The Intercept

Brazilians’ Concern Over Animal Rights Depends on Who Is Doing the Killing

21 March 2017 - 12:50pm

Last week, Brazil’s federal police conducted raids in seven states and arrested dozens of people who were allegedly involved in a bribery scheme to circumvent regulatory standards in the country’s industrial meat processing plants. While Brazilians are outraged about the extremely low-quality meat that makes it to their tables, few seem to be questioning the way that animals are slaughtered in the process. Consumers have never expressed such widespread and vocal concern over whether or not cattle are mistreated or if breeding and slaughter practices follow Brazil’s Animal Protection Law.

However, when it comes to animal slaughter during religious rituals, objections are being taken all the way to Brazil’s Supreme Court. Under the protection of a crucifix hanging in the courtroom, Supreme Court justices will determine if the use of animals in Afro-Brazilian religious rituals violates Brazil’s Constitution, which bans cruelty to animals in Article 225. Since the constitution also guarantees the free exercise of religion, the case has rekindled debate over the state’s authority to impose restrictions on religious practices.

“What I would say is that public opinion never associates commercial slaughter with cruelty, and that intolerance provokes religious slaughter to be associated with sacrifice. To put an end to religious slaughter, we would have to put an end to all types of slaughter,” said Hédio Silva Jr. in an interview with The Intercept. Silva, a jurist, participated in a commission of representatives of Afro-Brazilian religions that recently delivered an amicus brief to the court.

The Animal Protection Law defines cruelty as when an animal is not killed quickly and free of prolonged suffering, regardless of whether or not it is destined for human consumption. In Afro-Brazilian practice, the religious slaughter of animals is done by slitting the throat, a method recognized as humane by Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture.

“In religious slaughter, the animal is not mistreated. We sacralize the animal and then consume it for food. We do not sacrifice; [industrial meat processor] Friboi sacrifices,” said Ivanir de Santos, an Afro-Brazilian religious leader (in Portuguese, a “babalorixá”) who is a member of the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance. Slaughter is part of a liturgical commandment in the Afro-Brazilian religions Candomblé and Umbandaand adherents often consume animals used in rituals.

The case in question was brought to the Supreme Court by the public prosecutor in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. It challenges the constitutionality of a state law that exempts practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions from prosecution for the mistreatment of animals and from a prohibition on religious animal sacrifice. The prosecutor is asking for the law with the exemptions to be annulled.

If the court judges the state law to be unconstitutional, the decision would conflict with Article 5 of Brazil’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of belief for religious groups. It would also be a step backward in time, a return to when spiritist religions in Brazil, such as Kardecism, had their meetings interrupted by the police. Or, going back further still, to when slaves were prohibited from worshipping “orixás,” the deities of Afro-Brazilian religions.

In 1993, a similar challenge made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah. The city council of Hialeah, Florida, had passed an ordinance prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals “not for the primary purpose of food consumption,” effectively outlawing practices used in Santeria, a religion brought to the United States by Cubans. In that case, the court ruled that Hialeah had violated the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and religious tolerance prevailed.

With the blessing of agribusiness

Devout followers of Islam and Judaism who follow halal and kosher dietary customs also adhere to specific slaughter rituals as part of their religious practice. However, in Brazil, those two religions and their customs have been seen more favorably and challenges to these practices have never come close to the Supreme Court.

Some major players in Brazil’s massive agribusiness have even specialized in religious slaughter in order to guarantee access to lucrative export markets. JBS, the world’s leading meat packing company, and owner of the Friboi and Seara brands, is the largest exporter of halal meat in the country. Halal slaughter, known as “dhabihah,” must follow certain customs, including slitting the animal’s throat and invoking the name of God during the act. Brazil’s other market leader, BRF, focuses 25 percent of its production on the Islamic market — even after Reporter Brasil revealed in 2012 that BRF does not conduct the halal slaughter process properly. Both companies are targets of Operation Carne Fraca, the anti-bribery sweep that led to arrests last week.

Meanwhile, a member of the congressional farm lobby, federal representative Valdir Colatto, proposed a bill that would permit the hunting of wild animals in order to protect the herds of the agribusiness magnates. The bill would allow the killing of exotic animals that threaten plantations or cattle and also allow for the creation of private reserves for hunting for sport. Defending the proposal, Colatto specifically cited jaguars as a threat and called wild animals “plagues” that transmit diseases and cause economic harm.

Also under pressure from the farm lobby, congress passed a constitutional amendment that permits the continued existence of a sport practiced in the northeast of Brazil known as “vaquejada,” in which two cowboys on horseback try to knock over a bull. After the Supreme Court ruled against the practice, considering it to be animal cruelty, lawmakers saved vaquejada by classifying it as Brazilian cultural patrimony. The amendment may still be altered to also authorize cockfighting.

“There is no possible comparison between the vaquejada, where the animal is confined and has his scrotal sack tied, and religious slaughter, where there is no suffering. And in cockfights, oftentimes, the loser eventually dies. In these cases, there is no doubt about cruelty,” Hédio Silva Jr. told The Intercept.

It seems as if the concept of cruelty is relative. Are Brazilians really worried about the plight of animals in African religious rituals?

Top photo: Butchers work at the popular Lapa Market March 20, 2017 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The post Brazilians’ Concern Over Animal Rights Depends on Who Is Doing the Killing appeared first on The Intercept.

Em tempos turbulentos, arte não se separa de política nos EUA

21 March 2017 - 11:32am

Na última quinta-feira, foi aberta em Nova Iorque a Bienal do Whitney Museum, a mostra de arte mais antiga dos Estados Unidos, com o trabalho de sessenta e três artistas e coletivos. Ao lado da Documenta de Kassel e da Bienal de Veneza, ela é das mais importantes do mundo, um sismógrafo que registra os deslocamentos tectônicos do mundo da arte. E, como o próprio texto de apresentação aponta, aterrissa no prédio novo do museu no Meatpacking District “num tempo de tensões raciais, desigualdades econômicas e polarização política”.

Trata-se de panorama irregular e arriscado, como costumam ser exibições do tipo, mas em todas as obras há semelhante nota de fundo, o tom assustado de quem acorda e descobre que subitamente tornou-se vítima da História. Com a vista embaçada e a respiração ofegante de quem acabou de levar um soco no nariz – no caso, o início da Era Trump na primeira vez em vinte anos em que a montagem da Bienal coincidiu com uma eleição americana.

Para quem acompanhou arte contemporânea nas últimas décadas, a mostra sugere uma mudança profunda: o susto que foi 2016 e o sentimento de urgência que o acompanhou parecem impossibilitar qualquer traço de ironia. Arte contemporânea sincerona? Não é pouca coisa.

Aqui as obras mais marcantes são as mais diretas, como no quadro onde o pintor Henry Taylor reproduz em cores saturadas e traços fortes um frame do vídeo de celular onde Diamond Reynolds registrou – e transmitiu ao vivo no Facebook – a morte do namorado Philando Castile, assassinado pela polícia em julho de 2016 numa blitz. O coletivo norte-americano Postcommodity retrata numa instalação quadridimensional de vídeo o ponto de vista de alguém atravessando a fronteira do México – sem nunca atravessá-la –, e há um estupendo óleo de Dana Shutz retratando o caixão aberto de Emmett Till, talvez o quadro mais marcante de uma mostra que tem na figuração sobre tela seus pontos fortes.

Em outros museus a segregação racial também está no centro do palco. No centro cultural BRIC, no Brooklyn, há uma exibição de retratos da muralista Tatyana Fazlalizadeh sob o título “Not going anywhere”. Seu trabalho reflete o cotidiano das mulheres negras na América – e o sexismo e a xenofobia parecem ameaças maiores sob Trump. Vale reproduzir o texto que acompanha um dos grandes painéis com o rosto de ativistas: “A América é negra. É indígena. Veste hijab. Fala espanhol. É uma mulher. Está aqui, esteve aqui e não vai a lugar nenhum”.

Essa discussão do que “é” a América igualmente influenciou a programação dos filmes em cartaz nessa temporada nos Estados Unidos. É inegável que o contexto político – a eleição de Trump e os boicotes do ano passado – fez parte dos Oscars. Dos cinco candidatos a melhor documentário, três tratam de questões raciais – o épico “O.J. Simpson: Made in America”, um retrato multifacetado do país através do caso, levou o prêmio. A cerimônia também premiou como melhor longa–metragem – não sem percalços históricos – “Moonlight”, um drama sobre um jovem negro homossexual, e Viola Davis e Mahershala Ali como melhores atores coadjuvantes. No ano passado, o reverendo Al Sharpton declarou que aquele seria o último Oscar completamente branco. Esperemos que tenha razão.

Vi todos esses filmes essa semana aqui em Nova Iorque. É como se contassem a mesma história de luta contra a o racismo sob diferentes perspectivas: a marginalização, a violência policial, a opressão contra as mulheres, o encarceramento em massa, a construção midiática do negro como ameaça. O tema é inevitável – como não poderia deixar de ser.

Também é inevitável fazer o contraste com a produção exibida na última Bienal de São Paulo e com os filmes brasileiros que ganham maior visibilidade na imprensa e nas bilheterias. Com raras exceções, entre ficção e documentário, entre individuais em galerias de arte e grandes mostras, a impressão é a de que no Brasil vivemos o sonho da democracia racial.

The post Em tempos turbulentos, arte não se separa de política nos EUA appeared first on The Intercept.

Apesar de viverem e estudarem mais, mulheres ainda ganham bem menos que homens no Brasil, diz PNUD

21 March 2017 - 11:10am

Apesar de apresentarem melhores desempenhos em educação e longevidade, as mulheres ainda possuem uma renda significativamente mais baixa que os homens no Brasil. A desigualdade de gênero e a falta do empoderamento das mulheres representam os grandes desafio ao progresso do Brasil em todas as regiões e grupos analisados, segundo o “Relatório de Desenvolvimento Humano 2016: Desenvolvimento Humano para todos” apresentado nesta terça-feira (21) pelo Programa das Nações Unidas para o Desenvolvimento (PNUD).

O foco do relatório, elaborado em 2016 com dados de 2015, é o empoderamento feminino e atuação nos principais grupos sociais excluídos do desenvolvimento humano, entre eles as mulheres, índios, jovens e crianças, LGBTI (Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis e Intersexuais).

Para medir a desigualdade de gênero, a agência da ONU traz dois índices. O Índice de Desenvolvimento do Gênero (IDvG) é composto pelos mesmos indicadores do IDH (saúde, conhecimento e padrão de vida), mas dividido por gênero e, assim como o IDH, quanto mais próximo de 1, melhor o desempenho. Ele mostra que o IDH das mulheres brasileiras (0,754) é  superior ao dos homens no país (0,751), porque elas possuem mais anos de escolaridade e de expectativa de vida. No entanto, a renda per capita anual estimada das mulheres é USD 10.672 contra USD 17.672 dos homens.

O segundo indicador é o Índice de Desigualdade de Gênero (IDgG), que avalia desigualdades em três dimensões sensíveis à questão de gênero: saúde reprodutiva, empoderamento e atividade econômica. Ainda que a taxa de mortalidade materna no Brasil (44 por 100 mil) seja significativamente inferior à média mundial (216 por 100 mil), outros componentes do índice fazem com que o país fique na posição 92 em um ranking de 159 países onde o índice foi calculado.

A taxa de gravidez na adolescência no Brasil, por exemplo, é de 67 nascimentos para cada mil mulheres entre 15 e 19 anos, enquanto a média mundial é de 44.7. Já os assentos no parlamento ocupados por mulheres colocam o Brasil num patamar bem vergonhoso. Por aqui, são apenas 10,8%, e até o país com menor IDH do mundo, a República Centro-Africana, tem mais mulheres no Congresso (12,5% das cadeiras).

“As reformas (Previdenciária, Trabalhista e Tributária) parecem necessárias para que o sistema seja mais justo, têm pontos importantes, mas é preciso ter um olhar atento para que as mulheres, agricultores e pessoas em maior vulnerabilidade social não sejam penalizados e que esses grupos não percam direitos adquiridos e conquistados no Brasil”, disse Andrea Bonzon, coordenadora nacional do PNUD.

Para Margorei Chaves, doutoranda em Política Social pela Universidade de Brasília e pesquisadora do Núcleo de Estudos Afro-Brasileiros, vivemos numa sociedade patriarcal porque as mulheres ainda são desvalorizadas. “Na sociedade capitalista moderna, houve aumento dos espaços de trabalho, mas veio acompanhada de uma extensa precarização do trabalho. O aumento do acesso não significou maior equidade entre trabalhadores e trabalhadoras, predominando a presença feminina em ocupações precárias e que dificulta o acesso ao topo das carreiras”, pontuou.

IDH estagnado

O Índice de Desenvolvimento Humano do Brasil está estagnado desde 2014, segundo o relatório apresentado hoje, em 0,754. O país também segue na posição 79 do ranking de 188 países avaliados. Neste ano, a colocação é compartilhada com Granada, ilha caribenha. Na América do Sul, o Brasil é o 5º país com maior IDH, ficando atrás do Chile, Argentina, Uruguai e Venezuela.

Apesar da estagnação do IDH do Brasil em 2015, o país está levemente acima da média regional da América Latina e Caribe, de 0,751. No gráfico abaixo são apresentadas as tendências do IDH entre 1990 e 2015 para os países da América do Sul. Nota-se que o Brasil apresenta crescimento contínuo, estagnando no ano recente, com aumento mais marcado por volta dos anos 2012 a 2014.

Gráfico do Relatório de Desenvolvimento Humano 2016 sobre evolução do IDH na América do Sul.

