The Intercept

Reforma da Previdência já foi garantida e você não viu: como a PEC do Teto selou o destino

19 June 2017 - 11:48am

Um dos efeitos colaterais mais danosos da PEC do Teto, aprovada no ano passado, tem passado despercebido nos últimos meses: ela tornou a Reforma da Previdência obrigatória. Por ordem da emenda constitucional aprovada, o orçamento da Previdência (assim como de demais áreas) deverá ser “congelado” por vinte anos nos níveis de 2016, sendo corrigido apenas pela inflação. O problema é que a quantidade de idosos no país vai aumentar neste período, de acordo com dados do IBGE. Ou seja, para que orçamento da Previdência se encaixe no teto, será obrigatoriamente necessário limitar o valor investido em aposentadorias.

Manifestação em São Bernardo do Campo (SP) contra a Reforma da Previdência.

Foto: Roberto Parizotti

Segundo dados do IBGE, entre 2017 e 2037 a população com 60 anos ou mais vai praticamente dobrar, passando de estimados 25,9 mil pessoas para a ordem de 50 mil pessoas. Para manter o orçamento dentro do limite aprovado — ou seja, ajustado nos níveis de 2016 apenas pela inflação — ou o valor da aposentadoria terá de cair ou o número de beneficiários precisará ser duramente controlado, levando a parte mais rica da população a recorrer à previdência privada. Mais uma vez, os mais afetados serão os mais pobres, que dependem mais dos valores pagos pela Previdência Social.

Uma vez aprovado o teto, agora a conta tem que fechar, obrigatoriamente. Não é à toa que o governo cogitou tomar medidas drásticas, como forçar a reforma por meio de Medidas Provisórias caso ela não seja aprovada em votação.

O que acontece se o teto não for respeitado

A emenda constitucional prevê sanções para as esferas de poder que ultrapassarem os limites de gastos. O órgão que desrespeitar seu teto (nesse caso, a Secretaria de Previdência) ficará impedido no ano seguinte de, por exemplo, contratar pessoal ou dar aumento aos seus funcionários, criar novas despesas ou, no caso do Executivo — do qual a Previdência faz parte — conceder incentivos fiscais. Em outras palavras, ou a pasta respeita o teto, ou entra em colapso. Acontece que o limite imposto é tão conservador que, no caso da Previdência, o colapso é inevitável em ambos os caminhos.

Aproveitando a mesma metáfora utilizada pelo ministro Henrique Meirelles e pelo presidente Michel Temer, segundo os quais a economia de um país pode ser vista como a de uma família — ignoremos momentaneamente o fato de que a comparação é falaciosa e errada, mas consideremos apenas pela licença poética —, é como se uma família se comprometesse a cortar os gastos pela metade, mas depois percebesse que assim vai faltar dinheiro até para o arroz com feijão. Só que, no caso da PEC, se a “família” não respeitar o limite, todos perdem seus empregos e os já parcos salários.

Não foi por falta de aviso

Tudo isso foi explicado para os parlamentares em diversas reuniões realizadas no próprio Congresso antes de as duas casas aprovarem a PEC, sempre com a presença de economistas e especialistas que registraram suas críticas ao novo regime fiscal.

Durante uma audiência na Comissão de Assuntos Econômicos, por exemplo, realizada em Brasília em novembro, a professora de economia da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) Esther Dweck explicou aos parlamentares que, uma vez aprovada, a PEC do Teto exigiria “diversas outras reformas, das quais a revisão dos mínimos constitucionais de saúde e educação e a Reforma da Previdência são só o começo”. A economista foi direta e franca:

“Os únicos alvos da PEC são as despesas primárias, que, no Brasil, são justamente o principal elemento de distribuição de renda que a gente teve nos últimos tempos”.

“O senhor sabe o que é despesa primária?”

Entre os outros especialistas que passaram pelo Congresso para explicar os efeitos danosos da PEC, a auditora fundadora do movimento “Auditoria Cidadã da Dívida” Maria Lúcia Fattorelli foi ao Senado para falar especificamente sobre como a PEC 241 impactaria na Previdência Social. Ela explicou que o limite conservador, contrastado com o crescimento previsto da população idosa, exigiria elevados cortes nos benefícios previdenciários.

Fatorelli conta que foi com sua equipe para a porta do plenário antes da votação da PEC para fazer uma simples pergunta a cada parlamentar que entrava: “O senhor sabe o que é despesa primária?”. A auditora ri amargamente do resultado: “Eles diziam que não sabiam! Eu sinto apenas não ter uma câmera na hora”.

Ato contra a Reforma da Previdência em São Paulo.

Foto: Roberto Parizotti / CUT

O principal problema de os parlamentares afirmarem não saber o que são despesas primárias é que a PEC do Teto trata especificamente delas.

Despesa primária é como se chama a parte do orçamento público que trata da manutenção do Estado. É quanto dinheiro se gasta em serviços básicos prestados à população, como saúde, educação e, claro, aposentadoria. Sem entender o que são despesas primárias, os parlamentares não conseguiriam ler sequer a exposição de motivos da PEC do Teto, que as cita como foco principal da emenda constitucional:

“A raiz do problema fiscal do Governo Federal está no crescimento acelerado da despesa pública primária. No período 2008-2015, essa despesa cresceu 51% acima da inflação, enquanto a receita evoluiu apenas 14,5%. Torna-se, portanto, necessário estabilizar o crescimento da despesa primária, como instrumento para conter a expansão da dívida pública. Esse é o objetivo desta Proposta de Emenda à Constituição”.

Dentro das despesas primárias, a Previdência toma o maior percentual: 46%. A Emenda Constitucional do Teto manda “congelar” por 20 anos todas as despesas primárias, entre elas os gastos com Seguridade Social, que, segundo o Artigo 194 da Constituição, são relativos “à saúde, à previdência e à assistência social”.

Trecho da Emenda Constitucional 95, que determina o congelamento do orçamento da Seguridade Social por 20 anos.

Despesas primárias são pouco mais da metade do orçamento

O que a exposição de motivos da emenda não mencionou é que as despesas primárias são apenas parte do orçamento. Segundo o Relatório de Acompanhamento Fiscal do Senado, publicado em fevereiro, os gastos da União de 2016 totalizaram R$ 2,67 trilhões. Desses, R$1,32 trilhão foram utilizados com despesas primárias. Já os gastos com pagamento de juros e amortização da dívida pública foram de R$1,13 trilhão, o equivalente a 42% do Orçamento Geral da União. Esses gastos ficarão de fora do “congelamento” feito pela emenda constitucional. O mesmo relatório do Senado afirma que “a cada ponto percentual reduzido na Selic [a taxa de juros], a economia estimada para o Erário é de R$ 28 bilhões”.

Ou seja:

1_ O gasto com pagamento de juros e amortização é da mesma ordem de grandeza que a soma de todas as despesas feitas para manter os serviços prestados pelo Estado a seus cidadãos (saúde, educação, segurança, Previdência…);

2_ O gasto com juros poderia ser reduzido caso o Banco Central diminuísse a taxa Selic;

3_ O governo, no entanto, tem preferido cortar gastos primários (via Previdência) do que diminuir os juros que paga aos seus credores.

Por último, porém não menos importante: de fato, o governo vem diminuindo os juros a passos de formiga, baixando 3 pontos percentuais nos últimos 9 meses. Assim o Brasil deixou o posto de maior pagador de juros do mundo. Agora, tem uma taxa real de 4,30% ao ano e perde apenas para a Rússia, com 4,57%. No entanto, não por coincidência, após as delações da JBS o Banco Central avisou que o ritmo de redução será ainda menor daqui em diante.

The post Reforma da Previdência já foi garantida e você não viu: como a PEC do Teto selou o destino appeared first on The Intercept.

Rex Tillerson Works From Home Instead of Confronting Venezuelan Ghosts of His Past

19 June 2017 - 11:14am

Venezuela and its president, Nicolás Maduro, have proved to be favorite targets of the Trump administration’s ire. At the outset of a summit on Central America in Miami last week — on the sidelines of which the administration announced its retrograde Cuba policy — President Donald Trump told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “collaborate with countries in the region to move discussions on Venezuela forward,” according to a White House statement. “The United States stands with the people of Venezuela during these sad and troubling times for their country.”

Miami, however, was where Tillerson’s personal diplomatic entreaties were to end. The day after the White House statement, Tillerson cancelled his attendance at the Organization of American States’ 47th General Assembly, which is convening in Cancun, Mexico, on Monday, with Venezuela high on the agenda. Instead of participating directly, Tillerson will remain in Washington to address rising tensions in the Persian Gulf.

The change of plans reflects the State Department’s priorities, but also spares Tillerson a direct confrontation with his complicated history in Venezuela.

The general assembly comes as Venezuela is plagued by staggering inflation, food shortages, decrepit medical infrastructure, and violent political unrest. Those dynamics are being compounded by another diplomatic crisis: In April, Maduro’s Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez announced that Venezuela will be withdrawing from the OAS after 65 years, viewing the hemisphere’s premier diplomatic venue as an arm of a campaign in pursuit of regime change.

Venezuela’s crises are all the more vexing because, even as people starve today, it was once the wealthiest country in Latin America — Venezuela boasts the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Enter the former ExxonMobil executive Rex Tillerson. While Tillerson headed the oil giant, a position he stepped down from to join the Trump administration, ExxonMobil took a significant blow from Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chàvez. In 2007, Chàvez nationalized the oil company’s Venezuelan assets, valued at $10 billion. ExxonMobil again faced off with Maduro in 2015, over drilling in disputed waters off the coast of Guyana. In that case, Tillerson prevailed.

Despite Tillerson’s fraught history with Venezuela, the country initially seemed willing to play ball with the Trump administration. A Venezuelan state-owned oil company donated $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration and, in February, businessmen with ties to Trump met with members of the National Security Council, including top White House adviser Steve Bannon, to discuss lifting sanctions on Venezuela. Maduro, for his part, took a softer line on Trump than one might expect from an anti-imperialist firebrand. “He won’t be worse than Obama,” the Venezuelan leader said as Trump was coming to power, comparing the new American president to his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The outreach, however, soon turned sour. As the current wave of violent antigovernment protests against Maduro grew in recent months, Trump began to speak of intervention and new sanctions. In mid-May, he announced sanctions against eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court after it found members of the Venezuelan opposition party in contempt and removed them from power. Maduro described the sanctions as an attempted coup, condemning Trump and commanding him, “Get your pig hands out of here!”

Yet the hands-on work of international wrangling in Cancun to confront Venezuela’s interwoven crises won’t be carried out by Trump’s top diplomat. Instead, it will fall to Tillerson’s Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, a longtime Republican bureaucrat with little experience in diplomacy, let alone on Venezuela.

Top photo: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attends the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America at the Florida International University on June 15, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

The post Rex Tillerson Works From Home Instead of Confronting Venezuelan Ghosts of His Past appeared first on The Intercept.

Republican Data-Mining Firm Exposed Personal Information for Virtually Every American Voter

19 June 2017 - 10:40am

The GOP’s 2016 presidential upset wasn’t surprising just because it put Donald Trump in the White House; it also proved the party had vastly improved its ability to exploit data, including precision ad targeting campaigns on Facebook. Now comes the fallout of all that information hoarding: A California-based security researcher says Republican-linked election databases were inadvertently exposed to the entire internet, sans password, potentially violating the privacy of almost every single registered voter in the United States.

The data trove was apparently made public by accident by one of the data-mining companies that compiled it. It includes a mix of private information and data gleaned from public voter rolls: “the voter’s date of birth, home and mailing addresses, phone number, registered party, self-reported racial demographic, voter registration status” as well as computer “modeled” speculation about each person’s race and religion, according to an analysis provided to The Intercept.

The leak was discovered by Chris Vickery, an analyst at the U.S. cybersecurity firm UpGuard, who last year discovered an enormous breach of Mexican voter data and in 2015 a 300GB leak of records of 191 million voters. This new incident is more extensive, according the analysis, written by UpGuard:

UpGuard’s Cyber Risk Team can now confirm that unsecured databases containing the sensitive personal details of over 198 million American voters was left exposed to the internet. The data, which was stored in a publicly accessible cloud server owned by Republican data firm Deep Root Analytics, included 1.1 terabytes of entirely unsecured personal information compiled by DRA and at least two other contractors, TargetPoint Consulting, Inc. and Data Trust. In total, the personal information of nearly all of America’s 200 million registered voters was exposed, including their names, dates of birth, home addresses, phone numbers, and voter registration details, as well as voter ethnicities and religions as “modeled” by the firms’ data scientists.

(DRA, TargetPoint, and Data Trust were not immediately available for comment.)

Two of the firms linked to the database, Deep Root Analytics and Target Point, were among three firms hired by the RNC to do most of its data modeling and voter scoring in 2016, according to a December Ad Age story, with a mandate to shore up unconvinced Trump-leaning voters, sway weak Hillary Clinton supporters, and capture undecided voters.

What UpGuard appears to have discovered, sitting on an Amazon cloud storage drive with no password or username required for access by anyone on the internet, was terabytes of the data used to map the voter proclivities and demographics key to finding voters in those buckets. Beyond personal information like religion, age, and probable ethnicity, certain database files among those made public include individual scores for nearly 50 different beliefs, according to UpGuard’s analysis:

Each of fields under each of the forty-eight columns signifies the potential voter’s modeled likelihood of supporting the policy, political candidate, or belief listed at the top of the column, with zero indicating very unlikely, and one indicating very likely.

Calculated for 198 million potential voters, this adds up to a spreadsheet of 9.5 billion modeled probabilities, for questions ranging from how likely it is the individual voted for Obama in 2012, whether the agree with the Trump foreign policy of “America First,” and how likely they are to be concerned with auto manufacturing as an issue, among others.

The below screenshot, provided by Vickery, shows just some of the alignments on which 198 million Americans were scored:

Most Americans would likely be disturbed that this kind of information was generated about them in the first place, to say nothing of the fact that it was accidentally made public by the very companies being paid by the Republican Party to make it, with essentially zero security precautions of any kind taken with how it was stored in the cloud.

Update: June 19th, 2017

Bill Daddi, apparently handling public relations for Deep Root Analytics, provided the following message to The Intercept:

As you can understand, we can’t comment on much here as we are not at liberty to discuss the details of work on behalf of any entity that might be a client, nor provide specifics of our proprietary data and analysis.

There is a general statement that has been released, which is below. This hopefully addresses some of your questions.

To help you understand what Deep Root Analytics does, we inform local television ad buys for advertisers.  We don’t make the buys, nor engage in any digital marketing or targeting outreach.  We help entities understand what local TV ad buys to make.

As indicated in the below, we have engaged Stroz Freidberg to conduct a thorough review, and that process is underway.  Based upon this review we have determined that the access that was made without our knowledge happened because of a change that was made in the files’ asset access protocols.  We are in the process of determining how that change was made and take full responsibility for the change, but suffice to say we have updated the settings to prevent further access. We believe the change that was made happened post June 1 2017, which was when we last evaluated and updated our security settings. We do not believe that our systems have been hacked. To date, the only entity that we are aware of that had access to the data was Chris Vickery.

Thanks,

Bill

“Deep Root Analytics has become aware that a number of files within our online storage system were accessed without our knowledge.

Deep Root Analytics builds voter models to help enhance advertiser understanding of TV viewership. The data accessed was not built for or used by any specific client. It is our proprietary analysis to help inform local television ad buying.

The data that was accessed was, to the best of our knowledge this proprietary information as well as voter data that is publicly available and readily provided by state government offices.  Since this event has come to our attention, we have updated the access settings and put protocols in place to prevent further access.  We take full responsibility for this situation.

Deep Root Analytics maintains industry standard security protocols. We built our systems in keeping with these protocols and had last evaluated and updated our security settings on June 1, 2017.

We are conducting an internal review and have retained cyber security firm Stroz Friedberg to conduct a thorough investigation.  Through this process, which is currently underway, we have learned that access was gained through a recent change in asset access settings since June 1, 2017.  We accept full responsibility, will continue with our investigation, and based on the information we have gathered thus far, we do not believe that our systems have been hacked. To date, the only entity that we are aware of that had access to the data was Chris Vickery. “

Top photo: People vote at Public School 22 on April 19, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

The post Republican Data-Mining Firm Exposed Personal Information for Virtually Every American Voter appeared first on The Intercept.

Attack on Muslims in London Was Terrorism, U.K. Prime Minister Says

19 June 2017 - 9:46am

“This morning, our country woke to news of another terrorist attack on the streets of our capital city,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday, hours after a white, male van driver ran down pedestrians outside a mosque in north London, wounding at least 10 and possibly killing one person.

"Hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed" – Theresa May responds to #FinsburyPark attack https://t.co/3A5ouLb4Ph pic.twitter.com/LH6iJUZD8P

— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) June 19, 2017

The attack outside the Finsbury Park mosque, May added, was “the second this month, and every bit as sickening as those which have come before.”

May’s confirmation that the assault on innocent civilians was terrorist in nature stood in stark contrast to the reticence officials in the United States have frequently shown about using that term to describe anti-Muslim violence perpetrated by far-right extremists.

