The confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea has cooled off slightly with Kim Jong-un’s announcement that, at least for the time being, he will not attack Guam with an “enveloping fire.”
So since we have a small breather before Armageddon, let’s take the time to understand what this conflict is all about.
A good place to start is with the repeated comparisons U.S. politicians have made between the situation with North Korea and the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.
For instance, Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Trump, recently said, “This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.”
According to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., “It represents the greatest crisis … undoubtedly since the Cuban missile crisis.”
Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts calls it a “modern day Cuban missile crisis.”
Former CIA director Leon Panetta believes it’s “the most serious crisis involving a potential nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis.”
Gorka, Issa, Markey and Panetta are, in fact, all correct: This is quite a lot like the Cuban missile crisis. However, it’s not for the reason they appear to think, which is something like “we again face a crazy adversary that is willing to blow up the world and we should all be terrified.”
Here’s the real similarity:
The “crisis” then and now was created by the refusal of the U.S. to live under the same threat to which we subject others.
John F. Kennedy had claimed during his 1960 presidential campaign that the U.S. faced a terrifying nuclear “missile gap” with the Soviet Union, which was poised to overwhelm the homeland at any second. As Kennedy likely knew, this was exactly the opposite of reality. The Soviets had a few dozen unreliable intercontinental ballistic missiles, while the U.S. had several hundred of much higher quality. When America’s nuclear-armed bombers and submarines were added, the U.S. had about ten times as many nuclear warheads as the Soviets.
Soon after Kennedy took office, the U.S. stationed medium-range nuclear-tipped Jupiter missiles in Italy, and placed more in Turkey in April 1962. ICBMs launched from the U.S. would take perhaps 30 minutes to reach the Soviet Union. The Turkish missiles were about 2,000 kilometers from Moscow and therefore could strike the Soviet capital with almost no warning.
It’s still not clear how much of a role the Jupiter missiles played in Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to deploy Soviet nuclear weapons to Cuba, starting in the summer of 1962. Khrushchev apparently first discussed doing so after being briefed on the missiles in Turkey, and later said the missiles in Cuba “equalized what the West like to call ‘the balance of power.’” However, another part of the Soviets’ motivation was to deter the U.S. from launching an invasion of Cuba – something which was a real possibility, given the Bay of Pigs attack the previous year and the CIA’s ongoing Operation Mongoose.
In any case, Khrushchev was correct that all that the missiles in Cuba did was level the playing field: Washington D.C. was about 2,000 kilometers from Cuba, and could be obliterated in a matter of minutes, just like Moscow could be obliterated in minutes with the U.S. missiles in Turkey.
But the U.S. found the concept of a level playing field completely intolerable. Kennedy pledged in September that “if Cuba should possess a capacity to carry out offensive actions against the United States … the United States would act.” So the U.S. perspective was crystal clear. The U.S. obviously had the ability to “carry out offensive actions” – meaning, a nuclear strike with little warning — against Cuba, as well as the Soviet Union. However, Cuba and the Soviets were forbidden from having the same ability.
The crisis reached its peak starting in mid-October, when photographs from a U-2 flight over Cuba proved that indeed there were Soviet nuclear missiles stationed there. The military pushed Kennedy hard to order a full-scale invasion of Cuba, which would have likely led to all-out nuclear war.
Then on October 27, Khrushchev sent this message to Kennedy:
I understand your concern for the security of the United States, Mr. President, because this is the primary duty of a President. But we too are disturbed about these same questions; I bear these same obligations as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. …
You wish to ensure the security of your country, and this is understandable. But Cuba, too, wants the same thing; all countries want to maintain their security. …
You are disturbed over Cuba. You say that this disturbs you because it is 90 miles by sea from the coast of the United States of America. But Turkey adjoins us; our sentries patrol back and forth and see each other. Do you consider, then, that you have the right to demand security for your own country and the removal of the weapons you call offensive, but do not accord the same right to us? You have placed destructive missile weapons, which you call offensive, in Turkey, literally next to us. How then can recognition of our equal military capacities be reconciled with such unequal relations between our great states? This is irreconcilable. …
I therefore make this proposal: We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive. Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States … will remove its analogous means from Turkey. …
The United States will respect the inviolability of Cuba’s borders and its sovereignty, will pledge not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade Cuba itself or make its territory available as a bridgehead for such an invasion.
This seems extremely reasonable, especially given that the alternative was nuclear annihilation for all involved. And fortunately for humanity, Kennedy stood up to the pressure from the Pentagon and many of his advisers to go to war, and accepted Khrushchev’s proposal. (Remarkably, however, the Kennedy administration lied repeatedly to Americans about the Jupiter missiles, pretending that they had not been part of the deal, and we’d only agreed not to invade Cuba.)
“The United States is used to being the giant on the block, and the bully on the block,” says Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archives and one of the foremost experts on the Cuban missile crisis. “And when other smaller countries come along and begin to act in the same kind of national security doctrine way that our country has always acted, we are … in denial that other countries have the same interests in preservation under the dark threat that we pose.”
Khrushchev’s son Sergei recently explained that he believes the American worldview paradoxically grows out of the fact we’ve faced so few genuine threats. “The enemy at the gate, missiles on your borders … is part of [Russian] historical experience,” according to the younger Khrushchev, who is now a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. “When Americans placed missile bases in Turkey or any other European country [it] didn’t create any panic … Americans were lucky. They lived all the time protected by two oceans. So they’re scared at everything as a nation. … In 1962 [Americans] found they could be killed just the same as any others because of the crisis. … Here it appears they are vulnerable, they can be killed also. This created the panic.”
And that brings us to our conflict today with North Korea. The U.S. of course has possessed the ability to instantly destroy North Korea with nuclear weapons for sixty years. Moreover, we already leveled the country once with conventional weapons during the 1950s, killing perhaps one-fifth of its population. The equivalent number of deaths for the U.S. today would be over sixty million people.
That, however, has never been a “crisis,” just as it was not a crisis when the Kennedy administration put nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey. It has become a crisis because it appears North Korea may be close to being able to put nuclear weapons on ICBMs that can reach the continental U.S.
Now, in an echo of Kennedy’s September 1962 remarks, Trump has declared that that “won’t happen!” Just as during the Cuban missile crisis, we start from the position that we must have the power to kill others, but it is illegitimate for them to have the power to kill us.
Where this crisis goes from here is anyone’s guess, especially with someone as dangerous as Trump in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal. But if the U.S. and the world make it out of this one alive, perhaps Americans will finally learn what they should have figured out in 1962.
“The 55th anniversary of the missile crisis is coming up,” says Kornbluh. “It’s a big reminder of the danger of having nuclear weapons in human hands, since human beings are fallible. The people involved in the Cuban missile crisis … understood that one of the main lessons was that as long as there are nuclear weapons, the danger of them being fired, even in accident, is real. The current crisis speaks to the need for non-proliferation and denuclearizing.”
The post The North Korea Standoff, Like the Cuban Missile Crisis, Exposes the Reckless U.S. Worldview appeared first on The Intercept.
O papel da imprensa na democracia é essencial. Caberia a ela fiscalizar os poderes, denunciar, informar, investigar e aprofundar análises. Esse último, em franco desuso, às vezes por falta de tempo, de profissionais basicamente qualificados ou até mesmo interesse.
Isso vem adquirindo contornos drásticos há tempos, principalmente após a democratização e no Rio de Janeiro, especialmente com a implantação das Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP), em 2008, e que agora chega ao ápice com a criação de uma “Editoria de Guerra” no Jornal Extra.
“Pra gente resolver o problema, a gente tem que chamar o problema pelo termo correto”, explica o editor de redação do Jornal, Octávio Guedes. Para ele, já não se pode mais chamar o que ocorre no Rio de editoria de polícia, de “Casos de Polícia“. “Uma coisa é guerra, outra coisa é polícia”, afirmou ele em vídeo, depois de ler no dicionário o conceito de guerra e afirmar que “não é o caso”. Em editorial o jornal explicou que “a criação da editoria de guerra foi a forma que encontramos de berrar: isso não normal! É a opção que temos para não deixar nosso olhar jornalístico acomodado diante da barbárie”.Thousands of Brazilian army troops raided Rio de Janeiro slums leaving parts of the city looking like a war zone. Their main goal was to stop gangs behind a surge in brazen robberies of commercial trucks, with arrest warrants issued for 40 people. However, the unusually aggressive pre-dawn operation also follows wider concerns that nearly bankrupt post-Olympic Rio is spinning out of control. / AFP PHOTO / Apu Gomes (Photo credit should read APU GOMES/AFP/Getty Images)" />
Com a implantação da primeira UPP os termos que invadiram os jornais já eram usados por militares e polícias: pacificar, território, retomada, conquista. Elas se somaram aos já batidos “guerra do bem contra o mal”, “inimigo” e “herói”. Ou seja, isso não é bem uma novidade. O novo é o espaço que lhes é dado.
Acompanhando os jornais parece que o Rio de Janeiro é o pior lugar do país. Mas é nas regiões Norte e Nordeste que ficam 22 municípios no ranking dos 30 mais violentos em 2015 (último dado disponível). Nenhum é no Rio. Quando se olha a taxa de homicídios, o estado é o 16º colocado.
O professor de jornalismo da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Pedro Barreto Pereira, analisou o discurso do jornal O Globo sobre a implantação das Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPPs) na cidade do Rio de Janeiro desde 2008. Sem surpresa chegou a conclusão de que embora não haja uma subserviência da mídia comercial em relação ao estado (Governador, Secretário de Segurança e Polícias), há uma relação recíproca entre eles, em favor de uma visão de mundo comum, hegemônica, na qual o discurso de um ecoa na fala do outro, gerando uma cadeia de reciprocidade que se retroalimenta indefinidamente. Ou seja, mídia e segurança aliados, criando um discurso comum e retroalimentando o ambiente de medo e insegurança. E traçando políticas de segurança.
O Estado diz que estamos em guerra. Cabe a imprensa endossar ou questionar isso? No caso, até ser agradecida por isso.
Após análise de mais de 500 matérias Barreto chegou a conclusão de que o discurso do O Globo legitima a política de segurança e a política de segurança se alimente e se baseia no que é dito na mídia para definir suas prioridades. “É uma relação recíproca, como se fizessem parte do mesmo grupo que define as políticas públicas através de uma legitimação do discurso. As políticas são construídas, elaboradas e consolidadas através do discurso da imprensa”, afirma.
Outra conclusão a que chegou o professor e pesquisador foi de que esse discurso do Globo é construído até mesmo com o verniz da imparcialidade, quando tecnicamente se ouve os “dois lados”. “As fontes ouvidas pelo jornal são predominantemente estatais. Mesmo quando as fontes não estatais falam, elas referendam o discurso estatal. Mesmo quando há crítica, elas reivindicam lei e ordem, no sentido de que as UPPs não estão dando certo porque precisa de mais Lei e Ordem”, explica.
Para a pesquisadora de violência da Fundação Getúlio Vargas/DAPP, Maria Isabel Couto, que já trabalhou com as “UPPs Sociais”, programa hoje denominado “Rio + Social“, a situação é caótica, o Estado é parte fundadora do problema e usar o discurso de guerra para legitimar ações não vai resolver a situação, e sim, mante-la como está. “Há tratados que “regulam” a guerra, mas no limite, o outro não é cidadão e pode morrer. Não é preciso esforço para imaginar os efeitos de tratar moradores de favelas como inimigos, pois já lidamos com políticas de segurança desse tipo há mais de 30 anos. A estratégia de enfrentamento adotada fez com que um mercado ilegal territorializado, como tantos outros que existem inclusive em outros locais do Brasil, sofresse uma escalada armamentista que deixa milhares de vítimas para trás,entre policiais e civis”, reitera.
Em editorial o Extra disse que “Temos consciência de que o discurso de guerra, quando desvirtuado, serve para encobrir a truculência da polícia que atira primeiro e pergunta depois. Mas defendemos a guerra baseada na inteligência, no combate à corrupção policial, e que tenha como alvo não a população civil, mas o poder econômico das máfias e de todas as suas articulações”. Isso vai de encontro com uma percepção de Barreto, de que O Extra vinha sendo um contraponto ao Globo – embora façam parte do mesmo Grupo – com outro enquadramento, mas que nos últimos tempos o discurso vem se aproximando cada vez mais.
Inclusive os jornais O Globo e “Extra” vão promover nos próximos dias 30 e 31, no Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR), o seminário “Reage, Rio!”. “Somos uma das vozes da cidade na busca de soluções para os seus inúmeros problemas”, disse o diretor de Redação do O Globo, Ascânio Seleme, no anúncio da campanha.
Não é uma guerra. É o resultado de corrupção, mau planejamento – como o próprio Extra mostrou, ao analisar as operações do Exército no Rio, somados a falta de investimentos em pessoal e inteligência e o descaso histórico – e complacente – com áreas do estado. Lembrando que o Estado é maior que a capital.
Isso ocorre menos de duas semanas depois de o ministro-chefe do Gabinete de Segurança Institucional, Sérgio Westphalen Etchegoyen afirmar que existem dois fatores críticos para o sucesso da operação das Forças Armadas no Rio: a adesão da sociedade e “a compreensão que a mídia terá do que tem sido feito”. Isto porque, de acordo com o ministro, haverá “insucessos” e “incidentes”. “Nós estamos numa guerra. Vai acontecer. É previsível que aconteçam coisas indesejáveis, inclusive injustiças. Ou a sociedade quer ou não quer”, disse Etchegoyen. Parece que o Extra entendeu.
The post Ao criar editoria de guerra, Jornal Extra endossa política de segurança fracassada do Estado appeared first on The Intercept.
Descontrole fiscal, o argumento que pavimentou o caminho pelo qual Dilma Rousseff foi empurrada do Planalto, está de volta. Henrique Meirelles aparentava cansaço e impaciência na noite desta terça (15), ao anunciar o aumento de R$ 20 bilhões no rombo previsto para as contas públicas deste ano. Não era à toa: a revisão dos cálculos estava prevista para a quinta-feira anterior, dia 10. O atraso de quase uma semana se deu por uma longa negociação com a base política do governo. Coroando a subserviência da equipe econômica ao Congresso, o anúncio foi feito antes disso pelo líder do governo no Senado, Romero Jucá (PMDB-RR).“Sr. Estabilidade”, começa a se ver refém do Congresso e a ter sua credibilidade questionada. Para se concretizar, todo o pacote de cortes de gastos anunciado na noite de terça ainda passará pelo crivo dos parlamentares, já que o orçamento da União não deixa de ser uma lei. A armadilha foi a mesma que levou Joaquim Levy, ministro da Fazenda de Dilma, a pedir demissão após um ano de tentativas frustradas em reajustar a economia — eclodindo a crise que levou impeachment. Desconfiança na meta se reflete em desconfiança sobre Meirelles
O novo cálculo apresentado é colocado sob suspeita, já que exige cortes profundos e receitas extraordinárias. E, mesmo assim, o país deve continuar no vermelho até 2020. Por tudo isso, apesar de parecer um aumento significativo, um rombo R$20 bilhões maior pode ainda estar longe da realidade brasileira. A professora de economia da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Denise Lobato, não descarta uma nova revisão: “A meta é irreal, porque a receita vai continuar caindo. E é provável que mudem novamente, se não a deste ano, a do ano que vem”.
Para o professor de finanças do Ibmec, Gilberto Braga, uma nova revisão não é tão provável porque implicaria em total desestabilidade da equipe econômica e poderia, inclusive, resultar na saída de Meirelles. Ele acredita que o novo limite expandido do rombo fiscal pode ser respeitado, mas apenas com cortes profundos na máquina. No entanto, vê o episódio como um desgaste muito forte entre a equipe econômica e a base política:
“O desgaste foi tão grande nesse episódio que já se fala em fritura de Meirelles. Algo que não estava no radar do mercado passou a constar, que é o questionamento à capacidade da equipe econômica em fazer vencer sua tese. Com esse episódio, lança-se uma dúvida sobre a estabilidade de Meirelles.”
Braga afirma que Meirelles ainda conta com a confiança das instituições financeiras — ele é emissário delas, afinal —, o que garantiria sua permanência e, consequentemente, a de Temer. Essa seria a diferença entre ambos e a dupla Dilma e Levy.dívidas bilionárias que estas mesmas empresas têm com a União. “A saída não agrada a quem está hoje no Congresso porque seria preciso cobrar das instituições financeiras, enfrentar interesses fortíssimos”, critica a especialista. Na realidade, em vez de cobrar, o governo tem perdoado essas dívidas. O argumento fiscal é apenas a manifestação de um conflito maior, cuja solução não está no orçamento.
Para a professora, a diferença entre a situação de Dilma no fim do mandato e a atual de Temer é que ela não passava a imagem de que iria barrar as investigações sobre parlamentares. Já Temer tem dado sinais claros de repressão aos trabalhos do Ministério Público e da Polícia Federal:
“Na época da Dilma, o legislativo achava que ela não pararia a Lava Jato e passou a usar o argumento fiscal para derrubá-la. Se Temer permanecer na linha de frente das acusações e esse Congresso perceber que as reformas econômicas e as privatizações não passarão, eles vão tirá-lo da mesma forma. O argumento fiscal é um biombo. É apenas a manifestação de um conflito maior, cuja solução não está no orçamento.”
The post A volta do descontrole fiscal: argumento usado no impeachment de Dilma agora pesa contra Temer appeared first on The Intercept.