Programa das Nações Unidas para o Desenvolvimento (PNUD)

Segundo Niky Fabiancic, coordenador residente do PNUD, as informações divulgadas no relatório são essenciais para avaliar nosso processo de desenvolvimento: “Entendemos também que, no cenário brasileiro atual, muitos assuntos são urgentes, como a questão da pobreza, do desemprego e do crescimento econômico. Além disso, estamos atentos às propostas de reformas do ensino médio, da previdência, trabalhista e tributária”.

The post Apesar de viverem e estudarem mais, mulheres ainda ganham bem menos que homens no Brasil, diz PNUD appeared first on The Intercept.

Newly Obtained Documents Prove: Key Claim of Snowden’s Accusers is a Fraud

21 March 2017 - 6:23am

For almost four years, a cottage industry of media conspiracists has devoted itself to accusing Edward Snowden of being a spy for either Russia and/or China at the time he took and then leaked documents from the National Security Agency. There has never been any evidence presented to substantiate this accusation.

In lieu of evidence, the propagators of this accusation have relied upon the defining tactic of tawdry conspiracists everywhere: relentless repetition of rumor and innuendo based on alleged inconsistencies until it spreads far enough through the media ecosystem to take on the appearance of being credible. In this case, there was one particular fiction – about where Snowden spent his first 11 days after arriving in Hong Kong – which took on particular significance for this group.

They insist that Snowden, contrary to what he has always maintained, did not check into the Mira Hotel on May 21, 2013, the day after he arrived in Hong Kong. Instead, they assert, he checked-in only on June 1, which means Snowden has 11 “unaccounted-for” days from the time he arrived in Hong Kong until he met with journalists at the Mira in the beginning of June. They have repeatedly leveraged this Missing Eleven Days into the insinuation that Snowden used this time to work with his Russian and/or Chinese handlers in preparation for meeting the U.S. journalists in Hong Kong.

While such reckless conspiracy-mongering is often relegated to online fringes, this accusatory fable found its way to the nation’s mainstream journalistic venues: the Wall Street Journal, Slate, Yahoo News, Lawfare, Business Insider; these media conspiracists were subsequently joined by several former officials of the intelligence community now embedded in the pundit class in affirming this tale. These outlets have repeatedly laundered and thus sanctioned the tale of the Missing Eleven Days, despite its utter lack of any journalistic basis.

Most remarkably, these conspiracists were permitted by these media outlets to repeat this lie about Snowden’s Missing Eleven Days over and over, all in service of suggesting that he was acting an agent of a foreign power, despite the fact that even top intelligence officials who loathe Snowden have repeatedly said that they do not believe – and have seen no evidence to suggest – that he worked with any foreign government, including Russia. Obama’s own acting CIA Director Michael Morell told the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris in 2015:

My own view on this question is that both Chinese and Russian intelligence officers undoubtedly pitched him—offering him millions of dollars to share the documents he had stolen and to answer any questions they had about the NSA and CIA. But my guess is that Snowden said, “No, thank you,” given his mind-set and his clear dislike for intelligence services of any stripe.

The NSA’s second-highest official at the time of the Snowden leak, Chris Inglis, was similarly clear that no such evidence exists:

NSA's Deputy Director on the "Russian Spy" theory:https://t.co/BrRNo4zExx

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) June 13, 2016

But these media conspiracists have gotten away with this fable of the Missing Eleven Days in Hong Kong and similar tales because their core assertions were deliberately designed to be insusceptible to being affirmatively disproven. Because their accusatory story rests on claims of invisible and hidden events, they could not be exposed as frauds with definitive documentary evidence – until now.

Newly obtained documents conclusively prove that the central tale invented by these Snowden-accusing commentators is a wholesale fabrication. These documents negate the edifice on which this entire fiction has been based from the start.

 

The campaign to depict Snowden as a Russian or Chinese spy has centrally depended upon the accusation that he is lying about how he spent his first 11 days in Hong Kong. Snowden’s version of events has never changed from the very first interview we published with him at the Guardian: on May 20, 2013, he boarded a flight from Honolulu to Hong Kong, checked into the Mira Hotel on May 21 under his own name, and then stayed continuously in Room 1014 at the Mira as he waited for the arrival of the journalists with whom he was working, paying for the room with his own credit cards.

As the journalists working on the Snowden documents, Laura Poitras and I arrived in Hong Kong on June 2, and spent the next eight days working with Snowden Room 1014 at the Mira. Snowden thus stayed continuously at the Mira from May 21, the day after he arrived Hong Kong, until June 10, when he left due to the media craze triggered by our Guardian article revealing his identity.

But this group of accusatory journalists has repeatedly accused Snowden of lying about this time-line. They insist that Snowden checked into the Mira Hotel for the first time only on June 1: eleven days after he claims he did. They have thus spent years discussing the significance of what they ominously refer to as “The Missing Eleven Days.” This Missing Eleven Days has become key to the tale they have woven to prove Snowden is a spy.

But that claim is an outright lie, and always has been. Documents now provided by the Mira Hotel to Snowden’s lawyers in Hong Kong prove the truth of exactly what Snowden has always said: that he checked into the Mira Hotel on May 21 and stayed there, under his own name, continuously through June 10.

Snowden’s original reservation, made through booking.com, confirms that the check-in date was always May 21, and the reservation was originally scheduled for 10 nights (check-out on May 30). The hotel records confirm he arrived and checked-in on May 21, staying continually for the full reservation. Once that reservation ended, he extended it for one more day, then made another 10-day reservation through booking.com with a check-out date of June 13, and stayed continually through June 10, when he checked out.

These documents (all of which are available here) thus conclusively prove that the accusatory fable repeated and circulated over and over in U.S. mainstream media outlets – that Snowden did not check into the Mira prior to June 1 and thus has not accounted for The Missing Eleven Days in Hong Kong – is a falsehood.

Despite its utter falsity, it is hard to overstate how continually this lie was repeated in mainstream outlets until it metastasized into Truth among a certain set of journalists and pundits obsessed with the claim that Snowden worked for the Russians and/or Chinese governments. Editors at leading U.S. media outlets continually allowed this tale to be published even though there was never any evidence to suggest that Snowden was lying. It became their fire-can’t-melt-steel, give-us-the-real-birth-certificate foundation for the conspiracy web about Snowden they have spent years spinning.

 

That Snowden checked into the Mira only on June 1 was first asserted by a Wall Street Journal article published on June 10, 2013 – the day we first revealed Snowden’s identity in the Guardian. The article made this claim in passing, with no basis identified.

It did not remotely suggest that Snowden had lied: to the contrary, it seems to be a case where reporting on rapidly unfolding events sloppily but innocuously mis-stated what seemed at the time to be an ancillary fact: the date on which Snowden checked into the Mira Hotel. Alternatively, the reporter may have spoken with a clerk who looked only at Snowden’s most recently renewed reservation form (which began on June 1) rather than the first one Snowden signed upon checking in on May 21.

Either way, nobody ever tried to vest the WSJ’s mis-reporting about the check-in date with significance until a year later when the paper’s op-ed page writer, Edward Jay Epstein, seized on what he thought was a critical discrepancy to build a sprawling, accusatory conspiracy theory that he ultimately parlayed into a book, a central theme of which is that Snowden systematically lied about this key event. Epstein repeatedly cited this Missing Eleven Days to suggest that Snowden could have been in cahoots with a foreign government. The first time he implied this was in a June 29, 2014 WSJ column, when he made these claims:

From May 20, the day he landed, to May 31, according to a source familiar with the Defense Intelligence Agency report on the Snowden affair, U.S. investigative agencies have been unable to find any credit-card charges or hotel records indicating his whereabouts. . . .

Mr. Snowden would tell Mr. Greenwald on June 3 that he had been “holed up” in his room at the Mira Hotel from the time of his arrival in Hong Kong. But according to inquiries by Wall Street Journal reporter Te-Ping Chen, Mr. Snowden arrived there on June 1. I confirmed that date with the hotel’s employees. A hotel security guard told me that Mr. Snowden was not in the Mira during that late-May period and, when he did stay there, he used his own passport and credit card.

So where was Edward Snowden between May 20 and May 31?

Epstein, screen shot, RT interview

All of these claims are outright lies, as proven by the documents we are publishing toady. Snowden arrived at and checked-into the Mira on May 21, not June 1. He paid for the room with his credit cards. It defies belief that some anonymous official told Epstein that “U.S. investigative agencies have been unable to find any credit-card charges or hotel records indicating his whereabouts” given that the hotel records and credit cards were all in Snowden’s name. The whole story is false.

Actual journalists – ones who are careful with and care about facts – fully recognized the baselessness of this key accusation. The New York Times’ reporter Charlie Savage, recipient of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, wrote a devastating denunciation last month of Epstein’s book in the New York Review of Books, featuring the issue of the check-in date discrepancy in indicting Epstein’s conspiracy theories as hollow:

[I]t is unfortunate that Epstein builds his imagined scenarios upon allegations that may not be real facts.

For example, Epstein gives sinister significance to the “fact” that Snowden arrived in Hong Kong eleven days before he checked into the hotel where he met the journalists, leaving his activities during that period a mystery. Snowden has insisted that he was in that hotel the whole time, waiting for the journalists to arrive. In one of his columns written in 2014, Epstein first claimed that there was an eleven-day mystery gap, citing his conversation with an unnamed hotel security guard. I am aware of no independent verification of this allegation. So as things stand, this “fact” appears to be vaporous.

In subsequent correspondence between Epstein and Savage, the New York Times reporter repeatedly points to the lack of any persuasive or substantive basis for Epstein’s Missing Eleven Days claim, while noting how central this claim has become to the accusatory herd that has assembled around this theory:

I remain unaware of any other place in the public record except Epstein’s work where this June 1 claim independently appears, ranging from numerous other news articles about Snowden’s time in Hong Kong to a September 2016 report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which—seeking to counter the premiere of Oliver Stone’s movie—scoured the government’s investigative file for material to portray Snowden as a liar.

Perhaps someday the Mira’s records will emerge into public view and we will have more solid information to evaluate this question. Either way, my central point remains unchanged: Epstein treated the check-in claim as a factual anchor for his insinuations about what Snowden might have been doing earlier, but at the time he wrote his book (and still today) the evidence for this claim was insufficient to establish it as a proven fact. This is part of a recurring pattern with his methodology.

As Savage argued: “wherever one falls in the spectrum of views about Edward Snowden’s actions, Edward Jay Epstein’s book about him is not credible because it indulges in speculation, treats questionable claims as established facts, and contains numerous inaccuracies about surveillance.”

Unfortunately, large parts of the U.S. media do not adhere to the basic standards of journalism Savage applied to these claims. Here, for instance, is Epstein spinning his tale on the podcast of Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes, who concluded the podcast with people literally applauding Epstein:

 

All of that was totally false. But as a result of this type of uncritical treatment, this utter fiction for which there was never any evidence – that Snowden checked into the Mira 11 days after he claims, thus leaving almost two weeks of unaccounted-for time in Hong Kong – was laundered over and over in service of casting Snowden as a liar and a traitor.

 

This lie about the Missing Eleven Days was repeated so often, in so many venues, that chronicling them all is impossible. Flagging some of the most flagrant, typical offenders will thus have to suffice.

One of the most aggressive disseminators of this lie is the Yahoo News reporter Michael B. Kelley, formerly of Business Insider, who has spent years repeating and mainstreaming this Missing Eleven Days fable.

So how about those 11 missing days in Hong Kong? http://t.co/5xf3LyzQ5K https://t.co/eIahZ1qmja

— Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) September 29, 2015

On July 20, 2014, Kelley wrote an article for Business Insider under the headline “There’s An 11-Day Hole In Snowden’s Story About Hong Kong.” It began this way:

Edward Snowden says that he wanted the U.S. to know where he was after he arrived in Hong Kong.

But U.S. authorities still don’t know what he did for the first 11 days after his arrival.

Kelley then added this sentence, in which he said that a total falsehood had been “confirmed”: “But Edward Jay Epstein of The Wall Street Journal went to Hong Kong and confirmed that Snowden didn’t check into the Mira Hotel until June 1.” Illustrating the slimy insinuations constantly attached to this falsehood, Kelley ended his article this way:

“To answer the question in three words: I don’t know where he was for these 11 days,” Epstein said in an interview. “It’s very important because if we knew where he was, then we’d know who he went to see in Hong Kong.”

Strangely, no one seems to know — even though Snowden says he made it obvious.

Snowden did exactly this: “made it obvious” where he was in Hong Kong by checking into the Mira under his own name and using his own credit cards – precisely to prevent smear artists from retroactively insinuating that he must be a spy given his untraceable activities. Yet none of that stopped Epstein or Kelley from making the claim anyway.

Kelley, during his time at Business Insider, spent years claiming that Snowden lied about these eleven days. He was rewarded with a new job working for Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff. Kelley continued to spread this lie under the banner of Yahoo News.

periodic reminder: It is still not publicly known how Snowden spent his time in Hong Kong from May 20-June 1, 2013 https://t.co/8NqBPFeZBq

— Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) November 23, 2016

Cool. So now can we talk about the initial missing 11 days in Hong Kong & the huge trove docs not given to journos? https://t.co/7LCf83hzsU

— Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) May 27, 2016

Nice to see @Snowden active, though it makes me wonder about those lost 11 days in Hong Kong http://t.co/8NqBPFeZBq

— Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) October 12, 2015

One thing we probably won't learn at the 'Citzenfour' premiere: How Snowden spent his first 11 days in Hong Kong http://t.co/8NqBPFeZBq

— Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) October 10, 2014

Snowden says he didn't cover his tracks in Hong Kong. But no one knows where he was for the first 11 days. http://t.co/DJLglvFmbG

— Business Insider (@businessinsider) July 20, 2014

On September 13, 2016, Yahoo News published what it called a “Fact Check”, written by Kelley, of Oliver Stone’s film “Snowden.” In its headline, Yahoo purported that the article documents “5 key parts of Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ biopic that don’t match reality.” Yahoo continued: “As with many Stone movies that are based on real events, the director took multiple liberties with the known facts. Here are five significant inaccuracies in ‘Snowden.'”

