The Intercept

Top Trump Official John Kelly Ordered ICE to Portray Immigrants as Criminals to Justify Raids

16 October 2017 - 2:35pm

A directive to immigration officials across the country to try to portray undocumented immigrants swept up in mass raids as criminals came directly from then Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, The Intercept has learned.

Earlier this month, The Intercept published a cache of internal emails exchanged between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Texas in February, while the first mass raids of the Trump administration were underway.

The redacted emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by students at Vanderbilt University Law School, show that while hundreds of undocumented immigrants were rounded up across the country, DHS officials tried — and largely failed — to engineer a narrative that would substantiate the administration’s claims that the raids were motivated by public safety concerns. In the emails, local ICE officials are ordered to come up with “three egregious cases” of apprehended criminals to highlight to the media.

The February raids ­— the first in an ongoing series under this administration — led to 680 arrests nationwide, including arrests of dozens of individuals who had no criminal history. In Austin, Texas, where 51 people were arrested, the majority of those arrested had no criminal record.

But while dozens of undocumented immigrants were detained, the administration sought to shape the narrative that “by removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety,” according to statements by the agency.

On February 10, as the raids kicked off, an ICE executive in Washington sent a directive to the agency’s chiefs of staff around the country. “Please put together a white paper covering the three most egregious cases,” for each location, the acting chief of staff of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations wrote in the email. “If a location has only one egregious case — then include an extra egregious case from another city.”

As a reader of The Intercept pointed out, the email’s subject line — “Due Tonight for S1 – URGENT” — meant that the request had been made by the Secretary of Homeland Security himself, referred to as “S1” in department shorthand.

General John Kelly was at the helm of the department at the time, before he was appointed in July to replace Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff.

The White House and DHS did not respond to requests for comment. ICE issued a statement in response to The Intercept’s original story, but did not answer questions about what officials meant by “egregious cases” and why they felt the need to highlight such cases in the media.

In Texas at least, ICE officials struggled to fulfill Kelly’s request.

A day after the original email, an agent at ICE’s San Antonio office sent an internal email saying the team had come up short: “I have been pinged by HQ this morning indicating that we failed at this tasking.”

“As soon as you come in, your sole focus today will be compiling three egregious case write-ups,” an assistant field office director at the agency’s Austin Resident Office wrote to that team on February 12, noting that the national and San Antonio offices were growing impatient. “HQ and SNA will ping us in the afternoon for sure.”

Then the agent added that a team of officers had “just picked up a criminal a few minutes ago, so get with him for your first egregious case.”

Top photo: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly calls on a reporter during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Oct. 12, 2017.

The post Top Trump Official John Kelly Ordered ICE to Portray Immigrants as Criminals to Justify Raids appeared first on The Intercept.

Senate Democrats Claim a Top Banking Regulator Is Serving Illegally in His Position

16 October 2017 - 12:12pm

Six Senate Democrats have asked the Treasury Department’s inspector general to investigate whether Keith Noreika, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is illegally serving in office.

As The Intercept first reported, September 12 represented Noreika’s 130th day in control of the OCC, one of the most critical banking regulators in the federal government. That’s a key number, because Noreika, a former financial industry lawyer thrust into the position overnight, has been serving as a “special government employee,” a designation that exempts him from certain ethics and disclosure rules for members of the executive branch. This enables Noreika to serve as OCC chief without Senate vetting, and then roll back to a white-shoe law firm, evading certain restrictions on whether he can communicate with former colleagues or lobby the agency.

Noreika planned to serve temporarily until Joseph Otting, former CEO of OneWest Bank and Trump’s nominee for the OCC, was confirmed. But that hasn’t happened yet; Otting’s nomination has sat on the Senate calendar for over a month.

Special government employees are limited to 130 days of service over a 365-day period. The OCC contends that the number only refers to business days, meaning weekends can be taken off and Noreika still has until November to go. But “business days” appears nowhere in the statute.

Time sheets obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and provided to The Intercept suggest that the main regulator for nationally chartered banks has only worked one weekend day, on June 3, in his entire tenure. But special government employee designations are typically reserved for temporary members of advisory committees, not the head of a federal agency. Watchdog groups have argued that, if Noreika isn’t handing off power every weekend, he’s still on call and in charge of the agency, making any day of his service count.

In their letter, the senators agree. “Unlike most SGEs, Mr. Noreika serves as the head of a major agency and has obligations outside of normal business hours,” they write. “Treasury’s interpretation counting only business days toward his service limit is in violation of the law governing SGEs.”

The OCC also argues that as long as Noreika’s tenure wasn’t expected to exceed 130 days, he can continue to serve. CEPR also obtained emails with Treasury officials stating, “We do not expect [Noreika] to serve more than 130 days.” Again, the special government employee statute has been rather lightly enforced over its history, because it’s been used by temporary employees with limited power.

Despite having to recuse himself from matters involving 14 banks that the OCC oversees because of his prior work, Noreika has done plenty since being installed May 5. He’s attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arbitration rule (one he used while representing Wells Fargo), producing a study claiming it would raise the cost of credit.

And, earlier this month, he opened the door for big banks to return to offering a payday loan-style product, just an hour after CFPB issued a rule cracking down on payday loans. It was a remarkable counterattack on a fellow regulator, pulled off after the 130-day clock had expired.

So the Democratic senators, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., are asking whether Noreika should be able to continue in the job, in what is now his 164th day in office, by their calculations. According to the letter, Noreika has two options at OCC: “Become a permanent federal employee or step down from his position.”

The senators also argue that, because of Noreika’s status, the decision made by the Financial Stability Oversight Council to remove enhanced regulations from insurance company AIG may not have been proper. As OCC head, Noreika sits on the FSOC and cast the deciding vote to remove the “systemically important financial institution” label from AIG.

In the letter to Treasury Department Inspector General Eric Thorson, the senators want him to investigate whether Treasury is misapplying the special government employee rules to Noreika and has designs to use the designation again, such as for the upcoming vacancy of IRS commissioner, in the future. They also asked, “What key decisions has Mr. Noreika participated in since September 12, 2017?”

Other senators on the letter include Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Top photo: Keith Noreika, acting comptroller of the currency, listens during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 22, 2017.

The post Senate Democrats Claim a Top Banking Regulator Is Serving Illegally in His Position appeared first on The Intercept.

Envisioning an America Free From Police Violence and Control

15 October 2017 - 10:23am

Images from the mass protests in St. Louis last month against the acquittal of a white former police officer in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith felt like déjà vu: raised fists, Black Lives Matter signs, swarms of police armed in full riot gear. But this time, as police made arrests on the third night of protests, they began to chant “Whose streets, our streets” — a refrain that, stolen from the voices of protesters, mutated into an unsettling declaration of power, entitlement, and impunity.

So far this year, 773 people have been fatally shot by police, according to the Washington Post, while independent databases that include other causes of death by police report tolls above 900. In the three years since the flashpoint of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, pushes for reform have reverberated through all levels of government, most notably from former President Barack Obama’s policing task force. And yet, much like gun violence itself, police brutality in the United States remains stuck on repeat. A new book published last week goes beyond the rhetoric of reform to interrogate why we need police at all.

In “The End of Policing,” Alex S. Vitale argues that police reforms implemented in the wake of Brown’s death — from diversity initiatives to community policing to body cameras — fail to acknowledge that policing as an institution reinforces race and class inequalities by design.

“The suppression of workers and the tight surveillance and micromanagement of black and brown lives have always been at the center of policing,” writes Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College.

Author Alex S. Vitale.

Photo: Dave Sanders

Vitale calls for an ideological reframing of policing as an inherently punitive practice that criminalizes the most vulnerable and marginalized people in the U.S. in order to maintain the status quo for white elites. Instead, he writes, people should be given the programs and resources they need to solve problems within communities in ways that do not involve police, courts, or prisons — a path to materializing justice.

Starting with the “original police force,” the London Metropolitan Police, Vitale provides a succinct historical framework to understand how police in the U.S. were created to control poor and nonwhite people and communities. The modern war on drugs can be traced back to “political opportunism and managing ‘suspect populations’” in the 20th century. The increasingly intensified policing of the U.S.-Mexico border today stems from nativist sentiment and economic exploitation of migrant workers starting in the 1800s. Surveillance and suppression of political movements takes root in imperialist Europe, when ruling powers used secret police to infiltrate and eliminate the opposition.

“The End of Policing” maps how law enforcement has become an omnipresent specter in American society over the last four decades. Police are deployed to monitor and manage a sprawling range of issues: drugs, homelessness, mental health, immigration, school safety, sex work, youth violence, and political resistance. Across this spectrum, current liberal reforms are intertwined with upholding the legitimacy of police, courts, and incarceration as conduits to receive access to resources and care. Vitale’s approach goes beyond working within the carceral system to propose non-punitive alternatives that would eventually render policing obsolete. He convincingly argues that a combination of community-based programs, support services, regulation, economic investment, and political representation for poor communities of color can significantly shrink the impact of policing in exchange for justice and community empowerment.

In a time when the president of the United States openly supports and facilitates aggressive policing, and police officers continue to kill black Americans with impunity, “The End of Policing” is an essential primer to unpack the innate brutality of policing and begin to envision an America free from police violence and control.

The Intercept’s interview with Vitale has been condensed and edited for clarity.

There have been a host of reforms proposed in reaction to the shootings of black Americans by police in the last three years. How does your book address the shortcomings of these reforms?

The bad news is that at the national level, any hope of the federal government bringing about some kind of progressive reform has largely evaporated. The reforms that existed under the Obama administration were pretty limited in scope and their effectiveness is open to question. The good news is that the vast majority of decision-making about police reform happens at the local level, and local political pressure can really make a difference. But the bad news about that is that the kinds of reforms most people are advocating for I don’t think are going to make a substantial difference. Some improvements in training, policy, and accountability may lead to a reduction in deaths, but it won’t address the larger question of overpolicing.

What we’ve seen in the last 40 years is an explosive increase in the scope and intensity of policing. Everything from the war on drugs to the war on terror to the war on disorder is driving a set of police practices that are invasive and aggressive, and the deaths we see on the nightly news are the tip of an iceberg of policing experienced in poor communities, especially poor communities of color. There is very little empirical support for a lot of the reforms being proposed, like diversifying the police or community policing or implicit bias training. What really needs to be done is we need to dial back the explosive increase in the scope of policing, and quit using the police to solve every kind of social problem.

Your book was written before Donald Trump’s election. In what ways has your outlook on working toward non-punitive police reforms changed under the Trump administration?

It’s changed the political opportunities. Trump has attempted to close the door on rational, technocratic, liberal reforms to policing for this “Blue Lives Matter” approach that policing shouldn’t be the last resort, it should be the first resort, to address all kinds of problems in a world divided between good and bad people, and it’s the police who keep the two sides separated. This is a horribly inaccurate and counterproductive view of the world, both for him and for those who support this viewpoint in the law enforcement community. My hope is that in the absence of any kind of progress on a liberal reform agenda, people will be open to thinking about more systemic reforms.

You write about the origins of modern policing, in which you debunk the mythology constructed around police as protectors and crime fighters who keep the public safe. Can you talk a bit about the real reasons why policing exists?

We should understand policing as the most coercive form of state power … and the reason is that policing has historically and inherently been at the root of reproducing fundamental inequalities of race, class, and immigration status. Trump, the police, ICE — this is just a continuation of a history of exclusion and repression going back to the exclusion of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, Texas Rangers driving out Mexican landholders and indigenous populations to make room for white settlers, the transformation of slave patrols and urban slave management systems into what became Jim Crow policing in the South and ghetto policing in the North. Police have historical origins in relation to both the formation and disciplining of the industrial working class; early 19th century forms of policing in Europe and the United States shaped rural agricultural workers into urban industrial workers, and then suppressed their movements to form labor unions and win better living conditions.

The point of all this is to fundamentally question this liberal notion that police exist primarily as a tool for public safety and therefore, we should embrace their efforts uncritically, when in fact, there are lots of different ways to produce safety that don’t come with the baggage of colonialism, slavery, and the suppression of workers’ movements.

There’s a refrain throughout your book that the policing and incarceration of marginalized people is ultimately far more expensive than non-carceral alternatives. So why isn’t the government pursuing cost-saving measures that would also better people’s lives?

A lot of research about police practices is couched in terms of effectiveness — can we show some improvement in an outcome like recidivism or crime rates? But there’s very little attention to any notion of justice and the political context in which these decisions are made, the implications of these processes on the people subjected to them, or the alternative ways to achieve the same ends. So we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to cycle people through jails, courts, emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and their lives never get any better. And ultimately, the community is not significantly improved either. So if we did any kind of cost-benefit calculation that took this into consideration, we would do something different.

The problem is we’re caught up in an ideological battle, in which the politics of austerity and a neoconservative commitment to punitiveness as a response to social discord means that we don’t ever get a chance to assess a series of possible options to address community problems. Most people, if they really felt they had options, would say, well, we need some youth programs, supportive housing, community-based mental health care. If we could use the resources that are being spent on police, jails, prisons, and courts, there would be plenty of money to invest in those kinds of solutions, but at all levels of government, they’re just never on the table.

“The End of Policing” by Alex S. Vitale.

You write about how police are inherently political and have always functioned as an extension of state power around the world. In what instances has it been clear that American police are not neutral actors, but in fact, serve the political agenda of whoever is in office?

We continually discover evidence of police engaging in the surveillance and suppression of social movements, in which there’s no real allegation of criminality. From the suppression of Occupy Wall Street and the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline movement to the surveillance of Black Lives Matter, that’s becoming clearer. These have occurred under both [the Obama and Trump] administrations, but more importantly, they’ve occurred in mostly Democratic cities governed by Democratic mayors with democratically appointed police commissioners. What’s important to them is that politics be channeled into a very narrow conceptualization of liberal electoral politics, and anything that can’t be is fundamentally illegitimate, disruptive, and disorderly, and should be surveilled and, if necessary, suppressed. And the police have always been at the center of that process.

Many places around the world and some parts of the U.S. have decriminalized or legalized certain drugs or sex work. What are the challenges around attempting to legitimize these underground economies that are so heavily moralized against?

It’s very important politically for neoconservatives to define crime and disorder in moralistic terms because the alternative would be to acknowledge the role of markets and the state — that black markets are a product of a lack of economic opportunities. Instead, neoconservatives criminalize on moralistic terms so that drugs can’t be understood as a public health problem with origins that may be linked to the deindustrialization of rural America, the entrenched poverty of urban America, the pharmaceutical industry and flooding the market with cheap opioid pills. [Drug use] is framed in terms of “Just Say No” and punitive sanctions for those who don’t go along with it. So whether it’s prostitution, drug abuse, kids acting out in school, shoplifting — these are all framed in moral terms, which closes off the possibility of any kind of conversation about how to reduce the harms and the demand. I try to undermine those moralistic arguments and think about the people involved in these black markets as full human beings, whose well-being should be part of any calculation on how to address these issues and understand that the historic role of police in managing these problems has been primarily counterproductive.

You write about restorative justice as an example of non-punitive alternatives to policing. Can you talk about what this model looks like in schools, as well as in communities grappling with violence?

Restorative justice is a mechanism that’s designed to resolve social problems in non-punitive ways by trying to identify what the underlying forces are behind problematic behavior and, instead of using punishment and exclusion to respond to that behavior, drawing that person in and trying to figure out what can be done to both repair them and whatever harm their problematic behavior has produced.

The place where this has gotten the most traction has been in schools. These systems typically involve peer adjudication, where students work with students engaged in problematic behavior to try to identify the behaviors and causes of those behaviors, and then come up with some solutions. Often, the problem is coming from outside the school, something going on at home or in the community, but sometimes it’s coming from within the school, like bullying. We had a horrible stabbing here in New York City just recently, the first death of a student on campus in many years, and of course, the young person who did the stabbing said they were subjected to long-term, persistent bullying. And what’s going to be done about that? Possibly nothing. Instead, they’re putting metal detectors in the school. So that’s a kind of punitive approach. A restorative justice approach would have created avenues to address that bullying long before it escalated into a violent, deadly confrontation. The whole school community has to be involved — students, teachers, administrators. It requires rethinking how whole disciplinary systems are organized so that problems are identified early, and the goal is to resolve them, not to punish them.

In communities, one of the more interesting models is linked to a concept called justice reinvestment. We know there are neighborhoods where problematic behavior is highly concentrated, and local and state officials spend millions of dollars to police and incarcerate people. What if those communities kept some percentage of people who get arrested in the community and tried to develop strategies for resolving their problems, and in return, the community got the money that would have been spent incarcerating them? We could afford to begin to produce some supportive housing and community-based mental health systems, we could find summer jobs and after-school employment for young people. We could develop services not just for them, but for their parents. These things are cheaper than jails, prisons, and police, and they don’t come with all the collateral consequences of driving people through those punitive systems.

What is the relationship between police abolition and prison abolition?

