The Intercept

The Voices of Syria Have Always Been Ignored by the West

13 August 2017 - 8:17am

The Syrian story is a tapestry of tales, woven together from pain and courage, love and hate, innocence suffocated, and cruelty ascendant,

“We Cross a Bridge and it Trembled—Voices from Syria” by Wendy Pearlman

that remains undeciphered by those who are determining the fate of that ancient land. Wendy Pearlman writes in “We Cross a Bridge and It Trembled,” her book of interviews with exiles from Syria’s six-year war, “One wonders what might have been different had we listened to Syrian voices earlier.”

Disregarding Syria’s people has been a constant theme since the creation of modern Syria in 1920. Had anyone listened to them, the multiple tragedies of the past century might have been avoided. France and Britain, after expelling the Ottomans from their Arab empire during World War I, excelled at denying Syrians a voice in their destiny. With the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, they severed what became Syria from its historic peripheries in Lebanon and Palestine. Ghayth Armanazi, in “The Story of Syria,” a sympathetic history of his homeland, called the Anglo-French accord “an iconic example of imperial deceit and duplicity.” After dividing Syria, the British and French imposed colonial rule on inhabitants, who had made clear their unanimous desire for independence in multiple petitions to the King-Crane Commission, sent by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to gauge public opinion. The British and French armed forces crushed rebellions and uprisings to enforce their rule throughout their tenure in the Levant.

When independence came in the aftermath of World War II, the CIA took no more account of Syria’s “voices” than the British and French had. It engineered a military coup that overthrew the parliamentary government in 1949, setting a precedent for the army, a construct of French rule, to govern without consulting the populace any more than the imperialists had. Repeated wars with Israel led to a loss of face and territory, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, as well as Syrians, who were driven from their villages in the Golan Heights. An experiment in Arab unity — the United Arab Republic that cleaved Syria to Egypt from 1958 to 1961— was another failure of governance. The Syrian military occupation of Lebanon that began in 1976 ended in ignominy in 2005, with a forced withdrawal amid sharp hostility from the Sunni Muslim community that had once seen their country as part of historic Syria.

Armanazi, whose ancestors took part in the struggle for independence and civilian governance, provides a brief and reliable account of

“The Story of Syria” by Ghayth Armanazi

Syria from Neolithic times to the present. His writing helps to explain how the country went from the optimism of 1920, when it established an independent monarchy for a few months, to 2011, when the country devoured itself in fratricidal bloodletting encouraged and financed by outsiders. Syria was, in the words of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, “the heartbeat of Arabism.” Damascus had been the capital of the first Arab empire, the Omayyad. Syrian, as well as Lebanese, writers and politicians had led the drive for Arab independence from Turkey. Syrian schools taught that the country was a significant part of a larger Arab nation.

Arab nationalism, accommodating all sects of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Yazidis, clashed head-on with Islamism’s narrow focus on orthodox Sunni ascendancy. This is one of many themes — alongside democracy vs. dictatorship, secularism vs. jihadism, Saudi vs. Iranian, Turk vs. Kurd, America vs. Russia — that has played out during the war since it began in 2011. For every young idealist in the streets of Daraa, Damascus, and Homs calling for free speech and an end to torture, there was a Muslim Brother seeking to replace a secular dictator with a theocratic one. This was as fraudulent, but as real, of a choice as that between British and French colonial masters in 1920.

Pearlman, in an edited selection of statements from thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Europe, and the U.S., excludes statements from the majority of Syrians who have remained inside the country and omits the questions that led to the published statements. However, the Syrian men, women, and children quoted emerge as intelligent, perceptive, and deserving of our attention. A few examples should make an inquisitive reader seek out the rest:

Miriam, a young woman from Aleppo: “If Bashar had only come out in his first speech and said, ‘I am with you, my people. I want to help you and be with you step by step,’ I can guarantee you 1 million percent that he would have been the greatest leader in the Arab world.”

Jamal, a physician from Hama: “It became painfully clear: This person should not be ruling us. He is too stupid to deserve to be our president.”

Waddah, a medical school graduate from Latakia: “I started yelling in a loud voice, ‘Dignity!’ What did we want after dignity? We didn’t know.”

Aziza, a school principal from Hama: “I asked them [the rebels], ‘Do you have tanks or planes? They have an army created to fight Israel. You don’t stand a chance.’”

Yousef, a former medical student from Hasaka Governorate: “No one supported us. Instead, the U.S.-led coalition bombed … It’s airstrikes that have destroyed the country.”

Kareem, a physician from Homs: “The truth is that Syria has no friends. It is just a chessboard for the great powers to settle their accounts.”

By uniting with Egypt in 1958, Syria made one serious attempt at Arab unity. Yet Egypt’s greater size and Nasser’s overwhelming popularity rendered the Syrian half of the United Arab Republic to what it had been in the early 19th century: a short-lived colony of the Egyptians. One year after the union’s dissolution in 1961, a rebellion seeking to restore it erupted in Aleppo and other parts of Syria. The uprising’s leaders called on Egypt to intervene. Armanazi writes, “Nasser, however, calculated that any such intervention would be fraught with risk.” The army quickly crushed the rebels, sparing the country a civil war. Those who responded to the rebels’ plea for weapons and funding over the past six years of war in Syria have shown no such restraint.

Top photo: Col. Husni Zaim, center, foreground, stands at attention while the national anthem is played during his inauguration in Damascus, Syria, as President of the Syrian republic in 1949. Behind him are officers and officials who supported him when he took control of the government in a coup d’etat.

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O “outro mundo” da democracia brasileira

13 August 2017 - 8:15am

“É outro mundo.” Foi essa a definição que a ex-ministra da Justiça da Alemanha, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, deu para o Brasil em sua passagem pelo país esta semana. Ela estava espantada com o fato de o presidente brasileiro não ter renunciado logo após a denúncia da PGR. Pobre, Herta. Mal sabe que isso é quase irrelevante perto da pornochanchada que tomou conta das instituições brasileiras.

Mas há quem acredite que está tudo normal. Quando a Câmara livrou Temer da denúncia de Janot por corrupção passiva, Gilmar Mendes comemorou a estabilidade que o engavetamento do caso trouxe ao país e ressaltou a normalidade do funcionamento das instituições:  “Isso é uma questão da competência da Câmara. O sistema de ‘checks and balances’ (sistema de freios e contrapesos) está funcionando.”

Dependendo do ponto de vista, elas estão funcionando muito bem mesmo. Vejamos. No último domingo, Temer teve um encontro fora da agenda oficial com Gilmar Mendes no Palácio Jaburu. Na segunda (7), o ministro do STF chamou Janot de “procurador-geral mais desqualificado que já passou pela história da Procuradoria”. Na terça (8), Temer pediu ao STF de Gilmar Mendes a suspeição de Janot para que o procurador não atue mais em casos contra ele. Percebam como a agenda revela o entrosamento da rapaziada. Nem o time do Barcelona funciona tão bem.

Encontros fora das agendas oficiais entre Gilmar Mendes e Michel Temer são comuns em Brasília.

Foto: TSE

As noites no Jaburu são sempre agitadas. No mesmo dia em que pediu a suspeição de Janot, Temer se reuniu depois das 22h com a procuradora que assumirá em setembro. Como já é tradição, o encontro não foi registrado na agenda oficial do presidente e só veio a público após ser flagrado por câmeras da Globo. Apesar de ser o segundo nome da lista tríplice apresentada pela procuradoria, Raquel Dodge foi escolhida por Temer e contou com o apoio de Gilmar Mendes e dos barões do PMDB.

Posso imaginar os dois noite adentro discutindo os detalhes do cerimonial: a prataria, os convidados, o cardápio, as toalhas

A futura procuradora-geral da República considerou adequado visitar alguém que foi denunciado por corrupção passiva e lavagem de dinheiro pelo atual procurador. À Folha, Dodge revelou que se encontrou com Temer apenas para acertar detalhes da sua cerimônia de posse. Não dá pra resolver essas coisas por e-mail ou whatsapp. Posso imaginar os dois noite adentro discutindo os detalhes do cerimonial: a prataria, os convidados, o cardápio, as toalhas, enfim, esses detalhes que só um presidente e uma procuradora geral da República podem dar conta.

Na quarta-feira, Dodge marcou novo encontro. Se você estiver prestando atenção na agenda, já deve ter adivinhado com quem. Gilmar Mendes é o nome da fera que se reuniria com Dodge para discutir – acreditem se quiser! –   o “crime organizado nas eleições”.   Homens de Temer como Raul Jungmann (Defesa) e Sérgio Etchegoyen (Gabinete de Segurança Institucional da Presidência) também participariam. Mas a subprocuradora se arrependeu depois da repercussão negativa da reunião com Temer e cancelou esse novo grande encontro entre as instituições. Seria um pouco demais se encontrar na calada da noite com um denunciado pela PGR e no dia seguinte com o juiz que salvou a candidatura do mesmo denunciado para tratar de crimes eleitorais. Temer decidiu que a cerimônia acontecerá no Planalto e Janot não estará lá para entregar o cargo. O ritual de passagem será feito por um “embaixador, ou alguma coisa assim,” indicado por Temer.

É nesse clima de promiscuidade institucional que o país caminha para aprovar profundas reformas que terão impacto decisivo em seu futuro. Temer está radiante com o bom funcionamento das instituições, homenageou o Congresso e disse estar com a “alma incendiada”:

“O diálogo com o Congresso permitiu que fizéssemos o que fizéssemos, na convicção que o Legislativo não é um apêndice do Executivo, mas que governa junto com ele. Quero fazer uma especialíssima homenagem ao Congresso brasileiro.”

 

Política fadada ao mais do mesmo

A reforma política agora está no centro da ribalta e será definida pelos mesmos que impediram a continuação da investigação de um presidente acusado de corrupção. Dificilmente alguma mudança irá prejudicar quem já está eleito e pretende se reeleger. O “distritão”, que havia sido proposto pelo então presidente da Câmara e hoje presidiário Eduardo Cunha, foi ressuscitado e aprovado pelos deputados da comissão que discute a reforma. Na prática, a proposta dificultará a eleição de nomes desconhecidos e favorecerá aqueles que já estão eleitos. A renovação de quadros políticos ficará comprometida.

Para compensar o fim do financiamento privado de campanha, um fundo bilionário será criado para cobrir as despesas. Não sou contra a criação do fundo, mas R$ 3,6 bilhões é um quantia vergonhosa num momento em que o governo passa a tesoura violentamente em despesas voltadas para os mais pobres. O programa Bolsa Família sofreu o maior corte da história na última sexta-feira, fazendo com que mais de meio milhão de famílias perdessem o benefício. Segundo levantamento de Ruben Berta do Intercept Brasil, com essa quantia seria possível pagar 1 mês e meio de Bolsa Família para as 13,2 milhões de famílias dependentes do programa.

Tanto o distritão quanto o fundo bilionário são aprovados publicamente por Temer e Gilmar Mendes.

Herta tem razão. A democracia brasileira realmente é mundo à parte. Aqui corrupto grita “pega ladrão”, torturador do regime militar é exaltado no parlamento, instituições se reúnem às escondidas e reformas são feitas para que tudo continue como está.

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The Battle for Venezuela and Its Oil

12 August 2017 - 10:47am

Despite the public battles between the New York Times and President Donald Trump, the two seem to be on a similar page about the unfolding crisis in Venezuela. Last week, the administration announced it had “designated” President Nicolas Maduro and other Venezuelan officials, freezing their U.S. assets and barring Americans from doing business with them. The Times called that the best way to confront the Venezuelan government. The Times, though, went a step further calling on European and other nations to join what it called a “quarantine” of Maduro. It was an interesting word choice. That was also the term used for the early days of the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba. Interestingly, none of these players—Trump or the New York Times—are calling for a boycott on Venezuelan oil, which is heavily consumed by Americans.

U.S. hostile posturing toward Venezuela is nothing new. Washington, under both Democrats and Republicans, loathed the late President Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution. Chavez enjoyed sticking it to Washington and viewed each attack against him as a badge of honor in his struggle against Yankee imperialism. But Chavez’s successor, Maduro, does not have nearly the charisma or credibility among Venezuelans and progressive forces in Latin America enjoyed by Chavez. And Maduro’s recent actions have been disturbing even to some of Chavez’s close allies.

On July 30, the Venezuelan government held an election for a constituent assembly to re-draft the country’s constitution. The vote was held after an order issued by Maduro. Why that was necessary was baffling even to former supporters of Chavez, as the Bolivarian movement has often celebrated its constitution as a revolutionary and meticulous document. For many seasoned observers, the whole affair reeked of an effort to consolidate power. The vote for the assembly was boycotted by many Venezuelans and when the official results were announced, it was clear that the tally had been tampered with. It seems likely the government would have won the vote anyway, making the tampering all the more suspect.

Maduro’s forces have also conducted raids to arrest opposition figures and both government forces and opposition forces have been involved in lethal actions during protests. It must be pointed out that Maduro controls the country’s military and intelligence forces and those far outgun all of the combined masses of government opponents. That the United States funds and supports some of the worst elements of the opposition in Venezuela is a fact. There is a long history of Washington meddling in the affairs of Venezuela.

But that is not the entire story. Many ordinary Venezuelans, including progressives and leftists, are fed up with the government and receive no support or funding from shady U.S. entities. Venezuela presents a real challenge for progressive forces in the country and in Latin America more generally. Chavez was extremely popular, as was his movement. Pro-U.S. factions taking power in Venezuela is a real possibility in the event of Maduro’s downfall.

To discuss this complex unfolding situation, I interviewed attorney Eva Gollinger this week on Intercepted. She was one of Hugo Chavez’s most prominent supporters, was very close to the late president and knows many of the players in Venezuela personally, including Maduro. She is the author of several books, including The Chavez Code which is based on documents she obtained detailing U.S. interference in Venezuela, including the brief coup against Chavez in 2002. What follows is an expanded transcript of that interview, an excerpt of which was broadcast on Intercepted.

Listen to the interview here:


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Extended transcript:

Jeremy Scahill: Eva Golinger, welcome to Intercepted.

Eva Golinger: Thanks for having me, Jeremy.

JS: Now there’s a lot I want to get into with you. I want to talk about some of the critique of Maduro coming from the left, not just in Venezuela, but elsewhere in the world. But I want to begin by asking your response to what increasingly feels like a kind of war-posturing from the Trump Administration. Statements came from his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, they’ve now designated Maduro. The New York Times is saying that he belongs in a camp intellectually or personally of people like Kim Jong-un and Bashar al-Assad. Your response to what’s coming out of this administration and from the New York Times about the situation in Venezuela.

EG: There’s been an ongoing escalation coming out of the United States government against the Venezuelan government, since Hugo Chavez was in power. And we’ve seen an increase over the years as the Venezuelan government has sort of dug in deeper with their ideological model, leaning more towards this anti-imperialist alliance internationally, the more they’ve opened themselves up to countries like Russia and China and Iran as their trade partners. And then overall, I mean, taking a position that is adversarial to the U.S.

So it’s nothing new, it’s just that it’s — it’s more direct now. I think that a lot of the interaction before in the posturing of the United States was done more in a lower profile way.

I mean, it was President Obama who declared Venezuela an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States and put the first sort of sanctions on Venezuela officially. And that was just a couple years ago. And those were renewed this year before Trump really had a full understanding of what was taking place. So it’s really just been an ongoing escalation.

From the time Chavez first was elected in ’98 and those initial years when he didn’t comply with what the U.S. was looking for and always had in Venezuela as a client state that’s when the U.S. backed a coup against Chavez in 2002. And subsequently that sort of aggression just began increasing over the years.

So, I mean, now we’re just seeing sort of the culmination of it and the fact that they’re buckling down more. But, in the end, the relationship between the two countries remains generally the same. Venezuela is one of the principal suppliers of oil to the U.S. I mean, it’s a commercial relationship. They are interdependent. And in the end, there’s a lot of rhetoric back and forth. And, yes, there’s definitely an escalation of it now under Trump because the people sort of — that are pushing this this particular escalation, right now, that have Trump’s ear — are the more reactionary sectors of the Republican Party. Marco Rubio for example.

I mean, that’s what they’ve been looking for. They’ve been looking for a way to push regime change in Venezuela. But it really has nothing to do with a change in policy. It’s been a sort of a state policy of the United States towards Venezuela since the Chavez government.

JS: What did you make of Jeremy Corbyn’s statement this week, where he said he condemns violence on all sides?

EG: Well I mean that’s a giant piece of the narrative that’s been missing on what’s been taking place in Venezuela. You see a lot, I mean particularly here in the U.S. — in the New York Times, in The Washington Post, in the Wall Street Journal, other media CNN, NBC — you hear a lot about these opposition protests being repressed by the government but you’re not getting a full picture.

Because while there is a state reaction taking place, there is repression with tear gas and rubber bullets, you’re not seeing the other side of it, which is that those are not exactly peaceful democratic protests. There are smaller factions. I mean, there are parts of the opposition in Venezuela that act within a democratic framework, but there is a very violent faction that’s gotten out of control. It’s anarchical. I mean, they where they’re using Molotov cocktails, homemade bombs and weapons, and they’re using them against the state security forces.

So I mean, I always think about it is, if this were happening in Washington D.C. or even here in the in the streets of New York where I am, I mean, it wouldn’t last more than an hour. I mean, if we had that where they’re burning buildings, they’re burning buses, they’re burning people — a lot of times innocent people. So far at least, what’s been so far investigated by state officials, being the public prosecutor’s office that’s been critical against the Maduro government recently is that it’s really an equal number of deaths on both sides can be attributed to the violent opposition protesters — in some case inflicting the injuries upon themselves or against innocent bystanders, or against police or national guard forces, and then those on the side of the government. It’s not to justify it in any way; it’s just to show a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

There’s been violence by both sides and overall, I mean, the opposition leadership — the anti-government leadership in Venezuela — have been reluctant to come out and fully condemn those types of violent protests. In fact, they’ve been encouraging them. Because they’ve seen it as sort of this way to heat up the streets to pressure the government to — I mean, overall what they’ve been looking for is for Maduro to resign, for regime change, which they’ve been unsuccessful.

JS: I want to just ask you directly if you believe that this recent voting for a national constituent assembly — do you believe that that was a legitimate, free, fair vote and that the tallies announced by the government are accurate?

EG: There’s a lot of indication that it wasn’t a free and fair vote — that the tallies are not accurate. But there’s another piece of that that also is always missing from any sort of conversation around that. Which is that in the end, it didn’t matter because they pushed forward with this election of delegates to a constituent assembly to rewrite a constitution that was already one of the most lauded constitutions in the world that had been done and written by a very participatory open process that was led, in fact, by Hugo Chavez in 1999. So there was a lot of questioning, including from myself, as to why would this be the answer to Venezuela’s problems now when we already had a constitution there that seemed so all-encompassing of what was necessary to move forward in that country in terms of human rights.

JS: So why did they do it?

EG: Well that’s one of the biggest questions. So I mean, in the end, that vote was just about choosing the slates of people that had already been nominated by the government’s party to participate in rewriting a constitution. It didn’t matter, in the end, how many votes they got. The fact that the numbers may have been fudged by the government is an absolutely absurd move on their part because they were just trying to posture in front of the opposition who had conducted also an unverified and unofficial plebiscite weeks earlier where they say they got over seven million votes saying that they didn’t want this process to happen.

So it was really just sort of a back and forth showoff between both sides, in terms of the numbers. But it wouldn’t have mattered had the government gotten four million votes in the past election on July 30th, it still would have gone forward. So it doesn’t matter. I mean, they were doing it anyway.

JS: Well, it matters because people who play with votes — that is an inherently sort of authoritarian move to fabricate vote tallies. You know, Saddam Hussein used to win by 101 percent of the vote. Now people — my guess would be that he, because of the nature of the repression in Iraq, that he would have probably won anyway in some kind of an election. But the idea that you would tamper with it at all completely undermines the idea that your forces are the pro-democratic forces. No?

EG: Absolutely. Absolutely. But, and there’s no question, I mean, it seems as though the numbers were fudged by more than a million votes, so it put them over the threshold of what the opposition alleges they got in their unofficial plebiscite. So it was just to say, “we have more than you do so then therefore we have a legitimate mandate.”

And for me, it’s extremely disturbing because Venezuela since 2004 has had one of the most bulletproof election systems, with electronic elections machines that are backed up with a paper ballot and multiple sort of steps along the way to prevent fraud such as: fingerprints, indelible ink, signing a notebook — you know, where you sign in, you show your ID card, it’s checked against the information in the notebook. And I mean, you go through all these steps. In this particular election, almost all of those were eliminated. They had no notebooks. They had no indelible ink. There weren’t consistent fingerprint machines throughout. So, there is a lot of evidence to show that the vote — definitely the number could have been. And that’s unfortunate because it was a highly credible election system and now it’s been put into doubt.

And the thing about it though, Jeremy, is that on every election that the opposition has lost against this Bolivarian revolution or Chavez movement and now Maduro government, they’ve always cried fraud. It didn’t matter how bulletproof the system was. So now, saying fraud, and it may in fact be fraud, it just seems like such a loss on the government side. They should have accepted whatever numbers they had, and said, “Look, in the midst of all this violence and this economic crisis, we were still able to garner around 6.6 million votes.” I mean, that that should be a showing of force.

But unfortunately they took this path and now there’s a constituent assembly in place that is a supra, supreme power that has now declared that they will be in power a minimum — or maybe a maximum — of two years, which is 1999, after Chavez ran on a party platform in 1998 to rewrite the constitution. He was elected by a majority based on that as being one of the primary actions he would take. Then it was put to a vote after he was elected, to whether or not people actually wanted to proceed. More than 70 percent of those participating said yes. Then they elected the members. Then it was done in this extremely open, transparent way. You know, there were drafts of the constitution passed around and discussed in communities. And then it was put to another vote to actually ratify it by the people on a national level.

So I mean, we’re missing almost all of those steps this time around and it lasted four months, it had a mandate of four months. And it wasn’t all-supreme, that it could be a legislator and an executor and an enforcer, which is what we’re seeing now. So that’s why there’s a lot of concern coming from people like myself where I’m saying, “Wait a minute, what happened to our democratic framework that has been so upheld throughout this time period, despite a lot of cracks in the system along the way?” Now we’re seeing a major rupture.

JS: Well — and I don’t know anything about Maduro’s family members and their qualifications, but just the idea that you had his son and his wife now part of this constituent assembly, combined with what seems to be pretty clear case of manipulating the numbers, albeit perhaps unnecessarily as you say. I mean, the aesthetic there is really bad for Maduro.

EG: Of course. The optics are terrible. But you have to understand that corruption and nepotism are parts of Venezuelan society. I mean it’s a major oil producing country. It’s ironic, because when Hugo Chavez won in 1998, his two principal sort of promises in addition to the constitution were eradicating poverty and corruption. So, I mean, it’s not that corruption disappeared under Chavez. Some would say it proliferated. But having myself been on the inside, I could say that Chavez was sort of a controlling force. He was someone who he himself wasn’t corrupt, although many of those around him were. But the governments that were in place before he was elected were extremely corrupt. I mean, that’s why people were so disgusted with the sort of two-party system that was in place in Venezuela since the fall of the last dictatorship in 1958, and they wanted to break free with it.

When I first went to Venezuela in 1993, the country was in complete collapse. There was an economic crisis, the currency was devalued and the inflation was increasing. But I mean, many of the things that are happening now, which is why it’s so ironic. And then there was a suspension of constitutional rights. There was a national curfew. There was a forced military draft. I mean, their poverty had grown to around 80 percent, you know? There was an elite control over the country’s oil wealth and the oil industry despite the fact that it was nationalized in 1976.

So when people voted for Hugo Chavez and this idea of a Bolivarian revolution, they wanted to break free of a corrupt system. So the fact that now it’s sort of coming full cycle and we’re seeing the nepotism reemerging, the corruption proliferating, the exclusionary tactics taking place, the sort of suppression of dissent, the poverty increasing, the inflation, the economy falling. Again, I mean, when one looks at it and says, “Well, is this just the destiny of a country that has the bittersweet curse of oil?”

A customer shops for groceries at a supermarket with scarce supply in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 25, 2017.

