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The more drugmakers wowed doctors with gifts and lunches, the more people died of drug overdoses, study shows

VICE News - 1 hour 33 min ago

All pharmaceutical marketers had to do was show up at a doctor’s office and promise a meal or cash for a speaking engagement. The more they did that, the more opioid painkillers the doctors prescribed — and the more people died of drug overdoses, according to a new study.

By cross referencing a cache of county-level, publicly available interactions between drug marketers and physicians with mortality and prescription data, researchers at Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction discovered that more marketing visits were associated with an increase in overdose mortality one year later. The researchers examined 434,754 payments from Aug. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2015.

“Our findings suggest that direct-to-physician opioid marketing may counter current national efforts to reduce the number of opioids prescribed and that policymakers might consider limits on these activities as part of a robust, evidence-based response to the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States,” researchers wrote in the first-of-its-kind analysis, published in the journal JAMA Network Open Friday.

Researchers in the study cautioned that drugmakers may have marketed more in areas with already-high opioid prescription rates, which could, at least, partially explain the increased mortality rates in those areas. Still, it’s “potentially concerning that physicians in such counties would receive further marketing for opioids,” according to the researchers.

The drug reps didn’t lambast these physicians with high-level marketing or glossy advertisements either. Often referred to as “direct-to-physician” marketing, the doctors referenced in the study instead experienced sales representatives showing up at their local practice with free samples, lunch for the office, or pledges to pay speaker fees and cover travel costs to an event.

Drugmakers spent $39.7 million marketing drugs to nearly 68,000 physicians across the U.S. between August 2013 and December 2015, according to the study. But the amount they spent on marketing didn’t necessarily make a difference on prescription rates; that drug reps continued to show up and multiple interactions with doctors mattered more.

“In the midst of the opioid epidemic, it is critical to address what may be contributing to people misusing and overdosing on prescription opioids, and our study indicates that, across the country, marketing to doctors may strongly influence these outcomes,” Scott Hadland, a physician and lead author of the study, said in a news release.

In another study published in May 2018, researchers at Boston Medical Center found that in 2014, the doctors who received some level of opioid drug marketing, like meals or consulting fees, increased their opioid prescriptions by 9 percent the next year, compared to doctors who didn’t receive the same marketing. In that study, the drugmakers that doled out the most cash to physicians were INSYS Therapeutics, the maker of a fentanyl painkiller called Subsys; Teva Pharmaceuticals; and Janssen Pharmaceuticals. In August, INSYS reached a $150 million settlement deal with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve an investigation into allegations that its marketers paid doctors kickbacks to prescribe Subsys.

Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have steadily declined in tandem with a growing awareness of their impact on a nationwide epidemic of drug overdose deaths. Even so, drug overdose deaths remain at a record high as former prescription drug users move on to more potent — and illegal — opioids, like heroin and fentanyl. For that reason, opioid makers and distributors are tied up in a bevy of civil lawsuits across the country that blame them for a crisis that killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2017.

Cover image: A woman holds a handful of her medication bottles. (AP Photo/Chris Post)

Facebook should treat the cause, not the symptoms, of journalism’s plight

Columbia Journalism Review - 1 hour 37 min ago
At some point over the past year, anyone connected with journalism, its present woes, or concerns over its future probably found themselves in a room with a Facebook executive. If you were high enough up in the media food chain, you got an audience with “Sheryl and Mark.” Everyone else was matched with someone further […]

Florida felons just got the right to vote. GOP leaders want to slow-walk it.

VICE News - 1 hour 45 min ago

SARASOTA, Florida — More than 1.4 million convicted felons in Florida regained the right to vote after the state's voters passed an amendment to its constitution through a ballot initiative in last fall's election. But some advocates worry that Republican leaders may try to obstruct passage of the legislation.

Ion Sancho, who served as the Leon County Supervisor of Elections for nearly three decades, told VICE News that Florida has been the “genesis of the modern era of voter-suppression tactics” — and that talk from GOP state lawmakers about clarifying the amendment could be yet another example.

“I am anticipating that they're going to try to slow-walk it,” he said of Republicans in the state legislature. “They're going to try to put any kind of impediment they can."

The amendment would restore voting rights to the roughly 10 percent of Florida's adult population that have a past felony conviction, excluding convictions for murder or sexual offenses.

So far, there are no specific proposals on the table concerning the amendment from the state's legislators. But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, says he and other skeptics of the amendment are simply considering options to make it easier for both ex-felons and state officials to verify who’s eligible.

“Whatever we're doing is going to be about compliance,” he said. “Anything we would do would be how do we validate that…so that there is not a mishap or an opening for mischief.”

Baxley pointed to the lack of a centralized database in Florida where ex-felons can confirm that they’ve finished all the terms of their sentence, a requirement to be able to register under the new amendment. Supervisors of Elections also can’t independently confirm eligibility, and were given no guidance from the Secretary of State on how to implement the amendment.

