Archive For The “News” Category

Trump Administration Reportedly Instructs CDC On Its Own Version Of 7 Dirty Words

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Trump Administration Reportedly Instructs CDC On Its Own Version Of 7 Dirty Words

A report from the Washington Post said the health agency was issued a list of prohibited words from the Trump administration.

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Analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reportedly been issued a mandate by the Trump administration to no longer use words and phrases including “fetus,” “transgender” and “science-based.”

This directive was delivered to senior CDC officials responsible for overseeing the health agency’s budget, according to theWashington Post, which broke the news Friday evening.

The seven words that are to be stricken from official documents being drafted for the next year’s budget, according to the Post are:

  • diversity
  • entitlement
  • evidence-based
  • fetus
  • science-based
  • transgender
  • vulnerable

According to an unnamed CDC analyst in the Post’s write-up, the list of the prohibited words was unveiled at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta during a Thursday meeting that lasted 90 minutes. The meeting was reportedly led by Alison Kelly, a top official with CDC’s Office of Financial Services. The Post adds that Kelly did not give a reason why the words were being banned, only that she was simply relaying the information. The Post adds:

“In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­”evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is, “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.”

If the report is true, it raises concerns about censorship under the Trump administration. As NPR’s Rebecca Hersher reported last month, an NPR analysis found a decline in the number of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation with the phrase “climate change” either in the title or the summary.

Hersher also reported:

“The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration’s open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the president’s 2018 budget proposal singled out climate change research programs for elimination.”

The CDC has not issued a public statement or returned NPR’s requests for comment. But according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is not uncommon for career staff at government agencies to self-censor in order to avoid being a political target.

“It is unclear whether the directive came from Trump administration officials or from career staff self-censoring to avoid falling into political traps. Career staff at government agencies often modify language to stop their work from being politicized.”

“Yet there’s a fine line between necessary self-preservation and needless self-censorship.”

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New Austrian Government Will Have A Far-Right Tilt

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New Austrian Government Will Have A Far-Right Tilt

The leader of Austria’s conservative People’s Party, Sebastian Kurz (right), and the country’s far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache (left) give a joint press conference in Vienna on Saturday.

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Austria finalized a deal late Friday to make the 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz Europe’s youngest leader, and to form a new governing coalition that will include a far-right party with Nazi roots.

Exactly two months after Austrians went to the polls, Kurz struck a deal to join his conservative Austrian People’s Party with the right-wing Freedom Party, led by Heinz-Christian Strache.

Strache, who was once arrested for “taking part in a Hitler Youth-style torchlit neo-Nazi rally” according to the U.K.’s The Telegraph, will serve as vice chancellor and minister for sports and public servants, and his nationalist Freedom Party will have members in several key leadership positions including the interior, defense, and foreign ministries.

The Austrian People’s Party will have seven ministers and one deputy, and the Freedom Party will have five ministers and one deputy, according to the Associated Press.

On Saturday morning, left-leaning Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen did not object to the new governing coalition, reports NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi-Nelson.

He “gave what looked like a forced smile in front of cameras,” Nelson said, and cryptically told reporters “as much as a morning can be good, I bid you good morning.”

Austria is governed by a parliamentary republic. A president is elected every six years as chief of state, but the head of government is the chancellor, who is the leader of the majority party.

The new government is expected to be sworn in on Monday. Austria will become the only western European country with a governing far-right party.

Kurz is currently the country’s foreign minister, and he has “stressed the importance of a pro-European direction” according to the AP, although the Freedom Party, which has control of the foreign ministry, has traditionally been Euroskeptic.

Van der Bellen assured on Saturday, however, that in the party coalition negotiations it was agreed upon to support a “strong European Union.”

The People’s Party received 31 percent of the votes in October’s election, the most of any party. The Freedom Party, which was founded in the 1950s by a former Nazi minister, came in second place with 27 percent.

Many have voiced concern over the Freedom Party having a prominent role in the country’s government.