Photo: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg News/Getty Images

JS: Well, and I wanted to ask you about that. One of the critiques that both Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky — again, these are North American voices — but one of their critiques has been that there’s been this massive overreliance on oil revenue and that that’s part of what has fueled the anti-democratic realities that we’re seeing unfold in parts of the situation in Venezuela.

EG: Absolutely. But I mean, again, it’s nothing new. It’s how the country has been functioning for decades. It’s just that before, most of that oil wealth was going into the pockets of an elite. And under these governments, Chavez, Maduro — Maduro has essentially tried to continue, ineffectively, the social policies that made Chavez so popular. But Chavez, also when he came to power, oil was at $7 a barrel. So I mean, it’s not as though they always had this $100-a-barrel to thrive off of in the country. The oil prices went up gradually over the years due to the the wars that the, you know, U.S. was engaged in the Middle East, as well as the role that Chavez, Venezuela and other countries played in sort of rejuvenating OPEC, of which Venezuela was a founding member. And they started to get the price of oil up and more focused on the oil producing countries rather than the oil consuming countries.

But certainly, when oil was reaching $60, $70 a barrel, Venezuela was spending lavishly not just on social programs, but on infrastructure, on all kinds of international agreements and buying things. And I mean, one of the — Chavez himself had, and I mean, I recall being in, like, a situational room in the presidential palace where he had a huge map about how his vision for the country was to invest those natural resources and strategic resources. It’s not just oil, it’s gas, it’s all kinds of minerals, heavy metals, to use those instead of just export them. To be able to have the technology inside the country, to use them to build up the infrastructure in other domestic industries to reduce dependency on oil. You know, something that never happened. I mean, they nationalized all these state industries and the people that were charged with it were incredibly corrupt and inept and incompetent. And so they ran them into the ground.

And none of it ever worked. But, I mean, the idea was there and now Maduro talks about it, too, even though there seems to be a complete disconnect between the discourse and the reality. And so, the dependency continues. And certainly, I mean, it’s a huge cause of the crisis the country is facing today is that over dependence and reliance on oil. Not just on the part of the government, but also by the people, who have become dependent on it in terms of expecting their piece of it — you know, the sort of overall entitlement that that people feel when they live in a system like that where the state is all-encompassing and provides so many of their basic services.

JS: It does seem that there is a trend under Maduro that I think echoes some of what we’ve seen in other governments in the region where all of the crises and all of the problems are essentially blamed on the United States or U.S. intervention. Now, of course, you wrote an entire book detailing U.S. dirty tricks and intervention in Venezuela, “The Chavez Code,” where you examined all of this in detail. Clearly the United States is constantly interfering in the affairs of countries around the world, but certainly throughout Central and South America. But it seems that that becomes a little bit too convenient to just constantly say, “Oh, well this is because the United States. This is because of U.S.-backed groups. This is all a U.S.-created opposition.” I mean, am I wrong? I mean, it seems like that that is sort of answer number one from the pro-Maduro camp.

EG: Well, I mean, it’s a little more complex. It’s not a simple yes or no answer. I mean certainly, I think there’s a culture, maybe a worldwide phenomenon of particularly leaders refusing to take responsibility for their actions. But I mean again, I keep going back to Chavez because, I mean, the Maduro government uses Chavez to justify everything they’re doing. So, I keep looking back and sort of studying and recalling his particular behavior in similar situations, or when he was facing a crisis. And one of the things that made Chavez so popular initially was when he engaged in a military rebellion or a coup against this corrupt President in 1992 and it failed. And he was the only one — Hugo Chavez, this young lieutenant colonel, came out in front of the cameras and took responsibility for the failure. And for Venezuelans, it was like a shock and awe moment. I mean, here we have someone in a position of leadership who’s actually saying: “I failed and I take responsibility.” And, you know, there will be more, to be continued. The story will be continued, which it most certainly was.

But, I mean, that was that was sort of a change, a shift that was very attractive to a lot of people in a country where so many had just blamed others for their mistakes or just turned their back on it. And now we’re seeing that again. I mean, that’s been one of my criticisms. Yes, there’s no question. Is the US funding the opposition in Venezuela? Absolutely. They’ve been doing it for years, you know? I mean, I’ve thoroughly documented it by using the Freedom of Information Act and uncovering the U.S.’ own documents where they show that they’re funding the opposition.

Are they backing and pushing for regime change? Totally. I mean, Mike Pompeo said it the other day in a public forum that they’re doing everything they can to seek regime change. I mean, we’ve heard it from Rex Tillerson the other day, the State Department, straight out, saying it. Maduro has to decide whether or not he wants a future, otherwise — I mean, now I’m paraphrasing  — will decide it for him, something to that effect.

So, are they doing that? Yes. Is there some forms of economic warfare, of propaganda war? Yes there is. But are there mistakes and responsibilities on the part of the government? Absolutely. And I mean, there’s been widespread mismanagement. They’ve made horrific economic decisions in terms of the currency and these extreme currency controls that have skyrocketed the inflation in a parallel black market for the dollar. I mean — and then at the same time, the contracts that the government has engaged with companies to supply food products and all kinds of other consumer products to the countries, they’ve been rife with corruption. There’s been commissions skimmed off the top. I mean, there’s over $300 billion dollars that have been embezzled out of the country over probably the past, like, four or five years that have been unaccounted for.

So I mean, the government can’t just say, “Well we have no role in this.” Or the fact that so many of these nationalized industries, not the oil as much, but even so — I mean, that they’re not functioning to capacity. Some has to do with external sabotage, refusal to supply parts that are needed, to fix things, stuff like that, but other others have to do with the government’s own decision.

So I mean, it’s not always the boogeyman’s fault. But the U.S. certainly has a role — an open, notorious role in not only backing an anti-government, undemocratic in many ways, opposition in Venezuela and promoting regime change.

I mean — and that’s the other factor in this, is that the government of course is in power, the Maduro government, so they bear always a larger responsibility for what’s happening in the country than those outside of it. But there’s no question that the opposition represents sort of the old school wealthy elite that control the private enterprises that have run Venezuela for decades. And, they’ve played a role in hoarding products and just overall sort of sabotage to try to use that concept that that was applied in Chile against Salvador Allende in the early 1970s make the economy scream.

JS: But you’re of course talking about some of these groups that have received an enormous amount of support and money and consultants, et cetera, from the United States and other powers that have intervened. But certainly, you also have a significant swath of Venezuelan society that also is opposed to Maduro that is not on the U.S. payroll.

EG: Absolutely. I mean, it would be outrageous to say that they’re all on a payroll, or they’re paid protesters. That reminds me of Donald Trump saying that about anyone who protests against him. It’s ridiculous. No. I mean the thing is that now — Chavez was in office from essentially 1999 until he passed away in early 2013, and now Maduro’s been in office ever since.

So, we’re looking over nearly 18 years, basically. I mean, there’s a generation, a complete generation that has grown up only knowing this government. And so, of course, I mean it, that they blame this government for the problems that they are experiencing in the country — rightfully so. They have no reference of how it was before. I mean, a lot of times this government likes to say this government in Venezuela, “Oh they have no idea how it was before, when things were repressive, when there was real persecution, when there was torture and when there was no distribution of the oil wealth and when the poverty rates were so high.”

I mean, that for many people today is an unknown past. They only care about what’s happening now. So there’s a percentage of the population that sticks by this government because they don’t want what they see as the old guard to get back into power because they fear that things will return to how they were before. They fear that they’ll become invisible again and marginalized and excluded and persecuted. And they’re probably right, in a lot of that. Especially because when these same opposition sort of leaders that are today facing off with Maduro, were the ones who executed the coup in 2002 against Chavez. And when they took over for a brief 48-hour period, that’s exactly what they did. They dissolved the constitution, all the powers. They persecuted and killed people in the streets that were identified with Chavez, with Chavismo, you know? They started to roll back everything they possibly could and wanted to privatize everything.

So I mean, there’s a reference for the fact that people stick by this government. What they say essentially is: “Yeah, we know they’re corrupt. Yeah, we know things aren’t great, but the alternative is worse.” And then you have on the opposition side, those saying: “No way. This is a terrible government. Things are terrible for us, we just want a change.” And they don’t really care.

I mean, Venezuela’s a crisis of leadership because the opposition is not offering any kind of alternative leadership that really gives people something that they can look at in a positive way for the future. It’s either sort of the older guard or the current guard, you know? And both have shown that they haven’t governed in a way that’s been favorable to the people. At least in terms of the Maduro government now and those in the opposition leadership in the past.

JS: Right. And I most certainly agree with your history there about the outside forces that supported that coup and then what the coup masters wanted to do. What I find more interesting when someone like you and someone like me is discussing this is sort of how the left views this situation. And I’ve been reading various statements from groups of people — some of them people that served as foreign ministers, academics, political figures under Hugo Chavez, others that are from broader coalitions within Latin America — and, on the one hand, you have certain people within Venezuela and in the region who believe that defending the Venezuelan state, even with its flaws, is necessary because it’s an anti-imperialist and popular government. And then you have other groups that are recognizing everything you’re saying about the nature of some of the opposition groups, but are calling Maduro’s government increasingly delegitimize and authoritarian.

And I wanted to ask you, given that you knew Hugo Chavez well, that you wrote this book exposing U.S. interference in Venezuela, based on the United States government’s own documents: Do you believe that what Maduro and his allies are doing right now betrays the legacy of Hugo Chavez?

EG: I think in some ways it’s on that path, certainly. I think that there’s a lot of — there certainly isn’t a conscientious effort to betray Chavez’s legacy, but one of my main issues —

JS: I think it’s a pretty conscientious effort when you cook the books on a referendum.

EG: Well, right, that type of behavior to me is completely unacceptable and obviously betrays that legacy and not just the legacy of Chavez, but of the whole Venezuelan democratic structure that’s been reinforced, one was hoping, in this sort of more participatory democracy over the past — or at least up until about 2012, when before things started to completely fall apart.

But yeah, I mean, I think, it’s difficult because these are the people that were charged with sort of leading the movement forward, but at the same time there’s a circle of people in there — in power now in Venezuela — who were notoriously corrupt. Actually some of them, Chavez himself removed from government, wasn’t forceful enough in terms of imposing or having them go through a justice system, due process, but remove them for corruption. And now they’re back in.

So, in those ways to me that’s a betrayal of the fact that there’s a much more — an elitist structure in place. That even though the rhetoric, a lot of the rhetoric, remains the same, and even though there is still — and I mean that’s a main part of the narrative that’s missing. We can criticize the actions of the Maduro government, and we can say some of them are betraying Chavez’s legacy, but they’re not the only ones who matter here.

And we can also come out against any kind of U.S. intervention or efforts to impose regime change, as would be the same in any country around the world — violating the sovereignty of another nation is unacceptable. But, at the same time, there still are millions of people in grassroots movements who are fighting for their democracy, and they have their issues as well with the people who are in power. But they’re not willing to let go and give up and cede their space to those on the far right wing who would take power were this present government to lose power.

I mean, Venezuela doesn’t have any middle ground at this time, you know? So that’s why I think there’s a lot on the people on the outside, on the left, who are saying let’s just criticize and speak up against foreign intervention in Venezuela, and say nothing about Maduro. There are those who are saying, “No, no, we need to talk about the increasing authoritarian characteristics of this government. The betrayal, maybe, of aspects of Chavez’s legacy and all that was achieved under a Bolivarian Revolution that we’re now seeing come unraveled.” And there are those saying, “No, we need to stick by Maduro and just back him and keep our mouths shut.”

And I think it all is so nuanced. I mean, all of that debate needs to be had. At the same time, you have to look at, well, what is the role of people who are not directly involved in that movement, and which are the voices and the people who really matter who are in that movement. Is it Maduro himself, and the people right around him in the structure of power at the top, or is it the grassroots, the social movements, the workers, the community organizers, the people who are actually the ones trying, struggling to hold on to anything that’s left of this movement that they have been building and empowering themselves with now over the past fifteen years or so?

I mean, I think that’s the conversation that needs to be had. Those people are missing from the narrative. We hear from the opposition and the U.S. media all the time, we hear from all the critics, but we never hear from people. I’m not saying people who come out and say, “Oh, I love Maduro. I support Maduro.” But people in communities, the poorer people and the working class. I mean, that’s the majority of people really who comprise the Chavez movement in Venezuela. It’s this elite power structure that’s corrupted at the top.

JS: Who are the most powerful opposition figures in Venezuela right now?

EG: You have these sort of family, wealthy family legacies like Leopoldo Lopez, who’s in the headlines as a political prisoner. He comes from one of the wealthiest families in the nation, big business owners and old wealth. Henrique Capriles Radonski, who was the candidate who lost against Maduro and had previously lost against Chavez in presidential runs. They come from different parts — the opposition is comprised of over a dozen different parties.

Then you have, like — and Henry Ramos Allup, who was a leader of the older AD party, Democratic Action, or he’s in an adeco, as they say. And other parties have sort of fallen apart and regrouped a lot of that with funding from the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. But still there are, there’s a group of different parties. You have far right reactionaries like Maria Corina Machado, another one who comes from the old guard, wealthy elite, family wealth in Venezuela who ran the country before.

So I mean, what you don’t have on the opposition side are leaders who have come from the grassroots like you have on the government side, you see? Because Maduro himself — we can say all kinds of things about him today, but he’s from the working class — he was a bus driver, he was a union organizer just as Chavez was, from a poor working-class family from the plains of Venezuela.

And a lot of the people around Maduro are not people who came from wealth or people who are from the working class. So, I mean, that’s part of it, is that the opposition has a complete disconnect with the majority of Venezuelans. Yes, they connect with the upper-middle classes, which are the voices you see and you hear in most international media, particularly in the U.S., because they’re well educated. They speak English. A lot of them live here, you know? They are involved in the groups of power and circles of power in Washington and here in New York financial circles. And so, they’re the ones that you hear the most. But that’s not — their voices are valid. I would never say that they’re not valid and that they don’t have a significant representation in the country today. But certainly there’s a huge piece that’s missing, which is the vast majority of Venezuelans that are only there not necessarily looking for an ideological component in their government, they’re looking for a government that’s going to meet their needs. That’s going to help the country move forward.

And that’s why Chavez initially connected with that large percentage of people in the country — because that was his promise and he identified with them. And they identified with him. And so that sort of propelled his leadership forward. And initially he was successful with those policies that catered to that majority and provided for them.

And so now that the economy has hit rock bottom and the country doesn’t have the same type of economic situation that it had just a few years ago, those people’s needs aren’t being met in the same way. And so they’re looking for change. But the change isn’t necessarily ideological for a lot of people in Venezuela. They just want leaders that are going to be sincere and honest, and who are going to govern in favor of the majority of people in the country. And not looking to get wealthy off of the oil, which is what the opposition did before and which seems to be what some of the people in power are doing today.

JS: Eva, describe what your book, “The Chavez Code,” investigated, and just give a kind of brief thumbnail sketch of your research that went into that book and what the conclusions were.

EG: So, “The Chavez Code,” which was my first book — I’ve written several since then — but “The Chavez Code” was the result of an investigation I did using the Freedom of Information Act to declassify U.S. government documents. And initially the idea was to do it in real time, because the coup against Chavez had just happened in 2002 and it was an unknown whether or not the U.S. government would release any documents just a year after, which is when the investigation began and I began doing the FOIA requests.

And that must have been, either Venezuela wasn’t a priority or they weren’t thinking about any kind of impact on releasing those documents. But I literally got thousands of documents from different U.S. agencies, including some top-secret CIA briefs around the days of the coup that clearly indicated the U.S. not only was funding the opposition before and after, but also had the who, what, where, when and why of everything about the coup. And there was military involvement. There were all kinds of different aspects that came out in those documents.

So, that that book in particular, “The Chavez Code,” really focused on what the documents the U.S. government documents themselves revealed about a U.S. role in the coup against Chavez and sort of what was behind that, what were they looking to do.

I also had a lot of documents since then that date back into the 90s, which is interesting just to mention. I did a book on some of these documents that showed— and I know that WikiLeaks has recently published also, as well some older documents from the U.S. government about Venezuela, which just shows what the priority was. And even State Department cables from back in the early ‘90s talked about how important Venezuela was to U.S. interests, not just because of the oil, but because of its geopolitical positioning in the region as the port of South America and the fact that they needed Venezuela to be the example of democracy for the region — as you know, a democracy that was clearly subordinate to U.S. agenda so that other countries would replicate that model.

Again, we saw that completely turned around when Chavez won office and then began a model that became replicated throughout the region, in terms, some have called it the pink tide, but we saw leftist governments winning in Bolivia and Ecuador and Argentina and Brazil and things sort of — the tables turned. And now we’re seeing them turn back again as the right wing and U.S.-favorable governments have risen again in Latin America.

JS: Now with the exception of designating Maduro, the Trump Administration seems to be essentially continuing, albeit with its own sort of spin, the basic U.S. policy toward Venezuela, at least publicly. What does this mean that Maduro has been designated and that assets have been frozen?

EG: Well it doesn’t mean much inside Venezuela. In fact, it’s seen as a badge of honor. Every time someone has been singled out by the U.S. government in recent years and given one of these sanctions, they have been awarded by Maduro himself recently, this sword of Bolivar, which is a replica of Simon Bolivar’s sword, the founding father of Venezuela and other countries in South America. And it’s seen as one of the highest honors.

And actually they were running a hash tag sort of campaign a few days ago saying #iwantmysanction. So it seems to kind of backfire because it really rallies the people and the troops around the government in the face of an external threat.

I know that the U.S. thinks that this is a strategy that they will turn Maduro himself into a pariah president or dictator, but, in the end, I mean, the Western world can come out against Venezuela. First of all, they’re not cutting off the oil supply. Were they to do that, they would harm more U.S. interests probably than in Venezuela practically, since it’s 30 percent of the oil supply to the United States and they have six refineries here in the United States. And Venezuela owns the Citgo gas chain, which has thousands of gas stations throughout the country.

But, as long as Venezuela maintains their commercial ties and their strategic alliance with countries like Russia and China, they’re not going to back down in the face of an external threat. They’re just going to get stronger in terms of doubling down. And, I mean, I think that’s something that it seems that to me that the U.S. government, or those who have the ear of whoever’s conducting that particular foreign policy fail to understand. And they underestimate the impact of it.

JS: Right, but I also want to point out, I mean, it’s also fascinating that in the New York Times editorial — not an op-ed, but an actual unsigned editorial from the New York Times editorial board — they caution against sanctions by the United States. And I just want to read you this sentence: “Any sanctions by the United States, aside from the dubious moral authority of the Trump Administration, feed Mr. Maduro’s claims of an imperial America seeking to crush Venezuela.” It’s interesting that that’s what they identify as the downside of sanctions, without mentioning the fact that they have the refineries in America, that they own the Citgo gas chain, that they’re a major supplier to the United States. It’s just, well, this would feed Maduro’s ego and his claim to be standing up to the imperialist Yankee.

EG: Right. And I mean, it goes beyond that. Well, first of all, there was an extreme lobbying effort that’s been going on over the past few weeks in Washington by U.S. oil companies and other supply companies against any kind of broader sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry. So obviously that’s been successful so far.

But, it goes beyond just the fact that the U.S. needs the oil. They also don’t want to just hand all of it over to Russia and China and open the whole door to their return into this hemisphere. So there’s that geopolitical importance as well, as somehow maintaining that sort of bizarre tie with Venezuela, despite the rhetoric on both sides coming out of Venezuela as well. I mean, one day you have Maduro saying, “I aspire to shake Trump’s hand.” And the next day you have him saying, “Trump, Yankee go home.” You know? I mean, so it’s the same. It’s like this schizophrenic discourse on both sides because they can’t get away from that dependency that both countries have.

And at the same time, I mean, I — having known personally Nicolas Maduro — I know that he strives for that type of legitimacy. He was elected with less than two points. He’s undergone severe crises since he’s been in office. He never aspired to be president. It’s not something he dreamed of or worked for his whole life. And now he’s in this position where he’s become this international pariah in the Western world and he’s striving for legitimacy, not just amongst his own people, but also internationally. And that, unfortunately, starts with the United States.

So they’ve been making all kinds of overtures to the Trump Administration since late last year — lobbying efforts — and they even gave over a half a billion dollars to Trump’s inauguration fund. I mean, it’s amazing the efforts people undergo to try to get on the good side of a government that’s clearly hostile as the U.S. has been to Venezuela.

But certainly I think that the sanctions — I don’t think the U.S. really has many options at this stage there. They’ve been trying to work regionally to promote regime change. Those efforts have failed. Even though right wing governments have come back in a lot of Latin America, it’s not uniform and there are many of those governments still would refuse to endorse any kind of intervention into Venezuela. That would just set a precedent that would be very bad for the whole region. It could work against them as well.

JS: Well, and if Venezuela was producing vegetable oil instead of black gold, I think we’d see a very different situation. Eva, as we as we wrap up, I want to ask you: Given that you know personally so many of the players in this government in Venezuela, but also in broader Venezuela society — that you talk to people from a lot of different factions and perspectives — what do you think would be the most effective path forward given now that the United States has publicly taken this very hostile position toward Maduro, and that you have an increasing chorus of voices including people that are certainly not on the U.S. payroll, basically saying, “Look, Maduro, you’re tilting toward authoritarianism here.” What should happen going forward in order to resolve this?

EG: I wish that they hadn’t moved forward with this rewriting of the constitution and creating this sort of supra government, because it does make it more difficult to find a solution to the crisis. But I do believe, and I would continue to push for a dialogue between all the different factions in the country and to look for more reasonable elements as well within them as — and then of course holding elections. The problem with the elections — they’re supposed to be regional elections. They were supposed to have been last year for governors and mayors and then presidential elections next year. The problem now is that because of the fact that the electoral system may have been compromised — most likely was in this past election — because of the fact that, now there’s a supra government body in place that could decide whether or not elections take place. Or even if those elections take place, they’ll still have power above whoever wins office. So, it seems as though there needs to be some negotiating going on in terms of setting clear lines and a structure for how things are going to evolve. There has to be an electoral way out. There cannot be a regime change, not a coup, not any kind of anarchical, violent protests in the streets to push the country further to a civil war.

Venezuela is a country with a lot of guns and it’s grown increasingly violent over the years. People have become more and more sort of radicalized in their positions, and it is bordering that type of a situation. And I think all efforts, internationally, as well as those internally — the different power factions — should be looking for a negotiated way out that would have to include some kind of truth and justice commission, amnesty for those who have been involved in all the events and developments over the past couple years. Because you can’t find a way out of the situation if people feel as though they’re going to be persecuted once they’re out of power.

On both sides there have been crimes and it’s just an unfortunate reality. So, if we want to move Venezuela forward to a more peaceful resolution and away from a civil war, which is what it could become, then there needs to be some kind of a truth and justice commission, similar to what we’ve seen in neighboring Colombia, which is obviously a much different situation, where you have a broader amnesty for those who have been involved in the political developments over the past couple years. So that way at least, you know, there will be a feeling that people can move on and pass this without persecution.

JS: Should the U.S. players who interfered in Venezuela be part of that?

EG: I don’t think the U.S. should be a part of it at all.

JS: But I meant more about having accountability from some sort of a truth commission.

EG: Since when has the U.S. ever been held accountable for their actions in another country? I mean, we could denounce U.S. intervention and strategies and tactics of aggression against Venezuela until we’re blue in the face and still wouldn’t get anywhere. I think at this stage, what’s most important is that regionally, Latin America support a process in Venezuela. And I know there have been offerings. The French president, Emmanuel Macron has made an offer to participate in that process. The Pope, as well as others that play a more neutral role — which is what Venezuela needs. They don’t need any antagonistic players involved in a solution to the country’s current crisis.

JS: Alright. Eva Golinger, we’re going to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us on intercepted.

EG: Thanks, Jeremy.

JS: Eva Golinger is an attorney and author of several books. Among them, “The Chavez Code.”

Top photo: Opposition activists protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on May 8, 2017.

The post The Battle for Venezuela and Its Oil appeared first on The Intercept.