Similar language was used by the police and other leading politicians, including Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, and the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.

'An attack on a mosque … is actually an attack on all of us': Jeremy Corbyn on the #FinsburyPark terror attack https://t.co/gi4Jikjd1Y pic.twitter.com/mrXNadtbLq

— ITV News (@itvnews) June 19, 2017

London Mayor @SadiqKhan has condemned the #FinsburyPark terror attack pic.twitter.com/AwWYUbbpM5

— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 19, 2017

The suspected attacker was captured and turned over to the police by witnesses to the assault, who told BuzzFeed News that he made his motivation for it clear by screaming, “I’m going to kill all Muslims!”

Eyewitness tells @jamesrbuk man drove van at pedestrians outside London mosque, then shouted “Kill me, kill me, I want to kill all Muslims” pic.twitter.com/gSgTX05aSQ

— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) June 19, 2017

As the bystanders who tackled the driver held him down and waited for the authorities to arrive, one said, the man had urged them to kill him.

The police later praised a local imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, for urging people not to harm the attacker.

Footage shows the moment crowds restrain man suspected of driving van into pedestrians near #FinsburyPark mosquehttps://t.co/CBG8mzBpgY pic.twitter.com/NtYoQbLGXC

— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) June 19, 2017

Video of the 48-year-old suspect being loaded into a police van just before 1 a.m. local time, shared on social networks by witnesses, gave a sense of the raw anger among members of the community, who demanded to know how he could justify the murder of innocent civilians.

This racist bastard ran over innocent civilians on their way home from taraweh #FinsburyPark pic.twitter.com/YHvsVZHqIY

— Didier (@Known_As_H) June 18, 2017

In the aftermath of the attack, some observers suggested that anti-Muslim screeds in the British tabloids and on social networks could have incited the attacker to violence.

Just a couple of weeks since The Sun carried a headline stating '…We Need Less Islam'. A fool could see some might take it literally. https://t.co/S0VmTINCph

— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) June 19, 2017

We need to look at the real issue of the radicalisation of supremacist terrorists aka right wing media #FinsburyPark

— Ahmed Masoud (@masoud_ahmed) June 19, 2017

Two notorious Islamophobes came in for particular criticism: the Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins and the former head of the English Defence League, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who uses the alias Tommy Robinson.

You're a hate preacher @KTHopkins and it would appear that someone was listening #FinsburyPark pic.twitter.com/E8arelx5ve

— Otto English (@Otto_English) June 19, 2017

Two extremists.
Both shunned by Muslim Community.
Both preach hate to their minions.
Yet @TRobinsonNewEra not stopped. Why?#FinsburyPark pic.twitter.com/04V1Is2MNZ

— Siema Iqbal (@siemaiqbal) June 19, 2017

"Extremist preacher sends out chilling warning weeks before terror attack." pic.twitter.com/pbUM69b9v1

— Imraan Siddiqi (@imraansiddiqi) June 19, 2017

Before the motive for the early morning attack was reported, Hopkins incorrectly suggested that it was Islamist in nature. Later on Monday, Robinson referred to it as a “revenge attack,” and claimed that it justified his dire prediction that far-right militias would soon form to defend Britain against the perceived threat from multiculturalism.

The attack came just after Britons marked the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Jo Cox, a pro-Europe member of Parliament who was killed by a pro-Brexit extremist who screamed “Britain First!” as he shot her.

Top photo: Forensic investigators work the scene in the Finsbury Park area of north London on June 19, 2017, after a vehicle hit pedestrians.

The post Attack on Muslims in London Was Terrorism, U.K. Prime Minister Says appeared first on The Intercept.

Joe Manchin Was One of Five Democrats Who Saved Saudi Arms Sales. His Primary Opponent Is Furious.

19 June 2017 - 9:03am

A Senate resolution disapproving of a portion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia — which has been waging a long, bloody war in Yemen that has sparked multiple humanitarian crises — narrowly failed along a 47-53 vote on Tuesday. Five Democrats voted against the measure, ensuring that it did not pass.

One of those Democrats was Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is facing a challenge from environmental activist Paula Jean Swearengin in next year’s primary. In an interview with The Intercept, Swearengin reacted harshly to Manchin’s vote in favor of the arms sale — which provides equipment necessary to conduct airstrikes in Yemen — and even suggested the conservative West Virginia Democrat is a Trump ally.

“I’m not surprised because of his history of voting in favor of President Trump, like a Republican,” Swearengin said.

She then went on a tear suggesting that the weapons would end up in terrorist hands rather than focusing on how the arms could be used in the war against Yemen. “Sen. Manchin voting against the provision to stop the sale. That tells me that Sen. Manchin supports giving weapons to a country that is known for harboring terrorists,” Swearengin said. “The weapons could possibly end up in the hands of terrorists.

She also linked the vote to Manchin’s voting record on domestic matters, saying that both are evidence that Manchin doesn’t respect human rights. “He’s showing us he doesn’t value human life, in Appalachia, in America, or other countries,” she said. “People are dying in the streets and starving in Yemen. How does he sleep at night? West Virginians are tired of dying and starving as a result of his poor leadership, too.”

Manchin, who did not reply to a request for comment, may face more votes on Saudi arms sales before the election next year.

In an interview with The Intercept, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who co-sponsored the resolution of disapproval, said he anticipates further votes on other parts of the arms deal. “This may very well not be the last time they have to ask again for permission for more arms,” Paul said. “And I think as the famine gets more desperate, as the blockade continues, maybe we can convert a few Republicans who may care about the famine and the deaths.”

It remains to be seen whether Manchin does.

Top photo: Sen. Joe Manchin waits for a television news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 6, 2017.

The post Joe Manchin Was One of Five Democrats Who Saved Saudi Arms Sales. His Primary Opponent Is Furious. appeared first on The Intercept.

The History Channel Is Finally Telling the Stunning Secret Story of the War on Drugs

18 June 2017 - 10:26am

Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa, is known on twitter for expressing his yearning for the History Channel to finally show some history. Here are two of his many tweets on this subject:

Just love history. So occasionally I turn to history channel. "mud cats" when wi they put history back on the channel

— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) February 26, 2012

Ocassionally I turn to History channel hope to c history. Whenevr will the history channel hv a real old fashion histry program

— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) January 7, 2012

The good news for Grassley, and for everyone else, is that starting Sunday night and running through Wednesday the History Channel is showing a new four-part series called “America’s War on Drugs.” Not only is it an important contribution to recent American history, it’s also the first time U.S. television has ever told the core truth about one of the most important issues of the past fifty years.

That core truth is: The war on drugs has always been a pointless sham. For decades the federal government has engaged in a shifting series of alliances of convenience with some of the world’s largest drug cartels. So while the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since President Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, top narcotics dealers have simultaneously enjoyed protection at the highest levels of power in America.

On the one hand, this shouldn’t be surprising. The voluminous documentation of this fact in dozens of books has long been available to anyone with curiosity and a library card.

Yet somehow, despite the fact the U.S. has no formal system of censorship, this monumental scandal has never before been presented in a comprehensive way in the medium where most Americans get their information: TV.

That’s why “America’s War on Drugs” is a genuine milestone. We’ve recently seen how ideas that once seemed absolutely preposterous and taboo — for instance, that the Catholic Church was consciously safeguarding priests who sexually abused children, or that Bill Cosby may not have been the best choice for America’s Dad — can after years of silence finally break through into popular consciousness and exact real consequences. The series could be a watershed in doing the same for the reality behind of one the most cynical and cruel policies in U.S. history.

A still frame of former crack kingpin Rick Ross in the HISTORY documentary ‘America’s War on Drugs’.

Photo: Courtesy of HISTORY

The series, executive produced by Julian P. Hobbs, Elli Hakami and Anthony Lappé, is a standard TV documentary; there’s the amalgam of interviews, file footage and dramatic recreations. What’s not standard is the story told on camera by former Drug Enforcement Agency operatives as well as journalists and drug dealers themselves. (One of the reporters is Ryan Grim, The Intercept’s Washington bureau chief and author of “This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America.”)

There’s no mealy-mouthed truckling about what happened. The first episode opens with the voice of Lindsay Moran, a one-time clandestine CIA officer, declaring, “The agency was elbow deep with drug traffickers.”

Then Richard Stratton, a marijuana smuggler turned writer and television producer, explains, “Most Americans would be utterly shocked if they knew the depth of involvement that the Central Intelligence Agency has had in the international drug trade.”

Next New York University professor Christian Parenti tells viewers, “The CIA is from its very beginning collaborating with mafiosas who are involved in the drug trade because these mafiosas will serve the larger agenda of fighting communism.”

For the next eight hours, the series sprints through history that’s largely the greatest hits of the U.S. government’s partnership with heroin, hallucinogen and cocaine dealers. That these greatest hits can fill up most of four two-hour episodes demonstrates how extraordinarily deep and ugly the story is.

First we learn about the CIA working with Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. in the early 1960s. The CIA wanted Fidel Castro dead and, in return for Trafficante’s help in various assassination plots, was willing to turn a blind eye to the extensive drug trafficking by Trafficante and his allied Cuban exiles.

Then there’s the extremely odd tale of how the CIA imported significant amounts of LSD from its Swiss manufacturer in hopes that it could used for successful mind control. Instead, by dosing thousands of young volunteers including Ken Kesey, Whitey Bulger, and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, the Agency accidentally helped popularize acid and generate the 1960s counter-culture of psychedelia.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. allied with anti-communist forces in Laos that leveraged our support to become some of the largest suppliers of opium on earth. Air America, a CIA front, flew supplies for the guerrillas into Laos and then flew drugs out, all with the knowledge and protection of U.S. operatives.

The same dynamic developed in the 1980s as the Reagan administration tried to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The planes that secretly brought arms to the contras turned around and brought cocaine back to America, again shielded from U.S. law enforcement by the CIA.

Most recently, there’s our 16-year-long war in Afghanistan. While less has been uncovered about the CIA’s machinations here, it’s hard not to notice that we installed Hamid Karzai as president while his brother apparently was on the CIA payroll and, simultaneously, one of the country’s biggest opium dealers. Afghanistan now supplies about 90 percent of the world’s heroin.

To its credit, the series makes clear that this is not part of a secret government plot to turn Americans into drug addicts. But, as Moran puts it, “When the CIA is focused on a mission, on a particular end, they’re not going to sit down and pontificate about ‘What are the long-term, global consequences of our actions going to be?’” Winning their secret wars will always be their top priority, and if that requires cooperation with drug cartels which are flooding the U.S. with their product, so be it. “A lot of these patterns that have their origins in the 1960s become cyclical,” Moran adds. “Those relationships develop again and again throughout the war on drugs.”

What makes this history so grotesque is the government’s mind-breaking levels of hypocrisy. It’s like Donald Trump declaring a War on Real Estate Developers that fills prisons with people who occasionally rent out their spare bedroom on AirBnb.

That brings us back to Charles Grassley. Grassley is now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a longtime committed drug warrior and — during the 1980s — a supporter of the contras.

Yet even Grassley is showing signs that he realizes there may have been some flaws in the war on drugs since the beginning. He recently has co-sponsored a bill that reduce minimum sentences for drug offenses.

So now that the History Channel has granted Grassley his wish and is broadcasting this extraordinarily important history, it’s our job to make sure he and everyone like him sits down and watches it. That this series exists at all shows that we’re at a tipping point with this brazen, catastrophic lie. We have to push hard enough to knock it over.

Top photo: A still frame from the HISTORY documentary ‘America’s War on Drugs’.

The post The History Channel Is Finally Telling the Stunning Secret Story of the War on Drugs appeared first on The Intercept.

Syrian Archives Add New Details to Henry Kissinger’s Disastrous Middle East Record

18 June 2017 - 8:39am

Even the harshest critics of the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad should appreciate him for his treatment of Richard Nixon’s vainglorious secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger flew into Damascus on the evening of February 26, 1974, Assad made him wait for hours while he hosted dinner for Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Only after midnight did he grant the American an audience. Throughout the meeting, Kissinger was seated opposite “a massive canvas of the Battle of Hattin, where the Muslim Sultan Saladin defeated the Crusaders, and marched to capture Jerusalem,” in the words of Bouthaina Shaaban, the author of a new book entitled “The Edge of the Precipice: Hafez al-Assad, Henry Kissinger, and the Remaking of the Modern Middle East.” It gets better.

Book cover for “The Edge of the Precipice: Hafez al-Assad, Henry Kissinger and the Remaking of the Modern Middle East” by Bouthaina Shaaban.

Image: Bisan for Publishing and Advertising

Assad lodged the Kissinger entourage in the Diyafa Palace, a modest dwelling where in 1958 America’s nemesis Gamal Abdel Nasser had proclaimed the United Arab Republic, a union of Syria and Egypt. Thirty minutes into his slumber, Kissinger woke to the morning’s call to prayer from the mosque next door. Shaaban writes that none of the assaults on Kissinger’s self-esteem — the dinnertime delay, the Saladin painting, Diyafa’s link to Arab nationalism and the early wake-up — was accidental.

Shaaban, a former professor of English literature who is media and political advisor to Assad’s son, Bashar al-Assad, provides for the first time a Syrian perspective on the famed Assad-Kissinger negotiations. Their final agreement framed relations between Syria and Israel, as well as Syria and the U.S., for nearly forty years. Kissinger, other Americans, and Israelis have written about the talks, but this is the first Syrian account of them. Shaaban had unique access to the Syrian Presidential Archives with “the minutes of all their meetings and the messages they exchanged either through diplomatic channels through the US ambassador in Damascus or via diplomatic channels.” The archives contain transcripts from a tape recorder that turned in full view of the participants throughout Kissinger’s 28 visits to Damascus in 1973 and 1974. This book is not, nor does it purport to be, the definitive story. Like the concealed microphones in Nixon’s White House, it provides a corrective to the legend Kissinger fostered of himself as latter-day Metternich.

Kissinger intended the second volume of his memoirs, “Years of Upheaval,” to be the final word on his haggling with Assad. Fortunately, it is not. Edward Sheehan’s masterful “The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger,” although written with Kissinger’s cooperation, earned its subject’s wrath. Kissinger said he “was ‘thunderstruck’ to see some of his conversations with foreign chiefs of state in print.” If Shaaban’s book, published in Beirut, reaches American readers, the thunder should strike again.

Kissinger came late to Mideast diplomacy. As Nixon’s National Security Advisor from 1969 to 1973, he obstructed negotiations to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Eyeing William Rogers’ job as Nixon’s secretary of state, he discouraged moving beyond the ceasefire that Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria had accepted under the Rogers Plan to end the “war of attrition” that was bankrupting Israel. The region was changing in September 1970, the month that King Hussein crushed the Palestine Liberation Organization in Jordan and Nasser died. His successor was his vice-president, Anwar Sadat. Two months later, a bloodless coup put Syria’s minister of defense, Hafez al Assad, in the top job. The door to diplomacy opened, but Kissinger slammed it shut.

Sadat approached Nixon and Kissinger through a variety of emissaries to offer peace for territory. Kissinger ignored him, believing the Israelis could defend the Sinai Peninsula from behind their “impregnable” Bar Lev Line on the east bank of the Suez Canal. Again and again, Sadat threatened war if the Americans failed to budge the Israelis. Kissinger believed Sadat was bluffing and rebuffed him. When Sadat expelled all of the Soviet Union’s 15,000 military advisors from Egypt in 1972, Kissinger refused to acknowledge the Egyptian’s strategic shift.

Despite warnings from King Hussein of Jordan and various intelligence agencies, the Syrian and Egyptian armies took Israel unawares when they attacked on October 6, 1973. The Egyptians reduced the Bar Lev sandbanks with water cannon, threw down pontoon bridges and crossed into the Sinai. Syrian tanks and infantry poured into the occupied Golan Heights. Only American emergency supplies, the call-up of reservists, and a lighting run to the west side of the Canal saved Israel’s gains of 1967.

Kissinger, who had replaced Rogers two weeks before the war, stepped in to clean up the mess for which he was largely responsible. He flew to the Mideast with a twofold purpose: to exclude the Soviets from peace negotiations and to protect Israel. Sadat threw himself into Kissinger’s arms, offering to go along with his diplomacy wherever it led. Assad was a tougher nut to crack, as much due to his country’s position as what Nasser called the “beating heart of Arabism” as to his innate stubbornness.

Kissinger pioneered what would be called “shuttle diplomacy,” carrying messages between the Israelis and their Arab antagonists in Cairo and Damascus while making his own suggestions. There were arguments over prisoners of war, how much territory Israel would concede, where to place lines of disengagement, how many weapons would be allowed on both sides, and the status of United Nations observers. Reporters like myself on the ground in Damascus had no idea what Kissinger was promising behind the palace doors. He briefed the press corps that accompanied him on the plane from Washington, whom we called his “trained seals,” with whatever spin, true or false, he wanted to read in the morning newspapers.