“It is sad and distressing that such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote and become the country’s second party,” said Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, around the time of the election. “It is still full of xenophobes and racists and is, mildly put, very ambiguous toward Austria’s Nazi past.”

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Female Congressional Candidate Ends Run After She Is Accused Of Sexual Harassment

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Female Congressional Candidate Ends Run After She Is Accused Of Sexual Harassment

A woman running for Congress as a Democrat in Kansas — a red state — says she will drop out following the revelation of a sexual harassment allegation lodged by a former employee whom she had fired.

Andrea Ramsey, a retired business executive, was one of the Democratic candidates running to challenge Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.

Ramsey vehemently denied the allegations in a letter posted on her campaign’s Facebook page.

“Twelve years ago, I eliminated an employee’s position. That man decided to bring a lawsuit against the company (not against me). He named me in the allegations, claiming I fired him because he refused to have sex with me. That is a lie. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the allegations and decided not to pursue the complaint; the man later decided to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit. Because I wasn’t a named party, I didn’t have any opportunity to participate in its resolution.”

Ramsey wrote that the “false allegations” were brought by a “disgruntled, vindictive employee” and that had the allegations been brought against her directly, she would have sued for defamation.

As the New York Times reports, “Ms. Ramsey is the rare—perhaps the only—woman in public life to face consequences from a sexual harassment accusation in the weeks since journalistic exposés spawned the #MeToo movement.”

Ramsey was executive vice president of human resources at a company called LabOne in 2005. According to the Kansas Star, the company reached a settlement with the former employee who had made the allegation, Gary Funkhouser. He and the company eventually agreed to dismiss the case permanently in 2006.

The state’s 3rd District has been targeted by the Democratic Party in its effort to gain control of the House of Representatives because Hillary Clinton out-polled Donald Trump there in 2016.

Ramsey had harsh words for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

“In its rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero tolerance standard. For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee’s false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment where rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance and due process.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the DCCC, Meredith Kelly, “Members and candidates must all be held to the highest standard. If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, that person should not hold public office.”

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Haitians Are Turning Plastic Waste Into Valuable Fabric

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Haitians Are Turning Plastic Waste Into Valuable Fabric

Environmentalists haul illegal fishing nets in the ocean, while poor Haitians collect discarded plastic bottles of the streets of their country. All the waste is then turned into fabric and later into high end shoes and backpacks — a new trend in recycling.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From trash to high-end fashion, environmentalists and retailers are taking discarded plastics and turning them into clothes, boots and bags. This trend caught the eye of NPR’s Carrie Kahn when she was on two recent trips, one in Haiti and another on a boat in the Gulf of California off Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Bridge, this is deck. Port ray is in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK, copy. Thank you.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The crew on board the 180-foot-long MV Sam Simon is trolling for illegal gill nets. The nets and illegal fishing in these warm waters is being blamed for the near extinction of a small porpoise known as the vaquita. Tom Zac, a volunteer crew member with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Group (ph), says the polyester and plastic nets they pick up are an environmental hazard for the ocean.

TOM ZAC: And it’s just a gigantic death trap for any marine life that happened to get caught up into it.

KAHN: Hauled out of the water, the crews get to work on the nets.

ZAC: This bag – after we – we cut the nets into pieces and we separate them.

KAHN: And they remove all the weights and buoys attached. Once the giant bags are full of small pieces of netting, they’re shipped to an intermediary, made into fabric and ultimately end up in a new line of high-end running shoes by Adidas. Recycling plastics into apparel isn’t a new trend, but it’s gaining mainstream momentum. Retailers from H&M to Target and J.C. Penney’s fall fashions were manufactured from waste these days. Timberland, the company with the yellow work boots, says it will have 100 percent of its products made with recycled components by the year 2020. That’s good news for Ian Rosenberger. He runs the company Thread, based in the U.S., but they turn recycled plastic bottles from Haiti into fabric. He just won a big contract to help Timberland reach its goal. He says he got into this business hoping to make an idea a reality.

