The Intercept

The Paris Agreement Dispute Is a Distraction. The Real Battle Is Playing Out in the EPA.

4 hours 44 min ago

For anyone who’s been following the fate of the United States’ involvement in the Paris agreement, the main question surrounding it recently has been pretty clear: Will he or won’t he?

Conflicting reports over the weekend — sparked by a vague Wall Street Journal story on Saturday — alleged that the Trump administration was reconsidering its June decision to withdraw from the landmark climate deal. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster denied it, only to be upstaged Sunday morning by Secretary of State and former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, whose department would theoretically oversee either a renegotiation or a withdrawal. On this week’s Face the Nation, Tillerson said that President Donald Trump was “open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue.”

In what’s being taken as a for-now final word on the matter, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn emphasized Monday that the U.S. will leave the agreement “unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country,” doubling down on the line the administration has held since its initial withdrawal announcement.

This weekend’s mixed signals kept reporters busy. Confusion around the agreement may even have put climate change in the news more than the string of hurricanes that have battered the Caribbean and southern United States in recent weeks, the strengths of which can be linked to rising temperatures and sea levels. Materially, though, the Paris agreement’s future in the U.S. may be one of the least important aspects of Trump’s climate policy. It may not even have that big of an impact on the agreement itself.

As conflicting messages shoot back and forth, other members of the administration are quietly unraveling a slew of policies, precedents, and regulations in ways that could make it much more difficult to plan for a low-carbon future after they’re gone. Considering the U.S. accounts for around one-fifth of global emissions, these moves could also make it harder to curb warming worldwide.

Even if Trump is eager to bail on Paris as soon as possible, the United States won’t technically be able to make an official exit until November 2020, the tail end of Trump’s first — and, with any hope, last — term. What he can do is start the process to make that happen, which will be routed largely through a State Department that might still lack the proper staffing to carry out the job.    

Effectively, nothing has changed; since the Rose Garden announcement about the decision to bail on the agreement earlier this summer, the White House’s line has always been that it would stay in if it could somehow negotiate a better deal. Multiple countries have also said that the underlying language of the deal won’t change no matter what the White House does.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the U.S. role in the Paris climate accord on June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Most of the document’s emissions reduction plans, meanwhile, are tied to each country’s nationally determined contribution brought to the table in France in 2015.

The central feature of the U.S. commitment that year was the Clean Power Plan, aimed at capping emissions from power production. Scott Pruitt has spent his tenure so far as Environmental Protection Agency administrator making every attempt to dismantle it from within; his agency is currently in the process of reviewing the plan and proposing its replacement, and on a longer term mission to cripple its own authority.

Put simply, whether Trump stays in the agreement means little if the chief means of compliance — the Clean Power Plan — is gutted. On the other hand, if states and companies move in the direction the plan intended even without it in force, Trump’s gutting loses power. After the withdrawal, many have even stated that they intend to strengthen their carbon-cutting plans in response. All of that has more bearing on the atmosphere than Trump’s rhetoric around Paris.

Pruitt has other ways of pushing his agenda, too. As Rebecca Leber chronicled for Mother Jones, he spent the days after hurricanes Harvey and Irma fending off allegations from the Senate that his EPA has grown increasingly nontransparent, insulting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and chiding anyone who dared to mention climate change in relation to the two storms. To top it all off, on September 12, he stalled an Obama-era regulation that kept power plants from releasing toxic metals into wastewater. Research funding proposals must now pass through a public relations head, who reportedly advised staffers to excise the “double C-word” from any funding requests. Inspired partially by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, he’s also expressed interest in hosting a “red team, blue team” debate on the existence and severity of man-made global warming — an event that could help prime the pump for scaling back the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon.

He’s not alone, either. Expanding fossil fuel production — and minimizing regulations on it — has been a priority for the administration more generally since its first days, when Trump brought both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines back from the dead. Tillerson is rumored to be in the process of nixing the U.S. climate change envoy to the United Nations. Ryan Zinke this weekend said his Department of the Interior would look to shrink federally protected natural monuments and will soon embark on the first steps toward drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The list goes on.

Why, then, are crossed wires around the agreement one of the only times that network news anchors bother to mention rising temperatures?

Still, like the Paris agreement, the climate policies Pruitt and the rest of Trump’s team seem hellbent on destroying were already totally ill-equipped to handle the crisis at hand; together, every national pledge agreed to in 2015 would bring us to around 3 degrees of warming by century’s end. As it stands now — pre-withdrawal — the Paris agreement still leaves us collectively on track for catastrophic levels of warming.

Why, then, are crossed wires around the agreement one of the only times that network news anchors bother to mention rising temperatures?

To see how far off-base our conversations about climate change in the U.S. are, just take a look at debates happening among climate scientists.

A paper released in Nature Geoscience on Monday by a team of climate researchers lays out an ostensibly hopeful scenario: It is “not yet a geophysical impossibility” to cap warming at the “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” threshold laid out by the Paris agreement, and even meet its even more ambitious 1.5 C target.

The study, summarized in layman’s terms here, relies on the argument that the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — considered a gold standard for climate policymakers — overestimates how much warming has already occurred. Having run several studies, researchers brought observed warming to date in line with projections and found that we may be able to emit three times more carbon than the IPCC outlines and still have a reasonably high chance of remaining under 1.5 C of warming.

On the surface, that sounds like great news. Other climate scientists are skeptical of the findings, arguing that researchers underestimate the potential for warmth absorbed by oceans and land in earlier periods of warming to make their way into the atmosphere later. Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate Research, called the study “breathtaking,” but cautioned in a blog post today against integrating the research team’s findings into mitigation scenarios too quickly, questioning aspects of the paper’s implications that remain uncertain. “Suppose we start to act on their larger budgets, but after another 5-10 years we discover they were wrong. Then we may have completely blown any chance of 1.5°C or 2°C,” he contends.

Peters wrote that he “seriously [hopes] they have this right,” as it could offer “real and tangible hope for small island states and other vulnerable communities.”

What both sides of this debate agree on is that keeping warming below catastrophic levels could be among the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. The scenario the paper lays out is still plenty stark from a policy standpoint, requiring the world to start working together to hit net-zero emissions in the next 40 years. According to the new study, at current levels of emissions, we’ll use up the carbon budget consistent with staying below 1.5 C within 20 years. “It’s still very difficult to get our emissions down in that space of time,” Richard Millar, the study’s lead author, tells The Intercept. “But it’s really a possibility. …What that means in more concrete policy terms is that both the Paris pledges need to be strengthened at the first possible opportunity” in 2018.

The paper is even more blunt. “Rapid decarbonization,” the allegedly more rosy Nature Geoscience study concludes, “relies on societies being able to swiftly replace existing capital with new investments at massive scales,” adding that the level of emissions reductions required to pre-empt the worst climate impacts “have historically been observed globally only for short periods, such as in the 1930s Great Recession and the Second World War, and regionally in the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Sustained decarbonization at these rates, and the associated capital displacement (run-down and replacement of fossil-fuel infrastructure), would be historically unprecedented.”

That’s the rosy scenario.

What’s also historically unprecedented, though, is large-scale emissions reduction, and Millar points out that he doesn’t “think it’s deterministic that it’s only possible to cut emissions through wars or recessions. We haven’t tried climate policy properly in the past.” That will mean making not just the electricity sector carbon-neutral, but several other aspects of the economy as well.

Though careful to point out the agreement’s role as a stepping stone for further action, Millar notes that its impact “is actually quite boring” — establishing an ongoing process where world leaders can continually reassess their mitigation pledges.

Given that, he also cautioned against seeing the Trump administration in overly apocalyptic terms. “I think it’s unlikely that there’s going to be a huge increase in emissions as a result of this withdrawal. A bigger question is what the impact of the USA on other countries will be, whether it limits their emissions or galvanizes more action,” Millar tells me, referencing the potential for other high-emitting nations to take a similarly hands-off approach to mitigation.

Though countries such as France and Germany have been quick to affirm their commitments to the agreement, countries like India and Russia could still treat U.S. withdrawal as an excuse to lessen their own commitments. “Paris has an important role to play in how it’s laid out a framework, but Paris isn’t the end of the story. It’s just the start,” Millar said.

Top photo: Street art depicts U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on June 13, 2017.

The post The Paris Agreement Dispute Is a Distraction. The Real Battle Is Playing Out in the EPA. appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump Used the United Nations to Threaten a Massive Violation of International Law

4 hours 52 min ago

The United States has never cared much about international law. But most U.S. presidents had at least made an effort to pretend that they did. Based on President Donald Trump’s speech Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly, this is yet another American tradition that he’s discarding.

Trump’s overturning of this American norm came during his blusterous threats against North Korea:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about; that’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.

To clarify the legal significance of Trump’s words, here’s a quick explanation of the rules that purportedly govern the U.S.’s use of force.

The U.S. was one of the original 26 signatories to the U.N. Charter in June 1945. The U.S. Constitution states that “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” The U.N. Charter is a treaty, so it therefore is the “supreme law” of the U.S.

Chapter I, Article 2 of the charter states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

However, Chapter VII, Article 51 says, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

Moreover, prior to the establishment of the U.N., it was customary international law that nations had the right to attack others first in preemptive self-defense under narrow conditions. Those conditions were based on a formulation in an 1841 letter by then-U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster. According to Webster, an attack was only legitimate preemption if the need for it was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation,” and the attack itself was “limited by that necessity, and kept clearly within it.” This has generally been boiled down to two requirements: A threat must be clearly imminent, and any military action must be proportional to the threat.

The right to preemptive self-defense is still generally accepted today — despite the fact that, as Henry Shue and David Rodin, two prominent academic experts on international law, point out, “A literal reading of the Charter … appears to rule out the justified use of force prior to attack.”

So what does all this mean for Trump and the “Law of the Land”?

Certainly there’s an argument that Trump’s diatribe violated the U.N. Charter, given its prohibition against even the “threat … of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” (Political journalist Tim Shorrock, among others, pointed this out on Twitter.)

This is particularly true given the vagueness of Trump’s statement about the U.S. being “forced to defend itself or its allies.” This could mean anything from an actual first-strike nuclear attack by North Korea on the U.S. or South Korea, to Kim Jong-un making fun of the ratings for “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Throughout history, aggressive wars have almost always been justified with claims of self-defense — something that was extremely fresh in the minds of the U.N. Charter authors. Japan claimed it invaded Manchuria to defend itself from China and attacked Pearl Harbor to defend itself from the U.S. — though neither had attacked Japan. Nazi Germany purported to defend itself from the British when it invaded Denmark and Norway and generally said it was defending itself against international Bolshevism. Even the Holocaust was portrayed in German propaganda as self-defense.

So a president who wanted to be sure he was acting in accordance with the U.N. Charter would have said something like, “If North Korea attacks the U.S. or its allies, we are prepared to respond immediately with all necessary force until the U.N. can take charge of restoring peace and security.” Even former President George W. Bush, whose administration despised and subverted the U.N., was willing to mouth words like this. In his September 2002 speech to the General Assembly laying the groundwork for war with Iraq, Bush proclaimed, “My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account.”

On the other hand, if Trump administration lawyers could be bothered to address this question, they would certainly claim that Trump was making a legitimate, if strongly worded, statement of deterrence.

Where there can be little argument, however, is whether Trump was threatening to shatter the rules about preemptive war.

Jonathan Horowitz, a senior legal officer at the Open Society Foundations, points out that the required “proportionality and necessity are nowhere to be found” in Trump’s words.

Again, this is notably different from Bush’s case for the Iraq war. Faced with the fact that international law demanded that a threat be “imminent” to justify preemptive war, the Bush administration simply redefined the meaning of the word in its 2002 National Security Strategy. “We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capacities and objectives of today’s adversaries,” the document read, in a world where weapons of mass destruction can be “used without warning.”

According to Marko Milanovic, associate professor at the University of Nottingham School of Law and vice president of the European Society of International Law, the Bush standards “are not accepted even by the closest U.S. allies, such as the U.K.” And, given that Trump has not made even Bush’s desultory nod at the standard of imminence, “he might not necessarily have in mind what the overwhelming majority of international lawyers or states would recognize as self-defense.”

“The starting point shouldn’t be total destruction,” said Horowitz, pointing to norms governing proportionality. “We’re talking about a country that spans over 45,000 square miles with a population of 25 million.” Milanovic agreed, calling Trump “morally repugnant for treating the 25 million people of North Korea as something to be extinguished at will” and adding that “it is impossible to imagine an attack that North Korea could mount that would justify totally destroying the whole country.” So where Daniel Webster demanded that any preemptive military action be “kept clearly within” necessity, Trump casually committed to the obliteration of an entire nation based on some amorphous criteria known only to himself.

Top photo: U.S. President Donald Trump waits for a meeting with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 19, 2017.

The post Donald Trump Used the United Nations to Threaten a Massive Violation of International Law appeared first on The Intercept.

Corpos decapitados, racha entre facções e polícias às cegas: um fim de semana no Rio de Janeiro

5 hours 55 min ago

O caos, as mortes e desgoverno que tomaram o Rio de Janeiro no último fim de semana são um resumo da atual situação de uma capital que segue sem governo. Na Zona Norte, o Comando Vermelho tentou tomar o Morro do Juramento dos Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) na sexta (15). Na Zona Oeste, a milícia tomou o Morro do Nogueira da ADA e transmitiu ao vivo no Facebook no sábado (16). Na Zona Sul, uma disputa interna pelo controle do tráfico na Rocinha deixou pelo menos dois mortos, no domingo. Mas tudo seguiu tranquilo para quem ia para o Rock in Rio. #Prioridades

As Polícias Civil e Militar e a Secretaria de Segurança sabiam dos planos de Nem da Rocinha, ex-chefe do tráfico na favela, de tirar Rogério 157, o RG, do comando. Mas, segundo as polícias, nada foi feito porque a Secretaria de Segurança não forneceu informações que permitissem o planejamento das ações que poderiam ter evitado que ao menos 10 carros com cerca de 50 homens entrassem na Rocinha para o embate.

Como esses carros chegaram ali, vindo de onde? Como meia centena de homens armados tem total liberdade para circular pela cidade e subir uma favela que tem Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora e fica em frente a uma delegacia?

“Não nos passaram o que aconteceria de verdade.”

O que houve na Rocinha é fruto do claro descompasso entre instituições de segurança para a coordenação de ações e da falta de liderança. Questionado sobre a polícia não ter contido a tentativa de invasão e evitado o tiroteio, o Major Blaz, porta-voz da Polícia Militar, disse que a inteligência da PM aponta, desde o início do ano, a ruptura entre Rogério e Nem. Mesmo assim, nenhuma ação foi planejada:

“Como eu já disse, a PM lida com 1200 comunidades carentes. Todas elas apontando sinais de invasão. Então eu preciso de dados muito mais apurados do que a minha corporação tem acesso para poder, realmente, ter um trabalho mais específico. Eu lido com a ponta da linha. Meu trabalho é policiamento na rua. Então, serviço de investigação não é com a Polícia Militar. Eu preciso de dados muito mais apurados do que a minha corporação tem acesso para poder, realmente, ter um trabalho mais específico.”

Já o delegado da região, Antônio Ricardo, quando questionado sobre a razão de não terem agido para evitar a invasão, jogou a bola para a PM e disse que “a situação da Polícia Militar não é a mesma da Polícia Civil”:

“Eles estão lá no local, e a gente troca informações. Evidentemente, o planejamento da ocupação da comunidade é feito pela PM. Eles têm o planejamento deles. Então acho que essa pergunta [sobre não agir antes da invasão] deve ser direcionada para a PM”, esquivou-se. “Não nos passaram o que aconteceria de verdade. Nós sabíamos a informação superficial. Não tínhamos detalhamento”, reiterou.

O Delegado se referiu a Secretaria de Segurança. Questionada sobre deixar policiais trabalhando às cegas, sem informação, a SESEG reenviou uma nota que já havia sido divulgada pela manhã, desconsiderando completamente as perguntas enviadas.

Mais uma vez, os danos que podem ser causados pelo desdém da Secretaria de Segurança e pelo descontrole do Governo do Estado ficam claros.

“A Polícia Militar sozinha não vai resolver essa situação.”

“Estamos lidando há alguns meses com escassez de recursos materiais e humanos. Isso já mostra que a Polícia Militar sozinha não vai resolver esta questão”, justificou o Major Ivan Blaz, porta-voz da PM sobre a corporação não ter intervindo para evitar nove horas de tiroteios entre grupos liderados por Nem e Rogério.

Blaz colocou a culpa das disputas entre facções também nas audiências de custódia,”que colocam nas ruas alguns criminosos que foram presos alguns dias atrás”, e nas progressões de regime previstas em lei: “Colocar estes homens em liberdade só tem um resultado: isso [embates entre facções]. Quando colocados em liberdade eles tentam reiteradamente conquistar ou reconquistar o terreno que um dia foi seu”.

Na verdade, as audiências de custódia não reduziram as prisões provisórias no Estado de forma significativa. E vale pontuar que Antônio Bomfim Lopes, o Nem da Rocinha, nunca foi beneficiado por nenhuma das medidas citadas. Foi ele quem, mesmo preso desde 2011, coordenou o embate que ainda não terminou.

Antônio Ricardo, delegado titular da 11ª DP, na Rocinha, afirmou que não teve acesso a informações da Secretaria de Segurança.

Foto: Cecília Olliveira/The Intercept Brasil

Por um lado, o major tem razão. Não há como colocar a culpa exclusivamente na PM. The Intercept Brasil perguntou à Secretaria de Segurança Pública como as invasões são monitoradas, como as ações são definidas em caso de detecção de ameaça e quais medidas são tomadas a partir de então. As perguntas não foram respondidas. Repórteres de vários outros veículos também tentaram obter algum posicionamento do secretário, Roberto Sá. Todos ficaram sem resposta.