Kissinger’s first meeting with Assad on December 15, 1973, lasted six and a half hours. Assad astounded his guest, the first U.S. secretary of state in his capital since 1953, by agreeing to exclude his Soviet patrons from the discussions on the understanding that the U.S. alone could influence Israel. Kissinger surprised Assad with the claim that his major obstacle emanated from those who control “the financial capital and means of communications” in the U.S., not so subtle code for the Zionist lobby that had yet to achieve the influence it would wield in later years. The Syrian transcripts contain Kissinger’s numerous disparaging remarks about the lobby, but, Shaaban writes, “The U.S. record makes no mention of him citing ‘financial capital’ or ‘means of communication’.”

Kissinger had negotiated the Israeli-Egyptian disengagement in eight days in January 1974. “Unlike the relatively short negotiations that led to the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement,” the State Department website history notes with considerable understatement, “negotiations for a Syrian-Israeli disengagement proved far more arduous and took much longer.” Unlike the Sinai, the Golan had hundreds of villages, thousands of displaced inhabitants who longed to return home and proximity to the country’s capital. From the Israeli point of view, the Syrian lines threatened their illegal settlements as well as parts of Israel itself. And Assad, unlike Sadat, was no pushover.

Kissinger cajoled, lied, and manipulated. In the end, he got what he wanted: a deal that gave Israel its most peaceful border until the Syrian civil war changed the game. He also achieved an American monopoly on Arab-Israeli negotiations that abandoned comprehensive peacemaking in favor of what he called “step-by-step” diplomacy. The steps led to the Lebanese civil war, Israel’s many invasions of Lebanon, the creation of Hezbollah and the expulsion of Israel from Lebanon, unrestricted Israeli colonization of the West Bank, the Palestinians’ intifada uprisings, and the continuing degradation of Palestinian life. Indeed, the situation is worse than it was when Kissinger left Harvard for government service in 1969.

The Middle East may seem a minor infraction compared to Kissinger’s crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, and Easter Timor. The man who advised Nixon to deploy “anything that flies on anything that moves” in Cambodia was photographed in May sitting beside another American president, whose policies are dangerous enough without advice from the old desperado. My late friend Christopher Hitchens, whose book “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” presents sufficient evidence for an indictment, wrote in 2010, “Henry Kissinger should have the door shut in his face by every decent person and should be shamed, ostracized, and excluded. No more dinners in his honor; no more respectful audiences for his absurdly overpriced public appearances; no more smirking photographs with hostesses and celebrities; no more soliciting of his worthless opinions by sycophantic editors and producers.”

Nothing in “The Edge of the Precipice,” despite its portrayal of Kissinger as a shrewd if mendacious mediator, invalidates Hitchens’s sage advice.

The post Syrian Archives Add New Details to Henry Kissinger’s Disastrous Middle East Record appeared first on The Intercept.

As doações premiadas da gestão Doria

18 June 2017 - 8:32am

Em maio, o prefeito paulistano foi às redes sociais anunciar mais uma iniciativa que teria poupado dinheiro dos cofres públicos:

Parecia mais uma ação de gênio que contrariava a máxima capitalista de que “não existe almoço grátis”. Porém, ah porém, o caso é diferente. A rádio CBN, do Grupo Globo, publicou, no Dia dos Namorados, um namorico proibido entre a Ambev e a gestão Doria em São Paulo. Segundo a reportagem, Julio Semeghini (secretário de Governo), André Sturm (secretário de Cultura) e Bruno Covas (vice-prefeito) participaram de um esquema para favorecer a Ambev em uma licitação milionária de patrocínio do carnaval paulistano.

A denúncia está baseada em documentos e um áudio de uma reunião em que os envolvidos combinam a fraude. A prefeitura negou por meio de nota as irregularidades e o assunto morreu no dia seguinte. Todos os grandes veículos parecem ter aceitado o desmentido da prefeitura, e o que era para ser o escândalo da semana caiu no buraco negro do noticiário. Parece que a suspeita de que a prefeitura mais rica do país direcionou uma licitação para favorecer uma das maiores financiadoras de campanhas eleitorais – e uma das maiores anunciantes de propaganda – não é um assunto de interesse público. A próxima segunda-feira será o dia da missa de sétimo dia de uma notícia natimorta.

Esse não escândalo vem na esteira de um outro que também desapareceu da mídia como um ator que vai fazer novela na TV Record. A CBN, que estranhamente vem fazendo uma cobertura bastante crítica à gestão Doria, revelou a monumental falácia que são as doações de remédios que o prefeito adora cantar aos quatro cantos. Desde fevereiro, doze fabricantes doaram R$ 35 milhões em medicamentos. Mas não foi uma doação qualquer. Foi uma doação premiada! Graças a um acordo entre Doria e Alckmin, as empresas doadoras foram agraciadas com isenção de ICMS durante três meses e deixaram de pagar R$ 66 milhões. Ou seja, as empresas doaram R$ 35 milhões, e o povo de São Paulo retribuiu a generosidade com R$66 milhões. Só nesse episódio, a nova ferramenta de gestão implantada por Doria criou um rombo de R$ 31 milhões nos cofres públicos. Pensa que o feirão de ofertas municipal acabou? Claro que não! Os medicamentos doados estavam perto do fim da validade e não poderiam mais ser vendidos para farmácias e hospitais privados.

“A reportagem da CBN percorreu UBSs em todas as regiões da cidade e encontrou medicamentos de uso contínuo com prazo de validade em cima, principalmente os controlados. O Clonazepam, para pacientes que sofrem de epilepsia, estava sendo distribuído a dois meses do vencimento. Já o Omeoprazol, para o estômago, a Amtriptilina, antidepressivo, e a Espironolactona, que trata a hipertensão, além do antifúngico Fluconazol, vencem em julho. E tem até mesmo remédio que nem vai ser usado até o fim, porque tem 30 comprimidos com prazo para junho, a exemplo da Claritromicina, um antibiótico.”

O descaso com os contribuintes paulistanos ganha requintes de crueldade quando descobrimos que os custos do descarte dos medicamentos também ficam nas costas da prefeitura. A coisa piora quando lembramos que Doria congelou R$ 1,8 bilhão da Saúde nos quatro primeiros meses do ano. É um negócio da China para os empresários, uma excelente ação de marketing para o presidenciável tucano e uma tragédia para os paulistanos que dependem dos hospitais públicos.

A Prefeitura de São Paulo parece ser hoje uma extensão do Lide, a empresa de lobby do prefeito que, após sua posse, passou a ser a comandada por seu filho. O lobby interno para favorecer a Ambev – empresa filiada ao Lide – em licitação milionária deixa isso bem evidente. Por trás da aparência de solidariedade das doações, há abertura de uma enorme brecha para aumentar ainda mais a promiscuidade entre o interesse público e o privado. Hoje, não faltam empresas querendo doar buscando visibilidade de suas marcas na imprensa e, quem sabe, almejar alguma contrapartida da prefeitura. Algumas doações listadas no Portal da Transparência são altamente suspeitas. Listei algumas que devemos ficar de olho:

Aché – doou cerca R$ 325 mil em medicamentos e ganhou isenção de ICMS durante três meses. Em 2016, Doria premiou a empresa com o Prêmio Lide de Empreendedorismo 2016. O presidente da empresa, Paulo Nigro, tem fortes relações pessoais com Doria e é presidente do Lide Esporte.

Ultrafarma – pagou propaganda do programa Cidade Linda em painéis de led veiculados no jogo Brasil X Uruguai, ocorrido em março em Montevideo. Amigo de Doria, o dono da empresa bancou propaganda de um programa municipal em um jogo transmitido para todo o país – nada mal para um presidenciável  Em uma reunião na prefeitura, Doria gravou vídeo ao lado de seus secretários e do vice-prefeito fazendo propaganda das vitaminas da marca Sidney Oliveira, da Ultrafarma, e divulgou em suas redes sociais.

Cyrela – aqui temos uma história interessante: a construtora, que já foi premiada pelo Lide como líder na área da construção civil, doou a reforma dos banheiros do Parque do Ibirapuera no valor de quase meio milhão de reais. Um pouco antes da doação, Doria criou a Secretaria Especial de Investimento Social e deu para um ex-vice-presidente da Cyrela chefiar. Após 12 anos na construtora e quase 30 na iniciativa privada (ocupou cargos de chefia na Redevco do Brasil, no Unibanco, Multicanal e JTS Engenharia), Cláudio Carvalho decidiu diminuir drasticamente seu salário para se dedicar ao povo paulistano. A família dona da Cyrela é amiga íntima da família de Doria. A construtora chegou a realizar neste ano uma exposição para homenagear a estonteante carreira de artista plástica Bia Doria, esposa do prefeito.

A gestão Doria agora quer rever a Lei de Zoneamento, que foi aprovada no ano passado pela Câmara dos Vereadores depois de um intenso debate de quase dois anos. A lei determina o que pode e o que não pode ser construído na cidade e é uma pedra no sapato das construtoras. Bom, vocês já devem imaginar quem vai sair ganhando com essa revisão.

E nessa onda de solidariedade e amor à coisa pública, não podemos esquecer que Doria virou hoje um grande aliado de Michel Temer dentro do PSDB. O gestor, que não cansa de repetir que não é um político, mostra-se igualmente incansável na hora de demonstrar seu apoio a um governo cuja grande marca é a corrupção. João tem um coração que não cabe dentro dele. Além de ter doado um ar condicionado e dois quadros do Romero Britto para a prefeitura, doou também R$50 mil reais para seu grande amigo Rodrigo Rocha Loures (PMDB), o Homem da Mala. Esse é o novo jeito de fazer política do novo prefeito de São Paulo.

The post As doações premiadas da gestão Doria appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Officials Overseeing Amazon-Whole Foods Merger May Face Conflicts of Interest

18 June 2017 - 8:00am

The blockbuster deal by Amazon to purchase Whole Foods rocked financial markets on Friday. Grocery and retail outlet stocks were in a tailspin anticipating how the online shopping giant may move to swallow up the supermarket industry, particularly in the booming online sales market.

The massive $13.7 billion Amazon-Whole Foods merger may also invite government oversight regarding antitrust concerns, a dynamic complicated by potential conflicts of interest from officials tied to the merger.

Officials from both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, the two agencies charged with enforcing antitrust law, have financial ties to the law firms expected to play a major role in managing the deal.

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, has worked since 2005 as a lawyer and lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a firm that is registered to lobby on behalf of Amazon.

Delrahim, who has worked on merger deals for over a decade and is viewed by legal observers as less likely to pursue aggressive antitrust enforcement as the previous administration, will be in office to review the Amazon-Whole Foods deal soon. He was nominated in March and was been cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee this month, making his appointment imminent.

Delrahim, however, isn’t the only official with ties to the merger. Abbott Lipsky, appointed in March as the new acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, which oversees antitrust, previously worked as a partner in the antitrust division of the law firm Latham & Watkins. Lipsky’s former law firm has been tapped by Whole Foods’ financial adviser, Evercore, to help manage the merger with Amazon, according to Law360.

And finally, Goldman Sachs has stepped up to provide bridge financing for the merger. The investment bank maintains a broad range of connections to multiple officials within the Trump administration, most salient of whom is Gary Cohn, the former chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs. As the chief economics adviser to the president, Cohn will likely weigh in on the contentious merger.

In recent years, Amazon has expanded its influence in Washington, D.C., with a larger rolodex of lobbyists and political advisers, and with chief executive Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post. Jaimie Gorelick, the former Justice Department official in Bill Clinton’s White House turned chief outside legal adviser to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, holds a seat on Amazon’s board of directors. And the Law and Economics Center at George Mason University, an influential voice that publishes academic papers on antitrust policy, counts Amazon as a corporate donor.

Matt Stoller, who has previously contributed to The Intercept, warned in a column on Friday that the deal “should frighten all of us,” pointing to the ways Amazon’s market dominance could have a dangerous ripple effect throughout the economy. Moreover, Stoller noted that Amazon’s attempt to influence the antitrust environment is encapsulated in a recent job posting by the company for an a “Ph.D. economist-cum-lobbyist ‘to educate regulators and policy makers about the fundamentally procompetitive focus of Amazon’s businesses.’”

Figures from Capitol Hill are already calling for serious antitrust review of the Amazon-Whole Foods deal. “The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission must undertake a review that considers not just the merger’s impact on prices but also the impact on jobs and wages,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., in a statement to Vice.

Barry C. Lynn, the Director of the Open Markets Program at New America, said on Friday that Amazon “already dominates every corner of online commerce, and uses its power to set terms and prices for many of the most important products Americans buy or sell to one another.” Lynn added, referring to the Whole Foods merger, “Amazon is exploiting that advantage to take over physical retail.”

The post Trump Officials Overseeing Amazon-Whole Foods Merger May Face Conflicts of Interest appeared first on The Intercept.

Arizona Aid Group Questions Border Patrol Surveillance Following a Raid on Its Camp

17 June 2017 - 2:49pm

A three-day showdown in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert between Border Patrol agents and a humanitarian group, which culminated in a raid and the arrests of four undocumented immigrants, has aid workers raising questions about government surveillance and operational practices. The arrests took place Thursday evening at a camp run by the group No More Deaths, also known as No Más Muertes, which is located on private property near the unincorporated community of Arivaca, roughly 11 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The humanitarian group said approximately 30 well-armed Border Patrol agents descended upon the location looking for “bodies” in a coordinated and alarmingly militarized operation, leaving with the four men in tow.

The ordeal began at approximately 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, according to the aid group, when Border Patrol agents showed up at the property claiming to be in search of four men suspected of crossing the border illegally. The presence of the agents prompted No More Deaths to inform a network of volunteers about the situation. Catherine Gaffney, a longtime volunteer with the organization, was among those who received the alert and made her way to the camp. Speaking to The Intercept Friday, Gaffney, along with other No More Deaths volunteers, said what transpired this week suggests a chilling shift in Border Patrol tactics under the Trump administration.

Gaffney and other volunteers said the four men, whom U.S. Customs and Border Protection later identified as Mexican nationals, arrived seeking medical attention. Since its founding 13 years ago, No More Deaths has been best known for providing medical care to migrants making the perilous trek across the desert, and through the establishment of its camp near Arivaca in 2005. The arrested men ranged in age from 19 to 40, Gaffney said, and were suffering from heat-related illnesses, injuries, and exposure to the elements — ailments that No More Deaths volunteers, under the supervision of an on-site doctor, are accustomed to treating. “They all presented at the camp after having walked for several days through extreme heat,” Gaffney said. Temperatures in the area exceeded 100 degrees last week, and June is considered one of the deadliest months for migrants attempting to make their way across the desert.

Stopped at the perimeter of the No More Deaths camp, Border Patrol agents took up locations around the property, Gaffney said. “From Tuesday afternoon to yesterday, our lawyers and medical team was in touch with Border Patrol being clear that, as we have for the last 13 years, our camp is a medical facility where people are able to receive care [and] that the patients that were there were in need of continuing medical care,” Gaffney said. From Tuesday on, Gaffney said, Border Patrol agents were “surveilling us constantly with anywhere from five to 10 trucks posted at different high points around the camp.” All vehicles leaving the property were inspected for undocumented passengers, Gaffney said, contributing to a sense of a “lock-down siege where anyone else who might be in distress and needing help would be completely unable to enter, and obviously interfering with our ability to give good care to those people who were there.”

As the property was surrounded, both sides were in regular communication, according to the accounts of both No More Deaths and U.S. officials. The aid group’s doctor made the case that the four men at the camp required extended medical attention as the government sought to obtain a warrant to search the property. On Thursday afternoon, the border guards got their warrant. “They came in with a military-style operation,” Gaffney said. Dozens of agents, multiple vehicles, and a helicopter descended on the camp, along with a government film crew to document the arrests. The official Twitter account of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Arizona branch live-tweeted the operation with photos. “We were immediately told that they were there to apprehend the noncitizens, and they actually used the term ‘bodies’ to describe those patients,” Gaffney said. “They said, ‘We’re not here to arrest any citizens, we’re just here to take the bodies’ — which in the context of the kind of death and suffering and the routine recovery of bodies of those who die in the crossing is pretty striking language.”

CBP quickly put out a statement following the arrests. “U.S. Border Patrol agents using surveillance technology Wednesday detected four suspected illegal aliens wearing camouflage and walking north on a known smuggling route,” the statement read. “Other agents then tracked the group to the No Más Muertes camp near Arivaca but did not find foot sign of the individuals leaving the camp.” The statement went on to say that members of the Tucson sector Border Patrol reached out to the humanitarian group “to continue a positive working relationship and resolve the situation amicably. The talks, however, were unsuccessful.”

The authorities then sought a search warrant to question the four individuals about their citizenship, which ultimately led to their arrests for immigration violations. On Friday, the conservative organization Judicial Watch posted a report sourced to anonymous “outraged Border Patrol officials” who complained that the agents’ inability to immediately enter the property resulted in a waste of resources and showed that the Trump administration wasn’t living up to its hard-line immigration enforcement pledges. Regarding the surveillance used in the case, the sources told Judicial Watch that a Border Patrol “Buckeye camera operated out of a mobile truck recorded the illegal crossers entering through Nogales.”

A memorial for those who died crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. in downtown Tucson, Arizona, 17 March 2006.