Still, advocates of the change say they’re ready for any attempts to slow-walk the law, and willing to fight such efforts in court. In the meantime, says Demetrius Jifunza, an ex-felon who fought for the amendment and registered the first day he was eligible, advocates for the amendment are going to focus their efforts on getting people registered and involved in politics, so they can combat any attempts to take their rights away again.

“So, you know, it's politics and it's Florida. I mean you could snowball things, put language into something to hold things up,” he acknowledged.

But Jifunza added: "The only way to combat that is if we stay on top of things.”

This segment originally aired January 17, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Tim Cook doth protest too much about privacy

Columbia Journalism Review - 2 hours 23 min ago
In Time magazine’s latest issue, which is devoted to the theme of this year’s Davos conference—”Navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution”—Apple CEO Tim Cook has an essay about one of his favorite subjects, online privacy. It’s a topic he has returned to again and again over the past few years, and the message is almost always […]

Democrats are furious over allegations Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress — and talking impeachment

VICE News - 2 hours 37 min ago

Three words rang out, over and over again, from Democrats' Twitter accounts on Thursday night: Obstruction of justice.

To Democrats in Congress, the report that President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to lie to Congress looks like a textbook case of obstruction of justice. Many Democrats are now calling for additional investigations into the allegations — and impeachment, should they turn out to be true.

The revelation came to light on Thursday night in a BuzzFeed News report citing two unnamed federal law enforcement officials that claims Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress about the deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In addition, Trump instructed Cohen to put together a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. “Make it happen,” he said.

Even as Trump told the public that he had no business dealings in Moscow, he and his children, Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump, were receiving regular updates from Cohen about the evolving deal.

The Democrats want answers.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted that his committee would be looking into the allegations.

“If this is true, this is plain, slam-dunk, criminal obstruction of justice,” tweeted Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democrat from Rhode Island.

There’s hard evidence that Trump directed Cohen to lie, according to BuzzFeed News’ sources, including a cache of emails and text messages in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office that provide evidence that the president told Cohen to lie to Congress.

Some are now saying that Congress can’t wait for Mueller to release his findings to act.

“Listen, if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP,” tweeted Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democrat from Connecticut tweeted on Thursday. “Mueller shouldn’t end his inquiry, but it’s about time for him to show Congress his cards before it’s too late for us to act.”

The new revelations take the Mueller investigation in a new direction. If the allegations are true, any collusion between Trump and Russia may have had more to do with Trump Tower Moscow than with influencing an election, and raises new questions about the president’s susceptibility to influence through the Trump Organization.

It also establishes a significant potential motive: The Trump Organization stood to make $300 million in profit from a tower in Moscow, the Buzzfeed report said. Cozying up to Russia, for Trump, might have been more about securing a lucrative real estate deal than tipping the scales on an election that Trump didn’t think he would win.

“There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?” Trump told reporters last November.

Democrat after Democrat took to social media on Thursday night, citing the seriousness of these allegations, demanding answers from the Special Counsel’s office, and threatening impeachment.

Cover: President Donald Trump speaks during the Missile Defense Review announcement at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on January 17, 2019. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump pushes rumor of prayer rugs at the border by citing an anonymous rancher who provided no evidence

VICE News - 2 hours 59 min ago

President Donald Trump took an unnamed border rancher at her word that she’s found prayer rugs, used by some Muslims during worship, along the southern border.

The claim comes from a report in the Washington Examiner, a conservative news outlet, which offered no other evidence of the rancher’s observation and cites no other sources. The author of the article is Anna Giaritelli. According to the Daily Beast, she’s the former press secretary for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. Giaritelli did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

“Border rancher: ‘We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal.’ Washington Examiner People coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise,” Trump tweeted Friday morning.

Rumors about prayer rugs at the border have circulated for more than a decade: In 2014, for example, Breitbart published a story that also cited a single anonymous source, without evidence, that they had also seen prayer rugs at the border. Fact-checkers have also debunked several politicians’ claims about border rugs at the southern border.

Trump frequently tries to link terrorism to border security, even though a good amount of research conducted since 9/11 indicates that the principal terror threat to the U.S. is homegrown. Trump also often associates terrorism to Muslims. “Islam hates us,” Trump said in March 2016. Last year, Trump — without evidence, once again — pointed to group of migrants and asylum seekers traveling toward the U.S. border as a possible terrorists.

“I think there’s a very good chance you have people in there,” the president said in reference to terrorists, although he conceded there was “no proof of anything.”

The Trump administration has drastically inflated statistics on attempted border crossings made by known or suspected terrorists. Customs and Border Protection said in January that six people in terrorism databases were stopped at the southern border in the first half of fiscal year 2018. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, however, claimed that number was 4,000 in that entire fiscal year. Conversely, Customs and Border Protection said its agents stopped 91 people in the database on the U.S.’s northern border, 41 of whom were not American residents.

In 2017, the State Department also said that terrorist groups were more likely to access the U.S. through other means than through the southern border.

Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks about American missile defense doctrine, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

El Chapo escaped naked through a tunnel with his mistress. Then he got captured.