Sá só apareceu nesta terça (19), depois de ser criticado ao vivo no Jornal da Globo. Só então admitiu que sabia dos indícios da invasão e jogou a culpa no Comandante da Rocinha. Pezão, governador do Estado, parece um ser inanimado, apenas se equilibrando no cargo para não ser preso ou sofrer impeachment. Demorou quatro dias para se manifestar sobre as invasões e quando apareceu, mostrou sua prioridade: “A hora de ir pro Rock In Rio era a hora de entrar na Rocinha?”, disse ao vivo, no RJTV. O dançarino Pablinho Fantástico, do Dream Team do Passinho, saiu de casa para se apresentar com Alicia Keys no festival, mas não pode voltar para casa, na Rocinha.

Rastro de destruição deixado pela disputa entre os grupos de Nem e Rogério 157 pelo controle do tráfico de drogas na Rocinha.

Fotos: Polícia Civil do Rio de Janeiro

Só neste último fim de semana, 17 pessoas foram mortas – entre elas, um fuzileiro naval, um policial militar e um bombeiro. Houve 53 tiroteios/disparos de arma de fogo, de acordo com o aplicativo Fogo Cruzado*. Deste total, sete mortes aconteceram no Juramento, na Zona Norte do Rio. A favela estava sob domínio do Comando Vermelho, mas virou ADA quando a facção foi criada, nos anos 90, e abrigou, ao longo dos últimos anos, muitos traficantes deslocados pela pacificação.

Na Rocinha,entre a madrugada de domingo e segunda, quatro pessoas foram mortas (duas delas decapitadas e carbonizadas) e três moradores foram baleados – entre eles, um adolescente deficiente. Isto, oficialmente. Moradores falam em ao menos 10 mortos.


Esta semana, o Ministro da Defesa disse que falta planejamento da Secretaria de Segurança para atuação das Forças Militares no Estado. Mesma percepção exposta pelo então Diretor de Operações do Comitê Rio-2016, general Marco Aurélio Vieira, em um evento realizado à época do anúncio do envio de tropas federais ao Rio em 2016. “Hoje nós temos 56 polícias: 27 Polícias Militares, 27 Polícias Civis, a Polícia Federal e a Polícia Rodoviária Federal. Nenhum sistema de informações fala com outro”, disse ele, que criticou especialmente o sistema de informações do Rio. “O indivíduo com um 5G na mão coordena mais que o Centro de Coordenações hoje existente no Rio de Janeiro. Um indivíduo dentro do morro com um 5G tem uma capacidade coordenação incrível”, disse.

Ou seja, por incompetência do Estado, policiais e moradores ficaram largados à própria sorte durante intensos tiroteios. Autoridades sequer se dignaram a responder a imprensa e informar cidadãos para os quais trabalham. Na verdade, nada disso é surpresa, já que o setor de Inteligência não teve sequer um real no orçamento da Segurança Pública do Rio em 2016. A fatura chegou.

*Cecília Olliveira é gestora de dados do Fogo Cruzado

The post Corpos decapitados, racha entre facções e polícias às cegas: um fim de semana no Rio de Janeiro appeared first on The Intercept.

Head of Health Insurance Giant Aetna Slams Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer Plan As “Lousy”

6 hours 36 min ago

The head of Aetna, the health insurance giant, not only slammed the gains being made in the push for universal Medicare, but also mocked its proponents as misguided. But in the process, Mark Bertolini got basic facts wrong about single-payer health care.

Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, the third-largest health insurance company in the U.S., rejected the Medicare for All proposal released last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and a group of 16 Senate Democrats. He at times used disparaging comments and outright falsehoods about neighboring countries’ national health systems to criticize the plan.

Bertolini, speaking at the Strategic Investor Initiative conference in New York on Tuesday in response to a question from The Intercept, said that the Sanders single-payer bill does “nothing to fix the underlying cost structure” of the health care system. “So if we refinance a lousy product, what do we get? A lousy result,” Bertolini said.

The Aetna CEO also ridiculed proponents of single payer, suggesting that they are confused. Some supporters, Bertolini warned, are in fact “talking about socializing all the hospitals and doctors — everybody’s going to work for the government.” He asked the room of investors and analysts to “name a country that has single payer.”

When several participants named Canada, Bertolini disputed the answer and claimed that Canada has a “government-run health care system. They’re not single payer, they’re single everything.”

The suggestion, however, that Canada has a completely government-run health care system under which all medical professionals “work for the government” is false. In Canada, medical claims for virtually all non-dental health care are paid by the government, but doctors and hospitals work in the private sector.

“Doctors in Canada are not employed by the government. They are self-employed, they are independent business people,” said Karen Palme, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University. “The system is publicly funded but privately delivered.”

Bertolini appeared to be confusing single payer with a single-provider system, such as the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, under which doctors and providers work directly for a government entity.

That’s not what Sanders is proposing. Under Sanders’s bill, all Americans are incrementally enrolled into Medicare, and patients would be free to choose their private-sector health care providers. The legislation also provides a range of cost-cutting measures, including provisions to lower drug prices.

During his response to our question about the Sanders proposal, Berolini noted that he is “a little infamous for this conversation,” referencing a leaked recording of a company-wide discussion in April, in which he appeared to signal openness to a debate over adopting single payer.

Immediately following the leak, Bertolini moved to distance himself from the idea. “There’s nowhere in the Constitution that says we will need to provide people health care,” he said shortly after the tape came out. “I think government-run health care would be a bad idea, because I think then you end up with the central planning problem that has crushed the Soviet and Russian economies.”

The private health insurance system has been particularly lucrative for companies like Aetna. During his talk, Bertolini boasted that Aetna’s stock price surged from $29.85 per share in November 2010 to $162 per share this week. His performance as CEO has also been handsomely rewarded: In 2016, he received a compensation package worth $41 million.

The majority of Bertolini’s talk was centered on his work to stimulate better workplace practices at his company, from raising wages of the lowest-paid Aetna employees to providing in-house yoga programs.

Bertolini has been praised for promoting employee wellness and corporate philanthropy programs at the health insurance giant. But the firm has also engaged in dubious political efforts. In 2012, Aetna inadvertently revealed that it funneled more than $7 million to GOP dark money campaign groups that specialize in electing Republicans without any disclosure of their donors.

Bertolini said the Aetna stock price was down yesterday over health care discussions in Congress, but he turned it into a joke: “It’s a good time to buy.” Asked repeatedly by The Intercept if he supports or has an opinion on Graham-Cassidy, the last-ditch Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Bertolini demurred, noting he has “no prediction” on whether it would pass.

Bertolini is the latest health care CEO to voice concerns about the rising popularity of single payer. As The Intercept reported, Brent Saunders, the chief executive of Allergan, worried that Americans are getting so fed up with the health care system they may one day embrace single payer. A number of lobbyists for other health care interests have also slammed the idea, claiming that the system proposed by Sanders is unworkable.

Top photo: Aetna chair and CEO Mark Bertolini speaks during the Fortune Global Forum on Nov. 3, 2015 in San Francisco.

The post Head of Health Insurance Giant Aetna Slams Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer Plan As “Lousy” appeared first on The Intercept.

At Harvard, Chelsea Manning Lost Her Fellowship. At Fordham, a Former CIA Torture Proponent Kept His.

8 hours 10 min ago

It took less than 48 hours for Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government to revoke its fellowship invitation to whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The announcement that Manning would be a visiting fellow at the school’s Institute of Politics had been met with resistance from current and former denizens of the national security state — a former CIA director resigned his position as a fellow, and President Donald Trump’s CIA Director Mike Pompeo withdrew from a planned speech at the school.

About 200 miles south of Cambridge, Massachusetts, an inverse but much quieter debate unfolded after a top CIA veteran was named to an elite university fellowship. This much, however, resembled the row at Harvard: The security state is poised to win out in this showdown, too.

On September 4, former CIA Director John Brennan began a two-year stint as a “distinguished fellow for global security” at Fordham University’s Center on National Security at Fordham Law, in New York. Brennan, a 1977 Fordham graduate, will participate in discussions at the school, make himself available to students during office hours, and sit in on classes in advance of teaching his own in the future.

Some in the Fordham community — including faculty and alumni who were involved in activism against awarding Brennan a 2012 honorary doctorate of humane letters from the school — believe naming the former top spy to a fellowship sends the wrong message, especially given Brennan’s record of support for controversial policies.

“By making him a fellow, Fordham is clearly endorsing the human rights violations committed under Brennan by the CIA through illegal torture and missile strikes,” said Sapphira Lurie, who graduated from Fordham this year. “Brennan’s status as a public figure is a result of severe violations of human rights.” Lurie noted that the administration has, in the past, distanced itself from Brennan’s actions at the CIA, but questioned whether his record outside of the CIA merited accolades from the university: “Why else would they be giving him an honorary degree and a position as a fellow?”

Brennan’s tenure as head of the CIA and, more broadly, his 25 years at the agency saw their share of controversies. The Obama era was marked by Brennan’s efforts to concentrate the drone assassination program in the executive branch and, in particular, the CIA. During the George W. Bush era, Brennan went along with the CIA’s institutional propensity for endorsing the use of “enhanced interrogation,” or torture. Brennan’s support of the practices was a point of contention during his confirmation hearings for CIA director in 2013. Brennan denied any involvement and ducked responsibility: “I did not take steps to stop the CIA’s use of those techniques,” he said. “I was not in the chain of command of that program.”

The 2014 publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture generated more controversy. The Brennan-led CIA hacked into Senate staffers’ computers as the report was put together; a subsequent investigation suggested that the some of the agents responsible for the hack did so under Brennan’s orders.

The ordeal led Fordham Faculty Against Torture, a group formed during the 2013-2014 school year, to convince the Fordham board of trustees to revoke Brennan’s 2012 honorary degree. (Disclosure: I attended graduate school at Fordham.)

Fordham Faculty Against Torture wanted to “respond to the egregious error our university made by granting an honorary degree to John Brennan,” citing his role at the CIA when agents tortured terrorism suspects and his subsequent defenses of the policies, according to the group’s website.

“FFAT organized a campaign of education, of academic talks, of discussion, and of protest, along with presenting a petition signed by the faculty at Fordham, to rescind the degree,” David Myers, a history professor, said in an email, adding that more than 500 full-time faculty signed the petition. Other petitions on iPetitions and garnered over 1,000 signatures in total.

“Fordham is clearly endorsing the human rights violations committed under Brennan by the CIA.”

Brennan’s appointment as a fellow is stirring up emotions from the fight over his honorary degree. The fellowship announcement sparked a “mixture of fury and indignation tempered by profound disappointment,” said sociology professor Jeanne Flavin. Flavin, who was a member of Fordham Faculty Against Torture, also expressed a sense of cynicism over the decision.

Fordham Faculty Against Torture’s activism culminated in a board vote on whether to revoke the honor bestowed on Brennan years earlier. The board decided unanimously to keep the award on the books, but Fordham President Rev. Joseph McShane told activists in an email that they should “not for a minute believe that honoring John Brennan is the same as honoring the institution for which he works, nor its checkered history.”

Gunar Olsen, a 2017 graduate who was a student activist with Fordham Faculty Against Torture, told The Intercept that the 2012 honor was offensive because of what it represents. “Awarding an honorary degree to someone contributes nothing of substantive value to a school,” said Olsen. “But it does indicate where a school administration’s politics lie.” Olsen pointed out that an honorary degree awarded to Bill Cosby was rescinded in 2015.

Olsen said Brennan’s fellowship, which was announced in a school-wide email from Provost Stephen Freedman on September 4, demonstrated the school’s priorities. “If Fordham appointed Brennan because he is a Fordham graduate, Fordham could have also appointed veteran CIA officer Ray McGovern, who’s done some great work after leaving government,” said Olsen, naming the CIA veteran turned progressive activist. “He would be a great contribution to law students’ educational experience. But Fordham won’t do that, because McGovern doesn’t have the prestige that Brennan does, because McGovern consistently challenges the national security establishment in Washington.”

School officials, meanwhile, are defending the decision. “Director Brennan has a tremendous amount to offer,” said Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security, who made the decision to award the fellowship along with the school’s leadership. “His insights, culled from his experience and knowledge will be valuable here at Fordham and in the larger public national security conversation as well.”

Louie Dean Valencia-García, a Fordham Ph.D. who lectured at Harvard last year and is now an assistant professor of digital history at Texas State University, drew a distinction between Brennan’s honorary degree and the fellowship. “A fellowship is not an honorary degree,” Valencia-García said. “When Brennan received the degree, it was bestowed on him.” Not so for the fellowship, which Valencia-García described as an agreement between Brennan and the school, in which Fordham is making a commitment to fund Brennan’s work.

And that, for Valencia-García, raises two important questions: What kind of work will Brennan do at the school? And what kind of commitment is Fordham making to Brennan and his goals? Greenberg told The Intercept that Brennan’s compensation was “minimal.”

Some of the anti-Brennan activists see an opportunity for Fordham in Chelsea Manning’s summary dismissal from Harvard. “I think one of the few things that could get me to reconsider my position on Brennan’s fellowship would be Fordham extending an invitation to Chelsea Manning,” said Flavin, the professor. “A comparable fellowship, at minimum, should be extended to her.”

Having already lost one battle over Brennan, however, many of the Fordham activists aren’t holding out much hope for Brennan’s fellowship to be rescinded, nor for Manning to be extended her own.

Brennan’s presence at the school will raise an important choice for Fordham, said Jeannine Hill Fletcher, a professor of theology, who was a founding member of the activist group against the CIA director’s honorary degree. “The question is: Do we want a study of national security, which will focus on national security and enhance our sense of common humanity,” said Fletcher, “or continue to eclipse our sense of shared humanity?”

The post At Harvard, Chelsea Manning Lost Her Fellowship. At Fordham, a Former CIA Torture Proponent Kept His. appeared first on The Intercept.

Ataques a religiões de matriz africana fazem parte da nova dinâmica do tráfico no Rio

12 hours 34 min ago

“Todo o mal tem que ser desfeito, em nome de Jesus”, diz um traficante, ordenando que uma yalorixá destrua as imagens do seu terreiro em Nova Iguaçu, na Baixada Fluminense, divulgado na quarta-feira (13). Em outro vídeo que circula nas redes sociais, um homem “lembra” a um pai de santo que o chefe não quer macumba no local: “É só um diálogo [segurando um taco de baseball escrito diálogo] que eu tô tendo com vocês. Da próxima vez eu mato”, diz. As cenas  absurdas  são uma amostra de uma onda de ataques a terreiros de umbanda e candomblé comandados por traficantes que seguem acontecendo no Rio de Janeiro.

Traficantes destroem terreiros de umbanda candomblé

Foto: reprodução de vídeo divulgado no youtube

Até o momento, só em setembro, foram oito casos registrados apenas em Nova Iguaçu. O Disque 100, serviço de denúncias de violações de direitos humanos do Governo Federal, recebeu, entre 2011 e 2016, 175 denúncias de intolerância religiosa no estado – 10% do total no país. Há relatos de ataques e perseguições em toda a  Região Metropolitana. No Rio, traficantes proíbem a prática das religiões e o uso de roupas brancas, levando filhos de santos a deixarem as favelas. Na Cidade Alta, após a troca de comando no morro em novembro do ano passado, imagens de santos foram retiradas de comércios locais.

Os casos mencionados aconteceram em lugares dominados pela mesma facção criminosa, o Terceiro Comando Puro. As investigações correm em sigilo e parte dos envolvidos já foi identificada. Como resposta ao crescente número de casos de intolerância, a Polícia Civil e a Secretaria de Segurança Pública acenam com  a criação de uma delegacia especializada até o fim do ano.

A conversão religiosa dos “homens do tráfico” não é um fenômeno novo, e esse tipo de perseguição acontece há mais de 10 anos nas favelas cariocas. Para ajudar a entender essa dinâmica em que traficantes que se denominam evangélicos tentam combater outras religiões nos territórios que dominam, The Intercept Brasil conversou com a professora de sociologia da UFF e autora do livro “Oração de traficante: uma etnografia” Christina Vital da Cunha, que pesquisa o tema há 23 anos.

The Intercept Brasil: Por que é comum que traficantes busquem ajuda religiosa?

Christina Vital da Cunha: Tanto policiais quanto traficantes, sempre estão no limite. Então, buscam proteção na religião. O salmo 91 é usado por policiais e traficantes, por exemplo. Assim como são Jorge foi e ainda é. O que acontece com essa proximidade mais recente dos traficantes com esse universo evangélico é que a igreja se apresenta como uma rede que os auxilia em diferentes questões da vida, como a preparar a saída do tráfico. O que os pastores chamam de libertação de traficantes.

TIB: Como aconteceu essa aproximação com os evangélicos?

CC: A primeira coisa que a gente tem que pensar quando vai se analisar essa situação é que os traficantes são formados em um caldo cultural que é comum hoje às pessoas de favelas e periferias. Eles sempre são produto de um meio. A gente vem observando com o passar das décadas, sobretudo dos anos 1990, um crescimento muito expressivo no número de templos religiosos evangélicos. Muitos deles são de famílias evangélicas, então já foram educados com referencial religioso.

“O pastor Marcos Pereira teve grande influência sobre a conversão de vários chefes do tráfico, a partir da ação dele nos presídios”.

Somado a isso, os pentecostais têm por característica a realização de missões com grupos marginalizados, entre eles os traficantes, oferecendo rede de proteção espiritual, psicológica e também material. Isso tem efetividade nessas localidades, assim como no sistema prisional.

O pastor Marcos Pereira teve grande influência sobre a conversão de vários chefes do tráfico, a partir da ação dele nos presídios. Mas não só ele, traficantes convertidos, a Universal do Reino de Deus e a Assembleia de Deus também participam dessas ações em favelas e periferias.