The second purported “inaccuracy” was titled “‘3 weeks’ at the Mira Hotel.” Citing Epstein, Kelley wrote:Snowden didn’t check into the Mira Hotel until June 1, despite having arrived in the Chinese special-administrative region on May 20″ He then drew this conclusion: “If Snowden didn’t check into the Mira until June 1, he initially visited someone else in Hong Kong. Albert Ho, one of Snowden’s Hong Kong lawyers, referred to the unidentified person as Snowden’s ‘carer.’ This person’s crucial role in Snowden’s escape has never been explained.”

In sum, Kelley’s editors at both Business Insider and Yahoo News allowed him to repeatedly label as “confirmed” and “fact” and “known” a claim that was, in fact, a complete falsehood. He then used that fiction as the basis to construct an elaborate conspiracy that he has spent years pushing.

Then there’s Slate, which also purported to fact-check Stone’s film in the form of a column by its national security columnist Fred Kaplan, who also peddled this fable. “This much is definitely known,” proclaims Kaplan: Snowden “flew to Hong Kong on May 20 after telling his bosses that he needed to undergo tests for epilepsy, and on June 2 checked in at the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong.” Kaplan began the review by announcing that “Stone’s Snowden is a bad movie, stuffed with myth,” but it is Kaplan’s own column which is guilty of that.

Then we have the Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss and former NSA employee John Schindler, who has recently become a favorite of liberals for his frenzied conspiracies about Russia. Here is how this duo took this utter lie, presented it as fact, and then used it to claim that Snowden was a Russian agent:

#Snowden hung out 1st in Hong Kong, ie China, post-defection. 10 days of missing time. Where exactly was he? Just putting that out there…

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 12, 2015

On June 11, 2016, Schindler wrote an article headlined “Edward Snowden is a Russian Agent.” He featured this Missing Eleven Days lie from the start: “Snowden left his job in Hawaii with the National Security Agency in May 2013 and appeared at Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on June 1,” Schindler asserted. He continued: “significant questions remain. Where was Snowden from 21 to 31 May 2013? His whereabouts in that period are unknown.” In June, 2015, the former NSA operative similarly wrote in the Interpreter:

Where was Snowden during the last ten days of May 2013, after he left Hawaii but before he checked into Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on June 1? It smacks of naïveté to think Beijing did not expect something in return for giving Snowden sanctuary en route to Moscow.

This factually false claim was so laundered and sanctioned by journalists and editors who were either malicious or reckless that it ended up getting repeated as fact even by those who meant well. In Gizmodo, for instance, Adam Clark Estes urged readers to see CitizenFour, but criticized the film for what he regarded as important omissions, such as: “Where exactly was Snowden for the 11 days before he checked into the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong?”

Upon release of Epstein’s book – which was overwhelmingly denounced by reviewers as filled with unproven conspiracy theories – this claim about Snowden’s Missing Eleven Days was repeated as fact over and over. This mixed review of Epstein’s book in the San Francisco Chronicle was typical:

On May 18 he flew to Hong Kong, where he hid at a still-unknown location for 11 days before meeting the journalists at the Mira Hotel. Epstein emphasizes how carefully Snowden arranged things, as if “pulling strings.” He insinuates there may have been a hidden hand.

The lie traveled internationally, as highlighted by this sentence in one of the few favorable reviews of Epstein’s book, from Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo, written by Igor Gielow: “The fact that [Snowden] had disappeared for 11 days in Hong Kong, carrying secrets before divulging some of them to the press, remains a mystery.” Note that Snowden’s 11-day disappearance is now “a fact.”

All of this culminated with this falsehood being embraced by George W. Bush’s chief of the NSA and CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden. In an unsurprisingly gushing review of Epstein’s book, Hayden cites Epstein asking: “where was Snowden during those unaccounted-for first 11 days in Hong Kong”?

 

Where “Snowden was” during this time is exactly where he said, from the start, that he was: at the Mira Hotel (the only exception to his unbroken stay at the Mira was the very first day when Snowden arrived in Hong Kong, having made no advanced hotel reservations before leaving the U.S. so as to not alert authorities, and thus grabbed the first hotel he found online: the Icon Hotel. After staying there the first night, he moved to the Mira on May 21 and remained there for the next 21 days).

Yet again we find that the same U.S. media that loves to decry Fake News and mock “the Arab World” and “Russian-state media” and InfoWars for wallowing in baseless conspiracy theories routinely peddle their own as long as the targets are the right ones. The Economist, for instance, hailed Epstein’s screed as “a meticulous and devastating account.” This episode once again shows how easily and how often mainstream media outlets in the U.S. circulate and affirm complete fictions using the most authoritative tones, and how the journalists and editors responsible for it never pay any price for doing so.

For three years, we watched as this lie was launched, then took root, then spread until it became unquestionable truth, notwithstanding the fact that it lacked any basis all along, as the NYT’s Savage noted. Now that the documents have emerged proving it to be a lie, the next steps are obvious for any media outlet with integrity: retractions and accountability for those who spread such false and toxic claims so recklessly. But that qualifier – “media outlet with integrity” – is a significant one, and for that reason, it is just as likely that they will allow their falsehoods, and those who spread them, to fester unmolested by corrective action.

The post Newly Obtained Documents Prove: Key Claim of Snowden’s Accusers is a Fraud appeared first on The Intercept.

FBI Director James Comey Takes On New Role Fact-Checking the President’s Tweets

20 March 2017 - 5:15pm

In a first for social media, James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was asked to say under oath on Monday if the official Twitter feed of the President of the United States was lying about the  testimony he was still giving.

The extraordinary moment came shortly after Comey had confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that there is indeed an ongoing counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the election of Donald Trump as president and “whether there was any coordination” between the Trump campaign and the Russian effort.”

BREAKING: FBI Director Comey confirms the FBI is investigating any possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia pic.twitter.com/tCukCbB3ol

— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) March 20, 2017

Comey also stated categorically that there was no evidence to support the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower, speculation Trump himself had stated as fact in a moment of Breitbart-induced delirium earlier this month.

After those revelations, Comey and Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, were asked by Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the intelligence committee and a former member of Trump’s transition team, if they had any evidence that Russian hackers had tampered with the counting of votes in the small number of states that swung the electoral college in Trump’s favor. Both men replied that they did not.

Video of that exchange was soon posted on the president’s official Twitter account, @POTUS, which is managed by Trump’s former caddy and current social media director, Dan Scavino. The president’s Twitter spokesman, however, added a caption which mischaracterized the testimony of the two men as proof that “Russia did not influence electoral process.”

The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process. pic.twitter.com/d9HqkxYBt5

— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017

Comey and Rogers had both made it plain that they stood by their earlier assessment that Russia had indeed hacked the email accounts of Democratic officials, and provided those emails to WikiLeaks, in order to damage the electoral chances of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

A short time later, both men — who were appearing before the committee largely to clear up confusion caused by the president’s earlier tweets — were asked by Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, if the @POTUS tweet was a fair summary of their testimony.

Comey on Trump tweet that he testified Russia "did not influence electoral process": "It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today." pic.twitter.com/21ASPvFzh1

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 20, 2017

Comey and Rogers replied that they had offered no opinion as to the effectiveness of the Russian campaign when they said that there was no evidence of tampering with the actual vote-counting in the swing states.

Good lesson for the president: wait until your top intelligence officials are finished testifying before mischaracterizing their testimony.

— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) March 20, 2017

Another @POTUS tweet chronicling the hearing was badly misleading, interpreting a narrow statement as a broad exoneration.

Misleading. Comey said Clapper was "right" there was no evidence of collusion in the intel report of January 6https://t.co/HsU4MYdrBd https://t.co/7i8DiKieMu

— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 20, 2017

 

Top photo: James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), testifies during a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing concerning Russian meddling in the 2016 United States election, on Capitol Hill, March 20, 2017 in Washington.

The post FBI Director James Comey Takes On New Role Fact-Checking the President’s Tweets appeared first on The Intercept.

Marcelo Crivella pede demissão de jornalista: um grave atentado à democracia e à liberdade de imprensa

20 March 2017 - 4:37pm

Era noite de sábado quando começaram a circular as primeiras informações sobre a demissão do jornalista do jornal carioca O Dia Caio Barbosa, que era repórter especial desde 2012. A primeira delas foi dada pelo jornalista e escritor Cid Benjamin, irmão de César Benjamin, secretário de Educação, Esporte e Lazer do prefeito Marcelo Crivella (PRB-RJ).

“Foi pedido do bispo da Universal que ocupa a prefeitura da cidade”, afirmou Benjamin em seu perfil no Facebook, e reiterou: “Pra mim isso não é surpresa”. Segundo ele, o que teria motivado a demissão seria a reportagem “Febre amarela: População critica filas e falta de informações em postos”. Publicada no dia 16 de fevereiro, ela falava sobre o mau atendimento nos postos de saúde, principalmente sobre a falta de informações para quem procurava vacinação contra a febre amarela. Em entrevista a The Intercept Brasil, Cid Benjamin classificou a demissão como um “atentado gravíssimo à democracia e à liberdade de imprensa”.

O texto foi reeditado no mesmo dia, e foi retirada a assinatura do repórter. A  reportagem original pode ser lida aqui e a reeditada, aqui. São matérias completamente diferentes. Uma narra as dificuldades de conseguir a vacina e informações e contém críticas duras ao prefeito. A reeditada parece um release da prefeitura do Rio, com informações sobre postos de saúde e muitas aspas do prefeito. Apenas críticas pontuais foram mantidas.

O depoimento – “Não era essa a gestão que prometeu cuidar das pessoas? Bem, pelo que a gente está vendo até agora, parece mais humilhar as pessoas”, criticou a professora Luiza Souza Gomes – foi um dos que sumiram na nova edição.

Descaradamente, a imagem que ilustra a matéria reeditada é do Sana, que fica na cidade de Macaé, feita pela prefeitura local, e com fila menor e ambiente mais amigável. A matéria original era ilustrada com uma foto feita pela Agência O Dia, de um posto de saúde da Tijuca.

 

Montagem antes x depois da edição: sem assinatura e com foto de outra cidade, Macaé.

Ontem, o bispo prefeito publicou em sua página no Facebook uma nota negando a acusação de que seria o mandante da demissão de Caio Barbosa. A justificativa dada – que não explica absolutamente nada – foi a de que, “para desmascarar essa descabelada infâmia, lembro que o irmão do deputado Marcelo Freixo, Guilherme Freixo, encontra-se no quadro de funcionários da Prefeitura”.

Minutos depois da publicação da nota, o repórter se manifestou: “A nota oficial do prefeito é uma mentira”. Na noite de domingo (19), o jornal publicou o editorial “O DIA realiza reestruturação em busca de maior eficiência”, em que fala de “ajustes de equipe”. Não há menção direta ao nome de Barbosa. Fontes que preferiram não se identificar por temer demissão e represálias, falaram ao The Intercept Brasil que o momento da demissão foi de comoção para quem estava próximo na hora do comunicado, que foi feito reservadamente.

Caio Barbosa, jornalista demitido a mando de Marcelo Crivella

Foto: Thiago Dezar/The Intercept Brasil

O Sindicato dos Jornalistas Profissionais do Rio de Janeiro não tem informações oficiais sobre outras demissões no periódico. A entidade publicou em nota que a referida matéria desagradou ao prefeito Marcelo Crivella, “que acionou seus assessores e estes pediram que a reportagem fosse tirada do ar, além de exigirem a publicação de um desmentido”.

Na início da tarde desta segunda (20) houve um ato em frente à redação do Jornal O Dia, no centro do Rio, em apoio a Caio Barbosa. Membros do sindicato estiveram presentes para entregar um ofício à diretoria do jornal pedindo uma reunião para elucidar os fatos sobre a demissão do jornalista. No editorial, O Dia menciona “demissões”, mas o sindicato não foi acionado para intermediar nenhum desligamento, o que é praxe.

Caio Barbosa esteve presente no ato, agradeceu todo o apoio recebido, mas preferiu não se manifestar sobre o ocorrido até que assine os papéis da demissão, o que está marcado para ocorrer ainda esta semana.

O repórter iniciou carreira em 2000 no jornal O Fluminense, onde foi de estagiário a redator e cobriu todas as editorias. Depois trabalhou no Diário Lance!, nos portais Globoesporte.com e SZRD e no jonal Extra até chegar a O Dia, em 2012.

No O Dia ele ganhou o Prêmio Embratel 2015 com uma série especial sobre os 50 anos do Golpe Civil-Militar.

The post Marcelo Crivella pede demissão de jornalista: um grave atentado à democracia e à liberdade de imprensa appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump Plans to Eliminate Legal Aid Funding That Supports Survivors of Domestic Violence

20 March 2017 - 3:50pm

It wasn’t long after Sonota got married that her husband began to abuse her. After her second child was born in 2012, the violence accelerated; police were often called to the couple’s St. Louis, Missouri, home, and Sonota had to seek medical attention more than once. With a 1-year-old son and newborn daughter, Sonota knew she was in trouble. “I had a lack of support and I was in an abusive situation and I had two babies,” she told The Intercept. “I was just very overwhelmed and lost and needed some type of guidance and help to get into a safe place in my life for my kids.”

