Smuggled, Untaxed Cigarettes Are Everywhere in New York City

Jon Campbell
Smuggled cigarettes found during an inspection at a corner store in Long Island City
As six armed officers pour out of two unmarked Ford Explorers on a Long Island City street corner, you can see the confusion on the faces of gawkers and passersby. One woman looks up from her phone and does a sitcom-worthy double-take when she notices their windbreakers, embossed with the word "SHERIFF" in big gold letters, front and back.

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Death on the Edge

Illustration by Brian Stauffer
Early in the morning of August 4, 2013, Steven Sotloff walked across the border from southern Turkey into Syria. He passed through three security checkpoints, then a no man's land between the two countries, on a road surrounded by olive groves, yellow flowers, and leftover mines. Sotloff, a stocky, bearded 30-year-old journalist and Miami native, was headed to Aleppo, some 40 miles south, to cover the two-year-old civil war. He expected to be back in a few days.

The trip would be his last to Syria. He was thinking of returning home soon and maybe applying to graduate school.

Around 10 a.m., he met his fixer and translator, Yosef Abobaker, just inside the border. Abobaker arrived in a yellow Nissan microbus with his brother and two cousins, who would serve as security guards. The journalist took a seat on the middle bench and the Nissan drove off, but after only ten minutes, the vehicle stopped. Three black luxury station wagons were parked along the narrow highway. As the microbus approached, roughly twenty men, clutching Kalashnikovs and wearing black turbans around their faces, exited the cars and lined up across the road.

"When I saw them," Abobaker recalls, "I took my handgun — I'm thinking to shoot. But if I shoot, they will kill everybody."

The men yanked open the Nissan's doors and pulled out the occupants. "Who are you?" Abobaker yelled in Arabic. "What do you want?"

"Us kut!" one man yelled back. "Shut up! Don't talk!"

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Read 'Escape From New York,' From Ellen Willis's Award-Winning Anthology

University of Minnesota Press
Ellen Willis
On March 12, the National Book Critics Circle awarded the late Ellen Willis the top prize in its criticism category for The Essential Ellen Willis, a collection of over 40 years' worth of Willis's writing. Willis, who served as the first-ever pop critic for the New Yorker in the early Sixties, died of lung cancer at the age of 64 in 2006. She began writing for the Village Voice in the early Seventies, and became a staff writer here in 1979, where she remained as a writer and senior editor for the next decade.

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The Podcast Is the Product for Keith and the Girl

Categories: Comedy, Longform

In a roomful of podcasters, Chemda Khalili is a gravitational force.

As she steps down from the dais at the Los Angeles Podcast Festival's "Getting Started in Podcasting" panel discussion, she's mobbed before reaching the second row of folding chairs. The predominantly male crowd clutches caffeinated beverages, unconsciously uniformed in horn rims and blue plaid button-downs. "What you said about podcasting being a lifestyle," one gasps, "I loved that. It's true. So true!"

"We've got a half-hour," Keith Malley, who earlier moderated the "Getting a Job in Podcasting" panel, warns from the doorway.

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The Education of David Carr

Photo by Brian Lambert
David Carr
In the early 1980s, decades before David Carr became David Carr — the New York Times' authority on all things media, brash star of the documentary Page One, author of the drug-fueled memoir The Night of the Gun — he was an ambitious journalism student who had to talk his way into reporting classes at the University of Minnesota because he couldn't pass the 40-words-per-minute typing test. Over the next fifteen years, Carr, who died tragically of lung cancer in the Times' office February 12, became a Minneapolis institution as a reporter and editor of the Twin Cities Reader, an alternative weekly that competed fiercely with City Pages until it shut down in 1997.

As a reporter, Carr brazenly investigated the darkest corners of the city: police brutality on the North Side, murders in gangland, and downtown politics. He had the gift of sight — the ability to see clearly the stories others could not — and the power of synthesis that allowed him to churn out long, complicated stories in one sitting at a typewriter. Carr influenced and later hired many young talented journalists, some of whom would go on to be among the best known in the Twin Cities.

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New York's Bravest Is Trans FDNY Firefighter Brooke Guinan

Photo by Celeste Sloman for the Village Voice
"I couldn't get the voices out of my head of people telling me I'll never be a woman."
"The world doesn't have language to actively allow me to identify myself."

Leaning over the kitchen countertop in her two-bedroom apartment in Queens, Brooke Guinan tries to explain, via four horizontal lines she has plotted on a piece of paper, how the notion of gender is far more complex than the two extremes of "male" and "female." The lines represent four continuums: biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

"I don't have a sexuality!" Guinan exclaims. "How does the world define a woman who was born male who likes men? What is the sexuality for that? You could say I was gay, but I don't identify as male. Trans is my gender identity. 'Transgender' is about my gender; it has nothing to do with my sexuality.