TIB: Como os líderes religiosos enxergam esses traficantes que se denominam evangélicos?

CC: Há muitos nessa comunidade moral que é a comunidade religiosa, que negam o pertencimento do traficante, pois ele não pode dizer que é evangélico porque ele não tem uma conduta correta. Dizem que eles estão em um processo. Tem muita gente séria que leva a palavra de Deus a essas pessoas, pois acreditam que elas podem e devem se libertar. Mas também tem os que usam o dinheiro do tráfico. A coisa é complexa e tem de tudo.

TIB: A figura do traficantes evangélicos é exclusiva do TCP?

CC: Nos anos 2000, houve a conversão de um dos chefes do Terceiro Comando. Essa conversão atualiza comportamentos no crime. Havia uma orientação que levava a menos confrontos, menos mortes e também se referia às sucessões na hierarquia do tráfico baseada em uma visão que uma pessoa teve na igreja. A partir daí, traficantes de lugares diferentes da hierarquia do crime passam a se vincular ao universo religioso e ter o comportamento orientado por esse conjunto de valores evangélicos.

Agora, não podemos afirmar que todo traficante evangélico pertence a uma única facção. É verdade que os casos midiatizados nos últimos dias são em localidades da mesma facção. Mas, por exemplo, no Complexo da Maré [no Rio], na parte do território do Comando Vermelho é comum as pichações com salmos e orações nas paredes. É algo que faz parte da cultura da periferia.

TIB: Em que momento as religiões de matriz africana passam a ser perseguidas?

CC: Existem líderes religiosos que incentivam a partir dos seus discursos nas igrejas atos de combate a inimigos espirituais e terrenos. Isso é uma prática que não acontecem só em igrejas de denominação única [independentes] em favelas e periferias. Isso acontece também com lideranças que estão aparecendo na mídia, e a gente vai encontrar isso em diferentes denominações e camadas sociais.

A partir da valorização de uma teologia do domínio, insuflam o combate ao inimigo, o combate das forças do bem contra o mal. E o mal está localizado em determinados símbolos, signos, grupos, religiões e comportamentos que devem ser combatidos com ações enérgicas em perspectivas violentas.

A gente vai acompanhando os efeitos negativos na sociedade em geral, como a menina Kaylane, que levou uma pedrada em 2015. Agora a gente vê com mais frequência essa ação dos traficantes, mas já tem pelo menos dez anos de perseguição e constrangimento em relação a religiões afrobrasileiras nas favelas.

TIB: Por que agora os ataques se tornaram constantes e são divulgados pelos próprios traficantes?

CC: Isso começa a sair do controle dos líderes religiosos e passa a ser como um código entre os traficantes. Um modo de comportamento que é divulgado como um modo de demonstrar força e domínio. E acaba viralizando na facção, em parte tem a ver com o estímulo de liderança religiosa, mas, também, tem relação com a própria dinâmica do tráfico. É uma demonstração de poder que se expressa no combate a esses religiosos que representam o mal dentro da favela. Trata-se de mais uma modalidade de violência.

TIB: O que pode ser feito contra essa perseguição?

CC: É muito importante que esses casos sejam midiatizados. A pessoas precisam procurar meios de falar sobre isso. Campanhas que criem estigmas em relação aos intolerantes e ações do estado em diferentes frentes são necessárias para que esse ataques parem.

(Esta entrevista foi editada para melhor compreensão do leitor.)

The post Ataques a religiões de matriz africana fazem parte da nova dinâmica do tráfico no Rio appeared first on The Intercept.

Intercepted Podcast: ‘Merican Psycho

13 hours 34 min ago

Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.


Donald Trump appeared before the United Nations General Assembly this week and read a belligerent speech written by his vile little political adviser Stephen Miller. This week on Intercepted, Jeremy weighs in on Trump’s threats and the massive military budget the Democrats just gave him. Journalist Gary Rivlin takes us deep inside the world of Goldman Sachs and how Trump’s top economic adviser helped fuel the subprime mortgage catastrophe that crashed the economy. Poet Aja Monet performs and discusses her ideas of justice, womanhood, and racism. The Intercept’s Alice Speri investigates the militarization of police and how Israel is training American cops. Plus, Donald Trump stars in American Psycho.

Transcript coming soon.

The post Intercepted Podcast: ‘Merican Psycho appeared first on The Intercept.

OAB-RJ entra com ação pedindo que Crivella suspenda convênio com banco de Edir Macedo

15 hours 36 min ago

A Seção Rio da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB-RJ) entrou na noite desta terça (19) com uma ação civil pública na Justiça pedindo para que a prefeitura do Rio suspenda um contrato assinado com o Banco A.J. Renner S/A, que permite a realização de empréstimos consignados com desconto em folha de pagamento de todos os servidores ativos e inativos do município.

A ação tem como base uma reportagem publicada por The Intercept Brasil, que revelou que a instituição financeira tem como acionista a B.A Empreendimentos e Participações, holding do Grupo Record, que tem entre seus sócios Edir Macedo, tio de Marcelo Crivella e líder da Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, da qual o prefeito é bispo licenciado.

“Não restam dúvidas de que o ato celebrado constitui evidente violação aos Princípios da Moralidade e da Impessoalidade, caracterizando aqui claro nepotismo, prática que deve ser totalmente combatida”, diz um trecho da ação, assinada pelo presidente da OAB-RJ, Felipe de Santa Cruz, e outros três membros da entidade.

Confira aqui a íntegra do documento.

A ação pede para que a Justiça suspenda imediatamente o convênio, através de liminar. Ainda não há prazo definido para que o pedido da OAB-RJ seja analisado.

Outro ponto destacado pelos advogados, também revelado por The Intercept Brasil, foi o fato de o convênio ter sido assinado no dia 30 de junho, mas a publicação só ter sido feita em Diário Oficial no início de setembro.

“O longo tempo entre a assinatura do contrato e a publicação no DO também é um problema sério, porque viola o Princípio da Publicidade. Mostra que há uma tentativa indireta de esconder da opinião pública uma contratação ilegal e inconstitucional”, afirma a OAB-RJ.

The post OAB-RJ entra com ação pedindo que Crivella suspenda convênio com banco de Edir Macedo appeared first on The Intercept.

Autora da ação da “cura gay” tem cargo em gabinete de deputado evangélico

19 September 2017 - 5:40pm

Autora de uma ação na Justiça Federal do Distrito Federal, cuja liminar concedida na última sexta (15) permite que psicólogos possam fazer terapias de “reversão sexual”, a chamada “cura gay”, a psicóloga Rozangela Alves Justino possui desde junho de 2016 um cargo no gabinete do deputado Sóstenes Cavalcante (DEM-RJ) na Câmara. O parlamentar, que está em seu primeiro mandato no Congresso, é apadrinhado pelo líder da Assembleia de Deus Vitória em Cristo, pastor Silas Malafaia.

Rozangela ocupa um cargo de natureza especial, que dispensa concurso público para efetivação. Com uma remuneração de R$ 3.346,34 em agosto, a psicóloga é vinculada à Liderança do Democratas na Câmara e está lotada no gabinete de Sóstenes. Na Casa, ela já foi vista este ano participando de um culto evangélico.

A psicóloga entrou com a ação na Justiça Federal este ano contra a resolução 01/1999 do Conselho Federal de Psicologia (CFP), que estabelece algumas regras de atuação em relação à orientação sexual. O documento afirma, por exemplo, que os profissionais “não devem exercer qualquer ação que favoreça a patologização de comportamentos ou práticas homoeróticas, nem adotarão ação coercitiva tendente a orientar homossexuais para tratamentos não solicitados”.

A liminar concedida pelo juiz Waldemar Cláudio de Carvalho gerou forte reação negativa. O CFP já anunciou que irá recorrer da decisão.

Rozangela, a missionária

Em seu blog, Rozângela Justino se identifica como missionária. A última postagem refere-se a um evento promovido pela Associação Brasileira de Psicólogos em Ação (Abrapsia), entidade criada em janeiro deste ano, da qual ela é presidente. O seminário “A fragmentação da família e das identidades, a quem interessa?”, realizado no início deste mês em Curitiba, abordou temas como “agenda e políticas de gênero” e “vício em pornografia no contexto de novas tecnologias”.

Em sua página no Facebook, a psicóloga compartilhou trechos de palestras das quais participou em que relaciona a liberação sexual a termos como extermínio e caos social:

“Estão trabalhando para o extermínio do nosso povo, da nossa nação. Estão levando as nossas crianças e nossos adolescentes à morte precoce. Então, essa mudança dos paradigmas sexuais, a liberação sexual, especialmente da criança e do adolescente, é uma perversão sem igual. Nós, como psicólogos, não podemos ser coniventes com isso”.

Vejo que esta questão da liberação sexual de crianças é um problema de soberania nacional

Na sequência, ela finaliza:

“Estão instituindo o caos social. Poucos vão estar sobrevivendo. Está sendo preparada uma ilha para poucos desfrutarem de todas as riquezas das nações… Vejo que esta questão da liberação sexual de crianças é um problema de soberania nacional”.

Assessora para “vários assuntos”

Procurado nesta terça (19) por The Intercept Brasil, o deputado Sóstenes afirmou que não entende a questão da homossexualidade como uma enfermidade. “Eu nunca entendi a questão do homossexualismo (sic) como enfermidade. No meu critério, é uma opção e deve ser respeitada por quem quer que seja”, afirmou.

Questionado sobre a função de Rozangela em seu gabinete em Brasília, o congressista afirma que ela é assessora do mandato “para vários assuntos”. Sóstenes negou que seu gabinete tenha patrocinado ou possua alguma relação com a ação popular protocolada pela psicóloga. “Ela é uma cidadã, psicóloga, teve o registro suspenso, e tem todo o direito de tomar as medidas judiciais cabíveis como qualquer cidadão brasileiro”, defendeu.

Sóstenes Cavalcante é pastor da Igreja Assembleia de Deus Vitória em Cristo, liderada por Silas Malafaia, e atuou por cinco anos como diretor de eventos de uma associação ligada à congregação. Em seu site, diz que o principal objetivo de seu mandato é a “defesa à vida e aos interesses da família”. “Comigo Deus tem tratos específicos de tempos em tempos para cumprir determinadas missões”, destaca o parlamentar em seu perfil.

Uma das missões recentes de Sóstenes, aliás, foi se manifestar contra a exposição “Queermuseu – Cartografias da Diferença na Arte Brasileira”, realizada em Porto Alegre, que tratava de temas ligados ao universo LGBT. A mostra foi cancelada após protestos de grupos conservadores.

Apoio ao MBL

O deputado gravou um vídeo sobre o tema, publicado no Twitter com o título “Em defesa da família e dos valores morais”, em que afirma que “políticos esquerdistas defenderam essa aberração”. O Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) também publicou um vídeo em sua página no Facebook em que Sóstenes dá apoio à postura do grupo em relação à exposição.

Em novembro ao ano passado, o parlamentar já havia se aliado a um dos principais líderes do MBL, o vereador Fernando Holiday, de São Paulo, para combater a ocupação de campi do Colégio Pedro II, no Rio de Janeiro, por estudantes que pediam melhorias no ensino público. Os dois chegaram a visitar uma unidade juntos.  

Rozangela Justino não foi vista nesta terça no Congresso para comentar a decisão, apesar do gabinete do deputado Sóstenes afirmar que ela estava trabalhando na Câmara. Em contato por telefone, ela pediu que perguntas fossem enviadas pelo Whatsapp, mas não respondeu.

The post Autora da ação da “cura gay” tem cargo em gabinete de deputado evangélico appeared first on The Intercept.

So Much for States’ Rights — GOP Senator Wants to Ban State Single Payer In New Health Care Bill

19 September 2017 - 4:21pm

Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy plans to use the most recent effort to repeal and replace portions of the Affordable Care Act to push an amendment that would bar states from enacting their own single-payer systems, he told reporters on Monday.

When asked by The Intercept on Tuesday about the status of his legislation, Kennedy said that the bill’s co-sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., told him that the measure already bans single payer, but that he was welcome to offer his amendment either way.

“I don’t think states should have the authority to take money from the American taxpayer and set up a single-payer system,” Kennedy said. “Now some people think that that’s inconsistent with the idea of flexibility. But that’s what the United States Congress is for. I very much believe in flexibility, and I know the governors want flexibility. But it’s our job to make sure that that money is properly spent.”

Kennedy’s amendment is similar to pre-emption laws many states have passed to prohibit municipalities from controlling their own minimum wages or enacting municipal broadband. These laws have emanated from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a policy network funded by corporations.

The movement for statewide single-payer health care has picked up steam in a number of states over the past year, including California.

The irony, of course, is that the Graham-Cassidy repeal effort is pitched as giving more power to states. “I believe that most Republicans like the idea of state-controlled health care, versus Washington, D.C.-controlled health care,” Graham said Tuesday.

And if this repeal effort fails, he warned, darkness would be coming. “At the end of the day, this is the only process left available to stop a march toward socialism,” he said.

Top photo: From left, Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Dean Heller, R-Nev., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, to unveil legislation to reform health care.

The post So Much for States’ Rights — GOP Senator Wants to Ban State Single Payer In New Health Care Bill appeared first on The Intercept.

Forças de segurança de Israel treinam policiais nos EUA apesar de histórico de abusos

19 September 2017 - 1:38pm

Não é raro que moradores dos bairros mais policiados dos EUA descrevam os agentes locais como uma “força de ocupação”. A julgar pela origem do treinamento de muitas forças policiais estadunidenses, a descrição não está longe da realidade.

Milhares de agentes de polícia norte-americanos fazem frequentes viagens de treinamento para um dos poucos países em que as forças policiais e o militarismo estão ainda mais intimamente ligados do que nos Estados Unidos: Israel.

Na esteira do 11 de setembro, Israel se valeu das suas décadas de experiência como força de ocupação para criar uma marca de liderança mundial em contraterrorismo. As polícias dos EUA, confiando na expertise do Estado judeu, começaram a participar de programas de intercâmbio patrocinados por uma série de grupos pró-Israel como o AIPAC (Comitê de Assuntos Públicos EUA-Israel), o Instituto Judeu para Questões de Segurança Nacional, e a Liga Antidifamação (Anti-Defamation League, ADL). Ao longo dos últimos quinze anos, muitos policiais de alto escalão em âmbito federal, estadual e municipal, oriundos de dezenas de departamentos em todo o país, foram a Israel aprender sobre policiamento com foco em terrorismo.

A grande capacidade de policiamento de Israel, no entanto, é maculada por seu propósito principal: a ocupação. Israel mantém há meio século o domínio militar sobre os territórios palestinos da Margem Ocidental e de Gaza, uma ocupação repleta de abusos. As forças de polícia e de segurança do país praticam frequentes violações aos direitos dos palestinos e dos imigrantes dentro das fronteiras de Israel de 1967.

“Boa parte do policiamento observado e discutido durante essas excursões acontece em um contexto não democrático”, diz Alex Vitale, professor de Sociologia no Brooklyn College e autor de um livro ainda em publicação sobre policiamento global. “Isso envolve policiamento militar, policiamento de controle de fronteira ou policiamento de pessoas em territórios ocupados que não são plenamente sujeitos de direitos no sistema jurídico israelense.”

Embora nos anos recentes tenha crescido a atenção sobre a militarização das forças policiais norte-americanas, o que levou a algumas reformas que a administração Trump já reverteu, os programas de intercâmbio policial EUA-Israel prosseguiram sem muito escrutínio público.

Essa semana, uma delegação de agentes de polícia estadunidenses de alto escalão está em Israel para o Seminário Nacional de Contraterrorismo da ADL, que inclui treinamento em tópicos como “liderança em tempos de terror” e “equilibrando a luta contra o crime e o terrorismo”, de acordo com o material fornecido pelo grupo que divulgou a viagem. Mais de 200 executivos de forças policiais de cerca de cem departamentos nos EUA e no exterior, agências de imigração, e até mesmo polícias universitárias já participaram do programa da ADL desde seu lançamento, em 2004.

Dentre os participantes do seminário este ano está o Comandante da Polícia Metropolitana de D.C., Morgan Kane, cuja participação no treinamento rendeu ao departamento uma reprimenda pública pelo membro da Câmara Municipal David Grosso. “O que me preocupa é não estarmos fazendo o suficiente para evitar a militarização da polícia no Distrito de Columbia”, ele escreveu numa carta ao Chefe do Departamento de Polícia Metropolitana, Peter Newsham. “Treinamento militar não é do que a polícia local precisa.”

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“Apenas me parece que não é uma boa ideia, seja em Israel ou qualquer outro lugar, buscar treinamento com forças armadas ou polícias nacionais, para aprender com pessoas que são melhores na solução violenta de conflitos”, Grosso disse ao The Intercept.  “Isso não é adequado ao que buscamos fazer aqui em D.C.”

“Já temos o FBI, a CIA, o serviço secreto, bastante polícia federal fortemente armada”, acrescentou. “Não precisamos de mais iniciativas assim, precisamos é de uma abordagem comunitária.”

Um representante da polícia do D.C. informou ao The Intercept por e-mail que o departamento está participando do treinamento para “aprender as melhores estratégias de combate ao terrorismo”.

“Ampliar nosso conhecimento sobre contraterrorismo e obter experiência de grande valor para a próxima geração de lideranças do departamento de polícia é fundamental para a segurança e o bem-estar dos moradores e visitantes de D.C.”, escreveu o representante. “Essa oportunidade não permitirá que nos desviemos do nosso compromisso de oferecer policiamento justo, imparcial e constitucional.”

Além de se encontrar com seus colegas israelense, os policiais norte-americanos nas delegações também visitam representantes das Forças de Defesa de Israel, bem como dos serviços de segurança de fronteira e de inteligência – recebendo ensinamentos de agências que fazem cumprir regras militares ao invés da legislação civil.