Sonota found that help at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, a nonprofit legal aid organization that provides lawyers for low-income individuals navigating the civil justice system. For Sonota, that meant helping her to obtain a protective order against her husband, to file for divorce, and to secure child support for her children. Her legal aid attorney also helped her to get access to therapy, a cellphone for emergencies, and school supplies and Christmas presents for her children. The assistance made it possible for Sonota to get her life back on track — into housing and back into school, where she obtained an associate degree in business management and accounting. “I love business,” she said. She intends to use her education in part “to teach my kids how to be employers and not employees.”

“Deliverance was everything,” Sonota said. Her legal aid champions “were compassionate and yet realistic and logical, you know, to direct me on a better path in life, and I just love them for that.”

Sonota and her children.

Photo: Legal Services of Eastern Missouri

But if President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” blueprint is adopted and passed by Congress, the federal funding that supports Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and a network of other legal aid groups across the country would disappear. That’s because the proposed budget eliminates the 43-year-old Legal Services Corporation, the federal entity that provides millions for state-based legal aid operations. Cutting its funding would deny millions of poor people access to the civil justice system, a circumstance that would disproportionately impact women, who make up 70 percent of clients served by LSC funds. Indeed, fully one-third of cases handled by LSC-affiliated groups involve women, like Sonota, who are victims of domestic violence.

In his budget note, Trump wrote that his “aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens — a government that puts the needs of its own people first. When we do that we will set free the dreams of every American, and we will begin a new chapter of American greatness.” Cutting a program that provides for the safety of domestic violence survivors — among many others — seems an odd way to achieve greatness.

The LSC was created in 1974 and has enjoyed bipartisan support for more than four decades. Its mission is to help provide meaningful access to the justice system for poor people who cannot afford an attorney in civil matters — including family law cases (concerning divorce and child custody matters as well as domestic violence), cases involving eviction or home foreclosure, cases where veterans are seeking access to benefits, and cases where the elderly have been preyed upon by financial scammers.

Currently, 93 percent of the LSC’s $385 million federal budget goes to funding some 134 nonprofit legal aid organizations operating more than 800 offices across the U.S. and its territories. Indeed, in many states, the money that comes from the LSC represents the bulk of the funding available to serve people in need of civil representation — in Alabama, the LSC provides 88 percent of legal aid funds; in South Dakota, it provides 80 percent; and in Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, the group provides 67 percent of legal aid funds. In Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, and Utah, LSC funds represent more than 50 percent of money allotted to legal aid services.

Still, that money covers services for only a fraction of people in need of civil legal help, a disparity known as the “justice gap.” Currently, 63 million individuals are eligible for legal aid; according to the LSC, 50 percent of people who seek out legal aid services are turned away because of a lack of available resources — in some states, the percentage turned away is far higher. In 2015, a total of 1.9 million individuals were served with LSC funding.

“The program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support for decades, that’s why it’s still here,” said Martha Bergmark, a lifelong public interest attorney and former president of the LSC. “It’s been … such a successful program and really the difference between a lot of people having any kind of access to legal help when they’re in pretty dire life-threatening and life-challenging situations.”

The ultra-right Heritage Foundation, from which Trump plucked many of his budget priorities, has long desired to ax the LSC from the federal budget, claiming that it isn’t the “duty of the federal government to provide defense in these types of cases.” The think tank argues that state and local governments already provide this funding and are “better equipped” to address the needs of those seeking civil representation — a position that is not supported by the facts on the ground.

It is true that states provide some funding for legal aid, but those funds have never been enough — in 2011, all state appropriations to the LSC-funded legal aid system amounted to roughly $123 million. The system is also infused with funding from the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts program, but that funding has decreased precipitously since the recession. Under IOLTA, certain funds that lawyers must hold for their clients go into interest-bearing IOLTA accounts; the interest earned is then transferred into the legal aid system. As interest rates plummeted, so too did the funds earned by the IOLTA system: In 2008, legal aid programs earned roughly $112 million in IOLTA funds; by 2011, the funding had dropped to roughly $61 million.

And while there is no guaranteed right to counsel in civil cases as there is in criminal matters, the notion that the federal government shouldn’t be supporting poor people in the civil justice system runs afoul of the constitutional promise of “liberty and justice for all,” notes the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, both of which strongly support funding for the LSC.

“Frontline judges are telling us that the adversarial foundation of our justice system is all too often losing its effectiveness when citizens are deprived of legal counsel,” the conference presidents wrote in late February to Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget office director. “Given these facts on the ground, we hope you will support our struggle to increase the availability of legal assistance to the most-needy members of our communities lest we further compromise our nation’s promise of ‘equal justice under law.’”

The impact of legal aid on positive civil justice outcomes is widely recognized. In domestic violence cases, research demonstrates that the provision of legal aid services for women reduces the likelihood they will experience domestic violence in the future. In contrast, the availability of shelters, domestic violence hotlines, and counseling programs were “found to have no significant impact on the likelihood of a woman being abused by her partner.”

Bergmark finds it hard to understand how Trump’s campaign promise to champion people left behind fits within a budget proposal that would cut a program that does just that. Not only would the cuts disproportionately impact poor women, she said, they would hit those in rural areas of the country particularly hard, areas that supported Trump in the election. “There could be various arguments about why the federal government shouldn’t support various kinds of services, but this is one that serves the fundamental commitment to fairness and ‘justice for all’ that we make as a nation. So how could that be more appropriately done than by an investment of the federal government?”

When Sonota thinks about funding for legal aid being discontinued, she gets choked up. She believes defunding the LSC would sound a death knell for people like her. “To be realistic, being a black, single mother with the odds against me, living in poor communities, we need people to protect people like me, the underdog,” she said. “Cutting legal services … it’s like a cardiac arrest: a death for the community.”

Top photo: Lawyers with Memphis Area Legal Services give elderly and low-income residents free legal advice including advice on wills, powers of attorney, and other legal documents at the Orange Mound Community Center in Memphis in 2012.

The post Donald Trump Plans to Eliminate Legal Aid Funding That Supports Survivors of Domestic Violence appeared first on The Intercept.

Globo, Lula, Temer, Aécio e Dilma: somos todos Friboi

20 March 2017 - 3:18pm

As gigantes do setor alimentício JBS e BRF, alvos centrais da Operação Carne Fraca, já ativaram suas defesas. Estão cobrando a conta de seus dois maiores investimentos: as publicidades em redes televisivas e as doações a partidos políticos.

A operação investiga 22 empresas do ramo alimentício envolvidas em um esquema corrupção para liberação de frigoríficos irregulares. A Justiça Federal do Paraná determinou o bloqueio de R$ 1 bilhão nas contas da JBS e da BRF. Segundo a Polícia Federal, esta é a maior operação já realizada em toda sua história.

Os agentes também relataram uma lista das substâncias misturadas nas carnes e embutidos que deixou o brasileiro assustado com o que põe à mesa: cabeça de porco, ácido ascórbico, papelão e carne podre ou infectada com salmonella. A lista, no entanto, tem sido relativizada por especialistas. Depois da operação, ações das empresas despencaram e as importações foram suspensas.

Brazilian Federal police have dismantled, after two years of running the "weak flesh" operation, a vast network of adulterated food, involving major meat processing plants and inspectors who accepted bribes to approve products in bad condition for domestic consumption and exportation. / AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)" />

A fábrica da BRF em Chapecó (SC), investigada por adulteração de produtos alimentícios.

Foto: NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

Maior doadora na campanha de 2014, a JBS distribuiu R$ 61,2 milhões para 21 dos 28 partidos representados na Câmara dos Deputados. Para não demonstrar favoritismo na disputa pela Presidência da República, a empresa — que também foi a maior doadora das duas chapas do segundo turno — deu o mesmo valor para Dilma/Temer e Aécio/Aloysio: R$5 milhões para cada.

Logo após a polêmica aberta com a operação da Polícia Federal, Michel Temer foi a público colocar panos quentes: disse que apenas três dos 4.850 frigoríficos brasileiros foram interditados pela ação. O presidente ainda levou 40 embaixadores de países que importam carne brasileira para uma churrascaria em Brasília, na noite de domingo (19). Só esqueceu que o lugar não serve carne brasileira. “A gente não trabalha com carne brasileira, só europeia, australiana e uruguaia”, disse o gerente do local, de acordo com informações do jornal O Estado de São Paulo. Em resposta, a assessoria de imprensa do planalto disse que todas as carnes servidas ao presidente e seus convidados eram de origem brasileira.

O ministro da Agricultura, Blairo Maggi — que figurou na lista de bilionários brasileiros da revista Forbes em 2014 por investimentos em agronegócio —, também defendeu as empresas. Chamou de “fantasias” e de “idiotice” acreditar haver papelão na fórmula de embutidos. É da pasta de Maggi que vem o “Grande Chefe” Daniel Gonçalves Filho, superintendente do Ministério da Agricultura no Paraná entre 2007 e 2016. O apelido é usado pelo ministro da Justiça, Osmar Serraglio (PMDB-PR), em ligação grampeada pela PF. As investigações da Operação Carne Fraca apontam Gonçalves Filho como mandante da organização de fiscais que recebiam propina dos grandes frigoríficos do país para fazer vista grossa em suas visitas.

Levei embaixadores de países importadores a uma churrascaria e degustamos diversos cortes apenas de carnes brasileiras, como a picanha. pic.twitter.com/B7IIA8mJFS

— Michel Temer (@MichelTemer) March 20, 2017

A expansão da JBS, o maior frigorífico do mundo e que hoje conta com 200 mil funcionários em 350 unidades, começou no governo Lula, quando o Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) se tornou sócio da empresa e ajudou na compra de empresas estrangeiras. Depois disso, a companhia — que começou como abastecedora dos refeitórios das empresas construtoras de Brasília — recebeu R$ 5 bilhões do banco entre 2007 e 2010, dando fôlego para sua expansão internacional. A BRF também contou com o apoio do banco público para ser criada: R$ 400 milhões foram injetados por meio de um financiamento.

Com tanto dinheiro, as duas entraram na lista dos 30 maiores anunciantes do país. A BRF se encontra em 21º lugar e dispôs de R$ 817 milhões em propagandas veiculadas em todos os tipos de mídia em 2015. Já a Seara, do grupo JBS, ficou em 15º lugar e gastou R$ 860 milhões no mesmo ano.

Entre os investimentos em publicidade feitos recentemente pelas duas gigantes alimentícias estão os cachês dos globais Fátima Bernardes, Tony Ramos, Ana Maria Braga e do casal Angélica e Luciano Huck. Também conta com um especial publicitário no canal GShow e a campanha “Academia da Carne por Friboi”, que inseriu merchandising nos programas “Mais você”, “Encontro”, “Malhação” e “É de casa”.

Brazilian Federal police have dismantled, after two years of running the "weak flesh" operation, a vast network of adulterated food, involving major meat processing plants and inspectors who accepted bribes to approve products in bad condition for domestic consumption and exportation. / AFP PHOTO / EVARISTO SA (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)" />

Fábrica de processamento de frango em Samambaia (DF).

Foto: EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

Agora que a polêmica se instaurou, gerando críticas às empresas e àqueles que recebiam dinheiro delas — sejam políticos, sejam celebridades — a estratégia está sendo limpar a imagem geral. Na Globo, foi usado o espaço da propaganda entre blocos da novela das 21h, veiculado depois em outras redes de TV aberta, para as empresas começarem a divulgar seus comunicados institucionais em resposta à operação. Textos também foram divulgados em veículos impressos.

Na política, a defesa contou com figuras do governo, como Temer e Maggi, dizendo que a operação não pode sujar a imagem do agronegócio brasileiro. Argumento similar foi visto em sites identificados com a esquerda e com o PT, que acusaram a Polícia Federal de tentar destruir o mercado.

De fato, a operação abala um dos bastiões da economia brasileira. Contudo, se este mercado está abalado, a culpa não é dos agentes.

The post Globo, Lula, Temer, Aécio e Dilma: somos todos Friboi appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Budget Director Takes Aim at “Wasteful” Social Security Program That Helps Disabled Americans

20 March 2017 - 1:55pm

Under a relentless barrage of questions from Washington journalists about why President Trump’s proposed budget isn’t cutting Social Security or Medicare, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney finally acknowledged on Sunday that Trump may in fact violate his campaign promises to protect the two programs — by taking aim at the Social Security program that helps the disabled.

The elite Washington media is almost uniquely obsessed with the notion that cutting spending on the old and poor to reduce the federal deficit is the litmus test of a responsible budget plan. At last week’s press conference announcing the proposed budget — which includes massive cuts to regulatory agencies and massive increases in defense spending — Mulvaney was repeatedly badgered by reporters about why the administration is not taking aim at Social Security and Medicare.

During a interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, the administration finally started to give in.

Mulvaney was pressed by host John Dickerson about whether the administration would be open to cutting “entitlements.” Mulvaney initially hesitated to endorse any cuts, repeating Trump’s promises on the campaign trail to leave Social Security and Medicare alone.

“Well, I think the promise was he wasn’t going to affect anybody and we haven’t with this budget,” Mulvaney replied. “Keep in mind what this budget is. This is just the discretionary spending part of the budget, which was a necessary first step.”

“But he might look at — at future retirement — future Medicare recipients?” Dickerson followed up.

Mulvaney replied by pivoting to the specific issue of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a program administered by the Social Security Administration that aids disabled Americans. He complained about the program’s cost and indicated that the administration wants to alter it.

“Let me ask you a question, do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don’t think so,” he said, with a slight grin on his face. “It’s the fastest growing program. It was — it grew tremendously under President Obama. It’s a very wasteful program and we want to try and fix that.”

Watch the exchange:

While it’s true that disability claims increased under the Obama administration, that’s not unusual during a recession, when many older workers have difficulty finding work that meets their needs.

In 2015, the federal government spent $143 billion on SSDI, which is primarily financed by the Social Security payroll tax.  This totals around 4 percent of the federal budget. The average monthly benefit for disabled workers in January 2017 was $1,171.25.