VICE News - 3 hours 24 min ago

Listen to "Chapo: Kingpin on Trial" for free, exclusively on Spotify.

It was around 4 in the morning on February 17, 2014, when Lucero Sanchez was jolted awake by shouting and a loud thumping noise. She had been sleeping next to her lover, Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. A team of DEA agents and Mexican marines was hammering on the front door of their safe house with a battering ram.

Moments later, Sanchez heard Chapo’s personal secretary, a man she knew only by the name Condor, yell outside their bedroom: “ Tío, tío — open up! They’re on us!”

The next few minutes were frantic. Chapo was completely naked, but he didn’t have time to bother with clothes. As the marines struggled to break down the reinforced steel door, he and Condor ducked into the bathroom. “Love, love — come in here,” Chapo beckoned.

When she entered the bathroom, Sanchez could hardly believe her eyes. Hydraulic pistons had lifted up the bathtub, revealing the entrance to a hidden tunnel. The men hurried down a wooden ladder, and Chapo called for her to follow. She was terrified but did as he ordered.

“I heard him say to Condor, ‘Close up the tub,’ and he closed it and we were in complete darkness,” Sanchez recalled. “For me, it was horrible. I’d never been in a place like that. It was very humid and filled with mud.”

The bathtub tunnel connected to the sewer system in the city of Culiacán, Chapo’s stronghold in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. For the next hour, Chapo — still naked — led Sanchez, Condor, and a maid who was with them at the house on a mad dash through the filthy subterranean passageways. They emerged shaken but unscathed at a drainage canal, where one of Chapo’s men came to get them. They had escaped, at least for the time being.

Sanchez recounted her remarkable tale on Thursday, when she was called to testify against Chapo during his trial at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Not only did her stunning testimony reveal new details about Chapo’s infamous escape through the bathtub tunnel, it likely shattered any remaining hope he had of winning an acquittal.

A DEA agent with bags of meth. Photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Cover: A DEA agent in one of Chapo's escape tunnels.

IBM is invading your cellphone privacy to predict the weather, lawsuit says

VICE News - 4 hours 21 min ago

IBM is going to start predicting the weather — with your cellphone.

The new forecasting system, announced last week by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, uses a novel but potentially invasive method: crowdsourced location data from millions of cellphones around the world. Even before this program was introduced, Los Angeles had already decided to sue the company for deceptive data gathering.

Most smartphones have had a barometric sensor inside them since 2014, but until now, meteorologists and data scientists haven't been able to capture the data at scale and use it for weather prediction. Rometty said the system, called the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System, will put forecast accuracy in the developing world on par with systems that exist in North America, Western Europe, and Japan.

"This is the first model that's of any significance that's being introduced with crowdsourced data. Most people don't even know their smartphone has a barometer in it," said Mary Glackin, vice president of IBM-owned The Weather Company, which runs The Weather Channel.

The data is gathered via millions of users on The Weather Channel app. When a user downloads the app, they can opt-in to location sharing and providing "personalized weather data, alerts, and forecasts." But the sharing goes further than that. The user agreement, several pages deeper in the app, clarifies that the location data may also be used for "business operations, advertising, or promotions."

Los Angeles' lawsuit, however, argues that The Weather Company "deceptively used its Weather Channel app to amass its users private, personal geolocation data."

“The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously," an IBM spokesperson said.

This segment originally aired January 8, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

The opioid epidemic has a "silver lining" that's saving lives

VICE News - 4 hours 31 min ago

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — The American opioid epidemic has shown no signs of abating, with death rates skyrocketing in what medical officials call one of the worst public health crises of our time. But along with the tragic loss of life, the epidemic has another consequence: a record-high uptick in organs available for donation.

While scores of young and otherwise healthy people continue to die, they are in turn saving the lives of people on waiting lists who are often confined to dialysis machines and hospitals rooms.

"I didn't know she wanted to be a donor. I'm so glad, I'm so proud of her," Jane Tyler said of her daughter Kristen, who was 38 when she died of an overdose in Louisville. "Kristin loved making people happy. She loved making people laugh. She loved to party, she had rowdy friends, and she was a rowdy girl. But I loved her so much. I could put up with the rowdiness right now."

When an overdose victim has elected to be an organ donor, medical personnel work quickly to assess and preserve the health of the organs. If suitable, the local organ procurement organization (OPO) will step in and call transplant centers in the region to try to find recipients. In some cases, organs may have been compromised but are still viable.

"Sometimes I can't find a recipient, and it's awful to have to know for that family, they're not going to get the 'silver lining,' if you will... the only happy thing that can come out of a loved one overdosing," said Ashley Rakityan, a clinical coordinator with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates.

VICE News captures how one woman's overdose illuminates a trend in organ donation. In never-before-seen coverage, we follow Kristen Tyler's departing gift, to a woman in need, and we explore with that recipient and her doctor, the efficacy of accepting it.