AFP/Getty Images

Throughout the week, Margo Cowan, an attorney for No More Deaths, was responsible for communications with the government. Cowan said the acting chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector made clear to her that the four men were first placed under surveillance near the border — on foot, the trek to the camp can cover anywhere from 16 to 18 miles, she said. “They concede that they picked them up on various electronic devices about 15 miles south of our camp,” Cowan told The Intercept. Cowan claimed Border Patrol officials told her arresting the men before they reached the No More Deaths’ camp would have been unfeasible. “I don’t buy that,” Cowan said. “I think that this was a setup. I think that they pick them up probably within minutes of entry to the United States and then they track them and they decide to surround the camp once they see that they go into the camp.”

Cowan said No More Deaths had a similar experience with border authorities a month ago — CBP referenced such an incident in its initial statement on Thursday’s arrests. In that case, Border Patrol had shown up at the encampment looking for migrants they claimed to be tracking. But a showdown was averted when the eight individuals voluntarily left the compound and were arrested. “We haven’t had any trouble for years and years. I felt like that was an anomaly,” Cowan said of the incident last month. “I felt like they did pick up the guys on the video and they tracked them into the camp and the fellows decided to walk out. But, for me, it happens time number two — it’s a pattern.”

“What that says to me is they have sensors on known routes. And, when somebody gets on those routes, they essentially track them from entry to coming into the camp. And then they call me and they say, ‘We tracked somebody into the camp, will they come out?’” Cowan explained. “For me, that is rendering the camp unable to provide humanitarian assistance because people are tracked in and then expected to come out.”

The government’s claims in the No More Deaths arrests initially contained inconsistencies. The CBP statement issued after Thursday’s arrests, for example, described the four individuals being detected on Wednesday. However, according to No More Deaths, the men who were arrested had already been at the camp a full day by that point, reaching the property shortly before the agents arrived. Volunteers at the camp have expressed particular concern at the way Border Patrol surveillance was deployed in the case, in part because it appears to imply close monitoring of the humanitarian organization’s operations.

The search warrant used in the case, a redacted portion of which was reviewed by The Intercept, described authorities looking for four individuals who were photographed “by a sensor” at 4:25 on Tuesday, minutes before No More Deaths claimed the men arrived at their camp. If this timeline is accurate, Gaffney and others said, it raises questions as to whether the Border Patrol is effectively keeping an eye on the front door of their aid station. That would be a significant break from past practices and constitute a major threat to lifesaving operations in the region, the group said.

According to No More Deaths, Border Patrol agents in the Tucson sector have for years upheld, through a verbal agreement, a set of principles modeled after Red Cross guidelines on the treatment of humanitarian aid organizations in dealing with the groups that provide treatment to individuals passing through the Arizona desert. One of the passages in the set of principles, shared with The Intercept, says, “Medical treatment provided by humanitarian aid agencies should be recognized and respected by government agents and should be protected from surveillance and interference.” Until recently, Border Patrol’s Tucson branch appears to have adhered to the outlined principles.

The Border Patrol office in Tucson did not respond to multiple questions and requests for comment regarding the surveillance used in Thursday’s arrests and the agency’s purported agreements with the humanitarian aid organization. On Friday night, CBP issued an updated statement on the case, amending the reported use of surveillance from Wednesday to Tuesday, and reporting that one of the four men arrested was previously arrested for drug-trafficking charges and spent five years in a Mexican prison. No further details were provided on the other three men taken into custody, aside from reporting that the group had been “taken to a local area hospital as a precautionary measure” and were said to be in “good health.”

In the same way that Doctors Without Borders provides humanitarian assistance to individuals in war zones regardless of their affiliations in the conflict, No More Deaths prides itself on offering to aid to those who, for whatever circumstances, end up in the Arizona desert in need of help. For the organization’s volunteers, it is the pattern of events this week and the implications for their future work that they find most distressing. “This the second time in a matter of weeks that they’ve attempted to penetrate the camp, that they’ve set this situation up,” Cowan, the attorney, said. “Prior to that, there weren’t these kinds of incursions and there wasn’t this kind of surveillance.”

Kate Morgan, abuse documentation and advocacy coordinator for No More Deaths, told The Intercept, “What is really different about this case is the warrant and the technologies, the military technologies, that [Border Patrol] used to obtain the warrant.” That tack, she argued, is “something new and I think is worth pointing to as signaling change in the way that Border Patrol is operating under the Trump administration.”

“What happened was not a routine apprehension,” Morgan went on to say. “It was a trap laid for people who needed medical attention and sought it from us. And we consider this an attack not just on our ability to give aid but a direct attack on the lives and well-being of people who are crossing the desert.” Gaffney, the longtime volunteer who was present for Thursday’s arrests, added that No More Deaths has always been a “transparent, above ground project,” and maintained open communications with Border Patrol since its founding. “We’ve always been clear that we have a humanitarian aid mission and we’ve been recognized by the Red Cross as a medical facility. We’ve never hidden that that’s what we’re doing there. We’ve always asserted our right to do it,” she said. “Nothing has changed in the way we’re operating. Nothing has changed in the law. What’s changed is their decision to attack us.”

The post Arizona Aid Group Questions Border Patrol Surveillance Following a Raid on Its Camp appeared first on The Intercept.

Brad Pitt’s “War Machine” Offers an Absurd and Scathing Critique of America’s Delusional Generals

17 June 2017 - 9:23am

How do military leaders persuade their soldiers to fight an insane war?

Here’s one way. The setting is a bitter outpost of the American war in Afghanistan. The years-long nightmare has no prospect of ending so long as American troops stay in a country that has a nearly unblemished record of grinding foreign armies to ashes. A bullish general is trying to generate a dose of enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of his unenthusiastic men.

“You boys,” the general says, “are the only things that count. If it doesn’t happen here, it doesn’t happen. End of story.”

“What doesn’t happen, sir?” a Marine asks.

“It, son,” the general responds.

The Marine knows it would be unwise to demand a full explanation.

“Okay, thank you sir.”

The general, who doesn’t know better, bulls ahead.

“Does anyone here know what it is?” he asks.

Silence.

“Anyone? Anyone?”

This scene is familiar to me — I heard similar calls and responses while covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and at the same time this scene is utterly invented. It comes from the just-released “War Machine,” which is one of the best war movies of the post-9/11 era, yet has been panned by movie critics who know everything about basic cable and nothing about basic training. While the movie is uneven in content and performances (let us resolve that Brad Pitt will never again play a general), it achieves greatness in the way it uses absurdity to assassinate the logic and reality of counterinsurgency warfare.

But you wouldn’t know the movie’s strengths if you read the reviews. “War Machine” has a 56 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been largely dismissed by film critics whose closest encounter with a warzone is the bar at Balthazar on a Saturday night. They don’t like it because, as one wrote, there is an “absence of intimacy, of psychology, of characters’ self-revelation in thought and desire.” Yes, that particular reviewer graduated from Princeton with a degree in comparative literature, so there you go.

There is one particular group of people who love the film, and we should pay more attention to them, because in the matter of war movies they are the experts who matter the most: soldiers. They now have more skin in the game than usual, after President Trump gave Secretary of Defense James Mattis a green light to send more soldiers into Afghanistan. Helene Cooper, a military correspondent for The New York Times, noted in a podcast the other day that “everybody at the Pentagon is talking about” the movie, and she added, “the guys who you think would be offended by it, love it.” Retired Gen. David Barno wrote with co-author Nora Bensahel that it “should be must-see TV for our current generals and all those who aspire to wear stars.” And there’s this kind of reaction all over Twitter:

Watching War Machine and, having served in Afghanistan, not sure whether to laugh or cry

— RJ Stenson (@WestRivergrl) June 4, 2017

“War Machine” is directed by David Michod and stars Brad Pitt as a thinly-veiled version of Stanley McChrystal, the gung-ho general who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan until he was fired when a Rolling Stone journalist wrote a revealing article about him and his slightly out-of-control staff. The movie, released by Netflix, is based on the article and book by the late Michael Hastings. What Hastings and the film got precisely right is the impossible strategy behind America’s never-ending ground wars. There is no hero in this movie, and if there’s an anti-hero, it’s the war itself, which is profane, vicious, complex, and a bit naïve. By what I think is design, the war has more character than any characters in the film (attention critics: sometimes it’s not about actors and their self-revelations).

The scene in the desert, with Pitt’s character trying to encourage his unencouragable men, doesn’t end with the initial silence that greets his appeal for someone to explain what “it” is. Pitt goes on to provide a summary that his troops know to be ridiculous: they must protect civilians while killing the enemy. The skeptical corporal who spoke out at first, played brilliantly by Lakeith Stanfield, responds by pointing out the fallacy embedded in the general’s nonsense.

“I can’t tell the difference between the people and the enemy,” Stanfield says. “They all look alike to me. I’m pretty sure they’re the same people, sir.”

“I don’t know, sir,” he continues. “It seems to me that we’re all here with our guns and shit trying to convince these people that deep down we’re actually really nice guys. And I don’t know how to do that, sir. I don’t know how to do that when every second one of them or every third one of them or every tenth one of them is trying to fucking kill me, sir.”

Scene from “War Machine,” featuring Brad Pitt.

I’m not going to argue that “War Machine” is the “Battle of Algiers” of our time. There is too much exposition, the movie tries to touch too many bases, and did I mention that Pitt is unimpressive? But the film is reminiscent, in its satirical marksmanship, of one of the best war movies of the late American empire: “Three Kings,” directed by David O. Russell and starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube as three U.S. soldiers during the Persian Gulf War who steal a secret cache of gold. “Three Kings,” like “War Machine,” was cinematically insane with moments of superhuman lucidity.

“War Machine” isn’t anti-war as much as it’s anti-general. Pitt’s character manifests the willing delusion of senior officers whose egos and ambitions are the pillars of perpetual warfare. He seems to really believe that he can defeat the Taliban. The skewering of this type of general is a timely corrective, because we live in an era of general worship, thanks in part to our general-loving president. We have a retired general as the secretary of defense, another as the head of the Department of Homeland Security, yet another as the president’s national security advisor (actually two — the current one, H.R. McMaster, and his fired predecessor, Michael Flynn, who also happens to be the basis for one of the mad characters in “War Machine”).

One of the movie’s best scenes takes place in a conference hall in Germany, where Pitt is trying to drum up support for more allied troops to fight in Afghanistan. He comes armed with a whiteboard, and he deploys a bewildering flow chart about the dynamics of insurgency and counterinsurgency, but Tilda Swinton, playing a German member of parliament, blows it all to hell. She points out that the reason for invading Afghanistan was to crush Al Qaeda, which was based there with Osama bin Laden, and was pretty much chased out of the country in the first months of the invasion. After so many years of stalemate against the Taliban, what is the purpose of continuing to fight?

“As an elected representative of the people of Germany, it is my job to ensure that the personal ambitions of those who serve those people are kept in check,” Swinton says. “You have devoted your entire life, general, to the fighting of war, and this situation in Afghanistan for you is the culmination of all your years of training, all your years of ambition. This is the great moment of your life. It is understandable to me that you should have therefor a fetish for completion, to make your moment glorious. It is my job, however, to ensure that your personal ambitions are not entirely delusional and do not carry with them an unacceptable cost for everybody else.”

It might sound like a lecture that only an anti-war leftie could write or appreciate, and it might sound unfair to the now-we-know-what-to-do generals who command, with square-jawed authority, the forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, but remember where the movie’s biggest fans are located — in the Pentagon. I met the kinds of officers and diplomats depicted so scathingly in “War Machine,” and while exaggerated in the movie, they are real. They probably mean well but they fail or refuse to see what everyone around them can see, and must pay for in blood. Our delusional leaders finally have the movie their insanity deserves.

Top photo: A still frame of Brad Pitt in the Netflix movie “War Machine.”

The post Brad Pitt’s “War Machine” Offers an Absurd and Scathing Critique of America’s Delusional Generals appeared first on The Intercept.

New Teflon Toxin Found in North Carolina Drinking Water

17 June 2017 - 8:16am

A persistent and toxic industrial chemical known as GenX has been detected in the drinking water in Wilmington, North Carolina, and in surface waters in Ohio and West Virginia.

DuPont introduced GenX in 2009 to replace PFOA, a compound it used to manufacture Teflon and coatings for stain-resistant carpeting, waterproof clothing, and many other consumer products. PFOA, also known as C8, was phased out after DuPont was hit with a class-action suit over health and environmental concerns. Yet as The Intercept reported last year, GenX is associated with some of the same health problems as PFOA, including cancer and reproductive issues.

Levels of GenX in the drinking water of one North Carolina water utility, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, averaged 631 ppt (parts per trillion), according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters in 2016. Although researchers didn’t test the water of two other drinking water providers that also draw water from that area of the Cape Fear River, the entire watershed downstream of the Chemours discharge, which is a source of drinking water for some 250,000 people, is likely to be contaminated, according to Detlef Knappe, one of the authors of the study.

Research presented at a conference this week at Northeastern University detailed the presence of GenX in water in North Carolina and Ohio. In both cases, the chemical was found in water near plants that were owned by DuPont and since 2015 have been operated by DuPont’s spinoff company, Chemours. Both GenX and PFOA belong to a larger group of chemicals known as PFAS, which are structurally similar and believed to persist indefinitely in nature.

In Ohio, Jason Galloway, a university student who presented at the conference, measured the chemical in surface water as far as 20 miles from the Chemours plant, which is across the Ohio River in Parkersburg, West Virginia. After reading about the chemical in The Intercept, Galloway sampled water near the plant and tested it for GenX. Galloway found the chemical in various creeks and streams in the area at levels reaching more than 100 ppt. He explained that some of the chemical was likely deposited far from the plant by wind.

In North Carolina, GenX was present in water at even higher levels, with the most concentrated sample measuring 4,500 ppt. Although the EPA has not set legally binding regulations on any member of this class of chemicals, the agency last year set a drinking water standard for PFOA and the related chemical PFOS of 70 ppt. Several states have also set their own drinking levels for PFOA. Vermont has set the lowest so far at 20 ppt, and water experts in New Jersey have proposed an even lower level, 14 ppt, though it has not yet been finalized.

In response to an inquiry from the Intercept, the EPA provided a written response:

EPA is committed to protecting public health and supporting states and public water systems as the appropriate steps to address the presence of GenX in drinking water are determined. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA undertakes extensive evaluations of contaminants and uses the best available peer reviewed science to identify and regulate contaminants that present meaningful opportunities for health risk reduction. While EPA has not established a drinking water regulation, health advisory or health based benchmark for GenX in drinking water, the agency is working closely with the states and public water systems to determine the appropriate next steps to ensure public health protection.

In 2007, as it was phasing out the use of PFOA, DuPont applied to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to update its emissions permit. A resulting 2011 consent order between the company and the state agency allowed the company to emit wastewater containing as much as 17,500 ppt of GenX into a receiving stream near the plant, an amount that is 250 times the EPA drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS.

On stationery bearing the tagline “promoting a healthy environment,” the West Virginia document lays out the terms of the permit allowing DuPont to discharge its waste into the Ohio River and its tributaries. In the agreement, DuPont promised to implement a variety of “environmental control technologies that reduce environmental release and exposure.” A 2009 consent order between DuPont and the EPA, which The Intercept obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the company agreed to recover or destroy 99 percent of the GenX it produces.

The Chemours (formerly DuPont) Washington Works plant along the Ohio River in Parkersburg, W. Va. in an undated file photo.

Photo: The Marietta Times/AP

It is unclear whether Chemours has kept DuPont’s promise to discharge just one percent of its GenX waste, in part because DuPont declared the amount it intended to produce confidential in the consent order. A spokesperson for DuPont referred questions to Chemours, saying “that whole thing has been transferred to them.” Chemours did not respond to inquiries for this article about how much GenX it produces and discharges into waters near its plants.

In an email, a spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Jacob Glance, wrote that DuPont and Chemours have been submitting monitoring reports in accordance with their permit, but that the agency does not monitor the water for the presence of GenX.

In the West Virginia consent order, DuPont described GenX as having “a favorable toxicological profile” — a phrase Chemours has also used in its marketing materials. But DuPont’s own research calls that characterization into question. The company submitted 16 reports of adverse incidents related to GenX between 2006 and 2013, describing experiments in which lab animals exposed to the chemical developed cancers of the liver, pancreas, and testicles as well as benign tumors. The industry research also tied GenX to reproductive problems, including low-birth weight and shortened pregnancies in rats, and changes in immune responses.

On Monday, in response to local reporting about the presence of GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water, North Carolina public health officials issued a statement assuring that “the GenX levels detected in 2013-2014 would be expected to pose a low risk to human health.” The statement mentioned a European study that had a high threshold of safety — 70,909 ppt — but didn’t provide a citation for it. Meanwhile, a recent Dutch report found that the adverse effects of GenX are similar to those of PFOA. And a 2017 report from a respected group of researchers in Sweden found GenX to be more toxic than PFOA.