“Isso se encaixa na ideologia dos policiais como guerreiros”, diz Vitale.

“O foco desse treinamento é repressão de tumultos, contrainsurgência e contraterrorismo – temas que são ou deveriam ser essencialmente irrelevantes para a maioria dos departamentos de polícia”, acrescenta. “Eles não deveriam estar reprimindo manifestações, não deveriam estar se envolvendo em contrainsurgência, e praticamente nenhum deles enfrenta qualquer ameaça real de terrorismo.”

Os treinamentos em Israel também se encaixam em uma tendência mais ampla nos EUA de militarização da polícia. Mês passado, o presidente Donald Trump emitiu um decreto que revogou limitações que haviam sido impostas pelo ex-presidente Barack Obama a um programa militar conhecido como 1033, que permitia aos departamentos de polícia adquirir com desconto sobras de equipamentos militares, como veículos blindados e lançadores de granadas.

Obama decretou as restrições em 2015, em resposta à indignação pública pelo uso desses equipamentos durante os protestos contra o abuso policial em Ferguson, no estado de Missouri, e em outros lugares. Ao anunciar as novas medidas num discurso dirigido à Ordem Fraterna da Polícia, a maior associação de classe dos policiais no país, o Procurador-Geral Jeff Sessions chamou os equipamentos militares de “salvadores”, minimizando as críticas à militarização da polícia como “preocupações superficiais”.

Forças israelenses prendem um jovem palestino durante confrontos entre manifestantes e forças de segurança na cidade de Hebron, na região da Margem Ocidental ocupada por Israel, em 28 de julho de 2017.

Foto: Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

Marketing da Ocupação

Os intercâmbios com os policiais estadunidenses se fundamentam na experiência de Israel com o terrorismo e com o manejo de risco constante por suas forças de segurança. O histórico de Israel na aplicação de suas políticas de contraterrorismo, no entanto, é maculado por acusações de graves abusos. Um Estado fundado em meio a uma campanha de limpeza étnica em 1948, Israel tomou a Margem Ocidental e a Faixa de Gaza na Guerra dos Seis Dias em 1967, e desde então mantém sua ocupação – inclusive construindo assentamentos civis em território palestino, o que já constituiria uma violação à legislação internacional. Agora as mesmas forças de segurança acusadas de maus tratos a cidadãos e a subjugados palestinos apátridas estão treinando os policiais norte-americanos.

Ano passado, o treinamento da ADL incluiu reuniões com agentes do serviço interno de segurança de Israel, conhecido como Shin Bet. Alega-se que a agência de segurança estaria por trás da vigilância – bem como da tortura e dos assassinatos seletivos – aos palestinos em Israel e nos territórios ocupados

Os policiais dos EUA que participavam do evento também se encontraram com as patrulhas especiais de polícia israelense, conhecidas como “Yasam” – polícia de choque paramilitar, cujo uso excessivo da força e abuso contra os palestinos é bem documentado – e viajaram a postos de fronteira, a prisões e a Hebron. Em Hebron, uma cidade da Margem Ocidental, cerca de 200 mil palestinos estão impedidos de entrar no centro velho da cidade, onde menos de mil colonos judeus são protegidos por número equivalente de soldados israelenses.

A ADL, um grupo cuja missão, em tese, é combater a intolerância, mas que, em vez disso, gasta seu tempo defendendo Israel, não dedicou muita atenção à polícia da Palestina. Em 2016, o itinerário do grupo incluiu um único encontro com um policial palestino – membro da Polícia de Turismo de Belém.

Um representante da ADL deu uma declaração ao The Intercept dizendo que a suspeita dos críticos de que seus programas contribuiriam para a brutalidade e o racismo das forças policiais é “falsa e difamatória”.

“Ao contrário, as missões policiais da ADL têm o propósito de fazer o exato oposto, fortalecer os laços entre os policiais e as comunidades a que servem”, acrescentou o representante.

Em tempos passados, o grupo manifestou reprovação àqueles que traçaram paralelos entre o abuso policial nos EUA e a ocupação da Palestina por Israel. “Há uma longa tradição de usar questões legítimas de justiça social nos Estados Unidos para enfraquecer o Estado judeu”, escreveu um oficial de alto escalão do grupo, na esteira dos protestos de Ferguson. Não existe “conexão racional entre o desafio do racismo nos EUA e a situação que os palestinos enfrentam”, acrescentou o oficial da ADL.

Ainda assim, a crítica persiste. O grupo Jewish Voice for Peace (Voz Judaica pela Paz, JVP) recentemente lançou uma campanha para chamar a atenção do público para os programas de intercâmbio policial entre os Estados Unidos e Israel.

“Esses programas transformam os 70 anos da desapropriação de Israel e os 50 anos de ocupação em estratégia de marketing para o ‘policiamento de sucesso’”

“Esses programas transformam os 70 anos da desapropriação de Israel e os 50 anos de ocupação em estratégia de marketing para o “policiamento de sucesso””, escreveu em um e-mail para o The Intercept Stefanie Fox, vice-diretora da JVP. “Sob o manto de treinamento de “contraterrorismo”, policiais e agentes de imigração de alto escalão visitam postos de fronteira, prisões, assentamentos, delegacias de polícia e outros locais-chave para as políticas de Israel de ocupação e apartheid.”

Programas de intercâmbio entre forças policiais são divulgados como uma oportunidade para que a polícia americana aprenda mais sobre contraterrorismo com o auto-proclamado líder do setor, mas, para os defensores de Israel, também são uma forma de convencer uma audiência específica sobre a ideologia pró-Israel.

“[Eles] voltam transformados em sionistas”, comentou o então diretor regional da ADL, David Friedman, sobre o impacto da delegação em 2015. “Eles compreendem Israel e suas necessidades de segurança, o que não acontece com muitos públicos.”

Esse talvez seja justamente o resultado esperado.

“Eles querem que os EUA vejam o mundo dividido em campos do bem e do mal, e querem aprofundar o compromisso dos EUA com Israel sob o fundamento de estar na linha de frente de combate ao terror”, entende Vitale, o professor do Brooklyn College, em referência aos grupos por trás dessas excursões. “Todo o projeto é um projeto político, que usa a polícia como solução para uma análise específica das questões internacionais.”

Até o momento, Israel já inspirou algumas iniciativas policiais bastante controversas, tais como o famoso programa de vigilância de muçulmanos do Departamento de Polícia de Nova York – NYPD, que foi planejado à semelhança da vigilância aos palestinos na Margem Ocidental. Thomas Galati, chefe do Setor de Inteligência do NYPD à época, havia participado de um dos treinamentos da ADL em Israel.

A polícia e as forças de segurança israelenses também podem estar aprendendo algumas coisas de seus colegas norte-americanos. Em 2016, por exemplo, Israel aprovou uma “lei que autoriza parar e revistar [stop and frisk]” elaborada nos moldes de sua equivalente estadunidense, que permite às autoridades policiais “revistar qualquer pessoa, independentemente de seu comportamento, em locais que se entenda serem alvos de ações destrutivas hostis”.

Palestinos residentes em Jerusalém afirmam que a legislação é aplicada com “flagrante racismo”.

“Vemos a polícia israelense adotando as políticas norte-americanas de parar e revistar, aumentando ainda mais o estado de violência que os palestinos já enfrentam”, disse Fox, da JVP. “Esse intercâmbio mortal funciona nos dois sentidos, e encoraja as piores práticas, tais como o uso de perfis raciais, a vigilância em massa, a brutalidade policial, e a repressão à divergência política que existe em ambos os países,”

Foto do título: Forças policiais israelenses carregam um lançador de granadas de atordoamento, logo em seguida à oração do meio-dia de sexta-feira, do lado de fora da cidade velha de Jerusalém, em 28 de julho de 2017.

Tradução: Deborah Leão

The post Forças de segurança de Israel treinam policiais nos EUA apesar de histórico de abusos appeared first on The Intercept.

A mensagem final de Janot: protagonista no impeachment, PMDB agora comanda a corrupção

19 September 2017 - 12:59pm

Ao chegar nesta segunda (18) ao posto de procuradora-geral da República, Raquel Dodge fez um discurso em que martelou 11 vezes seu dever de combater a corrupção. Seu predecessor, Rodrigo Janot, saiu deixando uma carta onde afirma existirem “larápios egoístas e escroques ousados que, infelizmente, ainda ocupam vistosos cargos em nossa República”. Para saber seus nomes, basta ler as denúncias deixadas pelo ex-procurador-geral. Nelas, fica claro que a mesma bancada do PMDB na Câmara que afastou Dilma é agora quem manda na organização criminosa, sob a tutela de Michel Temer. Fica o alerta para Dodge: se quiser combater a corrupção, terá de enfrentar o mesmo PMDB que a levou ao cargo, pois ele é — e sempre foi — o maior nome por trás da articulação.

PMDB e Temer são citados desde a denúncia contra Lula

Até mesmo quando o alvo da denúncia era o núcleo do PT, o ex-procurador-geral da República esbarrou no PMDB. O nome de Michel Temer, por exemplo, aparece 14 vezes ao longo do texto.

O crime do qual Janot acusa Lula, Dilma e os demais integrantes do “núcleo PT” da Lava Jato, foi o de montar uma organização criminosa que desviou uma soma incontável de dinheiro, dividida entre políticos, operadores e empresários.

Entre os políticos, cerca de R$ 1,4 bilhão teria ficado com o próprio PT, aproximadamente R$ 400 milhões com o PP e mais R$ 1,2 bilhão teria sido usado para comprar o apoio de políticos do PMDB. Ou, nas palavras de Janot, Lula “negociou ilicitamente o apoio de integrantes do PMDB e PP” e essa negociação, quando se tratava do PMDB, era feita com Temer.

Ao ser reeleita, Dilma Rousseff abraça Lula sob o olhar de Michel Temer, em outubro de 2014.

Foto: EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

Janot explica que a organização não tinha um sistema de hierarquia. “A relação mantida era de aderência de interesses comuns, marcada por uma certa autonomia”, explica o ex-procurador-geral na peça contra o núcleo do PMDB da Câmara.

Ele lembra que Temer e seu partido já participavam ativamente da organização desde 2006 e que, naquele ano, dez anos antes do impeachment, foi o atual presidente da República quem colocou o PMDB na base do governo Lula, sob a condição de prorrogar a CPMF e ampliar a base do governo, que havia sido abalada com a revelação do mensalão.

Ainda segundo a denúncia de Janot contra Lula, entre 2006 e 2015, como recompensa, Temer indicou 15 nomes para presidências de estatais, secretarias de governo e ministérios. Entre eles, a diretoria internacional da Petrobras, a vice-presidência da Caixa Econômica Federal e a presidência de Furnas — todas hoje envolvidas em denúncias de corrupção.

Dinheiro da Petrobras e da Transpetro foi majoritariamente para o PMDB

A nomeação de Sérgio Machado, grande nome à frente dos esquemas da Transpetro, foi um pedido dos senadores do PMDB. Lula é acusado de nomeá-lo, mas Janot deixa claro que o crime de corrupção ali envolveu mais especificamente os políticos de outro partido:

“No período que presidiu a TRANSPETRO, Sérgio Machado, em decorrência do esquema criminoso instalado na empresa, arrecadou, no mínimo, R$ 100.000.000,00 em propina. Esses valores foram repassados a diversos agentes políticos, notadamente os Senadores do PMDB.”

O ex-presidente do Senado Federal, Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), recebe Rodrigo Janot.

Foto: Jane de Araújo/Agência Senado

A denúncia também cita que Paulo Roberto Costa chegou a ter sua posição enfraquecida dentro da organização, e que buscou políticos do partido para continuar na diretoria de abastecimento da Petrobras. Janot afirma que a partir desse ponto, em 2006, “membros do PMDB passaram a receber uma parcela da vantagem indevida relativa aos contratos da Petrobras vinculados à Diretoria de Abastecimento”.

Em outra diretoria da estatal, há relatos de que as propinas iam majoritariamente para o PMDB:

“Rogério Araújo, executivo da Odebrecht, foi procurado alguns meses antes do lançamento da carta convite por Aluísio Teles Ferreira Filho, gerente da Diretoria Internacional da Petrobras que ofereceu informações privilegiadas ao grupo Odebrecht em troca do pagamento de propina de 5% sobre o valor do contrato, sendo que 4% ficaria para o grupo do PMDB da Câmara e 1% para o grupo político dos ora denunciados” [grifo nosso]

Impeachment não acabou com a corrupção, apenas mudou quem a coordenava

Apesar de explicar que não há qualquer tipo de hierarquia entre os três principais partidos envolvidos nos esquemas de corrupção (PMDB, PT e PP), Janot conta que o partido na presidência acaba tendo certo destaque, “em razão da concentração de poderes no Chefe do Poder Executivo Federal, especialmente no que tange às nomeações dos cargos públicos chave”.

Michel Temer em viagem à China, em setembro de 2017.

Foto: Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images

Não à toa, tanto na denúncia contra o próprio Temer e o núcleo do PMDB na Câmara, quanto na denúncia contra o núcleo do Senado, Janot fez questão de escrever que os denunciados operam como organização criminosa “até os dias atuais”. Outra coisa que se repete nas diferentes denúncias é a afirmação de que o impeachment foi apenas um momento de mudança dos nomes de quem controlava a organização, exatamente pela influência que o cargo de presidente carrega.

Segue abaixo um trecho da denúncia aberta contra Dilma e Lula:

“Com a reformulação do núcleo político da organização criminosa, a partir de maio de 2016, os integrantes do PMDB da Câmara passaram a ocupar esse papel de destaque dentro da organização.”

E, na denúncia contra Temer, o impeachment mais uma vez é citado:

“Em maio de 2016, com a reformulação do núcleo político da organização criminosa, os integrantes do “PMDB da Câmara”, especialmente Michel Temer, passaram a ocupar esse papel de destaque.”

Na carta enviada aos colegas do Ministério Público, Janot cita a famosa frase de “Hamlet”: “Há algo de podre no Reino da Dinamarca”. A peça de Shakespeare tratava de uma Dinamarca corroída pela corrupção. Em suas denúncias, o ex-procurador-geral deixa claro que também há algo de podre no Planalto.

The post A mensagem final de Janot: protagonista no impeachment, PMDB agora comanda a corrupção appeared first on The Intercept.

Authorities Close In On Pro-Charter School Nonprofit For Illicit Campaign Contributions

19 September 2017 - 12:32pm

A New York-based education reform nonprofit funneled nearly $2.5 million to a related group in Massachusetts, according to new disclosures unearthed as part of a legal settlement.

The Massachusetts operation, called Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy, a pro-charter group, was hit with a record $426,500 fine for failing to disclose its donors related to a 2016 Massachusetts ballot campaign — a race that became the most expensive ballot measure in state history.

FESA is a 501(c)(4) offshoot of the New York-based Families for Excellent Schools, a 501(c)(3). That connection raises the stakes for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has jurisdiction over Families for Excellent Schools in New York and has made clean campaigns a centerpiece of his agenda.

In exchange for their tax-exempt status, federal law bars 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in political activity, and some are calling on Schneiderman to investigate why Families for Excellent Schools made a multimillion-dollar contribution, now that the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance has acted.

“This group spent $2.5 million on a Massachusetts ballot initiative. That is a screaming siren, a flashing red light,” says Michael Kink, executive director of the union-backed Strong Economy For All Coalition in New York. “I think it’s something the AG absolutely should look into. A number of other groups are aware of this potential violation, and we’re talking to each other. A substantive investigation is clearly needed.”

A spokesperson for Schneiderman’s office declined The Intercept’s request for comment.

“I’d be willing to bet my serious money that Mr. Schneiderman will look into this,” says Marcus Owens, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division from 1990 to 2000. “He’s an aggressive attorney general when it comes to charity money.” Earlier this summer, Schneiderman’s office announced it would be looking into the financial practices of Eric Trump’s charitable foundation.

On November 8, 2016, when Massachusetts voters went to the polls, the most hotly contested vote was not the presidential one (Hillary Clinton’s victory there was all but assured). The real political battle for Bay State voters was a ballot initiative known as “Question 2,” which proposed lifting the state’s charter school cap.

It was easily the most expensive ballot measure in Massachusetts history, with more than $40 million raised by both sides. Teachers unions provided nearly all the money to fight the measure, while Boston’s business community and out-of-state donors gave most of the money in support. In the end, the measure came nowhere close to passing, with cities all over Massachusetts, including Boston, voting against it.

The $426,500 penalty — which was the amount of cash FESA and Families for Excellent Schools had on hand as of August 21 — represents the largest civil forfeiture negotiated by the OCPF in the agency’s 44-year history. The OCPF charged that FESA violated state campaign finance laws by receiving individual contributions and then funneling those funds to Great Schools Massachusetts, a ballot committee that supported Question 2. Ballot committees are required to disclose their donors, but with FESA acting as an intermediary, individuals could shield their names and contributions.

“A review of bank records showed that FESA’s transfers to the ballot question committee closely followed FESA’s receipts from individuals,” the OCPF said in a press release. “Additionally, the money received by FESA significantly increased during the four months before the Nov. 8 election, and then dropped significantly afterward, further suggesting that FESA solicited or received contributions with the intent to give the money to the ballot question committee.”

As part of the settlement, in addition to the fine, FESA agreed to disclose its donors, to dissolve as a 501(c)(4), and for Families for Excellent Schools to avoid fundraising and participating in any election-related Massachusetts activity for the next four years.

“OCPF is a real beacon to the state. What they did was heroic,” says Maurice Cunningham, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, who tracked dark money during the 2016 election. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen in many places.”