I think of abolition as a process rather than an outcome. I don’t explicitly go around saying “abolish the police” or “abolish prisons.” Instead, I say that if we understand police and prisons as inherently coercive and punitive and stained with a history of reproducing inequality, those institutions should always be used as a last resort. Instead, we should identify, whenever possible, constructive, restorative, non-punitive solutions to our social problems. And, to the extent we can do that, we reduce our reliance on those deeply problematic institutions.

We need to quit beginning with the premise, Oh, I’ve got a problem, let’s get the police involved. No, I’ve got a problem, and I want to demand that government solve this problem in a way that is ethically and intellectually defensible and will actually produce benefits for the community and those who’ve been the target of punitive approaches.

Top photo: Demonstrators confront police while protesting the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley on Sept. 16, 2017, in St. Louis, Missouri.

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As Congress Weighs Debt Forgiveness for Flood Program, Some Want to See it Reformed

15 October 2017 - 8:00am

The Senate is expected to vote this week on $16 billion in debt forgiveness for the National Flood Insurance Program, continuing the bizarre bipartisan politics that have defined the beleaguered FEMA program. Meanwhile, Congress has less than two months to decide whether to reauthorize the NFIP, renewing calls for an overhaul of the program made especially urgent by the climate change-related increase in catastrophic storms.

The House approved the debt forgiveness in a 353-69 vote on Thursday. As The Intercept previously reported, the bill cancels two-thirds of the flood program’s debt while offering Puerto Rico a $5 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury—a baffling move considering the small island is already at least $74 billion in the red to a number of mostly foreign creditors who aren’t about to give up their investments without a fight.

The difference? Puerto Rico is effectively a colony of the United States. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) happens to help a lot of millionaires.

For that reason, the NFIP has historically been a rare spot of cross-aisle agreement, with loyalties divided more along geographic lines than partisan ones. Because homeowners living in floodplains are required to purchase flood insurance, the politicians who represent coastal constituencies tend to favor keeping rates low in order to keep them happy.

Yet the forgiveness—which came partially at the request of the White House—is still something of a surprise. Prior to a few weeks ago, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who’s gained a considerable following among progressives for her opposition to President Donald Trump, was the main advocate pushing for her colleagues in Congress to forgive the flood insurance debt in its entirety.

The House’s vote for forgiveness this week was opposed by several conservative groups, and every one of Thursday’s 69 “no” votes came from the GOP. “The administration’s request to treat a $16 billion bailout for the failing federal flood insurance program as an emergency is irresponsible,” Heritage Action vice president Dan Holler wrote in a statement last week, arguing that forgiveness should have been offset with spending and tax cuts.

Part of the vote can be explained by sheer urgency: For obvious reasons, the NFIP’s lifeline was tied to a broader relief package that would be politically dubious to refuse. Per the government’s most recent estimate, the NFIP is $24 billion in debt, a figure bound to increase as damage totals from this hurricane season become clearer in the coming weeks and months. Without some kind of forgiveness, the program would likely have exceeded its $30.4 billion borrowing limit and been unable to pay out claims as early as October 23, according to a recent estimation from FEMA of when funds would run dry.

What might be most baffling about the program’s popularity in Congress, though, is that—outside of Medicaid and Medicare—the NFIP happens to be the only socialized insurance program in the country. Created in 1968 to fill coverage gaps left by the private insurance market, the NFIP is subsidized by FEMA and administered by private insurance sellers around the country.

It’s not just for the rich and their beach houses, either. Palatial coastal mansions by no means represent either the majority of the policies the NFIP subsidizes or its losses. The average value of some 75 percent of Severe Repetitive Loss Properties—those that have flooded multiple times with high rebuilding costs, around 30,000 in all—is around $110,000, according to an analysis done by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The environmental group also found that just 0.6 percent of homes covered in the program account for over 10 percent of its claims. Around 1 percent of homes are responsible for around a quarter of claims.

The way flood insurance and associated programs are currently structured, middle- and working-class coastal residents simply don’t have many options other than to rebuild as-is. After Hurricane Sandy, many people abandoned their homes altogether when they were unable to afford legally required upgrades. Staten Island residents—sick of multiple rounds of rebuilding—embarked on an exhaustive campaign to get New York State to free up funds for relocation.

In the context of a near-total lack of planning for coastal adaptation, then, ire at the NFIP may be misplaced.

That said, the program carries flaws that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. In light of recent storms, Congress extended its five-year deadline to reauthorize the program from the end of September until December 8. Between now and then, many are hoping for a deep overhaul.

The main body that’s been arguing for reforms is an oddball coalition called SmarterSafer, which houses everyone from green groups like the NRDC to private insurance companies to free-market think tanks such as R Street, a spin-off of the Heartland Institute that—unlike its progenitor—doesn’t deny climate change.

SmarterSafer lobbyist and spokeswoman Jenn Fogel-Bublick told The Intercept that the group was also dismayed by the relief package, though it didn’t go as far as Heritage Action in opposing it. “We’re not saying [the debt] shouldn’t be forgiven, but that it shouldn’t be forgiven unless we’re making real reforms…we’re not even urging folks to vote no on the package,” she said shortly before last week’s vote in the House. “We understand that the first order of business has to be to get claims paid, to make sure people can rebuild.”

Among other reforms, the coalition hopes that any eventual re-authorization will include provisions for more accurate flood mapping and more private sector involvement in the flood insurance market, as well as a move away from subsidized rates and toward more “actuarily sound” policies, with some level means-tested relief for lower-income coastal homeowners.

For better and for worse, the 15-point plan offered by the White House after Harvey and Irma includes several of the coalition’s demands and was drawn largely from the re-authorization bill the House Financial Services Committee passed in April. Among the administration’s more admirable proposals is a prohibition on new policies for buildings constructed in floodplains after 2021.

Rob Moore, Senior Policy Analyst for the NRDC’s Water Program and the author of the NFIP analysis referenced above, suggests a more holistic approach to reform than simply revoking policies or making them reflect market rates. “We need to preserve affordability,” he told The Intercept, “but insurance doesn’t stop flooding from happening. We also have to back that affordability up with other kinds of assistance—to move out or relocate when living in a certain place becomes untenable.”

One clear takeaway from climate data is that plenty of NFIP-insured homes will be virtually uninhabitable in the not-too-distant future—if they aren’t already. “With sea level rise,” Moore explained, “everybody is not going to be able to live in the same place where they live today.”

While the Trump administration is unlikely to admit it, climate change is only making catastrophic, home-wrecking storms like Harvey, Irma and Maria more likely, increasing the severity of storms rather than their frequency. Referring to this year’s hurricane season as well as destructive wildfires out west, Moore said “these all look like things scientists told us to expect thanks to climate change.”

Those changes are also going to be expensive. Statistics collected by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) drive this point home. While the agency’s data doesn’t yet include figures from Harvey, Irma and Maria, it shows that weather events costing over $1 billion (adjusted for inflation) have spiked in the last decade. This year rivals only 2011 in terms of the sheer number of billion-dollar disasters experienced at this point in the year, with 15 such events happening within its first 9 months.

As temperatures rise, policymakers will face far bigger hurdles and line items in adapting to climate impacts than the NFIP’s budget—whether they admit the reality of warming or not.   

Top photo: An aerial view of an area that was reclaimed by a nearby mangrove during the passing of Hurricane Maria in Manati, Puerto Rico on Oct. 6, 2017.

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“Mais armas, menos pesquisas” — a profecia de Alexandre de Moraes está se cumprindo

15 October 2017 - 5:57am

Enquanto ministro da Justiça, o atual ministro do STF Alexandre de Moraes afirmou que o Brasil precisava de mais armas e menos pesquisas. A lógica absurda venceu. É exatamente o que acontece no país. A Bancada da Bala nunca esteve tão forte politicamente junto ao Executivo, obtendo vitórias expressivas no Congresso, enquanto a ciência brasileira nunca esteve tão desprestigiada.

Uma das primeiras medidas de Temer após o golpe foi fundir o Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação com o da Comunicação, o que resultou em menos funcionários e menos verbas para cuidar da ciência. Se antes a vida dos cientistas brasileiros já não era fácil, com o governo Temer se tornou trágica.

Houve um corte de 44% nas verbas destinadas à comunidade científica em 2017, levando diversos institutos de pesquisas ao colapso financeiro. Muitos tiveram que demitir funcionários, reduzir jornadas e correm o risco de serem fechados. A crise econômica jamais poderia ser desculpa para o sufocamento da ciência, já que produção de conhecimento gera riqueza e tem impacto direto no crescimento econômico, além de fortalecer a soberania nacional. Para os arquitetos da Ponte para o Futuro, o dinheiro destinado à ciência é visto como gasto, e não como um investimento no futuro do país.

Só neste ano, cientistas brasileiros saíram às ruas três vezes para protestar contra o corte de verbas. Cerca de mil pessoas tomaram o vão do MASP no último domingo. Helena Nader, pesquisadora da Unifesp e presidente de honra da Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência, falou para a Folha sobre a importância do investimento em ciência para o desenvolvimento do país:

“Não estamos brigando por aumento de salário; estamos brigando para ter recursos para trabalhar. Tentamos mostrar às pessoas que a ciência está em tudo, na descoberta e na exploração do pré-sal, nos aviões da Embraer, nas sementes da Embrapa, no combate à zika etc”

Pesquisadores marcham na Paulista contra cortes de Temer na ciência

(Alberto Rocha/Folhapress)

Uma carta assinada por 23 vencedores do Prêmio Nobel pedindo o fim dos cortes chegou à mesa de Temer, que até agora não se pronunciou e provavelmente não se pronunciará, já que sua grande preocupação no momento não é o colapso financeiro da ciência nacional, mas pressionar aliados para se safar da segunda denúncia da PGR. O grupo parlamentar que mais contribuiu para a rejeição da primeira denúncia foi a sempre leal bancada da bala, que contribuiu decisivamente com 167 votos para o engavetamento. Temer, claro, nunca economizou nos afagos à turminha. Sem consultar o Congresso, o presidente editou portarias e decretos que afrouxaram o controle de armas.  

Um projeto de lei de 2015 de Tadeu Filippelli (PMDB) — ex-assessor especial de Temer que foi preso por desviar dinheiro de obras da Copa — que altera o Estatuto do Desarmamento e autoriza o porte de arma de fogo para agentes de trânsito, foi aprovado com larga maioria na Câmara e no Senado. Agora, se o presidente ilegítimo legitimar a barbaridade, funcionários públicos que antes portavam apenas talões de multas passarão a trabalhar armados e com a responsabilidade adicional de combater o crime. Com a aprovação da alteração no estatuto, só no estado de São Paulo teremos mais de 3 mil armas na praça.

O diretor do sindicato dos Trabalhadores do Sistema Viário do Estado de São Paulo tentou dizer o óbvio: “Podemos estar atuando em algum cruzamento e acontece um assalto. A primeira coisa que a população vai fazer é recorrer ao agente de trânsito. Não é nossa função. Nós não somos polícia. Nós não somos policiais. O porte de arma para gente é extremamente complicado”.

Guardas de trânsito acumularão funções e sofrerão mais riscos durante o dia a dia, o que inevitavelmente fará seus salários aumentarem. Além disso, terão que passar por treinamentos para poderem portar armas. Parece que esse aumento de gastos será tolerado pelos mesmos que têm obsessão em cortá-los.

Quem também apostou na falácia de que mais armas nas ruas trarão mais segurança foi o PT, cuja bancada no Senado — com exceção de Lindbergh Farias  — engrossou os votos da bancada da bala.

Com o apoio maciço das bancadas co-irmãs que integram o chamado BBB (bala, boi e bíblia), outras iniciativas contra o estatuto têm grande potencial de sucesso. O deputado federal Afonso Hamm (PP-RS) —  recém-inocentado em inquérito por corrupção passiva, lavagem de dinheiro e formação de quadrilha — apresentou projeto de lei que libera a venda de armas para proprietários rurais com mais de 21 anos. Já o deputado Rogério Peninha Mendonça (PMDB-SC), autor de projetos como o que proíbe a tatuagem nos olhos e o que institui o Dia da Legítima Defesa, simplesmente propõe a anulação do Estatuto do Desarmamento.

Bancada da Bala posa para foto.


A preocupação com a segurança pública é plenamente justificada quando se tem uma das maiores taxas de homicídios do mundo, mas não é colocando mais armas em circulação que o problema se resolverá. É muita ingenuidade acreditar que criminosos irão se intimidar com cidadãos armados e recusar o bangue-bangue. Ou imaginar que guardas de trânsito atirando nas vias após um rápido treinamento trará segurança para as cidades. Um cidadão reagir a um assalto é sempre arriscado. Percebam que até este capitão da reserva considerou prudente não reagir, mesmo estando armado:

Recorte do jornal A Tribuna do dia 5 de julho de 1995.


A frase de Alexandre de Moraes, que soava apenas como mais um cacoete autoritário, hoje se mostra uma profecia. Enquanto a ciência brasileira está à míngua, homens financiados pela indústria de armas esbanjam mais poder do que nunca. A manifestação de 23 vencedores do Prêmio Nobel não vale um fio de cabelo do BBB. O Brasil dos sonhos de Moraes está a pleno vapor.

The post “Mais armas, menos pesquisas” — a profecia de Alexandre de Moraes está se cumprindo appeared first on The Intercept.

Ai Weiwei Explores the “Human Flow” of Refugees and Finds an America That Lost Its Conscience

14 October 2017 - 11:42am

“Do you think our asylum policy is broken? Do you really think that? That’s what you wrote,” the red-faced lawyer from Homeland Security shouted at me.

We were in immigration court at Federal Plaza in New York City. He was young and outraged that I had written those words in an op-ed and was now testifying as an expert witness on Afghanistan on behalf of an Afghan asylum seeker. Clearly I had a conflict of interest.

“Actually I think we have a pretty good asylum policy, but we are not implementing it,” I said.

The judge interrupted.

“With all due respect, what she thinks of our immigration policy is irrelevant to why we are here today which is to determine whether there is a 10% chance of persecution if he returns to Afghanistan. That’s it.” I was relieved, but the Homeland Security lawyer kept on — I was a paid immigration advocate, I was biased, I was not really an expert since I had no academic expertise. The judge didn’t seem impressed by any of these arguments to disqualify my testimony, which went on for two hours.

I left the tiny courtroom. In the halls mothers from Central America waited with young children tugging, leaning, falling, bored mostly. He’s lucky to be in New York, I thought. The judge was considered and fair. In Texas, the judge denied his asylum claim and sent him to prison in Alabama where he was left to his own devices for nearly two years.

“I thought this was a country that believes in human rights,” Samey, the Afghan interpreter, often said to me from his Alabama prison cell after describing the insulting encounters he had with Immigration and Customs Enforcers.

What to say? Sometimes? Depends?

One of Ai Weiwei’s new works stands in Washington Square Park and is part of a series of works entitled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” on October 10, 2017 in New York City.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images


As counterintuitive as it seems, a Chinese dissident with black and white goatee, puffy eyes, and a compulsive selfie habit, has come ashore Jonah-like to wake up Americans to the very question Samey posed, challenging us to see refugees in a different light. This week Ai Weiwei’s documentary, “Human Flow,” opens in theaters around the world. The film is extremely personal, a poetic pilgrimage spanning four continents tracing what it means to be uprooted, homeless, waiting, a refugee. At the same time, Ai is in New York City to launch his public art project “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.” It’s loud, provocative, epic in scale. And it’s everywhere. There are 300 sites in all 5 boroughs of New York. Fences, gilded cages, cages with secret passages, bars over windows that had none, meshed wire locking up bus stops, all giving the lie to the promise of the Statue of Liberty, “her name Mother of Exiles,” who cries with silent lips, “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Or at least that is what she used to cry.

“I love it here,” Ai tells me about the United States. He lived in New York in the 1980s and studied at Parsons School of Design for a bit, wandered the art scene, gardened, played blackjack, and after twelve years returned to China. “Unfortunately, the tolerance to accept refugees has dropped to less than half than [the] previous administration but it’s not the number. It’s how we look at ourselves. Do we still have the self-confidence to defend human rights to help somebody who is in a desperate situation? Do we think those values are important for society and human dignity?” He shakes his head slowly sideways and back. He speaks quietly. “We have become selfish, short-sighted and quite timid. It sends a very bad message to the world.”

We? Has he become an American citizen?

“No,” he says. “I’m Chinese. But I don’t feel I belong to any place.”

Both homeless — his friends and his mother tell him not to return to China — and a citizen of the world, Ai has been called the most powerful artist working today. He has an asteroid named after him. He himself says he’s become some sort of myth ever since the Chinese police arrested and disappeared him for 81 days in 2011. “I told the police: ‘Without you, I would never have become so noticeable as an artist,’” he said shortly after the authorities gave him back his passport in 2015. Today, his image is almost as ubiquitous as the Dalai Lama. And he’s helped make it so with his non-stop selfie posting on Instagram, and the monumental scale of his public shows, 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds filling the Tate Modern, 14,000 life jackets, bright orange, wrapped around the columns of Berlin’s 19th century music hall, hundreds of red-painted porcelain crabs spilling out of the fireplace of Blenheim Palace in England.