Film: The Tiny West Virginia Town Haunted by an NSA Secret

12 August 2017 - 10:00am

Sugar Grove, West Virginia was, by the accounts of its residents, a fine place to live until the Pentagon shuttered the sprawling naval base that sustained the town for decades — leaving it with a state secret as its sole remaining attraction. A new documentary film by director Elaine McMillion Sheldon, a longtime chronicler of West Virginian life, visits Sugar Grove after the base was decommissioned and being auctioned off, and traces the abiding shadow of a nearby National Security Agency facility still looming over the town.

The film is embedded above.

Antennae at the NSA listening post, codenamed TIMBERLINE, were built to capture Soviet satellite messages as they bounced off the moon, imbuing a pristine stretch of Appalachia with a sort of cosmic gravity. Residents lived with the knowledge that something was hidden away on a hilltop above the town, even if it was something they could never know. TIMBERLINE’s mission has, to say the least, changed in the intervening years, as submarine-laid internet cables have become a greater priority for American spies than foreign satellite communication.

TIMBERLINE remains operational, but the facility, known to locals as the off-limits “Upper Base,” was never what kept Sugar Grove alive. The town’s heart was the sprawling “Lower” naval base that served as a robust employer and de facto community center until the Sept. 11 attacks, when residents say even the Navy gym and recreational areas they’d always enjoyed were sealed up, like forbidding TIMBERLINE. Sheldon’s film reveals a parcel of the country that’s dealing not just with a faltering economy and collapsed job base — hardly unique to Sugar Grove — but also with a legacy that’s literally unspeakable. One of the only moments the film captures of anyone talking about the NSA’s presence in Sugar Grove comes from a General Services Administration auctioneer Kristine Carson in a vacant naval gymnasium. Asked about the Upper Base, Carson notes, with a small smile, “It’s underground, I understand. … Of course I can’t speak to that.”

Top video: The film is directed and produced by Elaine McMillion Sheldon/Field of Vision.

The post Film: The Tiny West Virginia Town Haunted by an NSA Secret appeared first on The Intercept.

There’s a New Wells Fargo Scandal: This Time It’s the TruCoat

12 August 2017 - 9:52am

Beginning in at least in 2009, Wells Fargo teamed up with a home warranty firm to foist a product on unsuspecting mortgage customers, according to a new investigation bubbling up in the Wall Street trade press.

The story was first reported by The Capitol Forum, a paywalled investigative site catering to policymakers and investors, and based on several dozen consumer complaints filed online and with the Federal Trade Commission. Complainants allege that they discovered surprise charges on their mortgage bills for the service, labeled an “optional product,” and found it difficult to get Wells Fargo to remove them.

“I was never contacted … with any offer, they never sent any receipt or contract; but I was billed $43 extra on my mortgage bill by Wells Fargo,” claims one borrower from Herndon, Virginia, who didn’t leave a name. After appearing to rectify the matter, a similar charge appeared again the next month.

An FTC spokesman would neither confirm nor deny whether the commission had looked into the complaints, citing government policy regarding public comments. Such complaints, when they become public, tend to attract class-action attorneys, who suspect the complaints might just be the tip of the iceberg.

Wells Fargo claims they ended the marketing arrangement with the third-party company pushing the warranty service in 2012. But it’s unclear how many borrowers were affected by this charge in the past without knowing; we only have the complaints of those who caught it and were bothered enough to report it.

“It’s hard to put your finger on what’s going on,” said bankruptcy attorney O. Max Gardner, a legendary consumer advocate. “When you think you’ve seen it all, you see this stuff.”

In a statement to The Intercept, a Wells spokesperson hinted that there may be an iceberg there. “Wells Fargo stopped marketing home warranties from American Home Shield, along with other optional products, to our mortgage customers in 2012 and has been discontinuing arrangements through which these products had been billed to customers through their monthly mortgage statements,” the statement reads.

That raises a question attorneys are likely to ask: what “other optional products” were sold? And what does “has been discontinuing” mean? Has it been fully discontinued, or are some customers still getting smacked with bills every month? (If you have a third-party charge on your mortgage statement you didn’t sign up for, email us at tips-at-theintercept.com)

Wells said that customers knew what they were buying. “Wells Fargo’s processes for customers who purchased home warranty coverage through American Home Shield included a written or recorded verbal authorization at the time of enrollment,” according to the statement, which added that it would look into any specific complaints.

Meanwhile, we uncovered a cinematic representation of what that “written or recorded verbal authorization” may have looked like:

The exposure could prove another damaging blow to Wells Fargo’s reputation, which has suffered from numerous disclosures in the past couple months — including force-placing collision and guaranteed asset protection insurance on unsuspecting auto loan borrowers, secretly changing mortgage terms for homeowners in bankruptcy, falsifying records to charge mortgage applicants for its own delays in application processing, and stealing from mortgage bond investors to pay legal fees in lawsuits filed by those very same investors.

That, of course, comes on top of the high-profile scandal in which Wells was caught opening accounts for customers — perhaps as many as 3.5 million of them — that they didn’t request in order to hit them for fees.

In this case, Wells worked with the nation’s dominant home warranty company, American Home Shield (AHS). Home warranty protection service covers the repair or replacement of major appliances, air conditioning, electrical systems, or other big-ticket items. For a fixed monthly payment ranging from $33 to $69 a month, consumers get access to free service from AHS-preferred contractors. The company sells roughly half of all home warranty plans, according to its parent company’s most recent regulatory filing. It claimed more than a billion dollars in revenue last year.

Efforts to get in touch with a representative from AHS ran into a wall of recorded voices. “We are currently experiencing unusually long hold times,” said one recording, though whether the hold time was unusually long is questionable, as twitter is littered with complaints of wildly long hold times with AHS, or rinky-dink excuses for not covering a service.

Starting at least in 2009, Wells Fargo and AHS entered into a marketing and payment processing agreement. Wells allowed AHS to solicit their mortgage customers to buy home warranty service, through phone calls, junk mail, and inserts in monthly mortgage statements. Wells would then collect the monthly payments for AHS as an additional charge to the mortgage.

According to one borrower from Newark, New Jersey, AHS claimed its junk mail constituted a “binding contract” that automatically finalized if borrowers didn’t reply to turn it down. “No signature, no affirmation and YET it is considered a BINDING CONTRACT??” the borrower wrote.

A homeowner from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, told the FTC in 2011, “I did not reply to this piece of junk mail nor does this company [AHS] have my signature anywhere authorizing these charges to my mortgage account,” the homeowner writes. Though the homeowner canceled the service, more charges continued to show up on monthly statements.

“$49.50 has been taken out of my Wells Fargo mortgage account since Nov 2012,” reads another complaint on the website Complaint Wire. “I didn’t realize it until I got a ‘thank you for renewing your protection plan’ letter in August 2013.”

A homeowner from Memphis, Tennessee wrote: “Wells Fargo also added $42 for an American Home Shield Warranty… We NEVER asked for or consented to this optional product! We never signed or recieved a contract. Wells Fargo just added it to our automatic draft, de facto.” The homeowner added that American Home Shield and Wells Fargo engaged in finger-pointing when he tried to contest the charges. “Each company blames the other, passing the buck and offering conflicting information.”

On top of this frustration is the fact that American Home Shield has a notorious reputation for not delivering on its promises to fix or replace home items in a timely manner. Customers allege that AHS routinely delays service, denies claims, charges for “uncovered” expenses, and forces customers to spend hours on customer service calls.

Hold times for American Home Shield @AHS_Warranty average about 1 hour. I have the receipts! #BuyersRemorse pic.twitter.com/UO109X5uJJ

— ?#Resistance Eric ? (@_erock) August 2, 2017

It could be bad for business longterm. “The Company is involved in a number of judicial, regulatory, arbitration and other proceedings concerning matters arising from the conduct of its business activities, and many of those proceedings expose the Company to potential financial loss,” warns its latest filing with investors.

The filing lists a dozen separate legal actions, but the warranty scandal is not among them. Legal costs could surpass $3.3 billion.

While we were unable to get through to AHS, a spokesman there told Capitol Forum they are looking into the situation:

American Home Shield is committed to providing excellent service and value to our customers. Over the past five years, we have responded to more than 16 million service requests and have paid more than $1.8 billion in repairs and replacements on behalf of our customers. As the largest home warranty company in the nation, we receive and pay more in claims than any other provider in the country.

There are almost always opportunities for improvement in any service business. We actively work to address customer concerns and to understand why and where breakdowns may occur in the service journey, so that we can continue to improve the services we provide to our customers.

With regard to possible FTC complaints involving Wells Fargo customers from 2009 to 2013, we have had insufficient time to research the validity and/or resolution of those complaints, but our practice has always been to work with customers to address complaints as they are raised and to make every effort to resolve those complaints. We are unaware of any unresolved issues along these lines.

Sign up to get David Dayen’s newsletter here, or Ryan Grim’s newsletter, Bad News, here.

<p class=“caption”>Top photo: Pedestrians pass a Wells Fargo bank branch in lower Manhattan on April 15, 2016 in New York.</p>

 

The post There’s a New Wells Fargo Scandal: This Time It’s the TruCoat appeared first on The Intercept.

Tribal Liaison in Minnesota Pipeline Review Is Sidelined After Oil Company Complains to Governor

12 August 2017 - 8:55am

A controversial proposal for a tar sands oil pipeline has led indigenous leaders in Minnesota to threaten an uprising similar to the one near Standing Rock last fall. That conflict began with what tribes described as the federal government’s failure to properly consult with nearby tribal communities prior to permitting the Dakota Access Pipeline project.

In July, Danielle Oxendine Molliver, the tribal liaison brought on by Minnesota’s Department of Commerce to consult with indigenous leaders about Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline, resigned in protest of what she called a flawed environmental review process that lacked transparency, professionalism, and fairness.

In a resignation letter submitted on July 24, Oxendine Molliver stated, “There are a multitude of reasons why I have come to this decision. The single most important one is the failure of the state of Minnesota to fulfill its obligations of good faith and fair dealing with the tribes in connection with the Line 3 project.”

She added, “I feel as though my resignation is the only option to maintain my integrity, commitment, and standing with the tribal communities as both a liaison and indigenous woman.”

In an interview, Oxendine Molliver told The Intercept that the department had not adequately responded to the concerns of tribal members and had marginalized her after Enbridge claimed she was being overly sympathetic to indigenous pipeline opponents.

A moment of clarity came as Oxendine Molliver packed her bag on June 5 to fly to rural Minnesota for the first of 22 public meetings on the draft environmental impact statement she helped write. A superior at the Commerce Department called to inform her that instead of being stationed at a table to field questions about the pipeline’s impact on tribes, Oxendine Molliver would be directing guests to the cookies and coffee.

Danielle Oxendine Molliver, pictured in Cloquet, Minn., on Aug. 10, 2017, resigned from her role as tribal liaison working on an environmental review for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

Photo: Provided by Sheila Lamb

“Enbridge found this video of you at [a meeting], and they went to the governor’s office, and they’re just really concerned that you’re too sympathetic and that you might provoke more resistance,” Oxendine Molliver recalled the department official telling her. “You can still go, and we still want you there, but you’re going to be a greeter.”

“I just kind of laughed,” Oxendine Molliver said. “It means Enbridge has the authority to call the governor’s office, who then has the authority to control the permitting process.”

The governor’s office declined to comment on a personnel matter. In a statement, Ross Corson, the director of communications for Minnesota’s Commerce Department, told The Intercept that because Oxendine Molliver “has left state employment, she is not in a position to claim what specific concerns are, or are not, being addressed in the final EIS, which is still being prepared.”

“In this process, the agencies do not advocate for a particular position, but must act as impartial fact-finders for the commission, which also extends to the role of the tribal liaison. Complaints about any possible bias are treated seriously,” Corson added.

Enbridge spokesperson Shannon Gustafson stated, “We’re committed to following the regulatory process for the Line 3 replacement project and only ask that it be a fair and equitable process for everyone involved.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton extended by a week the deadline to publish the final environmental impact statement, to August 17, “in order to provide the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) with the best possible information on which to base its decision.” He noted that the EIS included more than 2,860 public comments. Additional hearings will follow its publication, after which the Public Utilities Commission will use the statement to determine whether the pipeline can go forward.

“Don’t pride yourself on being the state that is better than DAPL,” Oxendine Molliver said. The process “is not transparent.”

An Enbridge tank farm in an aerial photograph taken above the Athabasca Oil Sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on June 19, 2014.

Photo: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg News/Getty Images

Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline reaches from the center of Canada’s tar sands region in Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, with most of its 364-mile U.S. portion passing through Minnesota. Line 3 has ruptured multiple times since it was built in the 1960s, resulting in a 1.7-million-gallon spill in 1991 and a 252,000-gallon disaster in 2002, among other accidents. Today, it is corroded and cracked. Given its degraded state, by 2008 the pipeline’s capacity had been reduced. As a penalty for another million-gallon spill in 2010 on a different corroded Enbridge pipeline, the company signed a consent decree with the federal government agreeing to replace Line 3 by December 2017 or undertake additional efforts to prevent ecological harm.

The decree happened to serve Enbridge’s interests, providing a new argument in the company’s efforts to pressure Minnesota’s government to approve a proposal to replace Line 3 and greatly increase its capacity. The new line would expand the 34-inch pipe to 36 inches and increase its current capacity from 390,000 barrels per day to at least 760,000 barrels, closer to what it originally pumped. Meanwhile, the old line would remain in the ground, its combustible material removed and its ends sealed shut.

Five bands of Ojibwe have filed as intervenors in opposition to the Line 3 replacement plan. Affected tribes have expressed concern about leaving the decaying line, which passes through the Fond du Lac and Leech Lake reservations, in the ground. Although the proposed new route does not cross reservation boundaries, it cuts through wild ricing lakes, hunting grounds, and other sacred areas to which indigenous people also have legal rights. And given that tribal members are disproportionately low-income, impacts on their well-being require careful consideration in the environmental review process.

Oxendine Molliver, who previously worked as a tribal liaison in Minnesota’s Human Rights Department, was recruited and loaned to the Commerce Department late in the process to meet with the tribes and ensure their perspectives were included in the draft environmental impact statement. Her hiring was announced on March 28, a month and a half before the draft would be released, on May 15.

With only weeks to meet with 11 tribes and incorporate their concerns, Oxendine Molliver began flying to tribal areas around the state. “I thought better late than never. I came in thinking really optimistically,” she said. “No one’s going to be pro-pipeline, but how can we get it transparent, so their story is told in the document?”

The meeting that led Enbridge to report her to the governor’s office was on May 31, with the Minnesota Chippewa tribe. Oxendine Molliver introduced herself as a member of the Lumbee tribe from North Carolina: “As a working mother and as an activist and as someone who wants to participate, I am honored to see you all make that happen for your families, and I am honored by the gentle way you have pushed the systems in which you have to work.”

“Folks [have] said to me offline, ‘I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know why as a native you even want to discuss the pipeline or be involved at any level on a project like that,’” she said. “You’ve got to infiltrate — you’ve got to be part of the system. We need more leaders, we need more people who are qualified who have the traditional knowledge, who have the sovereign knowledge, who have the language, culture — we need those folks to be in the systems with which we have to operate.”

She told attendees that the draft environmental impact statement did not offer any opinions, only facts that could guide decisions. However, she assured the audience, “I think that there are conclusory comments there if we really listen.” She read aloud a portion of the draft:

Any route, route segment, or system alternative would have a long-term detrimental effect on tribal members and tribal resources. The impacts cannot be categorized by duration (short-term or permanent) or by extent (region of interest, construction work area, permanent right-of-way). It is also not possible to determine which alternative is better when each alternative affects tribal resources, tribal identity, and tribal health.

If Enbridge had had its way, there would be no environmental impact statement at all. The process is not always required for pipelines and is frequently controversial. In 2015, a Minnesota court sided with environmental groups and forced the state to undertake the impact statement process for both Line 3 and another controversial proposed Enbridge pipeline, Sandpiper, which would have transported natural gas obtained via fracking from North Dakota’s Bakken region. After years of pushback from indigenous and environmental opponents — and a downturn in gas markets — Enbridge axed the Sandpiper project in fall 2016.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched an environmental impact statement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, at the height of the NoDAPL movement. The process, which would have delayed construction, was effectively canceled by President Donald Trump when he took office in January.

By June, trains loaded with pipes began rolling into Minnesota. A final decision from the state about whether Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement can be built isn’t expected until April 2018.

Photo: Provided by Sheila Lamb

After being sidelined, Oxendine Molliver spent meeting after meeting ushering guests to the refreshments, but at a final meeting held just for tribal members, on June 27, she was struck by images presented by Sheila Lamb, who is Ojibwe and Cherokee and has long been involved in environmental activism. They showed long lines of pipe being transported by truck and rail, and stacked inside a fence.

“There are staging areas already,” Lamb said, according to a transcript of the proceedings. “The newest one is between Kettle River and Rice. It is a huge fenced area with barbed wire on top, the whole nine yards, where they’re taking the pipes to. We’re talking trucks running every 10 to 15 minutes carrying in pipes. As of yesterday, there were 35 carloads of pipes just that we could count sitting right in Carlton.”

“Is this already a done deal?” Lamb asked the Commerce Department officials. Her question touched issues that extended beyond the scope of the environmental impact statement. Enbridge has already started construction in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as on the 12-mile segment in Wisconsin. Minnesota is the last state that hasn’t granted regulatory approval, giving it huge sway in determining the future of the pipeline.

Jamie MacAlister, a project manager for the Commerce Department, replied to Lamb, “[Decision-makers] don’t know that there’s pipes stacked up out here. In fact, I didn’t know there was pipes stacked up out here until I came to this meeting.” She added, “Enbridge does not have any permits. They’re not allowed to do any construction until they receive those permits.”

Indeed, Enbridge lacked any permit to begin building the pipeline. But that didn’t mean the company couldn’t start getting ready. It had received five construction stormwater permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2015 for Line 3 storage yards along the proposed routes.

But Oxendine Molliver says the Commerce Department avoided making that clear. A few weeks after the meeting, she arranged a sit-down with Lamb and the department’s commissioner, Mike Rothman, who expressed concern and told Lamb the department would look into the issue, according to Lamb and Oxendine Molliver. Shortly afterward, Oxendine Molliver said she was told by two Commerce Department officials that Enbridge did have permits, but the department was “keeping it on the down-low.”

While construction of the pipeline itself still required the Public Utilities Commission’s approval, Oxendine Molliver said she “was horrified” by the department’s lack of transparency in response to questions from tribal members. She requested that the staging issue be noted in the EIS, but was rebuffed.

As the department began to finalize the text, she noticed other issues that tribal members had raised were missing from the document. In May, the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa contacted the Minnesota Department of Transportation after hearing that highway construction had begun on top of a native cemetery. After halting the project, the agency found human remains at the construction site. The burial site is not far from Enbridge’s preferred pipeline route. Tribal members expressed concern about the adequacy of gravesite databases and the cumulative impact of seeing relatives’ graves desecrated alongside construction of an unwanted pipeline. Oxendine Molliver asked that language be added to the text.

Other issues were described in ways that failed to convey why they were meaningful to communities near the pipeline route. The draft included a section on the history of the Sandy Lake Ojibwe community, for example, describing how in 1850, thousands of Ojibwe were forced to migrate from Wisconsin in order to receive the annual supplies promised to them in treaties; when only three days’ worth of supplies arrived, hundreds of people died. The draft did not mention that the group’s descendants still live in the area, many of them in poverty. And a reader would have to compare maps to understand that the pipeline would pass near Sandy Lake, cutting across the route native community members use to reach another Ojibwe community to the south.

And there were things left undone, Oxendine Molliver said. The June 27 meeting with tribal members had not been transcribed, and she said her communications with Commerce officials suggested comments collected there would not be reviewed or incorporated. Broader questions she raised were dismissed. Would the document address the cost to taxpayers of legal actions taken by environmental and indigenous groups related to the pipeline? Would it note that transporting new tar sands oil into the country conflicts with state initiatives, such as Dayton’s membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance?

In her last days as tribal liaison, Oxendine Molliver began hearing complaints from Commerce Department management. She was asked to cancel a planned trip to visit a reservation. She was pulled into a meeting and told that they weren’t sure it was working out. She saw all this as retaliation. As the final version of the EIS was sent to consultants to be finalized, without many of the changes she’d requested, she submitted her resignation letter.

“My best-case scenario was they were going to do this really awesome environmental impact statement, and the facts would be just so staggering,” Oxendine Molliver said. “I thought if you have this document, and the tribes have intervened, you can’t put your finger over your ears and be like lalalala for too long.”

At the meeting that led Enbridge to complain about Oxendine Molliver, Winona LaDuke, a longtime environmental activist who played a key role in the movement to kill Sandpiper, described her takeaways from the draft environmental impact statement. “When you go all the way through it, it says, we heard you. We heard that your people are hurting. We heard that your people can barely hang on. We heard that this is the only land you have. We heard that this is the only wild rice you have. We heard that your communities are already under a lot of duress. We heard that your communities are already sick from contaminants,” she said. “But mitigation is gonna be good.

“We don’t want to throw down a camp like Standing Rock, but this is not Morton County — you’re not getting another pipeline through here,” she added. “And there are hundreds of Ojibwe people and thousands of other people that are going to stop that line if you approve a permit. So we’d just like to stop it before we get to that.”

Opponents of Enbridge Line 3 publicly launched two camps on Wednesday, one on the White Earth reservation and another near the Fond du Lac reservation.

The final decision on the pipeline isn’t expected until next April.

Top photo: Enbridge is already storing pipes along the proposed route in Minnesota, despite lacking approval to build the new Line 3 pipeline.

The post Tribal Liaison in Minnesota Pipeline Review Is Sidelined After Oil Company Complains to Governor appeared first on The Intercept.

Vídeos mostram cenas inéditas de milícias lutando contra o ISIS na Síria e no Iraque

12 August 2017 - 7:00am

“Lutar contra americanos era mais fácil do que [contra] o Estado Islâmico”, o comandante da milícia conta à câmera, perto das linhas de frente da cidade de Fallujah, controlada pelo Estado Islâmico. “Estávamos planejando emboscadas, estávamos plantando bombas. Os veículos militares deles passavam e a bomba explodia. Então, você ia embora.”

Quem fala é Hashim al-Mayhi, um comandante do Kata’ib Al-Tayyar Al-Risali (“Os Batalhões do Movimento Missionário”). O grupo de Al-Mayhi é um dos grupos milicianos xiitas apoiados pelo Irã que antes lutavam contra as forças norte-americanas no Iraque, mas hoje são parte da coalizão para derrotar o Estado Islâmico no Iraque e na Síria.

Fallujah com Al-Mayhi e seus homens foram filmados em 2015 e fazem parte de uma nova série de curtas-metragens sobre a guerra contra o Estado Islâmico, intitulada “Our Allies” (Nossos Aliados), do cineasta norueguês Anders Sømme Hammer. (Você pode assistir ao primeiro e ao segundo episódios abaixo, e o terceiro está acima, em destaque.)

Episódio 1: As Mulheres Curdas Video: Anders Sømme Hammer/Field of Vision

Quando a guerra anti-Estado Islâmico se intensificava, em 2015, Hammer seguiu grupos de soldados de milícias xiitas, mulheres membros das Unidades de Proteção do Povo Curdo (conhecidas por suas iniciais curdas, YPG) e voluntários ocidentais desse grupo. O resultado foram três curtas-metragens com foco em cada um desses componentes da coalizão anti-EI. Embora já tenha havido cobertura jornalística do YPG e seus voluntários no passado, o acesso de Hammer aos grupos milicianos xiitas é único.

O grupo Kata’ib Al-Tayyar Al-Risali é uma milícia historicamente ligada ao exército Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi, uma milícia xiita que lutou contra forças norte-americanas durante a ocupação dos EUA. Hoje, o grupo é apenas um em uma rede de milícias iraquianas que têm laços com o Irã e se juntaram sob a bandeira das Forças de Mobilização Popular, um movimento xiita criado para apoiar a resistência anti-EI no Iraque.