IAN ROSENBERGER: Waste is a resource, not something to be thrown away.

KAHN: He says his company, which he started six years ago, is already seeing sales figures around $4 million as demand for recycled fabric grows. About 30 minutes outside Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, dozens of men are sorting, cleaning and bundling hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles at this recycling center. Thread staffer Richardson Antoine says twice a week he buys a shipping container full of washed, sorted and ground-up plastic bottles from here. The ground-up flakes are sent to factories in North Carolina and Mexico, where they’re turned into fabric.

RICHARDSON ANTOINE: We make 240,000 bottles in a day.

KAHN: There’s that many bottles in Port-au-Prince?

ANTOINE: Yes. We have more than that.

KAHN: Antoine says as many as 60 Haitians are earning income from picking up bottles in Haiti’s streets, canals and landfills. Retail surveys show consumers, especially millennials, want to buy greener apparel. In a spring poll this year by America’s Research Group, nearly 40 percent of young shoppers say they respond positively to environmentally-friendly products. Price, though, does matter. Many surveyed also said they would only be willing to spend 3 to 4 percent more for green products.

ROY KATZ: It is for a limited audience. This is not for – we’re not competing with Walmart.

KAHN: Roy Katz owns a small apparel company in Denver, Colo. He buys recycled fabric from Thread. He’s come to Haiti to see his source material in person. He’s carrying one of his company’s handcrafted backpacks, retail price $289.

KATZ: So it’s definitely an investment, but it’s – you know, there is a group of customers that really cares about that.

KAHN: As for those Adidas running shoes made out of recycled gill nets recovered in Mexican waters, shoppers outside the apparel giant’s flagship store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue say the price tag – $200 – is too high. But in my very unscientific poll, other shoppers like Karen Johnson from Australia didn’t flinch at the cost.

KAREN JOHNSON: Anything you can do to help, absolutely.

KAHN: She says the environment must come first. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Grand Jury Report On Penn State Hazing Finds 'Indignities And Depravities'

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Grand Jury Report On Penn State Hazing Finds 'Indignities And Depravities'

The death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza in February has sparked investigations into the hazing culture at the university.

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Chris Koleno/Flickr Creative Commons

A grand jury tasked with investigating broad issues of hazing at Penn State has issued a blistering report asserting that leaders at the university were well aware of pervasive misbehavior in the Greek system and failed to take action.

The report, made public by the Centre County, Pa., District Attorney’s Office, was released following the death of 19-year-old fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza earlier this year. It includes numerous descriptions of fraternity practices that violate the law, campus policy or basic safety principles. Numerous allegations of sexual assault were detailed.

Hazing is “rampant and pervasive” and includes “sadistic” rituals that “surge to unfathomabl[e] peaks of depravity,” the report says. Fraternities require excessive drinking to the point of being life-threatening, or demand that pledges exercise to the point of exhaustion on floors covered in vomit, bleach or broken glass, according to the report. Some hazing rituals allegedly involved pledges being forced to drink concoctions designed to make them ill, or required pledges to kill and skin animals.

Efforts to deter dangerous activities, through the criminal system or through the school, have “clearly failed,” the report found.

Penn State administrators were “remarkably undisturbed” by complaints about excessive and dangerous alcohol abuse at fraternities, the report says, and “it was only a matter of time before a death would occur during a hazing event.”

Powerful alumni with ties to the Greek system, many of whom were substantial financial supporters of the university, helped push against any actions that would change the culture on campus.

The jury, initially tasked with investigating a single deadly incident, “determined it would be failing its duty to the Commonwealth as a whole if it did not report to the public” what it learned about hazing dangers in general.

“Whatever values Greek life previously held dear, the Greek life the Grand Jury saw focuses mainly on excessive drinking and social debauchery,” the report states.