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Cigar Wars: As the Cuban Embargo Fizzles, the Battle for Stogies Smolders

Categories: Longform

Michael E. Miller
Jorge Padrón stands watch over his family's farm, Villa Vieja, on the outskirts of Estelí.
True to its name, Nicaragua's Puro Humo cigar festival is hazy as hell. The smoke is thick enough to slice. Flames flicker and fade in the darkness. Figures drift through the fumes. Grinning businessmen gnaw on smoldering cigars. Bow-tied waiters scurry in the half-light. And beautiful women in sequined dresses shimmer in the smog like oracles of Delphi.

Tonight, their prophecy couldn't be more positive.

"Tobacco production has surpassed sheer industry, transforming the entire way of life here in this part of Nicaragua," a female emcee in a tight black dress tells the crowd. "Tonight, we would like to proclaim to the whole world that we are now number one in the global tobacco industry!"

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Could the End of the Embargo Kill the Cuban-Cigar Industry?

Michael E. Miller
José "Pepe" Montagne has battled Cuban lawyers over his cigars' trademark.
"When did you last travel to Cuba?" the man demanded. "And when was the last time before that? And before that?"

The questions cut through the decades. The room was bigger now. The windows were no longer barred. Men in suits had replaced soldiers in fatigues. And the crackle of firing squads had faded into history.

But for José "Pepe" Montagne, the interrogation echoed back to 1964. Back to when he was a baby. Back to when it was his father — not he — being hounded by Fidel Castro's henchmen.

"Are you a member of any organizations of Cuban-Americans?" the man in the suit continued. "Would you welcome the overthrow of the present Cuban government by force?"

Forty-one years after imprisoning his father, the Cuban government had now come for Pepe. In a law office high above Coral Gables, Florida, Castro's attorneys grilled him not about democracy or freedom of speech or civil rights, but about something even more dangerous for the revolution: cigars.

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Meet the Ex-Pitcher Whose Fair-Pay Lawsuit Is a Sore Spot for Major League Baseball

Photo: Steve Truesdell
Garrett Broshuis struggled financially during his six-year tour in the minors. Now the recent law school grad has filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit accusing Major League Baseball of violating federal wage laws.
Garrett Broshuis remembers heading from the diamond to the locker room back in April 2009 when his coach called him into the office. Broshuis's knees seemed to register the significance of the invite as quickly as his brain, causing the six-foot-two-inch pitcher to wobble awkwardly. Having spent five years in the San Francisco Giants farm system, Broshuis knew it was never a good thing to be called into the coach's office, especially on the last day of spring training.

"I was basically told that I didn't have a future in the Giants organization," recalls the ex-athlete, who, as a pitcher for the University of Missouri–Columbia Tigers, went 11-0 his senior year, tying a school record. But the Giants didn't completely sever ties with Broshuis that day. Instead, the organization gave him the option to ride out the season as a "filler," a sparring partner of sorts for guys who — unlike him — might actually have a shot at the bigs.

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The Lawyer Who Represented Terrorists Heads to Prison, as Unapologetic as Ever

Categories: Longform

Photo by Celeste Sloman
Stanley Cohen in his Lower East Side apartment sporting a kaffiyeh — a symbol of Palestinian independence.
Mid October, 2014.

Stanley Cohen abruptly stops responding to voicemails. When you dial his cell, you hear the telltale sound of an overseas phone call, followed by a hold message in Arabic.

Cohen is known to friends and foes alike as an eccentric of the highest order, a foul-mouthed criminal-defense attorney with unruly gray hair, a Saddam Hussein-straight-out-of-the-spider-hole beard, and a long history of representing enemies of the people the world over. In a 2002 profile, the Washington Post's Richard Leiby described him as "possibly one of the most hated lawyers in [New York City]." In his Lower East Side apartment, which doubles as his office, he displays photos of himself wearing a wide grin alongside Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of the Middle Eastern terrorist organization Hamas. Only weeks ago he wore a black-and-white-checked kaffiyeh for a press conference outside the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan where he'd just unsuccessfully defended Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the highest-ranking Al Qaeda member ever tried in a civilian court.

But going AWOL like this is a puzzling turn of events even by Cohen standards.

He is, after all, awaiting word on when and where to report to federal prison to serve an eighteen-month sentence for tax crimes. Granted, the date has been delayed repeatedly, but what judge in his right mind would allow Stanley Cohen to...disappear?

"Before you go to prison, you know, you have a party, you see your friends," posits one longtime friend of Cohen's. "This is the kind of guy he is."

Others speculate he has turned government informant.

On October 16, Cohen tweets that he's in Kuwait: "No, I have not dropped off of the face of the earth, I am in the ME for a very short but essential trip."

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