Conforme mencionado em abril de 2017 em um relatório do Carnegie Middle East Center (Centro do Oriente Médio Carnegie) sobre as Forças de Mobilização Popular, “as FMP não são uma milícia xiita monolítica”. O relatório descreve o movimento como sendo dividido em subgrupos com ideologias variadas, que são, por sua vez, leais a diferentes líderes religiosos xiitas iraquianos ou iranianos. Alguns desses grupos são fiéis a iraquianos como o aiatolá Ali Sistani e estão sob o controle do governo iraquiano. Mas outras facções são representantes diretos da liderança do Irã, atuando como subordinados locais do Corpo da Guarda Revolucionária do Irã e sua elite, Força Qods.

Episódio 2: Os Estrangeiros Video: Anders Sømme Hammer/Field of Vision

No filme, al-Mayhi mantém pouco segredo sobre suas lealdades. “Sem a ajuda de Deus e do Irã, o Iraque não teria sido salvo”, diz ele. “Não encarando os Estados Unidos ou qualquer outro.” Al-Mayhi também é mostrado em sua casa em Bagdá, em uma entrevista à parte, um ano depois da batalha de Fallujah em 2015; ele aparece de camisa e blazer e mostra imagens de cicatrizes de estilhaços e balas que sofreu no último ano de combate. Sentado no sofá em sua sala, com a TV ligada ao fundo, al-Mayhi faz o que se pode pensar ser uma confissão surpreendente: “Eu agora estou comandando forças especiais dentro e fora do Iraque.” Suas tropas estão participando de batalhas fora do país – incluindo contra rebeldes sem ligação com o Estado Islâmico na cidade síria de Aleppo.

Durante o passeio improvisado pela sua casa, ele mostra sua espaçosa piscina, assim como metralhadoras e lançadores de foguetes que haviam sido anteriormente usados para combater forças norte-americanas. Segurando um lançador de granadas diante da câmera, al-Mayhi diz: “Esses foram usados contra [um] veículo militar americano. Coitado, não sobrou nada”.

Indisposta a comprometer suas tropas terrestres, a coalizão que os EUA acabaram reunindo para combater o Estado Islâmico atraiu muitos soldados que eram ex-inimigos dos EUA. Embora o uso desses soldados tenha ajudado a atingir o objetivo dos Estados Unidos de derrotar o EI, também legitimou uma expansão da influência iraniana sobre a política do Iraque. Recursos e pessoal do Irã tiveram um papel chave no apoio a ambas as forças governamentais curdas e iraquianas nos últimos anos.

Uma matéria recente do jornal New York Times sobre a influência crescente do Irã destacou exatamente como a invasão dos EUA foi um presente para um dos rivais dos Estados Unidos na região.

Embora milícias como a de al-Mayhi tenham desempenhado um papel importante nos últimos anos de guerra, não está claro o que vai acontecer com esses grupos ao passar do tempo.

Ainda assim, a crescente influência de grupos representantes leais ao Irã levou a tensões com o governo do Iraque, liderado pelo primeiro-ministro Haider al-Abadi. Embora milícias como a de al-Mayhi tenham desempenhado um papel importante nos últimos anos de guerra, não está claro o que vai acontecer com esses grupos ao passar do tempo. Com a guerra contra o EI lentamente se aproximando do fim, grupos milicianos parecem cada vez mais inclinados a uma transição para um papel político no Iraque. Uma reportagem do jornal al-Monitor no início do ano citou planos de algumas milícias para terem um papel no sistema educacional do Iraque, levando algumas pessoas a expressarem preocupação sobre uma “revolução cultural” ser fomentada entre a juventude do Iraque.

Ao longo dos últimos meses, Abadi tem sido mais crítico em relação a milícias apoiadas pelo Irã e suas tentativas de assumir a política. Em um discurso recente, o líder supremo iraniano Ali Khamenei alertou Abadi contra qualquer passo para enfrentar os representantes do Irã assim que a guerra terminasse. Os grupos, disse o líder do Irã, existiram para proteger a soberania do Iraque e serviram como um importante baluarte contra os Estados Unidos.

Os grupos, disse o líder do Irã, existiram para proteger a soberania do Iraque e serviram como um importante baluarte contra os Estados Unidos.

Com o Estado Islâmico a ponto de ser derrotado, um confronto entre os vários componentes da coalizão anti-EI parece cada vez mais possível. O status das milícias xiitas será de áreas chave de disputa, enquanto Abadi tenta reaver sua autoridade sobre o país politicamente fragmentado.

Uma cena de “Our Allies” fornece uma visão sobre por que o esforço de Abadi para reinar sobre as milícias pode se mostrar difícil. Falando próximo à linha de frente com o EI, al-Mayhi afirma francamente que considera a luta da milícia contra o EI um dever religioso, e que não se pode ser subordinado aos interesses de nenhum governo. “Nós fazemos o que é ordenado por nossas autoridades religiosas, não por Estado algum.”

Vídeo em destaque: Episódio 3: As Miícias Xiitas. Filmado e dirigido por Anders Sømme Hammer/Field of Vision.

Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse

The post Vídeos mostram cenas inéditas de milícias lutando contra o ISIS na Síria e no Iraque appeared first on The Intercept.

Esfera de influência: como os libertários americanos estão reinventando a política latino-americana

11 August 2017 - 3:44pm

Para Alejandro Chafuen, a reunião desta primavera no Brick Hotel, em Buenos Aires, foi tanto uma volta para casa quanto uma volta olímpica. Chafuen, um esguio argentino-americano, passou a vida adulta se dedicando a combater os movimentos sociais e governos de esquerda das Américas do Sul e Central, substituindo-os por uma versão pró-empresariado do libertarianismo.

Ele lutou sozinho durante décadas, mas isso está mudando. Chafuen estava rodeado de amigos no Latin America Liberty Forum 2017. Essa reunião internacional de ativistas libertários foi patrocinada pela Atlas Economic Research Foundation, uma organização sem fins lucrativos conhecida como Atlas Network (Rede Atlas), que Chafuen dirige desde 1991. No Brick Hotel, ele festejou as vitórias recentes; seus anos de trabalho estavam começando a render frutos – graças às circunstâncias políticas e econômicas e à rede de ativistas que Chafuen se esforçou tanto para criar.

Nos últimos 10 anos, os governos de esquerda usaram “dinheiro para comprar votos, para redistribuir”, diz Chaufen, confortavelmente sentado no saguão do hotel. Mas a recente queda do preço das commodities, aliada a escândalos de corrupção, proporcionou uma oportunidade de ação para os grupos da Atlas Network. “Surgiu uma abertura – uma crise – e uma demanda por mudanças, e nós tínhamos pessoas treinadas para pressionar por certas políticas”, observa Chafuen, parafraseando o falecido Milton Friedman. “No nosso caso, preferimos soluções privadas aos problemas públicos”, acrescenta.

Chafuen cita diversos líderes ligados à Atlas que conseguiram ganhar notoriedade: ministros do governo conservador argentino, senadores bolivianos e líderes do Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL), que ajudaram a derrubar a presidente Dilma Rousseff – um exemplo vivo dos frutos do trabalho da rede Atlas, que Chafuen testemunhou em primeira mão.

“Estive nas manifestações no Brasil e pensei: ‘Nossa, aquele cara tinha uns 17 anos quando o conheci, e agora está ali no trio elétrico liderando o protesto. Incrível!’”, diz, empolgado. É a mesma animação de membros da Atlas quando o encontram em Buenos Aires; a tietagem é constante no saguão do hotel. Para muitos deles, Chafuen é uma mistura de mentor, patrocinador fiscal e verdadeiro símbolo da luta por um novo paradigma político em seus países.

O presidente deposto de Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, à esquerda, dentro de um carro em direção ao aeroporto, onde pegaria um voo para a Nicarágua nos arredores de San José. Domingo, 28 de junho de 2009.

Foto: Kent Gilbert/AP

Uma guinada à direita está em marcha na política latino-americana, destronando os governos socialistas que foram a marca do continente durante boa parte do século XXI – de Cristina Kirchner, na Argentina, ao defensor da reforma agrária e populista Manuel Zelaya, em Honduras –, que implementaram políticas a favor dos pobres, nacionalizaram empresas e desafiaram a hegemonia dos EUA no continente.

Essa alteração pode parecer apenas parte de um reequilíbrio regional causado pela conjuntura econômica, porém a Atlas Network parece estar sempre presente, tentando influenciar o curso das mudanças políticas.

A história da Atlas Network e seu profundo impacto na ideologia e no poder político nunca foi contada na íntegra. Mas os registros de suas atividades em três continentes, bem como as entrevistas com líderes libertários na América Latina, revelam o alcance de sua influência. A rede libertária, que conseguiu alterar o poder político em diversos países, também é uma extensão tácita da política externa dos EUA – os think tanks associados à Atlas são discretamente financiados pelo Departamento de Estado e o National Endowment for Democracy (Fundação Nacional para a Democracia – NED), braço crucial do soft power norte-americano.

Embora análises recentes tenham revelado o papel de poderosos bilionários conservadores – como os irmãos Koch – no desenvolvimento de uma versão pró-empresariado do libertarianismo, a Atlas Network – que também é financiada pelas fundações Koch – tem usado métodos criados no mundo desenvolvido, reproduzindo-os em países em desenvolvimento.

A rede é extensa, contando atualmente com parcerias com 450 think tanks em todo o mundo. A Atlas afirma ter gasto mais de US$ 5 milhões com seus parceiros apenas em 2016.

Ao longo dos anos, a Atlas e suas fundações caritativas associadas realizaram centenas de doações para think tanks conservadores e defensores do livre mercado na América Latina, inclusive a rede que apoiou o Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) e organizações que participaram da ofensiva libertária na Argentina, como a Fundação Pensar, um think tank da Atlas que se incorporou ao partido criado por Mauricio Macri, um homem de negócios e atual presidente do país. Os líderes do MBL e o fundador da Fundação Eléutera – um think tank neoliberal extremamente influente no cenário pós-golpe hondurenho – receberam financiamento da Atlas e fazem parte da nova geração de atores políticos que já passaram pelos seus seminários de treinamento.

A Atlas Network conta com dezenas de think tanks na América Latina, inclusive grupos extremamente ativos no apoio às forças de oposição na Venezuela e ao candidato de centro-direita às eleições presidenciais chilenas, Sebastián Piñera.

Protesto a favor do impeachment da presidente Dilma Rousseff diante do Congresso Nacional, em Brasília, no dia 2 de dezembro de 2015.

Photo: Eraldo Peres/AP

Em nenhum outro lugar a estratégia da Atlas foi tão bem sintetizada quanto na recém-formada rede brasileira de think tanks de defesa do livre mercado. Os novos institutos trabalham juntos para fomentar o descontentamento com as políticas socialistas; alguns criam centros acadêmicos enquanto outros treinam ativistas e travam uma guerra constante contra as ideias de esquerda na mídia brasileira.

O esforço para direcionar a raiva da população contra a esquerda rendeu frutos para a direita brasileira no ano passado. Os jovens ativistas do MBL – muitos deles treinados em organização política nos EUA – lideraram um movimento de massa para canalizar a o descontentamento popular com um grande escândalo de corrupção para desestabilizar Dilma Rousseff, uma presidente de centro-esquerda. O escândalo, investigado por uma operação batizada de Lava-Jato, continua tendo desdobramentos, envolvendo líderes de todos os grandes partidos políticos brasileiros, inclusive à direita e centro-direita. Mas o MBL soube usar muito bem as redes sociais para direcionar a maior parte da revolta contra Dilma, exigindo o seu afastamento e o fim das políticas de bem-estar social implementadas pelo Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT).

A revolta – que foi comparada ao movimento Tea Party devido ao apoio tácito dos conglomerados industriais locais e a uma nova rede de atores midiáticos de extrema-direita e tendências conspiratórias – conseguiu interromper 13 anos de dominação do PT ao afastar Dilma do cargo por meio de um impeachment em 2016.

O cenário político do qual surgiu o MBL é uma novidade no Brasil. Havia no máximo três think tanks libertários em atividade no país dez anos atrás, segundo Hélio Beltrão, um ex-executivo de um fundo de investimentos de alto risco que agora dirige o Instituto Mises, uma organização sem fins lucrativos que recebeu o nome do filósofo libertário Ludwig von Mises. Ele diz que, com o apoio da Atlas, agora existem cerca de 30 institutos agindo e colaborando entre si no Brasil, como o Estudantes pela Liberdade e o MBL.

“É como um time de futebol; a defesa é a academia, e os políticos são os atacantes. E já marcamos alguns gols”, diz Beltrão, referindo-se ao impeachment de Dilma. O meio de campo seria “o pessoal da cultura”, aqueles que formam a opinião pública.

Beltrão explica que a rede de think tanks está pressionando pela privatização dos Correios, que ele descreve como “uma fruta pronta para ser colhida” e que pode conduzir a uma onda de reformas mais abrangentes em favor do livre mercado. Muitos partidos conservadores brasileiros acolheram os ativistas libertários quando estes demonstraram que eram capazes de mobilizar centenas de milhares de pessoas nos protestos contra Dilma, mas ainda não adotaram as teorias da “economia do lado da oferta”.

Fernando Schüler, acadêmico e colunista associado ao Instituto Millenium – outro think tank da Atlas no Brasil – tem uma outra abordagem. “O Brasil tem 17 mil sindicatos pagos com dinheiro público. Um dia de salário por ano vai para os sindicatos, que são completamente controlados pela esquerda”, diz. A única maneira de reverter a tendência socialista seria superá-la no jogo de manobras políticas. “Com a tecnologia, as pessoas poderiam participar diretamente, organizando – no WhatsApp, Facebook e YouTube – uma espécie de manifestação pública de baixo custo”, acrescenta, descrevendo a forma de mobilização de protestos dos libertários contra políticos de esquerda.

Os organizadores das manifestações anti-Dilma produziram uma torrente diária de vídeos no YouTube para ridicularizar o governo do PT e criaram um placar interativo para incentivar os cidadãos a pressionarem seus deputados por votos de apoio ao impeachment.

Schüler notou que, embora o MBL e seu próprio think tank fossem apoiados por associações industriais locais, o sucesso do movimento se devia parcialmente à sua não identificação com partidos políticos tradicionais, em sua maioria vistos com maus olhos pela população. Ele argumenta que a única forma de reformar radicalmente a sociedade e reverter o apoio popular ao Estado de bem-estar social é travar uma guerra cultural permanente para confrontar os intelectuais e a mídia de esquerda.

Fernando Schüler.

Foto:captura de tela do YouTube

Um dos fundadores do Instituto Millenium, o blogueiro Rodrigo Constantino, polariza a política brasileira com uma retórica ultrassectária. Constantino, que já foi chamado de “o Breitbart brasileiro” devido a suas teorias conspiratórias e seus comentários de teor radicalmente direitistas, é presidente do conselho deliberativo de outro think tank da Atlas – o Instituto Liberal. Ele enxerga uma tentativa velada de minar a democracia em cada movimento da esquerda brasileira, do uso da cor vermelha na logomarca da Copa do Mundo ao Bolsa Família, um programa de transferência de renda.

Constantino é considerado o responsável pela popularização de uma narrativa segundo a qual os defensores do PT seriam uma “esquerda caviar”, ricos hipócritas que abraçam o socialismo para se sentirem moralmente superiores, mas que na realidade desprezam as classes trabalhadoras que afirmam representar.

A “breitbartização” do discurso é apenas uma das muitas formas sutis pelas quais a Atlas Network tem influenciado o debate político.

“Temos um Estado muito paternalista. É incrível. Há muito controle estatal, e mudar isso é um desafio de longo prazo”, diz Schüler, acresentando que, apesar das vitórias recentes, os libertários ainda têm um longo caminho pela frente no Brasil. Ele gostaria de copiar o modelo de Margaret Thatcher, que se apoiava em uma rede de think tanks libertários para implementar reformas impopulares. “O sistema previdenciário é absurdo, e eu privatizaria toda a educação”, diz Schüler, pondo-se a recitar toda a litania de mudanças que faria na sociedade, do corte do financiamento a sindicatos ao fim do voto obrigatório.

Mas a única maneira de tornar tudo isso possível, segundo ele, seria a formação de uma rede politicamente engajada de organizações sem fins lucrativos para defender os objetivos libertários. Para Schüler, o modelo atual – uma constelação de think tanks em Washington sustentada por vultosas doações – seria o único caminho para o Brasil.

E é exatamente isso que a Atlas tem se esforçado para fazer. Ela oferece subvenções a novos think tanks e cursos sobre gestão política e relações públicas, patrocina eventos de networking no mundo todo e, nos últimos anos, tem estimulado libertários a tentar influenciar a opinião pública por meio das redes sociais e vídeos online.

Uma competição anual incentiva os membros da Atlas a produzir vídeos que viralizem no YouTube promovendo o laissez-faire e ridicularizando os defensores do Estado de bem-estar social. James O’Keefe, provocador famoso por alfinetar o Partido Democrata americano com vídeos gravados em segredo, foi convidado pela Atlas para ensinar seus métodos. No estado americano do Wisconsin, um grupo de produtores que publicava vídeos na internet para denegrir protestos de professores contra o ataque do governador Scott Walker aos sindicatos do setor público também compartilharam sua experiência nos cursos da Atlas.

Manifestantes queimam um boneco do presidente Hugo Chávez na Plaza Altamira, em protesto contra o governo.

Foto: Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Em uma de suas últimas realizações, a Atlas influenciou uma das crises políticas e humanitárias mais graves da América Latina: a venezuelana. Documentos obtidos graças ao “Freedom of Information Act” (Lei da Livre Informação, em tradução livre) por simpatizantes do governo venezuelano – bem como certos telegramas do Departamento de Estado dos EUA vazados por Chelsea Manning – revelam uma complexo tentativa do governo americano de usar os think tanks da Atlas em uma campanha para desestabilizar o governo de Hugo Chávez.

Em 1998, a CEDICE Libertad – principal organização afiliada à Atlas em Caracas, capital da Venezuela – já recebia apoio financeiro do Center for International Private Enterprise (Centro para a Empresa Privada Internacional – CIPE). Em uma carta de financiamento do NED, os recursos são descritos como uma ajuda para “a mudança de governo”. O diretor da CEDICE foi um dos signatários do controverso “Decreto Carmona” em apoio ao malsucedido golpe militar contra Chávez em 2002.

Um telegrama de 2006 descrevia a estratégia do embaixador americano, William Brownfield, de financiar organizações politicamente engajadas na Venezuela: “1) Fortalecer instituições democráticas; 2) penetrar na base política de Chávez; 3) dividir o chavismo; 4) proteger negócios vitais para os EUA, e 5) isolar Chávez internacionalmente.”

Na atual crise venezuelana, a CEDICE tem promovido a recente avalanche de protestos contra o presidente Nicolás Maduro, o acossado sucessor de Chávez. A CEDICE está intimamente ligada à figura da oposicionista María Corina Machado, uma das líderes das manifestações em massa contra o governo dos últimos meses. Machado já agradeceu publicamente à Atlas pelo seu trabalho. Em um vídeo enviado ao grupo em 2014, ela diz: “Obrigada à Atlas Network e a todos os que lutam pela liberdade.”

Em 2014, a líder opositora María Corina Machado agradeceu à Atlas pelo seu trabalho: “Obrigada à Atlas Network e a todos os que lutam pela liberdade.”

No Latin America Liberty Forum, organizado pela Atlas Network em Buenos Aires, jovens líderes compartilham ideias sobre como derrotar o socialismo em todos os lugares, dos debates em campi universitários a mobilizações nacionais a favor de um impeachment.

Em uma das atividades do fórum, “empreendedores” políticos de Peru, República Dominicana e Honduras competem em um formato parecido com o programa Shark Tank, um reality show americano em que novas empresas tentam conquistar ricos e impiedosos investidores. Mas, em vez de buscar financiamento junto a um painel de capitalistas de risco, esses diretores de think tanks tentam vender suas ideias de marketing político para conquistar um prêmio de US$ 5 mil. Em outro encontro, debatem-se estratégias para atrair o apoio do setor industrial às reformas econômicas. Em outra sala, ativistas políticos discutem possíveis argumentos que os “amantes da liberdade” podem usar para combater o crescimento do populismo e “canalizar o sentimento de injustiça de muitos” para atingir os objetivos do livre mercado.

Um jovem líder da Cadal, um think tank de Buenos Aires, deu a ideia de classificar as províncias argentinas de acordo com o que chamou de “índice de liberdade econômica” – levando em conta a carga tributária e regulatória como critérios principais –, o que segundo ela geraria um estímulo para a pressão popular por reformas de livre mercado. Tal ideia é claramente baseada em estratégias similares aplicadas nos EUA, como o Índice de Liberdade Econômica da Heritage Foundation, que classifica os países de acordo com critérios como política tributária e barreiras regulatórias aos negócios.

Os think tanks são tradicionalmente vistos como institutos independentes que tentam desenvolver soluções não convencionais. Mas o modelo da Atlas se preocupa menos com a formulação de novas soluções e mais com o estabelecimento de organizações políticas disfarçadas de instituições acadêmicas, em um esforço para conquistar a adesão do público.

As ideias de livre mercado – redução de impostos sobre os mais ricos; enxugamento do setor público e privatizações; liberalização das regras de comércio e restrições aos sindicatos – sempre tiveram um problema de popularidade. Os defensores dessa corrente de pensamento perceberam que o eleitorado costuma ver essas ideias como uma maneira de favorecer as camadas mais ricas. E reposicionar o libertarianismo econômico como uma ideologia de interesse público exige complexas estratégias de persuasão em massa.

Mas o modelo da Atlas, que está se espalhando rapidamente pela América Latina, baseia-se em um método aperfeiçoado durante décadas de embates nos EUA e no Reino Unido, onde os libertários se esforçaram para conter o avanço do Estado de bem-estar social do pós-guerra.

Mapa das organizações da rede Atlas na América do Sul.

Fonte: The Intercept

Antony Fisher, empreendedor britânico e fundador da Atlas Network, é um pioneiro na venda do libertarianismo econômico à opinião pública. A estratégia era simples: nas palavras de um colega de Fisher, a missão era “encher o mundo de think tanks que defendam o livre mercado”.

A base das ideias de Fisher vêm de Friedrich Hayek, um dos pais da defesa do Estado mínimo. Em 1946, depois de ler um resumo do livro seminal de Hayek, O Caminho da Servidão, Fisher quis se encontrar com o economista austríaco em Londres. Segundo seu colega John Blundell, Fisher sugeriu que Hayek entrasse para a política. Mas Hayek se recusou, dizendo que uma abordagem de baixo para cima tinha mais chances de alterar a opinião pública e reformar a sociedade.

Enquanto isso, nos Estados Unidos, outro ideólogo do livre mercado, Leonard Read, chegava a conclusões parecidas depois de ter dirigido a Câmara de Comércio de Los Angeles, onde batera de frente com o sindicalismo. Para deter o crescimento do Estado de bem-estar social, seria necessária uma ação mais elaborada no sentido de influenciar o debate público sobre os destinos da sociedade, mas sem revelar a ligação de tal estratégia com os interesses do capital.

Fisher animou-se com uma visita à organização recém-fundada por Read, a Foundation for Economic Education (Fundação para a Educação Econômica – FEE), em Nova York, criada para patrocinar e promover as ideias liberais. Nesse encontro, o economista libertário F.A. Harper, que trabalhava na FEE à epoca, orientou Fisher sobre como abrir a sua própria organização sem fins lucrativos no Reino Unido.

Durante a viagem, Fisher e Harper foram à Cornell University para conhecer a última novidade da indústria animal: 15 mil galinhas armazenadas em uma única estrutura. Fisher decidiu levar o invento para o Reino Unido. Sua fábrica, a Buxted Chickens, logo prosperou e trouxe grande fortuna para Fisher. Uma parte dos lucros foi direcionada à realização de outro objetivo surgido durante a viagem a Nova York – em 1955, Fisher funda o Institute of Economic Affairs (Instituto de Assuntos Econômicos – IEA).

O IEA ajudou a popularizar os até então obscuros economistas ligados às ideias de Hayek. O instituto era um baluarte de oposição ao crescente Estado de bem-estar social britânico, colocando jornalistas em contato com acadêmicos defensores do livre mercado e disseminando críticas constantes sob a forma de artigos de opinião, entrevistas de rádio e conferências.