This segment originally aired January 15, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

A maddening shutdown story turns silly

Columbia Journalism Review - 5 hours 50 min ago

Neither Trump nor the Democrats are budging, and neither is the shutdown story. As the longest ever freeze of the federal government continues, the president still wants a border wall; Nancy Pelosi and her House majority still don’t. Politico Playbook, which for 28 days has gone into the weeds, yesterday zoomed out to draw a simple, stark overview of the impasse: “Over the past few days, it feels as if the crisis in our government has hit a new inflection point. Look at all of the available evidence and ask yourself a simple question: Do you believe the government is poised to function over these next two years?”

Media outlets also appear entrenched in their arguments. Before the shutdown started, right-wing commentators with direct lines to Trump and his base grumbled about a mooted compromise package that did not include wall funding, causing the president to do a U-turn. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote yesterday, those commentators, including Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, have only doubled down since.

ICYMI: No, tech companies shouldn’t fund journalism

Back in the real world, reporters covered the shutdown’s effects. A CNN list of consequences stands at 91 and counting; these include the Federal Aviation Administration recalling furloughed safety workers without pay (via The New York Times), North Carolina schools scaling back lunches to conserve food (via The Charlotte Observer), and the closure of an airport security checkpoint in Texas. Yesterday brought more bad news, including a Times report that thousands of federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits, a Journal story that routine small-business loans have dried up, and a Washington Post alert that navigation systems worldwide are being misdirected because the shutdown means scientists can’t post an emergency update to their model.

Not infrequently, the shutdown story has also become silly. Yesterday, after Pelosi asked Trump not to deliver his State of the Union address in Congress unless the government reopens, the president retaliated by grounding a military flight she’d planned to Afghanistan an hour before it was set to take off. News organizations jumped on the tit-for-tat. “As the shutdown drags on, septuagenarian politicians are squabbling like 7-year-olds,” Mark Landler wrote in the Times. “Trump’s letter to Pelosi accomplished its main goal: Owning the libs,” added the Post’s Philip Bump.

Weightier shutdown-adjacent stories got pushed down the cycle, including the publication of a federal audit admitting that thousands more migrant families have been separated at the border than previously acknowledged. And reporters are stuck in a frustrating loop. Katie Rogers, White House correspondent at the Times, suggested: “If we turned off cable and internet for one day this shutdown would end.”

Below, more from the past 24-hour news cycle:

  • Send in the clowns: After Trump grounded Pelosi, “The scene around the Capitol quickly devolved into a circus-like atmosphere as reporters chased a charter bus with lawmakers on board who were supposed to join Pelosi on the trip overseas,” Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Heather Caygle, and Andrew Desiderio report. Desiderio writes separately that “one reporter grabbed a shared electric scooter and rode toward the bus, leaving everyone else in the dust.”
  • Towering presence: Last night, a BuzzFeed scoop pierced through the shutdown noise. Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his planned Trump Tower Moscow project, and that Trump was eager to travel to Russia during his presidential campaign to kickstart the deal. While rival outlets could not immediately confirm the reporting, the Post, CNN, and others followed up on BuzzFeed’s story.
  • Hot mess: In a banner day for Cohen news, The Wall Street Journal published a story on his alleged interference with Drudge and CNBC polls. The reporters—Michael Rothfeld, Rob Barry, and Joe Palazzolo—include a juicy detail: that Cohen paid for a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, dedicated to calling him hot. Jezebel’s Katie McDonough zooms in.

Other notable stories:

  • In Ghana, Ahmed Husein, a journalist who went undercover to expose corruption in African soccer, was shot dead on Wednesday night. Before the murder, a Ghanaian lawmaker had showed Husein’s photograph on TV and encouraged viewers to beat him.
  • Les Moonves, the disgraced former CEO of CBS who resigned after a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, will take the network to arbitration over its decision last month to deny him a $120 million severance. “CBS wants to break from the Les Moonves era, but Moonves isn’t making it easy,” CNN’s Brian Stelter writes.
  • In a HuffPost Q&A, Ashley Feinberg holds Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s feet to the fire over right-wing extremism on the network. Among other vague answers, Dorsey refuses to confirm that Trump will be booted from the platform if he asks his followers to kill journalists. “Dorsey can be incredibly disorienting,” Feinberg writes. “Not because he’s particularly clever or thought-provoking, but because he sounds like he should be. The reason his impassioned defenses of Twitter sound like gibberish is because they are.”
  • After 121 years, The Forward, a prominent Jewish publication, is ceasing its print operation and going online-only. Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post reports that, in the process, about 40 staffers are being laid-off.
  • Separately, Jesse Angelo, the New York Post’s publisher and CEO, is stepping down.
  • For CJR, Kelsey Ables charts how Himal magazine, a publication dedicated to upending clichéd narratives about South Asia, died in Nepal and was reborn in Sri Lanka. Ables writes, “Reporting on the plastic surgery industry in Afghanistan, the control of the media in the 2018 Maldivian election, the orientalization of Sri Lankan tea advertising, and civil service exams in Bhutan, the magazine upends narratives and steers clear of tropes.”
  • In the UK, Arif Ansari, head of news at the BBC’s Asian Network, is standing trial after a broadcast he oversaw named a survivor of sexual abuse. Under British law, news organizations are banned from naming survivors who have reported their abuse without their consent or an appropriate court order.
  • Sarah Carr, who edits the Teacher Project at Columbia Journalism School, writes for CJR that becoming a mother has changed her perspective on education reporting. “When I began rereading old stories through my new lens as a parent, what struck me was how often—when it came to my writing about children—I wanted more,” Carr reflects. “More details. More depth. More of them talking about their lives and feelings.”
  • And the Louisville Courier Journal apologized after it refused to publish a line in a local woman’s obituary claiming that “Her passing was hastened by her continued frustration with the Trump administration.” Gannett, which owns the Courier Journal, told Frances Irene Finley Williams’s family that it does not allow “negative content” to appear in obits.