But it is his persecution at the hands of the Chinese, his stoicism, and his absurdist documenting of that persecution — a selfie of hospital patient Ai holding up a sack filled with the blood draining from his temple after he was punched by Chinese police, statue recreations of Ai seated, handcuffed, interrogated by two guards, Ai naked, showering, monitored by two guards — that has confirmed his iconic stature. Icon for the suffering and the politically engaged advocates and curators around him, icon even for the critics who say he is an attention-seeking and self-promoting icon of the grand con. In a secular world, icons embody the possibility of the impossible, they hold a mystical promise to transform the way people think. Can Ai Weiwei deliver?  Or is he just the messenger?

A screenshot from Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow.”

Amazon Studios


I want the right of life, of the leopard at the spring,

of the seed splitting open

I want the right of the first man

–Nazim Hikmet, Turkish poet

The words appear over the sea at dawn as “Human Flow” begins. A lighthouse comes into view, a boat with mountains silhouetting the horizon, a lone helicopter flies in the distance, the tones are purple, gray, the pace calm. A motor boat resolves, people in life jackets waving, tires thrown into the sea, children lifted ashore. And there’s Ai with his camera. He’s an odd, jarring image at first in this film. Why the Chinese dissident?

Now we’re in the desert. Tents as far as we can see. Dust. Iraq hosts 277,000 refugees fleeing Syria. We read that following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, 268,000 people have been killed in violent conflicts in Iraq. More than 4 million Iraqis have been forcibly displaced from their homes. A girl appears in the entryway to her tent. We travel with the camera through streets of Dresden-like devastation in Syria. The refugees in the desert camp stand for portraits in a tent. A young woman in a red blouse and plaid long skirt. The camera doesn’t move. And in the long lingering shots, the close-up faces of refugees or police or rescue and aid workers, the sea, trainers washing their horses in the sea, a boy pushing a cart with jerry cans through a red dust storm, girls pounding dough on rocks in the mud, landscapes of beauty and destruction in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, Germany, France, Palestine and Kenya, our imagination is left to wander, or to relive moments from our own or our family’s history.

Ai’s film crystallizes many encounters I and so many have had in the conflicts of the past two decades. I remember an Iraqi cardiologist in Baghdad who I met shortly after the Americans announced the de-Baathification of Iraqi society. I followed him as he discarded his secular Baathist attitudes and clothes. Off went the suit, on came his dishdasha — the white robe with loose-fitting bottoms, a sign of piety. He attended prayer meetings. And then left for Syria to raise money and plan for insurrection with Baathists and Islamists.

America didn’t foresee the consequences of throwing 250,000 armed young Iraqi men, and 50,000 Iraqi civil servants, to the desert winds and to anyone with a good idea for revenge. We see the consequences here with flashlights on the shores of Lesbos. There’s a fire. We hear clapping, cheering. Children grabbed, wrapped in blankets. Refugees on cellphones. They made it. Another refugee in Turkey, holds 17 ID cards. He’s in a field of mud graves. He shows a photo, “This is my brother. He’s gone completely mad.” His wife, his son, his daughter are all buried. The other son drowned at sea. “They appear in my dreams at night.” He pounds his head with his fingers as the rain falls on his face.

A subtitle appears over the sea: “In 2015 and 2016 more than a million refugees arrived in Greece. Most of them came from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.”

Screenshot from Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow.”

Amazon Studios


Last year I received files in folders, organized with Excel by a teacher from Denver who was connected to a carpenter from Colorado and lawyers from around the U.S., all of whom were volunteering their time in Greece. By accident, they found Iraqis and Afghans in the camps in Greece who had worked for the U.S. military and had fled from their homes in fear for their lives. Many of the Afghans had a summons to appear in a Taliban court, charged with the crime of aiding the infidel.

There were hundreds. We know the stories. Some are still wandering. Some went back voluntarily or were deported. One I know, a musician with a TV company, who risked the Mediterranean journey with his wife and small children because he couldn’t take the war in Kabul any more, lost his two children in the sea and lost his mind there too. In “Human Flow” we see these men and women with backpacks, anoraks, sneakers, children, boarding the gargantuan ferries that normally transport cars and tourists to Greek islands.

“I am, thank god, strong-willed and determined,” says a young man with his son in his arms on the prow of the boat. “We are out at sea. We will reach a country that will help us and we will return the favor.”

Maybe. Or maybe he will be one in the tide along a ribbon of road through green rolling hills, cultivated fields and copses of trees, trekking on aching feet, holding children by the hand, in their arms, on their backs, into the woods, some sitting on the verge, then a rushing river, wading, tripping, losing shoes, only to arrive at a fence of barbed wire. The refugees, the film tells us, traveled on from Lesbos, hoping to find asylum in Germany, Sweden, and other European countries. (Noticeably omitted from the list is the United States.) By 2015 European countries started closing their borders, stranding tens of thousands in Greece.

We are at the Hungarian border. The cinematography is exquisite. Tanks roll over the wide European landscape, so familiar from World War II movies. The fence stretches for miles. Two police mounted on horses trot by. The press pool waits in the middle of the road. There are dozens of cameras.

A military officer asks a policeman: When did you last see your family?

–Last week

And when will you travel home?

–In five days.

I hope you have an incident free shift, says the commander in blue, and he salutes.

Amidst echoes of the Cold War landscape, we read that when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, 11 countries around the world had border fences and walls. By 2016, 70 countries have built border fences and walls. Every day, 34,000 people around the world flee their homes to escape famine, poverty, and war. Sixty five million people are displaced, a record.

Ai Weiwei, in “Human Flow,” speaks with a refugee who has been wandering for sixty days.

Amazon Studios


In 2016 the European Union and Turkey struck an agreement to stop the flow. The EU could return refugees to Turkey in exchange for promising 6 billion Euros in aid and visa-free travel to Europe. Afghanistan also struck a deal. Give us money and you can send back the refugees.

We watch police firing tear gas. Children rubbing their eyes, crying. In the dark we hear a man soothing his brother. “I don’t want to see you cry. If you want to go back to Turkey we’ll go back to Turkey tomorrow morning. If you want to go to Germany, we’ll go tomorrow. Are you not my older brother? I’ll follow you wherever you go, even to tell.” His brother can only wail.

We see the back of a woman in jeans and black coat seated at a wooden table inside a tent. She’s been roaming aimlessly for sixty days with her son. “Nobody has shown us the way. If I want to apply for asylum, how exactly? Where am I supposed to start my life? How many more days can I live like this?” She waves her hands away. It’s okay, Ai says, and gives her a bucket. She vomits.

We’re in the eye of a drone spinning over rows of white containers in the dust, descending over children running away from it. Turkey.

While Europe struggles to cope with 1.2 million refugees, the U.S. agrees to accept just 45,000 — the lowest since the Refugee Act was signed in 1980. The majority of the world’s 65 million refugees are in already strained economies; 3 million in Turkey, 2 million in tiny Lebanon, 1.3 million in tiny Jordan, millions in Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, Pakistan.

A screenshot from Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow.”

Amazon Studios


The juxtapositions in “Human Flow” signify with no need for interpretation. Particularly as Ai cuts from the humans to their animals. The most arresting is in Gaza, a spit of land where 1.8 million Palestinians live like prisoners. We see Ai Weiwei and his crew interview ten young women who’ve come from school to the beach, just for a tiny escape. They are still in Gaza. They dream of a cruise ship, traveling the world. They know it’s impossible. And then we cut to a tiger circling in a mud enclosure below. He was smuggled or escaped through the tunnels from Egypt, says a man’s voice. “Animals feel like humans. They can feel disasters. Tigers hear much better than us, the bombs around them. To keep an animal where it is not able to touch the grass, I don’t believe this is correct.”

The Palestinian man is from Four Paws. We see a montage of him and co-workers hauling a massive green container into a steel cage on the back of a truck at night. “We have to work with Jordan, with the South African authorities, with Israel and the Palestinian authorities,” he says. “It needs import export permit, a veterinary certificate, custom advisory, military approval. No one said no to help this animal have a better life.”

The next day, Laziz the tiger would be transported to an airport in Israel, flown to Johannesburg and released.

“I call it his trip for freedom.”

A screenshot from Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow.”

Amazon Studios


Ai appears throughout his odyssey, often looking out of place, like he doesn’t know what to do with himself. “There’s nothing to do in the camps. I have nothing to do,” he says. Except break up the tedium. Getting his hair cut, buying fruit off a truck, filming with his iPhone. Or just performing the role he has cast himself in — the witness wandering across four continents, waiting, like the refugees, for he knows not what. For divine intervention. For Godot. For something to happen. For nothing to happen. For darkness.

“Witnessing,” he says when I ask him why he says his favorite word is “act.” He goes on. “To pay attention, to gaze your vision to something probably is one of the most important acts humans can have. In the modern media we don’t give time. We can change channels or move the images with our finger. Or talk about one subject and jump. Not pay attention. Our attention span is so short. It’s the same as our emotional capacity. We cannot stay in anything for too long. We are like animals. We react to the reality and maybe we have become a new human being incapable of caring anymore.”

Do you really think so? I ask.

“I think so,” he says.

“When the refugees come to Europe there’s so little hope being offered by the society. I just couldn’t believe it. Not to help and find the excuse not to help is beyond belief.”

We know we’re in dark times but here I have to part ways with Ai. Away from the very loud, xenophobic backlash against refugees has been an extraordinary hospitality from ordinary citizens, mayors, families in Greece, Germany, England and elsewhere. Small towns like Altena took in refugees, citizens volunteered to have them in their homes and teach English. Mayor George Ferguson in Bristol, England called on his citizens to take refugees into their homes. The mayor of Athens has started to work with Airbnb on a project called Open Homes, where people sign up to offer temporary housing for asylum seekers.

There is a crisis and moral failure, as journalist Patrick Kingsley so eloquently argues in his book “The New Odyssey.” “But it’s one caused largely by our response to the refugees, rather than by the refugees themselves,” he writes. And by our response, he means the policy-makers. They attacked Libyan smugglers hoping to stave off the flow, they ended rescue operations in the Mediterranean to stave the flow. In 2016, more than 5,000 refugees drowned trying to cross the sea. They reinstated the rescue operations. Kingsley again: “With each desperate scheme, politicians repeatedly ignored the reality of the situation.” No matter what the refugees will keep coming. “Had they created an organized system of mass resettlement from the Middle East in 2014 and 2015, and had this kind of scheme got going fast enough, and on a large enough scale, Europe might have been able to curb the most chaotic aspects of the crisis.”

A screenshot from Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow.”

Amazon Studios


So where does Ai Weiwei’s act of witnessing leave us, the audience, particularly here in the United States? Are we witnesses or are we incapable of caring anymore? Are we spectators to refugee porn or a call to arms? And if it’s a call to arms, what can we do in the face of an administration that has dropped the number of refugees we will welcome to just 45,000. We took 800,000 refugees after the Vietnam war. Even under Barack Obama we promised to take just 10,000 Syrians. And though they will be the most vetted foreigners entering this country under any circumstances, 31 governors said they’d veto attempts to house Syrians in their states.

U.S. policies towards refugees has fluctuated wildly since the 1924 Immigration Act that set limits by national origin. The numbers have reflected the politics of the day. Today we are governed by fear. So while Germany accepts 1 million refugees, the United States, arguably responsible for wars that have led to these mass exoduses, is ducking for cover. It doesn’t have to be that way. We have the capacity and the willingness on local levels to process and take in hundreds of thousands of people.

Ai has delivered his message. It’s all he can do. On a national scale, nothing will change for now. But across the country in Georgia, Connecticut, Nebraska, New York, California, friends of refugees, lonely communities, mayors are taking cues from our northern neighbor and trying to follow the refugee sponsorship program of Canada. Churches from Brooklyn to Charlotte post signs in their windows and on their announcement boards saying Refugees Welcome Here. Gone is the fear-mongering rhetoric of identity and national security. “If you’re a mayor, three thousand refugees in a town of three million doesn’t threaten your identity or your security because they are far better screened than tens of millions of other visitors,” says Gregory Maniatis, director of Open Society Foundation’s International Migration Initiative. At the Conference of U.S. Mayors, he says, “They speak of practical day to day challenges” — schooling, jobs, transportation, housing, doctors — “as opposed to the abstractions: Are they going to blow us up or change who we are?”

Emanuel Ransom was the first African-American mayor in Clarkston, Georgia, a town of 15,000 that has welcomed more than 1,000 refugees a year for the past two decades. Ransom used to see the Ku Klux Klan marching past his house in the sixties. Yet he first got involved in city politics because he was worried about the refugees, he didn’t think they had a place in Clarkston. Then he became mayor. He got to know the Burmese and Bhutanese and Syrians and Afghans and Tibetans, 80% of whom were employed and paying taxes. Asked in a documentary a few years ago how he felt about his past view of the refugees, he said, “Like an ass actually. Because I knew better.”


Top photo: Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei stands in one of his new art installations in Central Park, part of a series of works entitled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” on October 10, 2017 in New York City.

The post Ai Weiwei Explores the “Human Flow” of Refugees and Finds an America That Lost Its Conscience appeared first on The Intercept.

Left-Wing Drexel Professor Who Opposes Free Speech Has His Curtailed

14 October 2017 - 9:20am

George Ciccariello-Maher, a Drexel University associate professor of politics and global studies, is no fan of free speech.

He uses his Twitter account to rail against the American Civil Liberties Union and defends speech rights even for the most noxious of speakers. He has called for other individuals to be fired from their jobs for offensive speech. And he has blocked critics on Twitter — such as this reporter — who say his approach goes too far. (The blocking, in fact, is mutual.)

Ciccariello-Maher is explicit. “We don’t have to stand up for the free speech of eugenicists, racists, and bigots to speak and certainly not  the privilege to have access to a platform on campus to spout their kind of hatred,” he said about his campaign to stop Charles Murray from speaking at a nearby campus, during a conversation on free speech on the It’s Going Down Podcast in May.

The ACLU has long argued that it defends even the most odious speech because once some speech is curtailed, it isn’t long before it creeps your way. The truth of that axiom came at Ciccariello-Maher fast.

Ciccariello-Maher’s Twitter feed is a long litany of provocative statements — ranging from admitting he wanted to “vomit” when a student offered a seat to a soldier to his recent claims that gun control was irrelevant to the Las Vegas shooting because it was in fact the result of “white supremacist patriarchy.”

He doesn’t even particularly mind people assaulting white nationalist activists like Richard Spencer. He has also called for police officers to be killed, encouraged people to riot, and endorsed vigilante mass murder.

These social media missives are often highlighted in right-wing media, which sets off a stream of abuse and invective toward Ciccariello-Maher.

Through all of this, his university has not tangibly sanctioned him in any way, but has condemned his comments — which itself is a soft restriction on speech anathema to the academic tradition. Last December, after he tweeted that “when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed,” Drexel put out a brief statement distancing itself from him: “While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University.”

This month, the school went further, placing Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave. On Tuesday, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post denouncing the move:

By bowing to pressure from racist internet trolls, Drexel has sent the wrong signal: That you can control a university’s curriculum with anonymous threats of violence. Such cowardice notwithstanding, I am prepared to take all necessary legal action to protect my academic freedom, tenure rights and most importantly, the rights of my students to learn in a safe environment where threats don’t hold sway over intellectual debate.

The Intercept asked Drexel why specifically it chose to put the professor on administrative leave. Niki Gianakaris, the university’s executive director of media relations, told us that it was for “his safety and the safety of Drexel’s community”:

The safety of Drexel’s students, faculty, professional staff and police officers are of paramount concern to Drexel. Due to a growing number of threats directed at Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, and increased concerns about both his safety and the safety of Drexel’s community, after careful consideration the University has decided to place Professor Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave. We believe this is a necessary step to ensure the safety of our campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free speech nonprofit based in Philadelphia, has been monitoring Ciccariello-Maher’s case for months.

Adam Steinbaugh, a senior program officer and investigative reporter at FIRE, pointed to Drexel’s internal review of Ciccariello-Maher’s public musings and offered some skepticism toward their justification.

“Skepticism is certainly warranted here. Drexel claimed publicly that Ciccariello-Maher specifically, and faculty in general, enjoy freedom to express their thoughts and beliefs. In private, Drexel launched an investigation into the propriety of his views — an investigation that has apparently remained open since February,” he noted.

“If Drexel wants to be credible as an institution that protects academic freedom, then it must be transparent,” he continued. “Vague invocations of safety and references to ‘growing threats’ are not enough. While it shouldn’t be required to publicize details that might risk an active investigation, it should explain the nature of the threats, the steps it has taken to mitigate the risk (short of exiling a professor), and what — if any — law enforcement agencies it has involved.”

Steinbaugh also worried that silencing a professor is more or less giving into the threats.