After President Donald Trump inflamed the national debate over monuments to the Confederacy on Tuesday, by telling reporters that white supremacists willing to use deadly violence to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville included some “very fine people,” the City of Baltimore removed four statues honoring the defenders of slavery in the early hours of Wednesday.
Witnesses to the late-night operation, which was completed by 5:30 a.m. local time, shared images and video of workers removing the statues, including a massive one of Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Baltimore’s Wyman Park Dell.
— Scott Wykoff (@ScottWykoffWBAL) August 16, 2017
A couple horses' asses. Bye bye. pic.twitter.com/uZtndhs04r
— Baynard Woods (@baynardwoods) August 16, 2017
Baltimore’s mayor, Catherine Pugh, was spotted overseeing the operation just before 3 a.m. by Alec MacGillis, a Pro Publica reporter.
Baltimore mayor Cathy Pugh steps out of SUV to watch as crane prepares to lift Confederate monument in dead of night. pic.twitter.com/AN6vQRrFRt
— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) August 16, 2017
Trump accomplishment: the removal of Jackson and Lee after nearly 70 years in Baltimore. pic.twitter.com/MkIDRAxZzq
— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) August 16, 2017
Pugh told The Baltimore Sun that her decision to act quickly was partly an effort to avoid the kind of violence sparked by neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, where an anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer, was killed by a white supremacist.
A mayoral commission appointed by Pugh’s predecessor had recommended last year that the statues of Lee and Jackson be removed, along with a monument to Roger Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the notorious Dred Scott decision in 1857, ruling that African-Americans could not be American citizens.
Both of those monuments were removed overnight, along with one dedicated to Confederate women and another honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors, which had been doused in blood-red paint over the weekend.
— Splinter (@splinter_news) August 16, 2017
Taney monument gone pic.twitter.com/wJFY53sPxj
— Baynard Woods (@baynardwoods) August 16, 2017
— Sean Welsh (@SeanJWelsh) August 16, 2017
— Lori Todd ? (@loritodd) August 16, 2017
Mayor Pugh acted after activists had vowed to destroy the monuments themselves if the city delayed any longer.
Officials in Durham County, North Carolina were less inclined to share the viewpoint of anti-racist protesters, arresting a 22-year-old woman accused of helping to topple a Confederate statue there, and charging her with rioting and vandalism.
— Derrick Lewis (@DerrickQLewis) August 14, 2017
Trump’s intemperate defense of the white supremacists at a news conference in Trump Tower on Tuesday was widely condemned, but seemed to delight his neo-Nazi supporters, including David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, and Robert Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to rebrand white supremacy.
Trump "They had a permit, the other group didn't have a permit"
Yes, white supremacy and slave owners had legal permission too
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) August 15, 2017
"Very fine people" "…you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists." -Donald Trump pic.twitter.com/tAW5gWzzZ9
— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) August 16, 2017
When someone shows you who they are, you believe them. Trump is again letting white supremacists off the hook for #Charlottesville violence.
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) August 15, 2017
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 15, 2017
I'm proud of him for speaking the truth.
— Richard ??Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) August 15, 2017
Trump’s latest defense of white supremacists reminded many close observers of his career that his father, Fred Trump, was reportedly arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Queens in 1927.
— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) August 16, 2017
The post As Trump Adds Fuel to the Fire, Baltimore Removes Confederate Statues in Dead of Night appeared first on The Intercept.
About a mile north and west of this hotel ballroom in Birmingham, two bombs were set off. The first was in 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist church. It was detonated by four Klansmen and killed four young black girls. The second came in 1998, at an abortion clinic on 10th Avenue South and 20th Street. It was set by a maniac named Eric Robert Rudolph and killed a police officer and blinded a nurse. As a U.S. attorney in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Doug Jones helped prosecute both cases.
As he took the stage Tuesday night as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate here in Alabama, Jones seemed to keep both these events in mind as he responded to last weekend’s events in Charlottesville and President Donald Trump’s waffling response.
In the Deep South state of Alabama, Jones isn’t shrinking from a fight against white nationalism. “Fifteen years ago, I actually went up against the Klan, and we won,” Jones began his victory speech Tuesday night. “I thought we’d gotten past that, but obviously we haven’t.”
All of a sudden, it matters who Doug Jones is.
On Tuesday night, Alabama Republican voters bucked the advice of President Trump and sent Judge Roy Moore, the nation’s most well-known theocrat, into a runoff for the race to replace Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate.
Moore, with 39 percent of the vote, will face off against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, whose full-throated support from Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., brought him just a third of the vote. Congressman Mo Brooks trailed with less than 20 percent. “The attempt by the silk-stocking Washington elitists to control the vote of the people of Alabama has failed,” Moore boasted supporters.
Where Brooks’ voters go could determine whether Moore sneaks through the September 26th run-off. If he does, that pits one of the most radical and polarizing candidates that could possibly be conjured on the general election ballot against Doug Jones.
So who is he? Best known for his work as US Attorney here in Alabama, Jones, in 1998, famously reopened his office’s investigation of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing. Before he left office in 2001, Jones brought murder charges against two of the surviving Klansmen responsible for the attack, ultimately seeing both men convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Republicans in Washington see Jones as a major threat, the perfect candidate to take down Moore. The question is whether there’s a state party behind him.
Once upon a time, Democrats controlled Alabama.
As a matter of fact, Democrats controlled state government in Alabama for over 100 years–from Reconstruction until 2010—and near the end they seldom agreed with each other on much of anything. But that didn’t seem to matter; they were in charge.
“Alabama’s Democratic Party, it was just an umbrella,” Jones told The Intercept. “You had people standing for civil rights, and at the same time you had people standing in the schoolhouse door.”
Around the turn of the century, the main dispute was between the white, socially conservative Blue Dogs from up North and the more progressive-minded, largely black representatives from the cities. The salve that kept everyone together was patronage, the party’s deep war chests, a voter turnout machine that bussed thousands of Alabamian Democrats to the polls, and the fact that they just kept on winning.
“[T]he party at the time was really just a confederation of factions that elected whoever they’re going to elect. And the only time it was really important was when a president was elected and there was patronage,” former Jones continued. “You know, US Attorneys and judgeships, that sort of thing.”
The bombing case was the only major civil rights case Jones worked on. Since leaving public service in 2001, while Jones has worked on the occasional corporate civil rights case, he’s primarily worked as a defense attorney for businesses and white collar criminals.
That included one particularly high-profile defendant: In 2004, Jones defended former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat, in his first trial regarding bribery charges. Legendary District Court judge U.W. Clemon dropped the case, saying the allegations against Seigelman were unfounded, but in 2006 the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice again began vigorously pursuing Siegelman, claiming he had used the governor’s office to benefit campaign donors.
Siegelman has long claimed his case was the result of a political hit ordered by Karl Rove, who had previously worked as a consultant for the Alabama GOP and was pushing for his conviction in order to help Alabama Republicans. Local politicians in both parties condemned the prosecution, but he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Whatever Rove’s intention, inside Alabama, the fall of Don Siegelman was a major blow to the state’s Democrats, helping contribute to the party’s ultimate collapse in 2010. The GOP picked up eight Senate seats and eighteen House seats in 2010, winning a supermajority in both chambers in the national tea party wave.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) August 15, 2017
Once Republicans had taken over, they began doing what they do so much better than Democrats: tilting the rules so they can stay in power. In December 2010, just a month after the Republicans had won both houses of the State Legislature, Gov. Riley called a special session. Immediately, the Republicans introduced legislation making it illegal for professional associations to take money for dues out of state employees’ paychecks. This made it impossible for the Alabama Education Association (AEA) to collect membership dues from teachers’ paychecks.
The ban decimated the AEA and similar organizations that had bankrolled Democrats for decades. Suddenly, the state party was in freefall, with no money to cushion their fall.
Nancy Worley became party chair three years after the cataclysmic events of 2010. “I came into this office in 2013 and we were broke,” she said. “In fact, people were here waiting to turn off our power, that kinda thing.”
After Siegelman’s conviction, Jones continued to fight on on his client’s behalf. In 2007, Jones testified in front of the US House Judiciary Committee that he believed Siegelman’s conviction was “driven by politics” and not by a pursuit of the facts.
“There is no question in my mind,” Jones told the committee, according to a contemporary report in The Nation, “that the Justice Department in Washington was behind the investigation.”
While Siegelman was finally released from prison earlier this year, and has recently begun speaking around the country in support of a documentary about his trial, he has not yet appeared on the campaign trail or publicly endorsed Jones.
After his victory Tuesday night Jones said he wants to let Siegelman take care of himself and revisit with friends and family before concerning him with the rat-race of Alabama politics again.
The last candidate to come close to winning as a statewide Democrat in Alabama was a little-known circuit court judge named Bob Vance, who ran for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2012.
The man he lost to — by a mere 2 points — was Judge Roy Moore, the current front-runner in the Republican primary for the US Senate.
A fiery evangelical jurist, Moore has twice been suspended from the Chief Justice chair, most recently for encouraging Alabamian probate judges to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the US Supreme Court.
In an attempt to understand how Vance “narrowed the gap” among white Alabamians in his 2012 campaign against Moore, I contacted his campaign manager, David Mowrey.
An odd character and registered independent, Mowrey calls himself a “Never Moore” voter and works for both Republican and Democratic campaigns. When we met at a Birmingham-area Starbucks last May, he wore skin-tight, ocean-blue slacks, emblazoned with cartoon whales.
“He’s very difficult to message around,” Mowrey said of Moore. “He starts out at 50-50. Men love ‘im, women hate ‘im.”
According to Mowrey, the Vance campaign targeted white, suburban, moderately Republican women. These Alabamians tend to become much more annoyed with the uber-masculinity of Moore’s anti-gay histrionics and his blatant disregard for federal law than men.
Vance finished the race with 48.2 percent of the vote, unheard of for a Democrat in Alabama these days. But in the end, Mowrey says, the campaign couldn’t overcome the fact that many Alabamians support Moore’s bigotry, his “states rights” stance on gay marriage, and his distaste for federal interference in what he deems religious affairs.
“It’s very hard to communicate that [Moore] puts himself above the law,” he explained, “because there’s this section of the Alabama electorate who says there’s nothing wrong.”
Jones said that moderates like those Vance appealed to voters in the Birmingham suburbs of Shelby and Blount County—which in 2016 went 72 percent and 89 percent, respectively, for Trump—are the key to “narrowing the gap.” And while he admits he has no chance of winning most voters in these heavily white, Republican counties, he says he’ll consider his campaign a success if he can simply make inroads.
“I don’t have to win Shelby County or Blount County, I just have to narrow the gap and get people rethinking how they’re gonna vote,” Jones said, his Birmingham drawl getting stronger as he gets excited, “And when you start narrowing that gap in those counties you’re gonna start narrowing the gap on a statewide basis and people are gonna have to take you seriously and they’re gonna have to talk to ya.”
The reason Jones is so optimistic about getting his message out there is that the Republican Party of Alabama has given him a very good reason to be.
The two top contenders, Moore and Strange, are both damaged goods, and are widely reviled across the state. Moore, who says that trans women are just trying to get “special treatment” by identifying as female, has a strong base within the state’s massive evangelical population. But outside of those voters, even within the Republican Party he is seen as a liability. A staffer for a competing campaign compared him to Todd Akin, a former GOP candidate for the US Senate in Missouri whose odd thoughts on “legitimate rape” cost him the race.
Strange, meanwhile, was appointed to hold this Senate seat in February after Jeff Sessions became Donald Trump’s Attorney General until this special election could be held. At the time of his appointment by Governor Robert Bentley, however, Strange was the attorney general and his office was investigating Bentley for alleged use of state resources to cover up an extramarital affair he’d been having with a senior staffer.
Many Alabamians thought at the time there must have been a quid pro quo between the governor and Strange, but he took the seat anyway. Subsequently, Strange has also come under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations in both his Senate campaign and his prior AG campaigns. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, August 16, the day after the primary.
Both of these candidates would, in an ideal world, be perfect opponents for the squeaky-clean Jones. But, despite being well-liked by every Alabamian I meet, Republican and Democrat, he has one fatal flaw.
“He’s got one big issue,” Strange’s campaign manager, Michael Joffrion, points out. “He’s got a ‘D’ after his name.”
In a state Donald Trump won with 62 percent of the vote, Jones knows victory is a long-shot. On Tuesday night, Moore alone got roughly as many votes as all of the Democrats combined. But the Jones campaign is still ebullient.
“Do not let anybody ever tell you Doug Jones cannot win this special election,” said Jones’ son-in-law, who introduced him Tuesday night. “What you will find if you look at the numbers tomorrow–this is gon’ be close–right now in Jefferson County, this county…right now he has as many votes in this county where you worked as Luther Strange and Roy Moore combined.” (Jefferson County is an urban, solidly Democratic county.)
While Jones won comfortably, his vote total would have only been enough to finish third in the GOP primary. To win, he’ll have to bring new voters to the polls in December, and win votes from Republicans who despise Moore — which, fortunately for Jones, exist in healthy proportions.
Jones, the former US Attorney who prosecuted two Klansmen responsible for the 1963 Birmingham Church bombing, has begun pushing the issue of Charlottesville onto his Republican opponents. Endorsed by a plethora of national Democratic figures, including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the Congressional Black Caucus, and former Vice President Joe Biden, Jones is attempting to appeal to the heart of a deeply conservative state with his record on civil rights.
“I wasn’t trying to jab anybody,” Jones told me later when we spoke about his victory, “but I’ve been incredibly disappointed. This guy [President Trump] can lead. He’s supposed to be a leader, and he’s not done it with regards to the Charlottesville issue. And of all the places in America, Birmingham is a place where we know that words have consequences and leaders can empower people to do bad things, and he needs to really step up.”
While Sen. Strange, the second place finisher in last night’s Republican primary, gave a brief statement regarding the events in Charlottesville last weekend, front-runner Roy Moore, who will face Strange in a runoff next month, has repeatedly refused requests for comment on the matter.
“People in the media need to keep asking him that question,” Jones told me of his potential Republican opponent, “People in the state need to know what he thinks about that. And if he’s gonna play to the same base, people need to know that and let the chips fall where they’re gonna fall.”
A further attempt by The Intercept Tuesday night to get Judge Moore’s campaign to comment went unanswered.
For Jones, though, this campaign began more as an opportunity to spread the Democratic message to the farthest reaches of Alabama than an attempt to turn Alabama blue. “We’ve got to get back into areas where we’ve been traditionally losing races and we’ve got to start narrowing the gap,” he told The Intercept. “For our campaign, our goal is to reach as many people as we can.”
But “narrowing the gap” in Alabama is a big ask.
Since 2014, Democrats have retained control in just eight of the state’s thirty-five Senate districts. While these districts comprise less than half the state’s population, they include a whopping 94.3 percent of Alabama’s black population and just a quarter of the state’s much large white population.
That means Doug’s gap exists somewhere among that vast majority of white Alabamians who live outside Democratic districts and voted overwhelmingly for Trump last fall. The problem is, these are the very voters Alabama Democrats have done precious little to court in recent years.
The chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, Worley, seems resigned to the party’s fate.
“You need to look at the demographics in North Alabama,” she said. “I don’t have to tell you that there’s a huge racial divide in the state of Alabama, along with the whole south. I mean, LBJ predicted that when he signed the Civil Rights legislation, you know, that he was crossing out the south.”
During the last legislative election cycle in 2014, in Worley’s second year as chair, Democrats lost seven seats in the state legislature, and didn’t even bother to field a candidate against Republican incumbents in another fifty-eight districts.
Instead of attempting to compete, Worley’s strategy has been to stay put. Democrats now only have four legislative districts in North Alabama, for example, where they once had a majority of seats. The Democratic retreat to Birmingham and Black Belt is a microcosm of the national Democratic retrenchment on the coasts and in cities. More than a decade after former DNC Chair Howard Dean launched his 50-state strategy, the party is effectively non-existent in many parts of the country. That makes capitalizing on an opportunity like the one Moore presents that much more difficult.
One of those remaining North Alabama Democrats is Rep. Craig Ford, the former minority leader in the state House. He has just two words for Worley and her fellow Democratic leaders who have given up on white Alabamians. “Party leadership,” he said. “I’m tellin’ ya man, I can’t tell ya enough: Party leadership is everything.”
Craig blames the leadership in the party that “made it all about race” and failed to tailor their message to a changing state. He also blames Worley, by name, for not encouraging Democrats to compete outside Birmingham and the Black Belt.
Doug agrees that the party is in shambles, though he refuses to go after Worley and the leadership. He traces things back to 2010, when the Democrats lost majorities in both houses of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, ushering in seven years of complete Republican control.
“When folks started losing their base, their offices, people didn’t know how to respond,” he said “They didn’t know how to be a two-party state so instead of gelling around a cohesive party theme—not that it’s check the box, check the box, check the box, but general themes of Democratic party politics — they tried to outmaneuver Republicans to the right and you can’t do that. And so they continued to lose races, and then you get demoralized.”
Up until this point, Democrats have “never really had a party,” Jones continued. Instead, it was a coalition of politicians in a one-party state who called themselves Democrats for political necessity.
“I think if we can get those candidates out there, we will end up with a party structure,” Jones concluded, optimistically. “The rest will kind of fall into place.”
Ford is even more optimistic. With the right party leadership and the right candidates, he thinks Alabama’s Senate seat could turn blue.