A maior parte do financiamento do IEA vinha de empresas privadas, como os gigantes do setor bancário e industrial Barclays e British Petroleum, que contribuíam anualmente. No livro Making Thatcher’s Britain (A Construção da Grã-Bretanha de Thatcher, em tradução livre), dos historiadores Ben Jackson e Robert Saunders, um magnata dos transportes afirma que, assim como as universidades forneciam munição para os sindicatos, o IEA era uma importante fonte de poder de fogo para os empresários.

Quando a desaceleração econômica e o aumento da inflação dos anos 1970 abalou os fundamentos da sociedade britânica, políticos conservadores começaram a se aproximar do IEA como fonte de uma visão alternativa. O instituto aproveitou a oportunidade e passou a oferecer plataformas para que os políticos pudessem levar os conceitos do livre mercado para a opinião pública. A Atlas Network afirma orgulhosamente que o IEA “estabeleceu as bases intelectuais do que viria a ser a revolução de Thatcher nos anos 1980”. A equipe do instituto escrevia discursos para Margaret Thatcher; fornecia material de campanha na forma de artigos sobre temas como sindicalismo e controle de preços; e rebatia as críticas à Dama de Ferro na mídia inglesa. Em uma carta a Fisher depois de vencer as eleições de 1979, Thatcher afirmou que o IEA havia criado, na opinião pública, “o ambiente propício para a nossa vitória”.

“Não há dúvidas de que tivemos um grande avanço na Grã-Bretanha. O IEA, fundado por Antony Fisher, fez toda a diferença”, disse Milton Friedman uma vez. “Ele possibilitou o governo de Margaret Thatcher – não a sua eleição como primeira-ministra, e sim as políticas postas em prática por ela. Da mesma forma, o desenvolvimento desse tipo de pensamento nos EUA possibilitou o a implementação das políticas de Ronald Reagan”, afirmou.

O IEA fechava um ciclo. Hayek havia criado um seleto grupo de economistas defensores do livre mercado chamado Sociedade Mont Pèlerin. Um de seus membros, Ed Feulner, ajudou o fundar o think tank conservador Heritage Foundation, em Washington, inspirando-se no trabalho de Fisher. Outro membro da Sociedade, Ed Crane, fundou o Cato Institute, o mais influente think tank libertário dos Estados Unidos.

O filósofo e economista anglo-austríaco Friedrich Hayek com um grupo de alunos na London School of Economics, em 1948.

Foto: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Em 1981, Fisher, que havia se mudado para San Francisco, começou a desenvolver a Atlas Economic Research Foundation por sugestão de Hayek. Fisher havia aproveitado o sucesso do IEA para conseguir doações de empresas para seu projeto de criação de uma rede regional de think tanks em Nova York, Canadá, Califórnia e Texas, entre outros. Mas o novo empreendimento de Fisher viria a ter uma dimensão global: uma organização sem fins lucrativos dedicada a levar sua missão adiante por meio da criação de postos avançados do libertarianismo em todos os países do mundo. “Quanto mais institutos existirem no mundo, mais oportunidade teremos para resolver problemas que precisam de uma solução urgente”, declarou.

Fisher começou a levantar fundos junto a empresas com a ajuda de cartas de recomendação de Hayek, Thatcher e Friedman, instando os potenciais doadores a ajudarem a reproduzir o sucesso do IEA através da Atlas. Hayek escreveu que o modelo do IEA “deveria ser usado para criar institutos similares em todo o mundo”. E acrescentou: “Se conseguíssemos financiar essa iniciativa conjunta, seria um dinheiro muito bem gasto.”

A proposta foi enviada para uma lista de executivos importantes, e o dinheiro logo começou a fluir dos cofres das empresas e dos grandes financiadores do Partido Republicano, como Richard Mellon Scaife. Empresas como a Pfizer, Procter & Gamble e Shell ajudaram a financiar a Atlas. Mas a contribuição delas teria que ser secreta para que o projeto pudesse funcionar, acreditava Fisher. “Para influenciar a opinião pública, é necessário evitar qualquer indício de interesses corporativos ou tentativa de doutrinação”, escreveu Fisher na descrição do projeto, acrescentando que o sucesso do IEA estava baseado na percepção pública do caráter acadêmico e imparcial do instituto.

A Atlas cresceu rapidamente. Em 1985, a rede contava com 27 instituições em 17 países, inclusive organizações sem fins lucrativos na Itália, México, Austrália e Peru.

E o timing não podia ser melhor: a expansão internacional da Atlas coincidiu com a política externa agressiva de Ronald Reagan contra governos de esquerda mundo afora.

Embora a Atlas declarasse publicamente que não recebia recursos públicos (Fisher caracterizava as ajudas internacionais como uma forma de “suborno” que distorcia as forças do mercado), há registros da tentativa silenciosa da rede de canalizar dinheiro público para sua lista cada vez maior de parceiros internacionais.

Em 1982, em uma carta da Agência de Comunicação Internacional dos EUA – um pequeno órgão federal destinado a promover os interesses americanos no exterior –, um funcionário do Escritório de Programas do Setor Privado escreveu a Fisher em resposta a um pedido de financiamento federal. O funcionário diz não poder dar dinheiro “diretamente a organizações estrangeiras”, mas que seria possível copatrocinar “conferências ou intercâmbios com organizações” de grupos como a Atlas, e sugere que Fisher envie um projeto. A carta, enviada um ano depois da fundação da Atlas, foi o primeiro indício de que a rede viria a ser uma parceira secreta da política externa norte-americana.

Memorandos e outros documentos de Fisher mostram que, em 1986, a Atlas já havia ajudado a organizar encontros com executivos para tentar direcionar fundos americanos para sua rede de think tanks. Em uma ocasião, um funcionário da Agência dos Estados Unidos para o Desenvolvimento Internacional (USAID), o principal braço de financiamento internacional do governo dos EUA, recomendou que o diretor da filial da Coca-Cola no Panamá colaborasse com a Atlas para a criação de um think tank nos moldes do IEA no país. A Atlas também recebeu fundos da Fundação Nacional para a Democracia (NED), uma organização sem fins lucrativos fundada em 1983 e patrocinada em grande parte pelo Departamento de Estado e a USAID cujo objetivo é fomentar a criação de instituições favoráveis aos EUA nos países em desenvolvimento.

Alejandro Chafuen, da Atlas Economic Research Foundation, atrás à direita, cumprimenta Rafael Alonzo, do Centro de Divulgação do Conhecimento Econômico para a Liberdade (CEDICE Libertad), à esquerda, enquanto o escritor peruano Mario Vargas Llosa aplaude a abertura do Fórum Liberdade e Democracia, em Caracas, no dia 28 de maio de 2009.

Foto: Ariana Cubillos/AP

 Financiada generosamente por empresas e pelo governo americano, a Atlas deu outro golpe de sorte em 1985 com a chegada de Alejandro Chafuen. Linda Whetstone, filha de Fisher, conta um episódio ocorrido naquele ano, quando um jovem Chafuen, que ainda vivia em Oakland, teria aparecido no escritório da Atlas em San Francisco “disposto a trabalhar de graça”.

Nascido em Buenos Aires, Chafuen vinha do que ele chamava “uma família anti-Peronista”. Embora tenha crescido em uma época de grande agitação na Argentina, Chafuen vivia uma vida relativamente privilegiada, tendo passado a adolescência jogando tênis e sonhando em se tornar atleta profissional.

Ele atribui suas escolhas ideológicas a seu apetite por textos libertários, de Ayn Rand a livretos publicados pela FEE, a organização de Leonard Read que havia inspirado Antony Fisher. Depois de estudar no Grove City College, uma escola de artes profundamente conservadora e cristã no estado americano da Pensilvânia, onde foi presidente do clube de estudantes libertários, Chafuen voltou ao país de nascença. Os militares haviam tomado o poder, alegando estar reagindo a uma suposta ameaça comunista. Milhares de estudantes e ativistas seriam torturados e mortos durante a repressão à oposição de esquerda no período que se seguiu ao golpe de Estado.

Chafuen recorda essa época de maneira mais positiva do que negativa. Ele viria a escrever que os militares haviam sido obrigados a agir para evitar que os comunistas “tomassem o poder no país”. Durante sua carreira como professor, Chafuen diz ter conhecido “totalitários de todo tipo” no mundo acadêmico. Segundo ele, depois do golpe militar seus professores “abrandaram-se”, apesar das diferenças ideológicas entre eles.

Em outros países latino-americanos, o libertarianismo também encontrara uma audiência receptiva nos governos militares. No Chile, depois da derrubada do governo democraticamente eleito de Salvador Allende, os economistas da Sociedade Mont Pèlerin acorreram ao país para preparar profundas reformas liberais, como a privatização de indústrias e da Previdência. Em toda a região, sob a proteção de líderes militares levados ao poder pela força, as políticas econômicas libertárias começaram a se enraizar.

Já o zelo ideológico de Chafuen começou a se manifestar em 1979, quando ele publicou um ensaio para a FEE intitulado “War Without End” (Guerra Sem Fim). Nele, Chafuen descreve horrores do terrorismo de esquerda “como a família Manson, ou, de forma organizada, os guerrilheiros do Oriente Médio, África e América do Sul”. Haveria uma necessidade, segundo ele, de uma reação das “forças da liberdade individual e da propriedade privada”.

Seu entusiasmo atraiu a atenção de muita gente. Em 1980, aos 26 anos, Chafuen foi convidado a se tornar o membro mais jovem da Sociedade Mont Pèlerin. Ele foi até Stanford, tendo a oportunidade de conhecer Read, Hayek e outros expoentes libertários. Cinco anos depois, Chafuen havia se casado com uma americana e estava morando em Oakland. E começou a fazer contato com membros da Mont Pèlerin na área da Baía de San Francisco – como Fisher.

Em toda a região, sob a proteção de líderes militares levados ao poder pela força, as políticas econômicas libertárias começaram a se enraizar.

De acordo com as atas das reuniões do conselho da Atlas, Fisher disse aos colegas que havia feito um pagamento ex gratia no valor de US$ 500 para Chafuen no Natal de 1985, declarando que gostaria de contratar o economista para trabalhar em tempo integral no desenvolvimento dos think tanks da rede na América Latina. No ano seguinte, Chafuen organizou a primeira cúpula de think tanks latino-americanos, na Jamaica.

Chafuen compreendera o modelo da Atlas e trabalhava incansavelmente para expandir a rede, ajudando a criar think tanks na África e na Europa, embora seu foco continuasse sendo a América Latina. Em uma palestra sobre como atrair financiadores, Chafuen afirmou que os doadores não podiam financiar publicamente pesquisas, sob o risco de perda de credibilidade. “A Pfizer não patrocinaria uma pesquisa sobre questões de saúde, e a Exxon não financiaria uma enquete sobre questões ambientais”, observou. Mas os think tanks libertários – como os da Atlas Network –não só poderiam apresentar as mesmas pesquisas sob um manto de credibilidade como também poderiam atrair uma cobertura maior da mídia.

“Os jornalistas gostam muito de tudo o que é novo e fácil de noticiar”, disse Chafuen. Segundo ele, a imprensa não tem interesse em citar o pensamento dos filósofos libertários, mas pesquisas produzidas por um think tank são mais facilmente reproduzidas. “E os financiadores veem isso”, acrescenta.

Em 1991, três anos depois da morte de Fisher, Chafuen assumiu a direção da Atlas – e pôs-se a falar sobre o trabalho da Atlas para potenciais doadores. E logo começou a conquistar novos financiadores. A Philip Morris deu repetidas contribuições à Atlas, inclusive uma doação de US$ 50 mil em 1994, revelada anos depois. Documentos mostram que a gigante do tabaco considerava a Atlas uma aliada em disputas jurídicas internacionais.

Mas alguns jornalistas chilenos descobriram que think tanks patrocinados pela Atlas haviam feito pressão por trás dos panos contra a legislação antitabagista sem revelar que estavam sendo financiadas por empresas de tabaco – uma estratégia praticada por think tanks em todo o mundo.

Grandes corporações como ExxonMobil e MasterCard já financiaram a Atlas. Mas o grupo também atrai grandes figuras do libertarianismo, como as fundações do investidor John Templeton e dos irmãos bilionários Charles e David Koch, que cobriam a Atlas e seus parceiros de generosas e frequentes doações.

A habilidade de Chafuen para levantar fundos resultou em um aumento do número de prósperas fundações conservadoras. Ele é membro-fundador do Donors Trust, um discreto fundo orientado ao financiamento de organizações sem fins lucrativos que já transferiu mais de US$ 400 milhões a entidades libertárias, incluindo membros da Atlas Network. Chafuen também é membro do conselho diretor da Chase Foundation of Virginia, outra entidade financiadora da Atlas, fundada por um membro da Sociedade Mont Pèlerin.

Outra grande fonte de dinheiro é o governo americano. A princípio, a Fundação Nacional para a Democracia encontrou dificuldades para criar entidades favoráveis aos interesses americanos no exterior. Gerardo Bongiovanni, presidente da Fundación Libertad, um think tank da Atlas em Rosario, na Argentina, afirmou durante uma palestra de Chafuen que a injeção de capital do Center for International Private Enterprise – parceiro do NED no ramo de subvenções – fora de apenas US$ 1 milhão entre 1985 e 1987. Os think tanks que receberam esse capital inicial logo fecharam as portas, alegando falta de treinamento em gestão, segundo Bongiovanni.

No entanto, a Atlas acabou conseguindo canalizar os fundos que vinham do NED e do CIPE, transformando o dinheiro do contribuinte americano em uma importante fonte de financiamento para uma rede cada vez maior. Os recursos ajudavam a manter think tanks na Europa do Leste, após a queda da União Soviética, e, mais tarde, para promover os interesses dos EUA no Oriente Médio. Entre os beneficiados com dinheiro do CIPE está a CEDICE Libertad, a entidade a que líder opositora venezuelana María Corina Machado fez questão de agradecer.

O assessor da Casa Branca Sebastian Gorka participa de uma entrevista do lado de fora da Ala Oeste da Casa Branca em 9 de junho de 2017 – Washington, EUA.

Foto: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

No Brick Hotel, em Buenos Aires, Chafuen reflete sobre as três últimas décadas. “Fisher ficaria satisfeito; ele não acreditaria em quanto nossa rede cresceu”, afirma, observando que talvez o fundador da Atlas ficasse surpreso com o atual grau de envolvimento político do grupo.

Chafuen se animou com a eleição de Donald Trump para a presidência dos EUA. Ele é só elogios para a equipe do presidente. O que não é nenhuma surpresa, pois o governo Trump está cheio de amigos e membros de grupos ligados à Atlas. Sebastian Gorka, o islamofóbico assessor de contraterrorismo de Trump, dirigiu um think tank patrocinado pela Atlas na Hungria. O vice-presidente Mike Pence compareceu a um encontro da Atlas e teceu elogios ao grupo. A secretária de Educação Betsy DeVos trabalhou com Chafuen no Acton Institute, um think tank de Michigan que usa argumentos religiosos a favor das políticas libertárias – e que agora tem uma entidade subsidiária no Brasil, o Centro Interdisciplinar de Ética e Economia Personalista.

Mas talvez a figura mais admirada por Chafuen no governo dos EUA seja Judy Shelton, uma economista e velha companheira da Atlas Network. Depois da vitória de Trump, Shelton foi nomeada presidente da NED. Ela havia sido assessora de Trump durante a campanha e o período de transição. Chafuen fica radiante ao falar sobre o assunto: “E agora tem gente da Atlas na presidência da Fundação Nacional para a Democracia (NED)”, comemora.

Antes de encerrar a entrevista, Chafuen sugere que ainda vem mais por aí: mais think tanks, mais tentativas de derrubar governos de esquerda, e mais pessoas ligadas à Atlas nos cargos mais altos de governos ao redor do mundo. “É um trabalho contínuo”, diz.

Mais tarde, Chafuen compareceu ao jantar de gala do Latin America Liberty Forum. Ao lado de um painel de especialistas da Atlas, ele discutiu a necessidade de reforçar os movimentos de oposição libertária no Equador e na Venezuela.

Danielle Mackey contribuiu na pesquisa para essa matéria.

Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse

The post Esfera de influência: como os libertários americanos estão reinventando a política latino-americana appeared first on The Intercept.

Steve Bannon’s Tall Tale About How He Visited Pakistan in the Navy and Saw the Muslim Threat

11 August 2017 - 12:23pm

If you ask Steve Bannon how he got the idea that Muslims in the Middle East are a civilizational threat to America, he will say that his eyes were first opened when he served on a Navy destroyer in the Arabian Sea. At least that’s what he told the journalist Joshua Green, whose new book about President Donald Trump’s senior counselor is a best-seller.

“It was not hard to see, as a junior officer, sitting there, that [the threat] was just going to be huge,” Bannon said. He went on:

We’d pull into a place like Karachi, Pakistan – this is 1979, and I’ll never forget it – the British guys came on board, because they still ran the port. The city had 10 million people at the time. We’d get out there, and 8 million of them had to be below the age of fifteen. It was an eye-opener. We’d been other places like the Philippines where there was mass poverty. But it was nothing like the Middle East. It was just a complete eye-opener. It was the other end of the earth.

That’s Bannon’s version. There are a few problems with it, however.

The port of Karachi was not run by the British in 1979. Karachi, which is the commercial hub of Pakistan, had a population that was well short of 10 million (it was about half that) and is not usually considered part of the Middle East. But the biggest problem is that the destroyer Bannon served on, the USS Paul F. Foster, never visited Karachi while Bannon was aboard.

This map shows the path of the USS Paul F. Foster during its 1979-1980 deployment in the Pacific Ocean and Arabian Sea.

Image: 1979-1980 Cruisebook for the USS Paul F. Foster

Six sailors who served on the Foster with Bannon told The Intercept that the vessel did not stop at Karachi during its 1979-1980 deployment. The recollections of these enlisted men and officers are supported by the ship’s deck logs, which show no stop on the way to the Arabian Sea and are available to the public at the National Archives. And a map of the Foster’s port calls that was published in its “cruisebook” shows stops in Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Christmas Island, Hong Kong, and Singapore — but not Karachi.

It turns out that Bannon, who has drawn a large amount of criticism for his exclusionary stances on race, religion, and immigration, has also inaccurately described his military service, simultaneously creating an erroneous narrative of how he came to an incendiary anti-Muslim worldview that helps shape White House policy.

It’s not clear whether Bannon’s account of visiting Karachi is an intentional fabrication or a false memory that reflects his subconscious fears, or something else entirely. Whatever the reason, it raises a lot of questions. Bannon did not respond to several inquiries from The Intercept. A close friend of Bannon’s who is in regular contact with him, and spoke on the condition of not being named, said Bannon had not read Green’s book and that the quotes attributed to him had not been checked with him. Green, the author, told The Intercept that the interview with Bannon occurred in 2015 and was recorded and transcribed.

The news of Bannon’s problematic narrative comes at a delicate time for the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, which under his leadership produced incessant streams of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stories. Bannon’s Navy service has always been deeply relevant to his work at the White House because it has been used as a reason for giving him influence on military affairs that his critics believe he does not merit. Bannon reportedly has a tense relationship with the retired generals who occupy key positions in the Trump administration – Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and particularly National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that McMaster has been waging a campaign to cleanse the National Security Council of Bannon’s allies, and that the two men have argued about Afghanistan policy.

In January, when a controversial presidential order gave Bannon a full seat on the principals committee of the NSC, the White House cited his service in the Navy, where he was a junior officer for seven years with two deployments, first to the Pacific in 1978, the second to the Pacific and the Arabian Sea in 1979-1980. “He is a former naval officer,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer at the time. “He’s got a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape. … Having the chief strategist for the president in those meetings who has a significant military background to help make — guide — what the president’s final analysis is going to be, is crucial.” In April, after being heavily criticized for putting Bannon on the NSC, Trump withdrew the full seat, though Bannon reportedly continues to attend meetings as a visitor.

This photo from the 1970s shows fishing boats in Hong Kong, which unlike Karachi, the USS Paul F. Foster visited while Steve Bannon was aboard.

Photo: AP

The falsehood about Karachi is not the only questionable statement Bannon made to Green about his military service. Bannon may have exaggerated his active-duty encounters with Iran. In the early months of 1980, Bannon was on board the Foster when, for about a month or less, it patrolled in the Gulf of Oman in the military run-up to the botched effort to rescue the American hostages who had been seized at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. A portion of Iran’s coastline is on the Gulf of Oman.

“The only way I can describe Iran,” Bannon told Green, “is that it looked like the moon. You’re literally months away from home, steaming across the ocean, these vast expanses, you get to this place and it was like you’d landed on the moon. It was like the fifth century – completely primeval.”

There are two apparent problems with Bannon’s description of Iran.

The first is that Iran in 1980 was anything but fifth-century primeval. Its per capita income was about $2,500, making it a mid-ranking country at the time, thanks to its oil reserves. Iran’s major cities were fairly well developed. Although it had large stretches of lightly populated territory and still does, Iran wasn’t the moon or even Mongolia. Lots of developed countries have large stretches of empty land — people tend to cluster in urban areas that occupy relatively little national territory.

But another potential problem with Bannon’s Iran story is that from the bridge of the Foster, where he served as a navigator, it would have been difficult at most times to see Iran with any clarity, according to several officers who served on the ship. The Foster cruised in international waters as an escort to the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, usually at least a dozen miles away from Iran, the officers said, and that was too far away to see anything with ordinary binoculars.

The Foster was equipped with what’s known as “Big Eyes” on the signals deck above the bridge — high-powered binoculars that are so big they are physically mounted on a ship, usually on a tripod. It was not part of a navigator’s job to use the Big Eyes, according to the officers, but even if a navigator ascended to the signals deck to take a leisurely look, not much could be seen from such a distance.

Bannon’s own narrative about how he came to fear Muslims is politically important. He is one of the most openly anti-Muslim officials in Trump’s chaotic entourage and is reported to have overseen the drafting of the controversial Muslim travel bans that Trump issued in his first weeks in office. The fact that a key part of Bannon’s narrative is invented would seem to suggest that his anti-Muslim views come from a different place that is perhaps darker than what he is comfortable sharing with the public.

In fact, there is an embarrassing hint, in what Bannon told Green, that he wittingly or unwittingly transferred to Karachi a crowded scene he had witnessed in an entirely different port while he served on the Foster: Hong Kong. Bannon told Green that he vividly recalled how “the British guys came on board, because they still ran the port” — which wasn’t true for Karachi at the time but was true for Hong Kong, which was under British rule when Bannon visited it.

According to two officers who spoke to The Intercept, it was ordinary during port visits to Hong Kong for a British official, or several of them, to come aboard to inform the ship of the logistics of the port, or as a social courtesy. As an above-deck officer, Bannon would have been in the areas where the visiting British officials were welcomed, and probably would have seen them.

If this is the case, Bannon’s narrative of seeing a vast Muslim crowd in the Middle East and sensing the threat these people and their religion would pose to America falls apart in a different and perhaps more embarrassing way than sheer fabrication. The crowds he would have seen in Hong Kong — which, according to crew members I talked with, was indeed overflowing with Chinese at the time, many of them quite poor — were overwhelmingly not Muslim (only a small number of Chinese are Muslim), and certainly not Middle Eastern.

It seems possible that Bannon may have consciously or subconsciously transposed the non-Muslim crowd he saw in Hong Kong and turned it into a Muslim crowd he did not see in Karachi. This raises the question of whether Bannon’s underlying anxiety arises less from a threat purportedly presented by Muslims and more from a general anxiety about non-white foreigners, whether Muslim or Buddhist or any religion.

The post Steve Bannon’s Tall Tale About How He Visited Pakistan in the Navy and Saw the Muslim Threat appeared first on The Intercept.

O louco com armas nucleares é Donald Trump, não Kim Jong-un

11 August 2017 - 11:44am

Para variar, Donald Trump tem razão. “Nós não podemos deixar um louco com acesso a armas nucleares livre desse jeito”, ele disse ao presidente das Filipinas, Rodrigo Duterte, de acordo com a transcrição de sua bizarra conversa telefônica que foi vazada ao The Intercept em maio.

