FAIR.org, 6/20/17), only permit “fringe” positions so long as they come from the far right and never really offend traditional centers of power.


Please tell the New York Times to use actual voices from the left to represent “left” opinion—on the Helsinki summit or anything else.

email: ourpicks@nytimes.com

Twitter: @NYTimes

Feel free to leave copies of your communication in comments below. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

h/t Tim Shorrock

‘We Point to the Need to Decriminalize Migration’

FAIR - July 19, 2018 - 3:21pm

Janine Jackson interviewed Jacinta Gonzalez about immigration rights for the July 13, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Images of weeping toddlers torn from their stunned mothers’ arms, of children in cages—or what some insist you call “chain link-fenced holding areas”—and of three-year-olds representing themselves in deportation or asylum proceedings: These have outraged and galvanized many Americans in protest of the Trump administration’s racist, cruel, anti-immigration and anti-immigrant policies.

Outrage is justified, but if we intend to translate it to substantive change, we’re going to need to build out from this immediate, visible crisis, to connect it to all of the other factors and actors that make today’s headlines possible. So what now for those who recognize family separation of immigrants to the US as no outlier, but part of a broader social agenda that goes well beyond the US/Mexico border?

Our next guest has been organizing against immigration enforcement and the criminalization of Latinx and immigrant communities for years. Jacinta Gonzalez is senior campaign organizer at Mijente, the national political hub for Latinx organizing. She joins us now by phone from Phoenix. Welcome to CounterSpin, Jacinta Gonzalez.

Jacinta Gonzalez: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: Families Belong Together” has broad appeal as an idea, broad surface appeal, if I may say. Even media who are trying hard have had trouble finding people giving full-throated endorsement of the idea of pulling children from their parents who are trying to enter the country —that is, beyond, “Well, they brought this on themselves.” But the power of positive messaging aside, is it your sense that “families belong together” is just not a sufficient organizing principle for bringing about the real change that we want to see? How do we need to grow that idea?

JG: I think what we saw clearly with this newly created crisis by this administration is that when we simply demand things like “family unity,” what we get is family unity behind bars. And so for us, it was really necessary to be able to raise awareness of not only what was happening with the devastation of young children being separated from their parents, but also with the criminalization of migration and mass prosecutions of folks who are entering this country. Because with this analysis, we’re able to actually make demands that would get to the root of the problem, instead of just treating the most horrific manifestation of the actual policy.

TruthOut (6/17/18)

JJ: Right. In your very straightforward piece, “How to Stop Child Separation? Stop Sending Their Parents to Prison,” that you wrote last month for Truthout, you talked about, if we really want to go forward from this, and if we want to use our very warranted feelings of upset and anger at what we’re seeing to really end the crisis, there are a number of elements of that work that we could be looking at. What are some of things that you’re pointing to that folks might direct energy to?

JG: We put out a policy platform that describes that there’s both movement demands that we’re making, but there’s also really concrete things that both Congress can do, different government agencies can do, to try to get us a little bit closer to the real solutions to some of these problems. For us, a primary demand or a central tenet is the abolishment of ICE as an agency. We know that family separation has been happening, not only at the border, but also when deportations are taking place and parents are being separated from their families. But also community members, more broadly, are being separated from their loved ones, and from people that they share their lives with.

And so we think that ICE as an agency should be completely abolished, which means that there should be a moratorium on deportations, there should be a defunding of the agency, we should end all forms of detention, and those are very concrete demands that can be accomplished now.

But we also point to the need to decriminalize migration. You know, the laws that are on the books that are allowing Jeff Sessions to throw the book at people are laws that were written in the 1930s by a legislator that was openly advocating for lynching, that was against interracial marriage and that promoted the criminalization of migration. And so it’s time for us to take a strong stand and decriminalize that as well, by taking away Section 1325 and 1326 that allow for these prosecutions to happen.

JJ: I think we did start to see, maybe, an advance over the conversation that we had around DACA and the Dreamers, which was very much about, “Let’s not punish these innocent children for the crimes of their parents,” and it was this very invidious and kind of confused understanding of what “crime” is, and of what it means to try to isolate—to me it reminded me, frankly, of the welfare reform conversation around 1996, where we had media talking about, “Yes, let’s punish these lazy mothers, but how do we protect their children?” It’s a very artificial conversation.

But I feel as though things have maybe moved on a little from that to where we can see a distinction between “crime” and criminalization, you know, making things a crime. I don’t know, am I too optimistic there, or do you think people are starting to understand what it really means to criminalize immigration itself?

JG: I think we see tendencies going both ways. So I actually think there’s a lot of things that are really exciting about seeing people broaden their analysis of criminalization and their understanding of policing, understanding that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol are policing agencies, and so that a lot of the same critiques can be applied to ICE also apply to the police. And so it broadens the conversation and the possibilities of what we can do and what kinds of alliances we can build, particularly between black and Latinx communities.

But you also have, I think, a tendency in the center to try to say that this is not the time for radical demands that actually give different possibilities. That we should say things like, “Well, we’ll give you the wall, but legalize this many people.” And I think we’ve seen a couple of rounds of that. You know, we had legislators saying that they would negotiate with Trump on some of these policies, knowing full well the far, far right-wing agenda that he’s pushing.