“A Democrat could win that US Senate seat,” he said, though he clarifies himself with the help of a friend. “Somebody besides a Republican could win that race.”
The post Roy Moore Nearly Lost a Statewide Race in 2012. Doug Jones Could Beat Him This Time. appeared first on The Intercept.
“O racismo é perverso”, declarou Donald Trump na segunda-feira. “E os que agem violentamente em seu nome são criminosos e bandidos, inclusive o KKK, os neonazistas, os supremacistas brancos e demais grupos de ódio, todos repugnantes do ponto de vista do que nós, norte-americanos, mais valorizamos”.
Tudo bem, “declarou” é um verbo meio forte para qualificar o que fez o presidente dos Estados Unidos. “Afirmou” talvez seja melhor. “Leu” é o termo mais preciso. Trump fez essas “observações complementares” bastante a contragosto, depois de dois dias ouvindo duras críticas por parte da imprensa e de caciques do Partido Republicano em relação à sua declaração inicial, quando culpou “muitos lados” pela violência neonazista em Charlottesville, no estado da Virgínia. Essas não foram palavras dele. Foram redigidas por assessores e lidas com a ajuda de um teleprompter. O presidente preferiu deixar sua ira pessoal para o CEO negro da Merck, não para os fascistas brancos da Virgínia.
Boa parte da intensa cobertura da mídia para o que a CNN chamou de “48 horas de tumulto na Casa Branca” desconsiderou um ponto bastante crucial. Trump não gosta de ser forçado a denunciar o racismo por uma simples razão: ele é e sempre foi racista.
Vamos lembrar da primeira vez em que o nome do presidente apareceu na capa do New York Times, há mais de 40 anos. “Grande proprietário de imóveis acusado de viés antinegro” — é o que diz a manchete da página A1 do dia 16 de outubro de 1973. A reportagem contava que o Departamento de Justiça de Richard Nixon havia processado a empresa imobiliária da família Trump na justiça federal por conta de supostas violações ao Fair Housing Act, a lei norte-americana que protege locatários de discriminação por parte dos proprietários de imóvel.
“O governo sustenta que a Trump Management se recusou a alugar ou a negociar aluguéis ‘por motivos de raça e de cor'”, revelou o Times. “Também acusou a empresa de exigir termos e condições diferentes com base em critérios de raça e de ter mentido a clientes negros que apartamentos não estariam disponíveis para locação”. (Trump acabou fechando um acordo com o governo, mas negou responsabilidade.)
Ao longo das quatro décadas seguintes, Trump faria de tudo para manter sua reputação de preconceituoso: foi acusado de exigir que “todos os [empregados] negros se retirassem” de seus cassinos em Atlantic City durante suas visitas; afirmou que “a preguiça é um traço de personalidade dos negros, que eles não conseguem controlar”; pediu que judeus “de kipá” substituíssem seus contadores negros; disse ao jornalista negro Bryan Gumbel que “um negro bem-educado leva uma tremenda vantagem sobre um branco bem-educado em termos de mercado de trabalho”; defendeu a pena de morte para um grupo de adolescentes negros e latinos, acusados de estuprar uma mulher que corria no Central Park (os jovens foram inocentados após testes de DNA, mas Trump continuou a insistir que eram culpados); insinuou que integrantes de uma tribo americana “não pareciam índios” para ele; ridicularizou negociadores chineses e japoneses, fazendo piada do sotaque deles; chamou mexicanos sem documento de “estupradores”; comparou refugiados sírios a “cobras”; disse que dois eleitores que agrediram um sem-teto latino eram pessoas “muito intensas”, que “amam esse país”; prometeu proibir um quarto da humanidade de entrar nos Estados Unidos; propôs criar uma base de dados para fichar muçulmanos norte-americanos, se negando a explicar a diferença entre a proposta e o registro de judeus alemães feito pelos nazistas; insinuou que doadores judeus “querem controlar” políticos e são todos negociadores dissimulados; cobriu de elogios a “excelente reputação” do teórico da conspiração Alex Jones, que atribuiu os problemas dos Estados Unidos a uma “máfia judaica”; referiu-se a um eleitor negro como “meu afro-americano” durante um comício; sugeriu que uma muçulmana, mãe de um militar norte-americano assassinado, “talvez não tivesse permissão [do marido]” para falar em público sobre o filho morto; acusou um juiz hispânico nascido nos Estados Unidos de ser mexicano; retuitou memes antinegros e antissemitas, supremacistas brancos e até uma citação de Benito Mussolini; tinha uma coletânea de discursos de Hitler na mesa de cabeceira; recusou-se a condenar o líder supremacista David Duke e o Ku Klux Klan; passou cinco anos capitaneando uma campanha de boatos sobre o local de nascimento do primeiro presidente negro dos Estados Unidos, com o objetivo de deslegitimar e manchar a reputação de Barack Obama — que Trump também acusou de ser o fundador do Estado Islâmico.
Ah, e não se esqueça: sabemos disso tudo desde antes de ele ser eleito presidente dos Estados Unidos. Ele foi eleito apesar de tudo isso (lembrando, mais uma vez, que “nem todos os eleitores de Trump são racistas, mas todos decidiram que o racismo de Trump não seria um fator determinante para mudar de voto“).mudança de rumos. Era só um monte de disparates e mero pensamento positivo de comentaristas preguiçosos, que acham difícil ter que cobrir — e cobrar — um presidente que descamba regularmente para a retórica racial, sempre rodeado por uma penca de assessores racistas. Desde que assumiu o Salão Oval, Trump nomeou Steve Bannon (ex-diretor-executivo da Breibart News, portal de notícias que tem uma editoria chamada “Crimes Negros”) para estrategista-chefe da Casa Branca e Jeff Sessions (acusado de chamar um policial negro do Alabama de “crioulo”) para procurador-geral. Trump também acusou, sem nenhum tipo de prova, milhões de imigrantes de terem “votado ilegalmente” em Hilary Clinton. E, o que é talvez ainda mais chocante, tem vindo a público repetidas vezes para chamar de “Pocahontas” a senadora de Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren, que se afirma descendente de povos nativos dos Estados Unidos.
É uma aula de Introdução ao Racismo por parte do atual presidente dos Estados Unidos. Essa é a verdade nua e crua, é a ideia-chave que está faltando em boa parte da cobertura sobre as consequências políticas do que aconteceu em Charlottesville. Jornalistas, formadores de opinião, membros do Congresso e parte da opinião pública continuam a tratar Trump da mesma maneira com que trataram seus predecessores no cargo. Esperam que o chefe do governo condene publicamente o racismo com veemência, vigor, rapidez e sinceridade. Mas o que fazer quando o presidente é ele mesmo, há anos, um mensageiro do racismo e da xenofobia? E aí? É para continuar a exigir que ele condene ou castigue sua própria base? É para continuar a fingir choque e indignação em relação à falta de choque e indignação?
Sim, é verdade, nas últimas décadas, os Estados Unidos tiveram muitos presidentes que fizeram de tudo para atrair racistas e preconceituosos e até incitaram o ódio contra minorias — vamos lembrar da Southern Strategy de Nixon para se aproximar de eleitores brancos, da campanha de Reagan contra as chamadas welfare queens (mães negras acusadas de fraudar programas sociais), do uso que a propaganda eleitoral de George H.W. Bush fez do caso Willie Horton e da vez em que os Clintons usaram o termo “superpredadores“. Mas nunca antes na era moderna um presidente se imbuiu tanto de preconceitos raciais e deu declarações públicas tão desavergonhadamente preconceituosas, já tendo um longo e bem-documentado histórico de discriminação racial.
Então será que já dá para parar com esse joguinho em que jornalistas exigem que Trump condene pessoas com as quais ele concorda e ele, por sua vez, finge condenar essas mesmas pessoas nos termos mais brandos possíveis? Eu odeio dizer isso, mas temos que escutar o que o líder do KKK da Virgínia disse a um repórter em agosto de 2016: “O motivo pelo qual muitos membros do Klan gostam de Donald Trump é que nós acreditamos em muitas das coisas em que ele acredita”.
Então dá para parar de fingir que o Trump não é o Trump? Que a presidência mudou ou vai mudar quem ele é? Não mudou e não vai mudar. Não vai ter reset, reinicialização, mudança de rumos. Pode até ser que esse presidente agora tenha de (tardiamente) denunciar o racismo, com discursos escritos e tuítes vazios. Mas o negócio é o seguinte: por que esperar que alguém que foi racista a vida inteira queira condenar ou combater outros racistas? Por que supor que uma pessoa cuja carreira foi marcada por preconceito e discriminação racial, por hostilidade a imigrantes, estrangeiros e minorias vá passar a se preocupar com as crescentes taxas de preconceito e discriminação durante seu governo? É pura fantasia de políticos e especialistas acreditar que Trump vai pensar ou se comportar como alguém diferente do preconceituoso que ele sempre foi — e do apologista de preconceituosos que ele passou a ser nos últimos anos.
Deveríamos dar ouvidos aos que passaram décadas estudando esse presidente bizarro. “Donald é um homem de 70 anos”, me disse o biógrafo de Trump, David Cay Johnston, às vésperas da posse, em janeiro. “Eu tenho 67. Eu não vou mudar. Donald também não vai”.
Tradução: Carla Camargo Fanha
The post Donald Trump foi racista a vida inteira. Ele não vai mudar só por causa de Charlottesville. appeared first on The Intercept.
A manifestação neonazista e o atentado ocorridos na semana passada em Charlottesville giram em torno da disputa simbólica da herança representada pelos monumentos confederados. A cidade da Virgínia, seguindo o exemplo de algumas outras cidades do sul dos Estados Unidos, pretende remover a estátua do general Robert E. Lee, e os supremacistas brancos estavam por lá para defendê-la.
Lee foi o militar que comandou o exército da Virgínia contra a União, numa guerra separatista que queria manter a escravidão no Sul do país. A discussão tomou fôlego em 2015, depois que um supremacista branco matou nove pessoas negras em um atentado a uma igreja em Charleston, na Carolina do Sul. A cidade de New Orleans, por exemplo, comemorou, em maio passado, a remoção do último dos quatro monumentos confederados, exatamente uma estátua do general Lee.
O prefeito Mitch Landrieu, que é branco, reconheceu que tais monumentos celebram a supremacia branca, e disse que tal ato poderia fazer com que o estado da Louisiana finalmente começasse a se curar [dos males da escravidão], pois “não é bom continuar reverenciando uma falsa versão da história e colocar a Confederação em um pedestal”, completando que há que se reconhecer que os confederados estavam no lado errado da história.“Não é bom continuar reverenciando uma falsa versão da história e colocar a Confederação em um pedestal”
Por “lado errado da história”, por mais que se tente amenizar ou mesmo mascarar a intenção dos estados do sul durante a Guerra da Secessão, deve-se entender:o lado que defendia a manutenção de uma economia baseada na escravidão.
Não é apenas nos Estados Unidos que o “lado errado da história” é celebrado e mascarado. Aqui no Brasil, em Santa Bárbara D´Oeste (SP), há mais de 30 anos acontece a Festa Confederada. Com patrocínio estatal e incluída no calendário oficial do Estado de São Paulo, a festa, segundo os organizadores, foi organizada para “manter viva a memória dos nossos ancestrais” – ou seja, os confederados que, depois de derrotados nos sul dos Estados Unidos, vieram procurar abrigo no Brasil, onde ainda havia escravidão.
A história desses ancestrais e de como chegaram a esta região do estado de São Paulo pode ser lida no livro “Brazil: the Home for Southerners” (“Brasil, lar dos sulistas”, em tradução livre), do reverendo Ballard S. Dunn. Na festa dos descendentes dos confederados brasileiros, assim como nas casas e nas manifestações dos supremacistas estadunidenses, a bandeira confederada está em todos os lugares: nas roupas, na decoração, nos uniformes, pintada no palco onde acontecem shows e apresentações.O contexto dessa imigração
Um dos grandes problemas deixados por séculos de escravidão foi o que fazer com o enorme contingente de negros libertos ou libertados, que nunca seriam totalmente integrados à sociedade. Aos olhos dos ex-senhores e das autoridades, representavam tanto uma ameaça à ordem pública, em locais onde eram muito numerosos, como uma ameaça à composição étnica, por serem considerados inferiores.
Os Estados Unidos fundaram uma colônia na África (Libéria), para onde enviaram todos os negros que se dispunham a deixar o país, com todas as despesas pagas. A ideia de uma colônia de negros norte-americanos no Brasil, mais especificamente na região amazônica, também era bastante atraente, por ser mais perto e por acreditarem que tínhamos aqui um modelo de sociedade menos racista.
O governo brasileiro chegou a ser consultado em algumas ocasiões, abortando a ideia porque, na época, mesmo antes da Abolição por aqui, já se pensava em um processo de branqueamento da população. Havia leis que proibiam a entrada de africanos livres no país e, ainda em 1945, imigrantes deveriam ser selecionados de acordo com a “necessidade de preservar e desenvolver, na composição étnica da população, as características mais convenientes de sua ascendência européia.” A política de incentivos para atrair imigrantes europeus brancos acabou atraindo também os brancos norte-americanos.
Com o fim da Guerra Civil, alguns sulistas brancos escravocratas se sentiram humilhados com a derrota imposta pelo norte abolicionista, acreditando que não havia mais condições de permanecerem no país. Na década de 1860, o reverendo Ballard S. Dunn fez uma longa expedição pelo Brasil e acabou escolhendo, com o aval do Imperador, uma região no interior do estado de São Paulo. Mudando-se para lá junto com várias famílias, fundou os povoamentos que dariam origem às cidades de Americana e Santa Bárbara D´Oeste. A ligação com o passado é tão forte que até 1998, o brasão de Americana ainda fazia alusões à bandeira confederada.Nenhum problema que os descendentes de confederados brasileiros queiram continuar reverenciando seus antepassados, mas que o façam com a verdade, em respeito à História e aos descendentes de escravizados.
Os descendentes dos confederados de Santa Bárbara D´Oeste, representados por uma associação chamada Fraternidade Descendência Americana, soltaram uma nota condenando e lamentando o atentado em Charlottesville. A nota contém trechos de uma mesma nota emitida em 2015, quando do atentado na igreja de Charleston, como podemos ver reportagem, e pode ser lida na íntegra aqui , mas da qual destaco:
“A Fraternidade Descendência Americana representa milhares de descendentes de imigrantes Americanos que escolheram o Brasil como novo lar após sofrerem os horrores da guerra da secessão. Este conflito resolveu todas as divergências filosóficas, políticas, econômicas e sociais, onde o lado vencedor ditou as regras para todos daquele país, cujos efeitos refletem no atual sistema de vida dos Norte Americanos. Nossos ancestrais encontraram no Brasil o abraço acolhedor e a paz para recomeçarem suas vidas, sendo seus descendentes os maiores demonstradores da integração entre raças e povos frutos dos casamentos inter-raciais que ocorrem desde das primeiras gerações de descendentes.”
“Aproveitamos para ressaltar que o General Robert E. Lee é considerado um dos melhores generais da história dos EUA e que ele não possuía escravos e entendia que a escravidão era um grande mal. Ele liderou as tropas confederadas na sua luta pela independência. Desta forma, o General Robert E. Lee não representa os grupos extremistas de direita estadunidense.”
Há tantos problemas nestes dois parágrafos acima que fica difícil começar, mas vou me ater ao que se refere ao general Lee. Nenhum problema que os descendentes de confederados brasileiros queiram continuar reverenciando seus antepassados, mas que o façam com a verdade, em respeito à História e aos descendentes de escravizados.
“Informações sobre a vida de Lee foram editadas para apresentá-lo sob uma luz favorável, começando imediatamente após sua morte – até mesmo no Norte”, diz este artigo, que ainda traz a seguinte declaração do ex-escravo, escritor e abolicionista Frederick Douglass: “Dificilmente podemos pegar um jornal que não esteja cheio de bajulações nauseantes” acerca de Lee, sobre quem “parece que o soldado que mais matou homens em batalhas, até mesmo por má causa, é o maior dos cristãos, qualificado por um lugar no paraíso.”
O artigo também dá conta de que Lee teve escravos sim, ao contrário do que muitos tentam negar: “Lee possuía escravos próprios antes da Guerra Civil, até 1852 [sua esposa continuou possuindo depois disto], e considerou comprar mais depois desta data, de acordo do a biografia escrita por Elizabeth Brown Pryor, que se baseia nas correspondências de Lee.” Em carta para a esposa, o general diz o que acha da escravidão: “A escravidão, como instituição, é um mal moral e político em qualquer país”.A Guerra Civil foi, sim, uma luta pela manutenção da escravidão
Deve ser daqui que a Fraternidade Descendência Americana tirou a declaração sobre Lee, esquecendo-se, no entanto, do que complementa essa sua declaração. Lee afirma que a escravidão era pior para os brancos do que para os negros, e que era necessário que os negros a suportassem, para que fossem civilizados:
“A dolorosa disciplina pela qual estão passando é para a instrução de sua raça… Por quanto tempo esta instituição será necessária é sabido e ordenado por uma sábia Providência Misericordiosa.”
Ou seja: só Deus sabia, e não cabia aos homens libertá-los. Aqui se confirma o argumento de que a Guerra Civil foi, sim, uma luta pela manutenção da escravidão, na qual a religião foi forte componente. O que pode ser confirmado neste artigo, que a coloca no centro das declarações dos vários estados confederados.