O homem louco ao qual o presidente americano estava se referindo, é claro, era o ditador norte-coreano Kim Jong-un. No entanto, o insano que deve nos preocupar é o próprio Trump, que – antes que nos esqueçamos – tem acesso exclusivo e irrestrito para lançar quase mil ogivas nucleares em uma questão de minutos, caso queira.

A maioria dos especialistas em não proliferação nuclear – assim como o ex-presidente Jimmy Carter e vários ex-oficiais do Pentágono e Departamento de Estado, tanto republicanos quanto democratas – concorda que o brutal e assassino Kim, por mais que se gabe, não chega a ser irracional ou suicida e tende a querer defender seu regime e evitar um ataque americano. Armas nucleares são para fins defensivos, e não ofensivos, além de serem uma ferramenta para a liderança norte-coreana – a qual William Perry, secretário de Defesa de Bill Clinton, avaliou na Fox News, em abril, como “brutal e descuidada”, mas “não maluca”.

Entendeu? Kim é mau, não maluco.

O mesmo não pode ser dito em relação a Donald, no entanto. Acha que eu estou sendo injusto? Em fevereiro, um grupo de psiquiatras, psicólogos e agentes sociais escreveram para o New York Times dizendo que “a severa instabilidade emocional indicava que o discurso e as ações do sr. Trump o faziam incapaz de atuar, com segurança, como presidente”. Em abril, outro grupo de especialistas em saúde mental disse, em uma conferência na Faculdade de Medicina de Yale, que Trump estava “paranoico” e “delirando”, além de dizer que o presidente sofre de uma “séria doença mental”.

Seria então surpreendente que tantos relatos recentes sugiram que os sul-coreanos estão mais preocupados com Trump do que com a ameaça representada por seu hostil e paranoico vizinho?

Pessoas assistem à transmissão de um pronunciamento do presidente americano, Donald Trump, em uma estação de trem em Seul, Coreia do Sul na última quarta (9).

Photo: Lee Jin-man/AP

Levem em consideração a reação de Trump, esta semana, a um relatório confidencial da inteligência dos EUA – publicado pelo Washington Post –, que dizia que a República Popular Democrática da Coreia agora é capaz de construir uma ogiva nuclear pequena o suficiente para caber em um míssil. “É melhor a Coreia do Norte não fazer mais ameaças aos Estados Unidos”, comentou o presidente em resposta a um repórter no Bedminster Golf Club, na terça-feira. “Eles vão se deparar com fogo e fúria, de uma forma inédita no mundo. Ele foi além do normal em suas ameaças. E, como eu disse, eles vão ser combatidos com fogo, fúria e, francamente, com uma força maior do que qualquer outra já vista neste planeta.”

Como dizer que essa reação do líder do Mundo Livre não é desmedida? Em maio, ele disse que se sentiria “honrado” em conhecer Kim e o chamou de “um cara sagaz”. Em agosto, ele tirou uma folga das suas férias no clube de golfe para casualmente fazer uma ameaça de aniquilação nuclear ao país de Kim (não com base em nenhuma ação agressiva da Coreia do Norte, e sim de suas ameaças).

Será que Trump entende a diferença entre agravar e desagravar uma crise nuclear? Vejam o que disse o senador republicano John McCain, que nunca abriu mão de bombardear, invadir e ocupar um “Estado vilão”. “Discordo das palavras do presidente”, McCain disse, na terça (8), quando ainda completou: “Esse tipo de retórica não é muito benéfica.”

Quão maluco você precisa ser para antecipar um ataque nuclear que nem McCain consegue apoiar?

Trump até que leva jeito para falar livremente sobre armas nucleares. Durante a campanha presidencial, em agosto de 2016, o apresentador da MSNBC e ex-congressista republicano Joe Scarborough revelou que Trump, ao longo de uma conversa de uma hora com um conselheiro sênior sobre política internacional, perguntou três vezes sobre o uso de armas nucleares. Em dado momento durante o encontro, de acordo com Scarborough, o então candidato republicano perguntou ao conselheiro o seguinte: “Se nós as temos, por que não devemos usá-las?”

Cobertura do teste de um míssil balístico intercontinental exibido em praça pública em Pyongyang em 29 de julho. Kim Jong-un enalteceu a capacidade da Coreia do Norte ter os EUA como alvo após o teste com o ICBM, que, segundo especialistas, poderia acabar com Nova York.

Photo: Kim Won-Jin/AFP/Getty Images

A atitude blasé e eufórica em relação à utilização da maior arma de destruição em massa já feita é um forte indicador da imaturidade, ignorância, beligerência e, sim, loucura de Trump. Diante de nós está um presidente impulsivo, inconstante e instável, cujas vida e carreira foram definidas pela falta de empatia. Vocês se lembrar da sua estratégia para derrotar o ISIS? “Bombardeá-los até a morte” e “acabar com suas famílias”.

Então, você realmente acha que ele se preocupou com a possível morte de civis quando deu seu aviso sobre “fogo e fúria”? Nem pensar.

Vejam o que disse o suprassumo republicano, senador e colega de McCain, Lindsay Graham. “Se houver uma guerra a ser detida [Kim], vai ser por lá”, Graham disse a Matt Lauer, da NBC, na semana passada, em relação à recente conversa que teve com o presidente. “Se mil morrerem, vão morrer lá. Ninguém vai morrer por aqui – e ele falou isso na minha cara.”

“Isso é loucura”, disse Kingston Reif, especialista em desarmamento nuclear da Associação de Controle de Armas, em um tuíte em resposta ao relato de Graham sobre sua conversa com Trump. “Loucura pura.”

Lembrem-se de que, há 72 anos, os Estados Unidos lançaram a segunda bomba atômica no Japão, matando 39 mil pessoas em Nagasaki. Três anos antes disso, a primeira bomba atômica matou cerca de 66 mil pessoas em Hiroshima. No entanto, uma guerra nuclear na Coreia faria os ataques a Hiroshima e Nagasaki parecerem brincadeira de criança. Especialistas dizem que, mesmo que a guerra entre os EUA e a Coreia do Norte não envolva armas nucleares, ela mataria mais de 1 milhão de pessoas. Em caso de guerra nuclear, o número saltaria para dezenas de milhões de mortes. O conselheiro de segurança nacional de Trump, H.R. McMaster, admitiu que um ataque precoce por parte dos EUA seria uma “catástrofe humatinária”.

Mas o presidente se importa? Graham acha que não. O ex-escritor-fantasma de  Trump, Tony Schwartz, que passou 18 meses em sua companhia trabalhando em “Trump: A Arte da Negociação”, chamou o presidente de “sociopata”. Na verdade, há uma frase que se destacou no popular relato de Schwartz em entrevista ao New Yorker, em julho de 2016, e que é aterrorizante. “Eu genuinamente acredito que, se Trump vencer e tiver acesso aos códigos nucleares, isso vai significar o fim da nossa civilização”, disse Schwartz.

Não podemos dizer que não fomos avisados.

Foto principal da matéria: Pessoas segurando cartazes e protestando em apoio ao posicionamento da Coreia do Norte em relação aos EUA na Praça Kim Il-sung, em Pyongyang, em 9 de agosto de 2017.

The post O louco com armas nucleares é Donald Trump, não Kim Jong-un appeared first on The Intercept.

For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With Iran Was Never About Enrichment

11 August 2017 - 9:13am

“This was never about enrichment.” The academics and officials in the room were taken aback. For a former senior Israeli official to deny the importance of the nuclear issue was unusual, to say the least. The conversations, attended by American civilian and military officials and other Western representatives, as well as Iranian diplomats and Tehran’s then-nuclear negotiators, were shockingly honest.

“Enrichment is not important,” the ex-Israeli official continued. “What Israel needs to see from Iran is a sweeping attitude change.” The veteran Israeli decision-maker — himself a vocal opponent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — explained that Israel could not accept the U.S. coming to terms with Iran without demanding that Iran come to terms with Israel. “Israel is not party to the deal, so it won’t be bound by the deal,” he warned. If Iran is not willing to accept Israel’s existence, then Israel will stand in the way of the U.S. reaching a deal with Iran, the Israeli message read. The Iranians in the room listened attentively, but showed no reaction. In a breakout session later that afternoon, they indicated that they could recognize Israel only if Israel joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-weapons country — that is, once Israel gave up its nuclear weapons and opened its nuclear program to international inspectors.

It was April 2012. Tensions between Israel and the Obama administration were rising. President Barack Obama was pushing back against Israeli pressure for military attacks against Iran, while at the same time continuing the P5+1 diplomacy with Iran, an internationalized process involving the permanent U.N. Security Council members, as well as Germany and the European Union. There were also only a few months left before the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Many Israelis worried that Netanyahu’s aggressive style would further damage his relationship with Obama and undermine Israel’s influence over American calculations regarding Iran. It was becoming a growing worry for the Israelis as Obama showcased unprecedented dedication to diplomacy, which they suspected would only grow more firm in his second term.

The closed meeting, organized by a prominent U.S. university and held in a small Western European country, revealed dynamics driving the conflict that are rarely discussed in public: The Israeli fear that Iran’s rise in the region would be accepted by the U.S., and that it would regard Tehran as a legitimate player in the new regional order without Tehran accepting Israel’s existence. The most potent instrument for ensuring that Washington wouldn’t come to terms with Iran was the nuclear issue, which before the breakthrough in November 2013, was viewed as a hopelessly intractable conflict. “As long as the deadlock held, Iran would remain at least a permanently sanctioned pariah,” former Israeli official Daniel Levy wrote. For the years when the U.S. pursued Iran’s all-out containment, Israel “enjoyed a degree of unchallenged regional hegemony, freedom of military action, and diplomatic cover that it is understandably reluctant to concede or even recalibrate.” Israel’s position was directly linked to the U.S. upholding Pax Americana in the Middle East; its status was “underwritten by U.S. preeminence in the region,” Levy argued.

Herein lies the tragedy of Netanyahu’s miscalculation. By aggressively defining the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel, depicting the Iranians as irrational and suicidal, and threatening to bomb Iran, Netanyahu hoped to force Obama to take military action and recommit Washington to Pax Americana. Instead, Netanyahu’s strategy eliminated the status quo option of containing the nuclear program while neither resolving the issue nor acquiescing to Iran’s nuclear demands. Then, once that option was rejected, Obama did something Netanyahu had discounted: He opted for diplomacy, a measure that by definition could open the door to ending the U.S.’s efforts to isolate Iran.

Not only did Obama doubt the efficiency of military action, it also went against his principles and promises to pursue war only after all other options were exhausted. In never considering acceptance of enrichment on Iranian soil, the U.S. had not tested all diplomatic solutions. War also contradicted Obama’s larger geopolitical objectives to reduce the U.S.’s footprint in the Middle East and shift its focus east toward Asia and China. Although the Obama administration has insisted that the nuclear deal was solely about nonproliferation, its commitment to the deal in spite of the overwhelming domestic political risks — Congress seemed implacably opposed to diplomacy — can best be understood in the larger geopolitical context of the nuclear talks. The real challenge to the U.S. was the emergence of a peer-competitor with capacity and ambition to be a global superpower. No state in the Middle East has the capacity or the potential capacity to challenge the U.S. on a global scale. China, on the other hand, does.

From Obama’s perspective, the war in Iraq and the U.S.’s over-commitment in the Middle East had served only to weaken the country and undermine its ability to meet the challenge of prospective peer-competitors. With the Middle East losing strategic significance as a result of a variety of factors — including reduced U.S. dependence on oil — and with the cost of U.S. hegemony drastically increasing, the cost-benefit calculation for the U.S. had decisively shifted. To Obama, the Middle East was unsalvageable, and the more the U.S. got involved, the worse things would get and the more the U.S. would be blamed for the region’s woes. If Libya showed Obama that the region was best avoided, the rise of the Islamic State proved to him that the region could not be fixed. “Contrast that with Southeast Asia, which still has huge problems — enormous poverty, corruption — but is filled with striving, ambitious, energetic people who are every single day scratching and clawing to build businesses and get education and find jobs and build infrastructure,” Obama told The Atlantic. “If we’re not talking to them,” he continued, referring to young people in Asia and elsewhere, “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.”

Activists take part in a rally to commemorate the nuclear deal with Iran in front of the White House, on July 14, 2017 in Washington.

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Obama’s critics contended that his lack of involvement was the cause of many of the problems in the Middle East, which in turn had weakened the U.S. On the contrary, Obama believed that the U.S.’s overextension in the region had and would continue to harm its strength and global standing. “Overextension in the Middle East will ultimately harm our economy, harm our ability to look for other opportunities and to deal with other challenges, and, most important, endanger the lives of American service members for reasons that are not in the direct American national-security interest,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes explained.

In addition, Obama harbored a growing conviction that Iran’s prolonged isolation was neither possible nor necessarily helpful. This was particularly true if Iran’s reaction to its containment was to further challenge Western interests in the region. “Iran is too large a player, too important a player in this region, to simply leave in isolation,” the United Kingdom’s then-Foreign Secretary Phil Hammond said. This sentiment was widely held in Europe. “No one believes Iran can perpetually be put in a straightjacket,” Germany’s Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Wittig told me.

Obama believed giving Iran a seat at the table could help stabilize the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq, where the West and Iran shared an interest in defeating ISIS. “There’s no way to resolve Syria without Iran being involved,” Obama said a few weeks after the Iran deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, had been reached. Syria had been discussed on the sidelines of the nuclear talks, but it was only after the deal had been finalized that real deliberations could take place. “I really believe that, for instance, what we have now on Syria — talks bringing together all the different actors, and we have it now and not last year because we had the deal,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told me.  Meanwhile, the United States and Iran indirectly coordinated their efforts against ISIS in Iraq, prompting Obama’s Secretary of State Kerry to tell an American audience that Iran had been “helpful.” Neither that collaboration — nor the public acknowledgment of Iran’s help — would have occurred had it not been for the nuclear deal.

Obama’s interaction with Iran convinced him that the leaders in Tehran were rational, self-interested, and pragmatic. “What we’ve seen, at least since 1979,” Obama said in August 2015, “is Iran making constant, calculated decisions that allow it to preserve the regime, to expand their influence where they can, to be opportunistic, to create what they view as hedges against potential Israeli attack, in the form of Hezbollah and other proxies in the region.” Reducing tensions with Tehran was particularly attractive in view of both the negative role some of the U.S.’s key Middle East allies played and their insistence that Washington fight their battles. American frustration with Saudi Arabia was particularly noteworthy. Obama had a strained relationship with the Saudi royal family, often finding himself aggrieved with the Saudis and with the idea that the United States had to treat Riyadh as an ally at all. His understanding of Saudi Arabia’s role in exporting extreme Wahhabist Islam may go well beyond that of any previous and future presidents. During his youth in Indonesia, according to The Atlantic, Obama observed firsthand how Saudi-funded Wahhabists gradually moved the country closer to their own vision of Islam. The U.S.’s problems with Iran ran deep but, in the president’s mind, it was not in American interests to always unquestionably side with Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, the United States sought to reduce its tensions with Iran and pave the way for a pivot to Asia. By contrast, it seemed that Saudi Arabia sought a return to the pre-2003 order and an intensification of Iran’s isolation and exclusion from regional affairs. It was fundamentally clear that Riyadh and Washington were on a “collision course,” a former Saudi official said. The official, Nawaf Obaid, defined Iran as the root of regional chaos, whereas Obama viewed the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran as a source of instability for the region. Yet from the Saudi point of view, American neutrality was tantamount to betrayal. To Riyadh, Obama was abandoning the entire Arab world and acting on behalf of Tehran by pursuing a policy that “declared support for a more powerful Iran,” Obaid wrote. The Saudis saw proof of this view when they refused to attend the Syrian crisis talks since Iran would partake for the first time, and Obama personally intervened. According to Foreign Policy, he called the Saudi king to convince him to participate in the negotiations and drop the request for Iran to be shut out. Obama appealed to Saudi Arabia to find a way to “share the region with Iran.” His reasoning — that the problem was not Iran’s alleged aspiration for hegemony, but rather Riyadh’s refusal to accept Iran’s inclusion into the region — was “patently absurd,” according to Obaid.

From the American perspective, however, the nuclear deal prevented both war with Iran and a nuclear-armed Iran while holding out a promise of improved relations. At the same time, the U.S. could exercise tougher love with Israel and a more conditional friendship with Saudi Arabia. “We need to re-examine all of the relationships we enjoy in the region, relationships primarily with Sunni-dominated nations,” Gen. Mike Mullen wrote in support of the nuclear deal as Congress debated it. “Detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide.” The U.S. was frozen in a pattern of regional relations that were no longer productive and could force it into unnecessary wars. To pivot to Asia, these patterns needed to be broken, starting with a new relationship with Iran. Conversely, to prevent the U.S. reorienting itself, the nuclear deal needed to be killed — hence Saudi Arabia and Israel’s staunch opposition to it.

While U.S. and Saudi interests were diverging, Riyadh found itself viewing the region in an increasingly similar light as the Israelis. Once clearly taboo, collaboration with Israel was increasingly discussed in the Saudi kingdom. For both countries, Obama’s deal largely resolved the immediate matter of the nuclear question. However, it did so by undermining their mutual core interest in excluding Iran from the regional order. The JCPOA addressed the pretext for Israel and Saudi’s tensions with Iran, but not the roots of their conflict. “By framing the nuclear issue as an ‘existential threat,’ Netanyahu enabled the sidestepping of broader worries that both Arabs and Israelis have about Iran,” Brookings Institute analyst Shibley Telhami wrote in 2015. After all, an existential threat supersedes all other issues; all else became secondary at best. In fact, the Saudis and their allies asked the U.S. not to discuss their top regional concerns with the Iranians in the U.S.’s bilateral meetings with Iran. Israel did the same, securing a promise from the United States and the European Union that “that a total separation will be enforced” between the nuclear file and other issues such as ISIS, the Israeli government minister responsible for the Iran file at the time, Yuval Steinitz, said. Later, both Saudi Arabia and Israel pointed to this division as a weakness of the JCPOA.

The most important implication of the Iran deal, according to Israel, was that it condoned, as Harvard researcher Daniel Sobelman put it, “Iran’s drive to obtain recognition as a legitimate regional power to be reckoned with.” Moreover, rather than downgrading Iran, the deal upgraded it to “a de-facto threshold nuclear power,” according to Netanyahu’s former defense minister, Ehud Barak. With the nuclear issue resolved, the U.S. would lose interest in countering Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, leaving Israel and the Arabs to manage their rivalry with Iran on their own. Israel’s singular focus on keeping Iran isolated and constrained also caused tensions with the United States over the struggle against ISIS. To Israel, ISIS was a distraction. “ISIL is a five-year problem,” Steinitz, the Israeli minister, said, while the struggle against Iran would continue for another generation. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon publicly rejected that ISIS constituted a threat to Israel, and stated that he preferred ISIS to Iran. The head of a well-connected Israeli think tank even went so far as to write that destroying ISIS would be a “strategic mistake” because the group “can be a useful tool in undermining Tehran’s ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East.” The argument underscored the depth of the divergence of interest and perspective between the U.S. and Israel.

While some have suggested that the nuclear deal caused a rift in U.S.-Israeli relations, in reality the geopolitical interests of the two nations had already been diverging for some time. Rather than causing this rift, the deal reflected a preexisting, growing gap between them. “There’s no doubt that there’s a divergence of interest between the United States and Israel,” a senior administration official told me, asking for anonymity. Differences over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Arab Spring, including Iran in the regional order, and the U.S.’s military footprint in the Middle East were all coming to a head. While Israel wanted the U.S. to retain a strong military presence in the region, America’s global responsibilities prevented the Middle East from occupying such a large share of its resources. While the U.S. continues to have an interest in keeping Israel safe and democratic, it is concerned that the biggest threats to Israeli democracy come from inside the country itself — specifically, its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory. Even senior members of the Israeli security establishment agree that the real existential threat to Israel comes from the inside, and not from Iran. “There is no outside existential threat to Israel, the only real existential threat is the internal division,” former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said. “Internal division can lead us to civil war — we are already on a path towards that.”

Israel’s security establishment repeatedly entered into Iran debates as Netanyahu’s biggest critics. Some of the security officials expressed alarm at the damage to U.S.-Israeli relations his vendetta with Obama and his opposition to the Iran deal was causing. “Instead of fighting Iran, he’s fighting the U.S. Instead of Israel working with its closest ally, he’s turned them into an enemy. Does that seem logical to you?” former Mossad chief Meir Dagan remarked to prominent Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan. Netanyahu had the choice of shifting his position on negotiations with Iran once Obama had made clear that the U.S. would not look at any other options until it had first exhausted diplomacy. By supporting diplomacy, Israel would arguably have had a greater ability to impact the talks and shape the outcome. Instead, Netanyahu chose to declare war on diplomacy and go after Obama. “Once the negotiations had started, Israel should have put itself in a position that would have enabled it to have a continuous dialogue [with Obama] on the positions of the United States in the negotiations,” retired Israeli official Shlomo Brom complained.

The great irony is that there was a much easier way for Netanyahu to kill the nuclear deal than by taking on the president of the U.S. Negotiations could have been seriously harmed had he embraced the deal and argued that Iran had been defeated through it. The Iranians had no problems handling Netanyahu’s opposition to the nuclear talks — on the contrary, they welcomed it. But it would have been very challenging for them politically, particularly for the nuclear negotiators, if Netanyahu had gone on a victory lap and declared the deal a defeat for Iran. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, admitted as much to me: “That would have been enough to kill the deal.”

Adapted from the new book by Trita Parsi, “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.”

Top photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to a weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on March 13, 2016.

The post For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With Iran Was Never About Enrichment appeared first on The Intercept.

Illinois Democrat Says Elect Him Governor and He’ll Commute All Low-Level Drug Sentences

11 August 2017 - 8:57am

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, one of several Democrats vying for his party’s nomination to run for Illinois governor against incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner, doesn’t think the drug war was a failure.

“The war on drugs was a success,” he said in a speech on criminal justice reform given last month. “Because the war on drugs was never actually on drugs. It was against black people.”

Pawar used that address to explain the true history of the modern drug war, which President Nixon utilized to crack down on the anti-war left and African-Americans.

As part of his campaign, he’s vowing to end Illinois’s participation in that drug war through a battery of policies: making minor possession of controlled substances no longer a felony, legalizing and taxing marijuana, expanding addiction treatment, establishing a truth and reconciliation commission to air police-community grievances, and, most radically, using his commutation powers as governor to simply commute the sentences of nonviolent low-level drug offenders.

As the British Divided India, Rauner Divides Illinois

In a wide-ranging interview with The Intercept, Pawar put his views on politics into a larger context. His campaign targeting the drug war is part of a larger philosophy of fighting what he says is a divide-and-conquer approach by the nation’s elite to turn people of different races and classes against each other.

Pawar, who is the son of Indian immigrants who were active in the now opposition Congress Party, was spurred to run partly by Gov. Rauner’s 2015 decision to pause the acceptance of Syrian refugees to the state.

“My background is in the connection between disaster and poverty policy; my wife used to run a refugee resettlement program, my first graduate internship in social work school was working with refugees,” he explained. “The idea that you would ban a group of people who literally walked across continents, who are fleeing persecution, … is un-American. This is consistent with what Rauner has been doing in Illinois over the last years which is pitting communities against one another. Using the economic anxieties that exist in communities as sort of a catalyst to pit them against one another.”

He cited the example of Rauner going to poor white communities in Illinois and complaining about the level of school funding in Chicago, a sort of racial dog whistle. “He’s done a very good job of dividing and ruling,” Pawar cited. “When I give my stump speech I talk about how that is the same tactic the British used in India. You know, the British pit Hindus and Muslims against one another. Pit people against one another based on class and geography, caste, … this is no different. Chicago versus downstate. Downstate versus Chicago. Black, white, brown against one another. All poor people fighting over scraps. So that’s why I jumped into the race. I’m going to call this stuff out.”