SSDI has its own trust fund that is separate from the Social Security program’s funds reserved for retirees and survivors. The National Academy of Social Insurance illustrates how disability insurance and funds for old age and survivors are financed the same way but administered by two different funds, both run by the Social Security Administration:

The program largely benefits older Americans who have worked decades and are near retirement age. The “I” in SSDI stands for insurance because workers pay into this program so it is there for them when they need it. The average SSDI recipient has worked 22 years, and 75 percent of those who benefit are 50 years old or older.  Recall that 53 percent of voters ages 50 and over supported President Trump during the election in November.

It is hardly an easy program to enroll in — the Social Security Administration rejects a majority of those who apply for disability payments. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that fewer than 400 of 1,000 initial applications for approval are accepted.

Top photo: The first annual Disability Pride Parade on July 12, 2015, in New York City. The parade celebrated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The post Trump Budget Director Takes Aim at “Wasteful” Social Security Program That Helps Disabled Americans appeared first on The Intercept.

Oligopólio da comunicação direciona debate público brasileiro

19 March 2017 - 9:15am

Na década de 70, os pesquisadores Maxwell McCombs e Donald Shaw desenvolveram uma teoria para tentar explicar como a mídia determina os assuntos que serão debatidos pela sociedade. A teoria do Agenda Setting, conhecida em português como Teoria do Agendamento, foi pensada a partir de pesquisas feitas durante duas campanhas presidenciais norte-americanas. O estudo comprovou que os assuntos debatidos entre os consumidores de informação eram os mesmos que os sugeridos pela mídia. Portanto, a opinião pública seria direcionada pelas escolhas dos veículos de comunicação de massa. As principais pautas, os recortes e os ângulos da informação adotados pela mídia influenciariam diretamente a opinião dos receptores. Segundo Donald Shaw, “as pessoas têm tendência para incluir ou excluir de seus próprios conhecimentos aquilo que os mass media incluem ou excluem do seu próprio conteúdo”.

Nesses últimos trágicos anos da política brasileira, é possível perceber o esmero dos meios de comunicação em pautar a sociedade a partir da sua visão dos fatos. No meu artigo de estreia no The Intercept Brasil, comentei brevemente a respeito. Permitam-me a autorreferência:

“(…) ninguém pode acusar a imprensa brasileira de omitir informações. Ela publica tudo. Tudo mesmo, sem ironia. Mas, como se sabe, o diabo mora mesmo é nos detalhes, nas manchetes de capa, nos editoriais e na opinião dos colunistas mais prestigiados pelos patrões. (…) No final das contas, a decisão sobre o que vai brilhar na capa do jornal – ou se esconder num rodapé – sempre estará alinhada à opinião das famílias proprietárias.”

São inúmeros os assuntos de altíssima relevância para o país colocados em segundo plano. Selecionei alguns que, inegavelmente, mereciam ter grande destaque, mas não tiveram. Boa parte deles você já leu nessa coluna, mas acredito que vale a repetição como uma – perdão pela inocência –  tentativa de compensar as omissões da imprensa brasileira:

Trecho de delação do Delcídio – em março do ano passado, a delação bombástica de Delcídio do Amaral abalou o país. Nela apareciam Lula, Aécio Neves, Eduardo Cunha, Michel Temer, Romero Jucá e diversos outros políticos como participantes de esquemas de corrupção. À época, Cunha e Dilma vinham travando as últimas batalhas da guerra do impeachment. Um trecho da delação que ajudaria a explicar este duelo e a contextualizar o processo de impeachment foi quase que completamente ignorado pela imprensa.

Resumindo: segundo Delcídio, a treta entre Dilma e Cunha teria começado a partir do momento em que a ex-presidenta fez uma limpeza em Furnas ao demitir diretores ligados a Cunha. O delator ainda diz que Dilma colocou no lugar uma diretoria “absolutamente técnica” – o que seria um espanto para quem tinha certeza que ela aparelhava tudo. O Jornal Nacional, que dedicou muito tempo da sua programação para a delação de Delcídio, preferiu ignorar este trecho que revelava como começou a grande briga política entre os dois presidentes dos principais poderes do país. O incrível é que, no meio do ano anterior, a Época nos informava que Renan, Cunha e Temer evitariam o impeachment de Dilma:

Funcionária fantasma do Serra – A tapioca de Orlando Silva (PCdoB) comprada com cartão corporativo foi martelada durante dias na mídia brasileira. Todo brasileiro conhece a história que acabou entrando pro anedotário político nacional. Já a história da funcionária-fantasma contratada por José Serra (PSDB) pouquíssimos brasileiros conhecem, quase não se ouviu falar. Um senador da República usou dinheiro público para pagar uma funcionária que não comparecia ao trabalho. A fantasma é irmã de Miriam Dutra, ex-namorada de FHC. Uma história que daria pano para manga, mas ninguém se interessou em botar a mão nessa cumbuca. A notícia apareceu e evaporou rapidamente. Não houve desdobramentos, ninguém incomodou Serra com perguntas a respeito, e ele virou ministro das Relações Exteriores sem ninguém lembrar do caso.

Prisão de primo de Aécio Neves – o primo do Mineirinho da Odebrecht foi preso por comandar um esquema que vendia habeas corpus para traficantes no interior de Minas Gerais. O problema não é o parentesco, mas o fato de que um dos participantes do esquema era o desembargador Hélcio Valentim –  indicado por Aécio Neves e que também foi preso. O Fantástico chegou a fazer uma reportagem de 12 minutos sobre o assunto que teria sido excelente se não houvesse omitido o parentesco com o tucano. Aécio continuou blindado por muito tempo e pode se candidatar tranquilamente à Presidência da República sem ser incomodado com o assunto. O seu primo também. Depois de solto, concorreu ao cargo de prefeito em Cláudio (MG). Agora feche os olhos e tente imaginar a repercussão na imprensa se ele fosse primo do Lula.

Helicoca –  em 2013, um helicóptero do deputado mineiro Gustavo Perrella é flagrado pela polícia com quase meia tonelada de pasta base de cocaína. O piloto era homem de confiança de Perrella e trabalhava como agente de serviço de gabinete na Assembleia Legislativa de Minas Gerais por indicação do deputado. Ou melhor, não trabalhava. Apesar de receber em dia dos cofres públicos mineiros, o piloto de Perrella não comparecia ao trabalho. Essa trama digna de um episódio de Narcos não foi um tema que durou muito tempo na imprensa. Piloto, copiloto e outras duas pessoas que descarregaram a droga foram presas e soltas meses depois. Gustavo Perrella nem foi citado na denúncia, a Polícia Federal não viu nenhum envolvimento dele no caso. A imprensa aceitou docilmente e nunca mais tocou no assunto. O Perrellinha ainda foi premiado por Temer com cargo de secretário no Ministério do Esporte.

Operação Zelotes –  é natural que a Lava Jato seja o grande assunto dos últimos anos no país devido ao envolvimento de políticos graúdos de todos os partidos. Mas e a Operação Zelotes? Por que se fala tão pouco nela? O rombo aos cofres é públicos é 3 vezes maior que o causado pelos crimes da Lava Jato. Não é possível que se fale tão pouco sobre a operação. Grandes anunciantes da imprensa como Santander, Bradesco, Banco de Boston,  Ford, Gerdau, Safra, Mitsubishi participaram do esquema de corrupção que fraudava o fisco. Só a RBS, afiliada da Globo, pagou pagou R$ 11,7 milhões para um conselheiro do CARF zerar suas dívidas com a Receita. De fato, este é um tema espinhoso para os barões da imprensa.

Yunes revela estratégia para eleger bancada pró-Cunha – um amigo de meio século do presidente não eleito revelou a existência de uma estratégia para construir uma bancada de 140 deputados para eleger Cunha presidente da Câmara. Tudo isso teria sido intermediado por Funaro, o doleiro de Cunha preso no mensalão. Falou-se bastante do caso Yunes, mas quase nada sobre essa curiosa construção de bancada. Deputados foram comprados por Cunha? Temer e Padilha capitaneavam essa estratégia? Qual era o papel do doleiro nisso? São perguntas que não foram feitas e provavelmente nunca serão.

Renan acusa Cunha de comandar governo da cadeia – um senador do PMDB acusa o governo do PMDB de ser comandado por um criminoso do PMDB de dentro da cadeia. Uma acusação clara, direta, feita com todas as letras, mas…esta não foi a grande pauta da semana! A notícia chegou, ficou um pouquinho no ar e tchau! Não houve nenhum aprofundamento, nenhuma grande reportagem, ninguém pressionou o Planalto por uma explicação. Virou passeio, amigo!

Manifestações contra a Reforma da Previdência – na última quarta-feira, uma greve geral foi convocada pelas centrais sindicais levando centenas de milhares de pessoas às ruas para protestar contra a Reforma da Previdência proposta pelo governo Temer. A manifestação ocorreu em 19 capitais. Diferentemente do que acontece com manifestações convocadas pelo MBL e Vem Pra Rua, a cobertura foi tímida e bastante crítica, dando enfoque para os problemas que a greve causou ao trânsito. 

E o jornalismo brasileiro conseguiu fazer da cobertura de ontem a maior editoria de “trânsito” da história da humanidade.

— xico sá (@xicosa) 16 de março de 2017

A Folha foi o único grande jornal a noticiar as manifestações na manchete de capa. O Globo e Estadão não consideraram o fato suficientemente relevante para ganhar o mesmo destaque. Grandes portais brasileiros como UOL e  Globo.com ignoraram solenemente. Nenhuma foto, nenhuma chamada, nada. Esses são os screenshots das capas dos portais ao meio-dia do dia seguinte aos protestos:

Já em outras manifestações, não havia espaço para outro assunto na página principal do UOL:

Esses são alguns casos aleatórios que lembrei, mas há uma infinidade de outros. É inacreditável que notícias dessa relevância tenham passado apenas lateralmente na imprensa brasileira. São fatos fundamentais que não foram destacados e explorados pelo jornalismo brasileiro. Não é razoável admitir que esses temas sejam escanteados no noticiário.

É grave demais para um país democrático que a comunicação esteja concentrada nas mãos de meia dúzia de famílias. São essas pessoas, auxiliadas por funcionários alinhados a elas, que determinam o que passará na rádio, na TV, no jornal. É esse grupelho que decide o que a massa irá discutir essa semana e o que será descartado semana que vem. A internet e as redes sociais, apesar de trazerem um respiro e abrirem novas possibilidades, ainda ecoam e são guiadas pelas pautas da imprensa tradicional.

Uma regularização no setor de comunicação que torne os meios mais democráticos é urgente, apesar de cada vez mais distante numa época em que o governo ilegítimo decide irrigar ainda mais os barões midiáticos com dinheiro público. O modelo concentrador é o mesmo da época ditadura militar. O Brasil precisa se livrar dessa trava ou continuará a reboque dos interesses de um grupelho que se criou nos anos de chumbo e até hoje vem influenciando os rumos da nação.

The post Oligopólio da comunicação direciona debate público brasileiro appeared first on The Intercept.

For Donald Trump, a Terror Attack Will Be an Opportunity Not a Curse

19 March 2017 - 8:01am

CAN WE BREATHE a sigh of relief after federal judges blocked President Donald Trump’s discriminatory executive orders? For a moment we can, but we are just a terrorism attack away from the White House gaining a new pretext for its wrathful crackdown against Muslims and immigrants.

Among the alterations in American politics since Trump’s inauguration, this may be the most frightening one: a terror attack on U.S. soil will be used by the White House as an excuse for implementing an extra-legal agenda that could only be pushed through in a time of crisis. What the courts will not allow today, what protesters will hit the streets to defend tomorrow, what even the pliant Congress would have a hard time backing — the White House is almost certainly counting on all of this changing in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack.

This macabre turn, in which terrorism becomes an opportunity rather than a curse, has ample precedents that tell us one thing: be prepared.

It wasn’t long ago that 9/11 was used as a pretext for invading Iraq. Although it was almost immediately clear that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told President George W. Bush on the evening of September 11, “Part of our response maybe should be attacking Iraq. It’s an opportunity.” Just a few years earlier, Rumsfeld, along with Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, had signed a now-infamous letter calling for the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The with-us-or-against-us atmosphere after 9/11 enabled them to carry out the task.

It has happened overseas, too. Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in Russia was accelerated by a series of mysterious bombings against apartment buildings across the country, and the bombings were so essential to consolidating Putin’s rule that he was suspected of organizing them. There was also, most famously, the Reichstag fire in 1933, in which the German Parliament burned to the ground, leading Adolf Hitler, the new chancellor, to warn that “there will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.”

The Trump administration has already begun laying the groundwork for extreme initiatives if — or more likely when — a terror attack occurs on U.S. soil and is tied to ISIS, al Qaeda or another Muslim group, according to civil liberties lawyers and activists. Under the guise of protecting national security, a blitz of presidential actions could target not just immigrants and Muslims but other minority groups as well as the media and the judiciary. These initiatives will be “more dire and much more severe” than Trump’s first executive order in late January against the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, according to Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

While the bad news is stark — expect the worst from Trump when an attack happens on U.S. soil — the better news is that people are already organizing to prevent the worst from happening. There is, it turns out, quite a bit that can be done to prepare for the nearly inevitable moment when the Trump administration tries to take advantage of the tragedy of a man or a woman using a bomb, a gun, a knife or a truck to kill Americans in the name of an Islamic terror group.

 

Police officers react to the explosions near marathon runner Bill Iffrig at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon.

Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The first thing to understand is that attacks by foreign-born terrorists are rare. From 1975 through 2015, a total of 3,024 Americans were killed in such attacks, with most of those occurring on 9/11, according to a recent Cato Institute report. In other words, the annual odds of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist are 1 in 3,609,709. Each of these deaths is a tragedy, of course, but they represent a fraction of the preventable fatalities from any number of causes, including spouse-on-spouse violence, traffic accidents, and even toddlers with unsecured guns.

Trump’s eagerness to exploit only a particular type of terror attack — by Muslims — was reflected in his selective reaction to two incidents in his first month in office. In late January, he remained silent when a white Christian shot dead six Muslims in a Canadian mosque. A few days later, an Egyptian with a machete attacked French soldiers at the Louvre while shouting “Allahu Akhbar.” Nobody was killed, not even the attacker — one soldier was slightly injured before the Egyptian was shot four times. Yet within hours, Trump tweeted, “A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.”

His disingenuity exposes a glaring fallacy in his executive orders. The handful of Muslim-majority countries named in the orders represent a negligible threat for domestic terrorism. The few attacks in America that have involved Muslims, including 9/11, drew largely on people from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt — but those countries were not included in either order from the Oval Office. A ruling by Judge Theodore Chuang that blocked the second order noted “strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose of the travel ban.”

The unique dynamic is that the White House has made clear its wish to impose an array of extreme and unconstitutional policies that are nearly impossible to carry out in ordinary times. Trump has previously said, for instance, that he wants to ban all Muslim immigration — “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” as he famously stated during the presidential campaign. His top adviser, Steve Bannon, has even complained about the proportion of legal immigrants already in America — which he described as 20 percent of the population, though it’s actually just over 13 percent. “Isn’t the beating heart of this problem, the real beating heart of it, of what we gotta get sorted here, not illegal immigration?” Bannon asked on a radio show in 2016. “We’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country.”

In a way, the White House is like a pistol cocked to go off at the first touch. Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, described the president’s early use of anti-Muslim executive orders as “a precursor, a mirror into what we’re going to be looking at” after a significant terror attack. Warren added, “I think the Trump administration will move by executive fiat for everything. It will create what’s essentially a constitutional crisis in the country.”

But Trump is not the pre-ordained winner of the crisis he will initiate.

Protesters walk during the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Michael Walzer, a political theorist who has been around long enough to have chronicled, in real time, the social movements of the 1960s, wrote in an essay earlier this month that there are two types of necessary politics against Trump. “Resistance is defensive politics, but we also need a politics of offense — a politics aimed at winning elections and, as we used to say, seizing power,” Walzer wrote. He pointed to a particularly hopeful development that others have also noted after Trump’s inauguration: local organizing against the federal government.

The women’s march the day after the inauguration was a nearly immediate example. In cities across the country, large crowds turned out to protest the new president and his far-right agenda. The sanctuary city movement has also taken root, with local leaders vowing to oppose federal orders that are unconstitutional or immoral, especially ones that involve undocumented immigrants. And key legal challenges to Trump’s executive orders have come from attorneys’ general in a variety of states who have vowed to continue their war of legal writs.

Warren describes the popular reaction to a post-terrorism crackdown as an “X factor.” In the wake of the president’s first executive order, which led to Muslims being turned away at America’s borders, airports across the country were besieged by spontaneous protests that involved thousands of people and a small army of lawyers to help immigrants and refugees who were detained by customs authorities. Boots on the ground will be crucial after the next attack, argues Ben Wizner, a prominent ACLU lawyer who earlier this month tweeted, “If/when there is an attack, we’ll need millions in the streets with a message of courage and resilience.”

Another X factor is the judiciary, which bears a larger share of responsibility than usual because both houses of Congress are controlled by the Republican Party and have shied away from fulfilling their constitutional role as a check on the executive branch. So far, federal courts have stood up to the White House. Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, believes the judicial response to Trump’s executive orders marks a notable break from the post 9/11 era, when courts generally did not support legal challenges to government policies on terrorism, torture, surveillance and drone warfare.

“I’m a real critic of how the courts handled national security,” Greenberg said. “I think they punted entirely. But if you look at the immigration ban and some of the pushback from the courts on ISIS prosecutions and how they are being handled, the courts have woken up from their ‘I want to be asleep on national security’ stage. I think the courts may rise to the occasion.”

Trump has provided confirmation, via Twitter, of the judicial branch’s new spine and key role. After the courts shot down his first executive order, he lashed out in a series of tweets against federal Judge James Robart. The sharpest one, tweeted by Trump from his Mar A Lago estate, warned: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

The writer Mark Danner noted in a recent essay that the controversy over the first executive order may have served “the desire of the president and his advisers to stage a fight with a major institutional force not yet recumbent before him: the judiciary.” As Danner went on to explain, “the president’s assertion of his ‘unreviewable’ powers in the face of ‘so-called’ judges was not just absurd or ignorant but a bit of bait, establishing the basis for blaming the judiciary for any terrorist attack that was to come. On this he tweeted indefatigably and repeatedly.”

Another X factor is the media, which Trump has defined as a public enemy (though of course he means only the outlets that criticize him). Portions of the media, such as Breitbart, Infowars and probably Fox News, will likely support whatever crackdown the president proposes in the wake of a terrorist attack. Other parts of the media will hopefully do the work they are supposed to do. As Greenberg notes, the press will “need to be on the ground and report information before it is misrepresented.” That work can begin now, before an attack, with reporting that explains the rarity of Muslim-related terrorism in the United States and the constitutional as well as moral pitfalls of letting a demagogue turn tragedy to his own advantage.

Top photo: Russian Emergency Situations Ministry officers and firefighters try to save people as a massive explosion shattered a nine-story apartment building in Moscow in 1999.

The post For Donald Trump, a Terror Attack Will Be an Opportunity Not a Curse appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s 2005 Tax Bill Doesn’t Mean the Tax System Is Working

18 March 2017 - 12:11pm

On January 17, 1969, Treasury Secretary Joseph W. Barr presented Congress’s Joint Economic Committee with a project years in the making: the first list ever compiled of all the tax code’s loopholes and exemptions. If they were eliminated, Barr said, government revenue would increase by about one third.

But what got the biggest headlines was that Barr revealed that 155 taxpayers who had declared over $200,000 in income in 1967 (about $1.5 million in today’s dollars) had used those special breaks to pay no income tax at all.

“We now face the possibility of a taxpayer revolt,” warned Barr. “The revolt will come not from the poor but from the tens of millions of middle-class families [who] are likely to revolt against income taxes not because of the level or amount of the taxes they must pay but because certain provisions of the tax laws unfairly lighten the burdens of others who can afford to pay.”

Barr was right that this infuriated Americans, especially since they now had hard numbers to go on. That year, Congress received more complaints about the lucky 155 than the Vietnam War, and responded by creating an “add on” tax requiring everyone to pay 10 percent on all income over $30,000.

Ever since then, the U.S. has had some type of additional, parallel tax code intended to prevent big earners from getting away scot free come April 15. The current version is called the alternative minimum tax, or AMT, and was enacted in 1978.

(The mechanics of the AMT are extremely complicated and — since tax software now does the calculations for most people — largely irrelevant unless you’re a programmer for Intuit. But if you’re curious, you can read how it works here.)

And we now know that, at least in the case of Donald Trump in 2005, the AMT worked very satisfyingly. The two newly-leaked pages from Trump’s tax return that year shows that without the AMT he would have had to pay just $5.3 million in income taxes on the $153 million he made in 2005, a rate of 3.48 percent. With it, he was forced to cough up a total of $36.6 million, or 24 percent.

It’s no wonder that Trump’s campaign tax plan calls for the elimination of the AMT. Anyone who’ll set up a company to collect just $65,000 in branding fees for vodka and energy drinks sold in Israel would take an extra $30 million on their tax bill quite personally.

It’s impossible to be sure why Trump owed so much more under the AMT, since none of the attachments he filed were leaked. One plausible reason is that for some reason, the $103 million in net operating loss he carried forward brought his regular taxable income way down, but didn’t affect his income under the AMT as much.

But whatever the reason, it’s not normal. The fact is that it’s incredibly unusual for the AMT to cause someone that rich that much monetary pain.

A look at a detailed IRS spreadsheet about who exactly paid how much income tax in 2014 shows why.

The top 0.001 percent for 2014 consisted of about 1,400 filers. To reach their elysian ranks you needed to have an adjusted gross income of at least $57 million, while their average income was a Trump-like $150 million.

But while a third of this group paid extra thanks to the AMT, it added up to only $1 billion — or 2 percent — of the $50 billion total they paid in income taxes.

So except in rare cases like Trump in 2005, the AMT doesn’t really make much difference, mostly because much of their income is due to capital gains — which are usually taxed at the same low rate under the regular income tax system and the AMT.

The top 0.001 percent actually pay a lower rate in income taxes —  24 percent — than people making less than them, all the way down to an income level about $211,000. So two accountants married to each other may well be paying income taxes at a higher rate than the Koch brothers.

In fact, the AMT is now primarily a burden on the upper middle class. While it was originally supposed to be aimed at America’s richest, thanks to poor design and inertia it now raises the tax rate for 4.3 million filers. About 6 percent of the tax bill for people whose gross adjusted income is between $211,000 and $465,000 is due to the AMT.

And some of America’s billionaires have realized the best way to avoid income taxes is to have as little income as possible. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, has a net worth of over $50 billion and a large appetite for yachts and private islands. Yet for some of his spending sprees he hasn’t sold Oracle stock to pay for it all. Instead, he’s borrowed money using the stock as collateral – so instead of paying the capital gains tax on the stock sale, he owes no tax since loans aren’t treated as income.

Other tax avoidance gambits are as numberless as the fish in the sea – and in fact one of the best places to learn about them is the work of David Cay Johnston, the reporter who received Trump’s tax returns in the mail.

So don’t take Trump’s 2005 taxes as a sign everything’s working fine. Instead, it looks more like a peculiar fluke. Trump himself knows better than anyone how grotesquely unjust our tax system is, since he’s exploited it for his own gain for decades and then had the chutzpah to campaign on pledges to fix it.

But if he gets his way what he’ll actually do is gut the one thing that we know forced him to pay a reasonable amount in taxes, once.

Top photo: President Donald Trump walks from the residence to the West Wing of the White House on Jan. 26, 2017 in Washington

The post Trump’s 2005 Tax Bill Doesn’t Mean the Tax System Is Working appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Administration Ousts UN Official to Protect Israel From Criticism

18 March 2017 - 10:39am

On Wednesday, a U.N. agency published a report noting that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” Yesterday, the author of that report who has served as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) since 2010, Rima Khalef, resigned after the Trump administration, working in conjunction with Israel, pressured the U.N. Secretary General to demand that she withdraw the report.

Khalef, a Jordanian national who has served in multiple high government positions, refused the demand to repudiate her own report, instead choosing to resign. The report – which was co-authored by the Jewish American Princeton professor and former UN official Richard Falk, a long-time critic of Israeli occupation – has now been removed from the UNESCWA website.

What makes this event most remarkable is how unremarkable is the report’s conclusion: it’s a point that a former Israeli Prime Minister – as well as Trump’s own Defense Secretary – have made unequivocally. Back in 2010, Ehud Barak, Israel’s former Prime Minister and its most decorated soldier, explicitly warned that Israel was on a path to what he called a permanent “apartheid” state. As he put it: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of ­Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Seven years later, Israel is indisputably committed to exactly that outcome. Many of its key ministers do not even support a two-state solution. Israeli expansion of illegal settlements continues unabated. Palestinians are further away than ever from full political rights, or even enjoying the right of democratic self-determination. As Barak himself pointed out, this is the very definition of apartheid.

Yet now, thanks to the Trump administration’s self-destructive devotion to Israeli interests – an odd posture for a President who ran on a platform of “Putting America First” – it is impermissible for U.N. officials to note this reality lest Israel be offended. In its report on the ouster of Khalef, CNN was surprisingly blunt about what this all means:

Memo to critics of Israel inside the UN system: Prepare to pay a price. . . . The US under Trump has made it quite clear it will defend Israel perhaps more than all other countries at the UN.

Early on his campaign, Trump issued controversial positions about Israel, including his statement that the U.S. should be “neutral” in the Israel/Palestine conflict and his proclaiming his immunity to AIPAC influence. But, as I noted last July, once he secured the nomination, he quickly switched to the standard pro-Israel line beginning with his Jared-Kushner-written AIPAC speech, and then went even beyond U.S. orthodoxy on Israel by explicitly endorsing expansion of Israeli settlements.

Since his inauguration, all signs indicate Trump will be an inflammatory fanatic when it comes to U.S. support for Israeli aggression, even at the expense of U.S. interests. He nominated a pro-settlement extremist to be his Ambassador to Israel. He has repeatedly suggested that his son-in-law Kushner, whose family has long supported extremist settlements, will be his key envoy in the region. And he even appeared to abandon the long-standing U.S. rhetorical commitment to a two-state solution (a commitment it long ago abandoned in action), before his administration re-affirmed it.

What makes all of this most extraordinary is that Trump’s own Pentagon chief has previously warned that exactly this kind of mentality – defending Israeli aggression and expansion – is directly harmful to the U.S. At the Aspen Security Forum in 2013, Gen. James Mattis said:

I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.

Indeed, people charged with anti-U.S. terrorism frequently cite U.S. support for Israeli aggression as a key grievance. Moreover, Mattis “called the current situation in Israel ‘unsustainable’ and blamed the settlements for harming prospects for peace.” Most ironically of all, Mattis “called it a choice between giving up the idea of a Jewish state or becoming an apartheid state” – exactly the point the Trump administration is now trying to make unutterable at the U.N.

Trump convinced millions of people to vote for him by promising to prioritize American interests over those of other nations. Yet what Trump is doing at the U.N., and in the Middle East more broadly, is exactly the opposite. He is empowering exactly the ideologues who have long venerated a defense of the Israeli government over all other considerations – not just the human and political rights of Palestinians but also the concrete security interests of the U.S.