Ou seja, naquele tempo e agora, os símbolos confederados, como a bandeira e as estátuas do general Lee, representam um ideal defendido tanto por Trump quanto pelos supremacistas brancos: a américa para os americanos – e apenas os brancos protestantes. Os mesmos que migraram para o Brasil e deram origem às cidades de Americana e Santa Bárbara D`Oeste. Que seus descendentes queiram honrar sua memória é completamente entendível, mas que também assumam a verdade histórica da herança que trouxeram com eles.
The post Longe de Charlottesville, São Paulo também celebra o “lado errado da história” appeared first on The Intercept.
“Racism is evil,” declared Donald Trump on Monday, “and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
OK, “declared” may be too strong a word for what we heard from the president. “Stated” is perhaps a better descriptor. “Read out” might be the most accurate of all. Trump made these “additional remarks” with great reluctance and only after two days of intense criticism from both the media and senior Republicans over his original remarks blaming “many sides” for the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The words were not his own: they were scripted by aides and delivered with the assistance of a teleprompter. The president reserved his personal, off-the-cuff ire on Monday for the black CEO of Merck, not for the white fascists of Virginia.
Much of the frenzied media coverage of what CNN dubbed “48 hours of turmoil for the Trump White House” has overlooked one rather crucial point: Trump doesn’t like being forced to denounce racism for the very simple reason that he himself is, and always has been, a racist.
Consider the first time the president’s name appeared on the front page of the New York Times, more than 40 years ago. “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City,” read the headline of the A1 piece on Oct. 16, 1973, which pointed out how Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice had sued the Trump family’s real estate company in federal court over alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.
“The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color,’” the Times revealed. “It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.” (Trump later settled with the government without accepting responsibility.)
Over the next four decades, Trump burnished his reputation as a bigot: he was accused of ordering “all the black [employees] off the floor” of his Atlantic City casinos during his visits; claimed “laziness is a trait in blacks” and “not anything they can control”; requested Jews “in yarmulkes” replace his black accountants; told Bryan Gumbel that “a well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market”; demanded the death penalty for a group of black and Latino teenagers accused of murdering a jogger in Central Park (and, despite their later exoneration with the use of DNA evidence, has continued to insist they are guilty); suggested a Native American tribe “don’t look like Indians to me”; mocked Chinese and Japanese trade negotiators by doing an impression of them in broken English; described undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists”; compared Syrian refugees to “snakes”; defended two supporters who assaulted a homeless Latino man as “very passionate” people “who love this country”; pledged to ban a quarter of humanity from entering the United States; proposed a database to track American Muslims that he himself refused to distinguish from the Nazi registration of German Jews; implied Jewish donors “want to control” politicians and are all sly negotiators; heaped praise on the “amazing reputation” of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has blamed America’s problems on a “Jewish mafia”; referred to a black supporter at a campaign rally as “my African-American”; suggested the grieving Muslim mother of a slain U.S. army officer “maybe … wasn’t allowed” to speak in public about her son; accused an American-born Hispanic judge of being “a Mexican”; retweeted anti-Semitic and anti-black memes, white supremacists, and even a quote from Benito Mussolini; kept a book of Hitler’s collected speeches next to his bed; declined to condemn both David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; and spent five years leading a “birther” movement that was bent on smearing and delegitimizing the first black president of the United States, who Trump also accused of being the founder of ISIS.
Oh and remember: we knew all of this before he was elected president of the United States of America. He was elected in spite of all this (yet another reminder that “not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal-breaker”).
Some had hoped that Trump would be moderated by office; there was much talk of a presidential pivot. It was all utter nonsense and wishful thinking from lazy commentators who have found it difficult to cover, and call out, a president who regularly traffics in racially charged rhetoric while surrounding himself with an array of race-baiting advisers. Since entering the Oval Office, Trump has appointed Steve Bannon — former executive chairman of Breitbart News, which has stories tagged ‘Black Crime’ — as his White House chief strategist, and Jeff Sessions — who was once accused of calling a black official in Alabama a “nigger” — as his attorney general; he has claimed, without a shred of evidence, that millions of immigrants “voted illegally” for Hillary Clinton; and, perhaps most shocking of all, he has publicly and repeatedly belittled Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed Native American heritage, as “Pocahontas.”
This is racism 101 from a sitting US president. And it is the stark and undeniable truth, and key context, that is missing from much of the coverage of the political fallout from Charlottesville. Journalists, opinion formers, members of Congress, and members of the public continue to treat Trump as they would any previous president — they expect their head of government to come out and condemn racism with passion, vigor, speed, and sincerity. But what do you do if the president is himself a long-standing purveyor of racism and xenophobia? What then? Do you still demand he condemn and castigate what is essentially his base? Do you continue to feign shock and outrage over his lack of shock and outrage?
Yes, the U.S. has had plenty of presidents in recent decades who have dog-whistled to racists and bigots, and even incited hate against minorities — think Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Reagan and his “welfare queens,” George H.W. Bush and the Willie Horton ad, and the Clintons and their “super-predators” — but there has never been a modern president so personally steeped in racist prejudices, so unashamed to make bigoted remarks in public and with such a long and well-documented record of racial discrimination.
So can we stop playing this game where journalists demand Trump condemns people he agrees with and Trump then pretends to condemn them in the mildest of terms? I hate to say this, but it is worth paying attention to the leader of the Virginia KKK, who told a reporter in August 2016: “The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes, we believe in.”
So can we stop pretending that Trump isn’t Trump? That the presidency has changed him, or will change him? It hasn’t and it won’t. There will be no reset; no reboot; no pivot. This president may now be going through the motions of (belatedly) denouncing racism, with his scripted statements and vacuous tweets. But here’s the thing: why would you expect a lifelong racist to want to condemn or crack down on other racists? Why assume a person whose entire life and career has been defined by racially motivated prejudice and racial discrimination, by hostility toward immigrants, foreigners, and minorities, would suddenly be concerned by the rise of prejudice and discrimination on his watch? It is pure fantasy for politicians and pundits to suppose that Trump will ever think or behave as anything other than the bigot he has always been — and, in more recent years, as an apologist for other bigots, too.
We would do well to heed the words of those who have spent decades studying this bizarre president. “Donald is a 70-year-old man,” Trump biographer David Cay Johnston reminded me in the run-up to his inauguration in January. “I’m 67. I’m not going to change and neither is Donald.”
The post Donald Trump Has Been a Racist All His Life — And He Isn’t Going to Change After Charlottesville appeared first on The Intercept.
O preço da austeridade: Temer pagou R$ 2 bi a deputados no mês em que apresentou o pacote de reformas
Qual o preço da austeridade? Em dezembro do ano passado, o governo pagou aos deputados federais o valor recorde de emendas parlamentares da série histórica iniciada em 2015, quando os dados se tornaram públicos. De uma tacada só, foram gastos R$ 2 bilhões. O montante foi recebido pela Câmara junto a outro pacote: as matérias das duas principais reformas que seriam votadas neste ano – a da Previdência e a Trabalhista. A estratégia é repetida por Temer desde que os deputados tiraram Dilma Rousseff da presidência e o colocaram no lugar.
O presente de Natal que Temer deu aos parlamentares foi noticiado à época como um afago, um agrado a sua base no Congresso. O ministro do planejamento, Dyogo Oliveira, chegou a dizer que a previsão inicial era de R$ 4,7 bilhões para as duas Casas, mas que o plano tinha sido “frustrado” em um bilhão e, portanto, seriam pagos “só” R$3,7 bilhões.
Dados do sistema de informações sobre orçamento público federal (Siga Brasil) mostram diversos picos nos pagamentos de emendas. Os movimentos de alta começam na data em que a Câmara alçou Temer interinamente ao governo e se repetem sempre em datas muito próximas a votações-chave: um mês antes da votação da denúncia apresentada pelo Ministério Público Federal contra Temer, um mês antes da votação da Reforma Trabalhista e um mês antes da votação da Reforma do Ensino Médio.Mas, afinal, o que são emendas parlamentares?
As emendas são uma ferramenta para um sistema de governo em que os três poderes são bem divididos, explica o professor Michael Mohallem, da FGV Direito Rio. Essa foi a maneira encontrada para garantir que diferentes interesses populares fossem contemplados no orçamento e atendidos por políticas públicas. O especialista em direito público e ciência política critica, no entanto, a forma como esta ferramenta, que é legal e democrática, tem sido desvirtuada desde que Temer assumiu:
“A emenda tem como finalidade a participação democrática do legislativo nas políticas públicas. É uma construção de participação para que a pluralidade de interesses seja contemplada. Mas, quando ela é usada para perpetuar o clientelismo — um percentual alto vem sendo destinado para iniciativas privadas, por exemplo — abre-se mais espaço para que esse dinheiro seja mal usado. Há uma radicalização na negociação por emendas que parece levar a um modelo negativo e inconstitucional, o que merece ser debatido.”“Quantidade desproporcional” protocolaram pedidos de investigação na Procuradoria Geral da República contra o presidente, pelo uso estratégico das emendas. Nos textos, eles questionam a prática de liberar as verbas em “quantidade desproporcional” a pretexto de uma aprovação no pleito. Entre junho e julho, Temer pagou R$799 milhões aos deputados – valor maior que o pago nos últimos 12 meses de governo Dilma, em que foram pagos R$162 milhões à Casa.
“Estão gritando e chorando uma tese absolutamente incabível”, alfinetou então o deputado Baleia Rossi (PMDB-SP), que faz parte da base de apoio do governo. Pouco mais de um ano antes, a mesma “tese” era usada contra Dilma.
O senador Ronaldo Caiado (DEM-GO), chegou a entrar com um mandado de segurança no Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) um mês antes da votação na Câmara sobre o afastamento da petista. O documento pedia o bloqueio de pagamento das emendas parlamentares, que Caiado chamava de “barganha por votos contra o impeachment”.A conta, por favor
A cobrança veio do polêmico deputado Wladimir Costa (SD-PA), logo após sua forte atuação durante a votação sobre a denúncia de corrupção contra Temer: “Não quero que saia quatro, quero que saia 100, 200 milhões para ajudar o pobre, o povo pobre do meu querido estado do Pará”. Costa gritou frases de ordem aos aliados e bateu boca com adversários a cada nome que se aproximava do microfone.
Já os parlamentares do chamado “Centrão” (PP, PSD e PR) se dividem sobre a forma como querem a recompensa pela fidelidade: há os que exigem os cargos dos “traidores” e os que afirmam não ter esse tipo de interesse (ou seja: querem mais pagamentos de emendas).“Não quero que saia quatro, quero que saia 100, 200 milhões para ajudar o pobre, o povo pobre do meu querido estado do Pará”
A falta de cerimônia ao tratar emendas como moeda de troca por votos tem sido tanta que os parlamentares sugeriram levar esse dinheiro para as eleições como parte do financiamento de suas campanhas. Se isso se concretizar, cai o véu do real interesse dos parlamentares sobre uso dessas verbas.
Como explicitado na fala de Costa, esse dinheiro vai para o seu “querido estado do Pará”, ou seja, para seu curral eleitoral. O dinheiro das emendas se converte em auxílio a políticas públicas locais e, não raro, quando chega ao destino prometido — em formato de material hospitalar, pavimentação de ruas, reformas em escolas, entre outros — é recebido com uma celebração que, claro, tem como participante principal o parlamentar que assina a emenda.
Admitir esse dinheiro como parte da campanha é admitir que essas ações são movidas por puro interesse eleitoral. E, ao abrir as comportas e fazer jorrar bilhões sobre os atuais parlamentares, Temer está garantindo que a maioria deles esteja de volta a Brasília em 2019.Como funcionam as emendas?
Uma mudança feita em 2013 na Lei de Diretrizes Orçamentárias tornou obrigatório o pagamento das emendas aprovadas, chamadas “emendas impositivas”. Em 2015 uma nova obrigatoriedade, criada na LDO de 2014, tornou-se constitucional: o valor anual pago em emendas impositivas deve respeitar o limite de 1,2% da receita corrente líquida realizada no ano anterior e metade do montante deve ser destinado a ações de auxílio à saúde pública.
Em 2016, com a emenda constitucional já em vigor, o total pago em emendas individuais girou em torno de R$9 bilhões, sendo R$3,3 bilhões apenas para deputados federais. Na Câmara ainda existem emendas de bancadas e de comissões. Além disso, também existem todas as emendas oriundas do Senado.
O pagamento é obrigatório, mas a lei não determina em que ponto do ano ele deve ser feito. Quem decide isso é a Secretaria de Governo da Presidência da República. Atualmente, a pasta é controlada por um deputado federal licenciado: Antônio Imabassahy (PSDB-BA).até 25 projetos para 2017, todos inscritos dentro do prazo estipulado: entre os dias 3 e 20 de outubro do ano passado. As bancadas apresentam duas emendas cada.
A lei tampouco determina como o dinheiro deve ser dividido entre os parlamentares, se um parlamentar pode ganhar mais do que os demais, ou quais emendas devem ter prioridade. Quem controla essas regras é o próprio Congresso, através do Comitê de Admissibilidade de Emendas. O comitê, é claro, é montado majoritariamente por parlamentares de partidos aliados ao governo, como o próprio PMDB, o PSDB e os exigentes do chamado “Centrão”.
O Congresso também é responsável por aprovar o orçamento anual da União. Eles emitem, cobram a conta e ainda determinam como ela deve ser paga.
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A Coreia do Norte não vai tomar a iniciativa de atacar os Estados Unidos ou seu aliados com armas nucleares.
Para compreender isso, não é necessário conhecer a história das relações entre os dois países, o poder de destruição dos mísseis balísticos intercontinentais – ou sequer saber localizar a Coreia do Norte no mapa. Basta conhecer a história humana, que nos mostra que países pequenos, pobres e fracos não costumam atacar nações ricas, gigantescas e poderosas – principalmete aquelas capazes de pulverizá-los em questão de segundos.
Então o que é exatamente a “crise” norte-coreana?
A resposta é simples: os EUA não estão preocupados com uma possível agressão norte-coreana; o problema reside no fato de que uma Coreia do Norte com armas nucleares seria capaz de dissuadir os EUA de fazer o que bem entendesse – como invadir o país, por exemplo.
Em declarações na TV, os funcionários do governo americano dão a entender que o ditador da Coreia do Norte, Kim Jong-un, pode simplesmente acordar um dia e convencer todos os membros da abjeta camarilha que governa o país a cometer suicídio coletivo. Entretanto, nos bastidores, em circulares e relatórios de think tanks, os especialistas da política externa americana já explicaram a questão de outra maneira em diversas ocasiões.
Um exemplo de lucidez pode ser encontrado em “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (Reconstruindo as Defesas Americanas, em tradução livre), um influente artigo publicado pelo think tank Project for a New American Century. Segundo o documento, os EUA “devem contrapor-se aos efeitos da proliferação de mísseis balísticos e armas de destruição em massa, que em breve poderão permitir que Estados menores exerçam uma influência dissuasiva sobre o exército americano. (…) No mundo pós-Guerra Fria, em vez da União Soviética, os EUA e seus aliados se tornaram a principal ameaça à defesa de nações como Iraque, Irã e Coreia do Norte – os países que mais tentam desenvolver armamentos com poder dissuasão.”
E a teoria já foi colocada em prática: o Iraque e a Líbia desmantelaram seus armamentos não convencionais e foram invadidos, o que não deve ter passado despercebido para os governantes da Coreia do Norte – que já deixaram claro que não têm a menor intenção de compartilhar o destino de Saddam Hussein e Muammar Gaddafi.
Mas isso não significa, é claro, que a posse de armas nucleares e mísseis de longo alcance pela Coreia do Norte seja algo positivo, muito pelo contrário. A Guerra Fria levou o mundo à beira da guerra nuclear –acidental ou não – em diversos momentos de grande tensão. Mas não há outra maneira de evitar que o mesmo aconteça com a Coreia do Norte a não ser o diálogo e o apaziguamento, sempre que possível.
Outra preocupação é o destino desse arsenal nuclear quando o regime norte-coreano finalmente ruir. Além disso, não é impossível que a Coreia do Norte tente vender uma de suas ogivas nucleares a grupos terroristas. Mas quanto a isso não há mais o que fazer; qualquer tentativa de eliminar esses riscos teria consequências ainda piores.
Deveríamos, portanto, nos concentrar no lado positivo: os EUA têm total capacidade de impedir um ataque nuclear norte-coreano – basta não ser o primeiro a atacar.
Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse
The post Para impedir um ataque da Coreia do Norte aos EUA, basta que Trump não ataque primeiro appeared first on The Intercept.
Speaking at a troop event last week, Secretary of Defense Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis offered up the kind of rhetoric that helped earn him his nickname.
And it leaves stenographers to grapple with the question: When a sailor curses like a sailor, what does the official government transcript look like?
For last week’s event at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, the stenographers just rolled with it.
“You will have some of the best days of your life and some of the worst days of your life in the U.S. Navy, you know what I mean? That says — that means you’re living. That means you’re living,” Mattis told the assembled sailors.
“That means you’re not some pussy sitting on the sidelines, you know what I mean, kind of sitting there saying, ‘Well, I should have done something with my life.’ Because of what you’re doing now, you’re not going to be lying on a shrink’s couch when you’re 45 years old, say, ‘What the hell did I do with my life?’ Why? Because you served others; you served something bigger than you.”
Mattis, of course, serves a president who is no stranger to what he calls “locker room talk,” but Trump’s infamous use of the word was meant literally, not metaphorically.
Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, also shared his own brief experience underwater.
I wish — I was I was young enough to go back out to sea, although I will admit it takes a special kind of person to be in submarines. I was in the Marines, and there’s a world of difference between a submariner and a Marine, you know what I mean? (Laughter.)
I spent seven days underwater once on a submarine so small it’d fit in half of this thing, and I was never so happy as when I got back to the surface, you know what I mean? (Laughter.)
The post “Mad Dog” Mattis Making Life Interesting for Pentagon Stenographers appeared first on The Intercept.
The province of Nangarhar, in eastern Afghanistan, is bearing the brunt of ongoing U.S. airstrikes against the Taliban and fighters who have declared allegiance to the Islamic State. Half of July’s U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan – at least 358 strikes – took place in eastern Nangarhar, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. And according to United Nations data released last month, U.S. strikes in Nangarhar are more likely to result in civilian casualties than strikes anywhere else the country. On July 23, one of these strikes reportedly killed at least eight civilians, including children, who were attending a funeral, allegations of which the U.S. military is investigating.
Just last week, Afghan officials said that a U.S. attack in Nangarhar killed 16 civilians, including women and children. A spokesman for the U.S. military denied those claims, saying that the strike was “against militants [who] were observed loading weapons into a vehicle.”
But in the remote and dangerous areas where most of these strikes take place, it is often impossible to know the true identities of the victims, and many strikes go unreported. And among local villagers, distrust of both the United States and President Ashraf Ghani’s U.S.-backed government runs high.
In interviews with The Intercept this past May, villagers in Khogyani, a Taliban-controlled district of Nangarhar, described living with the threat of U.S. Special Operations ground raids and regular drone strikes. Few foreigners visit Khogyani, and even Afghans from the provincial capital, Jalalabad, prefer to avoid its villages, where insurgents rule the ground and U.S. warplanes haunt the skies.
“A few days ago, another drone strike took place. The victims were innocent farmers and their women and children,” said Shafiqullah, a driver from Basakhel.
Shafiqullah also described how locals fear the U.S. drones that appear when the sky is clear. “Many people, like myself, remove our SIM cards regularly to avoid being located,” he said. The United States has been known to identify and track targets based on the unique codes of their SIM cards. (The Intercept was unable to identify which strike Shafiqullah was referring to, although there were several strikes reported in Nangarhar at the end of April and in early May where the exact location was unclear. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which keeps a comprehensive list of public reporting on strikes in Afghanistan, relies largely on local press reports and statements from U.S. and Afghan military officials, which do not always specify where the strike occurred. U.S. Central Command did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations of civilian casualties in this article.)
When the Trump administration dropped the so-called “mother of all bombs” on an alleged ISIS hideout in Nangarhar in April, the Afghan government reported that more than 90 ISIS militants had been killed. The Pentagon refused to provide a number, and the U.S. and Afghan military blocked access to the strike zone, preventing outside observers and journalists from entering.
For many locals in Khogyani, which lies about an hour away from Achin, the use of the bomb was just another example of what they perceive as U.S. aggression, whether directed at Taliban insurgents or ISIS fighters.
“As usual, they had killed civilians and wanted to hide their crimes,” said Mustafa, a student from the village of Basakhel. “The U.S. is abusing our country as a playground for their weapons.”
Since the emergence of ISIS-allied militants in Afghanistan in 2015, the United States, working with Afghan forces, has reportedly killed a high number of militants through a series of airstrikes, conducted by both conventional aircraft and drones. In most cases, the identities of the alleged insurgents have not been verified, and most strikes are not investigated, opening up the possibility that many more civilians have been killed.
“The United States has been carrying out increasing numbers of air and drone strikes as this year has gone on, and a lot of them have been in Nangarhar. The full toll of these strikes in lives is not known because independent investigation is not possible,” said Jack Serle, who has been tracking drone strikes in Afghanistan since 2014 for the BIJ.
Since neither the U.S. nor the Afghan army often has access to the areas they are bombing, such as Khogyani, they rely on signals intelligence from electronic communications, and imagery taken from above. “This suggests that [the] civilian death toll will be higher than what little data we have shows, and higher than the U.S. and Afghan military realize,” said Serle.
Khogyani locals have noticed that airstrikes have increased since Donald Trump became president. “We faced war and destruction also during Obama’s era but since Trump took over the presidency, the strikes increased hugely,” said Esmatullah Bashari, a Taliban-allied commander in the district. Both local civilians and members of the Taliban maintain that most of the victims have been noncombatants.
With bravado typical of local commanders, Bashari – who once fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and is also known as a famous poet in the region — said he and his fighters were the only ones to have fought the ISIS militants effectively. “Two years ago, they also controlled Khogyani. We recaptured the district and lost 300 men,” he said.
Bashari also argued that the White House’s drone policy in the region has become a catalyst for extremism and insurgency. “After every strike, people, sometimes the whole clan, join our fight,” said Bashari, with characteristic exaggeration. “Especially when women and children get killed, the anger is enormous, they don’t have any other choice than to fight.
“The Americans don’t differentiate between civilians and insurgents. Everyone here is considered a terrorist,” Bashari said. He claimed that he had twice been targeted by drone strikes in the past two years, including one that hit a jirga, or local tribal assembly, which he was attending. At least five people — civilians, according to Bashari — were killed, while he and other Taliban fighters survived. But while Bashari escaped death at the hands of the United States, he was killed on July 14 by an unknown gunman in a Khogyani market.
Taliban fighters in Khogyani described how the deaths of family members had caused them to take up arms. As with the case with Bashari, they did not say exactly where and when the drone strikes occurred, so their accounts could not be corroborated. It is also the case, as Serle noted, that many strikes go unreported given the remoteness of the region.
Jahan Baaz, a tall, sturdy man, said that two of his brothers were killed in drone strikes a year ago, and that he believes it is his duty to fight the Americans and their allies. Another fighter, barely 20 years old, claimed that his father had also been killed by an American drone, which led him to join the insurgents.
Such a reaction can be expected, said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher on Afghanistan with Human Rights Watch. “Each civilian death for which U.S. or NATO forces are perceived to be responsible increases hostility toward them, and may increase support for anti-government forces,” she said.
The post Fearful Villagers See the U.S. Using Afghanistan as a “Playground for Their Weapons” appeared first on The Intercept.
In the aftermath of the murder of activist Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Va., state legislators who had previously pushed to shield drivers who killed protesters with a moving vehicle are largely standing by their various efforts, arguing that their legislation would not have applied in this weekend’s attack.
Before the killing on Saturday, a swath of bills had been proposed around the country, largely in the south, and primarily in response to Black Lives Matter and Dakota Access Pipeline related protests. The bills targeted leftist demonstrators who have increasingly shut down traffic by blocking roads and highways to bring attention to their cause.
Under the proposed laws, motorists who struck and killed such protesters would have special immunity in certain circumstances, as long as it wasn’t proven that they acted deliberately. Heyer was allegedly struck by a car driven by James Alex Fields Jr., a young man who is a supporter of white nationalist causes.
None of the proposed motorist immunity bills — debated in half a dozen states and backed by far right personalties and law enforcement interests — have made it into law. Rather than backing away from the policy in light of the events in Charlottesville, Va., legislators are doubling down.
In Texas, state Representative Pat Fallon introduced a bill to limit the liability of motorists responsible for hitting individuals who are “blocking traffic in a public right-of-way while participating in a protest or demonstration.” The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, a statewide coalition of municipal and county police associations, lists Fallon’s bill among legislation supported by CLEAT. (Cleats are the spikes on the bottom of athletic shoes.)
In response to criticism over the weekend, Fallon doubled down on social media, implying that his critics don’t know the difference between legal and illegal protest (the Facebook status he links to has been deleted):
North Carolina’s version of the immunity bill, HB 330, passed the lower chamber of the legislature in April. The text of the bill says that a “person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way is immune from civil liability for the injury.” The definition of “due care,” of course, would be highly debatable.
On Monday morning, the bill’s co-sponsors, state Representatives Justin Burr and Chris Millis, released a joint statement defending their legislation and claiming it would not apply in the context of Charlottesville.
“It is intellectually dishonest and a gross mischaracterization to portray North Carolina House Bill 330 as a protection measure for the act of violence that occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend,” they wrote in a statement given to The Intercept. “Any individual who committed a deliberate or willful act, such as what happened this weekend in Charlottesville, would face appropriately severe criminal and civil liabilities.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said on Monday that the governor would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin lashed out at the bill on Monday. “This was a horrible and dangerous piece of legislation when Republicans introduced it, and it remains an unnecessary bill today,” he told The Intercept. “The right to peacefully demonstrate is a cornerstone of American democracy; however, with this bill North Carolina Republicans are threatening that right by giving certain drivers a free pass to run over protestors without any fear of civil liability. After the events in Charlottesville, when a domestic terrorist murdered a peaceful protestor with his car, it’s unconscionable that Republicans still think this is a worthy cause.”
Similar bills have been proposed in Rhode Island, North Carolina, Tennessee, and North Dakota. While it’s unclear if any major interest groups beyond law enforcement have supported the idea, police union support alone can provide publicity and legislative traction.
In Florida, state Senator George Gainer sponsored SB 1096, a bill that limits the liability for motorists responsible for the unintentional injury or death of protesters obstructing traffic. The Florida State Fraternal Order of Police, an association that represents 22,000 law enforcement personnel in Florida, held a press conference to support the Gainer bill. The legislative newsletter sponsored by the Florida FOP features an image of Florida law enforcement officers standing behind Gainer to pledge support for his bill.
The Florida bill, however, died in committee before reaching a vote.
But the violence last weekend hasn’t prevented some law enforcement voices from continuing to press the issue.
In Massachusetts, a police officer cheered on Heyer’s death over the weekend, posting on Facebook, “Hahahaha love this, maybe people shouldn’t block road ways.”
And on YouTube and other platforms frequented by far right voices, many have celebrated the effort to crackdown on protests that block traffic. Donut Operator, a YouTube personalty known for posting “Blue Lives Matter” videos in support of law enforcement, has published videos in support of the laws designed to limit the liability of motorists. In one such video in support of the North Carolina legislation, Donut Operator ends his monologue with a gleeful compilation of cars plowing through crowds of demonstrators.
Top photo: A motorist drives into a crowd of counter-protesters during the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 12, 2017.
The post Backed by Police Unions, Legislators Stand By Laws to Protect Drivers Who Kill Protesters appeared first on The Intercept.
The key Saudi official in charge of the catastrophic ongoing war in Yemen wants it to stop, he told two influential foreign policy figures in Washington this spring.
Mohammed bin Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family who effectively rules the country, made the comments to Martin Indyk and Stephen Hadley. Indyk was a high-level diplomat during both the Clinton and Obama administrations and Hadley a top adviser to former President George W. Bush.
Indyk relayed the conversation to Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States, and the man most responsible for aiding bin Salman’s rise in Washington.
“I think MBS is far more pragmatic than what we hear is saudi public positions,” Otaiba wrote to Indyk on the morning of April 20.
Indyk replied quickly. “I agree on that too. He was quite clear with Steve Hadley and me that he wants out of Yemen and that he’s ok with the US engaging Iran as long as it’s coordinated in advance and the objectives are clear,” he said.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country. Which is why engaging with them is so important and will yield the most results we can ever get out of saudi,” Otaiba confided.
The messages between Indyk and Otaiba, first reported Monday by the Middle East Eye, were obtained independently by The Intercept. The exchange was discovered in a cache of correspondence pilfered by hackers from Otaiba’s Hotmail account, which he used regularly for official business.
Bin Salman’s comments are a ray of hope that with proper diplomacy, a peaceful end to the conflict in Yemen could be reached, though it runs up against an eternal foreign policy conundrum: how to enable a better-resourced, more powerful aggressor to withdraw from a conflict without explicitly admitting defeat.
The war in Yemen has cost thousands of lives, many of them civilians, as the result of a bombing campaign carried out by Saudi Arabia, with U.S. assistance. The UAE is also participating in the war, allied with Saudi Arabia. The war has sparked mass hunger and a cholera outbreak of historic proportions.
Since at least 2015, Otaiba began promoting bin Salman around Washington, talking him up to high-level officials and brokering key meetings, according to sources who witnessed the campaign firsthand. It was an unusual role for an ambassador to play for an official from a different country, but the emails give new insight into the high priority Otaiba and his boss, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, placed on bin Salman’s rise.
Bin Zayed had long feuded with Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi prince who had been in line to become king. Bin Salman deposed Bin Nayef last year.
The day after Indyk and Otaiba emailed about Yemen, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reached out to Otaiba to share his latest piece on bin Salman. Otaiba, in an email obtained by The Intercept, wrote back,
Thank you for taking the time to go out there and meet with MBS. As someone who knows the region well, it looks from how you wrote this piece, that you are beginning to see what we’ve been saying for the last two years. Change!
Change in attitude, change in style, change in approach.
I think we would all agree these changes in saudi are much needed. So i’m relieved to find you saw what we’ve been seeing and frequently trying to convey. Your voice and your credibility will be a huge factor in getting reasonable folks to understand and believe in whats happening.
Our job now, is to [do] everything possible to ensure MBS succeeds.
Indyk didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, and Hadley declined to comment, citing the private nature of the conversation.
The post Leaked Emails: Saudi Power Behind the Throne “Wants Out of Yemen” appeared first on The Intercept.
North Korea is not going to launch a first strike on America or its allies with nuclear weapons.
To understand this, you don’t need to know anything about the history of U.S.-North Korea relations, or the throw weight of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or even where North Korea is. All you need to know is human history. And history says that small, poor, weak countries tend not to start wars with gigantic, wealthy, powerful countries — especially when doing so will obviously result in their obliteration.
So what exactly is the “crisis” involving North Korea?
The answer is simple: We’re not worried that we can’t deter North Korea. We’re worried because a North Korea that can plausibly strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons will likely be able to deter us from doing whatever we want. For example, we might not be able to invade North Korea.
When they go on TV, U.S. officials pretend there’s some chance that North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un will wake up one day and persuade all the people who help him run their bleak kakistocracy that they should commit mass suicide. But backstage, in government memos and think tank reports, America’s foreign policy mandarins have explained the issue clearly, over and over again.
One lucid example can be found in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” a well-known paper by the Project for a New American Century. The U.S., it explained, “must counteract the effects of the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction that may soon allow lesser states to deter U.S. military action. … In the post-Cold War era, America and its allies, rather than the Soviet Union, have become the primary objects of deterrence and it is states like Iraq, Iran and North Korea who most wish to develop deterrent capabilities.”
And we’re not just talk: Iraq and Libya both surrendered their unconventional military capacity, and we then invaded them. North Korea’s rulers definitely noticed that and have clearly explained why they has no intention of following Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi into oblivion.
So take a lot at these basic facts about the U.S. and North Korea, and ask yourself: Who exactly is plausibly going to attack whom?
None of this means, of course, that North Korea having nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is a good thing. It’s terrible. The Cold War was full of examples of nuclear war almost breaking out by accident at moments of high tension. But there’s nothing we can do to avoid that with North Korea except by talking to them and trying to reduce conflict whenever possible.
It’s also unsettling to imagine the fate of North Korea’s weapons when the regime finally dissolves. Moreover, it’s not impossible that people in North Korea’s chain of command would find it tempting to sell one of their warheads to terrorists. But that ship has sailed; any attempt to reduce the risk of those things to zero would have certain consequences far worse than the risk itself.
So let’s concentrate on the good news: We definitely have it in our power to prevent North Korea from using its nuclear weapons on us. All we have to do is not attack them first.
The post We Can Stop North Korea From Attacking Us. All We Have to Do Is Not Attack Them. appeared first on The Intercept.
O pós-prefeito de São Paulo, João Doria (PSDB/SP), divulgou mais um de seus vídeos de autopromoção na noite deste domingo (13). Estava ao lado do governador Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB/SP) e tinha o objetivo de negar que os dois estejam de mal, numa disputa antecipada pela candidatura tucana à presidência da República. “Reafirmo minha lealdade ao governador Geraldo Alckmin, com quem tenho uma estreita amizade há 37 anos”, disse.
Foram quase dois minutos de juras de amor: “Eu gosto do Geraldo. Como amigo, como pai, como ser humano, como católico”, derramou-se Doria. Curiosamente, contudo, conforme aumentavam os elogios, aumentava também aquele constrangimento que costuma acompanhar os pronunciamentos do pós-prefeito. O desconforto se revelava no sorriso estático e amarelo de um Alckmin relegado ao papel de coadjuvante (ele falou por 15 segundos) e provavelmente tinha a ver com o fato de que quase tudo o que foi dito ali cheirava a pós-verdade.“Eu gosto do Geraldo. Como amigo, como pai, como ser humano, como católico”
Não há como justificar a intensa agenda de viagens dos dois políticos pelo Brasil a não ser pelo desejo de se tornarem mais conhecidos, numa pré-pré-campanha presidencial.
Mas o pior não é a possibilidade, bastante alta, de Doria estar descaradamente mentindo em público. É o fato de que, no atual mundo de pós-verdades, isso não tem importância. Se daqui a alguns meses ele largar São Paulo no colo do atual vice, Bruno Covas, e partir para uma aventura nacional, é provável que seus eleitores continuem a apoiá-lo. Não seria a primeira vez. O senador José Serra, por exemplo, abandonou quatro mandatos em 21 anos. No processo, perdeu alguma popularidade. Mas continua sendo eleito.