Pawar’s convictions about ending the divide-and-conquer strategy inform his views on the drug war. He pointed to the very different public policy response to the crack-cocaine epidemic, which was concentrated among African-Americans, and today’s opiate epidemic, which is concentrated among white Americans (black and brown people have seen soaring rates of overdoses, too, though on a smaller scale).

“The opiate crisis means we need to provide treatment. Today we’re calling it a public health issue, but it was a public health issue 40 years ago,” he said.

He explained to The Intercept why he is willing to take the step of using commutations to get Illinois’s low-level, nonviolent drug offenders out of prison.

“If you were jailed for low-level drug offenses, nonviolent drug offenses, the basis for commutation is, well we are talking about preventative treatment so why are we letting people whither away in jail for the same issues we are wiling to provide treatment for today?” he asked. “The drugs are different, but the underlying circumstances that led people to addiction, or created the addiction issue is the same. So you can create a rubric and say ‘look, low-level drug offense, nonviolent, commute the sentences; create an automatic expungement program.’ You pair that with workforce development or social supports. That is still cheaper than 35 or 40 grand a year of jailing that person.”

Ameya Pawar shaking hands with Ed Butler from the Three Kings of Peace following a peace march in Danville, Ill., on July 22, 2017.

Photo: Steve Stearns/Ameya Pawar for Governor

A New Deal For Illinois

Pawar’s platform is inspired by former President Franklin Roosevelt; the candidate calls it a “New Deal for Illinois.”

In addition to criminal justice reform, it has three other planks.

On education, Pawar backs an elected school board for the city of Chicago, which would reduce the power of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to call the shots (the mayor is actually a constituent of Pawar’s).

He is also proposing moving away from a property tax funding model for the state’s schools towards more progressive financing.

On childcare and the social safety net, the candidate is proposing making access to child care universal and guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers. On jobs and infrastructure, Pawar is calling for a program modeled on the New Deal itself to put thousands of people to work.

Much of his approach to politics was informed by Hurricane Katrina. “I saw politicians blaming poor people for poverty,” he said. Katrina and disaster relief  formed the epicenter of much of his research in graduate school, which later led to a textbook he co-wrote with his wife.

“The one thing I kept coming back to in my research, and my book, and I looked at it from a disaster perspective, but it’s certainly true in all public policy in America is that policy in this country is based on deserving and undeserving people,” Pawar noted. “It starts with this idea that if we give and help poor people too much they’ll become dependent on the system and then abuse the system. And that the best way to help people is to help those that have quote ‘have worked the hardest.’ So they can create more jobs for everybody else. That frame needs to be broken. That’s why I got into politics.”

Running Against a Billionaire Opponent

The Democratic gubernatorial primary is being overshadowed by J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune who has now spent $21 million of his own money in the race.

“There’s always someone in life who has more money than you, and if you let those kinds of barriers determine whether you make decisions or not, that means your life is always in someone else’s hands,” Pawar said.

He pointed out that when he first ran for alderman, he spent $11,000 during his entire campaign against an opponent who spent six figures. “I think by being out there, hustling, talking to people, making up for the fact that I didn’t have money and replacing it with sweat, I put myself in a position to win,” Pawar said. “My thought here with this race is do our best to out-hustle them. We’re spending a lot of time in places that went for Trump. … I don’t feel it makes sense to write people off based on who they voted for in the last election and I think ultimately if we’re going to stop the ugly rhetoric anywhere, we have to organize poor white people, black people, and brown people together. They need to see the commonality between their experiences.”

Top photo: Ameya Pawar speaking to a group of activists on July 22, 2017, after a peace march in Danville, Ill.

The post Illinois Democrat Says Elect Him Governor and He’ll Commute All Low-Level Drug Sentences appeared first on The Intercept.

Reforma política: a democracia custa mesmo R$ 3,6 bilhões?

10 August 2017 - 5:01pm

“A democracia custa caro.” É assim que o deputado Vicente Cândido (PT-SP), relator da Proposta de Emenda Constitucional (PEC) 77/2003, de reforma política, iniciou o capítulo voltado para a defesa do financiamento público de campanhas eleitorais em seu parecer, divulgado nesta quarta (9). Caso o texto seja aprovado até o dia 7 de outubro em Brasília, isso significará que, já nas eleições de 2018, os cofres da União terão que desembolsar R$ 3,6 bilhões para bancar a divulgação de candidaturas de políticos.

Para se ter uma ideia, com esse dinheiro, seria possível pagar mais ou menos um mês e meio de Bolsa Família para as atuais 13,2 milhões de famílias beneficiadas pelo programa em todo o país. Os recursos equivalem ainda, por exemplo, à metade do orçamento da Saúde previsto para este ano em São Paulo, maior cidade do país.  

Vicente – apontado com o apelido “Palmas” na lista da Odebrecht – resume em sete parágrafos os motivos para a criação do Fundo Especial de Financiamento da Democracia (FFD). O nome é bonito, mas ele mesmo escorrega na hora de justificar a necessidade de colocar a dinheirama nas mãos dos políticos:

“Candidatos e partidos políticos, por sua vez, gastam com organização de campanhas, pessoal contratado e propaganda eleitoral montantes considerados assustadores por vários analistas. Trabalho realizado pelo brasilianista David Samuels, professor de ciência política da Universidade de Minnesota, nos Estados Unidos, constatou que as eleições brasileiras são as mais caras do mundo. Segundo o TSE, as eleições gerais de 2014 custaram aproximadamente 5,1 bilhões de reais.”

Montantes “assustadores”

Teoricamente, se tínhamos em 2014 as eleições mais caras do mundo, de montantes “assustadores”, isso era para ser algo a ser mudado, correto?

Na lógica invertida de Brasília, porém, é motivo para justificar a injeção de dinheiro público nas campanhas. E nem precisamos mencionar que 2014 pode ter sido o ano de eleições das mais corrompidas já vistas. Só a Odebrecht, por exemplo, teria distribuído cerca de R$ 40 milhões em caixa 2. Mas enfim, deixa isso para lá.

Seguindo na sua tese, o deputado cita as eleições municipais de 2016 que, pela primeira vez, contaram exclusivamente com doações de pessoas físicas. Em uma era em que as redes sociais estão ao alcance da palma da mão da boa parte da população, o que se viu foram campanhas mais modestas, ruas menos sujas e por aí vai. Ou seja, melhorou.

“Com o fim das doações de empresas, não haverá recursos suficientes para a realização de campanhas já nas próximas eleições.”

Mas, para Vicente, “o fim do financiamento eleitoral oriundo de pessoas jurídicas… representou uma redução de quase 50% em relação aos gastos verificados quatro anos antes, que foram da ordem de 6 bilhões de reais, devidamente corrigidos pela inflação.” E isso quer dizer que “com o fim das doações de empresas, não haverá recursos suficientes para a realização de campanhas já nas próximas eleições.”

Pelo que vimos em 2016, com uma campanha exclusivamente bancada por pessoas físicas, a frase do deputado soa, no mínimo, como um alarmismo para 2018.

E a pergunta que fica é: a democracia depende mesmo de uma fortuna em dinheiro público nas campanhas para sobreviver?

The post Reforma política: a democracia custa mesmo R$ 3,6 bilhões? appeared first on The Intercept.

Fire McMaster, Urges Pro-Israel Group Backed by Sheldon Adelson

10 August 2017 - 1:45pm

President Donald Trump’s White House is being put in the awkward position of having to choose sides between major donors and its own senior staffers. On Wednesday night, a right-wing, pro-Israel lobby group funded largely by the Adelson family — which also gave millions to Trump’s presidential campaign and inauguration — launched a broadside attack against National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The Zionist Organization of America announced Monday that it was undertaking a review of McMaster’s record on Israel, according to an “exclusive” story in the right-wing website, Breitbart. On Wednesday, the group released a statement calling for McMaster to be reassigned from the National Security Council because, according to the ZOA, he “purged from the NSC those officials who were carrying out President Trump’s policies of combating Iranian and radical Islamist transnational threats.”

“Gen. McMaster’s record during these past few months can only lead to the conclusion that McMaster is opposed to President Trump’s basic policy positions on Israel, Iran, and Islamist terror,” ZOA president Morton Klein said in the statement. “Gen. McMaster is not the appropriate person to serve the Trump White House as top national security adviser. The ZOA strongly recommends that Gen. McMaster be reassigned to a different role in this administration, unrelated to these critical issues.”

The White House has shown a willingness to act — and act fast — to stay in Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson’s good graces. When then-press secretary Sean Spicer went on a bizarre rant declaring Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to be worse than Adolf Hitler, for instance, Spicer picked up the phone afterward and personally called Adelson to apologize. But the latest rift with an Adelson-backed group appears to be more severe and will likely take more than a simple phone apology to resolve.

Breitbart, which first reported the inquiry and its results, is also linked to a top Trump donor — Robert Mercer invested at least $10 million in the site — as well as Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chair and now one of his top political strategists. Bannon, who once ran Breitbart, leads a “nationalist” faction in the White House that clashes frequently with what these “nationalists” have deemed “globalist” forces in the halls of power — those, such as McMaster and others, who are willing to engage in international diplomacy and trade.

The ZOA’s attack on McMaster pits Adelson and Mercer, two extreme right-wing Trump backers, against Trump’s new chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, who is widely seen as bringing some discipline and order to a White House that constantly finds itself in chaos. Kelly is said to be closely allied with McMaster.

In its statement, the ZOA pointed to McMaster’s personnel changes at the NSC. “Gen. McMaster has appointed officials who are holdovers from the Obama administration, who favor the Iran nuclear deal and are hostile to Israel — officials who are diametrically opposed to President Trump’s policies,” the statement said.

McMaster had long opposed the appointment of a trio of anti-Muslim ideologues to the NSC staff, but his bid to remove the staffers was thwarted until Kelly was elevated last month from running the Department of Homeland Security to chief of staff. Two of the staffers, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey, were reportedly the most outspoken Iran hawks within the NSC.

Adelson, for his part, has been a consistent backer of hawkish groups on Iran, once even remarking that he would like to launch nuclear weapons against the Islamic Republic.

McMaster’s controversial statements, according to the ZOA, were reported by the Jerusalem Posts’ Caroline Glick. “According to senior officials aware of his behavior, [McMaster] constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews,” Glick, another far-right, pro-Israel figure, had written on Facebook.

The ZOA statement cited Glick’s statements, as well as a litany of article from frequently Islamophobic websites, such Frontpage Mag, in its condemnation of McMaster’s personnel changes. Neither the White House nor the ZOA responded to requests for comment.

Philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam Adelson attend a ceremony in the President’s Residence on Aug. 12, 2007, in Jerusalem, Israel.

Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The extent of the ZOA’s reliance on funding from Adelson, who is also Trump’s biggest donor, has remained largely shrouded in secrecy. Breitbart acknowledged that the ZOA receives some backing from the Adelsons. And I have previously reported on the Adelsons’ extensive support of the ZOA. Documents obtained by The Intercept, however, detail the degree to which ZOA has remained dependent on the fortune Adelson built from his gambling empire.

The ZOA’s 2015 Schedule A form, which is filed with the IRS but not intended for public disclosure, shows that Miriam Adelson, Sheldon wife, contributed $4,533,870 to the group in a period spanning the 2011 to 2015 tax years. The group’s second-largest donor over the same period was the MZ Foundation, which contributed less than $1 million. According to the ZOA’s 2015 Schedule B form, which is also not intended for public disclosure, Miriam Adelson contributed $1 million to the group during the 2015 tax year alone, more than twice as much as the next largest contributor.

The ZOA has emerged as one of the few defenders within the Jewish community of Trump’s White House and its “alt-right” members when they have faced charges of anti-Semitism. The group even invited Bannon, a seminal figure of the “alt-right,” to its annual dinner in November. Other Jewish groups and self-proclaimed anti-Semitism watchdogs have taken a hard line against Bannon’s appointment in the White House; the Anti-Defamation League declared Bannon’s work at Breitbart “hostile to core American values.” Ultimately, Bannon did not attend.

The ZOA has made a point to fete the Adelsons and even speak on their behalf. In 2009, the group awarded Sheldon Adelson the “Herzl Gold Medallion for outstanding achievement in Zionism.” And, in 2014, Klein acted as Adelson’s spokesperson after New Jersey governor and then-GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie made the gaffe of referring to the West Bank as “occupied territories.” Christie personally apologized to Adelson.

In 2015, the ZOA also came out to defend Mike Huckabee — whose daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, serves as Trump’s press secretary — against an avalanche of denunciations from Jewish groups, who condemned his statement comparing the Iran nuclear agreement to the Holocaust. Huckabee had said that then-President Barack Obama would “take the Israelis and march them to doors of the oven.”

The Adelsons gave $35 million the Future 45 Super PAC to support Trump’s candidacy, enough to make the Adelsons Trump’s biggest campaign supporter. The influx of Adelson’s money corresponded to a noticeable change in tone by then-candidate Trump.

Top photo: A pro-Israel demonstrator, wearing a military style kipa and holding a U.S. flag, attends a demonstration outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

The post Fire McMaster, Urges Pro-Israel Group Backed by Sheldon Adelson appeared first on The Intercept.

Is the Queer Brigade Fighting ISIS in Syria a Force for Liberation or Alienation?

10 August 2017 - 10:12am

Last month, a rag-tag group of foreign fighters announced the creation of the first LGBTQ brigade fighting against the Islamic State in Syria. Their name? The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army, or TQILA (yes, pronounced “tequila”).

“TQILA’s members have watched in horror as fascist and extremist forces around the world attacked the Queer community and murdered countless of our community members,” their statement reads, going on to say that they could not “idly watch” as ISIS threw gay men off buildings in the Middle East, or influenced the LGBTQ nightclub shooting in Florida.

“It is this necessity and desire to strengthen the gains of the women’s revolution, while advancing the queer struggle, that has motivated the Queer comrades of the IRPGF to form TQILA.”

These Faggots Kill Fascists! We shoot back! The Black & Pink and Rainbow flag fly in Raqqa. #Queers smashing the Caliphate. #TQILA #YPJ #YPG pic.twitter.com/eBCssrbjMI

— IRPGF (@IRPGF) July 24, 2017

TQILA is a small unit within the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces — a battalion of self-identified anarchist foreign fighters who traveled to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their fight against ISIS. While some have questioned whether TQILA actually exists, the group has released several photos ostensibly from Raqqa, including one sending a message in solidarity with the Stockholm Pride Parade in Sweden. (A spokesperson for the brigade did not respond to questions from The Intercept.)

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) denied their affiliation with the foreign brigade, but TQILA quickly became an internet sensation. Newsweek and the Independent praised the LGBTQ battalion for their courage and the YPG for their inclusive politics. Twitter ran with it, using the news of the LGBTQ battalion to condemn ISIS and slam Donald Trump’s recent ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military.

But while TQILA’s rainbow flags and catchy banners may have been clickbait for certain parts of left Twitter, other activists and people with experience on the ground argue that masked foreign fighters are not the way to advance the rights of LGBTQ people in the war-torn region. Rojava, a politically autonomous region in the Kurdish region of northern Syria, has attracted leftists from around the world thanks to its radical experiments in participatory democracy and commitment to women’s equality. But LGBTQ activists say there is a long way to go.

“I was pissed off when I saw these images,” said Zoza, a 28-year-old Syrian-Kurdish transgender woman who grew up in Rojava. She was resettled as a refugee in Toronto last year.

“Rojava never was, and never will be, a welcoming place for queer people,” said Zoza, who goes by one name. Technically being LGBT isn’t criminalized in Rojava, giving it a reputation as one of the most tolerant regions of the Middle East. But, as Zoza put it, “there’s no law against harassing LGBT people either.” During her time in Syria, she said she was harassed and threatened by both ISIS and Kurdish fighters alike.

“I wasn’t able to freely live as myself without facing enormous danger,” she said. Many of Zoza’s queer acquaintances in Rojava were able to move freely — so long as they remained closeted. But in her case, living at the time as an effeminate boy, keeping her identity hidden was never an option.

Many foreign fighters travel to Syria to join the so-called Rojava Revolution, a movement that began when the Syrian regime withdrew from Rojava in 2011, leaving it to the control of the Kurdish political party, PYD. The PYD went on to set up a radical system of participatory democracy and, in addition to advancing the cause for Kurdish liberation, Rojava has become known for promoting women’s rights through women-led political councils and leading conversations on minority rights.

Members of the Women’s Protection Units arrive on the front line on the eastern outskirts of Raqqa on July 18, 2017, during the ongoing offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces to retake the city from Islamic State fighters.

Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to being a part of this experiment, the military arms of the PYD — the YPG and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) — have been on the front lines of the war against ISIS. While many of their foreign fighters in the past were ex-military types focused on “finishing the job,” the YPG has now shifted to recruiting leftist-anarchist types — like the TQILA fighters — who more closely align with their political ideals.

While many in the Western left idealize Rojava as an anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalist socialist utopia, some visitors find themselves questioning how deep this liberation goes. As author and activist Rahila Gupta observed, while there is extensive female participation in the government and military, the majority of housework is also left to women. Gupta also noted that LGBTQ and minority rights are often lumped in with women’s rights and Kurdish liberation as Rojava’s alleged priorities, but sexual relations of any kind are frowned upon as distractions from the revolution, and often met with shaming and harassment.

Zoza argues that the new arrivals are being taken in. “None of these foreign fighters understand that Rojava and the YPG are not who they claim to be,” she said. “As a Syrian-Kurdish trans woman, why should I be fed this propaganda that it is this place that it is not?”

One of those fighters, an American who goes by the Kurdish nom du guerre, Jêhat Birûsk, acknowledged in an interview conducted via Twitter that the situation is complicated.

A self-identified queer anarchist, Birûsk, like many of his fellow leftist recruits, participated in movements, such as Occupy Wall Street, while living in the U.S. However, after being surrounded by what he describes as “postmodern critical theory” in his daily political life, he was intrigued by the YPG’s militancy in fighting for the ideals of the Rojava Revolution. So he packed his bags to travel to Iraq and then Syria to study Kurdish, participate in a month of basic training and then support the YPG offensive against ISIS in Raqqa – all in hopes of later participating in the democratic experiment.

“How could I not join?” Birûsk said. “I knew that if I really believed the things that I thought I believed, I didn’t have much of a choice.”

Still, Birûsk admitted, “There is a lot of queer invisibility here.” He isn’t openly gay within his unit — YPG fighters are required to take a vow of celibacy, which makes being out a “non-starter,” in his words — but he is fairly certain that his sexuality would be more easily accepted because he is a foreigner. A local LGBTQ-identified fighter might have a different experience, he said. So while he agreed with the radical “bash-back” language of the TQILA brigade on a personal level, he said he doesn’t feel that it is the right approach for LGBTQ inclusion in Rojava, or the Middle East at this time.

“It isn’t to say that everyone in Syria or the Middle East or Rojava are homophobes,” he explained. But in addition to facing violence from ISIS, queer people in Syria and throughout the Middle East are routinely detained or harassed by security forces, and are often shunned by their own families. If they can, many remain closeted or lead double lives in order to survive.

In that context, he said, TQILA’s brash style could make the brigade more a force of alienation than liberation.

Birûsk still believes that LGBTQ foreign fighters could have a positive impact by showing solidarity with local LGBTQ individuals and challenging homophobia with more cultural awareness.

“So maybe we could approach these sensitivities differently,” he said. “But without having to ask for permission to exist, either.”

The post Is the Queer Brigade Fighting ISIS in Syria a Force for Liberation or Alienation? appeared first on The Intercept.

Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift To D.C. Think Tank

9 August 2017 - 10:19pm

The United Arab Emirates is on pace to contribute $20 million over the course of 2016 and 2017 to the Middle East Institute, one of Washington’s leading think tanks, according to a document obtained by The Intercept. The outsized contribution, which the UAE hoped to conceal, would allow the institute, according to the agreement, to “augment its scholar roster with world class experts in order to counter the more egregious misperceptions about the region, inform U.S. government policy makers, and convene regional leaders for discreet dialogue on pressing issues.”

The Emirates, according to the Associated Press, operate a network of torture pens in Yemen where detainees are grilled alive.

MEI was founded in 1946 and has long been an influential player in Washington foreign policy circles. It serves as a platform for many of the U.S.’s most influential figures, allowing them to regularly appear on cable news, author papers, host private briefings and appear on panels in between stints in government.

Think tanks in Washington play a role perhaps as important as K Street, though with far less public insight into their activity or sources of funds. While the political establishment is gripped by the question of Russia’s influence on the 2016 elections, Washington itself is awash in money from both foreign corporations and foreign governments. 

The document was included in a trove of diplomatic correspondence pilfered from the email account of UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba, either by hackers or somebody with access to the inbox, and subsequently provided to The Intercept. The “egregious misperceptions” the money will go toward eradicating are not spelled out, but Otaiba has made no secret of his disdain for rival Gulf nation Qatar, which he argues is a funder of terrorism, and his desire that the U.S. take a hard line against Iran.

Otaiba is one of the two or three most influential diplomats in Washington, a remarkable feat for an ambassador from such a small nation, and he has forged a close bond with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. He has long been close with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and has built personal relationships with key figures in the House, Senate and White House. As he explained in an email to Middle East scholar Bilal Saab, relationship-building is the key to diplomacy. “I got a call from Gen. Mattis before the syria strike because of my relationship with him. It wasn’t a WH or a pentagon official. It was mattis himself on the phone,” Otaiba wrote.

The UAE has used its outsized role to bend U.S. policy in a more militant direction toward the country’s foes: Iran, Qatar, the Houthis in Yemen and a coalition government in Libya that has gotten backing from Qatar. Otaiba has been the foremost booster in Washington of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman since late 2015, playing a key role in shepherding the Saudi monarch around town as bin Salman was maneuvering to seize control the Saudi government. Bin Salman has directed the country’s assault on Yemen, an ongoing series of war crimes which have been aided by the U.S. and produced a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions, including a cholera outbreak and widespread starvation. The UAE has served as an active participant, operating a network of torture warehouse under the eye of the U.S. where captives are grilled alive, “tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.” (The UAE denies the AP report.)

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also leading a blockade against fellow Gulf neighbor Qatar, rooted in a dispute over comments attributed to the Qatari emir that praised Iran. Qatar immediately said the comments were fake and the result of a hack, and U.S. intelligence sources have told the Washington Post that the UAE was behind that cyber operation.

Yet the blockade continues, setting up an unusually tangled scenario: as the U.S. charged the UAE with setting off a diplomatic crisis in the Middle East, the UAE is spending $20 million to fund a key think tank, housing former high-level U.S. officials, who help set the conventional wisdom on issues such as the diplomatic crisis that the UAE sparked.

Otaiba was named ambassador in March 2008, following the Dubai-Ports World debacle, a PR crisis for the country that erupted after a UAE-owned firm attempted to invest in a handful of American ports. Politicians on both sides of the aisle lambasted the UAE with Islamophobic stereotypes as the country was caught in the crossfire of a tense midterm election.

Otaiba’s job was to make sure it didn’t happen again, and that meant spreading money around town. His bottomless funding of Washington luncheons, charity galas and hospital wings quickly put him on the radar. His courtship of politicians and figures in the media became legendary, epitomized by dinner parties at his expansive mansion that included food by Wolfgang Puck — the surprise highlight of the affairs coming when the celebrity chef himself would emerge from the kitchen.

MEI was far from alone in its hunting of UAE petrodollars, but it was among the baldest in its effort. In April 2008, just a month after Otaiba was named to his new spot, Mac McClelland Jr., then a UAE-based consultant, reached out on behalf of MEI president Wendy Chamberlin to tell Otaiba he had committed to raising $50 million from the UAE for the institute, asking for Otaiba’s help in rattling the cup.

“I suspect that now is the right time to approach the respective leaders [of the UAE] given the huge liquidity in the country as well as the obvious need to promote Arab/Muslim awareness in the US,” offered McClelland in one of the leaked emails.  

Otaiba told McClelland he was asking for an awful lot. “I’m aware of MEI’s fundraising drive and I’ll do what I can to help support it but I feel its important to manage expectations. I think the numbers you’re mentioning are a little far off our original estimates,” he said. “Of course I’m only speaking for abu dhabi gov’t on this issue.” (Otaiba officially represents the entire UAE, which is made up of seven emirates. However, he is the protege and deputy of Abu Dhabi’s ruling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who McClelland mentioned in his email.)