Adam Smith, communications director for Every Voice, a campaign finance group, says the new Massachusetts OCPF settlement really points to the importance of state elections enforcement agencies having teeth. “With so much shady money sloshing around politics these days, it’s critical that watchdogs have what they need to defend election and campaign finance laws and hold violators accountable,” he says. “Nobody ever expects the FEC (Federal Election Commission) to do anything, and you don’t want that same expectation at the state-level.”

FESA gave $15 million to the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee. According to their recent donor disclosures, most came from wealthy Boston individuals — notably Seth Klarman, a billionaire hedge fund investor who contributed $3.3 million; co-chair of Bain Capital Josh Bekenstein and his wife Anita, who together gave $2.5 million; and Jonathon Jacobson, CEO and managing director of the Highfields Capital Management hedge fund, who gave $2 million. Other large donations came from Walmart heiress Alice Walton, who gave $750,000, and Paul Sagan, chair of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who gave $496,000.

While it was long suspected that these wealthy individuals provided most of the money behind efforts to lift the charter school cap, the $2.5 million donation from Families for Excellent Schools was a genuine surprise.

A sign promoting a ballot question to eliminate the cap on charter schools is seen outside a polling station in Dudley Square in Boston, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP

In the OCPF legal settlement, FESA and Families for Excellent Schools denied all “wrongdoing, fault, or liability” under Massachusetts state law. Families for Excellent Schools did not return The Intercept’s requests for comment.

To bolster their case that Schneiderman should pursue an investigation, activists point to one that former Attorney General Kamala Harris launched to unmask secret donations that poured into California’s 2012 election. In 2013, after Harris’s investigation concluded, California levied a record $16 million penalty on groups linked to the Koch brothers that had secretly funneled money to two California ballot initiatives. The improperly disclosed funds went toward fighting Proposition 30, which would have hiked taxes on the wealthy to fund schools, and Proposition 32, which would have limited unions’ political power. Though California’s campaign finance laws prevented the groups from revealing their donors, some names were unearthed, among them Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad, a prominent education reform backer. Broad had donated $1 million to a Virginia-based group, that then transferred funds to an Arizona-based nonprofit, which then transferred money to a California political committee working to oppose the tax hike. Broad had said publicly that he supported the tax increase.

How and whether the four-year ban on Families for Excellent Schools will affect education reform politics in Massachusetts remains to be seen. Liam Kerr, the Massachusetts state director for Democrats for Education Reform, had no comment on the OCPF settlement or its implications for the group’s work.

In February, following the 2016 election, a new education group called Massachusetts Parents United launched, which claims to be “the independent voice of parents in the Commonwealth.”

Keri Rodriguez Lorenzo, who founded the group, served as the former Massachusetts state director for Families for Excellent Schools, and also serves as an advisory board member for DFER Massachusetts. Massachusetts Parents United receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation and the Longfield Family Foundation, both known for supporting education reform efforts.

“To some extent, the [Families for Excellent Schools] suspension could be whack-a-mole — they can form new groups,” says Cunningham, the political science professor. “But what’s going to chill anyone in Massachusetts is that the OCPF has shown it will be very aggressive in following the law.”

Top photo: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sits at his desk in his office on Feb. 17, 2017, in New York.

The post Authorities Close In On Pro-Charter School Nonprofit For Illicit Campaign Contributions appeared first on The Intercept.

Asylum-Seeker Says He’s Being Deported Because ICE Mishandled Evidence of Anti-Gay Attack

19 September 2017 - 11:15am

On January 17, 2016, Sadat Ibrahim, a gay man from Accra, Ghana, arrived at the San Ysidro U.S. border checkpoint between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, pleading for help. He asked for asylum, telling immigration officials that he had fled home after he was ambushed and attacked by an anti-gay group.

Homosexuality is illegal in Ghana, punishable by up to three years in jail, and vigilante gangs often terrorize gay people. According to testimony Ibrahim gave to an asylum officer, one of his friends had been beaten by an anti-gay gang in August 2015 and was forced to give up the names of gay acquaintances, including Ibrahim. Another friend texted Ibrahim to warn him, and he immediately went home to collect his belongings and leave the area. But as he was packing, gang members forced themselves into his apartment and attacked him. Ibrahim says he was stabbed in his left arm and only just managed to escape by hailing down a nearby taxicab.

“They stabbed me and gave me a cut on my back and hand. I received treatment at the hospital. I couldn’t walk for one week,” he told the asylum officer. “The group posted the incident on the social media with a picture of me. They said that I was gay and asked people to arrest me whenever they saw me.”

Ibrahim didn’t report the incident to the police out of fear. While hiding out in a nearby town, he plotted his escape to the United States. He had made it to Tijuana via Brazil and then Belize, paying a man he met there $500 to help guide him into Mexico.

When asked what he thought would happen if he returned to Ghana, he responded, “I fear I am going to die. I will be killed.”

Now, at any moment, Ibrahim may be deported back to Ghana, where the gang that attacked him is still at large. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers never delivered a piece of mail containing evidence crucial to his case, according to Ibrahim and his lawyer. They maintain that an immigration judge would not have denied Ibrahim’s asylum claim if that evidence had been delivered.

Bryan D. Cox, ICE’s southern region communications director, told The Intercept that “Mr. Ibrahim was not denied access to legal correspondence” and that “while ICE is precluded from discussing specifics of [Ibrahim’s] case under agency privacy rules absent his written consent, ICE is fully compliant with the procedures outlined in its detention standards, and this allegation is not consistent with the facts.”

But Ibrahim’s lawyer has motioned to reopen his asylum claim, arguing that the evidence ICE allegedly failed to deliver, which is now submitted to the court, proves “the main element” of Ibrahim’s case: His attacker is still at large.

“The whole detention system — including how they handle people’s documents and mail — is so broken, and so unconcerned with due process”

Stories like this all too common in immigration detention centers, advocates say. Even with a strong case, as well as family and community support, asylum applicants are working against the system. They are often forced to represent themselves in arduous and opaque legal proceedings, in which much is beyond the asylum-seeker’s control and subject to frequent mishandling or mistreatment by ICE or private prison contractors.

“The way ICE operates is something between malicious and careless,“ Detention Watch Network Policy Director Mary Small told The Intercept.The whole detention system — including how they handle people’s documents and mail — is so broken, and so unconcerned with due process that I don’t think you can characterize incidents like this as accidental.”

After he arrived in Tijuana, Ibrahim was sent to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, the largest immigration detention facility in the country, and assigned a judge to hear his asylum claim. Like roughly 94 percent of people detained at Stewart, Ibrahim had no resources to hire a lawyer, so he had to represent himself.

Discrimination against LGBT individuals in Ghana is rampant, said Frederick, a gay social and development worker in Ghana, in an interview. (The Intercept is withholding his full name for his safety.)

“Challenges, such as verbal abuse and blackmail, have become almost inevitable for gay people. It’s a daily occurrence,” Frederick said. “There have been reports of physical abuse, not only in some areas considered as very religious, but also in some communities considered more hospitable to gay people.”

But Ibrahim’s specific claim hinged on the fact that the leader of the gang who attacked him remained free.

The gang is known as the Safety Empire, and they allegedly assault gay men after luring them into fake dates using social media. The name of the Safety Empire’s leader is redacted from Ibrahim’s interview with his asylum officer, but it’s public knowledge that the group is led by Sulley Fuseini, also known as Doya Dundu – a man who has dubbed himself “the Gay Slayer.” Nigerian pastor Jide Macaulay issued a warning about Fuseini on Facebook during the summer of 2015, along with photographs of him:           

This is Doya Dundu, he is based in Ghana and has promised to terrorize the gay community. He uses Facebook and other social media to track down his victims, strip them naked, assault them with sticks and leather, beat and humiliate them publicly and then post the video online. This MUST STOP. He has used words such as “we are [hunting] for gays;” he claimed that Islamic teaching objects to homosexuality; he is motivated by religious violence towards sexual minorities.

Fuseini was arrested in September 2015 — about a month after Ibrahim had been beaten at his apartment — when he and his gang poured boiling hot water on one of their victims. However, he was soon let out and allowed to return to the neighborhood where the attack occurred. “I am finally [released] on bail to enjoy my freedom to continue with the good works that I had already started,” he posted to Facebook on November 28.

In October 2016, Fuseini posted a picture of ammunition on his Facebook page with the caption, “I Reserve One bullet each for my haters.”

Ibrahim’s family members in Ghana sent these social media posts showing that Fuseini was no longer behind bars to Stewart Detention Center, along with other evidence to support Ibrahim’s asylum claim.

However, according Virginia Raymond, an attorney at the Austin nonprofit Justice for Our Neighbors who is now helping Ibrahim fight his deportation, ICE officers never gave Ibrahim the material or even notified him that it had arrived, an allegation ICE disputes.

The judge denied Ibrahim’s asylum claim in August 2016 — specifically citing the fact that Fuseini had been arrested, and there was no reason to believe he had been released. The Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed Ibrahim’s appeal of the decision in January this year.

“The Immigration Judge considered the respondent’s testimony that he believes that the leader … is no longer in jail,” reads the decision, “However, the Immigration Judge observed that the respondent provided no evidence that the leader … was released.”

Ibrahim has since been transferred to a facility in South Texas, where his case has gained attention from immigration activists and advocacy groups in the local community. He is now represented by a human rights legal team, which is urgently trying to appeal the judge’s decision and get a new asylum hearing before he is sent back to Ghana. Raymond told The Intercept that Ibrahim is “terrified,” as deportation proceedings have begun, and he could be sent back as soon as the paperwork is finished. (Ibrahim’s main attorney, Alicia Perez, declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Raymond has been working on immigration cases for years, but she said that Ibrahim’s situation still astounded her. “As used to [detention centers] as I am, ICE withholding information was shocking to me,” she said. “These can’t be called courts of law. It’s a perversion of any system of justice.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detain an immigrant in Los Angeles in 2015.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Yet Ibrahim’s case is hardly an isolated incident. A 2016 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Adelante Alabama Worker Center found that detainees in six southern immigration detention centers were regularly denied due process rights. Stewart, which has been targeted for closure by multiple activist campaigns over allegedly poor living conditions and internal abuses of power, was singled out for particular criticism of due process issues.

“Detainee interviews suggest several serious and systematic due process violations in the Stewart Immigration Court, particularly for those immigrants appearing without an attorney, or pro se,” reads the report. “Detainees repeatedly reported that immigration judges at Stewart have demonstrated clear bias against pro se asylum seekers.” That conclusion echoes a 2015 study from the University of Pennsylvania Law Review that found that immigrants are 10 times more likely to win their cases if they have counsel than if they represent themselves.

Detainees told researchers that legal resources at Stewart’s law library are incomplete and outdated. Detainees also reported that, even though the facility is legally obligated to provide them with the number of photocopies needed for court — usually three — the warden at Stewart prevented them from making more than one copy of anything. Multiple detainees said that they ran into difficulties with receiving mail, and in some cases, they didn’t receive crucial legal documents sent by family members, like what happened to Ibrahim.

Immigration advocates have traced many of the problems at Stewart and other detention facilities to the private contractors who manage them. Stewart is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (recently rebranded as CoreCivic), and lawyers working at the facility have complained that the company imposes arbitrary rules on their visits and has prevented them from having access to their clients. For example, CoreCivic was contractually obligated to put in a video-conferencing system for detainees to use with their attorneys within 60 days after it began operating the prison in 2014. It took almost two years and numerous complaints for the system to be installed.

The Trump administration is expected to expand the use of privately run immigration detention, raising concerns that more rights violations will occur. In April, the GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the South Texas facility where Ibrahim is currently being held, received a green light from President Donald Trump to build a $110 million detention center near Houston as part of a 10-year, renewable contract.

Advocates also worry about the future of asylum cases for LGBTQ individuals under the new administration. Though Ibrahim’s due process disaster took place under Barack Obama, and the decision to deny him asylum was handed down less than a week after Trump became president, the new administration’s actions show a pattern of disregard for international LGBTQ rights.

While Trump would have difficulty overturning existing protections for asylum-seekers that are based on sexual orientation, his policies and decisions on individual asylum cases could still have lasting, harmful effects. His executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries raised grave concerns for queer Muslim refugees and asylum-seekers, as four of the targeted countries have laws against homosexuality. In July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a gay rights opponent, was nominated to serve as ambassador for international religious freedom. This spring, an HIV-positive gay man from Russia who had been living in the U.S. while applying for asylum was detained by ICE when he returned home from vacation.

“For the LGBTQ community, the asylum system is really a lifesaving safety net that we have to have,” Aaron Morris, the executive director of Immigration Equality, told WNYC shortly after the election, “It’s an international human rights obligation we have, and if we don’t do it, I think it makes it a pretty terrible standard for the rest of the world.”

Top photo: A person is detained at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., in 2009.

The post Asylum-Seeker Says He’s Being Deported Because ICE Mishandled Evidence of Anti-Gay Attack appeared first on The Intercept.

The Senate’s Military Spending Increase Alone Is Enough to Make Public College Free

18 September 2017 - 11:13pm

One of the most controversial proposals put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign was a pledge to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. Critics from both parties howled that the pie-in-the-sky idea would bankrupt the country. Where, after all, would the money come from?

Those concerns were brushed aside on Monday night, as the Senate overwhelmingly approved an $80 billion annual increase in military spending, enough to have fully satisfied Sanders’ campaign promise. Instead, the Senate handed President Trump far more than the $54 billion he asked for. The lavish spending package gives Trump a major legislative victory, allowing him to boast about fulfilling his promise of a “great rebuilding of the armed services.”

The bill would set the U.S.’s annual military budget at around $700 billion, putting it within range of matching the spending level at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To put that in further perspective: if the package becomes law, U.S. military spending would exceed the total spending of its next 10 rivals put together, going off of 2016 military spending estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Put another way, with a $700 billion military budget, the U.S. would be spending more than three times as much as China on its military, and ten times as much as Russia. According to SIPRI, the U.S. already accounts for more than a third of all military spending:

The share of world military expenditure of the 15 states with the highest spending in 2016. (Credit, SIPRI)

Or with $80 billion a year you could make public colleges and universities in America tuition-free. In fact, Sanders’ proposal was only estimated to cost the federal government $47 billion per year.

If the additional military spending over the next ten years instead went to pay off student debt, it could come close to wiping it out entirely.

Perhaps Sanders, a Vermont independent, should have instead proposed giving everyone an armor-plated pony with a .50 cal turret mounted on its back. While concerns about the cost of ponies have abounded, few Democrats are raising similar worries about military spending, even when it is meant for a commander-in-chief they consider reckless and unstable.

The Senate voted 89-8, with three senators not voting, to approve the military money. Spendthrift Bernie Sanders joined only four Democrats to vote against the bill: Senators Kirstin Gillibrand of New York, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden from Oregon. Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah also voted against it.

When Trump submitted a budget proposal in March, which cut social spending dramatically to fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending, Democrats criticized it as a non-starter. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer said he “emphatically opposed” the blueprint, and Nancy Pelosi said the budget “throws billions of dollars at defense while ransacking” health and education funding.

Before the bill becomes law, it is has to be reconciled with the version the House already passed, which contains a similar $77 billion spending increase. It is likely to become law by the end of the year.

Top photo: The U.S. Capitol.

The post The Senate’s Military Spending Increase Alone Is Enough to Make Public College Free appeared first on The Intercept.

Políticos investigados e suspeitas de favorecimento assombram posse de Raquel Dodge na PGR

18 September 2017 - 6:10pm

“Deu a louca no Ministério Público” seria o título de um filme da Sessão da Tarde baseado na cerimônia de posse de Raquel Dodge, ocorrida na manhã desta segunda (18). A nova procuradora-geral da República já chegou mostrando que está pronta para muita confusão. Logo no começo do discurso, por exemplo, ela disse que se dirigia ao povo brasileiro “de quem emana todo o poder”.

Seria uma frase bastante adequada, não fosse o fato de que ali do lado estava ninguém menos do que Michel Temer, o presidente sem votos, que permanece no cargo apesar dos recordes de impopularidade, ofertando uma constante banana a qualquer coisa que emane do povo.

Soou hipócrita, convenhamos. Mas não foi só isso. Ao lado da nova procuradora-geral, na mesa da solenidade, estava uma dupla do barulho sempre pronta para aprontar alguma trapalhada: Rodrigo Maia, presidente da Câmara, e Eunício Oliveira, presidente do Senado. Os dois, além de comparsas fiéis do Conde, são, claro, investigados por corrupção.

Aparentemente, isso não causou grandes desconfortos à sucessora de Rodrigo Janot, que abordou o tema como se não estivesse rodeada por uma provável quadrilha.

“No Ministério Público, temos o dever de cobrar dos que gerenciam o gasto público que o façam de modo honesto, eficiente e probo, ao ponto de restabelecer a confiança das pessoas nas instituições de governança”, disse. O uso de adjetivos como “probo” e “honesto” naquele contexto não pegou muito bem, mas o conjunto da obra fica ainda mais bizarro se gastarmos algumas linhas para relembrar a trajetória recente da nova procuradora-geral.

Diga-me com quem andas…

Raquel Dodge foi conduzida ao cargo por Michel Temer. Em outras palavras, diga-me com quem andas que te direi quem és. O leitor impaciente poderá argumentar que ela não podia chegar ali de outra forma. É verdade, mas há alguns agravantes aí.

Dodge foi a segunda colocada na lista tríplice elaborada a partir da votação de membros do Ministério Público de todo o país. Ao escolhê-la, o presidente não-eleito contrariou uma praxe mantida desde 2003, de se indicar o primeiro colocado. Pra piorar, essa escolha está coberta com as digitais de ninguém menos do que Gilmar Mendes, aquele juiz do Supremo que não vê problema em soltar bandidos (contanto que sejam bandidos amigos).