The post Vídeo de Doria com Alckmin é mais uma pílula de cinismo no mundo da pós-verdade appeared first on The Intercept.
The race for Illinois governor is expected to be one of the most expensive statewide races in U.S. history — with some anticipating as much as $300 million in spending.
On the Democratic side, heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune J.B. Pritzker has spent $21 million of his own money in a bid to win the nomination for his party. The Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner has dropped $50 million of his own money into his campaign.
Democratic State senator Daniel Biss doesn’t have a lot of money. And as a mathematics professor who went into politics when he was elected to the state legislature in 2011, Biss isn’t from a long-time political family, like rival Chris Kennedy.
But what he does have is conviction that his organizing approach to the race can not only overcome this mountain of money, but change the way Illinois does politics.
Biss is running a small donor-backed campaign that has made him the third-largest fundraiser in the crowded contest, raising a million dollars in the second quarter of 2017 — putting him behind Rauner and Pritzker.
Should he succeed, Biss is promising a broad agenda that seeks to reform both Illinois’s political and economic system.
For instance, he is campaigning on changing the way campaigns are funded in Illinois. He’s proposing the creation of a public financing program that would open up funding for candidate who achieve a certain number of small donors and promise to cap individual donations at $500. That’s not just an empty campaign pledge, it’s something Biss has already had some success in moving. In May, the state senate passed his small donor match bill.
Biss is also proposing that Illinois establish a single-payer health care system. Under this system, a single public health insurance plan would cover all Illinois residents, who would be able to get health care regardless of ability to pay. Pritzker has countered with a proposal for a public option, which Biss considers a half-measure.
In an interview with The Intercept, Biss pitched the benefits of the single-payer system and the other ideas of his campaign.
“We spend a tremendous amount of money in the health insurance industry….that money, if re-purposed, would be very, very useful in creating investments in job creation across the state,” he said, arguing that the savings produced by a more efficient government-run system would free up dollars to tackle infrastructure and other pressing needs.
One thing that sets Biss apart from his rivals in the race is his willingness to criticize his own political party. He has targeted Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — a long-time fixture of Democratic politics who rarely faces criticism from his own party — as playing a role in the state’s dysfunction.
He is also a firm believer in making it easier for third parties to compete in the political system. Earlier this year, he introduced a ranked-choice voting bill that would allow voters to rank candidates on their ballot instead of simply selecting one.
“The system we have makes it very hard for those who are not inside the Democratic and Republican parties to be credible participants in our political process,” Biss told The Intercept. “We’ve got a third of a billion people who live in America, the idea that they’re personally represented by one of two giant coalitions is I think pretty hard to imagine.”
But before Biss can make public financing a reality, establish health care as a right of everyone in Illinois, or open up the political process with ranked-choice voting, he has to win a race that includes a pair of candidates able to pump tens of millions of dollars of their own money into the contest. And, in an additional challenge for Biss, it includes another staunch progressive in the race, Ameya Pawar.
“If people are looking for the richest candidate, that’s not me. I’m not a billionaire, I’m not a millionaire, I live a middle class life. And I’m not going to be able to put in the kind of money that J.B. Pritzker has put in, or Chris Kennedy has put in, or certainly the Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner has put in,” he admitted. “Although I have given myself twenty-five dollars, so that’s a start.”
The post Big Money Runs Illinois. Can Small Donor-Backed Daniel Biss Change That? appeared first on The Intercept.
James Risen, who as a best-selling author and New York Times reporter has broken some of the biggest stories of the post-9/11 period, is joining The Intercept as our senior national security correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. Risen will write a reported column on national security and other national issues, as well as help to lead The Intercept’s investigative reporting efforts.
Risen will have a unique dual leadership position at First Look Media, because in addition to his editorial role at The Intercept, he will also serve as director of the Press Freedom Defense Fund, which is dedicated to supporting news organizations, journalists, and whistleblowers in legal fights where a substantial public interest, freedom of the press, or related human or civil right is at stake. Recently, the Press Freedom Defense Fund announced its support for the legal defense of Reality Winner, who is accused of leaking a top-secret NSA document on Russian election hacking to The Intercept.
Risen was himself a target of the U.S. government’s crackdown on journalists and whistleblowers. He waged a seven-year battle, risking jail after first the Bush administration and later the Obama administration sought to force him to testify and reveal his confidential sources in a leak investigation. Risen never gave in, and the government finally backed down.
As a New York Times reporter, Risen won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his stories about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program, and he was a member of the reporting team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting for coverage of the September 11 attacks and terrorism.
“I am incredibly excited by this amazing and unique opportunity to combine my journalism with efforts to defend press freedom,” said Risen. “I am honored to help lead the fund as both America and the world face unprecedented threats to freedom of the press, while also writing and reporting and working with the team at The Intercept to continue to build one of the most important investigative reporting outlets in the nation.”
Risen began his career as a reporter at the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, and later worked at the Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press, and the Los Angeles Times. He joined the New York Times in 1998, where he remained until earlier this summer. He is the author of four books: “Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War”; “The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown With the KGB”; “State of War, The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration”; and “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War.”
He will begin in September.
The post Reporter and Press Freedom Advocate James Risen to Join The Intercept and First Look Media appeared first on The Intercept.
Each time horrific political violence is perpetrated that is deemed to be terrorism, a search is immediately conducted for culprits to blame other than those who actually perpetrated the violence or endorsed the group responsible for it. It’s usually only a matter of hours before the attack is exploited to declare one’s own political views vindicated, and to depict one’s political adversaries as responsible for, if not complicit in, the violence. Often accompanying this search for villains is a list of core civil liberties that we’re told ought to be curtailed in the name of preventing similar acts of violence in the future.
All of this typically happens before much of anything is known about the killer, his actual inspirations, his mental health, or his associations. In the aftermath of the widespread horror such violence naturally produces, the easiest target for these guilt-by-association tactics are those who have advocated for the legal rights of the group of which the individual attacker is a member and/or those who have defended the legal right to express the opinions in the name of which the attack was carried out.
These tactics are most familiar when a Muslim perpetrates violence within a western city, aimed at westerners. Before anything is known about the attacker other than his religious identity, the violence is instantly declared to be terrorism. Then the search is quickly launched to find anyone who can be said to be responsible for the violence by virtue of having “encouraged” or “enabled” Islamic extremism, often by doing nothing more than having defended the legal rights of the group that is being blamed for the attack.
At the top of the blame list one always finds a wide range of imams who preach Islam – even those who never in their lives advocated violence of any kind – as well as activists who defend Muslims from bigotry and persecution. But also prominently featured in this vilification game are legal groups, such as the Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR) and the ACLU, that defend the free speech rights and other civil liberties of Muslims to be free of state persecution and suppression. Recently, even social platforms platforms that allow Muslims to express themselves without state censorship are said to be “complicit.”
Linking CAIR to terrorist attacks because of their civil liberties work is commonplace among the Islamophobic right. The ACLU – which has defended accused Al Qaeda terrorists, tried to prevent the Obama administration from killing Anwar al-Awlaki without due process, and opposed the criminal prosecution of Muslim extremists on free speech grounds – is constantly vilified as terrorist enablers by the anti-Muslim right as a result of that civil liberties advocacy. And now, each time there’s a new attack, the UK Government routinely accuses Facebook and other social media companies of “aiding and abetting” ISIS and Al Qaeda because of its refusal to obey UK Government orders about which views should be censored from the site.
That anyone who defends the legal rights of terrorists or gives them a platform is culpable for the violence they commit has been standard neoconservative and far right cant for decades. One of the most odious examples came from 2009 when a new group started by Bill Kristol and Lynne Cheney – calling itself “Keep America Safe” – produced ads strongly implying that Obama DOJ lawyers who defended accused Al Qaeda suspects were supporters of jihadist violence against the U.S.:
Demonizing lawyers and civil liberties advocates by depicting them as “complicit” in the heinous acts of their clients is a long-standing scam that is not confined to the U.S. The Belgian lawyer who represented one of the Muslim attackers in Paris, Sven Mary, said “he had suffered physical and verbal attacks and his daughters had even needed a police escort to school.”
Needless to say, none of these legal organizations or individual lawyers condone violence. They all vehemently oppose the ideology and worldview in the name of which this violence is committed. Yet they are all blamed for the violence and accused of complicity in it because they defend the free speech rights and civil liberties of people who express views in the name of which violence is commited.
This same warped mentality – blaming civil liberties advocates for the bad acts of their clients – was on full display yesterday in the wake of the heinous car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia by a white nationalist on a group of anti-fascist protesters. That attack killed one woman, a 32-year-old paralegal, Heather Heyer, and injured multiple anti-racist protesters, many of whom were members of groups – such as Democratic Socialists of America and Industrial Workers of the World – now regularly castigated as the “alt-left” (as though they bear any resemblance to the alt-right groups they bravely protest).
The accused attacker, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., is in custody. He seems to have been photographed participating before the attack in the white nationalist march. And Field’s local Ohio paper cited his mother as saying that “her son texted her Friday to say he had dropped his cat off at her Monclova Township apartment so he could go to an ‘alt-right’ rally in Virginia.”
Some of the attempts to assign culpability for this violence on others besides the perpetrator were reasonable and rational. In particular, a legitimate causal connection can be drawn between this violence and the two-year flirtation by Donald Trump and several of his closest advisers with the rhetoric and even the activism of white nationalism, as even many of the white supremacists themselves recognized. As I argued last August, it seemed only a matter of time before Trump’s worldview sparked violence of this kind:
The rhetoric that [Trump has] been embracing over the past 18 months is extraordinarily frightening, because, even if he loses, he is emboldening extremist nationalism, racism, all kinds of bigotry. He’s giving license for its expression. He is serving as a galvanizing force for these very dangerous elements, not just in the American political culture, but in Europe and elsewhere throughout the right.
But other blame attempts were not just baseless but themselves deeply pernicious, a mirror image of the ugly Kristol/Cheney campaign against the Obama Justice Department lawyers who had defended the due process rights of Al Qaeda members.
Last week, the ACLU sparked controversy when it announced that it was defending the free speech rights of alt-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority refused to allow ads for his book to be displayed on public transit. Lost in the debate was that other groups the ACLU was defending along with Yiannopoulos were also censored under the same rule: Carafem, which helps women access birth control and medication abortion; the animal rights group PETA; and the ACLU itself.
For representing Yiannopoulos, the civil liberties group was widely accused of defending and enabling fascism. But the ACLU wasn’t “defending Yiannopoulos” as much as it was opposing a rule that allows state censorship of any controversial political messages the state wishes to suppress: a rule that is often applied to groups which are supported by many who attacked the ACLU here.
The same formula was applied yesterday when people learned that the ACLU of Virginia had represented the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville after city officials tried to ban the group from gathering in Emancipation Park where a confederate flag was to be removed (city officials tried to move the march to an isolated location one mile away). One board member of the ACLU of Virginia, Waldo Jaquith, waited until the violence erupted to announce on Twitter that he was resigning in protest fo the ACLU’s representation of the protesters – as though he was unaware when he joined the Board that the ACLU has been representing the free speech rights of neo-Nazi and other white supremacist groups (along with Communists, Muslims, war protesters and the full spectrum of marginalized minorities and leftists) for many decades.
Many attacked the ACLU’s decision to represent Yiannopoulos and these Charlottesville protests as though they were allies of the marchers, while others literally accused them of enabling fascism or even blaming them for the violence:
The antifascists targeted in the white supremacist terror attack today will forever remember the ACLU's positionhttps://t.co/6Mj1UMaM7T
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) August 13, 2017
Defund the ACLU. Please stop donating to them. https://t.co/bx90vKEz3Z
— Arnesa (@Rrrrnessa) August 12, 2017
FUCK THE ACLU
ACLU CELEBRATES CAUSING DEATH TO ANTI-FASCISTS AT THE HANDS OF NAZI AND KKK
"FREE SPEECH" IS FASCISMhttps://t.co/riZrCk8w1D
— shanley (@shanley) August 12, 2017
The ACLU of Virginia has blood on their hands through defending these Nazis' "right" to assemble.
— Zoé Samudzi (@ztsamudzi) August 13, 2017
pretty cool how we all donated to the @aclu after the election and they used that money to support milo nice nice nice
— Robyn Kanner (@robynkanner) August 9, 2017
you just confessed to being white supremacists. You don't get to defend them and claim separation. You. Are. Their. Allies.
— Cecilia (@ChaoticRambler) August 13, 2017
(Ironically, just last month, the ACLU was the target of a similar de-funding campaign by the anti-Islam, pro-Israel right for the group’s defense of Muslim-American activist Linda Stosur; such is life as a principled civil liberties proponent).
The flaws and dangers in this anti-free-speech mindset are manifest, but nonetheless always worth highlighting, especially when horrific violence causes people to want to abridge civil liberties in the name of stopping it. In sum, purporting to oppose fascism by allowing the state to ban views it opposes is like purporting to oppose human rights abuses by mandating the torture of all prisoners.
One of the defining attributes of fascism is forcible suppression of views (“For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason,” wrote Umberto Eco); recall that one of Trump’s first proposals after winning the 2016 election was to criminalize flag desecration. You can’t fight that ideology by employing and championing one of its defining traits: viewpoint-based state censorship.
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
Even if this position could be morally justified, those who favor free speech suppression, or who oppose the ACLU’s universal defense of speech rights, will create results that are the exact opposite of those they claim to want. It’s an indescribably misguided strategy that will inevitably victimize themselves and their own views.
Let’s begin with one critical fact: the ACLU has always defended, and still does defend, the free speech rights of the most marginalized left-wing activists, from Communists and atheists, to hard-core war opponents and pacifists, to Muslim extremists and even NAMBLA. That’s true of any consistent civil liberties advocate: we defend the rights of those with views we hate in order to strengthen our defense of the rights of those who are most marginalized and vulnerable in society.
The ACLU is primarily a legal organization. That means they defend people’s rights in court, under principles of law. One of the governing tools of courts is precedent: the application of prior rulings to current cases. If the ACLU allows the state to suppress the free speech rights of white nationalists or neo-Nazi groups – by refusing to defend such groups when the state tries to censor them or by allowing them to have inadequate representation – then the ACLU’s ability to defend the free speech rights of groups and people that you like will be severely compromised.
It’s easy to be dismissive of this serious aspect of the debate if you’re some white American or non-Muslim American whose free speech is very unlikely to be depicted as “material support for Terrorism” or otherwise criminalized. But if you’re someone who cares about the free speech attacks on radical leftists, Muslims, and other marginalized groups, and tries to defend those rights in court, then you’re going to be genuinely afraid of allowing anti-free-speech precedents to become entrenched that will then be used against you when it’s time to defend free speech rights. The ACLU is not defending white supremacist groups but instead is defending a principle – one that it must defend if it is going to be successful in defending free speech rights for people you support.
Beyond that, the contradiction embedded in this anti-free-speech advocacy is so glaring. For many of those attacking the ACLU here, it is a staple of their worldview that the U.S. is a racist and fascist country and that those who control the government are right-wing authoritarians. There is substantial validity to that view.
Why, then, would people who believe that simultaneously want to vest in these same fascism-supporting authorities the power to ban and outlaw ideas they dislike? Why would you possible think that the List of Prohibited Ideas will end up including the views you hate rather than the views you support? Most levers of state power are now controlled by the Republican Party, while many Democrats have also advocated the criminalization of left-wing views. Why would you trust those officials to suppress free speech in ways that you find just and noble, rather than oppressive?
As I wrote in my comprehensive 2013 defense of free speech at the Guardian, this overflowing naïveté is what I’ve always found most confounding about the left-wing case against universal free speech: this belief that state authorities will exercise this power of censorship magnanimously and responsibly: “At any given point, any speech that subverts state authority can be deemed – legitimately so – to be hateful and even tending to incite violence.”
Then there’s the back-up attack on the ACLU: OK, fine, I’m for free speech, even of Milo and Nazis, but why don’t they spend their resources defending free speech rights for good people rather than White Supremacists? Nobody is forcing them to take these cases. As a recent Vox article on the ACLU debate put it: “some question whether the organization should be using its resources to defend such awful groups of people. It’s one thing in theory to support universal free speech rights, but it’s another to actually spend time and money defending neo-Nazis.” This was one of the arguments made by ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio in objecting to the group’s decision to defend Yiannapoulous.
Notably, this was the same argument made by right-wing neocon activists to attack the Obama DOJ lawyers for defending Al Qaeda members: yes, fine, everyone deserves a defense, but why did they choose to represent Al Qaeda? As National Review’s Andrew McCarthy put it in attacking those lawyers: “The salient issue in the controversy over Justice Department attorneys who formerly represented our terrorist enemies detained at Guantanamo Bay is this: They were volunteers.”
Leave aside the fact that the ACLU does expend vast resources to defend the rights of immigrants, minorities against abusive policing and a racist justice system, and Muslims. Beyond all that, the reason it’s vital to expend resources to defend free speech rights of awful people, even white nationalists, is because that’s where free speech battles are always and by definition fought.