The jury called for “profound changes on college campuses and communities in Pennsylvania.” Their recommendations included strengthening laws against providing alcohol to minors, establishing a hazing hotline and a “pledge’s bill of rights,” enforcing existing policies to protect students, adequately funding and staffing offices that monitor and support Greek life, training employees and students to recognize and report hazing, and institute a compulsory reporting system.

The report was triggered by Piazza’s death in February. The same grand jury previously considered the criminal charges brought against former members of Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity Piazza was pledging.

As NPR has reported, Piazza was served at least 18 drinks in 82 minutes, then drunkenly fell head-first down a flight of stairs. He first fell at 11 p.m., and became unconscious. He awoke, appearing to be in pain, and fell again at 5 a.m., but an ambulance wasn’t called until after 10:45 the next morning.

Surveillance footage from inside the frat house, shown to the grand jury, revealed disturbing scenes of fraternity brothers slapping, hitting and sitting on an unresponsive Piazza, as Caitlin Flanagan reported for The Atlantic. One younger member of the fraternity was reportedly seen pointing at Piazza’s body and attempting to persuade his brothers to take action, but he was rebuffed.

Even in the morning, when Piazza was found gray, rigid and unconscious, fraternity members spent more than 40 minutes “trying to manipulate his body to dress him, and searching online for the remedy to head injuries” before they called 911,” the grand jury writes. Piazza, who suffered a ruptured spleen and traumatic brain injuries, died at the hospital.

In September, the most serious charges in that case were dismissed by a judge, who ruled that misdemeanor charges were more appropriate.

The criminal case against the former fraternity members is still ongoing.

The report released Friday, while initiated in response to that case, is broader in scope.

The grand jury considered not just Piazza’s death, but also the hazing of Marquise Braham, who killed himself in 2014 after hazing at Penn State, Altoona.

Penn Live described the allegations in that case:

“When Marquise pledged the Phi Sigma Kappa house in 2013, according to a civil lawsuit, the brothers pointed a gun at a pledge’s head, forced pledges to drink alcohol excessively until filling trash cans with vomit and deprived them of sleep for up to 89 hours. Marquise and other pledges also allegedly were forced to fight each other, choose between snorting a line of cocaine or being sodomized while being videotaped; and kill, gut and skin animals.”

The jury also heard from James Vivenzio, “a whistleblower who alerted State College police to a fraternity Facebook page featuring photos of unconscious women in 2015,” Penn Live writes:

“Vivenzio suffered at the hands of Kappa Delta Rho fraternity members, according to a lawsuit he filed in 2015, including cigarette burns to his chest, forced drinking of hard liquor until he vomited and force-fed drinking from a bucket filled with a concoction of hot sauce, liquor, cat food, urine and other liquid and semi-solid ingredients, the smell of which was often enough to induce vomiting.”

The report also describes the death of Joe Dado, who was found dead at Penn State in 2009, and briefly noted that “the dangers of Greek life” affect other colleges in the U.S., as well.

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Long Island Woman Charged With Using Bitcoin To Launder Money To Support ISIS

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Long Island Woman Charged With Using Bitcoin To Launder Money To Support ISIS

The Justice Department has charged Zoobia Shahnaz, 27, with bank fraud and money laundering. She allegedly converted money from credit cards into cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and transferred it abroad in support of ISIS.

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A woman in Long Island, N.Y., has been arrested and charged with using Bitcoin to transfer more than $85,000 in stolen funds to support the Islamic State.

Zoobia Shahnaz, 27, is charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering, according to a statement from the Department of Justice. She pleaded not guilty on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, N.Y.

Shahnaz is a U.S. citizen born in Pakistan. She lives in the town of Brentwood, N.Y., where she was working as a lab technician in a Manhattan hospital until June, when she quit her job. The government says Shahnaz was detained on July 31 at John F. Kennedy airport as she was headed to Pakistan by way of Istanbul, from where they believe she intended to enter Syria and join ISIS.