As manchas curriculares de Dodge, contudo, vão além das más companhias. Uma vez ungida pelo novo cargo, a nova xerifona da nação começou, mais que depressa, a mostrar toda a afinidade com o modus operandi do governo. Não viu (ou fingiu que não viu) problema em encontrar o Conde na calada da noite, sem registro oficial. Quando um vídeo da visita ao Jaburu vazou na imprensa, disse que tinha ido à caverna de Temer para combinar o cerimonial de posse.

Raquel Dodge toma posse como nova procuradora-geral da República na sede da Procuradoria-Geral da República em Brasília (DF).

Para além dos encontros furtivos, Dodge também tem se mostrado à vontade com o toma-lá-dá-cá que se tornou a principal marca do PMDB. Antes mesmo de se sentar na cadeira de Janot, já estava brigando para aumentar o salário dos amiguinhos que a colocaram na lista tríplice. E, também no melhor estilo peemedebista, deixou claro que voltar atrás nunca é ruim, contanto que seja para agradar aos amigos.

Confuso, caro leitor? Calma que explicamos. Raquel Dodge, diante dos temores de uma pizza generalizada na Lava Jato, havia garantido que manteria na operação todos os quadros que não pedissem para sair.

Mas, segundo a revista Época, ela já documentou o afastamento de dois importantes procuradores que haviam manifestado o desejo de ficar após a saída de Janot. A quebra de promessa, ao que parece, não é o pior nessa história. O pior é que um dos afastados, Rodrigo Telles, tinha sido responsável por investigar o presidente do DEM, senador José Agripino, acusado de receber R$ 1 milhão em propina. O senador é unha e carne com Temer e primo de Luciano Maia, o procurador que, vejam só, foi escolhido por Dodge para ser o vice dela na PGR.

Claro que os fatos narrados acima podem ser um misto de coincidências com uma personalidade dotada de traquejo político indispensável a qualquer um que queira chegar ao comando do Ministério Público Federal.

Paralelamente, vale lembrar Rodrigo Janot, o antecessor de Dodge, colocou o cacique petista José Dirceu atrás das grades menos de dois meses depois de ter sido indicado pela também petista Dilma Rousseff. E, ao longo de sua carreira como procurador-geral, ainda que tenha cometido erros e excessos, flechou políticos das mais diversas colorações ideológicas. Do pré-mártir petista Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ao tucano imaculado revestido de teflon Aécio Neves.

Diante disso tudo, os próximo passos de Raquel Dodge serão determinantes para, nas palavras dela, “restabelecer a confiança das pessoas nas instituições”. A missão é desafiadora. Não só pelas trapalhadas prévias, mas também pelo parâmetro de comparação.

The post Políticos investigados e suspeitas de favorecimento assombram posse de Raquel Dodge na PGR appeared first on The Intercept.

Caminhada em Copacabana exige liberdade religiosa

18 September 2017 - 5:25pm

Dias depois da divulgação de imagens em que líderes de religiões de matriz africana são obrigados por criminosos a destruir seus terreiros, milhares de pessoas participaram de uma caminhada contra a intolerância religiosa neste domingo(17) na Praia de Copacabana, no Rio.  O ato reuniu fiéis de diversas matrizes religiosas, como batistas, mórmons, evangélicos, wiccas, hare krishna, judeus, umbandistas, candomblecistas entre outras. Dados do Disque 100, serviço de denúncias de violações de direitos humanos do Governo Federal, mostram que entre 2011 e 2016 foram reportados 175 casos de intolerância religiosa apenas no Rio de Janeiro, respondendo por quase 10% do total no país.

Em um dos vídeos divulgados na semana passada, um homem é obrigado é arrebentar todos os colares de contas, símbolo das religiões africanas. O terreiro já está com as paredes quebradas e sem telhado. “É só um diálogo que estou tendo com você”, diz o criminoso que porta um bastão de beisebol com a inscrição ‘diálogo. “Da próxima vez eu mato”, completa.

No outro vídeo, uma mãe de santo é obrigada a quebrar todas as imagens e objetos religiosos de seu terreiro. “Todo mal tem que ser desfeito, em nome de Jesus”, afirma o criminoso que faz a filmagem.

Em 2013, matéria de O Globo  denunciava que mais de 40 pais e mães de santo já haviam sido expulsos de favelas por traficantes. Em alguns locais, até mesmo o uso de adereços africanos e roupas brancas foram proibidos. Em 2015, uma criança foi apedrejada na Vila da Penha quando saía de um culto do Candomblé. Os agressores portavam bíblias e gritavam que “Jesus está voltando”. Há cerca de um mês, uma idosa de 65 anos, praticante do Candomblé, também foi apedrejada por uma vizinha em Nova Iguaçu, na Baixada Fluminense.

A caminhada contra a intolerância religiosa, apoiada por milhares de pessoas de diferentes credos, é uma demonstração de força do direito à liberdade de culto. Confira as fotos produzidas por The Intercept Brasil durante a manifestação.



Fotos: Daniel Sant’Anna e Erick Dau

The post Caminhada em Copacabana exige liberdade religiosa appeared first on The Intercept.

Vincent Fort Angered Democratic Elites When He Endorsed Bernie Sanders. Can He Be Atlanta’s Next Mayor?

18 September 2017 - 12:15pm

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood, Vincent Fort was out working the voters. As the populist wing of the Democratic Party has surged in recent months, it has created an unusual problem for a politician like Fort. Accustomed to being on the outer edge of the party, he now sounds like pretty much everybody else.

Or, as he puts it to one voter, everybody else now sounds like him.

“They want to deal with gentrification and all that,” he says of his opponents, “but they haven’t done it until the epiphany of the last six months.”

Fort, who served as the Democratic whip in Georgia’s state Senate until he resigned to run for mayor, has been a fixture of populist politics in the state for two decades. While politics in Georgia have swung from left to right, Fort served as the rare example of a politician who stuck by his guns, in good times and bad.

Ben Speight, the organizing director of Teamsters Local 728, says endorsing Fort’s bid was a no-brainer for the union. “This is about a guy literally walking the walk, viewing his role as a state senator as a way of amplifying movements,” he observes.

For years, that form of movement politics made Fort a lone voice in the wilderness. But, with radical municipal politics rising in neighboring Jackson, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama, there’s a chance that his moment has finally arrived.

Signs and banners inside the field office for Vincent Fort in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2017.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Among cities in the South, Atlanta has a reputation as a rising metropolis. In 2016, Metro Atlanta “gained the fourth-most residents in the nation,” as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes.

It houses the headquarters of Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and UPS. Its airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International, is the busiest in the world — topping its rivals in Beijing and Dubai. Following the introduction of a state tax credit, it has become a hub for Hollywood filming (“Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Baby Driver” were both filmed there).

Atlanta’s incumbent mayor, term-limited Kasim Reed, is known as a steady hand who has had a friendly relationship with Georgia’s right-wing Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and the business community.

While populist mayors across the country have pushed policy designed to lift wages, expand affordable housing, open up government to participatory budgeting, and protect the environment, Reed shied away from national progressive priorities.

At an event earlier this year, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue shared the stage with both Deal and Reed, praising Georgia’s business-friendly politics. “I’m very excited about what you’ve done in the state,” he said. “You guys are all about growth. I’m very impressed with what I’ve learned, beyond what I knew.”

Reed and his allies have long clashed with Fort. The incumbent mayor, channeling much of the political establishment, told reporters in April that Fort would be a “disaster as mayor,” implying that his politics are quixotic. “What has he accomplished?” he asked. “Don’t sit out here throwing stones at Atlanta running around talking about as if you’re holier-than-thou when you’re just a politician, guy. You’re not any holier-than-thou person.”

Reed has reason to be sensitive to criticism. In the shadow of Atlanta’s rapid growth is some of the worst inequality in the country. A 2015 Brookings Institute report found that Atlanta was the most unequal major city in the U.S., with the top income households in the city (those at the 95th income percentile) earning almost 20 times as much as those in the lowest income bracket (those in the 20th income percentile).

Like many other cities, rising housing prices are a concern for low-income residents.

Georgia Advancing Communities Together, a nonprofit that works on housing issues, is pressing the mayoral candidates to work on affordability.

In literature handed out before the housing forum it hosted at St. Luke’s, the organization notes that Fulton County, which houses Atlanta, has a sky-high eviction rate: 22 percent of all rental households in the county received an eviction notice in 2015, three times the rate of Chicago.

Boarded-up homes at the intersection of Federal Terrace and Boulevard in southeast Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2017.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Fort is an academic by training, having taught at many of Atlanta’s universities. He has studied black politics, history, and inequality.

But some of his best education about the power of elites came from the time he angered every major bank on Wall Street.

In 2002, years before the subprime mortgage meltdown, Fort teamed up with Georgia’s last Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes to pass one of the toughest anti-predatory lending laws in the country. As the local press noted, he was one of the “prime movers” of the bill, which prohibited pre-payment penalties and loan flipping, and required lenders to provide counseling to people who take out certain high-cost loans.

Bill Brennan, now retired and living in North Carolina, was a lawyer with Atlanta Legal Aid who worked closely with Fort and Barnes on the legislation. He recalls running into Fort in a hallway and explaining the crisis of predatory lending in Georgia to him.

As Gary Rivlin notes in his book, “Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business,” Atlanta was one of the cities targeted earliest by the subprime swindle. “The foreclosure rate between 1996 and 1999 fell by 7 percent for those who held a conventional home loan but soared by 232 percent among those holding subprime loans,” he writes.

Fort attended a hearing held in Atlanta about the issue by then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, and was moved to action. “He was great, he spoke up, and that became his cause, dealing with predatory lending,” Brennan says. “Senator Fort was the energy, and he was the force behind getting it signed.”

But 2002 was also the year the Democrats finally lost the governor’s mansion, leading to the first GOP statewide government since Reconstruction. Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue made repealing the law’s toughest provisions a priority when he took office the following year.

The lending industry, which had angrily protested the law, saw its shot. One trade publication warned that it “will result in the drying up of credit in the subprime market. … The law could result in fewer Georgia loans making their way into securitized pools in the months ahead.” A number of top subprime lenders announced that they would stop lending to the state; George W. Bush’s U.S. comptroller of the currency announced that some national banks would be exempted from the law.

Then the industry’s lobbyists targeted the new Republican Senate majority and governor.

“The entire mortgage industry and banks descended on Georgia to get that law weakened,” Brennan says.

By March 2003, the lobbyists and Perdue succeeded in repealing Fort’s protections, which the Associated Press noted was the “first major bill” the  

A clip from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 9, 2003.

governor signed. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that a pair of lawmakers who did the heavy lifting on the bill, Democrat and Republican bankers, literally walked into a crowd of industry lobbyists and received a hug for their efforts.

More than a decade later, Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines looked back at the Fort legislation, noting that its protections “might have forestalled the foreclosure crisis” had they been adopted and enforced across the country.

Brennan agrees with their assessment. “Had it gone into effect and been replicated in other states, there’s a good chance that [we could have stopped] the financial collapse,” he concludes.

Years later, when the financial meltdown began, one of the lobbyists who led the effort to gut Fort’s law, Wright Andrews Jr. of the National Home Equity Mortgage Association, offered a sort of mea culpa to the Wall Street Journal. “I certainly was not aware of the degree to which many in the industry clearly failed to follow proper underwriting standards — the standards which they represented they were following to us lobbying,” he told the paper in 2007.

Without a law to shield Georgians from the depredations of subprime lending, Fort took to the streets. He called up CEOs, including Countrywide’s Angelo Mozilo and Bank of America’s Ken Lewis, threatening them with protests over individual clients who Brennan represented.

Doing so won settlements for a number of homeowners. In one such case in 2009, Fort assembled a crowd outside Wachovia Bank (later bought by Wells Fargo) to call attention to the case of Avonia Carson, one of Brennan’s clients.

Carson was a 68-year-old African-American woman, who was spending 99 percent of her fixed income (a $1,233 Social Security check) to pay for two bank loans.

The bank settled Carson’s case.

“He did this a lot, he would write letters, he’d make phone calls to the CEOs of these companies,” Brennan recalls. “And it helped. It helped a lot.”

“They figure it’s better to work things out than face a picket line,” Fort told Rivlin of his many interventions against bank CEOs.

Vincent Fort talks with Andre LeMont and his mother, Bobbie Ogletree, while Fort canvasses for votes in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2017.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Fort’s platform represents a sort of culmination of his life’s work on various issues: reducing inequality and defending civil rights.

He is calling on the city to decriminalize marijuana, a shot across the bow at Atlanta’s Fulton County, which, in 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union found to be one of the most racially biased counties in the entire country when it comes to marijuana arrests.

“It’s more than ironic that in a city dominated by African-American elected officials at the city level and the county level that you have that disparity,” Fort says.

The stance on marijuana, combined with his activist background, earned Fort the backing of Michael Render, the Atlanta-area rapper who goes by Killer Mike.

To promote the economic mobility that Atlanta lacks, Fort is proposing two years of tuition-free college for all high school graduates. He also wants to expand the city’s meager public transit system, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.

Georgia is one of the states that made it illegal for cities to establish their own wage laws, but Fort has been promoting $15 an hour in the legislature.

He also has vowed to make Atlanta a “sanctuary city,” a step that Reed has declined, saying instead that Atlanta is a “welcoming city.”

Communication Workers of America Local 3204 political director Rita Scott, like many others interviewed by The Intercept, pointed to Fort’s consistent support for populist causes as the reason for its endorsement.

“He’s always fought those issues with us,” she says. “For CWA, it was a no-brainer.”

She contrasted Fort’s record with that of another mayoral candidate, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who recently came out in support for $15 for Atlanta’s city workers. “[He] did not support raising the minimum wage and the Fight for 15 until he started running for mayor,” she notes. (Fort has attended rallies for the movement for years.)

She also points to the effort by Georgia’s progressive community that defeated a ballot measure last year that would have allowed the state to take over local school districts, noting Mitchell refused to come out publicly against it, despite prodding by the union.

That’s among both the benefits of and challenges for Fort’s campaign: All the other candidates are starting to sound like him.

Five members of the Atlanta City Council are running for mayor, and many are harping on themes of inequality and housing affordability that Fort has talked about for decades.

But that means they are running against a status quo they helped shape.

It’s probably no coincidence that it wasn’t until June 2017, months into Fort’s campaign, that Atlanta City Hall voted to raise city workers’ wages to $15 an hour.

“I think I set the tone of the debate … but that’s not what I want. I want to win,” Fort says. “This is not just about making a statement. Although, when you change the debate, you change people.”

People working on the Vincent Fort campaign at CWA 3204 in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2017.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

If Fort reminds you of someone — say, a 76-year-old senator from Vermont who polls as America’s most popular sitting politician and also has the backing of Killer Mike — don’t worry, he sees the similarities, too.

Bernie Sanders has endorsed Fort’s run for mayor. In an email sent to his campaign list, Sanders praised Fort as “unapologetically standing up for middle-class and working-class families, for blacks, whites, and Latinos, for women and the gay community.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that of the $250,000 that Fort raised in the first six weeks since announcing his mayoral bid, $100,000 came in the weeks after Sanders authored a fundraising email for him. Fort also enlisted Revolution Messaging, the firm that powered Sanders’s email fundraising campaign.

In one sense, Sanders is returning a favor. Fort was the highest-ranking African-American lawmaker in the South who endorsed his run for president, drawing ire from the state’s Democratic establishment.

Reed lashed out at the endorsement, calling it “nothing but a publicity stunt to help him run for mayor. He will lose that race also.”

(Reed coordinated closely with Team Clinton during the primary. An open records request filed by The Intercept revealed that his CNN op-ed attacking Bernie Sanders was actually authored by a pro-Clinton super PAC.)

Tim Franzen has worked for the Quaker-founded American Friends Service Committee — a social action group that has worked for peace and social justice since its founding in 1917 — for the last decade. He spent much of the past few years working on issues, such as stopping foreclosures. At one point, he worked with a group of organizers to save the home of a retired police detective, making national headlines.

He typically avoids electoral campaigns, but like many young people who donned clipboards to canvas for Sanders, he was inspired by Fort to get involved. He has taken what he calls an “unprecedented leave of absence” from AFSC to spending his days at Fort’s field office, dialing for dollars and recruiting volunteers.

“I was in the meeting when Fort decided, ‘I have to do this because my conscience won’t let me do anything else,'” Franzen says of Fort’s decision to switch his endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Sanders.

Asked about endorsing Sanders, Fort cites an incident that occurred early in the primary, where a group of Black Lives Matter protesters in Atlanta interrupted Clinton during a speech at Clark Atlanta University in October 2015. They were quickly ejected.

“I was very disappointed when Hillary came to Clark Atlanta University and they manhandled some Black Lives Matter students,” he says. “That created a lot of unease with me. Matter of fact I … followed the students out, made sure they weren’t mistreated. That created a lot of unease in my spirit.”

He started to look at Sanders’s record and positions on issues, and in the Vermont senator’s targeting of Wall Street, he found a kindred spirit. He decided to change his endorsement.

The Sanders endorsement is an example of one of many times Fort has shown he is willing to break with his party’s establishment when he thinks it’s wrong.

For instance, in 2011 when House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams cut a deal with Gov. Deal to cut back Georgia’s tuition-free HOPE Scholarship, Fort opposed the agreement.

When a group of students was ejected from a committee meeting for protesting the cuts, Fort walked outside and counseled them on how to be more effective advocates. “They don’t fear you,” he told them. “They fear what you represent. Because you represent what? Justice. You represent something more than they fear anything else, regular folks standing up, speaking for themselves. That’s what they fear.”

“That is probably Exhibit A,” Fort says of the deal Abrams cut with Republicans to gut HOPE, “in what I talk about as far as Democrats not adhering to an economic populist agenda.”

With a smile, he alludes to the gubernatorial race, where Abrams is facing off with another Democrat who opposed the HOPE cuts. “It’s just ironic that some people are positioning themselves as these progressive candidates for statewide office at the same time that they undercut the most important Democratic [achievement],” he says. “But we’re not talking about people running for statewide office.”