ICYMI: Hedge-fund vultures eye Gannett

Trump “directed” lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress

VICE News - 6 hours 22 min ago

The House Intelligence Committee will investigate a bombshell report published Thursday that claims Donald Trump instructed his lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress the deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Citing law enforcement officials, the report is the strongest indication yet that Trump criminally obstructed the investigation into his ties to Russia.

According to BuzzFeed, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is aware that Trump instructed Cohen to lie and has evidence beyond Cohen’s testimony, including “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”

The report also claims that Trump agreed to Cohen’s plan to set up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016 to kickstart the tower project. “Make it happen,” Trump reportedly told his lawyer.

Trump has yet to respond to the allegation, but his current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Washington Post: “If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Democrats, however, pounced on the revelations.

“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” committee chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”

Cohen, who declined to comment on the story “out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation,” is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.

What is Trump accused of?

Sources told BuzzFeed that Cohen admitted to Mueller that Trump “directed” and “personally instructed” him to lie to Congress about the work he was doing on the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Details are scant, but the sources said the aim was “to obscure Trump’s involvement” in the deal.

The report also says that Trump, together with his children Don. Jr. and Ivanka, received detailed updates on the Moscow project throughout 2016. It also claims that Trump and Cohen had at least 10 face-to-face meetings specifically about the proposed building.

What was the Trump Tower Moscow deal?

Cohen was in charge of a secret project to build a 100-story tower in Moscow throughout 2015 and 2016 — the time Trump was on the campaign trail denying he had any business dealings in Russia.

The deal, which would have required authorization from the Kremlin, could have made the Trump Organization as much as $300 million.

The public only became aware of the project in August 2017, after it was made public that the Trump Organization had signed a letter of intent to build the Moscow tower in late 2015.

When called to appear before Congress, Cohen told lawmakers Trump knew little about the project and that he had only spoken to the president about it infrequently.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in November, saying the project continued for months longer than he initially told Congress and that Trump and his family had been kept up to date with detailed progress reports.

What’s the fallout?

If the allegation is true, there is a very strong case that Trump obstructed justice by suborning Cohen to mislead Congress and the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

READ: Michael Cohen used Trump’s money to buy a Twitter account that called him a “sexy” “pitbull”

At his confirmation hearing last week, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, was asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) whether it could be obstruction of justice if “the president tried to coach somebody” to “testify falsely.” Barr told the lawmakers that it could.

What’s the reaction been?

While the White House and Republicans have remained mostly silent, Democrats have called for further investigations.

House Intelligence Committee member Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) even called on the president to “resign or be impeached.”

Castro told BuzzFeed that if the claims are true, “such an instruction would amount to obstruction of justice.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told MSNBC that he views Trump’s actions “as powerful evidence of collusion.”

“I say that because it is a consciousness of guilt. He is asking Michael Cohen to lie because the truth would expose what was going on with the Russians early on in the candidacy,” Swalwell added.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called on Mueller to work with lawmakers to allow them to properly investigate the president “before it’s too late.”

Cover image: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, arrives at federal court for his sentencing hearing, December 12, 2018, in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

Coverage of viral Stephen King story overlooks layoffs

Columbia Journalism Review - 6 hours 42 min ago
It was “a Stephen King story with a happy ending”—a sentiment shared by many on Twitter as well as by Lisa DeSisto, chief executive of MaineToday Media and the publisher of the Portland Press Herald. Last week, after the Press Herald announced plans to cut its freelance budget for book reviews, the Maine Writers and […]

The man behind Brexit says there could be a do-over vote

VICE News - 9 hours 18 min ago

Brexit architect Nigel Farage said Friday that Britain’s exit from the European Union will likely be delayed — and a second, do-over referendum is now a distinct possibility.

The former UKIP leader told Sky News that the current parliamentary deadlock over a withdrawal deal meant that Brexit would not take place on the scheduled date of March 29.

“I fear that the House of Commons is going to effectively overturn that Brexit. To me, the most likely outcome of all of this is an extension of Article 50,” he said, referring to the two-year window in which the terms of the divorce were to be settled.