“That a lot of people are angry is a poor basis to silence a speaker,” he said. “When threats are made with the goal of silencing a speaker, taking institutional action against the speaker will demonstrate that threats will accomplish their goal. ”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ciccariello-Maher did not respond to a request for comment from this reporter. An editor at The Intercept reached out to him for comment. He asked who would be writing the story, and when he learned the answer, he didn’t reply further.

Top photo: This video still frame shows Drexel University associate professor George Ciccariello-Maher giving a lecture at Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University.

The post Left-Wing Drexel Professor Who Opposes Free Speech Has His Curtailed appeared first on The Intercept.

The Speculative Civil War Novel Comes Home

14 October 2017 - 8:47am

Heavily armed fascists openly organize on the streets of a former Confederate stronghold. Car attacks on protesters are normalized on social media. Berkeley increasingly resembles a battleground. Alex Jones bellows that the latest mass shooting is the beginning of a leftist revolution. It feels like the next Fort Sumter will be livestreamed imminently. As the future-Civil War novel seems to spring to life before our eyes, two recent entries have taken the speculative fiction subgenre mainstream.

Christopher Brown’s “Tropic of Kansas” (Harper Voyager) and Omar El Akkad’s “American War” (Knopf), are polished, ambitious debut novels released by major publishing houses. Both written before November 8, the authors’ attempts to imagine future consequences to then-present political realities have been made less and less speculative by the rolling disaster we live in. While popular stand-ins for political anxiety in recent years have included vampires, zombies, and all-round secular apocalypses, the Second American Civil War seems inescapably terrifying in its specificity. This is not a metaphor capable of being misread.

Until recently, novels on secession have tended to be explicitly racist fever dreams, or slightly more dog-whistley self-published affairs, pushing narratives of heroic violence around right-wing obsessions, such as race war, the abolishment of the Second Amendment, or states’ rights. Propaganda disguised as entertainment, these novels reveled in the collapse of the Union while trying to normalize the idea of secession. Brown and El Akkad, on the other hand, reject the vision of a fractured United States as a tabula rasa for true, right-wing American values. Instead, they emphasize the human and societal costs of asymmetrical warfare, as well as the difficulties of rebuilding.

“Tropic of Kansas” by Christopher Brown.

“Tropic of Kansas” takes place in a United States, in which “whole counties depopulated by disappearing futures” have tried, with limited success, to institute “autonomy and local control of land and law.” A federal recolonization, equally unsuccessful, has left pockets of quasi-autonomous territories contested by various for-profit revolutionaries; feral, unofficially deputized militias; and the occasional U.S. government incursion. The result is the titular space — it’s not “a specific place you could draw on a map, and Kansas wasn’t really even a part of it” — where violence is endemic. Militias confiscate guns. An insurgent is hung from a bridge, “naked and carved with a warning that looked like a corporate logo.” It is into this zone that Sig, a young man orphaned by the militarized police state, is deported by self-amused Mounties.

Like Jason Statham raised by wolves, Sig is a mashup of action hero and dharma bum. He instinctively finds the nearest cover no matter the terrain, the weakest spot no matter the enemy. Shorn of anything like an ideology, he wants only to keep moving, to stay just ahead of federal predictive analytics and unceasing domestic drone patrols. Living rough off the post-industrial, climate-blighted land has instilled an inner poise which enables him to produce such koans as, “There is no such thing as an empty lot,” and “… every place was another country once.” Brown, a lawyer and Texan with an interest in conservation in the Anthropocene, intends Sig to be a re-wilding of the American.

As Sig becomes integral to the disparate anti-federal movement, we also follow his de facto foster sister Tania, a government lawyer turned reluctant informer, as she tracks Sig from Minnesota to New Orleans. Tania has been volunteered for this task after internment for yelling abuse at the president, a third-term authoritarian who has turned the East Coast into his own private bunker of the soul after barely surviving an assassination attempt that left the White House a half-charred ruin. “His scars are America’s scars” goes the propaganda.

The disparities between Brown’s timeline — written under the supposed security of the Obama administration — and our own are telling. Although the president still holds rallies and routinely goes “live without a script, talking with seeming authenticity about his plans for change,” he is less huckster-fascist and more like a highly intelligent acceleration of George W. Bush (Flight suit references: check). At times, his administration’s sheer competence is unintentionally amusing, given our ongoing political sketch-comedy hellscape. “People in the opposition claimed the President had personal profit interests in many of his policies, but they could never find hard proof,” one line goes, coming across now as gut-clenchingly naive. Perhaps most unsettling, Brown’s divided America has been reverse-engineered via alternate history. The fracture in history goes at least as far back as a (failed) Iranian hostage crisis and features such highlights as “the Gipper,” and, umm, President Al Haig.

“American War” by Omar El Akkad.

“American War,” similarly composed before Trump’s America was imminent, sees the Second American Civil War kick off in 2074 over the South’s refusal to adhere to the Sustainable Future Act, which outlaws the use of fossil fuels. Following the molding of Southern resistance fighter Sarat Chestnut, “American War” reads less Cassandra than “Tropic.” Instead, El Akkad recreates in the U.S. the societal fracturing it has inaugurated in the Middle East. Children are radicalized by the loss of home, refugee internment, and massacre. (An extensively researched section featuring “enhanced interrogation methods” is extraordinarily painful to read.) This is not done for any kind of authorial pleasure, but rather to show how asymmetrical conflicts can create feedback loops of violence where ideology basically ceases to matter. To hear an American muse, “What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?” is deeply jarring; take away our political naiveté, our self-assured exceptionalism, and our national character looks bare.

Both Brown and El Akkad’s visions now seem possible within our lifetimes, needing neither an alternate reality nor another 60-odd years to become reality. While the reactionary old, white dudes who wrote the secessionist literature of late 20th century believed that their fantasies were also imminent, they seemed deeply insane to the political center. The great-grandpappy of these novels is William Luther Pierce’s novel “The Turner Diaries,” written under the nom de plume Andrew Macdonald. The book features a white supremacist terrorist organization seizing a large chunk of California, which it racially cleanses before nuking D.C. Pierce, a former aide to George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi Party, founded the National Alliance, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has referred to as “explicitly genocidal in its ideology.” His novel aided in the radicalization of and provided an insurgency how-to guide for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. It would also partially inspire the Order, a white-power domestic terrorist organization that aims to transform the Pacific Northwest into a separate white nation.

Take away our political naiveté, our self-assured exceptionalism, and our national character looks bare.

Bizarrely, Ernest Callenbach’s comparatively soothing “Ecotopia,” which takes the form of a travelogue in a post-hippie, almost-paradise in the Northwest, first appeared in 1975, just before the initial serialization of “The Turner Diaries” in the National Alliance journal, Attack! According to political scientist Michael Barkun, there is no evidence that Pierce was inspired by Callenbach, despite the novels’ similarities — including secessionists accessing nuclear weapons — and the authors’ relationships to Oregon. There has long been a strong secessionist strain running through Cascadia, the bioregion running along the Pacific coast from just above San Francisco to Prince William Sound, Alaska. (Adam Rothstein’s “Cascadian Drone Ballads: An Introduction” is an excellent contemporary sci-fi story on Cascadian secession.)

That the literary world and entertainment industry — especially in the form of HBO’s upcoming “Confederate” — has seized upon secession as a relevant topic shows how far this particular Overton window has shifted. One can only imagine the bumper crop of near-future American political thrillers next year. However, secession in America has often been the tactic of reactionaries, from Jefferson Davis to the Order, and bringing it into the mainstream may have serious negative effects down the road. The Neo-Reactionary movement — think the theory bro version of the “alt-right” — sees an endgame in “Patchwork,” which was dreamed up by Mencius Moldbug, the pen name Curtis Yarvin, who reportedly watched election results at the home of sometime Donald Trump adviser Peter Thiel. “Patchwork” consists of a neo-feudal “global spiderweb of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of sovereign and independent mini-countries, each governed by its own joint-stock corporation without regard to the residents’ opinions.”

In the wake of Charlottesville, noted ethno-nationalist branding manager Richard B. Spencer repeatedly tweeted that the fault for the violence lay with local authorities. This is not just an abdication of responsibility for helping to create the situation that led to the death of Heather Heyer and the brutal assault on DeAndre Harris, among others, but an attempt to leverage it to discredit existing government institutions. While secessionist movements have emerged from the entire spectrum of radical American politics — including the Republic of New Afrika and the Second Vermont Republic — it is worth remembering, as the Trump administration lays its parasitical eggs in the intestines of the federal government, who has the most riding right now on secession: the white dudes who already have the long guns.

Top photo: Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists scuffled with counter-demonstrators near Emancipation Park in downtown Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017.

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Freedom Caucus Chair Warns Congress Not To “Bail Out” Puerto Rico

13 October 2017 - 9:14pm

Nestled in the $36.5 billion disaster relief package the House of Representatives approved Thursday is $5 billion specifically for Puerto Rico to maintain basic government function after being devastated by two hurricanes, as economic activity on the island has come to a near standstill, and tax revenue collection is close to nonexistent.

That the aid has come in the form of a loan rather than a grant has been galling to defenders of Puerto Rico. But House Republicans argue it would be unfair to just “bail out” the island, including House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows who said that a grant Puerto Rico would be unfair to states that have been “fiscally responsible.”

“It’s somebody’s money,” Meadows told The Intercept after a House vote on the aid package this week. “It’s different if you could just print money and it didn’t come out of my pocket or your pocket. It comes out of the American taxpayer’s pocket…for them to suggest that it’s fair, for someone in another state to put forth money that is not just directed at relief, to bail out a government, whether it be Puerto Rico or Illinois or some other state, is not fair for a state that’s been fiscally responsible and with their taxpayers, versus one that hasn’t.”

Setting aside how appropriate the metaphor of a bailout is when Puerto Rico is still literally bailing itself out from catastrophic flooding, comparing Puerto Rico to a state has its own level of unfairness to it.

Puerto Rico is not a state, even though it is controlled by the United States and its residents are American citizens. The island’s financial troubles — the ones Meadows and others in Congress use to make the case for holding back aid — stem from an act of Congress itself. In 1996, Congress began phasing out Section 936, a tax break that lured manufacturers to the island. With no clout in Congress, Puerto Rican politicians were powerless to protect it. And, indeed, some on the island hoped that phasing out the tax break would bring the island closer to statehood.

That hasn’t happened, but the predicted financial devastation did arrive, leading to surging unemployment, stagnation and the fiscal crisis the island faced ahead of the storms.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló originally requested over $4 billion in a letter to congressional leaders over the weekend, saying that in addition to its “immediate humanitarian crisis” the island is “on the brink of a massive liquidity crisis that will intensify in the immediate future.”

When asked why Puerto Ricans should have to repay part of their disaster relief funding, Meadows responded that a grant would never get paid back and though it’s likely a loan won’t get paid back either, a loan is what’s appropriate for a government already overburdened with debt.  

“A grant would just be money that would never get repaid,” Meadows said. “I don’t know that a loan will get repaid based on their financial conditions…and so that should be a loan because you’ve got a government that’s overburdened with debt already and so it was a temporary relief measure to make sure that they can make payroll for their government employees.”

Republicans recognize that Puerto Rico isn’t in a position to pay back debt but maintain that it’s the island’s responsibility to handle their debt. “We need to make sure Puerto Rico can stand on its own two feet,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters.

“When you get yourself in debt you’ve got to find yourself a way to get out of it,” Republican Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said. “But hurricane relief is a different story. We owe them help…I think there’s a lot more good in this bill than bad. Having said that, I share some concerns when someone gets themselves in debt, I don’t like putting that debt on someone else so I think there’s some legitimate concerns there.”

Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona called the loan “ridiculous,” saying that the opportunity should be used to “give them the full relief” but still doesn’t consider funding to be the biggest issue at hand.

“More importantly, I’m glad that we’re getting money back to Puerto Rico but the bigger issue of Puerto Rico is the current mess that FEMA and the Department of Defense have done to the island by not being quickly responsive,” Gallego said. “That has nothing to do with funding or the aid bill, that has to do with them being bad managers.”

Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s infrastructure, including its electrical and telecommunications systems, which has led to damage assessments in the range of $95 billion, Rosselló said. Only 17 percent of electricity has been restored and as of Friday about 63 percent of residents have access to drinking water, according to, a site the Puerto Rican government created to provide recovery updates. Few businesses have reopened and the ones that have are only operating at minimal levels. Without the loan, Puerto Rico could run out of money as early as this month.  

The relief bill also includes $18.67 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund, which will be shared by Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, however FEMA deems appropriate. But the bill does include a single grant for Puerto Rico: $1.27 billion for “disaster nutrition assistance.”

Meanwhile, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s sole representative in Congress, didn’t get to vote on a disaster relief bill affecting her constituents.

As for the overall debt, in order to really help Puerto Rico out, Gallego said, “we should allow them to restructure their debt like anybody else and be able to get out of the situation they’re in, like any other state or municipality does it.”

And if the federal judge currently overseeing the case agrees to entirely write down Puerto Rico’s debt, Gallego says: “Fine with me.”

President Trump initially suggested last week that Puerto Rico’s overall debt should be wiped out completely and Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said he agrees.

“And what the president said, is that we need to make sure Puerto Rico is on a fiscally stable path,” Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday. “I agree with that, I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, but I agree with that, so that’s what we’ll try to do.”

Top photo: People walk accros a flooded street in Juana Matos, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 as the country faced dangerous flooding and an island-wide power outage following Hurricane Maria.

The post Freedom Caucus Chair Warns Congress Not To “Bail Out” Puerto Rico appeared first on The Intercept.

Koch Brothers’ Internal Strategy Memo on Selling Tax Cuts: Ignore The Deficit

13 October 2017 - 4:26pm

The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch spent much of the eight years of the Obama presidency stoking fears about the budget deficit. Their political network aired an unending cascade of campaign advertisements against Democratic politicians, sponsored several national bus tours, and paid organizers in communities across the country to mobilize public demonstrations, all focused on the dangers of increasing the deficit.

One such ad even warned that government debt would lead to a Chinese takeover of America — which, for many voters, is a concern linked to debt. Another effort, also quietly bankrolled by the Koch network, used Justin Bieber memes to try to reach millennials about too much government borrowing.

Now that Republicans control all levers of power in Washington and the Koch brothers are poised to reap a windfall of billions of dollars through tax cuts, they have a new message: Don’t worry about the deficit.

The Intercept obtained a messaging memo from the Koch brothers’ network on how to sell tax reform legislation. The memo went out to members of the network of likeminded Republican donors, which includes dozens of wealthy investors and business executives.

The talking points suggest that backers of the tax cuts feel vulnerable to the charge that the tax cuts will jack up the deficit.

“In case it is helpful to you in your own discussions with lawmakers and others,” the memo begins, “below is a list of talking points that address some of the key hurdles to passing tax reform this year.”

The memo goes on to encourage lawmakers to avoid becoming distracted by deficit concerns when passing the GOP tax reform package (emphasis added):

Avoid getting distracted on revenue neutrality; economic growth increases revenues. Some Republican Senators have expressed concern over supporting comprehensive tax reform that adds to short-term deficits. Though we fully appreciate those concerns, the long-term economic growth that would result from the first comprehensive tax reform in a generation would help to offset short-term deficits over time. That was the result of the Kennedy and Reagan tax reforms—there’s no reason this time will be any different.”

The current tax cut plan under negotiation would cost as much as $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

The messaging document claims that any shortfall created by the tax package will be filled by tax revenue generated by economic growth sparked by the reduction in rates. It’s the same “pay for themselves” argument used to justify the tax cuts passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003. “You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase,” Bush claimed.

In reality, the Bush tax cuts reduced revenue collected by the government and ballooned the deficit. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the Bush tax cuts have slashed government coffers by more than $5 trillion since they were first enacted, and the cuts remain among the biggest drivers of the current national debt.

Stated concerns on the GOP side about debt and deficits tend to be driven by the fear that future tax hikes will be needed to pay them. Since the concern about the deficit is truly a concern about taxes, it makes sense that when a tax cut is attainable in the moment, worries about the deficit evaporate.

When wealthy donors now ask Republican lawmakers to ignore the debt, they will find some former deficit hawks already prepared to change their tune.

“It’s a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led,” Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., the chair of the far-right Republican Study Committee, told the New York Times when asked about deficit concerns. “It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.”

Top photo: Koch Industries Executive Vice President David H. Koch, center, listens to speakers during the Defending the American Dream Summit at the Washington Convention Center on Nov. 4, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

The post Koch Brothers’ Internal Strategy Memo on Selling Tax Cuts: Ignore The Deficit appeared first on The Intercept.

Major Gunmaker Admits “Heightened Fears” of Crime and Terrorism Help Sales

13 October 2017 - 2:17pm

Following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, there has been a surge in sales of bump stocks — devices that can help increase the rate of fire of weapons like semi-automatic rifles.