To Fort’s activist backers, the difference between his approach and that of many other Democrats is that he genuinely believes the same things they do.

“It was like endorsing one of our own,” Speight says, noting that sometimes Fort comes to organizing meetings just to observe — unlike most politicians, he sometimes doesn’t even speak. “We don’t feel like we’re going to have to call and ask Senator Fort for things, we feel like Senator Fort is already with us.”

A historical political poster inside the field office for Vincent Fort in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2017.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Fort’s defiance goes all the way up to the national Democratic Party.

During the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, The Intercept asked a long slew of Democratic elites — representatives of the DNC, the Clinton campaign, several members of Congress — about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s primetime speaking role at the event.

Bloomberg administered mass surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers during his time as mayor — something that President Donald Trump cited as a model. We asked Democrats if Bloomberg should use his speaking time to apologize for spying on innocent Muslims. Not a single one agreed that he should — except for Fort.

“He should apologize for that, just like he should apologize for stop and frisk,” he said. “He should apologize for singling out Muslims, Muslim Americans for surveillance. Very important. The same mindset that spies on Muslim Americans is the same mindset that says … we gotta stop and frisk people. I’m not a fan of Michael Bloomberg.”

But he does have one establishment backer in his corner. Barnes hosted a fundraiser for Fort’s mayoral run in January; he personally ponied up $4,000 — a sort of welcome-home present to the senator who helped him pass landmark predatory lending legislation 15 years ago before a GOP wave defanged it.

For Fort, getting arrested for acts of civil disobedience at protests is a routine occupational hazard — talk to any prominent Atlanta-area activist, and they are likely to know the senator well.

In October 2011, Fort was hauled away by Atlanta police after Reed lost patience with Occupy Atlanta and ordered its overnight encampment in Woodruff Park to be dismantled, citing safety concerns.

“This is the most peaceful place in Georgia,” Fort declared at the time of Reed’s move. “At the urging of the business community, he’s moving people out. Shame on him.”

Franzen was among those swept up in arrests with Fort.

“I remember Fort showed up in the park and he said something like, ‘I’ve been waiting here for years for ya’ll,” he recalls. “He wasn’t showing up with ‘Here’s two cases of water, good luck, ya’ll'; he was digging in, like an organizer. My relationship with Fort is like a relationship with a fellow community organizer who cares about issues.”

Franzen was also one of several activists arrested alongside Fort in 2014, when protesters staged a sit-in at the governor’s office to demand that Deal expand Medicaid. The governor’s blockade has kept health care out of the hands of 600,000 Georgians.

Then-Deal spokesperson Brian Robinson mocked Fort’s arrest, equating the act of civil disobedience with a lack of work ethic:

Tomorrow I'm going to sit in Vincent Fort's office and demand to be arrested. Oh wait, I have to go to work.

— Brian C. Robinson (@LordTinsdale) January 27, 2014

In contrast to Reed’s chummy attitude with Deal, Fort was livid about the governor’s Medicaid blockade.

“People are dying,” Fort replied at the time, “and that’s the level of discourse we’re getting from the governor’s office on this issue.”

Atlanta’s mayoral race is technically a nonpartisan contest. But the list of 12 candidates is topped by Councilperson Mary Norwood, who has consistently been leading polls with a plurality because she is the most conservative candidate in the race. If you’re a Republican in Atlanta, you already have your candidate.

Because the rules dictate that no candidate can win Atlanta’s mayoral race without a majority, that means that the November general election will likely lead to a December runoff. Thus the other 11 candidates are more or less vying to be her challenger, and most are bunched in the high single-digits or low double-digits. Norwood has shown that she is viable — she narrowly lost to Reed in 2009 by only about 700 votes.

Bryan Long, who leads the Progress Now chapter in the state called Better Georgia, worries more about the threat of Norwood than the differences between the other 11 candidates.

“I’m very concerned that she slips into a runoff and becomes mayor of Atlanta, and I think that would be as big of a shock for this city as Trump was for the nation,” Long says. “If Mary Norwood ends up in the mayor’s office, we have no barrier at all between us and the Trump administration.”

Vincent Fort. left, and campaign workers canvass for votes in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2017.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

That puts Fort’s campaign on the spot — he has to convince Atlantans that they should turn the page on Kasim Reed’s neoliberalism and that he can prevent a genuine conservative from running Atlanta’s traditional Democratic stronghold.

To tackle this task, Fort has a grassroots army — stacked with volunteers, labor unions, and national organizations — behind him.

In late June, the campaign announced a slew of Atlanta-area union endorsements, including locals from the aforementioned CWA and Teamsters, as well as the United Auto Workers and Georgia Federation of Teachers. In all, 28 union locals are backing the candidate.

He also has the backing of the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America — an organization Fort worked with years before the Sanders campaign made it to the mainstream left. Among national organizations, Our Revolution and the Working Families Party have endorsed and are planning to step up their operations in support of his campaign.
“Fort is an inspiring leader who is running to transform Atlanta into a city that truly works for all its working families, not just a handful of wealthy and well-connected insiders,” Joe Dinkin, WFP national communications director tells The Intercept. “Those are the values he’s been fighting for his entire career. He was on the forefront of a movement to defend consumers from the unfair practices of big banks before the Wall Street collapse by leading the fight against subprime lending as a state senator. Change always comes from the grassroots up, and we’re excited to help elect Atlanta’s next mayor.”

Top photo: Vincent Fort poses for a portrait in his field office in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2017. Fort is one of 12 candidates in a nonpartisan race for Atlanta mayor.

Correction: September 18, 2017, 12:52 p.m.
An earlier version of the article misnamed the nonprofit Georgia Advancing Communities Together.

The post Vincent Fort Angered Democratic Elites When He Endorsed Bernie Sanders. Can He Be Atlanta’s Next Mayor? appeared first on The Intercept.

The U.S. Military Can’t Keep Track of Which Missions It’s Fueling in Yemen War

18 September 2017 - 12:14pm

The United States has come under increasing scrutiny for what seems like unconditional support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition waging a brutal air war in Yemen. One of the key measures of that support has been refueling operations: U.S. tankers fill up planes from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other coalition members, which go on to drop bombs in Yemen. Those bombs have killed at least 3,200 civilians and leveled hospitals and markets, leading to accusations that the U.S. is facilitating war crimes.

But U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, now admits that it doesn’t even know how much fuel it offloads for Saudi Arabia and its partners — directly contradicting information about refueling operations that it previously released. Responding to questions from The Intercept, CENTCOM now says that it lumps together refueling data for the coalition with data for U.S. planes in the area, joint U.S.-Emirati missions, and possibly other operations. Even this pooled data has unexplained discrepancies.

In other words: The U.S. military says it doesn’t know how much of its own fuel goes to an indefinite number of operations.

While refueling is just one way to track U.S. operations in Yemen, the muddling of missions for the fuel data reflects how haphazard and neglected U.S. policy in Yemen has become. Human rights groups and congressional staffers say that clear answers about what the U.S. is doing in Yemen are increasingly few and far between.

“Apparently this administration can’t get its story straight. There’s either blatant obfuscation, gross incompetence, or both going on.”

“Hill staff are asking basic questions about U.S. refueling support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen, and they haven’t gotten a straight answer from the administration,” said Kate Kizer, director of policy and advoacy at the Yemen Peace Project. “One agency says refueling is continuing, another says it stopped. Apparently this administration can’t get its story straight. There’s either blatant obfuscation, gross incompetence, or both going on.”

In June, The Intercept requested U.S. military figures for aerial refueling, and the response from CENTCOM indicated that refueling had reached record levels in 2017. In light of an escalation of U.S. and Emirati operations in southern Yemen — including several deadly raids and more than 80 reported U.S. airstrikes — The Intercept asked CENTCOM if some of the millions of pounds of fuel had gone toward missions other than the Saudi coalition’s. Absolutely not, they wrote back.

This was wrong, CENTCOM now acknowledges. A lot else about U.S. tracking of its refueling operations has proved unreliable or inaccurate. Not only do U.S. officials now say the totals include Emirati-U.S. operations, but they reference all refueling of any aircraft, including American ones, in a vaguely defined “Horn of Africa” area.

“The database [that tracks fueling] does not contain the specific details of each receiver (aircraft type, country of origin, mission type, or operations it was supporting),” said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, spokesperson for U.S. Air Force Central Command.

For over two years, journalists had been able to obtain from the Air Force refueling totals for what was portrayed as the coalition. It wasn’t a perfect indication of U.S. support for the Saudi war against the Houthi rebels and allied forces in Yemen, who seized power in the capital and other regions in early 2015. But coupled with arms sales and local reports, it was a tangible measure of a hard-to-cover conflict, and it was regularly referenced by outlets including the Washington Post and the Air Force Times. It is now, on its face, of much less value.

“Theoretically, any mission being flown within a full tank of fuel is included in the total,” explained CENTCOM spokesperson Maj. Josh T. Jacques.

But the database itself appears flawed as well. Figures sent by Air Force Central Command — meant to be identical to previously released monthly totals, only now correctly labeled — now inexplicably differ by hundreds of thousands of pounds of fuel. For instance, The Intercept was originally told that the U.S. offloaded 4.039 million pounds of fuel to the Saudi coalition in March. This month, the Air Force gave a March figure of 3.452 million pounds “for ALL refueling operations conducted in the Horn of Africa, to include but not limited to Saudi-led operations in Yemen, U.S. missions in that area, and Emirate operations against [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] targets.” How the admission of a wider net of operations could yield a smaller amount of fuel offloaded is unclear.

In Washington, congressional staffers are also trying to parse out the refueling program. Possibly due to confusion over what program the refueling is administered under, at least two congressional offices have been told this year that refueling for the Saudi-led coalition was stopped entirely. This is not the case, according to CENTCOM media chief Col. John Thomas.

“We do continue to supply fuel and training to them — we continue to refuel,” he told The Intercept this month. “It’s what they need when they need it.”

That definitive of a response was news to a staffer at one of the offices, who said that all aspects of U.S. support for the Saudi coalition campaign are opaque. (The staffer spoke to The Intercept anonymously to avoid identifying their boss.)

“We are still struggling to find out basic things like, do we have people at the Saudi air command center, what are they doing, what access do they have, what ability do they have to influence events,” said the staffer. “How are the Saudis actually abiding by the non-strike list, are they still refueling — those are all things we have no idea about, and the administration isn’t exactly forthcoming about it.”

Yemenis check the site of an air raid that hit a funeral reception in the Arhab district, 25 miles north of the capital Sanaa, on Feb. 16, 2017.

Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Outside of the Saudi coalition support and any secret activities, the United States was already engaged in a long-standing and deadly drone campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and now conducts bilateral counterterror activities with the UAE. The practical and legal distinctions between these operations are important, but increasingly blurred. Military spokespeople have at times tended to merge all the facets of U.S. involvement in Yemen, and the press often follows suit.

“U.S. refueling of Saudi and Emirati planes may be regarded by some as merely a logistical detail, whereas it is important component of these countries’ bombing campaigns in Yemen,” said Alex Moorehead, counterterrorism director at Columbia Law School’s Armed Conflict and Human Rights Project. “If the U.S. military is uncertain of its data, how does it ensure it is not complicit in alleged violations by the Saudi-led coalition, and how does it track what operations it is supporting, against whom and to what degree?”

Since March 2015, the United Nations has documented at least 5,144 civilian deaths from the conflict in Yemen. That total is widely considered a vast undercount, but the number of those civilians killed by the Saudi coalition — 3,233, or 62.8 percent, as of September — has remained more or less proportionally consistent.

In July, a U.N. panel of experts cited the coalition for obfuscating the role of individual members — a similar charge has been levied against the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria.

“Some individual member states of the Saudi-Arabia-led coalition seek to hide behind ‘the entity’ of the coalition to shield themselves from state responsibility for violations committed by their forces,” said the panel in a report to the Security Council first reported by Reuters and obtained by The Intercept. The panel cited an as-of-now unacknowledged Red Sea helicopter attack on a boat filled with Somali refugees that left more than 40 dead. “The Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces are the only parties to the conflict that have the capability to operate armed utility helicopters in the area,” concluded the panel.

Groups, including Human Rights Watch, consider the United States a party to the civil war in Yemen, even if neither the Obama or Trump administrations have accepted that position. With the exception of a letter sent after a retaliatory strike on Houthi radar installations last October, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have both only kept Congress informed of ongoing counter-AQAP operations.

“Refueling coalition planes on bombing missions not only makes the U.S. a party to the Yemen conflict, but could also lead to U.S. personnel being found complicit in coalition war crimes,” said Kristine Beckerle, Yemen and UAE researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It turns out the U.S. military, which is backing the very same coalition that has bombed homes, schools, and hospitals, is not even tracking which coalition planes it is refueling, or the missions they are undertaking. The Pentagon should not only be tracking this information, it should be disclosing it to the public, who has the right to know whether U.S. assistance is contributing to war crimes.”
“The Pentagon should not only be tracking this information, it should be disclosing it to the public, who have the right to know whether U.S. assistance is contributing to war crimes.”
There is little sense that the Trump administration will push for changes to the way the coalition operates. While the Obama White House initiated U.S. support for the Saudi bombing campaign, it also put some pressure on Saudi Arabia — behind the scenes — to cut down on civilian casualties. Critics said this was meaningless if not done publicly and pointed to the fact that Obama only cut off the sale of precision-guided munitions after Trump had been elected — and after he had approved already record arms sales to Riyadh and the Gulf. Trump has overturned that ban.

“The Saudis are less worried about their relationship with the U.S. with Trump in power,” said Farea Al-Muslimi, a scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center. “There is already this understanding that the Saudis and Americans are in a king-size bed, compared to with Obama, when they were sharing a couch.”

With the spotlight on Saudi Arabia, the role of the UAE has come under less scrutiny across both administrations. The Pentagon considers the Emiratis more militarily competent than the Saudis, and some analysts say the UAE is making progress in reducing Al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen.

On August 3, the UAE announced a joint operation with the United States in Shabwah Governorate, the site of American drone strikes under Trump. The next day, officials at the Pentagon told reporters that a “small number of U.S. forces” were on the ground to facilitate information-sharing with the UAE. The United States was providing aerial reconnaissance and, they said, aerial refueling for the UAE.

But what exactly has been accomplished by the joint U.S.-Emirati Shabwah offensive against AQAP remains elusive. In previous battles, such as during the capture of Mukalla in April 2016, AQAP militants melted away without much fighting; last week, UAE-backed forces captured Al Wade’a in Abyan province from the militants, but again, Al Qaeda forces reportedly withdrew rather than offer much of a fight.

“It’s really murky what’s happening in the south,” said one western analyst of Yemen, who didn’t want to give their name due to fears that the UAE would ban them from travel in the country. “The UAE operation as announced was a huge thing, then suddenly it was very quickly dropped. The whole thing bordered on nonsensical to be honest — it was theater.”

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and United States also have to reckon with the uncomfortable reality that extremist elements, including AQAP, have been useful in battles against the coalition’s main foe, the Houthis. In some cases that means supporting local commanders who in turn support AQAP, as happened in the heavily contested city of Taiz. The U.N. Panel of Experts for Yemen documented “direct financial and material support from the UAE” for the Salafi commander Shaykh Abu al-Abbas, who “allowed the spread of AQAP elements within the city as a force multiplier.”

The UAE has also been documented running a network of secret prisons in Yemen, where hundreds have disappeared and detainees are reportedly tortured. Elsewhere in the country it has run operations along the Red Sea coast, with the use of Sudanese soldiers and an ultimate goal of taking Yemen’s largest port of Hodeidah. Such a fight could further cut off supplies to famished Yemenis — 18.8 million of whom who are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 7.3 million described by the U.N. as “on the brink of famine.” A cholera outbreak abetted by the humanitarian crisis has reached historic proportions, infecting more than 600,000 and leaving nearly 2,000 dead.

In an upcoming paper, William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy, argues that, despite the focus on Saudi Arabia, “as the primary source of arms and training for the UAE military, the United States bears some responsibility for that country’s actions in Yemen.”

Top photo: People search for survivors and bodies at a heavily damaged building after a Saudi-led coalition’s airstrike over Arhab District of Sana’a, Yemen, on Aug. 23, 2017.

The post The U.S. Military Can’t Keep Track of Which Missions It’s Fueling in Yemen War appeared first on The Intercept.

Itália prende refugiados forçados a pilotar barcos de contrabandistas

18 September 2017 - 10:37am

Os refugiados acabam de ser retirados das águas do Mediterrâneo central, e um grupo de investigadores da guarda costeira italiana já seleciona um punhado deles para interrogatório. Enquanto o navio de resgate segue para a Sicília, os selecionados são apartados dos demais e entrevistados. Cerca de uma hora depois, retornam, agora identificados por uma pulseira de plástico. Algumas dizem “testemunha”, outras, “suspeito”. Em regra, duas delas dizem “contrabandista”.

Quando os refugiados desembarcam no porto da Sicília, aqueles com pulseiras são entregues à polícia italiana, que irá interrogá-los novamente e deter os suspeitos de contrabando de migrantes, como parte de um esforço para desbaratar as redes criminosas que levaram 85 mil pessoas à Itália este ano. Todos os grupos de refugiados que chegam à Sicília passam por processo semelhante, independentemente de terem sido resgatados pela guarda costeira ou por navios de ONGs.

A imprensa italiana comemora essas operações como peças-chave do combate à imigração ilegal e idolatra figuras como Carlo Parini, ex-investigador antimáfia que é atualmente um dos mais importantes policiais do combate ao tráfico humano. Parini comanda um dos esquadrões de polícia judiciária vinculados aos promotores da província de Siracusa, na porção oriental da Sicília. Seu estilo agressivo lhe rendeu o apelido de “o caçador de contrabandistas”.