“As a healthcare professional, in 2016, Ms. Shahnaz was a volunteer with the Syrian American Medical Society assisting other healthcare providers in delivering life-saving medical care to Syrian refugees,” her attorney, Steve Zissou, tells NPR. “She witnessed the suffering of the refugees first hand. Her humanitarian efforts then and since were motivated by her commitment to helping alleviate the plight of the people in the Middle East.”

According to Justice Department court filings, the defendant used more than a dozen credit cards — six of which allegedlywere fraudulently obtained — to buy approximately $62,703.61 in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The government says Shahnaz converted the cryptocurrencies back to U.S. dollars and deposited the funds into a checking account in her name. She also allegedly obtained a $22,500 loan from a Manhattan bank.

The Justice Department says Shahnaz then began transferring money abroad to support ISIS, while taking measures to disguise the nature and purpose of the funds and avoid transaction reporting requirements.

“Cryptocurrencies operate independently of formal banking structures and provide layers of anonymity to their users,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office writes in its request for a detention order. “Persons engaged in illicit activity such as money laundering and terrorist financing may use cryptocurrencies to avoid detection by law enforcement or intelligence services.”

If convicted of bank fraud, Shahnaz faces up to 30 years in prison. The other charges each carry possible penalties of up to 20 years.

Court filings suggest that part of the government’s case will focus on the defendant’s Internet search history. In May and June of this year, according to the documents, she read articles about women joining and fighting of ISIS, accessed maps of locations along the Turkey-Syria border and cities inside ISIS-controlled territory, Googled phrases such as “medical students ISIS” and “how much overdraft can I get,” and watched videos of ISIS members urging Muslims to carry out attacks in Western countries.

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Federal Investigation Finds 'Significant Issues' At Immigrant Detention Centers

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Federal Investigation Finds 'Significant Issues' At Immigrant Detention Centers

An ICE employee waiting to enter the all-male Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.

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Kate Brumback/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Immigrants detained at four large centers used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are subject to inhumane treatment, given insufficient hygiene supplies and medical care, and provided potentially unsafe food, according to a federal report.

The “concerns” about the treatment of detained immigrants in facilities in California, Georgia, New Jersey and New Mexico is summarized in a report issued by the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Homeland Security.

As NPR’s Joel Rose reports,

“The findings are similar to those of outside groups that have alleged ‘extensive’ human rights abuses at ICE detention centers.

“The inspector general’s report comes as the Trump administration is asking Congress for funding to expand the immigration detention system.

“ICE says some of its existing facilities are short-staffed. And the acting director has agreed to the report’s recommendations.”

The report was based on inspections of five detention facilities, four of which failed to meet certain federal standards, although “not every problem was present in all of them.”

The report summarized the results of the inspections:

“Upon entering some facilities, detainees were housed incorrectly based on their criminal history. Further, in violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip searched. Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees. Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances. Staff did not always treat detainees respectfully and professionally, and some facilities may have misused segregation. Finally, we observed potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions.

Detainees … reported long waits for provision of medical care, poor conditions in bathrooms and insufficient hygiene supplies. OIG inspectors also observed expired, moldy, and spoiled foods in the kitchen in four facilities.”

The report also recommends that ICE improve its oversight of detention facility management and operations. In an official response, ICE concurred with the findings and promised to strengthen oversight and improve overall conditions.

Critics of President Trump’s immigration policies say the findings are not new as they predate the current administration.

A 2015 report by the National Immigrant Justice Center questioned ICE’s ability to oversee the detention centers it uses.

In a statement on the 2017 report, the Center’s Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy said:

“ICE’s inability to provide for the safety and health of the tens of thousands of immigrants in its custody has been documented for years. Today, we are calling on Congress to demand accountability and drastically reduce ICE’s detention budget.

“While the Inspector General’s report provides documentation of extensive abuses, its remedy is incredibly insufficient: it directs ICE field office directors to review the areas of concern. We know from earlier directives that ICE’s internal review processes fail to generate meaningful change.”

Three years ago, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s office reported on a series of unannounced visits to detention centers for unaccompanied children. The inquiry found evidence of inadequate food, temperature control problems and inconsistent employee-to-detainee ratios.