“There could be another referendum,” he added. Calls have been growing for a so-called “people’s vote” to revisit the decision to leave, as the withdrawal date draws nearer with no deal with the EU in place.

Britain has been at a Brexit impasse since Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed deal with the EU suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament Tuesday. She then narrowly survived a no-confidence vote, lessening the prospects for a general election.

With the deadline to pull together a viable Brexit plan rapidly approaching, the government and opposition have failed to agree even to cross-party talks on finding a solution — with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insisting May must rule out the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit before he’ll talk. May has called that “an impossible condition.”

If no solution is reached, Britain will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal — an economically disastrous outcome for the country — or will be forced to delay Brexit, potentially calling a national election or a second referendum.

Despite the growing call from sections of his party to push for a second referendum, Corbyn has only said he may consider it, although he would prefer a general election.

May has said a second referendum would harm the public’s faith in democracy. If a second referendum were to be held, it would take a year to organize, according to government guidance shown to MPs Wednesday.

Amid the Brexit chaos, a group of high-profile Germans — including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s likely successor — signed an open letter published in The Times newspaper Friday urging Britain to rethink its decision to leave.

READ: This is the youth movement pushing for a second Brexit referendum

The letter, signed by a group of of prominent Germans from politics, business and the arts, praised Britain’s embrace of Germany after World War II, and cited Germans’ affection for British pubs, Christmas pantomimes and humor.

The top signature was that of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s successor as head of the Christian Democratic Union, and the favorite to fill her shoes as chancellor once she stands down.

“Britons should know: from the bottom of our hearts, we want them to stay,” read the letter.

According to a poll released Thursday, a majority of Britons share that sentiment. The YouGov survey of 1070 respondents found 56 percent would vote to remain if a second referendum were held, while 44 percent would vote leave, once those who were undecided or wouldn’t vote were excluded.

The results indicated the highest level of support for remaining in the EU since the 2016 referendum was held. Unsurprisingly, it also found a high level of support for holding a second referendum — with 47 percent in favor of a do-over vote, 36 percent against, and 16 percent undecided.

Cover image: Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage speaks during the Brexit: Let's go WTO rally by the Leave Means Leave Brexit Campaign in Central Hall on January 17, 2019 in London, England. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Russia is still trying to hack the DNC

VICE News - 10 hours 18 min ago

Russia was likely behind an attempted hack of the Democratic National Committee during last year’s midterm elections, according to a court filing published Thursday.

The revelation came as part of the DNC’s ongoing lawsuit against the Trump campaign and the Russian government, ABC first reported.

"On November 14, 2018, dozens of DNC email addresses were targeted in a spear-phishing campaign, although there is no evidence that the attack was successful," the DNC wrote in the amended filing.

The Kremlin has consistently denied all hacking accusations made against it.

While the court filing does not directly point the finger at Moscow, it does strongly suggest Russia’s involvement.

The filing says the spear-phishing attack targeting its members was similar to a wider attack reported last November that was attributed to a Russian hacking group with links to the Kremlin

In November, FireEye reported that Russian hackers linked to a group known as Cozy Bear (also known as APT 28 or The Dukes) had impersonated State Department officials in an attack that targeted more than 20 of the FireEye’s clients.

Cozy Bear, along with another Russian hacking group called Fancy Bear, was implicated in the 2016 DNC hack that led to the publication of embarrassing Hillary Clinton campaign emails.

READ: It’s getting much harder for Russia to deny hacking — but they’re trying it anyway

"Therefore, it is probable that Russian intelligence again attempted to unlawfully infiltrate DNC computers in November 2018," the DNC’s filing says.

The document claims that Russia is still trying to disrupt U.S. democracy by conducting cyberattacks to undermine its elections despite multiple investigations and revelations about the Kremlin’s efforts to the 2016 election.

The Justice Department last year indicted Russian national Elena Khusyaynova for using various platforms to create thousands of fake social media and email accounts to “amplify divisive social media and political content.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis subsequently said in December that Putin “tried again to muck around in our elections” — marking the first time the administration accused the Russian president of meddling in the midterms.

Cover image: A participant uses a laptop computer as he takes part in the Seccon 2016 final competition on January 28, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Podcast: Slate charts its survival through the digital winter

Columbia Journalism Review - January 17, 2019 - 3:25pm
ON THIS WEEK’S EPISODE, CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope speaks with David Uberti, on Slate’s survival strategy—in part as an audio production company.   SHOW NOTES: The future of the #SlatePitch in Trump’s world, Dave Uberti, CJR A law firm in the trenches against media unions, Andrew McCormick, CJR Media industry turmoil continues as […]

Chicago police officers found not guilty of conspiring to cover up Laquan McDonald's death

VICE News - January 17, 2019 - 2:40pm

Three Chicago police officers were found not guilty on all charges linked to an alleged conspiracy to cover up the 2014 fatal shooting of a black teenager.

Former Chicago police detective David March, former officer Joseph Walsh, and suspended officer Thomas Gaffney were all accused of falsifying police reports after their colleague, Jason Van Dyke, fired 16 shots at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, which killed him. In her ruling on Thursday, however, Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson said that prosecutors failed to prove the officers intentionally gave false statements.