Só há, no entanto, um problema: a maioria das pessoas presas por esses policiais não é de contrabandistas ou traficantes. Hoje quase 1400 pessoas estão detidas em presídios na Itália simplesmente por ter pilotado um bote inflável ou segurado uma bússola. Grande parte deles foi obrigada a pilotar o barco, muitas vezes sob a mira de armas, mesmo tendo pago a contrabandistas líbios pela passagem para a Europa.

Em italiano, são chamados scafisti – literalmente, pilotos de barco. Linguisticamente, existe uma diferença entre eles e os trafficanti – os traficantes de pessoas. Legalmente, também há distinção: a maior parte dos pilotos é denunciada por favoreggiamento – “favorecimento” à imigração ilegal. É o enquadramento mais leve possível na Itália em casos de contrabando de migrantes. De acordo com o Ministério da Justiça da Itália, desde 2014 mais de mil pessoas são detidas e acusadas de favoreggiamento todo ano.

Muitos apontam, porém, que essas acusações, baseadas em breves entrevistas, não pegam os verdadeiros criminosos e acabam mandando pessoas inocentes para a prisão. The Intercept entrevistou refugiados, observadores de direitos humanos e jornalistas locais da Sicília, que manifestaram preocupação sobre a legitimidade dos processos contra os scafisti. As denúncias normalmente são acompanhadas por indícios fracos e depoimentos duvidosos de testemunhas. Raramente levam em conta a violência e a coerção próprias ao contrabando de migrantes.

De acordo com a advogada e pesquisadora siciliana Paola Ottaviano, a maior parte das pessoas acusadas de favoreggiamento não tem qualquer conexão com as redes de tráfico de pessoas da Líbia. “A maioria dos que vemos, cerca de 80%, pagou para atravessar como todos os outros”, diz ela. “[Traficantes] apontam uma arma para eles e dizem ‘você pilota’.”

Gigi Modica, juiz de uma vara criminal em Palermo que adotou uma posição incomum ao rejeitar algumas acusações contra scafisti, contou ao The Intercept que a polícia judiciária “se satisfaz com a oitiva de três ou quatro pessoas que dizem quem era o piloto”. Com relação ao acusado, “eles não fazem uma investigação aprofundada para determinar se havia livre escolha”.

“São apenas duas perguntas”, contou Modica, “quem era o piloto e quem era o homem com a bússola. Só isso.”

Oficial de fronteira da Itália escolta homens da África subsaariana a caminho de um centro de recolocação, depois de chegar ao porto de Augusta, na Sicília, no barco de resgate Golfo Azzuro, com centenas de imigrantes a bordo, resgatados pela ONG Proactiva Open Arms (23/06/17).

Foto: Emilio Morenatti/AP

Ousaineu Joof tinha 15 anos quando foi detido pela polícia italiana e ficou um ano na cadeia acusado de pilotar um barco inflável. Alto e magro, Joof fala inglês com fluência e tem uma forte gagueira, especialmente quando se recorda das partes mais violentas de sua história. Em 2015, ele fugiu de sua casa na Gâmbia, na África Ocidental, depois que seu pai o expulsou de casa e o ameaçou de morte – segundo Joof, por ter ido a uma cerimônia religiosa com um amigo de outra religião. Inicialmente, ele ficou com a família no vizinho Senegal, até pegar um ônibus para Agadez, uma cidade em Niger, próxima à fronteira sul com a Líbia. Ele pagou contrabandistas para ajudá-lo a atravessar a fronteira até a Líbia e a chegar dali à costa do Mediterrâneo, para embarcar em um barco com destino à Europa.

Joof recorda estar sentado bem no meio do bote inflável de 35 pés que o levaria à Itália. Era 1h da madrugada e os contrabandistas estavam embarcando cerca de cem pessoas. Durante a viagem, Joof conta que vomitou por horas. Quando o bote foi resgatado em águas internacionais pela guarda costeira italiana, ele foi levado diretamente para o hospital. Depois de três dias internado, a polícia o conduziu para a cadeia: ele tinha recebido uma pulseira verde.

Joof foi acusado de favoreggiamento com base nos depoimentos de três testemunhas que haviam feito a viagem desde a Líbia no mesmo dia. De acordo com o advogado de Joof, a polícia judiciária fez a elas as exatas duas perguntas que o juiz Modica mencionara: quem pilotava e quem segurava a bússola. As testemunhas indicaram Joof.

Ousaineu Joof na frente do centro de refugiados para menores de idade onde vive hoje, perto de Palermo, na Sicília. Antes de vir para cá, Joof passou um ano na prisão enquanto aguardava o julgamento como scafista. Seu caso deve ser decidido até o fim do ano.

Foto: Zach Campbell

Ele, porém, nega que tenha pilotado. “Eles me disseram que eu estava sendo acusado de ser o capitão do barco”, Joof contou ao The Intercept. A entrevista aconteceu no centro para menores requerentes de asilo onde ele atualmente vive, numa cidadezinha fora de Palermo. “Eu disse a eles que ‘não, eu paguei para vir’. Pedi para me mostrarem provas de que eu era o capitão. Desde 2015, ninguém me mostrou qualquer indício de que fosse eu que pilotava o barco.”

“Eles prendem duas pessoas a cada 100 ou 150 que chegam”, disse Paola Ottaviano, a pesquisadora siciliana. Ottaviano questiona a veracidade de muitos dos depoimentos, que são normalmente obtidos de sobreviventes de naufrágios, traumatizados, que acabaram de chegar à Europa e aguardam a resposta aos seus pedidos de asilo, e têm por isso todo incentivo para cooperar.

Isso é potencializado quando o interrogatório é feito nos próprios barcos, logo depois do resgate. A Frontex, agência de fronteiras da União Europeia, que colabora com os investigadores italianos, também declarou que “as condições a bordo das embarcações não são adequadas para entrevistas”. Ainda assim, um representante da agência admitiu que, depois de um resgate, os oficiais a bordo das embarcações da Frontex também indicam às autoridades italianas quem eles consideram “pessoas suspeitas”. O representante se recusou a esclarecer se essas pessoas estariam sendo acusadas por um crime, ou que tipo de critério seria levado em conta para essa seleção.

Ottaviano relata que, em Pozzalo, um porto no sudeste da ilha, “a cada desembarque, eles encontram três ou quatro migrantes, em regra vindos de países em que é difícil conseguir asilo. A polícia então informa aos recém-chegados: “se você me disser quem pilotava o barco, eu consigo uma permissão para você ficar”.

“O governo italiano está procurando qualquer pessoa culpável”, acrescentou Ottaviano. “Eles querem mostrar que estão combatendo o tráfico humano e prendendo contrabandistas, mesmo que não seja o caso dessas pessoas.”

Migrantes africanos resgatados do Mar Mediterrâneo, ao norte da costa da Líbia, observam do convés enquanto a embarcação Aquarius, das ONGs SOS Mediterranee e MSF (Médicos Sem Fronteiras), se aproxima do porto de Pozzallo, na Sicília, em 1º de setembro de 2017.

Foto: Darko Bandic/AP

Ikukoyi Tamola é de Lagos, na Nigéria, mas fugiu depois de ser perseguido por sua atividade política. Tamola conta que foi baleado e deixado para morrer, durante uma manifestação política que ajudou a organizar. Ainda estava no hospital quando descobriu que as mesmas pessoas que atiraram contra ele haviam ameaçado sua esposa e seus filhos e queimado sua casa. (Ele concordou em conceder a entrevista ao The Intercept sob a condição de ser identificado apenas por pseudônimo.) No escritório de seu advogado, na Catânia central, na costa leste da Sicília, Tamola mostra a cicatriz onde a bala atingiu seu peito.

Ele também passou um ano na prisão por favoreggiamento – como Ousaineu Joof, foi acusado com base no depoimento de três outras pessoas resgatadas ao mesmo tempo. Ao contrário de Joof, no entanto, ele admite ter pilotado o barco inflável. Diz que foi obrigado, sob a mira de uma arma.

Tamola relata que pagou aos contrabandistas líbios o equivalente a 750 dólares para fazer a travessia até a Itália. Depois de alguns dias em um esconderijo perto de Sabratha, na Líbia, os contrabandistas levaram o grupo do qual ele fazia parte para uma praia. Foram enfileirados, com rifles automáticos apontados para eles. Um deles perguntou se alguém falava inglês. Tamola levantou a mão, mas se arrependeu imediatamente.

Os contrabandistas decidiram que ele pilotaria o barco. Mostraram a ele como dar partida no motor de popa, depois desligaram o motor e disseram a ele para dar a partida novamente. “Eu disse a ele que não sabia o que fazer. O tempo todo eles apontavam a arma para a minha cabeça, dizendo que eu deveria dar a partida [no motor]”, recorda-se Tamola, erguendo as mãos como se segurasse um rifle. Tamola teve dificuldade em cumprir a ordem, pois seu braço ainda doía dos ferimentos que sofrera na Nigéria. “Então o sujeito com a arma me socou no estômago, e eu caí. Eles tratam pessoas como animais”, ele completou.

Casos como o de Tamola são muito comuns, de acordo com Gigi Modica, o juiz criminal de Palermo. “É possível que sejam todos, mas podemos dizer com certeza que a maior parte” dos casos de favoreggiamento envolvem pessoas que foram obrigadas a pilotar, ele explicou. Modica já julgou vários casos semelhantes, e no ano passado foi o primeiro juiz da Itália a reconhecer que pessoas coagidas a pilotar, muitas vezes sob mira de armas, não deveriam ser punidas: ele usou o termo “estado de necessidade”.

“Ainda que você esteja descumprindo a lei, você só está fazendo isso para salvar sua vida”, afirma. Para ele, colocar essas pessoas na prisão não tem qualquer impacto no combate às redes de tráfico humano. Muitos colegas de Modica, no entanto, não partilham de sua interpretação da lei.

Para Emilio Cintollo, advogado criminalista em Ragusa, no sudeste da Sicília, os processos de favoreggiamento aumentaram muito nos últimos anos. E com as mudanças no próprio contrabando de migrantes, o tipo de acusado também mudou.

O LÉ Niamh, uma embarcação irlandesa que participa de operações de resgate no Mediterrâneo, resgatou 367 refugiados perto da costa da Líbia, em 5 de agosto de 2015. A foto disponibilizada pelo advogado de Joof mostra que, depois do resgate, policiais colocavam pulseiras de plástico nos refugiados que eles consideravam ser os capitães dos barcos, bem como nas testemunhas que os identificavam. Um processo semelhante ocorreu quando Joof foi resgatado e acusado de pilotar.

Foto: Marinha irlandesa

Até 2014, contrabandistas egípcios ou líbios usavam grandes barcos de madeira que comportavam centenas de pessoas e tinham uma boa chance de alcançar águas italianas, ao contrário dos pequenos botes infláveis usados atualmente. Cintollo relata que havia sempre um capitão e um navegador na embarcação de madeira, que eram acusados de favoreggiamento por trabalhar com as redes de contrabando. “Eles eram pagos. Ambos normalmente admitiam em juízo que trabalhavam por dinheiro”, contou Cintollo. Se alguém se afogasse ou morresse por alguma outra causa durante a viagem, o piloto e o navegador costumavam ser acusados de homicídio – de acordo com Cintollo, muitas pessoas foram condenadas à prisão perpétua por casos de naufrágio.

Desde 2014, no entanto, as táticas dos contrabandistas mudaram. A maior parte das pessoas agora é transportada em botes infláveis de 35 pés, pilotados por um dos passageiros. A guarda costeira italiana considera que esses botes, superlotados e pilotados por pessoas inexperientes, exigem resgate, por princípio, e eles costumam ser resgatados em águas internacionais antes mesmo de começar a afundar.

Cintollo diz que a punição agora atinge os passageiros; a maior parte dos atuais acusados de favoreggiamento nunca foi parte de uma organização de tráfico de pessoas. “Já defendi mais de cem casos de scafisti”, diz, “e nunca conheci um scafista que pilotasse por dinheiro”.

As punições por favoreggiamento variam muito. Os condenados podem receber pena de prisão de 5 a 15 anos e uma multa pesada, de até algumas dezenas de milhares de euros por cada pessoa a bordo da embarcação que pilotavam. No entanto, muitas pessoas que enfrentam processos sob a acusação de serem scafisti acabam optando por realizar acordos judiciais ou aceitar a aplicação de procedimento sumário, para reduzir o período de privação de liberdade. Cintollo explica que os supostos scafisti assinam esses acordos sem compreender a fundo suas implicações, o que se confirmou nas entrevistas com cinco pessoas condenadas por favoreggiamento e seus advogados.

“Muitos advogados solicitam acordos judiciais para conseguir uma liberação rápida de seus clientes”, disse Fulvio Vassallo, advogado de imigração e professor de Direito na Universidade de Palermo. Vassallo explica que, na Sicília, acordos judiciais ou julgamentos sumários podem ser uma solução boa para todos, tanto para promotores com metas a cumprir e quanto para advogados de defesa. Os promotores conseguem uma condenação a despeito das provas insuficientes, enquanto os defensores obtêm a liberdade de seus clientes e recebem seus honorários mais cedo. (Advogados de defesa são pagos pelo governo italiano por cada refugiado que defendam pro bono.)

“Nos casos mais sérios, pode haver um conluio entre promotores e advogados de defesa, que são pagos para oferecer assistência jurídica gratuita, desde que não causem muitos problemas”, diz Vassallo.

Para os refugiados que são condenados, porém, a pena mais curta de prisão vem acompanhada da admissão de culpa e de uma ordem de expulsão da Itália. Com um histórico de contrabando de migrantes na ficha, eles têm mais dificuldade para solicitar asilo ou outras formas de proteção internacional.

Agentes de polícia da Itália identificam migrante suspeito de contrabando que deixava a embarcação da guarda costeira italiana Fiorillo, no porto siciliano de Catania (24/04/15).

Foto: Alberto Pizzoli//AFP/Getty Images

Carlo Parini, o “caçador de contrabandistas” recusou vários pedidos de entrevista para este artigo Seu escritório, assim como o do promotor de Siracusa, não respondeu a perguntas sobre sua atuação no combate ao contrabando de migrantes.

Eu cheguei a me encontrar com Parini no começo de 2017 em Augusta, um pequeno porto comercial na província de Siracusa, quando eu estava acompanhando operações de resgate a bordo do Golfo Azzurro, navio de uma ONG espanhola. Estava fotografando o desembarque de 250 pessoas resgatadas, quando dois policiais à paisana se aproximaram de mim – Parini e outro membro de sua equipe, Mario Carnazza. Eles exigiram que eu disponibilizasse as fotos que tirei durante o resgate no mar. Explicaram que serviriam para identificar o piloto do bote inflável, o que permitiria localizar e deter essa pessoa por contrabando.

Quando me recusei a fornecer as fotos, Parini e Carnazza confiscaram meu passaporte e, apesar dos meus protestos, me forçaram a desembarcar e me levaram a um escritório próximo.

No escritório portuário de Parini, reconheci dois homens que a ONG havia resgatado alguns dias antes, bebendo suco de caixinha enquanto policiais os questionavam sobre a viagem. Eles pareciam aterrorizados.

Parini e Carnazza me interrogaram por mais de uma hora. Eles ameaçaram me acusar de não colaborar com a polícia (Carnazza me orientou a cooperar para não “ter problemas”). Suas perguntas, contudo, tinham pouca relação com o resgate: quem eu era, onde vivia, e algumas sobre minha família e meu trabalho. Finalmente, depois do interrogatório, devolveram meu passaporte e me liberaram. Não entreguei a eles nenhuma das fotos.

Antes de deixar o porto, perguntei a Parini e Carnazza se eles realmente achavam que os homens que pilotavam os barcos infláveis tinham qualquer relação com as redes de tráfico de pessoas da Líbia. Eles apenas deram de ombros.

Foto tirada em 14 de janeiro de 2017 pelo repórter do The Intercept mostra o momento em que cerca de 250 refugiados desembarcavam no porto siciliano de Augusta, depois de serem resgatados pela ONG espanhola Proactiva Open Arms. Eles foram recebidos por membros da polícia italiana local, provincial e nacional, por autoridades da Frontex, pela guarda costeira europeia e por representantes da Cruz Vermelha e da Organização Internacional para as Migrações.

Foto: Zach Campbell

Tamola passou um ano e dois meses na prisão enquanto seu caso se arrastava pela burocracia da Itália. Joof ficou preso por pouco menos de um ano. Na Itália, as pessoas acusadas de favoreggiamento são geralmente mantidas presas enquanto o processo se desenrola, e Joof e Tamola só conseguiram sair da prisão preventiva depois que trocaram de advogado. Ambos, porém, ainda aguardam julgamento. Tamola vive num acampamento de refugiados superlotado na região central da Sicília, fazendo “bicos” para se sustentar, e Joof, no centro de menores, está estudando para ser um chef de cozinha – ele quer aprender a culinária da Sicília. Seus casos devem ser decididos até o fim do ano.

Ambos têm a mesma reclamação a fazer sobre a prisão: não lhes foi permitido telefonar para casa, e suas famílias acharam que estivessem mortos.

“A única dor que a Itália me causou foi não me permitir dar um simples telefonema por um ano e dois meses”, disse Tamola.

“Não pude falar com ninguém da minha família depois que fui preso”, confirma Joof. “Cada vez que pedia à polícia ‘quero falar com a minha família’ eles diziam que eu precisava preencher um requerimento para ligar. Eu fiz muitos requerimentos.”


Foto do título: Agentes de segurança portuária se postam diante da embarcação “Aquarius” enquanto migrantes aguardam para desembarcar em Messina, Itália.

Tradução: Deborah Leão

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