Both Chemours and DuPont have also emphasized that GenX exits the human body more quickly than PFOA. But at the recent conference, Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, downplayed the significance of that difference. “Every PFAS that has been studied is causing problems,” said Birnbaum, whose agency funds scientific research into the chemicals. “Even if they have a shorter half-life, if it has a half-life of 30 days, it’s going to build up in your body.”

Given the conflicting information, Knappe, co-author of the study about drinking water in North Carolina, felt the state agency shouldn’t have suggested that extremely high levels of GenX are safe to ingest. “I really have heartburn over the 71,000 number,” said Knappe, a professor of environmental engineering at North Carolina State University. “It’s irresponsible to put that kind of number out and pretend that we can tell people that the water is safe at those levels.”

Many people in the area are also worried — and confused — about the contamination. Since she heard about the GenX in her drinking water, Deborah Buchanan has been wondering whether it might help explain why she developed thyroid cancer and thyroid disease in 2015. Although there is no research available on how GenX affects the human thyroid gland, a quick Google search showed Buchanan, who lives in Leland, North Carolina, that PFOA was linked with the disease. “I’m not sure that’s how I got sick,” said Buchanan, “but it does make me wonder.”

Parents in the area are particularly worried. As soon as the news was out, “all the cancer moms in our group started posting on Facebook,” said Amy Hermann, who organized local parents of children with cancer after her son developed leukemia in 2012. “My first thought was: what did we expose him to that might have started his cancer?” said Hermann. My second thought was: We have three other kids. How do we protect them?”

Fifty families belong to Hermann’s group, the Wilmington Childhood Cancer Support Group, including families of several children with leukemia and three with a rare form of kidney cancer. PFOA has been linked to kidney cancer in humans, though there are no published studies on the links between GenX and kidney cancer in humans. Besides the industry studies, which were accessed on the EPA website using information that had originally been classified as “confidential business information,” there is very little research available on the health effects of GenX.

Even less is known about other chemicals the researchers found in the Cape Fear River. In addition to GenX, the scientists detected six other PFAS compounds in the river water, some at levels 100 times that of GenX. In all, experts estimate there may be between 3,000 and 6,000 different PFAS compounds.

“It just blows my mind to see the number and diversity of different compounds that are out there,” Andrew Lindstrom, a research scientist at EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory and co-author of the North Carolina study, told the audience at the conference. “You have to ask yourself: how good is the drinking water treatment plant that is downstream? And very often then answer is not very good.”

Indeed, even the advanced water processing system used by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which provided the water in the North Carolina study, was unable to keep the chemicals out. “We’d expect that it’d be very effective with a wide range of contaminants,” said Knappe, “but these compounds zipped through the plant untouched.”

Because the chemicals aren’t regulated, states and water providers are under little or no legal obligation to test for or remove them. And frustrated residents of Hoosick Falls, New York, Warminster, Pennsylvania, Pease, New Hampshire, and Oscoda, Michigan, among other communities with PFAS-contaminated water, have been taking matters into their own hands, organizing local protests, calling legislators, and putting pressure on polluters. In Wilmington, several groups have already sprung up to fight GenX. And the law firm Levin Papantonio has announced it is filing suit over the chemical.

But the legal strategy holds only limited promise. Though the class action suit over PFOA yielded a historic $671 million settlement in February, it took more than a decade to litigate. By spinning off Chemours, DuPont, which Thursday was granted conditional approval to merge with Dow, has stanched its losses. And well before the case was decided DuPont had already begun using and emitting its replacement, GenX. EPA monitoring conducted from 2013 to 2016, which tested for just six of the thousands of PFAS compounds, showed that 15 million Americans in 27 states have contaminated drinking water. The government is not currently monitoring drinking water for these chemicals.

The lack of government oversight is what drove Jason Galloway, the student in Ohio, to do his own testing for GenX. Galloway isn’t a chemist. He doesn’t even know how to swim. Yet he took it upon himself to go out in a kayak to get samples of local water.

“I looked around and when I saw it hadn’t been done, I knew the agencies who should have been doing it were either complicit or underfunded,” said Galloway. “So I did it myself.”

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

The post New Teflon Toxin Found in North Carolina Drinking Water appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump To Reverse Obama Openings To Cuba Under the False Flag of Human Rights

16 June 2017 - 2:47pm

In the days following the death of Fidel Castro, then-President-elect Donald Trump did exactly what one might expect: He took to Twitter. Trump condemned the “deal” the Obama administration put in place over the course of its normalization process with Cuba. “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump tweeted.

Today at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, Trump unveiled his administration’s Cuba policy — though not necessarily to the benefit of the Cuban or American people, as his tweet pledged.

Following statements by his Cuban-American congressional allies Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., as well as Florida Governor Rick Scott and Vice President Mike Pence, Trump promised to roll back recent openings with Cuba. “We will enforce the ban on tourism,” he proclaimed. “We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future, a country of great potential.”

Trump is on the cusp of reversing President Barack Obama’s limited opening to Cuba, moving back toward Cold War-era policies designed as part of a catastrophically failed half-century attempt to foster regime change. “This is a reversion to a policy that never worked,” said Marguerite Jiménez, who oversaw commercial relations between the U.S. and Cuba during her tenure as senior policy advisor to Obama’s Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “This isn’t a new deal,” Jiménez said. “This is an old deal. And it’s and old bad deal.”

Carried out under the unlikely banner, for Trump, of human rights and democracy, the shift is instead more likely to re-impose hardships on ordinary Cubans — the very same people Trump, Rubio, and Diaz-Balart claim to champion.

In December 2014, Obama took a new approach to engagement with Cuba, which successive American governments had been working to isolate since after the island nation’s communist revolution in 1958. The Obama policy shift culminated in 23 bilateral agreements between the historic foes, leading to increased financial investments and travel to the island and, therefore, bolstering its nascent private sector.

Diplomatic ties and bilateral agreements will likely remain intact, according to Emily Mendrala, who served in Obama’s National Security Council as a Director for Legislative Affairs, where she coordinated congressional policy discussions on Cuba. “The bilateral agreements represent countless hours of careful discussion between our two governments, and have resulted in concrete cooperation on issues ranging from real-time law enforcement information sharing to the resumption of direct mail between our two countries,” Mendrala said. “It would be extremely counterproductive to revert back to the previous time-consuming policy of exchanging formal diplomatic notes each time our two countries needed to communicate.”

Central to Trump’s plan is a ban on financial transactions with any enterprises owned or run by the business division of the Cuban military. The military’s Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., or GAESA, is estimated to oversee 50 to 60 percent of the entire Cuban economy. But GAESA, an entity integral to Cuba’s estimated $3 billion to $4 billion tourist industry, is by no means the only actor taking a hit. Trump’s policy will also impose harsh restrictions on travel to the country, effectively squelching a wave of American tourism. Though still technically illegal under Obama’s new policies, tourism had nevertheless burgeoned under the 12 approved categories for legitimate travel laid out by the U.S. during the normalization process.

President Donald Trump gets off Marine One before boarding Air Force One for a speech in Miami on Cuba policy, Friday, June 16, 2017, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

While Trump’s new restrictions are intended to impede economic or financial advantages for the Cuban government, which has been led by Fidel’s brother Raúl since 2008, any policy that limits travel will inevitably hurt Cubans, said William LeoGrande, who teaches government at American University and co-authored the book “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.” “When Americans go down there, a lot of them stay in private homes, they eat in private restaurants, they take private taxis, and they pay private tour guides that guide them around the city,” LeoGrande said. “That’s money directly into the hands of ordinary Cubans.”

Many of these Cubans themselves agree. “It’s a fundamentally negative thing,” said Paver Core Broche, who owns and runs a café in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, of Trump’s policy shifts, speculating that they would “block our financial development, increased employment, and economic possibilities.”

Cubans like Core Broche are justifiably wary of Trump’s alliance with the influential Cuban Lobby, a wealthy and politically active cohort of right-wing exiles in Miami, in the key electoral swing state of Florida. Republican Cuban-Americans like Rubio have long pushed for a hardline against Cuba. In this sense, Cuba has transformed from an enduring diplomatic anomaly and geopolitical issue into a matter of domestic policy and electoral kowtowing.

And yet hindering the financial wellbeing of Cubans has long proved an ideologically tenuous product of the 56-year-old embargo against the country. At its inception, the embargo articulated a desire for regime change; now, the Trump administration is passing off the embargo that impoverished Cubans as pressure on the Castro government for reforms on human rights issues and to encourage “democratic values.”

“It’s hard to believe that human rights are really anything more than just an excuse,” said LeoGrande, the American University professor. “This is really more a matter of political horse trading than it is a matter of foreign policy.”

Top photo: A pedicab displaying a U.S. flag travels on a street in Havana on June 15, 2017.

The post Trump To Reverse Obama Openings To Cuba Under the False Flag of Human Rights appeared first on The Intercept.

$15 for 15 minutes: How Courts Are Letting Prison Phone Companies Gouge Incarcerated People

16 June 2017 - 1:24pm

When Mary Shields was first sent to prison, her daughter was too young to understand why their phone calls would cut off mid-conversation and why she would not hear from her mother again for days. Shields was among the many incarcerated people who had their contact with loved ones curtailed by the high rates for making prison phone calls. During her 21 years in a California state prison, she spoke with her family for 15 minutes twice a month. Each call cost $15.

“Those calls are very expensive,” she said, noting that her family paid the phone bills as well as the cost of caring for her children. Shields could have put more of a burden on her family but thought it would only drain their financial resources. “I wasn’t able to do that because I wanted the best for my children. I didn’t want to take anything away from them and that” — the phone bills — “was taking away from them.”

In 2013 and then again in 2015, President Barack Obama’s Federal Communications Commission, the body that regulates the prison phone industry, moved to alleviate the burden of the impossible choice like the one faced by Shields. After activists waged a decadeslong campaign to lower prison call rates, the FCC voted to cap the costs. Different facilities maintained different rates, but no incarcerated person, under Obama’s new rules, would be paying more than 49 cents per minute for a call to someone in the same state where their prison was located.

On Tuesday, much of that progress was undone when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against limiting the cost of intrastate prison phone calls.

For 2.2 million people behind bars and their families, the ruling represents a severe setback in their lengthy struggle for affordable phone calls. The calls allow incarcerated people to keep up relationships, including with their children, among others. Now, when incarcerated people and their families live in the same state, those communications will be completely unregulated by the federal government.

Tuesday’s outcome in court was dispiriting for advocates. “Regulatory efforts to resolve the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families by the FCC have not proven to be very effective in addition to being long-running,” said Paul Wright, director of the Human Rights Defense Center, which helped lead the phone justice campaign. “That seems to be the biggest message from this ruling.”

For Colette Payne, a community organizer and formerly incarcerated person, there’s also the fear that the costs will go up even more. Payne pays $25 for five phone calls each month — four from her fiancé and one from his son, both incarcerated but in separate prisons. It’s all she can afford to pay; sometimes even that is a struggle. “You live on your own, you can’t really afford it,” she said. But she sets aside the money because she knows what a lifeline the phone can be for someone in prison. “It’s a connection to the outside world, to families and to children,” she reflected. If rates increase, she said, there “would be the possibility that neither would get a phone call.”

Former prison inmate and grandson of Martha Wright, Ulandis Forte, applauds during the Federal Communications Commission hearing at the FCC in Washington, on Aug. 9, 2013.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

In 2000, a grandmother from Washington, D.C., named Martha Wright filed a lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison giant that housed her incarcerated grandson. For Wright, who was then in her 70s and blind, phone calls were the only way to stay in touch with her grandson, who was imprisoned out of town. But a single five-minute call cost up to $18.

In her suit, Wright charged that the phone rates were “exorbitant and unconscionable long-distance rates, which severely burden communication between inmates and their family members and counsel.” The court ruled that the jurisdiction lay with the FCC, and so Wright, with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a petition with the commission.

Ten years later, Wright’s efforts, with help from the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, seemed to be yielding results. In 2013, the FCC held a public hearing about the cost of prison phone calls. Bethany Fraser, a mother of two sons ages 5 and 10, traveled to Washington to testify. “Losing their father to prison also meant losing over half of our family’s income,” Fraser told the commission. “I would do anything, and pay any amount to keep my children connected to their father. But choosing between essential needs and keeping kids connected to their parents is a choice no family should have to make.”

That day, the FCC voted 2 to 1 to cap interstate phone rates.

Wright didn’t live long enough to see that. Two years later, in 2015, the regulator moved to take an additional step: setting permanent caps on phone rates and the ancillary fees on intrastate calls, those made within the state where the prison was located. The rate caps varied from 14 to 49 cents per minute and were set to decrease even further to 11 to 22 cents per minute on July 1, 2018. It was a huge victory that would set rates low enough for incarcerated people and their families to speak regularly without facing huge financial burdens.

Federal Communications Commission Chair Mingon Clyburn, center, flanked by Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel, left, and Ajit Pai, participates in a hearing about limiting the rates that prison inmates pay to make phone calls in Washington, on Aug. 9, 2013.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

While incarcerated people and their families are at risk of facing daunting costs to stay in touch, prison telephone service providers — which in 2015 was a $1.2 billion industry — stand to take in massive profits.

The D.C. Circuit’s ruling came in part thanks to the efforts of these very businesses. Five prison phone companies — Global Tel*Link, Securus Technologies, CenturyLink Public Communications, Telmate, and PayTel Communications — filed separate petitions to review the FCC’s caps. Global Tel*Link, the lead plaintiff in the now-consolidated case, provides telephone and video calling services to 2,300 jails and prisons in all 50 states and, according to its website, has delivered more than 3.3 billion minutes of jail and prison phone calls. Another plaintiff, Securus, which settled a lawsuit last year for improperly recording prison calls, boasts that it provides services to more than 2,200 facilities nationwide.

The rates for calls can vary widely. In West Virginia, for instance, a 15-minute call costs 48 cents; in Texas, the same call costs $3.90.

Prison phone costs are so high due, in part, to the way the contracts for phone services are doled out to these companies. Phone service providers compete with each other to win contracts with jails and prisons. When deciding upon a company, administrators often give considerable weight to which provider offers the highest site commission, or a portion of the phone provider’s revenue or profits. These commissions typically range between 20 and 63 percent of the profit, which translates to $276,000 to $5.3 million. Advocates have referred to these commissions as “kickbacks.” With such a huge volume of calls and sometimes exorbitant rates, those commissions quickly pile up into profits for the very same prisons doling out the contract.

The decision Tuesday came amid political turnover at the FCC. Two of the commissioners who had voted in favor of caps on prison phone rates under Obama are gone. Ajit Pai, who had voted against the 2013 FCC proposal to cap rates, was designated the commission chairperson by President Donald Trump.

On January 31, counsel for the FCC filed a letter advising the D.C. court that given the commission’s changes, “a majority of the current Commission does not believe that the agency has the authority to cap intrastate rates under section 276 of the Act.” The letter stated in plain terms that the FCC itself no longer thought it had the authority to set the limits.

Nearly six months later, the court agreed, ruling that the commission had exceeded its authority. It vacated the proposed intrastate rates, the exclusion of site commission payments when calculating phone rates, and the reporting requirements for video calling. (Rate caps on interstate prison and jail calls, which were addressed in the original 2013 change, remain in effect.)

Within hours of the court’s decision, Ajit Pai, the FCC chair, issued a statement reiterating his position that “the FCC exceeded its authority when it attempted to impose rate caps on intrastate calls made by inmates.”

One of the plaintiffs, Global Tel*Link, commended the court decision. “We are committed to market-based reforms that result in lower rates for inmates and their friends and family members, but those reforms must account for the true costs of providing ICS and give deference to state and local governments on issues of intrastate rates and security,” said CEO Brian Oliver in a press statement. (Other plaintiffs contacted by The Intercept did not respond in time for publication.)

Carrie Wilkinson, the Human Rights Defense Center’s campaign director, said that they were “very disappointed” in the ruling, but noted that phone companies have the choice not to raise their rates.

“The court, at first glance, appears to continue to give them free rein to continue to price gouge some of the poorest people in this country if they choose to. But they can choose not to,” she said, noting that some prison phone companies have spoken out about the importance of keeping a family connection in reducing recidivism. “If they would put their money where their mouth is, this wouldn’t have to be catastrophic for prisoners.”

Top photo: Prison inmates make one of their daily allotment of six phone calls at the York Community Reintegration Center on May 24, 2016 in Niantic, Connecticut.

The post $15 for 15 minutes: How Courts Are Letting Prison Phone Companies Gouge Incarcerated People appeared first on The Intercept.

How Sanctuary Cities Can Protect Undocumented Immigrants From ICE Data Mining

16 June 2017 - 8:48am

New York City dodged a bullet in April when a federal judge allowed the destruction of more than 900,000 records of applicants for IDNYC, a citywide identification card program that was heavily marketed towards the vast local population of undocumented immigrants. Late last year, two state lawmakers from Staten Island filed suit under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law seeking to prevent the city from destroying the application documents for more than 900,000 city residents who had received cards through the program, IDNYC. While Assembly members Ron Castorino and Nicole Malliotakis claimed their suit had nothing to do with immigration policy, advocates and city officials saw the lawsuit as a thinly-veiled attempt to preserve records that could assist Immigration & Customs Enforcement in deportations. Malliotakis has since vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling.