Police reform advocates had watched the case closely and viewed it as a test of the “code of silence” culture in police departments, in which officers decline to report one another’s misconduct or crimes.

Prosecutors said the police reports filed by the officers exaggerated the threat posed by McDonald, including that he attacked them with a knife, in an apparent attempt to justify Van Dyke’s decision to use deadly force. But dashcam video — whose release one year after the shooting sparked citywide protests — contradicted McDonald's aggression.

Police encountered McDonald on a Chicago street on the night of Oct. 20, 2014. Dashcam video showed Van Dyke, a 14-year veteran of the force, opening fire on the teen as he walked away holding a small knife. Van Dyke continued shooting McDonald even as he lay on the ground.

The video and alleged cover-up inflamed police-community tensions and gave rise to the chant and hashtag “16 shots and a cover-up.”

Defense attorneys for the officers pointed to the fact that the dashcam video was filmed from a different viewpoint than where Van Dyke and Walsh were standing. Defense lawyers for Van Dyke also tried to make this argument, but the jury didn’t buy it, according to Chicago Sun-Times reporter Andy Grimm.

As evidence of conspiracy, prosecutors also pointed to the fact that the officers failed to interview Jose Torres, a civilian witness, at the scene of the shooting. In her ruling, however, Stephenson said that Torres never presented himself as a possible witness at the time.

While the officers accused of conspiracy opted for a bench trial, Van Dyke was tried and convicted by a jury last November on second-degree murder charges, plus 16 counts of aggravated battery — each one representing a bullet that he fired at McDonald. Van Dyke will be sentenced Friday and faces anywhere from probation to 96 years in prison.

Cover image: This combination of Nov. 28, 2018 file photos shows former Chicago Police officer Joseph Walsh, left, former detective David March and former officer Thomas Gaffney during a bench trial before Judge Domenica A. Stephenson at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago.(Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool, File)

Trump just grounded Nancy Pelosi

VICE News - January 17, 2019 - 2:26pm

President Donald Trump is going tit-for-tat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in their public fight about the partial government shutdown: She suggested that the president postpone his State of the Union address until the government reopens — so he canceled her travel plans.

Pelosi said Trump hasn’t directly responded to her request yet, but Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a pretty clear answer on Thursday: a letter signed by the president to Pelosi which said he'd be postponing her upcoming trips to Egypt, Belgium, and Afghanistan. Major political leaders are usually allowed to use military transport for travel, but Trump noted that buying a commercial flight would “certainly be [Pelosi’s] prerogative.”

“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Trump wrote.

Even if Pelosi wanted to take the trip on her own dime, Trump may have blown up her spot. Trips taken by Congress — including their locations — are usually kept secret for security purposes, reporters have noted.

In a series of tweets, Pelosi's chief of staff responded to the letter. "The President traveled to Iraq during the Trump Shutdown as did a Republican CODEL led by Rep. Zeldin," he wrote.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also called Trump’s move “unworthy of the president of the United States.”

Trump has repeatedly tried to blame Democrats for the shutdown — now in its 27th day — even though the Democrat-controlled House has already voted for packages to reopen the government six times and put nearly 800,000 federal workers back on the payroll. But the Senate won’t take up those bills because Republicans known Trump won’t budge on his demand for a $5.6 billion border wall.

Trump’s already-minimal popularity, even with his core voting base, is taking a hit because of the shutdown, according to a new NPR poll. White evangelical support for Trump, one of his strongest support groups, slipped 13 points, according to the poll.

Cover image: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with furloughed federal workers at an event to discuss the impact on families from the partial government shutdown and President Donald Trump's demands for funding a U.S.-Mexico border wall, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Sex huntress” who claims to have insight into Russia’s election meddling detained in Moscow

VICE News - January 17, 2019 - 2:00pm

The self-styled “sex huntress” who claimed to have secret audio tapes about Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election was arrested in Moscow by Russian authorities following her release from a Thai prison hours earlier, one of her associates told VICE News on Thursday.

Anastasia Vashukevich, who goes by the name “Nastya Rybka,” was detained in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport along with her mentor in seduction, Alex Kirillov, and two other people on suspicion of involvement in prostitution, according to Gregory Kogan, a friend and associate of both Vashukevich and Kirillov.

Vashukevich had spent almost a year in Thai prison, where she was fighting charges related to her role running a class on sexual seduction in the Southeast Asian country. Vashukevich’s friends and supporters have said the case was designed to silence her, after she sparked an international controversy by flaunting her alleged relationship to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and her supposed knowledge of high-level conversations related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

Kirillov himself repeated that view when he, Vashukevich and six others who’d been detained in Thailand appeared in court on Tuesday, prior to their release.

“I think somebody ordered (our arrest)... for money,” Kirillov said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The group was released Tuesday by a Thai judge after pleading guilty to three charges, including solicitation and membership in a “secret society,” according to reporters who were present at the hearing.