It’s always those whose views are deemed most odious by the mainstream that are the initial targets of censorship efforts; it’s very rare that the state tries to censor the views held by the mainstream. If you allow those initial censorship efforts to succeed because of your distaste for those being targeted, then you lose the ability to defend the rights of those you like because the censorship principle has been enshrined. That’s why the ACLU, for instance, defended the free speech rights of the revolting Fred Phelps, and one of its leading LGBT lawyers justified that position this way:
We do it because we believe in the principle, and because we realize that once you chip away at one person’s rights, everyone else’s are at risk. . . . Free speech doesn’t belong only to those we agree with, and the First Amendment doesn’t only protect speech that is tasteful and inoffensive. In fact, it is in the hard cases that our commitment to the First Amendment is most tested and most important. As one federal judge has put it, tolerating hateful speech is “the best protection we have against any Nazi-type regime in this country.”
Then, finally, there’s the argument about efficacy. How can anyone believe that neo-Nazism or white supremacy will disappear in the U.S., or even be weakened, if it’s forcibly suppressed by the state? Is it not glaringly apparent that the exact opposite will happen: by turning them into free speech martyrs, you will do nothing but strengthen them and make them more sympathetic? Literally nothing has helped Yiannopoulos become a national cult figure more than the well-intentioned (but failed) efforts to deny him a platform. Nothing could be better designed to aid their cause than converting a fringe, tiny group of overt neo-Nazis into some sort of poster child for free speech rights.
The need to fight neo-Nazism and white supremacy wherever it appears is compelling. The least effective tactic is to try to empower the state to suppress the expression of their views. That will backfire in all sorts of ways: strengthening that movement and ensuring that those who advocate state censorship today are its defenseless targets tomorrow. And whatever else is true, the impulse to react to terrorist attacks by demanding the curtailment of core civil liberties is always irrational, dangerous, and self-destructive, no matter how tempting that impulse might be.
The post The Misguided Attacks on ACLU for Defending Neo-Nazis’ Free Speech Rights in Charlottesville appeared first on The Intercept.
Exxon Mobil Is Still Pumping Toxins into Black Community in Texas 17 Years After Civil Rights Complaint
Joseph Gaines was sitting on his porch in the Charlton-Pollard section of Beaumont, Texas, on a recent evening in June, sipping beer and chatting with some of his neighbors about the NBA playoffs, when a loud boom cut through the night and a stream of fire lit up the sky. A few minutes later, a strong, unpleasant odor settled over the street. As soon as they smelled it, the men stopped arguing about LeBron James and left the porch, covering their mouths and noses as they hurried into their homes.
As unsettling as it was, none of the neighbors reported what happened that night — not the fire that rose above their heads, nor the sound they heard, the sickening smell or the symptoms that followed. For Gaines, the symptoms included an intense sudden headache, tearing eyes, a runny nose, and congestion that made it difficult to sleep and lasted into the next day.
Gaines, who works in lawn care, had the day off when I met him at his home, and as he went about fixing himself something to eat and heading out to sit on his small porch, he occasionally sniffed and dabbed at his eyes.
“No point in complaining,” he said, looking out at the row of modest houses across the street. A block and a half from Gaines’s house, the street ends in an Exxon Mobil refinery that processes “sour crude,” oil that contains high amounts of sulfur. The process of removing the impurities and refining the oil into gasoline produces sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that can cause respiratory, neurological, cardiac, and other serious health problems. Those gasses also give the neighborhood a rotten egg odor that occasionally wafted in with the warm breeze as Gaines and I sat on his porch.
In Charlton-Pollard, flare events like the one Gaines and his neighbors encountered that night — in which the flames that usually burn on top of the smokestacks erupt into smelly belches of fire — are regular occurrences. The flames burst so reliably from the refinery some local kids treat them as fireworks, gathering at the fence down the street from Gaines’s house at night to catch the show.
The plant releases at least 135 toxic chemicals, many of which — including 1,3-butadiene, benzo[a]pyrene, and styrene — are carcinogens. And the plant is regularly in noncompliance with the Clean Air Act. Yet many of the people I met on my recent visit to Charlton-Pollard said they felt there was no point in trying to reduce the emissions.
“Why would I bother?” asked Gaines’s neighbor Rebecca Thibeaux, who is 64 and has lived near the plant since she was 30 years old. Thibeaux was diagnosed with both endometrial cancer and serious heart problems last year; when we spoke she had just returned from chemotherapy and was resting on her couch. Thibeaux said she suspects pollution from the refinery may have caused her ailments. And it’s certainly possible. The refinery emits carcinogens, and several studies have shown an increased incidence of cancer in people living near these facilities. Exposure to several of the chemicals the plant emits has also been tied to increased risk of heart disease. But Thibeaux dismissed the idea that she might be able to convince a powerful company to change its ways. “It’s not like anything any of us do or say will stop them.”
People who can afford to live elsewhere tend to leave the neighborhood. A family who lived next door to Gaines recently left because they feared the pollution was the reason their 12-year-old daughter had begun losing her hair after they moved in. Theirs, too, was a reasonable fear. Physicians have documented a relationship between exposure to airborne contaminants, including many the plant emits, and hair loss. Research has also shown an increase in birth defects among people living near refineries, as well as in children’s asthma rates. But the family didn’t stick around to parse the science; they just took their daughter to a place that smelled and felt safer.
Meanwhile Thibeaux, Gaines, and the others who remain in the roughly square-mile neighborhood just west of the Exxon Mobil plant had good reason to doubt their concerns would be taken seriously: They already raised them in a formal complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency — 17 years ago.
On April 13, 2000, Charlton-Pollard residents asked the EPA to force the state of Texas to revoke a permit it had recently granted the refinery to increase operations. The law requires the EPA to acknowledge receipt of a complaint within five business days, conduct an investigation, and send the complainants preliminary findings within 205 days after that. After one response three years later — a promise to investigate — the federal agency devoted to protecting Americans from environmental threats did nothing to revoke the permit; for years the EPA didn’t respond at all.
Between 2000 and 2016, while the people who live next to the plant waited for an investigation, the refinery emitted more than 400 million pounds of pollution into the air. Yet in all those years, the EPA never once consulted the people who were most affected.
In May, 17 years after the initial complaint, the EPA finally issued a letter declaring the case over the refinery pollution resolved, with only small changes to be implemented. Many people I spoke with in Charlton-Pollard found the agency’s proposed fixes — two community meetings and a single air monitor to be placed more than a mile away from the plant — more insulting than having been ignored for 17 years.
Adding insult to injury, the residents of this small, mostly African-American neighborhood are now likely facing an increase in emissions as the result of the planned expansion of the refinery and an Exxon Mobil chemical plant that uses its oil. And as the Trump administration rolls back pollution protections and opens the gates for increased oil production, life in this and many other communities living near refineries is about to get much more dangerous and unpleasant.
It was the mid-1990s when a local Baptist pastor named Roy Malveaux began organizing the residents of Charlton-Pollard in response to pollution from the local refinery. Back then, Exxon Mobil was just Mobil (the oil giants had yet to merge), and refineries around the country had less pollution-control equipment. Texas refineries emitted more toxic chemicals per barrel of oil than those in any other state, and the Beaumont facility emitted more pollution than any other in Texas. The pollution was so pervasive that residents had to wipe residue off their cars in the morning, according to the complaint Malveaux filed with the EPA. Some people reportedly fainted after breathing bursts of foul-smelling air.
Though air pollution from the refinery was already regularly exceeding some of the limits set in its permits — and, for hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, also exceeding state-wide safety levels — Mobil proposed expanding its plant in 1999. The company acknowledged that the move would further increase emissions of several contaminants, including sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and hydrogen sulfide (which can cause both short-term respiratory and memory problems, as well as permanent damage to the heart, brain, and lungs). The company proposed offsetting the increases in the refinery with reductions at its petrochemical plant nearby.
Such horse-trading is common in many parts of the country, but according to Kelly Haragan, director of the environmental law clinic at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, it’s particularly difficult to ascertain whether the companies honor the terms of these deals in Texas: “The way Texas issues air permits — with a single facility having dozens of different permits — it’s very hard to determine if companies are following the netting rules that apply when they add and subtract different emissions to determine whether they trigger permitting and pollution-control requirements.”
Malveaux and several other people strongly objected to the expansion and asked the Texas agency in charge of refineries to grant them a hearing to voice their concerns. But in 1999, the state denied their request and determined that a permit was not necessary because total emissions from both the company’s refinery and chemical plant would not be exceeded. Brian McGovern, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, wrote in an email that “the permit application was reviewed and authorized in accordance with state and federal regulations in place at the time, which included a health effects review to ensure that emissions from the Beaumont refinery were not exceeding safe levels, and that best available control technology was being implemented.”
But Malveaux was already watching members of his community suffer from pollution. He was struggling with it himself, getting headaches and nausea when the air was at its worst. His young niece had recently developed severe asthma after she was placed in daycare near the refinery, and he had watched as the condition improved just as suddenly after his sister moved her to a childcare center farther from the plant. After the state agency denied a request for a hearing, he decided to complain to the EPA, with the help of the environmental groups Earthjustice and the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club.
The filing Malveaux and the environmental groups submitted on behalf of Charlton-Pollard residents described Exxon Mobil’s emissions swap scheme, the chemical pollution, and the expansion, which they predicted would only make the pollution worse. And the complaint went further, arguing that the location of the oil refinery — next to a neighborhood where 95 percent of residents were African-American — was a civil rights violation.
Named for a clause of the Civil Rights Act, such Title VI cases are meant to hold government agencies accountable for discrimination on the basis of race. The Beaumont complaint argued that by issuing the permit despite repeated complaints about pollution, the Texas agency, which is subject to the civil rights law because it receives federal money, had violated the rights of the people of Charlton-Pollard.
A compact man with piercing eyes and a well-trimmed beard, Malveaux remembers when he got the 2003 response from the EPA saying the federal agency would investigate the problems in Charlton-Pollard. Already some of residents’ fears about the expansion had become reality. Just a year after the permit was issued, in 2000, the plant greatly increased its emissions of VOCs, chemicals that can cause headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea, as well as cancer and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. In 2004, a particularly heavy year for emissions at the plant, according to data from the TCEQ, the annual average level of hydrogen sulfide near the refinery was four times what it had been in 1997.
Malveaux was pleasantly surprised by the EPA’s 2003 response. The agency had set up its office of civil rights and had begun taking Title VI complaints only in the 1990s. And he suspected — rightly as it turned out — that most such complaints had not even received the promise of an investigation. Although the wheels of environmental justice were turning slowly, he was encouraged to see them turning at all. “I was overjoyed by the letter,” Malveaux recalled recently. “The whole community had a sense of joy because EPA was going to be investigating our complaint. They really thought that something would come out of it.”
The neighborhood next to the Beaumont refinery was named after two local educational leaders — T.T. Pollard, a teacher, and Charles Charlton, a freed slave who helped establish and run the first African-American school in Beaumont. In 1901, when that school was turning out the area’s first African-American high school graduates, the famous well at nearby Spindletop struck oil, giving rise to several of the world’s oil giants, including the company now known as Exxon Mobil.
For a time, the resulting prosperity appeared to benefit everyone in the community. But Charlton and Pollard, who were known for beautifying and improving their community, would no doubt be dismayed by what has happened to the neighborhood that bears their name. While the Exxon Mobil refinery now processes about $18 million worth of oil each day, about a third of the people living on the other side of the fence from it live in poverty.
The people of Charlton-Pollard tried to avail themselves of the civil rights law, one of the few tools for directly addressing this power imbalance. Yet years went by without any word of an EPA investigation into their complaint. During that time as the disparity increased.
They weren’t the only ones waiting for the EPA to decide whether toxic messes amounted to civil rights violations. According to a report from the Center for Public Integrity, the majority of civil rights complaints the EPA accepted for investigation between 1996 and 2013 languished for years.
In 2015, Marianne Engelman-Lado, an environmental attorney who was working for Earthjustice at the time, decided to look into some of the oldest outstanding civil rights complaints. In terms of timeliness alone, any one of the filings she reviewed might have made an open-and-shut case. Although the law requires the EPA to issue preliminary findings on complaints in less than a year, Engelman-Lado reviewed a dozen complaints in which the EPA had taken at least 10 years to respond.
“In theory, you could get a judge to order them to do what they’re supposed to do,” said Engelman-Lado, who was working with a coalition of environmental justice groups and is currently employed at Yale Law School. But the few past efforts to bring attention to individual complaints had resulted in the EPA closing each case without addressing the underlying issues.
The EPA is allowed to close civil rights cases only in certain circumstances: if the parties involved agree to a resolution, for instance, if insufficient evidence of discrimination is found, or if the agency issues a finding of discrimination and comes up with a plan for a remedy.
Yet a 2016 report on environmental justice from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights described a pattern in which EPA closed cases in response to suits over individual complaints that had remained open for years without meeting these conditions. “EPA has been sued multiple times (sometimes in the context of processing the same Title VI complaint) for failing to meet its regulatory time frames. Once sued, EPA takes the minimal amount of action to moot the lawsuit, yet never seems to reach any substantive decisions on whether a federal recipient has violated Title VI.”
Engelman-Lado noticed the same trend. “Every time people have done this, they try to close the books,” she said. So she decided to sue the EPA over five complaints. “That way, if they closed the book on all five cases, we’d be able to show it was arbitrary and capricious,” Engelman-Lado reasoned.
Since January, the EPA has in fact moved to close all five of the civil rights complaints mentioned in the suit, as well as at least two other civil rights cases that had been pending for years — a sudden clearing of the EPA’s civil rights docket that Engelman-Lado calls “unprecedented.” She did want closure for these communities, but only if it came with a satisfying resolution to their problems, which had persisted and sometimes worsened over the years. But the proposed remedies were disappointing at best and in each case, they were far too little and too late.
Consider one case over a solid waste landfill in Tallassee, Alabama, that processes 15,000 tons of waste per day — more than any other facility in the state. Local residents complained in 2003, arguing that by allowing the landfill to be located in their neighborhood — which, depending on the block, was between 87 and 100 percent African-American — the Alabama Department of Environmental Management had violated the civil rights law. In a letter issued in May, the EPA acknowledged that an investigation of the state agency had raised questions about the sufficiency of its non-discrimination program, but nevertheless decided not to address it further and closed the case.
Another complaint over the construction of an incinerator power plant in Flint, Michigan, dated back to 1992. The four residents who had filed it originally hoped to prevent the plant, which would be partially fueled by demolition waste, from being built in a low-income, mostly African-American neighborhood. “The site selection is ruthless, insensitive, and only driven by purely economy factors,” the original complaint read. “This is environmental racism.”
The January letter closing the Flint case is arguably the strongest of the agency’s responses to a civil rights complaint. The agency issued one of its only findings of discrimination, acknowledging that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had discriminated on the basis of race when it granted the permit for the incinerator. Yet there was no recourse for the discrimination. The plant stayed open, and no one was fined.
That finding came 25 years after the first of two complaints about the incinerator was filed. By that time, the plant had already been operating for 22 years — and, as the original complaints predicted, had been emitting lead and other contaminants into the air for decades. In the intervening years, three of the four complainants have died. Among them was Janice O’Neal, a community activist who died of cancer at age 53 and lived about a mile from the plant.
“Their main thing was: you stop the lawsuit and then we’ll come up with great stuff,” said Father Phil Schmitter, a Flint-based Catholic priest and the lone survivor of the original complainants, who added that some EPA staff had recently encouraged him to let the matter go but that he had no intention of dropping the case that had resulted in the EPA’s only serious effort to address concerns raised decades ago. “The only reason we’re talking is because we sued you, so why would I drop the suit?”
“The EPA is just trying to close all of the cases where the communities brought them to court for unlawfully withholding action,” said Engelman-Lado. “It’s almost like they were thumbing their noses at the communities. You said you wanted us to finish these investigations? Well then we’ll finish them.”Under the Obama administration the EPA stopped checking the email inbox that received civil rights complaints.
As the people of Charlton-Pollard and Flint — as well as Tallassee, Alabama; Pittsburg, California; and Chaves County, New Mexico — can attest, the EPA’s lack of responsiveness to civil rights complaints spans not just many years, but also several presidential administrations. The EPA closed the first of the five civil rights cases named in the suit, over the incinerator in Flint, on January 19, the day before Barack Obama left office. Some of the biggest frustrations over the handling of civil rights mounted during his presidency.
It was under Obama, for instance, that the civil rights division of the EPA stopped checking the email inbox that received civil rights complaints for about a year between 2014 and 2015. Among the messages the agency failed to open in a timely way was one received on February 25, 2015, labeled “handicapped complainant re drinking H20 in Flint,” according to records obtained by The Intercept. The Flint water crisis hit national news in the fall of that year. But in the spring of 2016, internal EPA memos show, the civil rights office was planning to answer the four emails that it deemed complaints but was still deliberating over how to respond to the rest of the pleas for help that had fallen into the black hole of its Title VI inbox.
While the Obama EPA made considerable missteps in its handling of civil rights complaints, it also made some progress, rescinding an EPA proposal that would have eliminated deadlines to address those complaints, and releasing a “toolkit” to improve its enforcement of the civil rights law. Engelman-Lado described the EPA under Obama as both moving too slowly and having an “aspiration to put environmental justice on the agenda.”
The Trump administration has sent a very different message. As Trump’s EPA was closing the remaining four cases in the suit, the president proposed zeroing-out funding for the Office of Civil Rights. There is a chance that some or all of the office’s funding may be restored in the final budget, but the proposed cut sent a clear message, according to Mustafa Ali, one of the founding members of the civil rights office. “That tells the communities that that office was put in place to serve that they are not valued,” he said. Ali resigned from the EPA in March.