The Georgia Gun Store in Gainesville told ABC Australia that it hadn’t fielded any requests for bump stocks in the past year, but the Las Vegas shooting changed that. Kellie Weeks, who owns the store, said there was increased demand following the shooting; she called several distributors but was told they were out of stock.

“Anybody that wants to get them is probably just worried that they’re going to be banned,” she said.

The surge in gun product sales following mass shootings and other major crimes is something the industry expects to happen. Just look at the 2017 annual report from American Outdoor Brands Corporation — the company formerly known as Smith & Wesson.

In the section of the the report discussing “risk factors,” the company cites speculation about gun control and “heightened fears” about terrorism and crime increasing consumer demand for their products:

In addition, speculation surrounding increased gun control at the federal, state, and local level and heightened fears of terrorism and crime can affect consumer demand for our products. Often, such concerns result in an increase in near-term consumer demand and subsequent softening of demand when such concerns subside. Inventory levels in excess of customer demand may negatively impact operating results.

The industry recognizing and acknowledging the role fear plays in its sales to investors is not new. In 2016, Sturm, Ruger & Co. President Michael Fifer told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting that the firm had seen a spike in a demand that “was strongly correlated to the tragic terrorist activities in Paris and San Bernardino.” This presented a “big opportunity for the distributors to step up and take on inventory.”

The Monday after the shooting in Las Vegas, American Outdoor Brands’s stock surged, rising 3.2 percent. Sturm, Ruger & Co. rose 3.5 percent.

Top photo: A bump stock device, (left) that fits on a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing speed, making it similar to a fully automatic rifle, is installed on a AK-47 semi-automatic rifle, (right) at a gun store on October 5, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The post Major Gunmaker Admits “Heightened Fears” of Crime and Terrorism Help Sales appeared first on The Intercept.

Kansas Is Punishing a Teacher for Following Her Church’s Guidance to Boycott Israel

13 October 2017 - 11:04am

Esther Koontz is a long-time math teacher and curriculum coach at Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet School in Wichita, Kansas.

She’s also a member of the Mennonite Church USA, which in July voted to divest itself from American companies that profit off of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

One month prior to that vote, Kansas’s legislature passed into law House Bill 2409, which seeks to discourage boycotts of the state of Israel by prohibiting state contracts with individuals who refuse to say they will not engage in such boycott activity.

The legislation is targeted at the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which encourages nonviolent pressure on Israel for its occupation of internationally recognized Palestinian territory and its failure to recognize Arab Palestinians as equal citizens. But the law encompasses even those who boycott only Israel’s settlements, singling out Kansans who refuse to “engage in commercial relations with persons and entities engaged in business with Israel and Israeli-controlled territories.”

Which brings us back to Koontz. As a devoted member of her faith, she took the church’s guidance and decided to adopt her own boycott of Israel to protest its treatment of the Palestinians.

In the 2016-2017 school year, she was selected to be a teacher trainer in the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program. The program taps veteran teachers like Koontz to provide guidance to public school teachers throughout the state.

As part of her employment with the program, she was asked to sign a statement proclaiming that she does not boycott Israel. She stood by her personal faith and moral convictions, and refused to sign the statement. Because of this stand, she was denied payment as a contractor.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it would be suing the state of Kansas on Koontz’s behalf, alleging that her first amendment rights were violated. It filed a memorandum in support of Koontz’s motion for preliminary injunction at the federal trial court in Kansas.

As a part of its memo, the ACLU cited the 1982 Supreme Court decision NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. Claiborne involving a group of NAACP activists and others in boycotting certain white merchants over demands for desegregation. The white merchants took legal action to attempt to recoup damages from the boycott. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which unanimously decided that the government cannot prohibit politically motivated boycotts.

ACLU staff attorney Brian Hauss explained the organization’s rationale in taking on the case.

“This law is clearly aimed at suppressing not just boycotts generally but one particular boycott based on its viewpoint. So we think that’s a blatant constitutional violation and we hope the court agrees with us,” Hauss said.

Peace groups that support the BDS movement were encouraged by the ACLU’s lawsuit.

“Whether in Kansas or in Congress, this kind of legislation is an anti-democratic attempt to silence a nonviolent movement for equality for Palestinians, and a just peace for everyone in the region,” Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jewish Voice for Peace government affairs liaison, told The Intercept. “It sets an alarming precedent of curtailing free speech, in an era when mobilizing grassroots energy to resist repressive government policies is more important than ever.”

Top photo: Kansas House members during a vote on April 3, 2017.

The post Kansas Is Punishing a Teacher for Following Her Church’s Guidance to Boycott Israel appeared first on The Intercept.

Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics

13 October 2017 - 7:58am

An internal handbook obtained by The Intercept provides a rare view into the extensive asset seizure operations of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, an office that trains its agents to meticulously appraise the value of property before taking it.

HSI’s 71-page “Asset Forfeiture Handbook,” dated June 30, 2010, underscores the role seizures play in “helping to fund future law enforcement actions” and covering costs “that HSI would otherwise be unable to fund.” It thus offers an unprecedented window into ICE’s wide-ranging asset forfeiture operations and the premium the agency places on seizing valuable property. Forfeiture proceeds can bolster ICE’s partnerships with local police departments, which are now the subject of heightened debate given the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration agenda.

ICE confirmed to The Intercept that the handbook reflects the agency’s most up-to-date guidance on asset forfeiture. Agents under its instruction are asked to weigh the competing priorities of law enforcement versus financial profit and to “not waste instigative time and resources” on assets it calls “liabilities” — which include properties that are not profitable enough for the federal government to justify seizing. “As a general rule, if total liabilities and costs incurred in seizing a real property or business exceed the value of the property, the property should not be seized,” the document states.

The handbook also instructs ICE agents on the various ways laws can be used to justify the seizure of a property, and devotes a significant portion of its pages to the seizure of real estate. The manual instructs agents seeking to seize a property to work with confidential informants, scour tax records, and even obtain an interception warrant to determine whether “a telephone located on the property was used to plan or discuss criminal activity” in order to justify seizing the property.

The handbook acknowledges that civil forfeiture can be used to take property from a person even when there’s not enough evidence for a criminal indictment. There “may be third party interest that would prevail in a criminal case, but would not survive in a civil proceeding, making the civil proceeding essential to forfeiture,” the handbook states, referencing a property owner not officially implicated in a crime. “Those situations generally occur when a property owner is not convicted of a crime but is also not an innocent owner. Under criminal forfeiture, that property owner would be entitled to the return of the property. Under civil forfeiture, however, the owner would lose his or her interest to the Government.”

Noting that ICE is not alone among federal agencies in relying on asset forfeiture, ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett told The Intercept in a statement, “Asset forfeiture is an essential element of comprehensive and effective law enforcement as it deprives transnational criminal organizations of their illicitly obtained assets. The forfeiture of assets can be and is utilized as a sanction in criminal, civil, and administrative investigative activities.”

ICE special agents search a vehicle heading into Mexico at the Hidalgo border crossing on May 28, 2010, in Hidalgo, Texas.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security has seized billions of dollars in assets over the last decade, with the bulk of the revenue coming from investigations overseen by ICE. While the agency is best known for its role in immigration enforcement — carried out chiefly by officers in its Enforcement and Removal Operations division — its lesser-known HSI component has a much broader mandate, enforcing more than 400 criminal statutes with a nexus between cross-border crime and transnational criminal organizations, including human trafficking and smuggling, child pornography, terrorism, counterfeit goods, and drug smuggling. With more than 6,000 agents working in 185 field offices across the country and 63 locations overseas, HSI has the second-largest number of federal agents on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces and has played a key role in numerous high-stakes investigations over the years. To fulfill its missions, which often involve undercover infiltrations, multi-year probes, and occasionally multimillion-dollar seizures, HSI agents have access to powerful intelligence and data systems that link federal law enforcement to the CIA and the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.

Despite its size and the sweeping scope of its work, HSI has managed to maintain a low profile in comparison to some of its federal counterparts. With the Trump White House turning virtually every undocumented immigrant in the country into a target for deportation, ICE’s role in law enforcement has become a topic of intense public debate and increasingly pulled HSI out of the shadows. The handbook obtained by The Intercept now offers a unique window into a key component of the agency’s quiet investigations.

Every year, DHS seizes millions of dollars in assets through the course of investigations — everything from cash and houses, to boats and cars. Those assets are directed into a forfeiture fund maintained by the Treasury Department. The revenue from the assets is then used to cover a range of costs related to forfeiture investigations, from storing actual seized items to paying informants. Under a program known as equitable sharing, the revenue is also used to award and reimburse state and local law enforcement agencies that participate in federal seizure-related investigations, which those agencies then use to purchase equipment, weapons, and other law enforcement technology.

Though multiple DHS agencies contribute to the Treasury forfeiture fund — such as Customs and Border Protection and the Secret Service — ICE leads the way both in seizures feeding into the fund and in payments doled out to state and local law enforcement. According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, from 2003 to 2013, DHS poured roughly $3.6 billion into the Treasury’s forfeiture fund. From 2007 on, the report found, ICE was “consistently” responsible for “approximately 50 percent or more of total forfeiture revenues by DHS components.” Over the 2003 to 2013 period, the GAO noted, “equitable sharing payments constituted the largest” obligation in the Treasury’s forfeiture fund, with approximately $1.2 billion paid out to “a range of state and local law enforcement agencies across the country — as well as other federal agencies and foreign entities — that participated in law enforcement efforts resulting in forfeitures.”

“Among the three DHS components making equitable sharing payments, ICE made up over 90 percent of total DHS obligations for equitable sharing payments,” the report added. “State and local agencies accounted for the majority of sharing recipients, and accounted for an average of 96 percent of total obligations for equitable sharing payments from fiscal years 2010 through 2012.” State and local law enforcement officials who spoke to the government accountability researchers said the arrangement had “improved the relationship between federal agencies and their offices,” with officials adding that the “funds are needed by their agencies and have allowed them to purchase equipment such as bulletproof vests, weapons, mobile computers, and police station security cameras.”

Robert Don Gifford, who spent more than a decade as an assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department before leaving for private practice last December, told The Intercept that the handbook’s discussion of using civil forfeiture when a criminal indictment isn’t possible appears to nod to a problematic practice of seizing assets largely for the sake of financial gain, although he said he did not see this practice occur on the part of any federal agency he has worked with. A notable portion of HSI cases that Gifford saw targeted small-scale sellers of counterfeit goods. Agents hoped these busts would lead them to larger counterfeiting operations — “not exactly the stuff of Al Capone,” Gifford said.

“I had one case where they wanted to do all these forfeitures, and I said absolutely not,” Gifford recalled. “I said I’d support it as long as it was not a retired mom and pop running a little flea market table on the weekend,” Gifford said. “But that was exactly who they were going after.”

In recent years, asset forfeiture practices have come under increasing scrutiny for allegedly introducing the profit motive into the calculations of which laws to enforce and against whom.

The handbook describes a carefully cultivated network of asset forfeiture specialists within ICE, who are placed in each of HSI’s field offices across the country. These specialists are known as Asset Identification and Removal Group members and are tasked with identifying and appraising assets to seize during HSI investigations.

Stipulating that each AIRG agent must have at least three years of investigative experience, the handbook describes AIRGs as “separate, specialized groups, dedicated solely to asset forfeiture responsibilities, and not commingled with other groups or burdened with excessive collateral duties.” ICE trains its AIRG specialists to meticulously input data about assets that ICE has either seized or is considering for seizure into an interoffice asset forfeiture database, known as the Seized Assets and Case Tracking System, or SEACATS. The asset forfeiture agents also plug their forfeiture numbers into a sprawling DHS database called TECS, which allows the agency to evaluate the performance of asset officers and assign scores for their cases.

“Individual AIRGs are evaluated by the quantity and the quality of their cases. TECS quantifies the number of investigations opened by each individual AIRG via the unique project codes,” the handbook states. “This is important because it allows all case participants to retrieve statistical credit for the overall results of their cases. SEACATS quantifies the number of seizures made by the AIRGs, as well as their values.”

Much of the handbook is devoted to describing the process of seizing real estate — homes, farms, and businesses — and it is in these pages that the dual priorities of financial gain and law enforcement objectives become most apparent. While the handbook contains little discussion on how to utilize asset forfeiture to maximize crime-fighting outcomes, there is extensive discussion of how agents should painstakingly determine whether a property is valuable enough to make seizure worthwhile.

In listing the six essential considerations for seizure of real estate, ICE instructs agents to focus on assessing the property’s value. “Determining whether or not to take a real property requires information from various sources,” reads the handbook. “Factors that AIRG [special agents] should consider from the outset are: (1) the assessed value, (2) known liens, (3) the probable equity, (4) possible environmental problems, (5) the existence of sufficient probable cause for seizure, and (6) the ability to overcome possible defenses to the forfeiture.”

In a subsequent passage, the handbook notes that, in certain situations, law enforcement considerations can in fact supersede the motive of financial gain. “If there is not enough net equity to justify seizure and forfeiture, is there an overriding law enforcement reason to justify the seizure (e.g., a vehicle with a smuggling compartment, a firearm in the possession of a felon)?” the document asks. “In these cases, the value of the item may be of secondary importance.”

Private contractors help ICE conduct in-depth appraisals of property the agency is interested in seizing.

Document: HSI Asset Forfeiture Handbook

More than a dozen pages of the document describe an important — if perhaps surprising — role of AIRG agents: as real estate appraisers. Using the example of “houses used to store narcotics or harbor illegal aliens,” the manual walks agents through a comprehensive process of assessing homes and landed properties to determine the financial appeal to ICE of acquiring such real estate.

The manual instructs agents to perform drive-by viewings of property, as well as “post-and-walk” viewings — a measure ICE calls “potentially one of the most important steps in the seizure/forfeiture process.” In the case of post-and-walk viewings, ICE agents obtain a warrant allowing them to search a property’s premises, and are instructed to bring along a private real estate expert to help appraise the property’s value and record “all items that may be of concern or may deter the Government from pursuing forfeiture of the property.” In certain circumstances, ICE agents are instructed to order an environmental examination by the Environmental Protection Agency to check for potential liabilities related to contaminants.

The handbook also instructs agents to use publicly available commercial databases to research the sales history and local market conditions, as well as any liens against the property, the values of which agents are asked to confirm by pulling government records. The manual stresses that once a property is seized, AIRG agents should shepherd seized homes through the process to ensure the highest financial returns for the federal government. “The deteriorating value of any item seized, commensurate with its associated storage and disposal fees, should be a primary concern of all parties involved,” the document states. “The quicker and more efficient the forfeiture process, the less money the seizure will cost the Government.”

The HSI handbook instructs agents to zero in on the value of property and weigh possible defenses against seizure.

Document: HSI Asset Forfeiture Handbook

From July 2005 to April 2015, Eric Hampl served as director of the Treasury’s Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture, overseeing the billions of dollars in law enforcement funding generated though seizures by ICE and other DHS agencies. During that time, Hampl said, DHS seizures generally subscribed to an “80/20 rule,” meaning “80 percent of the transactions bring in 20 percent of the revenue and 20 percent of the transactions bring in 80 percent of the revenue.” In other words, a handful of major HSI-led joint investigations — such as a 2013 investigation by HSI’s El Dorado Task Force, which targeted HSBC’s role in drug-cartel money laundering and netted an $881 million seizure — contribute significantly to the fund’s overall total each year.

When it comes to equitable sharing and the distribution of seizure revenue to state and local law enforcement, Hampl told The Intercept, the results can be unpredictable, often having less to do with the size and resources of a given HSI office than the competency of the local investigators assigned to the case. “You could easily have an investigation that forfeits a million dollars that two guys worked on,” he explained. Hampl acknowledged that there is a real problem in law enforcement of police using their authority to turn a profit — he pointed to exploitative municipal police practices in St. Louis County, exposed in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing, as one example — but said he saw none of that in the context of HSI’s higher-earning investigations. “The cases that result in large forfeitures, they take years to investigate,” Hampl said. “And then after the investigation is done, the legal stuff can take years. So it’s not like agents are really in control of the outcome.”

Hampl predicted the national immigration debate would be unlikely to impact HSI’s equitable sharing agreements with state and local law enforcement. “You could have a community that has lots of law enforcement problems, lots of interactions over the immigration and deportation issues under this administration, but is it going to affect what they get as far as equitable sharing?” he asked. “Probably not.”

Top photo: Agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit enter the offices of Agiltron in Woburn, Mass., on Jan. 23, 2013.

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No Rio, truculência da Guarda Municipal também atinge quem tem licença

13 October 2017 - 7:15am

Não é de hoje que a Guarda Municipal do Rio de Janeiro atua com truculência e de forma arbitrária. Entra prefeito e sai prefeito, a política pública para o mercado informal continua repressiva em uma cidade que tem 18 mil ambulantes, contando apenas os cadastrados. No meio deste ano, no Arpoador, um ambulante apanhou com um bastão de ferro de um guarda. Na Praça São Salvador, em Laranjeiras, o “choque de ordem” começou no fim de março deste ano. Em 29 de setembro, a Guarda atacou no Méier, Zona Norte do Rio, em um ponto entre as ruas Dias da Cruz e Silva Rabelo, onde se concentram dezenas de camelôs, a maioria ilegais. O estranho é que a única barraca apreendida foi uma de esfirras que tinha autorização para estar ali comercializando sua mercadoria.