The post Trump Administration Ousts UN Official to Protect Israel From Criticism appeared first on The Intercept.

Pentagon Denies Bombing Syrian Mosque, But Its Own Photo May Prove That It Did

17 March 2017 - 5:58pm

The Pentagon spokesperson insisted that the U.S. airstrike in the rebel-held village of Al-Jina in northern Syria on Thursday night did not hit a mosque. “The area was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis wrote in an email. “We deliberately did not target the mosque.”

He even unclassified and circulated a photo. And he pointed out that on the left, you can see a small mosque, still standing.

This image, provided by the Defense Department’s director of defense press operations, purports to show the post-strike view in al-Jinah, Syria, on March 16.

Photo: U.S. Navy

But to the people on the ground, the photo tells a different story.

Activists and first responders say the building that was targeted was a part of the mosque complex — and that the charred rubble shown in the photo was where 300 people were praying when the bombs began to hit.

More than 42 people were killed and dozens more injured, according to monitoring groups and local activists. First responders with the Syrian Civil Defence —  known as the “White Helmets” — rushed to treat the wounded and dig corpses out of the rubble.

An administration official told the Washington Post that two armed, Reaper drones fired “roughly [the] entirety of their Hellfire payload and followed up w/ 500 lb bomb.”

US official: AQ strike in N. Syria involved two Reapers that fired roughly entirety of their Hellfire payload and followed up w/ 500lb bomb.

— Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@Tmgneff) March 17, 2017

The building “was holding a meeting of al Qaeda members,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesperson told The Intercept. Davis said military officials “believe dozens of core al Qaeda terrorists were killed.”

According to the monitoring group Airwars, locals say the building the drones struck is part of a mosque and religious school, which was built as an expansion several years ago. Local activist Mohamed al Shaghel told the New York Times that the people in the building had “no affiliation with any military faction or any political side.”

Pentagon presents photo of the building they bombed last night, says it wasn't a mosque. Locals say otherwise. https://t.co/aQ4JNyG6pF pic.twitter.com/7va1qUdHo3

— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) March 17, 2017

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring organization, said that the strike took place between the city of Idlib and Aleppo, and called it a “massacre.”

A sign shown outside the south side of the building reads “Umar ibn Al-Khattab mosque” and indicates it is a religious school. Numerous pictures showing fragments of U.S. hellfire missiles also appeared on social media.

The debris after U.S. airstrikes hit a mosque during night prayer in Al-Jineh village of Atarib district in Aleppo, Syria on March 17, 2017.

Photo: Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Pentagon has a history of initially denying involvement in some of its worst atrocities. For instance, when the U.S. bombed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in 2015, the Pentagon initially claimed it was not targeting the hospital. A Pentagon spokesman said that the destruction of the hospital, which was bombed for more than 30 minutes, killing 42 people, was “collateral damage.” The Pentagon’s story continued to change over coming days, until it eventually admitted responsibility.

Top photo: Syrian civil defense volunteers, known as the White Helmets, dig through the rubble of a mosque following a reported airstrike on a mosque in the village of Al-Jineh in Aleppo province late on March 16, 2017.

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Brasil se assusta com carne que chega a sua mesa, mas fecha os olhos para discussão sobre abate

17 March 2017 - 5:00pm

Enquanto a Operação Carne Fraca assusta os brasileiros sobre a péssima qualidade da carne que chega a sua mesa, alguém questiona a forma como os animais são abatidos neste processo? Em geral, se a criação e o abate seguem ou não a Lei de Proteção Animal e se o gado sofre ou não maus-tratos não são preocupações que costumam passar pela cabeça dos consumidores.

No entanto, quando o tema é o abate de animais em rituais religiosos, as reclamações chegam até o Supremo Tribunal Federal. É na Corte que, sob a proteção de um crucifixo no plenário, os ministros vão decidir se o uso de animais em ritos de matriz africana viola a Constituição, que em seu artigo 225 coíbe a crueldade contra animais. Como a Carta também garante o livre exercício de cultos religiosos, a discussão reacende o debate sobre cerceamento de uma religião por parte do Estado.

“O que eu diria é que a opinião pública jamais associa o abate comercial a maus-tratos e a intolerância faz com que se associe o abate religioso ao sacrifício. Para acabar com o abate religioso, teria que acabar com qualquer tipo de abate”, comenta Hédio Silva Jr., jurista que participou  de uma comitiva composta por representantes das religiões de matriz africana que levou ao ministro Marco Aurélio Mello – relator da ação – um parecer técnico para auxiliar no julgamento do caso.

“A gente não faz sacrifício, quem sacrifica é a Friboi.”

O método utilizado no abate religioso é o da degola, catalogada pelo Ministério da Agricultura como método humanitário. De acordo com a Lei de Proteção Animal, não dar morte rápida, livre de sofrimento prolongado do animal cuja a morte é necessária para consumo ou não é o que caracteriza o mau-trato.

“No abate religioso, o animal não sofre maus-tratos. Nós sacralizamos o animal, e depois ele é consumido como alimento. A gente não faz sacrifício, quem sacrifica é a Friboi”, afirma o babalorixá Ivanir de Santos, que é interlocutor da Comissão de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa. O abate faz parte de um preceito litúrgico do candomblé e de alguns segmentos da umbanda, que consomem parte da carne como alimento .

Ainda sem data para julgamento, a ação no STF diz respeito a uma ação direta de inconstitucionalidade apresentada pelo Ministério Público do Rio Grande do Sul. O texto pede a anulação de uma lei estadual que exime as religiões de matriz africana de processos por maus-tratos a animais e da proibição do sacrifício animal religioso.

A decisão, se entender que a lei gaúcha é inconstitucional, vai ferir o artigo V da Constituição Federal, que garante a liberdade de crença e das cultos religiosos. Ela seria um  retrocesso, um retorno ao tempo em que as religiões chamadas espíritas no Brasil – incluindo o Kardecismo – tinham seus cultos interrompidos pela polícia. Ou ainda, indo um pouco mais atrás, quando os escravos eram proibidos de cultuar seus orixás.

Em 1993, uma discussão semelhante chegou à Suprema Corte norte-americana. O abate religioso na Santeria (religião levada ao país por cubanos) tinha sido proibido na Flórida. Por lá, prevaleceu a Constituição e a tolerância religiosa.

Com a benção do agronegócio

Assim como as religiões de matriz africana, muçulmanos e judeus, na alimentação kosher (judaica) e halal (islâmica), seguem rituais de abate. A diferença é que, por aqui, quando se trata das outras duas religiões, a questão é vista com bons olhos e passa longe do STF.

Setores do agronegócio brasileiro até mesmo se especializaram no abate religioso para garantir o mercado de exportação para os países que seguem essas religiões. A Friboi é a maior exportadora de carne halal do país – os animais são abatidos por degola, com dizeres do alcorão e voltados para Meca. A BR Foods já tem 25% da sua produção voltada para o mercado islâmico mesmo com denúncias de que a degola não é feita dentro dos preceitos da religião. Ambas são alvos da operação Carne Fraca.

Do mesmo lado, na bancada ruralista do Congresso, com a justificativa de proteger os rebanhos do agronegócio, o deputado federal Valdir Colatto (PMDB-SC) apresentou o projeto de lei 6268/16, que libera a caça de animais silvestres. O texto permite o abate de animais exóticos que possam ameaçar plantações ou o gado,  além de prever a  criação de reservas privadas para a prática de caça desportiva.

Também por pressão da bancada ruralista, mesmo após decisão desfavorável do STF, a PEC da Vaquejada foi aprovada e a prática passou a ser considerada patrimônio imaterial do Brasil. A emenda ainda pode ganhar um adendo que visa liberar a rinha de galo.

“Não há paralelo possível entre a vaquejada, onde o animal fica confinado e tem seu saco escrotal amarrado, com o abate religioso, onde não existe sofrimento. E na rinha de galo muito vezes o galo perdedor vem a falecer. Nestes casos não há dúvidas de maus-tratos”, afirma Hédio Silva Jr.

Ao que parece o conceito de maus-tratos é relativo. O Brasil estaria mesmo preocupado com os animais nos ritos de matriz africana?

The post Brasil se assusta com carne que chega a sua mesa, mas fecha os olhos para discussão sobre abate appeared first on The Intercept.

White House Budget Bombs on Front Pages of Red State Newspapers

17 March 2017 - 3:41pm

The White House budget proposal released on Thursday produced harsh, highly critical headlines in local newspapers based in states that President Trump carried in his election in November.

Papers highlighted the cuts to spending on infrastructure, the environment, the impoverished, and arts and culture.

The Columbus Dispatch — based in Ohio where Trump won 51.3 percent of the vote — ran a front page story on Friday titled “Unkind Cuts to Ohio?” The story noted that the budget eliminated funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, “a $300 million undertaking to clean up and keep invasive species from the world’s largest single source of fresh surface water,” which “directly benefits the same upper industrial Midwestern states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — that elevated Trump to the presidency in November.”

Trump’s budget slams West Virginia,” was splashed across the front page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Friday. The paper noted the cuts to education spending and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which supports infrastructure in the state. The state gave Trump 68.7 percent of the vote.

In Florida, where Trump won with 48.6 percent of the vote, the Orlando Sentinel warned that the White House budget would “slash research, EPA, DOT, job training, libraries.”

The Press Register, based in Mobile, Alabama — a coastal city where Trump held one of his first mega rallies, and a state that he won with 62.9 percent of the vote — used its front page Friday to warn that “Trump cuts bite into coast.” It noted that the White House budget “seeks deep cuts to agencies and organizations with a long-standing presence in Coastal Alabama,” such as the Mobile Bay Estuary Program, which monitors water quality and protects wildlife along the coast.

Allentown, Pennsylvania-based paper The Morning Call — in a state Trump won with 48.2 percent of the vote — ran a front page article with the headline “Cuts are a ‘huge blow’ to Valley social services, arts.” The paper directly contrasted the president’s request for a large increase in military spending with proposed cuts to domestic programs. “To cover a $54 billion boost in defense spending next year, President Donald Trump has proposed cuts that would hit Lehigh Valley cities and social services, including programs that aid children after school, homeless people in shelters and neighborhoods dealing with crime,” it noted.

 

In Iowa (site of a 51.2 percent victory for Trump), Cedar Rapids-based The Gazette also highlighted the transfer from domestic programs to the military:

In Michigan, where Trump scored a slim 47.3 percent victory, the Detroit Free Press highlighted the same tradeoff — noting both the increase in military spending and the cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which funds pollution cleanup in the state.

Top photo: A portion of President Donald Trump’s first proposed budget, focusing on the Department of State, USAID, and Treasury International Programs, and released by the Office of Management and Budget, is photographed in Washington, on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

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Trump Adviser Is Betting Millions of Dollars That Trump Will Take His Advice

17 March 2017 - 3:06pm

Carl Icahn, the high-stakes financier who has been using his position as a Trump adviser to push for a major rule-change affecting the ethanol industry, is now literally betting millions of dollars on financial markets that Trump will take his advice.

As previously reported at The Intercept, Icahn has pushed to get the Environmental Protection Agency to shift responsibility for blending the required amount of renewable fuel into gasoline. Right now, that obligation lies with oil refiners; Icahn wants it shifted to wholesalers.

As an unpaid but influential “Special Advisor to the President on Regulatory Reform” who vetted EPA chief Scott Pruitt, Icahn has plenty of clout to get this done.

Icahn stands to profit enormously from such a move in the long run: He is majority owner of CVR Energy, a refiner that lacks the infrastructure to blend ethanol. This forces the company to purchase “renewable identification numbers” (RINs), credits that allow it to comply with the obligation. The wholesalers sell the RINs after blending the ethanol themselves.

If Icahn succeeds in his quest, CVR would no longer have to buy RINs, which cost them $205.9 million last year. Icahn already told the Renewable Fuels Association — the leading lobby for the ethanol industry — that the Trump administration would absolutely make the change, leading RFA to agree to a deal reversing their previous position, and supporting the rule.

The change would also collapse the market for RINs, because refiners wouldn’t have any reason to buy them anymore.

And Icahn isn’t waiting to cash in. While pushing to crash the RIN market, Icahn has placed major bets that he will win.

Icahn is effectively short-selling RINs.

Bloomberg reported on Friday that Icahn acknowledged that he’s betting on a decline in the RIN market.

“This is what I do in the market. I’m taking a chance,” the billionaire investor said.

First, he’s directed CVR Energy to delay its RIN purchases, while expecting prices to fall. CVR also sold off large numbers of the RINs it had previously purchased in two dumps last year, including one right after the nomination of Scott Pruitt for EPA administrator.

CVR must by law purchase RINs within a year of selling fuel to wholesalers; delaying or selling off purchases can move markets, as can news of an imminent change in the point of obligation.

This has already paid off: RINs sold for 91 cents each on Election Day, and now track at 36 cents, according to Bloomberg data. If CVR had to buy the same amount of RINs that they did last year, that translates into a savings of roughly $144 million.

Icahn general counsel Jesse Lynn claimed in a statement that Icahn never had “material non-public information” about what the Trump EPA would do on the point of obligation, and that he merely offered the White House his public position on the matter. But Icahn’s company’s SEC filing lists him as a “special adviser to President Donald J. Trump.” And the Renewable Fuels Association has confirmed that Icahn spoke as “a member of the administration” when he told them that the point of obligation would soon change, leading to their deal with Icahn supporting the change.

The Trump administration has repeatedly said that Icahn is merely a private citizen who receives no compensation as a public official. But that could make him an unregistered lobbyist, according to a complaint from watchdog group Public Citizen. The violation could trigger a $200,000 fine and a prison sentence up to five years, if the lobbyist “knowingly and corruptly” failed to comply. Icahn called the complaint “fake news.”