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Nephews Of Venezuelan First Lady Sentenced In U.S. Drug Smuggling Case

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Nephews Of Venezuelan First Lady Sentenced In U.S. Drug Smuggling Case

Defendants Efrain Antonio Campos Flores (center left) and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas (center right), as depicted in federal court in New York on Thursday, were sentenced to 18 years in prison on drug conspiracy charges.

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Elizabeth Williams/AP

A judge in New York City sentenced the nephews of Venezuela’s first lady to 18 years in prison on Thursday, following their convictions on drug trafficking charges.

The Venezuelan citizens listened to the federal court proceedings through headphones and each delivered brief remarks before their sentences were handed down. “I know that I have made very serious mistakes in this case,” said Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, according to Reuters.

His cousin Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas said he has always been a good person, “Even in jail I tried to help those who were in a worse psychological situation than I find myself in,” and asked to be allowed back home to Venezuela soon to see family.

In November 2016, a jury in New York found Campo Flores, 30, and Flores de Freitas, 31, guilty of conspiring to smuggle more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States.

The men were arrested in Haiti one year earlier, after authorities said they contacted a Drug Enforcement Administration informant asking for help getting cocaine into the U.S.

Prosecutors had been seeking sentences of 30 years for the men, saying the cousins believed they were above the law because of their family connections.

The men’s aunt, Cilia Flores, is married to Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled president.

But the defense said sentences of 10 years were more in order. The men’s lawyers blamed the case on a flawed D.E.A. probe and said the men never actually transported the drugs and never even meant to.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty pointed to the cousins’ ineptitude during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.

“What moves me is that Mr. Campo Flores and Mr. Flores de Freitas were perhaps not the most astute drug dealers who ever existed,” Crotty said. “They were in over their heads.”

Crotty said the three decades the prosecution was seeking would have been excessive, noting that the men had no prior criminal backgrounds, reports Reuters.

Shortly after their convictions last year, Maduro spoke out about the case, saying it was an example of U.S. imperialism.

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Teens: Pretty Sober, Except For The Marijuana And Vaping

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Teens: Pretty Sober, Except For The Marijuana And Vaping

Teens’ use of vape devices is increasing, and they’re not always aware if nicotine is in the mix.

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Jane Khomi/Getty Images

The number of teens abusing drugs is lower than it’s been since the 1990s, according to a national survey.

“In particular, we see a tremendous decline in the portion of young people using cigarettes,” Dr. Lloyd Johnson, a study researcher at the University of Michigan, said at a press conference on Thursday. “The changes we’re seeing are very large and very important.”

But there are a couple of key exceptions. “[One] is marijuana. It hasn’t gone up, like in older populations, but it hasn’t gone down, and it remains worrisome,” Volkow says. “Another concern is we see very high and very fast uptake of electronic vaping devices.”

The survey, called Monitoring the Future, and conducted by the University of Michigan, has asked roughly 50,000 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grade students every year since 1991 about drugs and sex and attitudes on subjects ranging from race and ethnicity to career plans.

Last year, 1 out of every 3 high school seniors used a vape or e-cigarette, and 1 out of 6 high school seniors used a vape in the last month. Roughly 10 percent of high school seniors reported intentionally vaping nicotine, but many teens surveyed seemed unsure whether or not they were using a product with the drug. “Teens endorse that they don’t really know what they are vaping. They may think they have just a strawberry flavor, and it may be mixed with nicotine,” Volkow says.

That’s particularly worrying to public health groups and officials. “The issue is nicotine is an addictive drug,” Volkow says. “And if you are vaping it and not realizing it, you’re still getting conditioned [to the drug]. That results in automatic wanting of the drug.” Teens might be developing dependencies to nicotine without realizing they are at risk, and there is some evidence that young people who begin vaping nicotine are more likely to transition to tobacco cigarettes than teens who don’t, Volkow says.