Ali acknowledged that the EPA’s previous efforts to address environmental injustice have been inadequate. “There have never been enough resources in those spaces,” he said. “What’s new is that now there’s actually a strategic plan to dismantle the basic protections that have been in place for years on both the civil rights and environmental side.”
Although Obama’s EPA failed to clear out the backlog of outstanding environmental civil rights cases, it did make some progress in limiting emissions from refineries. In Beaumont, the biggest changes came as the result of a lawsuit the agency filed against Exxon Mobil over six of its refineries, which resulted in a 2005 consent decree that mandated serious pollution reductions. Those and other changes resulted in a 70 percent overall decrease in emissions from the plant, according to an email from Charlotte Huffaker, a communications adviser at Exxon Mobil. Huffaker emphasized that “over the last 15 years, ExxonMobil Beaumont has invested over $1 billion in environmental performance measures” and that the company continues to invest in environmental improvements.
“Our work and controls, coupled [with] regulatory actions, have been effective in reducing overall emissions,” Huffaker wrote in response to questions from The Intercept. She also pointed out that the company has “installed new clean technologies that were not available back in 2000 which have resulted in great environmental gains” and that Beaumont is not currently on the “watch list,” which TCEQ uses to designate cities with particularly high levels of certain chemicals.
The Charlton-Pollard neighborhood was on the watch list for high levels of benzene from 2004 to 2010, for hydrogen sulfide from 2002 to 2009, and for sulfur dioxide from 2003 to 2016 — making it one of only two Texas neighborhoods the state environmental agency has ever noted as having unsafe levels of all three chemicals.
And while total emissions from the plant have decreased levels of some of the most dangerous chemicals have not — and, in some cases, they have increased. The refinery released almost four times as much of the neurotoxin hydrogen sulfide in 2016 as it did in 2000.
The overall downward trend also masks the fact that emissions have vacillated considerably since the complaint was first filed, sometimes decreasing for several years only to spike later. And the decrease of annual totals doesn’t reflect short-term, high-impact releases, such as the emission of more than 92,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide in just a few hours in February 2016 or 866,000 pounds of VOCs that escaped from the refinery over four days in the fall of 2015.
Permits are supposed to limit emissions and let the public know the level of pollution to which it is exposed. But such unpermitted “upset events,” the result of unplanned releases from faulty equipment, fires, accidents, and flare blasts, significantly add to the pollution in Beaumont and elsewhere. The amount of VOCs emitted by the Exxon Mobil refinery has exceeded its permit limit every year between 2000 and 2016, the last year for which data is available. That year, according to preliminary data, the plant released more than 468,000 pounds of VOCs in unpermitted emissions. In 2012, the Beaumont plant emitted more than three times the amount of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide than was permitted.
Texas oil companies do pay penalties for permit violations and breaking environmental laws, but only rarely. According to a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project, between 2010 and 2015, the TCEQ, which is responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act in Texas, took no action against companies in the vast number of illegal releases of sulfur dioxide, benzene, and other pollutants from upset events. The state imposed penalties for fewer than 3 percent of almost 25,000 events, which together released more than 500 million pounds of air pollution. And enforcement efforts have steadily decreased over the past five years, according to the report. In 2016, the state punished fewer than 1 percent of illegal pollution releases.
Exxon Mobil is not the only company that gets away with violating its permits. And though it emitted 675,000 pounds of pollutants during unpermitted events last year, it’s not the worst offender. The Beaumont refinery ranks second among Texas industrial facilities in terms of how much benzene it emitted above the limit, and fourth in terms of VOCs. But Exxon Mobil’s vast size and wealth compared to the relatively piddling size of the penalties make the company particularly insensitive to the fines.In 2016, the state of Texas punished fewer than 1 percent of illegal pollution releases.
Consider an enforcement action the state issued in May over Exxon Mobil’s unpermitted release in April 2016 of nearly 2,125 pounds of carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and VOCs. The plant not only emitted the chemicals, it failed to report the emissions within 24 hours, as the law requires. The fine for both violations was $7,001, an amount unlikely to deter a company valued at $343 billion.
According to an email from TCEQ spokesperson Brian McGovern, “penalties are calculated in accordance with the TCEQ’s Penalty Policy,” which is based on several factors, including the documented impact the violation has on human health or environmental receptors, the duration of the event, and “economic benefit gained.”
The other problem with both permits and tracking violations is that the reported emissions are based on the company’s own estimates, which according to Neil Carman “are totally bogus.” Carman is a chemist and the clean air director for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club. Before that, he worked for the Texas environmental agency for 12 years, inspecting refineries around the state. Carman says that emissions are often reported as averages over time, which means that pollution spikes go unpunished.
Reporting on VOCs is particularly misleading, according to Carman. Regulators require testing for only a few of the hundreds of chemicals in this class. And the few air monitors for them are too far from the plant to pick up emissions. The nearest monitor “is so limited in what it’s measuring as an ambient air monitor that it paints a fraudulent picture for all the emissions from the refinery and chemical plants at Beaumont,” Carman wrote in an email. This means that the official upset reports filed with the state significantly underrepresent the amount of toxins the plant releases.
The state requires companies “to use the best available method to determine and report emissions,” according to the email from TCEQ’s McGovern, which also noted that “the TCEQ network of monitors in the Beaumont area is sited with the intention of measuring ambient air quality over populated regions rather than emissions from specific sources.” According to McGovern, the “Beaumont Downtown monitor, which is located south of the Exxon Mobil Refinery, measures volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and sulfur dioxide, in addition to meteorological parameters such as temperature and wind.”
While the mechanisms for measuring pollution call each record of an upset event into question, the total number of events that refineries report is wildly off, according to Josh Kratka, a senior attorney at the National Environmental Law Center. Refineries are required to report relatively large upset events, and the only official way to obtain records of unpermitted releases below a certain level, which presumably pose less risk to the public, is through legal discovery. When Kratka obtained these records over the course of suing Exxon Mobil over its Baytown plant, about an hour west of Beaumont, he found that during an eight-year period, the company reported 350 larger upset events at that plant, but also had almost 4,000 smaller occurences that hadn’t been publicly disclosed. “Even though each individual event might seem insignificant, they can be symptomatic of much bigger underlying problems,” said Kratka, who added that these smaller releases can add up to a significant amount of pollution. Kratka won his suit in April, when a federal court hit Exxon Mobil with a $19.95 million penalty for 16,386 violations of the Clean Air Act. In response to questions from The Intercept, Exxon Mobil’s Huffaker wrote that “the court recognized that none of the events in question actually or potentially harmed public health or the environment,” and that the company was considering an appeal.Trump’s proposed budget has cut funding for the EPA enforcement office by 40 percent and reduced grants to state enforcement offices by 45 percent.
As CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson already had an outsized influence on government. But not even his appointment as secretary of state signaled how quickly and effectively the Trump administration would retool federal rules and regulations to the benefit of the oil and gas industry — to the detriment of communities like Charlton-Pollard.
In 2015, the Obama administration introduced the Clean Power Plan, which, according to EPA estimates, would have prevented more than 140,000 asthma attacks among children and between 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths by reducing air pollution. Trump issued an executive order killing the plan in March.
The new administration has also delayed implementing several regulations that would have made life safer in Beaumont. Among them are new chemical safety standards, which EPA administrator Scott Pruitt recently announced would be delayed until 2019. The Obama administration had overhauled the rules in an effort to make plants safer after 15 people died and 180 were injured at another Texas oil refinery.
In June, Pruitt, who had joined oil companies to sue the EPA over lower ozone standards when he was attorney general of Oklahoma, announced that the agency would also delay by a year the reduction of ozone limits. (On August 2, after being sued by 15 states, he backed down.) Pruitt also tried to delay a rule limiting methane emissions, another air pollutant from oil and gas production, but a federal appeals court recently found the move illegal.
Trump’s revival of the Keystone pipeline via executive order in his first week in office will also change Charlton-Pollard. The pipeline is expected to deliver more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Exxon Mobil’s Beaumont plant and other oil refineries on the Gulf Coast.
“A lot of the stuff flowing down the Keystone is really dirty, and air quality in Beaumont will get a lot worse,” said attorney Kelly Haragan. And while greater production also increases the likelihood of flare events, fires, leaks, and other incidents, Haragan, who has helped represent the Charlton-Pollard community on its EPA civil rights case, said she is also bracing for “even less enforcement, less federal attention to the refineries.”
In fact, during the first six months of the Trump administration, there was a 60 percent drop in civil penalties against polluters, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project.
Trump’s proposed budget has cut funding for the EPA enforcement office by 40 percent and reduced grants to state enforcement offices by 45 percent. His appointment of a former industry lobbyist to head the federal office, along with several other recent hires at the EPA — including Erik Baptist, a former lobbyist from the American Petroleum Institute, and Dennis Lee Forsgren, both of whom have deep ties to the Keystone pipeline — reinforces the sense that the oil industry has now utterly captured the agency responsible for regulating its activities.
The recent nomination of Michael Dourson to head the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention also bodes ill for the people of Charlton-Pollard. Dourson helped TCEQ set significantly weaker emissions standards for several chemicals emitted by the refinery, including the carcinogens benzene and 1,3 butadiene, according to a 2014 report from Inside Climate News and the Center for Public Integrity. In his new role, Dourson will be in a position to affect a range of policies relating to toxic chemicals, including those emitted from the refinery.
In response to inquiries from The Intercept, the EPA provided a statement that it had issued on May 23, the same day it put out the letter resolving the complaint over the Beaumont refinery, which stated that the agency was “resolving this complaint based on an Informal Resolution Agreement” between TCEQ and the EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office. The statement also said that “ECRCO will now monitor TCEQ’s implementation of this Informal Resolution Agreement to ensure its full implementation. ECRCO will not close this case until this agreement is fully implemented.” The EPA declined to answer specific questions or comment on the issues raised in this article.
While pollution protections are moving backward, Exxon Mobil is planning to expand its Beaumont operations yet again, increasing the output from its refinery by 40,000 barrels a day and the capacity of its petrochemical plant by 65 percent. According to Exxon Mobil’s Huffaker, the chemical plant expansion “is estimated to generate $20 billion in economic activity in the first 13 years of operation, and it will use best available control technology to minimize emissions. At the peak of construction later this year, the project is expected to employ 1,400 workers in the Beaumont area.”
Huffaker said the company was still “considering” the refinery expansion. If Exxon Mobil does decide to move forward with the plan, the boosted production will result in more than 1 million pounds of air pollution on top of current emissions, according to preliminary paperwork the company filed in order to obtain permits necessary for expansion.
Although Exxon Mobil announced it would expand its operations before the election, in March, Trump tried to take credit for the move. In a video posted on the White House website, Trump announced the expansion as if it were new: “This was something that was done to a large extent because of our policies and the policies of this new administration.”
In the video, Trump pointed to Exxon Mobil’s growth as evidence that “we’re really doing well.” From the perspective of the energy company, that’s an accurate statement. Already the largest oil and gas company in the world, Exxon Mobil’s earnings have surged 122 percent since Trump took office.
It’s hard to argue that the people in Charlton-Pollard are doing really well. Almost everyone I spoke with there had ailments they attributed to the refinery, though it’s all but impossible to prove that the poor air quality caused all these individual illnesses. For Malveaux, who has spent the past two decades working to curb the refinery’s pollution, the prevalence of health problems linked to high levels of air pollution in his community requires no further explanation.
When the children Malveaux teaches in Sunday school have memory problems, which, along with IQ deficits, have been tied to air pollution (especially hydrogen sulfide), he assumes that is the likely cause. “My kids at the church, you can tell them something and, five or six minutes later, they done forgot it,” said Malveaux. “It used to irritate me because I thought they were messing with me, but I’ve come to understand that they really don’t remember.”
Many Charlton-Pollard residents who have seen the lives of friends and family members cut short by cancer, heart disease, and respiratory ailments can’t know for sure what role air pollution played, but they live with the obvious possibility that it was a factor. Charles Trahn, who is 67 and lives down the street from Joseph Gaines, said the air he breathes sometimes has an immediate effect. When there are major emissions events, “it feels like you’re swimming in your own head,” Trahn said. He recently lost his wife to lung cancer.
E.J. Johnson, a good friend of Gaines, is unable to say for sure why health problems have plagued his family. Johnson lost his mother to cancer in her 30s and his grandfather to heart disease in his early 50s. His sister-in-law, who is in her early 40s, recently developed kidney cancer. And Johnson himself, who is 51 and has lived in the neighborhood since he was 10, had a stroke when he was in his 30s and had to use a wheelchair for several years. These days, he can walk unsteadily, but his brain hasn’t fully recovered. “I lost words I would normally know,” Johnson told me. “I lost my education.”
But Johnson said he was fairly sure that his respiratory troubles are a result of the local air quality. “Within a day of leaving here, I breathe and cough up and my sinuses clear out,” he said. “By the time we get back to Beaumont, I can feel my head tightening up.”
According to the EPA’s data, people in the neighborhood have a risk of cancer from air pollution of 54 in a million, which is significantly higher than the national average of between zero and one in a million. But even that considerable number is based on Exxon Mobil’s own estimate of its emissions. Jefferson County, where the refinery is located, has a cancer death rate for African-Americans that is significantly higher than both the state and national rates. But it’s impossible to know Charlton-Pollard’s exact cancer rates, since the neighborhood accounts for less than 1 percent of the county, and the state doesn’t make available cancer statistics for that smaller area.
What’s clear, however, is that air pollution kills. One recent study showed that people who die prematurely from air pollution lose about a decade from their lives, on average. Another study, led by a Harvard professor of biostatistics and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that increases in levels of particulate matter and ozone, both of which are elevated in Charlton-Pollard, were associated with increases in all causes of death. The study found that African-Americans are about three times more likely to die from tiny particles in air pollution.
Even small improvements in air quality can make a huge difference; tightening the current limits for particulate emissions by just a single microgram per cubic meter of air (one-twelfth of the current limit) would prevent some 12,000 premature deaths, according to the authors of the Harvard study. Conversely, small increases can cost thousands of lives. By freezing and delaying rules limiting pollution, the Trump administration is quite literally killing thousands of people.
Trump has framed his regulatory rollback as improving the economy. Yet in Charlton-Pollard, the costs of pollution can be measured in both dollars and lives. Health and environmental problems depress property values, making it harder for homeowners to sell without sacrificing their life savings, which in turn means that the people most likely to remain there are those with the least resources. And these beleaguered residents are the least able to combat the siting or expansion of industrial projects.
The dynamic helps explain why the poor and people of color experience more exposure to pollution. Both African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to live near the country’s 149 refineries. One 2012 study from Yale looked at 14 toxins in air pollution and found that African-Americans had higher exposure levels than whites for 13 of those compounds, while Latinos had the highest levels of pollution overall.
Ivan Frederick, whose two-bedroom house is a couple hundred feet from the refinery fence line, has had a front-row seat to his neighborhood’s environmental and economic decline. “All this property has become cheaper and cheaper,” he said, gesturing to the vacant houses and empty lots on his block. Frederick, 64, understands what might have driven his neighbors to leave. At least once a day, intense smells make it impossible to sit on his porch. While the “funky air,” as he calls it, lingers, he can’t run his air conditioner or window fan, which would bring it into the house. So sometimes he’s stuck inside with no way to beat the heat.
As soon as he moved in 18 years ago, Frederick began feeling nauseous and getting headaches when the smells descended. Although these acute symptoms have subsided over the past few years, he has since developed chronic health problems. By 57, he had experienced three heart attacks and developed serious respiratory problems.
Frederick owns his home and could theoretically sell it. But it’s hard to find anyone who wants to buy a house inundated daily with air pollution. Several years ago, Exxon Mobil extended the boundary of its property and bought all the houses in the two blocks nearest the refinery. Many residents remain hopeful that the company might purchase their homes, too. Frederick said he hasn’t received an offer, but in any case he’s heard the company doesn’t pay much for houses. One person I spoke with said his neighbors had sold their house to Exxon Mobil for $11,000. Property records show houses in the area nearest the refinery to be practically worthless.
Back when they first filed their civil rights complaint with the EPA, Frederick was one of hundreds of Charlton-Pollard residents who used to show up at community meetings to talk about how to limit pollution from the refinery. But as time passed and there was no response from the EPA, the excitement began to wane.
In an email, spokesperson Huffaker emphasized Exxon Mobil’s history of community involvement — citing its contributions to the United Way of Beaumont and its participation in local business groups — but Malveaux experienced the company’s philanthropy differently, believing that its largesse focused on community members who supported it.
Malveaux believes some community members stopped coming to meetings because they feared getting on the wrong side of the powerful company. Others, he said, were too consumed with the demands of everyday life. “We’re talking about people making $8, $9 an hour just to keep the lights on and food on the table.” But he admits that time may be what really dampened the fight in Charlton-Pollard.
“It was a drip, drip,” said Malveaux, “People stopped getting interested because nothing got better. They didn’t see any tangible results after complaining about the same things year after year. Eventually, over time, they just decided it wasn’t worth it.”
And so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that only three people showed up when Malveaux and a Lone Star Legal Aid attorney named Colin Cox held a community meeting last spring about Exxon Mobil’s latest effort to amend its permit to allow for greater production at its Beaumont plant. Nor was it surprising that Joseph Gaines, Rebecca Thibeaux, and Ivan Frederick were among the many people who skipped it.
“No matter how much you protest, you’re spinning your wheels. They got the power. It’s called money,” said Frederick. “At the end of the day, they’re going to do what they want to do.”
This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
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