So I think we also have to see the opportunity of being able to have more people understand the criminalization, and I think we also have to be wary of not taking advantage of this moment, because it’s unveiling what the system truly is meant to do. And so these are the moments where we can actually provide other options and alternatives to folks beyond what many mainstream Democrats have been presenting as solutions.

International Red Cross/Red Crescent (5/7/18)

JJ: Absolutely. Well, I want to talk about that vision. The International Red Cross just released a report talking about the “New Walled Order,” as they put it, saying that criminalizing aid and public services for immigrants and migrants is setting back advances by a century. And what they’re calling for is just a simple separation from immigration policy, and from those policies with regarding access to food and healthcare and legal advice. So they’re also applying it to the French mayor who said that distributing food at a migrant camp was illegal. And the Italian government that’s saying NGOs can’t go out into Libyan waters with search and rescue missions, and all of that.

I feel that that international vision is necessary to broaden the context of what’s happening at just the US/Mexico border, which you’ve just indicated is not only about the US/Mexico border. But I think an international vision, and a bigger picture of migration worldwide, would help here.

JG: Yeah, definitely. We have to have a broader vision of migration, because migration has been happening for centuries, and given the increases in wealth disparities and the added crisis of climate change, we’re going to be seeing more and more of it. And, unfortunately, for a lot of countries, the response has been a militarized criminalization of migration that is creating a worse human rights crisis, but also creating economic incentives for people to try to continue to promote an agenda dealing with it that increases countries’ abilities to incarcate, to surveil, to police.

Jacinta Gonzalez: “If we continue to have a system that responds to everything with punishment and criminalization, we’re going to continue to confront this failure over and over, and not just in migration.” (image: Democracy Now!)

And so I do think we have to understand this within a broader context, and also understand it, again, within this framework of, if we continue to have a system that responds to everything with punishment and criminalization, we’re going to continue to confront this failure over and over, and not just in migration. We’re seeing it with reproductive issues, we’re seeing it with climate justice, we’re seeing it with the legal justice system that this country also uses, and so I think we have to have a broader analysis that connects all of those dots.

JJ: Let me just bring you back, finally, if I could, to the idea of abolishing ICE, which I think is fascinating. I’ve heard it said, it’s one of those things that’s presented as, “Well, you can’t get rid of a government agency,” even if it’s an agency that only recently came into existence. And part of what I hate, frankly, about corporate media is the way that they try to limit our political possibilities. So abolishing ICE is the kind of idea that the corporate media will tell us is laughable and impossible—until we do it, and then they’ll act like they invented it. And I just wonder, how do you encourage people to think around the ideas and the limitations that they’re getting from news media, for example, and do the work outside of that? I feel like work that occurs outside the media lens in some ways is free from some of the limitations that media try to present to people about what is possible and what can happen.

JG: Yeah, I mean, you know your idea is being taken seriously when a former Department of Homeland Security chief is saying that it shouldn’t be promoted as a policy demand.

JJ: Right.

JG: There is this process of where, well, we’re in an actual conversation about it, which means that it is possible and could be done. And so I think it’s important to use that energy in the moment that is there.

(cc photo: Sasha Patkin)

ICE as an agency was only created with the purpose of detaining and deporting people; it was, in fact, designed as an agency to terrorize immigrant communities. And so I think it is very possible and realistic to get rid of it. There are a million other agencies that help in different parts of immigration laws in this country, and you don’t need ICE to be able to do the other functions. So I think it’s very possible to completely get rid of it, to have a moratorium on deportations, defund ICE as an agency, restructure resources. And there doesn’t have to be a replacement. I think we have to be very concerned with people who are advocating that it be readjusted and housed within the Department of Justice. I think we’re seeing the worries of what can happen with a Department of Justice that is only aimed at incarcerating people. Housing our immigration policies there would only make that worse.

So I actually think we have to be able to reimagine different structures, and I think what we’re seeing is that, also, the American public has an appetite for it. We saw it with the most recent victory of different congressional representatives that are running in New York, but I think we’ve seeing it with over 100 candidates coming out publicly to support the demands, so I think we’re also seeing that we’re able to do it as a policy, and it’s a platform that people will vote for.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, if you have any thoughts in terms of media coverage that you’d like to disappear right now, but also some that you would like to encourage reporters to do more of on this issue as we go forward?

JG: I do think that it’s important to continue to do reporting on what is happening with the Department of Justice and migration. We saw the first impacts of criminalizing people who are crossing the border, but we’re going to see a higher and higher uptick in people being prosecuted for other types of things, like working without documents or coming back to be with your children here. We’re seeing that more and more, the Department of Justice and Jeff Sessions are promoting an agenda to lock as many people up as possible. Migration is one component of that. The war on drugs is another component of that. The war on dissent is another component of that. These are all agendas that folks are moving from Washington, DC, that have long roots in white supremacy, and they need to be fought back against and they need to be documented, because we can’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late, and communities are serving year-long sentences as a result.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente. They’re online at mijente.net. Her article, “How to Stop Child Separation? Stop Sending Their Parents to Prison,” can still be found at TruthOut.org. Jacinta Gonzalez, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JG: Thank you so much for having me.


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