A barraca pertence a Toyba Hussein, refugiada vinda da Etiópia. Ela estava no médico com o marido, Mohamoud Seid, quando a colega que trabalhava com o carrinho ligou dizendo que ele estava sendo apreendido. Quando chegaram ao local, o casal de refugiados se deparou com os guardas jogando fora toda a comida que vendiam. A Guarda Municipal informou que os ambulantes não tinham autorização para trabalhar naquele local e que foram orientados a deixar o lugar outras vezes, porém desobedeceram.

Fiquei sabendo do ocorrido por uma publicação de um amigo que passava no momento. Na mesma hora entrei em contato com ele e na sequência e falei com Mahmoud, marido de Toyba. Ele dizia misturando inglês e português “Por favor, help us! We want to work, we have license. They ‘joga fora’ our esfirra (sic)”. Naquele mesmo dia fui à casa deles à noite. Eles dividem três cômodos com mais três refugiados, toda a família vive em um quarto. O casal tem três filhos e está esperando mais um.

Passado o fim de semana, fui acompanhar o processo para recuperar o carrinho. No sétimo andar da prefeitura, o chefe da fiscalização nos atende, escuta a história e conclui: “Desculpem senhores, mas aqui na fiscalização não vou poder ajudar.  O caso que vocês estão relatando é um caso de polícia, vocês foram roubados. Não é atribuição da guarda apreender mercadoria de quem tem licença, muito menos jogar fora”, disse.

Mahmoud e Toyba descartaram a possibilidade de ir à polícia por medo de represálias:  “Trabalhamos na rua. É muito duro, estamos expostos a tudo”, explicaram.

No último dia 4, eles finalmente conseguiram recuperar o carrinho, e eu fui buscá-lo junto com eles. Mahmoud era só alegria. Depois de deixarmos o carrinho no depósito, ele disse: “Pedro, my friend, thank you very much! Now you come to my house, my wife will cook ethiopian food”.

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Palestinian Activist Finds Support From Bernie Sanders and Other Members of Congress

13 October 2017 - 7:00am

The U.S. Congress is one of the worst places to get a fair hearing as a Palestinian.

On a bipartisan basis, the body leans heavily toward the Israeli government — regularly passing one-sided resolutions with overwhelming majorities, frequently traveling to Israel to meet with the right-wing government, and even inviting the Israeli prime minister to speak before Congress to bash American policy. It sometimes even holds hearings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without inviting a single Palestinian.

This policy is most harmful to Palestine’s nonviolent activists, who are often persecuted by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. As Newsweek’s Jeff Stein writes, the answer to “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” is that those who advocate “nonviolence and led peaceful marches, boycotts, mass sit-downs and the like are mostly dead, in jail, marginalized or in exile.” Without external advocates, Palestinians who nonviolently demand their freedom are easy to suppress.

But that’s starting to change. A small but important set of members of Congress recently met with and advocated for a Palestinian activist who the Israelis have accused of inciting violence — a charge he will face in court later this month. Needless to say, it is rare for American lawmakers to take up the cause of a man their Israeli allies claim is encouraging violence.

That man is Issa Amro, a human rights activist who lives in Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank that the Israeli army has encamped with walls and fences to guard less than 1,000 Israeli settlers in a population of 200,000 Palestinians.

Amro has for years worked to end the occupation of the Palestinians and for a peaceful resolution with his Israeli neighbors, first with the Israeli NGO B’Tselem and later with the organization Youth Against Settlements.

His activism led both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to arrest him on vague charges of incitement and rioting, something that Amro and the international human rights community find laughable.

As Amro explained in an interview with The Intercept conducted during a short visit to Washington, D.C., he is a lifelong believer in human rights, purposely eschewing violent resistance to occupation.

His first act of organizing was as a student at Palestine Polytechnic University, where he studied engineering. After the Israeli military shut the university down in 2003, he organized nonviolent protests to force it to reopen.

“According to international law occupied people are allowed to use armed resistance and peaceful resistance,” Amro told The Intercept. “For me, [I have chosen] peaceful resistance for many reasons. The first reason is that it’s a community resistance. It strengthens the Palestinian civil society. Armed resistance doesn’t at all. … It neutralizes the power of the opponent, they can’t use their military power in the same way they use it on other kinds of resistance. Nonviolent resistance generates support from the outside.”

He also expressed a personal moral conviction about hurting other human beings, even those who have subjected his people to conditions many have likened to South Africa’s apartheid system.

“We don’t harm human beings, as the human being is the most important asset on earth,” he said.

Amro is due to appear in an Israeli military court on October 22 to face charges of incitement and conducting illegal protests. These courts have a reputation for being notoriously unfair to Palestinians, with a nearly 100 percent conviction rate.

But because Amro chose nonviolence as his means to resist the Israeli occupation, his case has indeed generated support from outside observers, including members of the U.S. Congress.

Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Code Pink lobbied members of Congress to get involved in Amro’s case, and encouraged the lawmakers to pressure the State Department to make clear to Israel that its American benefactors are closely watching what happens to Amro.

“Issa Amro is an powerful community leader who brings people together to resist occupation in creative, nonviolent campaigns to challenge the separate and unequal policies imposed on Palestinians in occupied Hebron,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said in a statement. “We’ve worked with Issa and with Youth Against Settlements for years, and it was only natural for us to join together with other partners to support him as he faces attacks for his human rights work. There’s a reason he is facing such trumped up charges, because his work for justice and equality is undeniably inspiring.”

In May, four senators — Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy — sent a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to monitor Amro’s case closely. Over the summer, 34 House Democrats signed onto letters to Tillerson with a similar message.

Washington Democratic Rep. Adam Smith told The Intercept in a statement that dozens of his constituents, as well as a peace group named after an American activist slain by an Israeli bulldozer driver, pushed him to speak out on Amro’s behalf:

My Congressional office was contacted by the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice in June 2017 to help highlight Issa Amro’s peaceful protest activities, as well as raise concerns about his case in Israel. In addition to similar letters sent by my colleagues in Congress, I wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in June of 2017 to ask that he further look into Mr. Amro’s situation. There was significant outreach from constituents in the Ninth District, with nearly 40 individuals voicing their support for Mr. Amro’s human rights work. My letter to Secretary Tillerson requests that he work with Israeli authorities to review Mr. Amro’s case and ensure his right to due process is upheld. The State Department has confirmed that they are following the case closely and continue to attend Mr. Amro’s hearings. During my recent meeting with Mr. Amro in my Washington, D.C. office, I reiterated my support for peaceful political organization and non-violent civil disobedience.

Amro visited Washington, D.C., in late September and met with members of Congress, whom he personally thanked for their advocacy on his behalf, he told The Intercept. It is rare for Congress to recognize the existence of political persecution in the Palestinian territories, let alone speak up for an individual activist. He believes the congresspeople’s support will help him in his upcoming trial.

“It has a huge effect,” he said. “At least I am recognized in the U.S. here as a human rights defender. That gives me a lot of support within my community and in front of the Israeli occupation forces as they can’t claim I’m a terrorist.”

Palestinian nonviolent activist Issa Amro in Washington, D.C., on Oct 2, 2017.

Photo: Zaid Jilani

He said he found a receptive audience among lawmakers.

“I asked them to really intervene to end occupation and to help us as Palestinians to get our freedom and justice and equality as everybody else in the world,” Amro said he told the members of Congress he met with. “They respect my work, I [got] a lot of positive feedback from them about what I’m doing and my peaceful approach. They are considering to either come to Palestine or to speak about Palestinian rights here or pass legislation in the Congress to support Palestinian human rights.”

However, Congress’s general hesitance to speak critically of Israel was not lost on Amro during the meetings.

“I felt a few of them are a little bit hesitant to go public, not to be criticized by the right-wing groups here in the U.S. That made me feel a little bit that the occupation is destroying even the democracy in the United States,” he said.

Amro reserved special praise for Sanders, whom he met with two weeks ago.

Great to meet with @SenSanders today.

— Issa Amro ???? ???? (@Issaamro) September 27, 2017

“The first thing I told him was, ‘You are my hero. And if I was an American I would campaign for you to win the election,'” he said. “I quote him always when he said in one of his public meetings that he admired the energy of the youth, and the young generation, and he can’t make a change alone as a president of the United States. He needs all of the young energy to be with him to make a real change. I wanted what Sanders wants for the Americans for the Palestinians, too. The freedom, the equality, the justice.”

Sanders’s office declined to comment, citing the private nature of the meeting.

Top photo: Prominent Palestinian activist Issa Amro is welcomed by supporters after he was released on bail by a Palestinian court, in the West Bank city of Hebron on Sept. 10, 2017, following his prior arrest on Sept. 4.

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Silicon Valley and Hollywood Lobby Against Gender Pay Gap Transparency

12 October 2017 - 5:49pm

Lobbyists representing leading companies in the Silicon Valley and Hollywood have placed tremendous pressure to defeat legislation designed to shine a spotlight onto wage disparities by gender at California companies.

Gov. Jerry Brown is currently deciding the fate of AB 1209, a bill passed by both chambers of the legislature that requires large firms with 500 or more employees in the state to file reports with the secretary of state detailing the gender pay gap for people working in the same position.

Brown has until Sunday to sign or veto the legislation. If he takes no action, the bill becomes law without his signature.

What companies are pressing Brown to kill the bill? It’s a Sacramento mystery.

A number of business trade associations, including the Motion Picture Association of America, TechNet, and Computing Technology Industry Association, have been lobbying the governor. Those three groups represent the largest movie production studios and technology firms in the state, but when advocating on issues of public policy, they are not required to disclose the firms for whom they are lobbying.

The groups did not respond to requests for comment regarding which member companies asked them to push against AB 1209.

The trio last month signed a letter claiming that the proposal would create an unfair image of employers by failing to take into account jobs that are based on commission, where pay differentials may account for performance rather than any form of gender discrimination. They have urged elected officials to oppose the legislation.

“Public display of the data adds insult to injury. Employers would be required to provide statistics on job duties, wages and gender, but without the factors such as experience and seniority that the law says are legitimate reasons for wage gaps,” Kara Bush of CompTIA wrote in a column co-authored with the California Chamber of Commerce, denouncing the bill.

At the Assembly hearing to discuss the bill, another CompTIA lobbyist, Chris McHill, testified in opposition, claiming that AB 1209 would simply create new “avenues for enterprising plaintiffs lawyers to go and sue those individual companies.”

Members of CompTIA include Google, Apple, Ingram Micro, and other companies that may be forced to report gender pay data under the law.

Lobbying disclosures show that Google, which has faced mounting questions over its own gender pay gap, lobbied on the legislation, although it is not clear what position the technology giant took. Google’s primary Sacramento lobbying firm, KP Public Affairs, engaged on AB 1209 sometime between April and June, as the bill made its way through committee, according to the disclosures.

Asked by The Intercept if Google supports or opposes the legislation, a company spokesperson declined to answer. He later contacted us to say that Google “never instructed any firms to lobby on this to the legislature, governor or anywhere else.” KP Public Affairs, the spokesperson added, “[was] at meetings where it was discussed, among other topics, so we disclosed it.”

Google has many reasons to be wary of further scrutiny over its compensation practices.

The firm waged a legal battle against the Department of Labor over an audit designed to determine whether the company complied with equal pay laws.

In September, the New York Times obtained a spreadsheet from Google that contained salary and bonus information. While the data do not provide a full view of Google salaries, the spreadsheet appears to show that women are paid less than men for the same entry level and mid-level positions.

Also last month, three former Google employees filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the firm engaged in widespread gender discrimination.

James Finberg, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the suit, said he wouldn’t be surprised if firms like Google are lobbying against pay gap transparency efforts. Finberg noted that the Department of Labor audit already found statistically significant pay disparities for women across the board. “So to the extent that that’s reported publicly, it’s embarrassing for Google,” he said.

Top photo: The Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Sept. 2, 2011.

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Minneapolis Mayoral Candidate’s Personal Experience With Criminal Justice System Inspires Platform for Reform

12 October 2017 - 3:01pm

Ever since a wave of activism placed the national spotlight on police violence and the problems plaguing the criminal justice system, several candidates for public office across the country have campaigned on promises for reform. They have called for independent investigations into police-involved shootings and training in de-escalation, and they have promised to change minimum mandatory sentencing schemes and address the factors that lead to mass incarceration, which disproportionally impacts people of color.

Minnesota state Rep. Raymond Dehn, the frontrunner in the Minneapolis mayor’s race, is one of those candidates. But to him, criminal justice reform is a personal issue, and one that goes way back.

The mayoral candidate was convicted of armed burglary as a teenager in the 1970s, an experience he says inspired his entry into politics decades later. In 2012, he was elected to the Minnesota state legislature, where he is known for his work on behalf of felons. He led the push for a 2014 “Ban the Box” law that expanded a prohibition on requiring job applicants to answer questions about their criminal histories to include private employers.

Dehn announced his candidacy last December, and he made his mark on the field this summer by winning more support than incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges at the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party’s nominating convention. Although no mayoral candidate won the official endorsement, Dehn emerging at the front of the pack made clear he was a serious contender.

In an interview with The Intercept, Dehn described how his brush with the law led him to believe in redemption and criminal justice reform, themes that are central to his work in public office.

“I grew up in a real traumatic situation, there was some abuse in my family, some alcoholism. … In the end it was that addiction that led me to committing a crime to supply my habit,” Dehn said, explaining his circumstances at the time he burglarized a home.

When police arrived to arrest Dehn, who was 19 years old at the time, he was hiding in a closet. “I’ll never forget having three or four officers reach in, with guns pointing at my head as I came out of the closet,” Dehn recalled.

After a few rocky years, Dehn decided to get his life back on track and in 1982 he applied for — and received — a pardon for his crime from then-Minnesota Gov. Al Quie. Nearly a decade later, Dehn enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study architecture and move on with his life, which he said was made easier by the era he lived in. “My crime was also committed before the days of the internet, so as far public record out there … it just really didn’t exist,” he explained.

He started getting active in community organizations and in 2009 attended a conference in Oakland, where radical activist Angela Davis spoke about criminal justice. Davis asked everyone in the room who had been incarcerated to stand.

“I stood up and that was sort of the changing point in my life,” Dehn said. “I figured out that, you know, I had benefited from an unfair system, and I decided then to dedicate my life to try to dismantle that system.”

U.S. political activist Angela Davis leaves the “Centro Penitenciario de Logrono” prison on Feb. 7, 2016, in the northern Spanish city of Logroño. Davis has been a leading activist in discussions on mass incarceration for decades.

Photo: Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images

Dehn pivoted to politics and was elected to represent Minnesota’s House District 59B five years ago. He was re-elected in 2014 and again last year. To remind himself of his good fortune, Dehn keeps his grant of clemency on a wall in his office in the statehouse.

The mayoral race is nonpartisan, and Minneapolis is one of few major cities in America that uses ranked-choice voting — where voters rank candidates instead of voting for just one of them. If no candidate is the first choice for a majority of voters, then all votes cast for the candidate with the fewest votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on who is ranked next on each ballot. This process essentially eliminates the concept of a “wasted vote” and can lead to unpredictable outcomes.

The preferential voting system also means that candidates generally shy away from the negative campaigning that is a mainstay of many other mayoral races because they want to get the second- and third-preference votes from people backing their opponents.

“It has been a bit more collegial than if we didn’t have ranked-choice voting,” Dehn told The Intercept, noting that the race thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. He does, however, expect to see more attack ads as the November 7 election nears. “We know that in the final two weeks, we’re going to see a lot of independent expenditure money. It’s going to be attacking pretty much all the frontrunners in the race.”

That’s not to say that all of Dehn’s proposals so far have been well-received. When the issue of police reform surged to the forefront of the mayoral race in July, after a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman, Dehn proposed that police be disarmed, suggesting that, for example, some officers keep guns in their cars but not wear them all the time. The local police union was furious.

“I don’t think the people in Minneapolis are logically ready for anything like this,” Lt. Bob Kroll told local reporters at the time. “Who would ever do the job of policing again? It’s absolutely an absurd thought.” Several other mayoral candidates also said they believed Dehn’s proposal was a step too far.

Hodges, too, took a swipe at Dehn, implying his idea was naive. “If we are going to talk about changes in gun policy, we shouldn’t start with police officers, who are going to be operating in a world with people who have guns,” Hodges said.

Dehn remains adamant that there should be a conversation about the circumstances in which weapons are necessary, stressing that he does not think police should be disarmed at all times.

“I think there are some interactions that officers have with people in the community that they don’t have to carry guns,” he explained to The Intercept. “The controversy is in many ways how many people took that. Did I say that cops should never carry guns? I’ve never said that. And I also know that in the end to change real policy about officers and use of force you have to push a conversation that I think can be difficult for some people, I think in the end if people aren’t ready to have this conversation right now we’ve got a long long ways to go to talk about policing in our community.”