After Trump’s election, New York City joined municipalities around the country in announcing itself as a “sanctuary city,” a place where law enforcement would refuse to help in the deportation of as many as 11 million undocumented residents Trump threatened he’d target while on the campaign trail, and appears to be making good on his promise with a 40 percent increase in immigration-related arrests by ICE through the beginning of May. After more than 160 people were detained by ICE in the Los Angeles region in February during nationwide immigration enforcement actions, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to do “everything in my power … to make sure that the legal rights of all Angelenos are respected and upheld at every stage of the enforcement process.” In Santa Cruz, where a number of undocumented people with no criminal history were detained and placed in removal proceedings during a federal gang sweep, the local police chief denounced ICE for not notifying his agency. And in California, a bill that would restrict state agencies and law enforcement from cooperating with ICE for immigration enforcement in all but a few circumstances has already passed the state Senate and has the support of the Assembly majority and Governor Jerry Brown.

However, the ever-expanding amount of information collected about individuals by government and private entities means that despite their good intentions, cities with sanctuary policies may be inadvertently assisting ICE through personnel and information-sharing agreements with the federal government. And the law may not be on their side.

Advocates have long warned that even ID programs like New York’s — which aimed to bring undocumented residents out of the shadows — could put those same residents at risk if ICE got its hands on any revealing paperwork. And some cities took heed: San Francisco’s municipal identification program, created in 2009, immediately destroys all materials provided by applicants. But for the many others that haven’t taken such steps, data like the application materials for New York City’s municipal identification cards has moved to the center of the battle between Washington D.C. and local governments over immigration policies.

For all the tough talk by cities that have announced their intention to stand up to the president’s deportation plans, once such data is collected and saved there is little they can do to monkey-wrench ICE’s enforcement operations.

Daniel Ramirez Medina, center, briefly talks to reporters as he walks with his attorney, Luis Cortes, right, after Ramirez was freed from custody at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., on March 29, 2017.

Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP

Shifting Strategies

In the days of George W. Bush’s presidency, the hallmark of ICE’s work was large-scale workplace raids, intended to target industries with high numbers of undocumented workers. Those days are over: today, information is the lifeblood of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. According to the Immigration Law Resource Center, ICE’s main enforcement programs revolve around data mining information provided by local jails or criminal intelligence. “At the heart of ICE’s cooperation with local law enforcement is communication and information sharing,” says the Immigration Legal Resource Center in a primer on ICE’s enforcement methods.

The problem for sanctuary cities, however, is the that their right to withhold such data from federal immigration authorities is far from established. A series of laws passed in 1996 during the Clinton Administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration — most notably the  Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act — established that local governments are not mandated to provide information to the federal government, but also that they cannot block ICE’s access to records they maintain, or from preventing individual employees from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

Two subsequent court decisions have backstopped this position, and have provided the Trump administration with some tenuous legal groundwork to support Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to withhold federal money from recalcitrant sanctuary cities. However, the scope of the federal government’s ability to mandate cooperation from municipalities for immigration enforcement is far from settled, as demonstrated by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick III’s April 25 decision blocking President Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold funding from sanctuary cities. Despite Judge Orrick’s ruling, the Trump Administration’s recent budget proposal includes language that would allow the Justice Department and Homeland Security to deny funding for municipalities that attempt to deny records to ICE.

The explosion of data that has taken place since the turn of the millennium has revolutionized law enforcement, giving police departments and federal agencies alike access to tools that provide quick access to financial records, drivers licenses, vehicle records, telephone calls, and criminal justice records. These tools didn’t exist when the 1996 law was passed, but as a consequence of its passage, immigration authorities now have access to vast repositories of information on people that simply did not exist two decades ago.

“Once you’ve given people access to databases, how do you pull back? I don’t think you can, said Maria Blanco, a professor of law at the UC Davis School of Law and the executive director of the Undocumented Student Legal Services Center, which represents young people who received legal status through the Obama-era Dream Act program.

ICE’s increased use of data mining to identify and locate undocumented people is reflected in the nature of recent enforcement operations since Donald Trump’s January inauguration. Immigration attorneys and advocates interviewed for this story indicated that many of the people picked up by ICE during enforcement operations this winter were identified as having outstanding removal orders. Others, like Washington State Dream Act recipient Daniel Ramirez Medina, detained by ICE while the feds were looking for his father, were caught up during a search for another individual. “The raids are different than before, they’re very targeted,” said Ana Muniz, an assistant professor of Criminology, Law & Society at the University of California-Irvine. “Any sort of motivated agent has a way to access information from one system to another. The arrests we’re seeing in Los Angeles are of ICE agents sent out to detain or one two people with specific standing removal orders, that requires a detailed level of intelligence, whereas during the 1990s and 2000s, the raids were more location-based,” Muniz said.

The removal proceedings of a young Central American man for alleged gang ties in Boston, a key sanctuary city, elucidates ICE’s reliance on information gathered by local police.

In 2015, while in high school in a heavily Latino area of Boston, the young man was in the cafeteria when an argument broke out among several other students. Although no fight ensued, Boston School Police reviewed video footage of the incident and documented him as a “MS-13 Associate” — referring to Mara Salvatrucha, a well-known transnational gang. No suspensions or disciplinary actions were meted out as a result of this incident, according to Sarah Sherman-Stokes, an attorney at Boston University’s Immigrant’s Rights Clinic who represented the young man. However, the police report was forwarded to the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), the local fusion center where Boston cops work side by side with personnel from the FBI and ICE. That fusion center’s privacy policy allows for the sharing of information even without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.

Sherman-Stokes says documents and court testimony she obtained reveal the information in the school police report prompted agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arm to scour her client’s Facebook account, which yielded photographs of him wearing blue, white, and red clothing that the feds claimed constituted gang membership. Sherman-Stokes said one of those photographs was taken on the day of a Salvadoran parade in Boston when her client was wearing blue and white, the colors of El Salvador’s flag. Despite her challenges, an immigration judge ruled the young man was a gang associate, and he was ordered removed. The case is currently on appeal, and the man, now 20, has been in immigration detention for more than six months. (The Intercept is withholding his name because some of his relatives are also undocumented.)

“My client was going to school full-time and working at a restaurant from 5 p.m. to midnight — he didn’t have time to be a gang member,” Sherman-Stokes said, noting that the young man has no arrests, or any other indication of gang affiliation other than the lunchroom incident. “What has happened is that every behavior problem of a young brown person has become a gang problem,” said Sherman-Stokes. “I sincerely doubt that a lunchroom dispute would result in this information being sent to BRIC were they not poor kids of color.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers remarks at the National Immigration Integration Conference.

Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/Sipa USA/AP

Pathways to Immigrant Data

In 2014, after President Obama announced his “felons not families” policy, ICE shifted its focus away from all immigrants without documentation and toward violent criminals and alleged gang members. That narrowed mandate coincided with attempts in cities like New York and San Francisco to give undocumented immigrants municipal identification cards, driver’s licenses, and financial aid for higher education.

“For the last eight years, we’ve lived in an environment where the basic assumption has been we can give undocumented people benefits for coming out of the shadows, with few or any risks,” said Alvaro Bedoya, the director of the Center for Technology and Privacy at Georgetown Law, which is currently researching the impact of government surveillance on communities of color.

“That time,” Bedoya adds, “is over,” and is marked most dramatically by two memos issued in February by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly that essentially re-prioritized all the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States for deportation, regardless of their criminal history, family ties, or asylum claim.

Consequently, Beyoda said, cities that have adopted data collection and dissemination as a model of public service over the past decade need to comprehensively review what information they collect, what impact it could have on residents’ lives, and whether it needs to be gathered at all.

“A foundational principal of privacy by design is data minimization at the outset, and jurisdictions need to think about whether they need to collect all the data they do collect,” he said.

In New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., Oakland, and Seattle — some of the nation’s largest and most outspoken sanctuary cities — local police departments have officers working side-by-side with ICE agents in joint task forces. These cities also maintain databases of criminal and non-criminal information that immigration authorities can request to identify and locate undocumented residents. This non-criminal background includes information such as parking violations, business records, and employment information. ICE also relies on biographical and biometric information from jailhouse bookings and field contacts, which are fed into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and Next Generation Identification System databases.

One key conduit of information from local police to ICE is through joint federal-local task forces intended to combat crime or terrorism. Police officers in each of the listed “sanctuary cities” that choose to participate are assigned to the local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Though the JTTFs are run by regional offices of the FBI, agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations are assigned to all 104 such task forces across the country, and ICE’s own website boasts that the agency “is the largest federal contributor to the JTTF.”

Furthermore, police in several cities (Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco) have assigned other officers to participate as deputized federal agents in task forces run by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit. The task forces are intended to focus on gun violence, gang crimes, and organized crime. According to ICE’s own documentation, local police officers who are deputized as federal agents cannot enforce immigration law. However, HSI receives access to local case files through these task forces, and the task force agreements do not bar HSI agents from detaining people for immigration violations during their joint operations with local police. Nor do the agreements place restrictions on ICE’s access to data maintained by local police or other municipal agencies.

Since at least 2010, LAPD has cross-designated officers as ICE agents for the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force, one of ICE’s regional human- and drug-trafficking units. In a telephone interview, Mike Downing, the deputy chief for LAPD’s Counter-Terrorism & Special Operations Bureau, said the deputized police officers are not permitted to enforce immigration law. “All investigations involving LAPD officers have to have a criminal predicate, either reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” Downing said. The LAPD’s agreement was crafted to comply with Special Order 40, a 1979 policy directive that bars officers from arresting people for their immigration status alone. However, LAPD has no control over what ICE agents do while working alongside their officers, as evidenced by joint gang operations that have been criticized as end runs around Special Order 40. As a result, LAPD’s participation in task forces with ICE facilitates the agency’s enforcement of immigration law, even for undocumented people caught up during searches who may have committed no crime.

ICE has another pathway to local law enforcement data: through the dozens of intelligence fusion centers set up by the Department of Homeland Security across the United States after 9/11. There are 72 such entities around the country, which facilitate the sharing of information between local police, federal law enforcement, and the private sector.

These entities, such as the Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Los Angeles County, also store and disseminate license plate reader information to various law enforcement agencies, including ICE. License plate readers record every car that passes, and mark the location and time of the photograph. Over time, license plate reader data can create a detailed and revealing portrait of someone’s private life and movements.

In Northern California, ICE agents have queried a vast repository of license plate reader data warehoused at the regional fusion center, according to statistical records obtained from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center by privacy activist Mike Katz-Lacabe. And once localities like San Francisco or Houston allow a fusion center to access and store their license plate reader data, they cannot control who uses it.

In 2014, public outcry forced ICE to back down from a plan to purchase a subscription to the billion-record repository of license plate reader data from across the United States maintained by the private company Vigilant Solutions. Activists feared that ICE’s access to Vigilant’s enormous repository of vehicle data could allow federal agents to track an untold number of people without warrants. “If this goes forward, DHS will have warrantless access to location information going back at least five years about virtually every adult driver in the U.S., and sometimes to their image as well,” Gregory T. Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology, told the Washington Post. However, ICE field offices in Newark, Houston and Dallas used their own funds to purchase subscriptions to Vigilant’s database, providing the agency with access to more than 6 billion pieces of location data around the country. The Dallas office is home to ICE’s National Gang Unit, which tracks individuals across the country. Other ICE offices that have used Vigilant’s data are in Seattle, Los Angeles, Vermont, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Washington D.C.

Records obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center indicate there was internal disagreement about how ICE should use license plate reader data. “There is no accountability to the public as to how the data is collected, how much is collected, how long it is retained, how it is used or what rights affected users might have,” ICE privacy officer Lyn Rahilly wrote in January 2011 to HSI officials regarding the use of Vigilant’s license plate reader data by the Houston and Newark offices. “I certainly understand why law enforcement would want to use this dataset,” Rahilly wrote. “But the public policy, privacy and civil liberties issues associated with its use are not insignificant.”

ICE is also using powerful cellphone tracking devices known as cell site simulators to locate undocumented people. In May, the Detroit News published a judicial warrant permitting ICE to use the cellphone tracking to hunt down a restaurant worker who had been deported twice before. ICE also recently beefed up its ability to extract and analyze cellphone data. In March, ICE’s National Mission Support office in Dallas purchased $2.2 million worth of cellphone and computer-cracking technology from the Israeli firm Cellebrite, significantly expanding the agency’s ability to extract data from seized electronic devices.

ICE also routinely mines information from state gang databases to identity undocumented people accused of affiliation or membership. Until ICE pulled the plug on its ICEGang database in October 2016, immigration authorities could access electronic gang files in 14 states that used the same software platform sold by CSRA International, a major defense contractor. The state gang databases are still in operation, and CSRA retains its own copies of the data collected and shared by local law enforcement. In the past, CSRA has turned over data to other government entities, such as the California State Auditor, and it is highly likely that CSRA will comply with similar requests from ICE for state gang data.

Palantir engineers at company offices in Palo Alto, Calif., on March 13, 2014.

Photo: Peter DaSilva/The New York Times/Redux

Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Primary Data Mining Tools

The centerpiece of ICE’s ability to identify and locate people under investigation for criminal or immigration offenses is the agency’s robust data mining capability.

Integrated Case Management (ICM)

A customized version of Palantir’s Gotham software, Integrated Case Management will soon replace the aging TECS (Treasury Enforcement Communications System) mainframe database and will then serve as the central repository of information for ICE’s criminal and immigration investigations. ICM reportedly will contain telecommunications data intercepted by ICE, location data from GPS trackers and license plate readers, financial transactions, and will access the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system which provides information on people arrested by local police across the United States.

The Enforcement Integrated Database (EID)

Shared with Customs and Border Protection as well as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Enforcement Integrated Database consolidates biometric and biographic information on people arrested by ICE and serves as the central repository for information on people contacted by ICE or other DHS agencies during immigration and criminal operations. EID also sends notifications to local and state law enforcement when people convicted of violent or serious crimes such as murder or rape are released from ICE custody in their jurisdiction.

FALCON-SA

Customized Palantir Gotham link-analysis software, operational since 2011, that establishes a portrait of a person’s movements, relationships, whereabouts, and financial background. Unlike ICM, which will be a digital workspace that provides access to criminal and immigration investigative files, FALCON-SA is an analytical tool that is programmed by ICE analysts to collate disparate information about investigative targets.  FALCON-SA routinely receives data dumps from federal and local law enforcement criminal databases, telecommunications information from HSI investigations, suspicious activity reports, U.S. and foreign financial data, and tax information on watchlisted individuals. FALCON-SA users can also incorporate biographical information from private third-party databases such as Thomson Reuters’ CLEAR and Dun & Bradstreet and can access the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, and INTERPOL red notices.

LeadTrac

A database and information analysis tool used by agents from HSI and ICE’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit to identify people who have overstayed their visas or are in the United States without proper authorization. The LeadTrac system includes biographical information on potential immigration violators as well as information on associates or relatives; it also includes passports or driver’s licenses data, border crossing histories, criminal records, and immigration history, State Department and Department of Justice records, student visa files, academic histories, and biometric information kept by DHS. LeadTrac also contains extensive records on organizations such as schools or universities regarding their role in sponsoring immigration applicants. LeadTrac also references the controversial NSEERS database, which was discontinued in 2011 by the Obama Administration. The data from NSEERS was never purged.

ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection System (ICEPIC)

ICEPIC is a pattern analysis tool that searches for relationship patterns among individuals and organizations that could reveal immigration violators or potential terrorist plots. The tool draws on law enforcement records and third-party commercial databases, student visas, the NSEERS list, immigration records, the terrorist watchlist.

Hundreds of protesters line the balconies of the state Capitol rotunda in Austin, on May 29, 2017, the last day of the legislative session, to protest Senate Bill 4.

Photo: Ricardo Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman/AP

What Cities Are Doing

While sanctuary cities cannot prevent federal agencies from accessing their criminal and non-criminal data, and the range of data that ICE can access is daunting, there are concrete steps being taken by some municipalities to safeguard data on residents.

“The only way information is not going to get to ICE is to not collect it,” said Muniz, the UC Irvine professor. “These systems, as they’ve been fractured, have been recording information centered around encounters,” Muniz said. “ICE is now trying to make these systems person-centered, to use tools to go through and delete any duplication through biographic or biometric information.”

Muniz is currently studying the federal government’s data mining practices over the past few decades, and has observed the influence information-gathering practices has had on ICE’s field operations and their relationships with local law enforcement. “Historically, the feds have tried to involve local police and sheriffs as force multipliers through agreements like 287(g),” Muniz said, referring to a Clinton-era program to deputize cops as immigration agents that was widely abandoned by the Obama Administration but is now in favor under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Now, they don’t really care about having extra bodies, ICE only wants the data.”

“The best thing that cities can do is not collect certain info or get rid of it as soon as they don’t need it anymore,” said Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachussetts. Crockford said that while Boston is a self-identified sanctuary city and has vowed to stay the course, one of the easiest steps the city could take would be to stop arresting people for “quality of life” offenses, thereby keeping their fingerprints out of federal databases like the FBI’s NCIC that ICE has access to. “It’s the fingerprinting that’s the problem — it is the easiest and most dangerous way for ICE to become aware of people who are undocumented,” Crockford said.