On Thursday, Kogan said that Vashukevich, Kirillov and two more members of the group who’d returned to Moscow were detained shortly after disembarking from the plane, and that their whereabouts are now unknown. Russian-language media outlets including The Bell and Interfax reported Vashukevich's arrest in Moscow Thursday.


Vashukevich has worried openly that she could be harmed if she were sent back to Russia, and, in the past, has appealed to U.S. authorities for help.

“This is very serious,” she wrote last February on her Instagram account shortly after she was first arrested in Thailand. “Please USA, help us not to die from Russians!”

FBI investigators had tried to speak with Vashukevich during the first half of 2018, only to be rebuffed by Thai authorities, a person familiar with the failed outreach told VICE News last year.

Vashukevich has claimed to have been the “mistress” of powerful Russian oligarch and Kremlin ally Deripaska, and to have used her access to make audio recordings that shed light on Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential race. The details of those recordings, however, have remained obscure.

Her friends and associates have told VICE News that she began taping the billionaire’s conversations as an exercise aimed at enhancing her seductive powers, in an attempt to learn what he said about her to other people when she was out of the room.

Deripaska has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the “false allegations” are “the result of a planned campaign aimed to damage my reputation.” And he’s dismissed Vashukevich’s claims about their relationship: “There have been endless fictitious stories told by her,” a representative for Deripaska told CNN last year.

After her arrest in Thailand, Vashukevich at first appeared to be reaching out to U.S. authorities for help — but in July, she told VICE News that she would only give the tapes to Deripaska.

“I will give the tapes only to Oleg Deripaska,” she told VICE News in comments relayed by an intermediary out of Thai prison. “I’m not going to blackmail anyone, and I wasn’t planning to.”

Cover: Model Anastasia Vashukevich (known as Nastya Rybka), of Belarus, waits for her departure to Moscow at the Suwarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok, Thailand. (Evgeniy Belenkiy / Sputnik via AP)

How do you do, fellow kids? Old Democrats want to be as relatable as AOC and Cardi B

VICE News - January 17, 2019 - 12:50pm

Cardi B posted a video to Instagram on Wednesday evening in which she condemned Donald Trump’s use of a government shutdown as leverage to build a $5.6 billion border wall. The video immediately went viral, with many progressives — and some long-time congressional Democrats — celebrating its message in support of workers.

“This shit is serious, bro. This shit is crazy. Our country is in a hellhole right now, all for a fucking wall. … I feel like we need to take some action. I don't know what type of action because this is not what I do. But I'm scared,” the rapper said.

Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and even Minority Leader Chuck Schumer started publicly discussing the video on a thread, pondering whether to retweet Cardi B.

“(Trying to decide whether or not to retweet the Cardi B video),” Schatz tweeted.

“Omg, I had the same argument with myself 30 minutes ago!” Murphy responded.

“Ok you do it,” Schatz said. “And say retweets are not endorsements, especially the language, and I will retweet.”

“DHYB,” Murphy then responded.

Eventually, Schumer weighed in.

Such displays by Washington politicians are becoming increasingly common since Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who, like Cardi B, is a millennial woman of color from the Bronx — captured the national spotlight when she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in November. The 29-year-old congresswoman draws an immense amount of attention on social media, boasting more reach than most major news organizations and the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates combined.

Ocasio-Cortez is known to host informal Q&A sessions on her Instagram while she prepares meals. Her videos are so popular that far more experienced Democrats have attempted to use her methods to become more relatable to the electorate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate, posted a live video of herself drinking a beer. Beto O’Rourke, also widely expected to run in 2020, has posted live videos of himself getting a dental cleaning.

The reception to such efforts, however, has been mixed at best. In a bid to improve their use of social media, Democrats tapped Ocasio-Cortez to host a social media seminar Thursday morning to teach lawmakers how to better use their platforms to be more authentic.

Unlike Schumer, we won’t be holding our breath.

Cover: Photo apparently taken by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, posted on Rep. Ted Lieu's Twitter feed Thursday.

Brazil's drug gangs are prepared to go to war with Bolsonaro

VICE News - January 17, 2019 - 12:35pm

Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, fulfilled a campaign promise to tackle the country’s epidemic of violence — by signing a temporary decree Tuesday that makes it easier for Brazilians to buy guns.

“I signed this decree, created by many upstanding people, so that at this first moment, upstanding citizens can have peace inside their homes,” Bolsonaro said at the signing ceremony in the country’s capital, Brasília.

Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, was sworn in as president on Jan. 1, after rising in popularity last year on a fiercely nationalist, hardline law-and-order platform to reduce the country's murder rate — which ranks the highest in the world — and the booming illegal drug trade that fuels it.

But his plan to give "guns to good people," is likely to backfire. Gang members responsible for some of the worst violence in Brazil’s major cities told VICE News that the president's new policy of fighting crime by putting more guns on the streets will only lead to more bloodshed. So too will his plans to ramp up the military’s role in the drug war by giving security forces more power to shoot and kill armed criminals.


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