Dehn’s campaign against the incumbent Hodges and the other challengers hinges on the question of whether Minneapolis is on the right path or is in need of a big change. He believes the latter is true. Hodges, however, uses the “Strong and Stable” catchphrase reminiscent of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s campaign slogan, and labels her approach as “deliberate, intentional leadership.” Her platform page points to achievements such as passing a sick-time ordinance in 2016 and her work “transforming police-community relations.”

Her opponents, Dehn among them, point to a city that like many others is increasingly difficult to afford to live in. While Hodges points to $40 million spent on affordable housing programs over the past three years, Dehn counters by pointing out that the median income for African-Americans in the city — $14,951 — makes housing in most of the city unaffordable for them.

Dehn has proposed changing the status quo on affordable housing by lowering the cost of future affordable units from 50 percent of area median income to 30 percent.

His platform is heavily focused on inequality. In addition to a host of criminal justice reform ideas, he is proposing that Minneapolis start using participatory budgeting, something the city has been experimenting with on a small scale. This cutting-edge policy — which allows neighborhoods and residents to take control of a portion of city finances and directly decide how they are spent — has been used in a handful of cities in the world with some success.

He views participatory budgeting as a way to increase citizen engagement, especially among people who aren’t politically active.

“If you’re not bringing in individuals who generally have been left out of our process, we’re going to keep doing the same things that we’ve been doing,” he said. “For me, it’s that idea of how do we make space for people to actually engage, and then how do we make it valuable for them in that process in that engagement?”

Dehn’s inequality-focused campaign has attracted a strong stable of supporters from Minneapolis’s minority community. His communications director, Akhi Menawat, told The Intercept that a majority of Dehn’s paid campaign staff are nonwhite and their average age is 24.

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, the candidate’s colleague in the state House and the first Somali-American Muslim woman ever elected to a state legislature in the country, has endorsed Dehn.

Proud to be on #TeamDehn! @raymonddehn

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 9, 2017

In an interview with The Intercept, Omar explained that she decided to endorse Dehn over Hodges and the other challengers because of his intersectional approach to issues.

“I believe that our next mayor for the city of Minneapolis needs to understand intersectionality, that’s really big in my book — understanding the connections between how housing and policing and mental health issues and how all of these things are all connected,” she told The Intercept.

She cited Dehn’s prior felony as something that gives him insight into the ills of the criminal justice system.

“As a resident of North Minneapolis, someone who comes from the history of having a record himself, he sees how criminalizing people leads to lack of opportunities,” she concluded.

The mayoral hopeful’s people-first platform has also earned him the support of Our Revolution, a group formed out of the remnants of the Bernie Sanders campaign, which endorsed him in July. “Now is the time for serious reform in Minneapolis. Raymond Dehn has the platform and vision to create a Minneapolis where every family can feel safe and have a good home and livable wage,” Our Revolution President Nina Turner said in a statement. And while Dehn has butted heads with police unions, he has earned the backing of a different form of organized labor: the Minnesota Nurses Association.

Our Revolution Twin Cities and the nurses’ union are also backing a much more radical candidate to join the city council. Ginger Jentzen, who is running on the Socialist Alternative ballot line in Ward 3, was one of the lead organizers behind a successful push to pass a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis. She is refusing to take any money from corporate developers and is campaigning heavily around expanding public housing.

Top photo: Minneapolis mayoral candidate Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minn., speaks to delegates on Saturday, July 8, 2017, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis.

The post Minneapolis Mayoral Candidate’s Personal Experience With Criminal Justice System Inspires Platform for Reform appeared first on The Intercept.

How Catalonia Pulled Off Its Independence Vote from Spain Using “Pizza” Code Words and Secret Schemes

12 October 2017 - 1:13pm

I arrived at the polling station on the night before Catalonia was set to vote in a contested referendum on the region’s independence from Spain. A Spanish court had declared the referendum illegal, and Madrid had sent thousands of riot police to Catalonia to shut down the vote. By midnight, workers at the polling station closed the building’s corrugated metal gate and sealed us in until morning, or until the police arrived. Inside, we waited for whichever came first.

The vote was organized in secret. The organizers spoke and texted in code: In this polling station — a community center in Barcelona, called Foment Martinenc — and others in the area, ballot boxes were called pizzas and the ballots, napkins. The government representative who officially opened the voting center was called “la pizzera”the pizza maker. The organizers who drove from polling station to polling station, to make sure each center had enough pizza and napkins, were called Telepizzas, after a cheap pizza delivery chain. Central Barcelona was divided among five Telepizzas.

When Catalonia voted on Sunday, October 1, ordinary voters in polling centers across the region used unconventional tactics to organize a referendum in the face of a heavy crackdown from the central Spanish government. It was a day of tension and drama, as Catalans voted for succession by 90 percent (though most “no” voters abstained), and Spanish police reacted with force. This week, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said he had the mandate to declare independence for the region and signed a declaration doing so — but soon after he suspended the effects of the referendum in favor of dialogue with Spanish authorities.

The October 1 clashes drew international attention to the referendum. But Catalan citizens had been preparing this vote for months.

The weekend before the referendum, police in Catalonia were given an order to shut down spaces to be used as polling stations. In response, ordinary citizens began occupying places like Foment Martinenc to keep them open. At another nearby polling station in Barcelona, an elementary school, organizers spontaneously held a weekend full of events and invited residents to camp out at the school. In a nearby city, voters organized a weekend-long tournament of rock-paper-scissors, advising participants that it might last a while, and to bring camping gear. Others were more direct, calling for a “territorial defense” of voting centers. Whether subtle, absurd or explicit, the idea was clear, said Lluís Rotger, an organizer at Foment Martinenc: “any activity to keep the polling stations open.”

Ballots and ballot-boxes were targets for Spanish police in the lead-up to the vote. Police raided Catalan media, print shops and other businesses in search of voting materials, seizing millions of ballots and hundreds of ballot boxes in each bust. After the initial seizures, the Catalan government ordered new ballot boxes from China to be delivered to a city in southern France, where ballots were being printed. Activists then drove the voting materials across the border into Spain and hid them however possible.

“People hid the material in their houses, cars, underground — it was up to their imagination,” Rotger told me. He explained that, among organizers, information about the vote was given out on a need-to-know basis. “Even the ballot boxes,” he said, “I didn’t know who had them, nor when they would arrive.”

Foment Martinenc is in a quaint residential neighborhood just outside the center of Barcelona. On the morning of the vote, the center was buzzing with activity. Poll workers opened the metal gate at 5 a.m., and a large crowd of people had already gathered outside. It was still dark out, and it was raining. The police were due to begin evicting polling stations one hour later, and organizers were rushing to prepare the space.

But where were the ballot boxes? Another organizer at Foment, Daniel Rofín, said he had no idea. Because the referendum organization was so secretive, Rofín explained, neither did anyone else at the polling station.

Soon there was a commotion outside, and a small sedan pulled up to the entrance of Foment. The crowd outside parted to make a path to the door. Two women opened the car’s trunk and pulled out four large masses wrapped in black trash bags, and shuttled them inside. Both women quickly got back in their car and sped away. The pizzas had arrived.

Two people bring in ballot boxes as crowds gather outside Escola Industrial of Barcelona school on Oct. 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.

Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The organizers of the referendum in Catalonia had the odds stacked against them from the beginning. As they laid plans for a vote, a Spanish court declared it unconstitutional and ordered police to seize voting materials. Soon after, Spanish military police arrested 14 Catalan government employees, effectively decapitating the official organization of the vote. After the arrests, Spanish press ran with headlines that the referendum had been “disassembled” and “neutralized,” and that “democracy had been restored in Catalonia.”

But the preparations continued, and so did the crackdown. Police blocked 140 pro-referendum websites and prohibited the national post office from mailing any election materials. The weekend of the referendum, three-fourths of all Spanish riot police were in Catalonia. The night before the vote was to take place, Spanish military police raided the Catalan government’s data and digital communications hub. Their objective was to take offline the Catalan census and voting rolls, as well as the webpages for the voting centers. That night, a government spokesperson in Madrid announced that the referendum had been “nullified.”

And yet, on October 1, Catalonia held a referendum. The vote was plagued with technical and logistical issues and boycotted by a large segment of the population, but many others were able to cast a vote. People waited in line for hours to do so while Spanish police went from location to location in a brutal operation that injured over 800 voters and closed nearly 100 voting centers. Social networks were saturated with photos and videos of police wielding nightsticks at unarmed protestors and of bloodied faces outside public schools, and then of police walking away with voting materials.

At Foment Martinenc, after a few technical hiccups, voting started around 10:30 a.m. and lasted until the night. Poll workers made sure to keep a large group of people outside the voting center throughout the day, made up of those who had already voted, or those still waiting to do so.

“The idea was to always have people outside protecting the door,” Rotger explained. “Whenever we thought Policía Nacional or Guardia Civil might come, all the old people and kids were brought inside.”

“The first people they’re going to beat are the ones outside,” he added.

The organizers at Foment had different plans in case the police showed up. They had found hiding places for the ballot boxes inside the community center. Another plan was to smuggle the ballot boxes out of Foment in trash bags and to hide them in a nearby shop. Rotger says that he even brought a large hiking backpack with him. If the other options didn’t work, he planned to just grab the votes and run.

Such schemes were enacted all over Catalonia. In one town, activists hid the ballot boxes and started playing dominos when police arrived. In another, the vote recount was held in a church during mass.

At Tomás Moro, a school in the outskirts of Barcelona, poll workers hid the real ballot boxes and used two ballot boxes full of blank paper as decoys for the police to take.

“The police came with six vans and broke open the two doors [to the school] with crowbars and hammers,” recalled Anna Sajurjo, one of the poll workers present. “They took the two ballot boxes that were on the tables, full of blank votes.” Once the police left, Sajurjo added, voting resumed at Tomás Moro.

Even Puigdemont, the Catalan president, had to trick the Spanish police in order to vote. A helicopter from the military police was following his convoy of cars as he went to vote. Reports later surfaced that the convoy stopped under a bridge so the president could switch cars and go cast his ballot in another town, without alerting the police that were hovering above.

The Spanish police never showed up at Foment Martinenc, though there were regular visits from the Catalan police, called the Mossos d’Esquadra. Early in the morning, two Mossos officers walked towards the community center, one holding a document in his hand. As the police approached, the crowd linked arms and began shouting “you will not pass.” After a few seconds, the police turned around and walked away. The Mossos would repeat this exercise once every two hours throughout the day.

Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, had ordered police to evict voting centers, following the court order, but told them not to use violence and not to not disturb public order – in contrast to the behavior of the Spanish forces. After the referendum, politicians in Madrid were quick to criticize the Mossos for not acting more aggressively, and a Spanish court has said publicly that it is investigating Trapero for sedition.

Daan Everts, a former Dutch ambassador who has monitored over two dozen elections around the world, said that “the use of force displayed by the Spanish police has no place in established democracies.” Everts, who brought a team of 20 observers with him to Catalonia in September, said he has never seen anything like this month’s referendum.

“It has been exceptional in all aspects,” he said. “There was very active prevention, prohibition from the Spanish government, so nothing was normal.”

Sitting in his temporary office in a posh neighborhood in Barcelona, Everts rattled off a laundry list of technical issues with the vote. The Catalan election commission worked in secrecy. There was little transparency in the voting protocols. Poll centers were intermittently open and closed due to technical issues, and most were missing some essential voting materials at points throughout the day.

In one-quarter of the polling stations visited, Everts said, voting had to be stopped temporarily so poll workers could hide voting materials from the police.

Still, Everts was quick to add what his team of observers didn’t see: evidence of vote fraud, in the form of ballot stuffing, doctoring vote counts, and other efforts to tip the final result. But because of opposition from the Spanish government, he said, “It was very messy by definition.”

People celebrate after the closing of polling stations outside the “Espai Jove La Fontana” (La Fontana youth center) on Oct. 1, 2017 in Barcelona. Spanish riot police stormed voting stations as they moved to stop Catalonia’s independence referendum, and least 92 people were confirmed injured as hundreds tried to prevent the polling stations from being closed.

Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images

After spending most of the day of the vote at Foment Martinenc, I decided to go visit other polling stations in the neighborhood. It was around 7 p.m., one hour before the polls were officially supposed to close.

There were around two hundred people gathered outside another nearby polling center when David Fernandez, a former local politician from a far left separatist party in Catalonia, came outside. The crowd cheered. “We have to defend the votes, and we need you to help. Let’s go for a walk. Don’t ask questions,” Fernandez told the group, who all seemed to instantly understand what was about to happen.

A line of people then exited the school, carrying multiple ballot boxes among them. The crowd massed around them, and began chanting protest slogans as they walked. As people on the balconies above us started filming and taking photos, chants of “we voted” and “the streets will always be ours” slowly changed to one unified chant of “don’t film!” The crowd seemed to know how exposed they were.

This was the fourth escape plan among the polling stations in the area, Rotger, the poll worker at Foment Martinenc, explained. One of the stations was on a narrow pedestrian street and had only one entrance. Poll workers all assumed that the Spanish police would raid while they were counting votes, and decided to stop voting an hour early and move all of the ballot boxes to the most protected polling station. As polling workers carried the last boxes into the voting center to be counted, a large crowd swarmed in front of the door, blocking the entrance. The riot police never showed up.

The contested vote set off a week of protests. The day after the referendum, people clogged the street outside the headquarters for the Spanish police in downtown Barcelona. Flag-wielding separatists squared up against Spanish riot police with shields and tear gas cannons, until local police came to diffuse the situation. The next day, Catalan labor unions called a general strike, and for a day the streets of every Catalan city were packed with people protesting police violence. The following weekend, 350,000 Spanish nationalists filled the streets of Barcelona, many having bussed in from all over Spain. While most separatist demonstrators have been peaceful, even in the face of Spanish police provocation, the nationalist march was marked by violent clashes with bystanders and the occasional fascist flag and Nazi salute.

The tone of the protests was a far cry from the scene at Foment Martinenc on the eve of the referendum. There, there were no flags and no talk of political parties. The center was filled with Catalans of all political stripes; people seemed more concerned with their ability to vote than what would happen afterwards. Yet as we waited, a few people watched videos that had been shared on social media days earlier, of military police leaving from cities all over Spain to come stop the vote in Catalonia. In the videos, crowds had gathered to see the police off, waving Spanish flags and chanting “go get them!”

A few of those watching, in a moment of introspection, wondered out loud when it had become about “us” and “them.” The chanting crowds in the video seemed a harbinger of the clashes that were to come.

Top photo: People rest inside a would-be polling station at a school in Barcelona, on Oct. 1, 2017, to prevent the police from sealing it off in a referendum on independence for Catalonia banned by Madrid.

The post How Catalonia Pulled Off Its Independence Vote from Spain Using “Pizza” Code Words and Secret Schemes appeared first on The Intercept.

A Federal Judge Upheld Joe Arpaio’s Pardon, But the Legal Challenge Isn’t Over Yet

12 October 2017 - 12:40pm

Although a federal district judge last week dismissed the criminal case against former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by President Donald Trump, lawyers who challenged the constitutionality of the pardon say the fight is far from over.

“I don’t think that the decision by the judge in the criminal case is the end of the story,” said Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People, one of the groups challenging the constitutionality of the pardon. “There is a viable challenge that could be launched, and we are actively exploring this on the same grounds that we mentioned in our friend of the court brief and be able to expand on it.”

As The Intercept previously reported, Free Speech for People is one of a number of groups that filed friend-of-the-court briefs in Arpaio’s criminal case to argue that Trump’s pardon was unconstitutional. The basis of their objection was that the pardon power is not absolute, and it does not allow the president to pardon an elected official for ignoring a court order to stop violating people’s constitutional rights, as the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff did.

Now, Fein told The Intercept, the group is considering civil litigation on behalf of people whose rights were threatened as a result of Arpaio’s violation of the court order. Wanting to protect his legal strategy, Fein declined to share much about what the suit would entail.

“I think the basic argument is that the pardon violates the due process rights clause and constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws, and I don’t want to expand further on that,” Fein said.

Trump in August pardoned Arpaio for his July conviction for criminal contempt of court for what U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton called a “flagrant disregard” of a court order to stop his office’s unconstitutional practice of racial profiling. Bolton upheld Trump’s controversial pardon last week, dismissing the criminal contempt case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be tried again. She did not yet, however, rule on Arpaio’s request to throw out all the orders in the case. In other words, Arpaio wants the entire record cleared.

The Department of Justice, which had been prosecuting the case, adopted Arpaio’s position and agreed that the case should be dismissed and his record cleared. Ironically, the Justice Department’s website makes clear that a pardon cannot erase a conviction.

“Please also be aware that if you were to be granted a presidential pardon, the pardoned offense would not be removed from your criminal record,” a Justice Department page with frequently asked questions about presidential pardons reads.