Similarly, community organizers in New York City have turned the dialogue around broken windows policing towards police interactions with undocumented residents. The argument advocates make is that immigrants will pull back from authorities if they believe interacting with the government on any level could result in deportation. Josmar Trujillo, an East Harlem organizer, spoke on a panel about ICE and sanctuary cities at CUNY Law School in Queens last month. Trujillo said that if immigrants realize their contacts with police or their applications for municipal identities cards could make them targets for ICE, undocumented residents will pull back from civic life. “My mother came into this country in the trunk of a car — she taught me to avoid all contact with the system,” said Trujillo. “You don’t want to start creating a de-facto registry of undocumented folks or hoover up information on people through low-levels charges, specifically because of an event like the Trump election.”

On a policy level, some of the most concrete steps to decouple local government and law enforcement from immigration authorities have taken place in the West. In February, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State issued an executive order barring any state or local agency from arresting people for violations of immigration law. In California, as San Francisco and Santa Clara County fight to block Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities in federal court, the state senate approved SB 54, a bill that would bar any law enforcement or government agency from providing information or resources to assist federal agencies enforce immigration law.

Not all states are in line with California. Both houses of the Texas legislature approved SB 4, a bill championed by Governor Greg Abbott that will withhold state funding from cities that refuse to cooperate with ICE. Similar laws were passed by state legislatures in Arizona, Georgia, and Tennessee during the Obama Administration.

Adam Schwartz, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been involved in the writing and lobbying around SB 54. “Government agencies are surfing on oceans of data,” Schwartz said. “Under this law, the norm is that data doesn’t get commandeered for purposes of immigration enforcement.”

While California’s SB 54 has received pointed criticism from Sessions as well as state and Congressional Republicans, the bill has been amended to allow ICE access to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, which allows access to records from police departments and courts throughout the state.

On a local level, some cities have started to pull back from federal task forces. In January, San Francisco ended its police department’s participation in the local Joint Terrorism Task Force, over concerns that the FBI-led unit would unlawfully target Muslims. In Oakland, a government committee responsible for policy-making on surveillance issues is reviewing the police department’s participation in the JTTF and a Homeland Security Investigations Task Force.

The uncertainty around the extent of the federal government’s ability to compel local governments to enforce immigration law and the wide variance in state laws about sanctuary policy mean that, for the time being, local and state policies will determine where undocumented residents receive the greatest deal of protection from ICE. California’s attempt to restrict ICE’s access to state data will prove a turning point if SB 54 becomes law, but there is a high likelihood that the Trump Administration will seek redress in the courts.

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Top photo: Area Muslims and local immigration activists participate in a prayer and rally against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies on Jan. 27, 2017 in New York City. President Trump has taken actions since the inauguration to start the building of a long promised wall along the Mexican border and to cut federal grants for immigrant protecting ‘sanctuary cities’.

The post How Sanctuary Cities Can Protect Undocumented Immigrants From ICE Data Mining appeared first on The Intercept.

Três anos depois, legado da Copa segue o roteiro dos 7 a 1

16 June 2017 - 6:27am

Fora de campo, todo dia é um 7 a 1 para quem observa, três anos depois, o legado da Copa de 2014. O episódio mais recente levou à prisão o ex-ministro e ex-presidente da Câmara dos Deputados Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN), investigado pela Polícia Federal por envolvimento em supostos desvios na construção da Arena das Dunas, em Natal, onde o clube de maior evidência, o ABC, é o atual 13º colocado na Segunda Divisão e manda seus jogos em outro estádio, o Frasqueirão. Alves foi ministro do Turismo de Dilma Rousseff e Michel Temer.

A situação da arena potiguar, de custo estimado em R$ 400 milhões (99% financiados via BNDES) para receber quatro partidas da Copa, mostra que a sova sofrida pelo futebol brasileiro na fatídica semifinal contra a Alemanha não terminou nos gols de Schürrle. Segundo técnicos do Tribunal de Contas do Estado do Rio Grande do Norte, o contrato entre o governo do RN e a OAS, peça-chave da Lava Jato, pode render um prejuízo para os cofres públicos de R$ 451,77 milhões em 15 anos. O custo para usar o local é considerado inviável pelos times do estado.

Acusado de corrupção na construção de 10 estádios para o Mundial, o ex-ministro do Turismo Henrique Eduardo Alves é escoltado pela PF em Natal no começo de junho.

AFP/Getty Images

O envolvimento da principal liderança política da região em suspeitas de irregularidades ajuda a entender o esforço e a generosidade dos organizadores da Copa em democratizar (sic) a participação da torcida nas 12 sedes do Mundial, das quais cinco não têm um time sequer na primeira divisão, onde concentram-se o público, a renda e a exposição na TV.

Natal está longe de ser o único caso.

Em Brasília, dois ex-governadores e um ex-vice, então assessor do presidente Michel Temer, foram detidos na Operação Panatenaico, que investiga suspeitas de propina e superfaturamento calculado em R$ 900 milhões nas obras do Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha e um rombo de R$ 1,3 bilhão aos cofres da Agência de Desenvolvimento de Brasília (Terracap), estatal utilizada para financiar a reforma do estádio.

As investigações tiveram andamento graças à delação da Andrade Gutierrez, uma das empreiteiras responsáveis (e favorecidas) pela construção. A reforma custou R$ 1,4 bilhão, a mais alta entre as arenas.

As suspeitas se somam às delações da principal empreiteira envolvida na Lava Jato, a Odebrecht. Segundo levantamento do portal G1, as delações de executivos da construtora permitem concluir que pelo menos metade dos 12 estádios utilizados na Copa do Mundo de 2014 está envolvida em alguma suspeita de irregularidade.

Pelo menos metade dos 12 estádios utilizados na Copa do Mundo de 2014 está envolvida em alguma suspeita de irregularidade.

A Procuradoria-Geral da República pediu ao relator da Lava Jato no Supremo Tribunal Federal, Luiz Fachin, que encaminhe as petições envolvendo as arenas de Recife (Arena Pernambuco), Fortaleza (Arena Castelão), Manaus (Arena da Amazônia) e Rio de Janeiro (Maracanã), além de Brasília (Mané Garrincha), a outras instâncias. Um inquérito relacionado à Arena Corinthians segue em sigilo no STF.

As investigações colocam gestores públicos e privados no centro das suspeitas. Em Pernambuco, a Operação Fair Play, da PF, transformou o governador Paulo Câmara (PSB) e o prefeito de Recife, Geraldo Júlio (PSB), em alvos de um inquérito no Supremo Tribunal Federal sob suspeita de participação no superfaturamento e irregularidades da Arena Pernambuco, da Odebrecht. Há suspeita de superfaturamento em troca de doações oficiais a políticos locais.

Depois das Olimpíadas, em 2016, Maracanã foi completamente abandonado e sofre a degradação de sua estrutura.

Foto: Ricardo Borges/Folhapress

O Maracanã teve também destino melancólico após abrigar a final da Copa, entre Alemanha e Argentina. O estádio, que ficou abandonado, sem energia e chegou a ser saqueado no fim de 2016, é objeto de uma investigação do Tribunal de Contas do Estado que apontou supostas irregularidades como superfaturamento na compra de argamassa, gastos em duplicidade em aluguel de guindastes e contratação de equipes de limpeza, além de problemas na licitação das reformas.

Preso em novembro do ano passado, o ex-governador Sergio Cabral (PMDB-RJ) é acusado de receber pagamentos mensais em dinheiro vivo da Andrade Gutierrez (responsável pela obra em consórcio com a Odebrecht) em troca de benefícios na reconstrução.

No caso da Arena Corinthians, corre no Supremo uma investigação relacionada a crimes praticados por funcionários públicos contra a administração em geral e corrupção passiva. O ex-presidente da construtora Marcelo Odebrecht disse em delação que o negócio foi fechado em 2011 durante um jantar que reuniu o governador de São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB), o então prefeito de São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab (PSD), e o então presidente do Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), Luciano Coutinho.

Longe ou perto dos grandes públicos, a maioria dos estádios da Copa foi alvo de alguma contestação na Justiça.

Também estavam presentes o então presidente do Corinthians e atual deputado federal Andrés Sanchez, o então diretor de marketing, Luis Paulo Rosenberg, e o ex-jogador Ronaldo Nazário de Lima.

Não é exatamente um exemplo de elefante-branco – público e renda não faltam na arena em dias de jogos –, mas os custos e a forma como o estádio foi erguido em uma cidade onde não faltavam alternativas para sediar as partidas da Copa (o Morumbi, que seria ligado ao aeroporto de Congonhas por um projeto até hoje no papel, era a opção inicial) são nebulosos.

Em seu famoso artigo na revista Piauí, o ex-prefeito de São Paulo Fernando Haddad (PT) escreveu que o promotor de Justiça Marcelo Milani teria pedido propina de R$ 1 milhão para não entrar com uma ação relativa à Arena Corinthians. Por causa da afirmação, foi intimado a dar depoimento na Corregedoria-Geral do Ministério Público de São Paulo. Em 2012, o promotor entrou com ação na Justiça contra a lei que permitia à Prefeitura de São Paulo, administrada à época por Kassab, ajudar na construção do estádio com a emissão de R$ 420 milhões em títulos (as empresas que comprassem os títulos poderiam usá-los para abater dívidas com a administração municipal).

Em janeiro deste ano, reportagem do jornal O Estado de S.Paulo mostrou que o Corinthians, após meses de inadimplência, havia chegado a um acordo com a Caixa Econômica Federal, sua antiga patrocinadora, para retomar o pagamento das mensalidades da arena. Com a correção, o valor a ser desembolsado é calculado em R$ 2 bilhões.

“Essa obra é uma demonstração da eficiência do setor privado mineiro e de um governo que planeja e entrega”.

Longe ou perto dos grandes públicos, a maioria dos estádios da Copa foi alvo de alguma contestação na Justiça, mas a frustração do legado não é apenas caso de política.

Em Cuiabá, por exemplo, o esqueleto de projetos até hoje não entregues rasgam a paisagem da capital mato-grossense. Na Arena Pantanal, abandonada e com necessidades de reforma, estudantes de uma escola estadual começaram a ter aula nos camarotes do complexo esportivo. O espaço é considerado o primeiro estádio-escola do Brasil – uma escola que custou R$ 700 milhões, recurso suficiente para construir 175 unidades de ensino. A arena segue longe dos principais eventos esportivos do país – o Luverdense, principal time do estado, é um dos lanternas da Série B.

Assim como Cuiabá, cidades distantes da elite do futebol sofreram com uma decisão recente da CBF que proibiu os times grandes de mandarem seus jogos fora de seus estados de origem, algo comum até 2016. Era uma forma de movimentar as arenas construídas para a Copa.

Uma das prejudicadas foi a Arena da Amazônia, em Manaus, que fechou 2016 com um rombo de R$ 6 milhões. Clássico elefante branco pós-Copa, a arena rendeu à construtora Andrade Gutierrez uma condenação por dano moral coletivo de R$ 5 milhões por irregularidades trabalhistas. Segundo o Ministério Público do Trabalho no Amazonas, a empreiteira descumpriu 63 de 64 normas de proteção à saúde e segurança dos trabalhadores nas obras, que registraram três mortes.

Em sua delação premiada, um ex-executivo da Odebrecht relatou a existência de um acordo entre a empreiteira e a Andrade Gutierrez para combinar valores da licitação. A arena custou R$ 650 milhões e também recebeu quatro jogos da Copa.

Brasil toma mais um gol durante a famigerada partida em que foi derrotado pela Alemanha, na semifinal da Copa, em 2014, no Mineirão. O estádio é um dos alvos de investigação por desvios.

AFP/Getty Images

Palco dos 7 a 1, o Mineirão, em Belo Horizonte, também é alvo de investigação do Ministério Público de Minas Gerais. De acordo com o UOL Esporte, as empreiteiras contratadas para reformar e administrar o estádio desviaram mais de R$ 35 milhões dos cofres públicos.

Em 2012, o hoje senador afastado Aécio Neves (PSDB-MG), denunciado por corrupção e obstrução da Justiça, visitou as obras do estádio, iniciadas em seu governo, e celebrou: “Essa obra é uma demonstração da eficiência do setor privado mineiro e de um governo que planeja e entrega”.

A celebração serviu como agouro e o estádio virou sinônimo de tragédia. Após o chamado “Mineiraço”, o comando da seleção brasileira trocou o técnico Luiz Felipe Scolari por Dunga. A equipe seguiu passando vergonha dentro de campo, com eliminações precoces e futebol pouco vistoso, enquanto seus dirigentes e ex-dirigentes enfrentavam acusações diversas fora das quatro linhas. Quem era detido no país da Copa, porém, eram os manifestantes que protestavam contra os gastos para o Mundial.

Dilma Rousseff, que chegou a defender o uso do Exército nos atos anti-Copa, foi reeleita naquele ano, mas foi retirada do cargo após a perda de apoio no Congresso e da popularidade entre eleitores, irritados com a crise econômica e a avalanche de investigações da Lava Jato sobre seu governo e aliados. Em seu lugar assumiu Michel Temer.

Ao menos até a chegada de Tite ao comando da seleção, qualquer semelhança entre as agruras políticas e esportivas brasileiras, sobretudo nos canteiros de obras nas 12 sedes, é mera coincidência.

The post Três anos depois, legado da Copa segue o roteiro dos 7 a 1 appeared first on The Intercept.

Theresa May Avoids Survivors of Grenfell Tower Fire During Visit to Scene of Disaster

15 June 2017 - 2:36pm

As families of those still missing appealed for help in finding their loved ones, Prime Minister Theresa May visited the scene of a deadly fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington, West London on Thursday, but declined to meet survivors.

BBC reporting that, during her visit, Theresa May did not meet any of the survivors of #GrenfellTower for "security reasons"

— James Doleman (@jamesdoleman) June 15, 2017

Feeling genuinely angry that Theresa May would go to the scene of a disaster like Grenfell and choose not to speak to residents.

— Jonn Elledge (@JonnElledge) June 15, 2017

Strange world when Adele has visited the Grenfell Tower site and met with residents but Theresa May hasn't.

— Kristian Carter ? (@kriscarter12_) June 15, 2017

Theresa May has just "privately visited" #GrenfellTower She didn't meet residents or media, but was quite happy to get a photo-op out of it. pic.twitter.com/vbS46mYxt3

— Hicham Yezza (@HichamYezza) June 15, 2017

May, whose new chief of staff has been accused of failing to implement the recommendations of a fire safety review that might have prevented the tragedy, also refused to permit journalists to accompany her during a briefing by firefighters.

That shielded her from uncomfortable questions — about her own role in “radical reforms” that saved money but cut the number of firefighters by 10,000 nationwide — and made for a striking contrast with a visit by Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, who spent an emotional half hour with residents and relatives of the victims.

At St. Clement’s Church in West London on Thursday, Jeremy Corbyn hugged a woman searching for a missing girl who was in Grenfell Tower when a deadly fire broke out early on Wednesday.

Photo: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire/PA Images

At one stage, Corbyn hugged a distraught woman who handed him a poster of Jessica Urbano, a missing 12-year-old girl, last heard from in a phone call to her mother from the 20th floor of the tower early Wednesday morning.

My niece Jessica is still missing #GrenfellFire we are searching hospitals and not been given any news please have her in your prayers pic.twitter.com/mHpL0U8wHO

— Ana Ospina (@MakeupAna) June 15, 2017

Corbyn also promised residents that he would make sure those responsible for failing to prevent the fire were held accountable. Although the confirmed death toll reached 17 on Thursday, many more residents are missing and the structure is not yet safe enough for recovery teams to search it completely.

Contrast this with Theresa May's cowardly hiding. We need real leadership to get to the bottom of this tragedy pic.twitter.com/EGSA3P2eur

— Liam Young (@liamyoung) June 15, 2017

Distraught woman resident tells Jeremy Corbyn: "Theresa May was here but she didn't speak to any of us. She was s**t."

— Andy Lines (@andylines) June 15, 2017

The Labour leader was accompanied by Emma Dent Coad, who was narrowly elected to Parliament last week to represent Kensington, the country’s richest constituency. Dent Coad told The Guardian on Thursday that “this fire was entirely preventable,” if only the Conservative-led local council had listened to the repeated warnings of fire safety lapses put in writing by residents.

She also suggested that the council, which is responsible for public housing blocs in the area, like Grenfell Tower, was at fault for not ensuring that a new facade, of aluminum rain-screen cladding added to the outside of the building recently to improve its appearance, did not pose a fire risk.

While some defenders of May and her party tried to argue that the tragedy was not a political matter, her housing ministry failed to follow advice to retrofit old housing towers with sprinklers following an investigation into a 2009 fire that killed six people.

"Don't politicise #GrenfellTower!"

"There is *nothing* more political than the allocation of public resources."

— Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) June 14, 2017

never has london's housing inequality felt more raw, more oppresive or more violent than today. #GrenfellTower

— Will Coldwell (@will_coldwell) June 14, 2017

Experts have suggested that the cladding might have acted like an exterior chimney, allowing a fire in one apartment to sweep up the outside and engulf the whole 24-story building.

“There is no way fire should spread that quickly on a newly refurbished building” – architect and broadcaster @MrGeorgeClarke #GrenfellTower pic.twitter.com/hiCEzHT97Z

— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) June 15, 2017

Dent Coad added that the neglect of fire safety at Grenfell Tower appeared to be part of a wider lack of care for the area’s less working class and poor residents. “We have a very rich council which spent 26 million pounds repaving Exhibition Road for tourists at the same time as it was closing nurseries, pruning youth clubs, closing older people’s lunch clubs, not investing in social care.”

Anger at the prime minister’s decision to hide from those impacted by the fire came as new polling revealed that her net favorability rating had plunged from +10 percent in April, when she called an early general election, to -34 percent.

Theresa May's net favourability score plummets to -34 – about the level Corbyn was on in November https://t.co/F42LapVcLL pic.twitter.com/3FlQ5w0S5c

— YouGov (@YouGov) June 15, 2017

Public opinion towards…

May:
Favourable: 29% (-13)
Unfavourable: 63% (+16)

Corbyn:
Fav: 46% (+10)
Unfav: 46% (-4)

(via @YouGov, 11-12)

— Britain Elects (@britainelects) June 15, 2017

According to the pollsters at YouGov, May’s personal popularity has plummeted by 29 points in the past two weeks. That period coincided with a terrorist attack in London — which focused attention on May’s role in cuts to the police force — and the prime minister’s decision to cling to power by forming an alliance with Northern Ireland’s ultraconservative Democratic Unionist Party.

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, also visited the scene on Thursday and encountered angry residents. Khan told reporters that their outrage was understandable.

"They're justifiably angry and I share their anger" – @SadiqKhan talks to Sky News after meeting many affected by the #GrenfellTower fire pic.twitter.com/d0zNvXZ3fM

— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 15, 2017

The mayor also insisted that a public inquiry into the disaster May promised had to be completed quickly, given that so many other Londoners live in high-rise buildings that need to be made safe.

Khan’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, came in for plenty of abuse on social networks for his part in reducing the number of fire stations in the capital during his time in office.

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone caught up in the horrific towerblock fire in London.

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) June 14, 2017

Do you know what's better than thoughts and prayers? A properly funded fire department https://t.co/A3PRbKuRpb

— Theresa Sashay-Away (@alexeptable) June 14, 2017

As Mayor of London, you told an Assembly member querying your claim that fire service cuts somehow 'improved' the service to "get stuffed". https://t.co/7jTB3H0lKp

— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) June 14, 2017

Top photo: Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to Dany Cotton, Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, with members of the fire service as she visits Grenfell Tower, on June 15, 2017 in London.

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Trump Officials Overseeing Health Care Overhaul Previously Lobbied for Health Insurance Firms

15 June 2017 - 10:42am

The political appointees tapped by President Donald Trump to oversee federal health care programs — including the potential transition to a new Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act — joined the government just after working as lobbyists and attorneys for the largest health care interests in America.

Several senior Health and Human Services Administration appointees previously worked for insurers seeking to influence the consumer regulations mandated by the ACA, according to new political appointee financial disclosures obtained by The Intercept. The appointees work closely under HHS Secretary Tom Price — a former member of Congress and longtime ACA opponent who has pushed his old colleagues on the Hill to repeal the ACA.

Eric Hargan, the nominee for deputy secretary at HHS, and Paula Stannard, Price’s senior counselor, previously worked in the lobbying and government affairs departments of their respective law firms, Greenberg Traurig and Alston & Bird. Hargan and Stannard both disclosed serving health insurance giant UnitedHealth as a client.

UnitedHealth, which prompted worries about the ACA’s tenability when it exited most of the health exchanges that underpin President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, has lobbied the federal government on a number of issues. The group targeted its work in Washington at ACA policies dealing with mandating insurers cover a series of basic medical services known as essential health benefits; limits on how much insurance prices can differ between age groups; and the health insurance industry taxes. All these policies are in Republicans’ sights as they move to repeal Obama’s reforms.

Hargan is but one of several top HHS appointees with health insurance industry ties.

HHS Associate Deputy Secretary for Health Reform Randolph Wayne Pate previously worked as the vice president for public policy for Health Care Services Corporation, an insurance company that operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states. In recent months, Pate’s previous employer has lobbied on bills to provide waivers for health insurance companies to duck costly consumer mandates, such as prohibiting discrimination over age.

Price’s Chief of Staff Lance Leggitt listed 40 previous health care-related clients as a partner of the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. Leggitt served as the chair of the federal health care practice of the firm, which lobbies for the insurer Aetna and the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, a trade group. Leggitt disclosed bring paid $801,008 in compensation.

Keagan Lenihan, who serves as a senior counselor to Price, previously worked as a top lobbyist for McKesson Specialty Health, the largest distributor of drugs and other health care products in the country. As recently as last year, Lenihan attempted to influence lawmakers on “pharmacy reimbursement issues and implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” according to disclosures.

McKesson has faced accusations that it ignored warning signs and distributed dangerous opioids to pill mills, worsening the drug overdose crisis. In January, the firm paid a record $150 million settlement for failure to report suspicious orders of controlled substances, including oxycodone and hydrocodone pills.

The Intercept reached out to HHS for comment on the appointees’ past ties to health care industries and their lobbying, but did not receive a response.

Private health care interests, particularly health insurers, have worked closely with Republican leaders to shape the next iteration of health reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., attended a fundraiser hosted by health insurance lobbyists just before appearing to explain his party’s approach to repealing and replacing the ACA. The major provisions of the plan passed by House Republicans includes a major tax cut for insurers, along with an option for states to opt-out of consumer protections — proposals demanded by health insurance companies.

Top photo: UnitedHealthcare signage is displayed outside of a store in Queens, N.Y., in 2013.

The post Trump Officials Overseeing Health Care Overhaul Previously Lobbied for Health Insurance Firms appeared first on The Intercept.

The Murder of Mexican Journalists Points to U.S. Role in Fueling Drug War Violence

15 June 2017 - 9:30am

One month ago, the award-winning journalist Javier Valdez was pulled from his car and killed in broad daylight near his office in Culiacán, in Sinaloa state in Mexico. Valdez is the sixth journalist to be assassinated in Mexico this year, and his killing has sparked outcry and sent new shockwaves of fear through the country’s media.

The journalists being targeted in Mexico have something in common: a commitment to documenting political corruption and state links to drug trafficking. Valdez’s assassination follows a pattern of murder directed at silencing the messengers who are digging up truth and exposing the underbelly of the drug war.

Valdez was the co-founder of Ríodoce, the only independent paper still operating in Culiacán, which is the center of the Sinaloa Cartel and much of the drug war violence in the region. In February, Ríodoce published an interview with an envoy from Dámaso López (“El Licenciado”), formerly the right-hand man of the notorious drug lord “El Chapo” Guzmán. Lopez was apparently moving to take control of the Sinaloa cartel’s territory in a fight with Guzmán’s sons before he was captured by authorities last month. Guzman’s sons reportedly pressured Valdez to not publish the interview. Other journalists who were close to Valdez suspect involvement of Sinaloa and federal authorities in the killing. To date, there have been no arrests reported in the case.

“We thought Javier was untouchable,” said Marcela Turati, a prominent journalist who writes for the weekly magazine Proceso who was a close friend of Valdez. “He was one of the most internationally recognized journalist in the country. How do we protect ourselves if they are able to kill the most visible with impunity?”

Award-winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez, on May 23, 2013.

Photo: Fernando Brito/AFP/Getty Images

A week before Valdez’s murder, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report detailing prominent recent murders of journalists and failures in the prosecution of the crimes. The Mexican government’s human rights commission reported in 2016 that 90 percent of crimes against journalists go unpunished — 82 percent for killings and 100 percent for disappearances, where the bodies of journalists are never found. Of the 114 murders of journalists that the Mexican government has recorded since 2000, a federal special prosecutor’s office for crimes against free speech has investigated 48 in the past seven years, resulting in only three sentences.

The U.S. State Department’s human rights report on Mexico last year noted that “journalists were sometimes subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation due to their reporting. Perpetrators of violence against journalists continued to act with impunity with few reports of successful investigation, arrest, or prosecution of suspects.” This same line has appeared in all of these reports in recent years.

Nonetheless, in the face of blatant inaction by the Mexican government, U.S. assistance to Mexico’s drug war has continued to flow, and to expand. Declassified State Department documents unearthed in recent years show that the United States has armed and funded Mexican military and police units despite being well aware of abuses and cover-ups. At the same time, the United States has supported projects supposedly aimed at strengthening the rule of law in Mexico, but none of it appears to be having the stated effect.

A soldier enters a bullet-riddled home, tagged with the initials CDG for the Gulf Cartel, and Z for Zetas, in Ciudad Victoria, in Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas in 2014.

Photo: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

Training, Guns, and Money

Since 2008, the U.S. government has appropriated over $2.6 billion for security aid to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative — a counter-drug aid package negotiated between former U.S. and Mexican presidents George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón in 2007 — and other security assistance programs. Originally proposed as a three-year program, Mérida underwent a drastic expansion under the State Department of Hillary Clinton that continues today, despite President Donald Trump’s antagonism toward Mexico over immigration and the border wall.

The aid flows not just from the State Department, but also the Pentagon, Justice Department, and other agencies. The large part of this money is funneled through U.S.-based security firms, which reap enormous profits from contracts on everything from Black Hawk helicopters to armed vehicles, intelligence equipment, computer software, night-vision goggles, surveillance aircrafts, satellites systems, and more. Additionally, weapons companies benefit from direct sales of arms and other equipment, which net another billion each year for the weapons contractors.

Along with equipment, the United States exported a kill or capture targeting strategy against the suspected leaders of Mexico’s drug trade, an approach borrowed from counterterrorism that grew in popularity during Clinton’s tenure at State. U.S. officials who helped shape the targeting programs include Anthony Wayne, former ambassador to Mexico and before that deputy ambassador to Afghanistan, and John Brennan, former CIA director who served as chief counterterrorism adviser to President Obama. Brennan visited Mexico in 2009 to discuss the architecture and implementation of the high-value targeting, or “HVT” operations, modeled on programs carried out in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.

A Black Hawk helicopter is delivered from the U.S. government to the Federal Police in the framework of the Merida Initiative in 2011.

Photo: Fernando Ramírez/Agencia EL Universal/AP

Many observers and security experts believe that high-value targeting has only destabilized the drug trade without reducing it, leading to more violence. One of the most notable high-value targeting operations took place in Javier Valdez’s home state of Sinaloa in July 2010, where, according to formerly classified internal files obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the U.S. shared intelligence with Mexico’s authorities that led to the killing of Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel Villarreal, one of the four main leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel at the time. The killing of Villarreal led to a rise in fighting in 2010 over territory between Sinaloa Cartel forces and other organized criminal organizations such as the Zetas.

Towards the end of the Obama administration, the United States shifted its emphasis from military hardware to programs with a stated focus on institutional reform, including training law enforcement at the local level. The DEA, for example, has trained thousands of police officers in sensitive investigative techniques each year, while the Justice Department and other agencies have provided Mexican agencies with network, forensic, and biometric equipment. State Department cables show that U.S. assistance has included millions for state-level laboratories, crime-scene analysis, ballistic analysis, evidence gathering, criminal intelligence analysis and the like.

U.S. agencies say these efforts are key to strengthening Mexico’s investigative capacity, but they have done little to change the impunity for ongoing systematic human rights crimes, including killings of journalists. One of the problems, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, is that even when perpetrators are punished, collusion between the government and organized crime keeps investigators from identifying who is actually responsible for the crimes.

“We need an international presence to investigate what is taking place here,” the journalist Marcela Turati told The Intercept. “A representative or team of experts from the [Organization of American States] Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, or another similar body from the United Nations that can investigate the crimes, identify the structures of impunity, and help Mexico redesign its justice system. Our government has demonstrated a lack of political will and capacity to solve these crimes.”

Journalists, reflected in the window of a coffee shop, demonstrate against the murder of Mexican journalist Javier Valdez as they march to the Foreign Ministry in Santiago, Chile, May 19, 2017.

Photo: Esteban Felix/AP

“No to Silence”

The U.S. government is well aware of the problem of institutional impunity; internal U.S. State Department reporting on Mexico, released via FOIA and through leaks, has provided blunt confirmation of a pattern of active cover-ups and linked Mexican authorities to abuses.

In 2010, U.S. Embassy officials were reporting on instances where drug trafficking organizations were operating with “near total impunity,” in the face of “compromised local security forces,” in Mexico’s northeastern states. Yet, U.S. training and assistance continued in the region. The U.S. Embassy and DEA carried out training programs for police from Nuevo León even as U.S. consulate officials said that the security apparatus in that state had been compromised, with the governor admitting that some state and police officials had been co-opted by the Zetas. U.S. assistance programs also continued as DEA officials reported on the arrests of active-duty and retired law enforcement officials in Nuevo León for providing protection and assistance to drug-traffickers.

In the case of a series of massacres in the northeast, in San Fernando in the state of Tamaulipas between 2010 and 2011, U.S. officials highlighted how Mexican authorities were trying to minimize “the State’s responsibility” for the crimes. U.S. State Department files document how authorities sought to cover up the violence, jeopardizing investigations by splitting up corpses of the victims “to make the total number less obvious and thus less alarming.” Nonetheless, after mass graves were discovered, the U.S. ratcheted up its programs in the region.

The search for justice for the victims of drug war violence has been led by journalists and by the family members of the victims, not the government agencies receiving U.S. assistance. And they have too often been silenced.

Miriam Rodríguez Martínez’s 14-year-old daughter, Karen, disappeared in 2012 and was buried in another mass grave in San Fernando. Rodríguez doggedly pursued those responsible for her daughter’s kidnapping and murder. Her efforts implicated members of the Zetas and resulted in the imprisonment of the primary suspect in the crime. She also led activist efforts by family members to find the remains of others disappeared in the region. Rodríguez was killed in her home in San Fernando on Mother’s Day in Mexico, just five days before Javier Valdez’s murder.

Valdez was intent on challenging the silence in the face of such crimes. When his colleague, Miroslava Breach, was assassinated in late March, he said, “Let them kill us all, if that is the death sentence for reporting this hell. No to silence.”

This article is being published in conjunction with an international campaign, Our Voice is Our Strength/ Nuestra Voz Es Nuestra Fuerza, to remember Javier Valdez and his work and to call for an end to impunity for crimes against the press in Mexico.

Top photo: A mural in memory of slain Mexican journalist Javier Valdez is displayed in Monterrey, Mexico on May 19, 2017.

The post The Murder of Mexican Journalists Points to U.S. Role in Fueling Drug War Violence appeared first on The Intercept.

Como resistir à doutrina do choque de Donald Trump

15 June 2017 - 6:00am

“Choque”. Essa palavra tem aparecido muito no noticiário desde novembro – por motivos óbvios.
Estudei a questão do choque durante muito tempo. Dez anos atrás, publiquei o livro A Doutrina do Choque, uma análise do fenômeno ao longo de quatro décadas: de 1970, com o golpe de Pinochet no Chile – apoiado pelos EUA –, a 2005, com o Furacão Katrina.
Notei uma tática brutal empregada repetidamente por governos de direita: se aproveitar da desorientação causada por episódios traumáticos – guerras, golpes de Estado, atentados terroristas, crises econômicas e catástrofes naturais – para suspender a democracia e implantar medidas “neoliberais”, enriquecendo os mais ricos às custas dos pobres e da classe média.
O governo dos EUA está semeando o caos. Todos os dias. É claro que muitos dos escândalos são resultado da ignorância e dos erros do presidente, e não de alguma estratégia maliciosa.
Mas não restam dúvidas de que alguns assessores muito astutos do presidente estão usando tais choques diários como um pretexto para propor medidas radicalmente pró-empresariado – medidas que contradizem muitas das promessas de campanha de Donald Trump.
E o pior é que isso deve ser apenas o começo.
Temos que nos preparar para o que o governo fará quando puder explorar uma grande crise de causas externas.
Talvez seja um crash econômico, como o de 2008. Ou um desastre natural, como a Supertempestade Sandy. Ou então um terrível ataque terrorista, como os de Manchester, nesse ano, e Paris, em 2015.
Qualquer uma dessas crises poderia alterar drasticamente a conjuntura política dos EUA, permitindo que Trump e sua equipe nos empurrem goela abaixo suas ideias mais radicais.
Mas tem uma coisa que aprendi em duas décadas cobrindo dezenas de crises no mundo todo: é possível resistir a essas táticas.
Para facilitar a exposição, tentei resumir tudo em cinco pontos principais.
Adaptado do novo livro de Naomi Klein, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. O livro será publicado em novembro de 2017 pela Bertrand Brasil.

Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse

The post Como resistir à doutrina do choque de Donald Trump appeared first on The Intercept.

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