Teenagers are also using e-cigarettes for marijuana or hash oil, according to the survey, with roughly 11 percent of high school seniors saying they’ve done that. Hash oils can reach 95 percent pure THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. Vaping such high concentrations of the drug can put people, particularly those who are not used to smoking weed, at a higher risk for undesirable side effects like temporary psychosis, Volkow says.

The rise in vaping drugs aside, public health advocates say this latest survey is a cause for optimism. “It is good to see consumption of most substances going down. It’s consistent with what we know about, as we’re calling them, Gen Z,” says Robin Koval, the CEO and president of the anti-tobacco public health organization Truth Initiative. They were not involved with the study. “They are less risky, generally. It’s reflective of a generation that is taking life more seriously a bit earlier on, which we are glad to see.”

While the rest of the country struggles with high rates of opioid addiction and misuse, heroin and prescription painkiller use is at a historic low for teenagers. Five years ago, 1 out of every 10 high school seniors had tried synthetic marijuana. The survey results this year show that’s down to 1 out of every 27 seniors. Combustible tobacco use has also hit an all-time low with only 9.7 percent of high school seniors smoking. “That’s a milestone,” Koval says.

Some of that reduction in drug use is probably the success of decades of public health campaigning and messaging, Volkow says. “The campaign against tobacco smoking has been one of the most successful campaigns. The same thing, but not as successful, are campaigns that go against binge drinking in teenagers,” she says.

What are teens doing if not drugs? That’s also hard to know, but there are some interesting ideas, Volkow says. One is that teens are hanging out online more and in person less. That gives them fewer opportunities to pass drugs to one another. Another might be that there are a lot of distractions at hand for teens. “Our brain is hardwired to seek out behaviors that are rewarding and reinforcing,” Volkow says. Sports and video games can provide those kinds of rewards and act as “alternative reinforcers” she says.

And though the trends look like a victory for public health today, Volkow says, things can change so fast when it comes to drugs, especially with innovations coming from the black market.

Angus Chen is a journalist based in New York City. He is on Twitter: @angRChen.

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'Why Do You Have This Spy Hysteria?' Putin Asks At Annual News Conference

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'Why Do You Have This Spy Hysteria?' Putin Asks At Annual News Conference

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen at his annual news conference, in an image released by the Kremlin.

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The Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual news conference on Thursday, an event that commonly runs for hours, offering a kaleidoscope-like glimpse of Putin’s view of his country and the world. In this year’s edition, the topics ranged from President Trump to Russia’s ban at the 2018 Winter Olympics — and the state of the fishing industry in Murmansk.

“There are things Trump wanted to do but couldn’t yet, like reforming healthcare … or improving relations [with] Russia,” NPR’s Lucian Kim reports Putin as saying at the Kremlin. “It’s clear that even if he wanted to, he couldn’t.”

The news conference sometimes brings unexpected imagery to bear — and that held true at this year’s event. In response to a question about wealth inequality and market competition, Putin said, “The government should not look like a bearded man who’s trying to pluck cabbage out of his beard in a lazy way, looking at how the government is transforming into a dark puddle where oligarchs catch their golden fish.”

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ABC News chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran asked Putin a two-part question during the news conference, about “a very large number of contacts between Russian citizens associated with your government and high officials of the Trump campaign.”

“All of this is not normal,” Moran said, noting that several people with ties to the Trump campaign or administration are now facing charges. He asked Putin to explain the “sheer number of contacts” to the American people.

“You praised Donald Trump during the campaign. What is your appraisal of Donald Trump as president, after one year?” Moran asked in English, adding, “Spasiba,” or “thank you.”

Putin replied, “It’s not up to me to assess what Trump has been doing. It’s up to those who have elected him, it’s up to the American people.”

The Russian president’s remarks were translated into English on a live video feed from the Kremlin, He went on to say, “There have been some major achievements” in Trump’s first year, including gains by the U.S. stock market.

Vladimir & Donald. Putin says he and Trump are on first-name basis.