In separate amicus briefs filed by legal groups and more than 30 House Democrats last month, the amici argued that even if the pardon were to stand, Bolton should not grant Arpaio’s request to vacate the rulings in his criminal case.

Once Bolton issues her final ruling, either side may choose to file an appeal. The fact that the Justice Department has sided with Arpaio complicates things, because it means the parties are not adversarial. The judge, however, may choose to appoint a private attorney to investigate and decide whether to appeal Bolton’s ruling. In fact, the federal rules of criminal procedure require the court to appoint private counsel to prosecute a contempt case, including an appeal, when the government declines to do so.

The reason is to maintain the separation of powers, said Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy, one of the amici that challenged the pardon, and former associate White House counsel to President Barack Obama.

“If the courts had to rely on the executive branch every time the court found someone in criminal contempt of court, the court would be subservient to the executive branch,” Bassin told The Intercept.

Although Bolton declined the amici’s request to appoint private counsel at the trial level, it’s not too late.

“Private counsel would essentially assume the role of the U.S. attorney for the purposes of the appeal,” said Brad Miller, a former North Carolina congressman and the author of a brief on behalf of nearly three dozen House Democrats challenging the pardon. “They would argue against the defendant’s motion — Arpaio’s motion to vacate the findings at the trial court level — and could have standing to file a notice of appeal to dispute the constitutionality of the pardon altogether. Judge Bolton did not rule our way on that, but she treated our constitutional concerns as serious, which they are.”

The Department of Justice is “exceedingly unlikely to advocate for the position we think a private attorney would be at least willing to consider,” Fein said. A private attorney would have the ability to file an appeal with the 9th Circuit, which is essential, the lawyers say, given the novelty of the circumstances surrounding Arpaio’s pardon.

“The consequence of this pardon, if it’s allowed to stand, is that courts would be deprived of power and be at the whim of the president to enforce our constitutional rights,” Bassin said. “A case of first impression cannot die at the district court level; that’s what appellate courts are for.”

Some House Democrats will likely join any subsequent challenge to the pardon, Miller said. “I fully expect if the issue goes up on appeal that all members who appeared as amici would also be willing to put their names on a brief that makes the same arguments to the 9th Circuit,” Miller said.

Top photo: Inmates walk as they are moved after being ordered by Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio, right, looking on, to be placed into new housing to open up new beds for maximum security inmates on April 17, 2009 in Phoenix.

The post A Federal Judge Upheld Joe Arpaio’s Pardon, But the Legal Challenge Isn’t Over Yet appeared first on The Intercept.

Before Charlottesville Was in the Spotlight, Police Arrested Their Most Prominent Critic in the Middle of the Night

12 October 2017 - 10:59am

Jeff Fogel woke to the sound of someone furiously banging on his door. He quickly threw on a T-shirt and pajama bottoms while the banging continued, and stole a glance at his alarm clock before running downstairs. It was 12:30 a.m. in Charlottesville, Virginia.

When Fogel opened the door, he couldn’t believe what he saw. He was face-to-face with five police officers on his front porch and behind them, five police cars lit up the neighboring houses red and blue with their flashing lights.

As one of the city’s leading defense attorneys, Fogel was on a first-name basis with a lot of Charlottesville’s top cops, but he was confused about why they would seek him out so late. As a joke, Fogel put out his hands, wrists pressed together in a handcuff position. “Haha. You’re all here to arrest me, right?”

It wasn’t a joke. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” he half-shouted.

The commotion woke up Fogel’s wife and houseguest, who both made their way downstairs. Fogel turned around and shouted, “Hey everybody, come down and see the brave men of the Charlottesville police department, coming to arrest a 72-year-old man!”

The officers wouldn’t allow Fogel to get his keys or get dressed. Minutes later, as he sat in the back seat of a police car, Fogel realized that throughout his 48-year career as a civil rights attorney, he never understood how much it hurt to be handcuffed. He also realized the arrest would have reverberations. It was early June, and in less than two weeks, voters in Charlottesville would go to the polls to decide on the city’s next district attorney, with one of the candidates vowing to rein in police abuse and roll back mass incarceration. That candidate was now bound for the police station.

Full-on fighting occurred in front of the Charlottesville Police Station. All the officers stood by and watched, never arresting or stopping the violence throughout the entire day. On Saturday, August 12, 2017, a veritable who’s who of white supremacist groups clashed with hundreds of counter-protesters during the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Photo: Michael Nigro/Sipa/AP

Two months later, Charlottesville became ground zero for the largest demonstration by white supremacists in a decade. The world was shocked by images of young men marching with tiki torches, chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” and President Donald Trump’s contemptible response to their hateful message.

But something else also shocked observers of the August demonstrations. The police appeared uninterested in stopping violence between white supremacists, many of whom came armed, and rival demonstrators. As the day wound down, Heather Heyer, an antiracist demonstrator, was mowed down by a allegedly car driven by white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr.

Charlottesville police, who declined to comment for this story, have denied that the police were given an order to “stand down.” But according to testimonials and videos from the day, officers passively stood by while people were pepper-sprayed, beaten, and thrown to the ground. In a video obtained by the New York Times, police did nothing even after a white supremacist fired a gun in the direction of a black man.

The spectacle of Charlottesville police sparked a national discussion on whether some police officers are sympathetic to a far-right, white nationalist perspective. Two days after the demonstrations, the president of a local police union in New Mexico was caught sharing an internet meme joking about running over protesters. In September, the head of the Pennsylvania police union called Black Lives Matter protesters “a pack of rabid animals,” but he previously defended an officer who sported a Nazi tattoo.

Nothing illustrates the point better than the case of DeAndre Harris, a 20-year-old Charlottesville local who turned up to protest hate groups in his city. After the events in Charlottesville, a video emerged of Harris falling to the ground and getting savagely beaten by six white nationalists wielding baseball bats and two-by-fours. All of this happened in a parking garage next to the police station, but no arrests were made at the time.

Charlottesville police would later arrest three of the men in connection to the beating, but only after an internet campaign, led by The Intercept’s Shaun King, identified them and pressured the police to apprehend them.

And now, police are about to arrest a fourth. On Tuesday, an unidentified local magistrate in Charlottesville issued an arrest warrant for Harris as well, making him a wanted man in connection to his well-documented beating. According to the Washington Post, the magistrate issued the warrant after a self-identified “southern nationalist” accused Harris of injuring him during his own assault.

It may seem shocking that local officials would take the word of a white nationalist at face value despite a mountain of video evidence suggesting otherwise. But it shouldn’t, because it’s happened before. Two months earlier, Charlottesville police arrested their most prominent critic on the word of a white nationalist, and his case is still pending.

Attorney Jeffrey Fogel represents five homeless men in a suit in Charlottesville, Virginia, in June 2011

Photo: Courteney Stuart/ The Hook

When Jeff Fogel came to Charlottesville ten years ago, he was already a celebrated civil rights lawyer. After graduating from Rutgers Law School in 1969, he became a highly sought-after defense attorney, and eventually became the executive and legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. He went on to become the legal director for the Manhattan-based Center for Constitutional Rights, where he worked on a landmark case against the city’s stop-and-frisk policy.

Fogel is an old-school progressive, and when I caught up with him in September in a Charlottesville coffee shop, everything about him reminded me of Bernie Sanders. Bald except for a patch of white hair on the back of his head, Fogel wears a pair of square glasses and even speaks with a hint of an old-school Brooklyn accent, like Sanders when he denounces the influence of “millionahs and billionahs.”

He told me that he was driven to become a defense attorney early in life after a visit to a New Jersey state prison. “When I went into a prison the first time, in Trenton state prison in 1970, it was outrageous what I saw,” he said. “The conditions were horrible. Almost everybody was black. It was just so out front.”

And for all his passion, there is a side of Fogel that is defiant and sarcastic. The license plate on his Mazda reads “CVL RGTS,” so cops know who they’re dealing with before they pull him over.

Unhappy with life in the city, Fogel moved to Charlottesville and set up a private practice in 2007. He took cases that involved false arrests and excessive force, among other abuses, and quickly established himself as one of the city’s leading defense attorneys.

To give a cheeky example, in 2012 Fogel handled the case of a black man who was arrested for saying “fuck you” to a patrol officer. The judge threw out the case, because cursing at a cop is protected speech. Fogel helped him sue the department for damages, and the city settled.

Fogel has also been an outspoken critic of the city’s stop-and-frisk system. Throughout the years, he told me, the department’s data has shown that around 70 to 80 percent of the people stopped were black, even though the population of Charlottesville is only 20 percent black.

“So I went to the [city] council,” he told me, “and I said listen, I think the program is terrific. The only thing we have to do is shift it from focusing on black people to focusing on white people. You’ll catch a lot of people.”

In 2015, Fogel filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP and the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents, or PHAR, seeking documentation for the reasons of the stops. The city fought to exempt their release as “criminal investigative material,” and Fogel lost.

Like so many progressives, Fogel was deeply disturbed by Donald Trump’s election. Two nights after election day, he woke up at 3:00 a.m., and decided right then that he wanted to be more than just a critic.

Fogel decided to run for commonwealth attorney. The sitting top prosecutor, Dave Chapman, had announced he was not seeking re-election, and Fogel saw it as his opportunity to defy the Trump administration, much like civil rights activist Larry Krasner did in Philadelphia. As federal law enforcement would become more draconian, Fogel could make Charlottesville an example of a progressive alternative.

“I just thought that I’ve got to try and do something locally, without interference from the feds,” Fogel told me. “To show everyone we really can do something affecting the racial inequities, as well as mass incarceration.”

In the past couple of years, groups like the ACLU have tried to draw attention to a little-known fact: Local prosecutors are the most powerful people in the criminal justice system. They decide when and how to bring criminal cases, and when 9 out of 10 cases are resolved by plea bargains, judges often have limited involvement overseeing their cases.

As a candidate for local prosecutor, Fogel did what only a few people have done before – he ran on a platform of reforming the police and dramatically rolling back mass incarceration. His campaign platform promised to avoid mandatory minimums, reduce the number of felony prosecutions, and carefully scrutinize stop-and-frisk policies.

But one of Fogel’s proposals in particular attracted more attention than the others: his promise not to prosecute anyone for possessing marijuana. The proposal particularly ruffled the feathers of Joe Thomas, a local conservative radio host, who interviewed Fogel about it. He later released a 26-minute segment titled “Roll Me A Fogel” – in which he mixed the interview with soundbites from Afroman’s song “Because I Got High.”

It was, in many ways, a Charlottesville replica of the radical campaign run by Krasner in Philadelphia. Krasner ran on a “decarceration” platform and won his primary race in May, sending shock waves throughout the law enforcement world just two weeks before Fogel’s arrest in June.

Fogel faced steep odds throughout his race. His opponent in the Democratic primary was Joe Platania, the heir apparent and former deputy district attorney. Platania knew his boss would be retiring ahead of time, and with his months-long head start, locked down the major Democratic donors and endorsements.

Fogel, meanwhile, was winning over progressive, grassroots groups, like Showing up for Racial Justice and Together CVille, and getting endorsed by Joy Johnson, a leader with PHAR. He had a shot.

The statue of a Confederate soldier and two Civil War cannons stand in front of the Albemarle County Court House on August 22, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Charlottesville city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to cover Confederate statues in black cloth.

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On the evening of June 2, just eight days before the primary, Fogel got a call from a friend in the local chapter of SURJ. Jason Kessler, the prominent white supremacist who would go on to organize the August rallies, was eating at a restaurant downtown. SURJ was headed to protest, part of their initiative to try to stop local restaurants from serving him, and Fogel decided to check it out.

When he got there, Kessler was eating at a table in an open pavilion, and Fogel decided to watch the action from afar. He got an outdoor table at Miller’s, a restaurant adjacent to the pavilion. He ordered a burger, fries, and a beer, and posted to watch the protest.

After a confrontation with the protesters, in a twist of bad luck, Kessler exited the pavilion toward Miller’s. While speaking at his camera phone, he recognized Fogel as he walked by his table. “Here we have this candidate … Joe [sic] Fogel,” he said and proceeded to get into a heated argument with him.

At one point, Fogel told Kessler to “get a job and do something productive during the day.” According to Kessler’s own video footage, he responded by shouting, “You are a communist!” Then Caleb Norris, one of Kessler’s associates, looked at Fogel and called him a “communist piece of shit,” at which point Fogel took a step toward Norris and lightly put his hand on Norris’s chest, while Norris swatted it away.

“Oh my God! This guy just assaulted — press charges, press charges,” shouted Kessler. “This communist!” He turned to Norris and said, “Hey, dude, press charges against him now. He’s running for commonwealth attorney.” (Kessler did not reply to multiple requests for comment from The Intercept.)

Kessler later posted his video of the argument to YouTube, so you can judge for yourself:

When I met with Fogel, he didn’t come across as a man capable of a violent assault, at least not a successful one against a much younger group of men. The 72-year-old is active in the city, but he told to me that he had to take a medical leave several years ago due to a heart attack.

That night, Fogel followed Kessler and his entourage to the police station, where Kessler showed them his video and told them his version of the events. Fogel later told me that police said “they have a video,” but declined to show it to him. Frustrated he wasn’t allowed to see and explain Kessler’s video, and figuring it would amount to nothing, Fogel decided not to cooperate.

He asked an officer if he was free to leave, and the officer did not give him a straight answer. Fogel got angry, and after arguing with the officer about whether he was under arrest, he was told he was allowed to leave. Kessler later posted another video of that argument, titled “Lawyer Jeff Fogel Abusing a Police Officer.”

Fogel went home and went to bed. He would be roused later that night, arrested, and charged with misdemeanor assault. The police had chosen to believe the story that a known white nationalist and serial exaggerator told – that a 72-year-old man had violently assaulted a young neo-Nazi.

Jeff Fogel’s mugshot played in brutal fashion on the local news.

Photo: Charlottesville Police

When prominent public figures are wanted by the police, there are typically two ways officers handle it. Either call the person and ask them to come down to the station, or call the media and arrange for a perp walk. The Charlottesville police went with a third option, the one most likely to guarantee a politically devastating mugshot.

The police sought what’s called a non-permitted warrant — granted by local magistrate Justin Garwood — which can’t be effectuated by summons. The warrant gave them some flexibility about when they could execute it – so they could have delayed physically arresting Fogel until the next morning. But they chose to do it after midnight that night, dragging him to the police station in his pajamas.

Fogel later told me that he was taken before the magistrate and spoke to Garwood one-on-one. According to Fogel, he asked Garwood why he allowed such a warrant rather than just having the police call him down to the station. “Because I didn’t like the way you spoke to the sergeant in the police department,” Garwood told him. 

Garwood threatened to have him detained, but then released him on a $5,000 personal security bond. When he got back to his house at 2:30 a.m., his wife was still looking for him at the county jail. Because Fogel didn’t have his keys, he sat outside and waited for her.

(Garwood did not respond to a request for comment from The Intercept, and the story will be updated if he does.)

Fogel filed a formal complaint with Avnel A. Coates, the chief magistrate for the judicial district that includes Charlottesville. Three days later, Coates sent him a letter, saying the arrest was appropriate, because there was “probable cause that there was an unwanted touching of the victim” and that “it is reasonable that there was a safety concern.”

But for Fogel, the damage was already done. The day after the arrest, his ruffled mugshot was plastered all over the local paper. Discussion of the arrest overshadowed any news coverage of the debates or his campaign.

On Election Day, a record number of people turned out — and nearly 40 percent of them cast their ballots for the man in his PJs. It wasn’t enough, but Fogel said he considers that a success — that his ideas were catching on. “It still seems significant that with that radical a program, I could get 40 percent of that vote,” he said.

Meanwhile, the criminal case against Fogel stalled. After the local prosecutor recused himself, and the state initially had trouble finding a special prosecutor who hadn’t dealt with Fogel as a defense attorney in their line of work. But the case is scheduled to go forward later this month.

The Charlottesville Police Department is also investigating Fogel’s arrest internally. According to emails Fogel shared with me, the officer in charge of the investigation communicated to Fogel that it was finished, but the department maintains it is ongoing.

I filed public records requests seeking the investigation’s conclusions, as well as the police body camera footage of Fogel’s arrests, but both were withheld as investigative files. And whether or not the results of the investigation are ever made public, Fogel is clear about why he thinks they chose to arrest him.

“I’ve been a persistent critic of the police department. That’s why I got arrested. So you all might want to think about that.”

Fogel came close, but it wasn’t enough, and elections have consequences. The prosecution of DeAndre Harris will be handled for now by Commonwealth Attorney Dave Chapman, who will pass it off after the general election to his deputy, Joe Platania.

Top photo: Virginia State Police in riot gear stand in front of the statue of General Robert E. Lee before forcing white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” out of Emancipation Park after the “Unite the Right” rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The post Before Charlottesville Was in the Spotlight, Police Arrested Their Most Prominent Critic in the Middle of the Night appeared first on The Intercept.