Or, by providing advice on regulatory matters, Icahn could be acting as a “special government employee,” even if he’s unpaid. That also could yield criminal violations, if he’s participating in issues where he has a conflict of interest.

Icahn’s stake in CVR has also gained $500 million in on-paper value since the election.

Top photo: Carl Icahn speaks at the World Business Forum in New York in 2007.

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Outrage Over Donald Trump Is Spurring Activism in Silicon Valley

17 March 2017 - 2:24pm

Aatif Awan, a vice president at LinkedIn, was rallying to action a few hundred people milling around a plaza in the center of Palo Alto, California, many in bright-blue shirts with a fist and the words “TECH STANDS UP.”

“Take your phones out of your pocket, and open your calendar app right now,” he commanded. “Now look at your schedule for tomorrow.”

Awan wanted employees to pledge in meetings with their immigrant colleagues “that you will stand up for them” and fight an executive order from the president restricting entry to the United States from several majority-Muslim nations.

After the ban went into effect, nearly 100 tech companies signed onto a legal brief opposing it.  But at the Palo Alto gathering, convened Tuesday to protest the Trump administration, tech workers called for more vociferous opposition.

“We want to show the higher-ups, the C-Suite, that employees are behind this movement,” said Javed Ali, a designer who has worked for several technology firms and is currently developing a plug-in that would provide “pre-made content” to battle with trolls spreading Islamophobic messages on social media.

Event organizers hoped outrage over Trump’s actions—one attendee called it “my woke-up-ness”—would stir to action highly-paid members of an industry that’s often ignored the concerns of the less fortunate.

“I’m here to get to the people who want to change the world, but who are beginning to get that that takes more than algorithms,” said Laura Impellizzeri, of Legal Aid At Work, an organization that provides free services largely to low-income workers for wage claims, discrimination, workplace safety and other issues. “I’m trying to take advantage of this moment to get money and raise awareness.”

Noel McKay, left, a program manager and Karen Latina, right, a biotech consultant, hold up signs during a Tech Stands Up rally on Pi Day, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, outside City Hall in Palo Alto, Calif.

Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

Brad Taylor, the event’s organizer, and a software engineer at the personalization engine Optimizely, said he was also encouraged by employee initiatives putting pressure on executives, such as a petition by IBM workers against their CEO’s overtures to the Trump administration.

“The people in this industry have so much power because we’re in demand,” Taylor said. “So let’s use that to support our janitors and our baristas and let’s demand that companies who put up slogans like diversity and inclusion put them to work.”

Fighting for the tech industry’s least privileged workers has in the past fallen to labor and community groups and to nonprofit coalitions like Silicon Valley Rising, who have helped to begin to organize the tech world’s service workers, an army of subcontracted labor tens of thousands strong. In recent months, security officers in hundreds of Silicon Valley sites have formed a union, as have cafeteria workers at Intel’s headquarters. Unions sent speakers to the “Tech Stands Up” rally, including Jacky Espinoza, a barista at Intel, who spoke of living in a cramped apartment with several relatives because they couldn’t afford housing in the area.

She called on companies “to protect all immigrant tech workers, not just the high-skilled immigrant tech workers.”

A demonstrator holds a sign during a Tech Stands Up rally on Pi Day, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, outside City Hall in Palo Alto, Calif.

Photo: Cora Currier/The Intercept

Maria Gonzalez, a janitor at Facebook, said she’d had the idea of tech companies declaring “sanctuary campuses,” following the movement by cities and universities to pledge not to cooperate with immigration authorities. A few hours after her speech, she said she hadn’t met any tech employees at the rally.

“No one has come and talked to me about it yet, but maybe I got them to think about it,” she said in Spanish.

Matt Schafer, a software engineer, is also a volunteer organizer with the Tech Workers Coalition, which began in 2015 as a way of  “breaking down divisions between service workers and white collar workers” in the sector, as he puts it. The coalition pushes initiatives such as FairHotel, urging conference-goers to stay at hotels that pay their staff good wages.

Ann Badillo, an executive coach, was “pumped” about helping to organize the event. “I made a living through Silicon Valley. And now I have the bandwidth and time and the pocketbook,” she said. “It’s like being at a start-up. We’ve got that real discipline to ship a product. That’s what we do.”

As the last remnants of the crowd began dispersing from the rally Tuesday — distracted, perhaps by unconscionably beautiful Palo Alto weather, or by Rachel Maddow’s tweet about Trump’s tax returns — Brad Talyor was still preaching.

“America has been around for 240 years,” he said, “and while that sounds like a long time, we are still just a start up.”

 

Top photo: Katherine Forrest, with the group Raging Grannies, holds up a torch during a Tech Stands Up rally on Pi Day, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, outside City Hall in Palo Alto, Calif.

The post Outrage Over Donald Trump Is Spurring Activism in Silicon Valley appeared first on The Intercept.

Palantir Enables Immigration Agents to Access Information From the CIA

17 March 2017 - 12:27pm

Dozens of pro-immigrant demonstrators took to the street last Saturday outside the San Francisco home of Trump adviser Peter Thiel to protest his firm Palantir Technologies’ involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Protesters carried signs reading “Make America Mexico Again” and “No Ban No Wall No Surveillance State.”

“The reason we’re here,” said one speaker, “is to call upon the people who are complicit in what Trump is trying to do.”

As The Intercept reported on March 2, Palantir is building a $41 million data platform called Investigative Case Management (ICM) that allows ICE agents, including those in the agency’s primary deportation force, the Enforcement and Removal Office, to query information across several large government databases simultaneously. Documents newly obtained by The Intercept state that Palantir software also permits ICE agents to access information from the Central Intelligence Agency.

ICM makes available to its users a separate ICE system, also built by Palantir, called FALCON. This system was created for ICE’s office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which is generally tasked with pursuing serious cross-border crimes like drug trafficking, child pornography, and terrorism, but has also been behind some of the most controversial deportation actions under Trump and Obama.

HSI agents can use FALCON, a customized version of Palantir’s Gotham software, to pull data from offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other sources that include information on foreign students, family relationships, employment information, immigration history, criminal records, and home and work addresses.

According to a set of FALCON funding documents from 2013 that were obtained by The Intercept, immigration officials can also use FALCON to access data held by agencies that possess highly classified intelligence, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center.

“Palantir enables ICE/HSI to secure information sharing with other law enforcement agencies in real-time to include Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Custom & Border Protection (CBP), the United States Coast Guard (USCG), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA),” a 2013 funding document states. “This will give ICE an open platform that will be interoperable and have the ability to cross use capabilities such as federated search, mapping and geospatial capability, unstructured search function, visual linking with these agencies and also have the capability to fully scale the solution to enable large entity exchange (e.g. petabytes of data) between our agencies.”

Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union, worries that this type of data sharing, even if justifiable in certain circumstances, could potentially be repurposed to support ICE’s daily immigration policing.

“It seems like there could be very reasonable purposes for which the CIA would exchange information with ICE,” said Stanley. “These kind of information exchanges are often initially based on particular, hair-raising scenarios, but then the routine tool is created and ends up being used for all kinds of everyday petty enforcement.”

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The funding documents were provided to The Intercept by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, and the records detail the government’s reasons for choosing to retain Palantir as the only vendor to support some primary functions of FALCON. The documents cover two types of FALCON data: One relating to international trade used to identify money laundering and tax evasion, and another containing information “relating to the investigation, arrest, booking, detention and removal of persons encountered during immigration and criminal law enforcement investigations and operations conducted by ICE.”

Much of the document is devoted to justifying FALCON’s heavy reliance on Thiel’s firm. “Palantir has stated that only Palantir is the authorized seller and distributor of its software products and provider of any required maintenance services for its software,” the document states. “Palantir has also not authorized any other vendor to provide training services on Palantir or FALCON.”

ICE provided a general response to a request for comment. FALCON is used by “ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the criminal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is responsible for investigating a wide range of domestic and international activities arising from the illegal movement of people and goods into, within and out of the United States,” an agency spokesperson wrote in an email. “In order to protect the integrity of our investigations, ICE generally does not discuss law enforcement tools and techniques.” ICE did not answer questions about what limitations govern its use of CIA data.

ICE has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the circumstances under which FALCON can be used by agents from the Enforcement and Removal Office. One of the 2013 documents state that “an individual or subset of users” could be restricted in which databases they access within FALCON, although it provides little elaboration. Palantir did not respond to a request for comment.

In response to a February Freedom of Information Act Request asking for internal rules or restrictions on FALCON’s use, ICE stated that no such documents had been found.

A slide from a 2014 Immigration and Customs Enforcement document outlining capabilities required by the agency’s proposed Investigative Case Management system.

ICE

One of the 2013 funding documents states that in addition to providing Homeland Security Investigations agents access to CIA data, FALCON also acts as a portal to data gathered under the now-defunct National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, the controversial George W. Bush-era system that required visa-holders from two-dozen predominately Muslim countries and North Korea to register with federal authorities. FALCON users can also access the Student Exchange Visitors Program, an ICE system that tracks foreign students, as well as the controversial ICEGangs database that critics allege can trigger deportations of immigrants based on tenuous evidence of gang affiliation.

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FALCON will eventually give agents access to more than four billion “individual data records,” according to the 2013 funding records, and gives its users the ability “to follow target telephone activity and GPS movement on a map in real time.”

The immigration agency emphasizes that an important aspect of FALCON is the ability — provided by Palantir’s trademark Gotham software — to allow agents to seamlessly search between multiple large databases at once. “The Gotham software upon which FALCON is based does not segregate data contained within individual data sets when searches are performed,” the document states. “Rather, if a user searches on a particular Person, Event, or Object, all records connected to that Person, Event, or Object which are accessible to FALCON are called up.”

The ICE documents underline Palantir’s singular role in underpinning these capabilities within FALCON, a system it says will become accessible to a growing user-base over time. ICE identifies continued access to Palantir’s software updates, for instance, as being critical to the success of FALCON.

“Without updates to the software, there is an increased risk that the FALCON system could stop working properly or could be made unstable or compromised by invasive software viruses or other malware,” the document states. “Use of Palantir Gotham and the FALCON system is intended to increase over the life of the order.”

Top photo:A man is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents early in 2015 in Los Angeles.

The post Palantir Enables Immigration Agents to Access Information From the CIA appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think Tank

16 March 2017 - 4:52pm

President Trump’s budget proposal, released on Thursday, echoes none of the populist, anti-establishment themes of candidate Trump’s campaign for higher office. Instead, it calls for a large increase in defense spending while reducing spending for a variety of popular domestic programs.

That’s not surprising considering where those ideas came from. Rather than bringing in new ideas from outside of the Beltway, many of its proposals are lifted straight from the recommendations of an elite ultra-conservative D.C. think tank: the Heritage Foundation.

Founded in 1973, Heritage has served as a sort of a watering hole for the Republican establishment, providing policy papers and staffers for GOP members of Congress and presidential administrations. Its 2015 annual report listed almost $100 million in revenues — drawn from conservative mega-donors and corporations — which it uses to facilitate the spread of its ideas across Washington, D.C.

And those ideas have found a home in the Trump administration, which leaned heavily on Heritage advice during the transition period. Many of the White House proposal’s ideas are identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC): Trump’s campaign performed well in Appalachia, but that didn’t prevent his budget from axing the ARC, which supports infrastructure projects such as highways and water and sewer lines in Eastern Kentucky and other parts of the region. Heritage’s blueprint recommended the cut, essentially saying that economic development in this region should not be the federal government’s problem: “If states and localities see the need for increased spending in these areas, they should be responsible for funding it.”
  • Killing Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): Since its establishment in 1965, the NEA has supported countless artistic and cultural projects across America. Despite perennial criticism of some of its activities, administrations of both parties have maintained its federal funding. The Trump budget calls for its elimination, echoing Heritage’s blueprint, which bemoans that “taxpayers should not be forced to pay for plays, paintings, pageants, and scholarly journals, regardless of the works’ attraction or merit.”
  • Ending Support for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC): The LSC provides support for legal assistance for indigent Americans. The White House budget offers no specific justification for ending it. But the Heritage blueprint says the LSC should be “abolished because it is not a duty of the federal government to provide defense in these types of cases. Many state and local governments already provide funding for indigent legal defense and are better equipped to address the needs of those in their communities who rely on these free services.” (State indigent defense funds are constantly underfunded and in danger of being unable to meet the demand.)
  • Terminating Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB): The White House proposes ending all federal funds for the CPB, which supports public programming like Sesame Street. The Heritage blueprint requests that change, offering market pablum as justification: “Many nonprofits manage to stay in business without receiving federal funding by being creative and reacting to market fluctuations. Public broadcasters should be no exception.”

Heritage is certainly pleased with the outcome — mostly. It put out a statement on Thursday praising the White House budget proposal.

“President Trump’s budget proposal marks a stark contrast from the reckless spending of the past administration. The proposed cuts to non-defense programs, together with executive actions to streamline federal agencies and cut waste, signal that this administration is serious about cutting the bloated Washington bureaucracy down to size,” it wrote. “Congress should work with the administration to bring greater accountability to government.”

There was just one part the think tank didn’t like — it complained that Trump’s call for an additional $54 billion in defense spending just isn’t big enough: “President Trump’s 2018 defense budget proposal represents a clear commitment to rebuilding the military and a desire to repeal damaging sequestration defense caps. However, this increase is insufficient to begin the much-needed re-building.”

Top photo: Copies of President Donald Trump’s overview of budget priorities for FY2018, titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” are put on display at the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and the Office of Management and Budget, on March 16, 2017, in Washington.

The post Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think Tank appeared first on The Intercept.

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