— Lucian Kim (@Lucian_Kim) December 14, 2017

Putin then spoke about ways the countries could work together — and he wound up his remarks by saying, “Well, that’s pretty much it” — prompting Moran, without the aid of a microphone, to stand and repeat the first part of his question about allegations of collusion.

“That’s been invented by those who are in the opposition, people who oppose President Trump, to delegitimize his time in office,” Putin said. “It really seems strange to me, because it seems that they don’t understand. They undermine their own nation. They limit the powers of the president who’s been elected. It means that they don’t have respect for those people, those Americans who elected Donald Trump.”

Putin said that in political campaigns worldwide, Russian diplomats and other government officials meet with candidates and their campaigns to talk about issues and potential plans.

“They’re trying to figure out what those people will do, when and if they come to power,” Putin said.

“What’s so strange about it?” he asked. “Why do you have this spy hysteria? Russian meddling hysteria?”

“You just need to do your homework, draw the right conclusions,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said to questions about his government’s dealings with President Trump’s campaign.

The Kremlin

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The Kremlin

Mentioning revelations about Russian purchases of ads on social media, Putin said they represented a tiny percentage of what American entities spent. And he criticized the U.S. for putting restrictions on Russian-backed media outlets such as RT.

“You just need to do your homework, draw the right conclusions,” Putin told Moran. “We shouldn’t attack each other.”

Putin, who recently announced a bid for re-election that would keep him in office through 2024, also spoke about the idea of rotating personnel. As Lucian Kim reports, the president said that “rotation of personnel stops abuse” in the army, and the idea could also work in law enforcement.

Putin, who’s been in power for 18 years, tells journalists that rotation of personnel stops abuse of power in army and could also work in law enforcement.

— Lucian Kim (@Lucian_Kim) December 14, 2017

In last year’s iteration of this event, Putin attacked the policies of outgoing President Barack Obama, who he said had divided the American people. He also took issue with Obama saying that late President Ronald Reagan would “roll over in his grave” because of Putin’s popularity in the GOP.

“On the contrary,” Putin said, “Reagan would be happy that Republicans are winning everywhere and had chosen Trump, who understood the mood of the American people.”

Thursday’s news conference lasted for nearly four hours. Nearly three hours into the session, a man from Murmansk stood to pepper Putin with questions about how the fishing and processing industries are affected by federal decrees. He waved a 400-page research document to back his case.

“I’m no journalist, I deceived you,” the man said, adding that he heads the board of directors of a fishing company in the northern city near the Barents Sea.

When told that he shouldn’t have lied, the man, who said his name was Mikhail, replied, “We’ve been working hard to survive.”

“We should sell fish like we sell chicken,” the man said, after stating that fishermen could deliver fish to the market at a much lower price than it currently must.

The man concluded his remarks by stating, “Yes, I’m here illegitimately. I pretended to be a journalist” — a line that won applause from the crowd.

Another notable exchange dealt with Putin’s re-election campaign — and it showed how quickly the Russian president can pivot away from a subject. We’ll excerpt the official Kremlin transcript, which begins with press secretary Dmitry Peskov calling on a reporter from Life News:

Dmitry Peskov: Life News.

Alexander Yunashev: Good afternoon, Mr President.

While we were waiting for your announcement that you will run for president, a number of other candidates for this office came forward. However, their approval ratings are in the single digits, if not closer to the margin of error.

In your opinion, why is it that a normal, influential opposition candidate has not emerged in almost 20 years of your rule? Why is there no No. 2 politician? How come? Don’t you feel bored? Is it interesting for you to compete in the election without any major opponents?

Vladimir Putin: In order to make your question a bit more poignant, I saw a young lady holding up a poster saying “Putin, bye-bye.”

Remark: Putin, babay.

Vladimir Putin: Ah, babay [“grandfather,” in the Tatar language]. My vision does not seem to be getting any better with age. I am sorry.

Dmitry Peskov: Pass the microphone, please.

Question: Good afternoon…

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