By 2013, Otaiba had begun to do his part. Exchanges between Otaiba and Ramy Yaacoub, an Egyptian activist and scholar, reveal some of the details of the arrangement that had been struck by then. “MEI agreement is $1.5 million per year, I’ll take care of that,” Otaiba tells Yaacoub. “You will cover lobbying and communication support for the opposition group since 1. I cannot do that and 2. It will be a much smaller amount.”

Yaacoub tells Otaiba he understands. “Ok, Naguib was under the impression that he would be partially funding it. I will work with Richard to get things moving asap, and will explain to Naguib,” Yaacoub writes in a January 2013 email.

The emails don’t spell out who Richard and Naguib are, though the former is most likely Richard Mintz, Otaiba’s top representative in Washington, and the latter is Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian oligarch who had just two months earlier been the recipient of the “MEI Award for Distinction in Civic Leadership” at the Institute’s 66th annual banquet.

Sawiris was a strident opponent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which one elections in 2012 before being ousted in a military coup in 2013. Sawiris founded the Free Egyptians Party and Yaacoub served as chief of staff for the party, presumably the opposition group being referenced.

Otaiba was the loudest critic in Washington of the Muslim Brotherhood, charging them with links to terrorism and cheering their overthrow. UAE rival Qatar, meanwhile, had supported the Brotherhood government, and relations between the countries are still raw. The UAE and Egypt, joined by Saudi Arabia, are now blockading Qatar, accusing it of financing terrorism.

 

The chairman of MEI’s board is Richard Clarke, former top national security adviser to both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Clarke is famous for his public apology to the victims of 9/11, which he offered on behalf of the intelligence community for failing to stop the attacks, and has been particularly critical of the Saudi government. Since joining the MEI board, where he is now chairman, Clarke has lobbied Saudi Arabia to increase its giving — and in a meeting with then Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir pulled off a coup. According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, one close to the Saudi royal family and the other a former official with MEI, Clarke walked out of the Saudi embassy meeting with al-Jubeir with a check for $500,000. Michael Petruzzello, Saudi Arabia’s longtime DC representative, is on the MEI board. Mintz, long Otaiba’s man in Washington, now has a lucrative contract with Saudi Arabia as well.

When Otaiba talks about augmenting the MEI “scholar roster with world class experts in order to counter the more egregious misperceptions about the region” he is talking specifically about the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam in general, as well as Iran and Qatar. For instance, ne of the world class experts added to the MEI roster since the giving went from $1.5 million to $20 million is Bilal Saab.

In May, Qatar invited Saab to an annual gala. Saab instead forwarded it to Otaiba so the pair could laugh. “It must be flattering to be in demand like that :-)” Otaiba said.

“The wrong kind of demand,” Saab replied. He turned down the invite.

He has responded more favorably to other requests. “Got Dave Petraeus to author the foreword of our main report on Iran’s regional challenge. That’s the good news,” Saab wrote Otaiba this past March. “The bad news is that I have to write the foreword for him. Not the first time I wrote forewords for others. What do you think?”

Saab then pasted the text below, so that Otaiba could make edits to a piece written by Saab that would be published under the name of Petraeus.

Contributing to a think tank has its benefits. Saab, before his time at MEI, was a scholar with the Atlantic Council, another prominent institution in Washington with funding from the UAE. In June, Otaiba was given a draft copy of a strategy paper by Ellen Laipson on the future of U.S. policy toward Iran. “I got up to page 6 of reading this report before I concluded it’s too painful to continue,” he told Saab and the Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel, head of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “This is incredibly problematic for an infinite number of reasons that I would be happy to discuss over the phone.”

“I think you used the wrong email address to send this,” Saab told Otaiba in a reply, dropping his boss, and likely referring to the odd fact that Otaiba was using his hotmail account. “You and I are in full agreement on Iran. I had my concerns about this effort from the start but I will defend Ellen, not her sloppy report though.”

Otaiba was incredulous. “Aren’t you both part of AC?? That same AC that is about to publish this report??”

Saab stood his ground, but tried to get Otaiba to see the bigger picture. “Whether it’s AC or any other think tank, you know very well that we don’t operate like the communist party and we don’t have a ‘party line.’ We encourage diversity of views, like most credible think tanks, and cherish our intellectual independence. We’re not a lobbying firm,” he said. “This report, again as you very well know, is balanced by the HUUGE body of leading and robust work that I have led at the Scowcroft Center that argues almost in opposite direction!”

Pavel, one of the few people in this story willing to talk on the record, said that the Iran paper was a good example of the kind of difficult terrain think tanks have to walk. “We work through these issues with corporate partners, with government partners, with individuals, not as much with foundations, they don’t really weigh in like that,” Pavel said. “We hear their opinions when they’re rendered and then we give them to the authors of the papers.”

In this case, the author, he said, agreed with some of the smaller comments made, but stuck to her thesis. “You know Ellen, she sticks to her guns. If she feels strongly, she’ll disagree with comments rendered. We couldn’t have had a stronger author on a complex topic like this,” he said.

Otaiba, he said, wasn’t the only donor to get a chance to review the paper, and the UAE remains a funder of the Council. Foreign governments, he said, understand the Council offers a variety of perspectives, and tend to go to other think tanks to buy papers that fit their diplomatic needs. “Our credibility is only strong to the extent we’re a venue where we reflect different perspectives,” he said. “My understanding is [foreign governments] have others in their portfolio that do the more directed work.”

Saab left the Atlantic Council last month. He’s moving over to MEI.

Saab knows that Otaiba sees him as more than just an ally. When an Abu Dhabi-based firm made Saab a job offer he felt did not come with adequate compensation in 2016, he emailed Otaiba to see what could be done. “I know you prefer I work closely with you here, but think of the ‘damage’ I can cause in Abu Dhabi, if they adjust their rate,” Saab pleaded.

Last month The Intercept reported on the maneuvering that had enabled the UAE to forge a funding relationship with mainstream national security think tanks that gives it considerable influence in shaping the debate about U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The emails we obtained also showcase how Ian Davis, a top lobbyist for Occidental Petroleum, helped forge the relationship between Otaiba and the Center for a New American Security, a think tank founded by and staffed with national security experts linked to the Obama administration — an administration Otaiba was at open war with by the end. (“Most administrations also get more humble with age, this one gets more arrogant,” Otaiba wrote to Richard Clarke after a high profile article by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg on “The Obama Doctrine” appeared in The Atlantic. “Keep repeating: 10 more months,” Clarke replied.)

The role of Davis and Occidental in helping shape CNAS policy is a window into the strange world of Washington influence. Occidental Petroleum is an American oil and gas firm headquartered in Houston, Texas. It is currently partnered with the UAE-based Abu Dhabi National Oil Company on a 30-year joint venture developing the Al Hosn Gas project, which its website touts as “one of the largest natural gas developments in the Middle East.”

The emails show that Occidental, through Davis, quietly lobbied CNAS on behalf of UAE government — a case of a corporation building political pathways for a foreign government it relies on for business.

On December 8, 2011, CNAS staffer Andrew Exum — a military veteran and analyst who later went on to work for the Obama administration and today is a contributing editor at The Atlantic — wrote to Davis to inform him that the think tank was in the early stages of working on a Middle East Strategy project for 2011-2012.

“I would love to hear the thoughts of the ambassador on what direction he would suggest we take,” he wrote to Davis of Otaiba. “The relationship between the U.A.E. and the U.S. has been an interesting one, and since our report would directly address the future of foreign military sales and foreign military assistance in the region, his perspective would be particularly invaluable to our research.”

The same day, Davis wrote to Otaiba explaining that he had met with CNAS’s president earlier in the week to discuss “Oxy’s [i.e., Occidental’s] support for the coming year,” meaning that it was a fundraising meeting. “I told them that Oxy’s #1 priority is the approval of the defense package for the UAE, and they should make sure to become well briefed on the importance of this,” he continued.

He went on to explain to Otaiba that CNAS was founded and staffed by many military and political veterans, including staff close to the Obama administration. “Their reports are widely read and respected on Capitol Hill and in the Administration,” he noted.

“If you’re interested in meeting with them, please let me know and I’d be happy to set it up. Oxy is a major supporter of CNAS, and I personally believe they can be a helpful ally in the months ahead,” he concluded. (Indeed, they later proved helpful — putting out papers pressing the Trump administration to loosen restrictions on drone transfers to the UAE, for instance.)

Otaiba’s reply, which came the same day, was brief. “Happy to meet with them. My foreign minister is in town next week so perhaps the week after,” he said.

A day later, Davis’s assistant H. Joy Smith emailed Pauline Habr, an assistant to Otaiba, to say that Exum was available for a thirty-minute meeting with for Otaiba later in the month or in January.

And just like that, the relationship between Otaiba and CNAS was formed, thanks to the help of a friendly oil lobbyist. Everyone got a little something.

In a statement to The Intercept, a spokesperson for the think tank said “we do not have any insight into conversations between the Embassy of the UAE and Occidental Petroleum in 2011,” and said that CNAS did not receive any funding from the UAE until 2016.

They did, however, confirm that Occidental Petroleum was a past donor to CNAS, last funding the think tank in 2014. Which is exactly the point of Occidental serving as the liaison — the company’s funding of CNAS allowed it to serve as a proxy lobbyist for the UAE.

Davis did not respond to request for comment from The Intercept, nor did Exum — who Bilal Saab refers to in one email to Otaiba as “Ex-Man.”

 

The MEI grant did not come directly from the UAE government. Rather, it was routed through the The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), an Abu Dhabi-based think tank. But the fact that Otaiba arranged the payments, and the way they were arranged, makes the true source of the funds clear.

“Ambassador Yousef Otaiba kindly informed our chairman, Richard Clarke of the ECSSR grant,” Wendy Chamberlin, MEI’s president, wrote to Saif Al Hajeri in September 2016.

Otaiba was blind copied on the note, which he had previously proofread and suggested be delivered to both Hajeri and to Dr. Jamal Al-Suwaidi, head of ECSSR. “We are most appreciative of your support and ask that you acknowledge this letter as accurately reflecting the understandings,” Chamberlin wrote to Suwaidi, helpfully including MEI’s bank account details so the funds could be transferred.

Despite the reference to the UAE think tank, it was actually an entity controlled by Hajeri that made the payments. As Richard Clarke explained to Chamberlin in a separate email, written January 11, 2016, after Clarke met with Hajeri:

“Hajeri asked that I provide him with a document expressing this understanding, something about MEI and the Campaign Fund for his records. He said he had already spoken to the Crown Prince, who is the Chairman of his Board and that the paperwork is merely a formality for their own internal audit and records.

“He said the funds would come from Tawazun, from a fund they had created into which companies owing offsets could donate cash in lieu of projects. He stressed that he did not want us to contact the companies.”

The payments were broken up into four lumps of $5 million each, but there was a hiccup.

Hajeri was uncomfortable about how the donation would look if it became public. In July 2016, Clarke wrote him, copying Chamberlin, with reassurances.

“MEI plans no announcement of the contribution,” he assured. “In November, at the Annual Banquet and 70th anniversary, i will say that we are half way to our goal of $40m in pledges, from a variety of our past friends and donors.”

In 2017, he added, they would be required to file a public tax return with the government. “That will identify all sources of revenue. Because we are a Not-for-Profit institution, our filing will be available for public inspection. It is possible a reporter might look at the file and write a story, but that also may not happen,” he advies. “We understand that you do not want to brag about the gift or have something named after you, but we believe that steps to ‘hide’ the contribution would not be a good idea. It would look like we are trying for some reason to cover up the relationship. That would provoke questions and suspicion. We are proud of our long history with the UAE.”

In October 2016, Clarke reached out again to Hajeri. “Yousef said he discussed with you the delay that we have incurred with Dr. Jamal,” Clarke fretted. “We are at the point of starting construction, but can not proceed without the fund transfer.”

Hajeri replied and copied Otaiba. “I had a meeting with Dr. Jamal this afternoon and we agreed on the way forward,” he said. “I am transferring the 20$ M tomorrow to the ECSSR and they will directly transfer them to the institute.”

Zaid Jilani contributed reporting

 

Top photo: Attendees visit The Emirates Center For Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) display booth during the 2012 World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The post Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift To D.C. Think Tank appeared first on The Intercept.

Dados de desemprego mostram que Rio de Janeiro caminha para além do fundo do poço

9 August 2017 - 5:00pm

As manchetes de “O Globo” e “Estadão” estampam manchetes na tarde desta quarta (9) comemorando mais um mês de aumento na quantidade de empregos formais no país. Foram 35,9 mil vagas, de acordo com o Cadastro Geral de Empregados e Desempregados (Caged) do Ministério do Trabalho. Deve ser mais um dia de festa no Fantástico Mundo de Temer.

Tudo bem que não faz muito tempo, entre dezembro e fevereiro deste ano, a quantidade de gente parada havia batido um recorde histórico: segundo o IBGE, foram 13,5 milhões nesse período. Ou seja, agora, é basicamente como se estivéssemos no fundo do poço, mas levantando os bracinhos para ficar alguns centímetros mais perto da longínqua saída do buraco.

Manchete do site de “O Globo”

Reprodução

Das 35,9 mil vagas, 21,8 mil (60,7%) foram criadas no estado mais rico do país. Por outro lado, o Rio é o último colocado e ficou no negativo em 9.320 empregos.

E basta uma olhada nos números referentes a julho do Caged para quem vive no Rio de Janeiro ficar ainda mais deprimido. O superávit na criação de vagas é basicamente sustentado por São Paulo. Das 35,9 mil vagas, 21,8 mil (60,7%) surgiram no estado mais rico do país. Por outro lado, o Rio é o último colocado e ficou no negativo em 9.320 empregos.

Outros seis estados também conseguiram essa façanha de definhar ainda mais: Tocantins, Alagoas, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Sul, Mato Grosso do Sul e Espírito Santo. Os capixabas, piores desta lista, conseguiram ficar no negativo em “só” 1.841 empregos. Ou seja, o Rio ganhou de goleada nesse quesito. Goleada de gols contra.

Para quem não acompanha de perto, o Rio é aquele estado que foi administrado pelo atual presidiário Sérgio Cabral e agora está sob a batuta de seu ex-fiel escudeiro Luiz Fernando Pezão. Há meses, o governador promete botar em dia os salários dos servidores, mas a cada dia que passa isso parece cada vez mais promessa de político.

Com tanta tristeza no ar carioca, não foi à toa que Temer levou uma sonora vaia ao comemorar os números da economia durante um evento realizado nesta quarta no Centro da cidade. Ao lado dele, estava o vice-governador do Rio, Francisco Dornelles, um político que parece tão eterno quanto a crise por que estamos passando.

Se em Brasília, já há pouco, quase nada ou nada mesmo a comemorar. No Rio, isso soa como deboche.

The post Dados de desemprego mostram que Rio de Janeiro caminha para além do fundo do poço appeared first on The Intercept.

Os privilegiados estão preparados para a verdadeira meritocracia?

9 August 2017 - 2:17pm

A palavra “meritocracia” surgiu em 1958 no título do romance distópico e satírico “The Rise of Meritocracy”, do sociólogo e político britânico Michael Young. Foi escrito para ser uma crítica ao sistema educacional adotado na Inglaterra nos anos do pós-guerra, que dividia e preparava de maneira diferente as crianças da elite e as do povo, destinando a elas futuros também bastante distintos.

O romance previa que, em 2034, haveria uma grande revolução fomentada pela desigualdade social advinda do elitismo educacional e, finalmente, a “meritocracia” elitista seria superada por sistemas que levassem em conta as condições sociais e culturais dos indivíduos.

Em 2001, Young escreveu um artigo dizendo-se bastante infeliz com o rumo que sua crítica havia tomado desde que a direita, ignorando o conteúdo do livro, havia se apropriado do termo e revestido-o com características positivas. Um dos grandes medos do sociólogo era de que a meritocracia se tornasse hereditária, como de fato se tornou, aprofundando e naturalizando as desigualdades sob a justificativa de que todos, caso se esforcem e se dediquem, podem alcançar o sucesso profissional.

Se houver oportunidade para se mostrar mérito e o mérito aparece – algumas vezes, surpreendendo o privilégio e desagradando os privilegiados.

Neste excelente artigo publicado na The Atlantic, sob o sugestivo título de “A meritocracia funciona? – Não se a sociedade e as universidades continuarem falhando em separar riqueza e mérito”, o escritor e editor Ross Douthat escreve:

“Nesta meritocracia hereditária, as crianças mais privilegiadas não apenas frequentarão escolas com outras crianças privilegiadas, mas também se casarão com outra/o privilegiada/o e se estabelecerão em uma área privilegiada – tudo o de melhor para garantir que seus filhos terão todas as vantagens culturais que tiveram ao crescer.”

Transportemos esta ideia de meritocracia da escola para outras áreas, como a literatura, por exemplo, e podemos perceber a atuação dos mesmos mecanismos. Quando questionados sobre a falta de mulheres ou de negros nas listas de convidados para os principais eventos literários, curadores (geralmente, homens brancos – ou seja, os mais privilegiados), dizem que não levam em conta raça ou gênero, mas apenas a qualidade do trabalho – ou seja, o mérito.

Tanto em uma situação quanto em outra, tal meritocracia é uma grande falácia, por não se sustentar em um sistema que se baseie em oportunidades iguais de prova de mérito. Sem que a todos sejam dadas as mesmas condições, a mesma visibilidade e a mesma representatividade, como realmente saber se os melhores foram mesmos os escolhidos, e não apenas os mais privilegiados, os melhor relacionados, os mais midiatizados?

Abrindo espaço

A FLIP 2017 nos trouxe muito a pensar nesse sentido. Pela primeira vez em suas 15 edições, o número de mulheres convidadas se equiparou ao dos homens. Nestes quinze anos, mulheres compuseram apenas 1/4 do elenco de convidados principais, como nos mostra este artigo de Natália Mazotte, que também traz outras informações bastante interessantes.  Também pela primeira vez, escritoras e escritores negras/os representaram 30% dos convidados, provavelmente atingindo um número que não deve ficar muito longe do que representaram em todos os outros anos juntos. Será que, com esta composição, foi a FLIP da falta de mérito?

Os números dizem que não. De acordo com levantamento da livraria oficial do evento, os livros mais vendidos foram:

1º – Na minha pele, de Lázaro Ramos

2º – A mulher dos pés descalços, de Scholastique Mukasonga

3º – Lima Barreto – Triste visionário, de Lilia Moritz Schwarcz

4º – Nossa Senhora do Nilo, de Scholastique Mukasonga

5º – Com o mar por meio, de Jorge Amado e José Saramago, organizado por Pílar Del Río e Paloma Amado

6º – Esse cabelo, de Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida

7º – Diário do hospício / Cemitério dos vivos, de Lima Barreto

8º – Para educar crianças feministas, de Chimamanda Adichie

9º –  O vendido, de Paul Beatty

10º – Bíblia: Novo Testamento – Os quatro Evangelhos, traduzida por Frederico Lourenço.

 

 

É interessante notar que sete foram escritos por autores/as negros/as e um deles é a biografia do autor negro homenageado, Lima Barreto. Cinco foram escritos por mulheres, que também organizaram mais um deles.

O ponto aqui é: se houver oportunidade para se mostrar mérito, o mérito aparece – algumas vezes – surpreendendo o privilégio e desagradando os privilegiados.

Uma das principais reclamações foi a de que esta edição da FLIP não contava com nomes de peso ou grandes estrelas da literatura mundial. Na verdade essa é uma reclamação que pode ser interpretada através da insatisfação de algumas editoras, que disseram ter oferecido grandes nomes para a programação que, desta vez, não se deixou pautar pelas ofertas fáceis. A grande estrela, na verdade, foi a professora Diva Guimarães, cuja participação provavelmente teve muito mais impacto do que poderia ter uma declaração de qualquer outro escritor ou escritora que pudesse ter vindo para ocupar o lugar de nome de peso.

O que a curadoria do ano passado fez, ao ter uma lista de convidados formada inteiramente por escritores e escritoras brancos, foi também abrir mão de momentos como esse. O depoimento de dona Diva foi possível apenas porque, do palco, a presença de Lázaro Ramos, a repercussão do seu livro falando de questões raciais e o ambiente receptivo e seguro promovido por suas falas estimulou a fala e a presença dela. *A ideia de dona Diva era tomar a palavra para homenagear a mãe, mulher negra batalhadora e importante em sua formação, depois de ter ouvido, na noite anterior, a fala da escritora Scholastique Mukasonga, sobre o livro que escreveu em memória da mãe, morta no genocídio de Ruanda.* A curadoria corajosa e responsável de Josélia Aguiar conseguiu mudar não apenas a programação, mas sua recepção por parte do público. E é assim também que a literatura funciona: através de sua interação com quem a lê.

Estamos tirando-os daqueles lugares que sempre tiveram como garantidos, embora nem todos tenham precisado se esforçar para atingi-los ou continuar habitando-os.

A mudança se via pelas ruas, com um público que, sentindo-se representado e instigado pela presença de escritores e escritoras a quem vinham, através dos anos, dando visibilidade. Era quase unânime a percepção de todos de que havia uma energia diferente e mais pulsante do que nas edições anteriores. Via-se também manifestações contrariadas, embora contidas.

Assistindo a boa parte das mesas de um local reservado para convidados e patrocinadores, não havia como não perceber alguns muxoxos, olhares atravessados, sussurros de espanto ou discordância. Li também algumas avaliações bastante mal humoradas, que não por acaso foram escritas por homens brancos. Devem estar preocupados, porque estamos nos movimentando. Estamos tirando-os daquele lugar que sempre tiveram como garantidos, embora nem todos tenham precisado se esforçar para atingi-lo ou continuar habitando-o.

O efeito da mudança tem sido benéfico também em relação a outras feiras e festas literárias. Depois da FLIP, já recebi pelo menos três convites que vieram com uma proposta diferente, querendo também participar e promover uma discussão que, mesmo não acontecendo o tempo todo em Paraty, estava lá: nas caras, nos corpos, nas posturas, nas fricções.

Aguardo ansiosa outro evento que também foi fruto das ausências de Paraty 2016: o Mulherio das Letras, coordenado pela escritora Maria Valéria Resende. Estamos nos articulando e nos movimentando. Quem ficou parado até agora, que corra atrás.

Foto em destaque:o ator Lázaro Ramos durante sua participação na 15ª edição da Flip, em Paraty. Bruno Santos/ Folhapress

The post Os privilegiados estão preparados para a verdadeira meritocracia? appeared first on The Intercept.

Iowa Voters Reject Transphobia, Democrats Win Surprise Election

9 August 2017 - 12:56pm

Republicans put transphobia on the ballot in Iowa on Tuesday. Iowa voters resoundingly took it down.

The three-county House district had been veering away from Democrats in recent years. After going for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, voters handed the district to President Donald Trump with a 21.3 percent margin over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. Trump took Iowa with 51.1 percent of the vote.

But on Tuesday, the race went handily toward Democrat Phil Miller, who won it by a full ten points in a special election.

The race took an ugly turn in July when Republican Party of Iowa targeted Hanson with attack ads on transgender bathrooms. As school board president of Iowa’s Fairfield Community School District, Miller voted last year to keep in place a policy regarding transgender students’ use of bathrooms, which was, at the time, mandated by both state and federal law. The Iowa Civil Rights Act has protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity since 2007.

The ad was first aired last month, just weeks after a 14-year-old transgender Fairfield teen, Finn Bousquet, killed himself on June 19. It reignited a controversy surrounding transgender bathrooms that divided the Fairfield community last year, according to Iowa Starting Line, an Iowa political news blog. The dispute started in May 2016, when the Obama administration rolled out guidelines calling on K-12 public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms aligning with their gender identities. The issue hit close to home when a transgender student, Draven Spicer, roomed with male students during a band-and-choir trip to a Six Flags amusement park. He returned from the trip to find his car vandalized with transphobic slurs, according to the Des Moines Register.

Students at the school took sides on the issue, wearing black and red armbands to signify their support for and opposition to the new federal guidelines, the Des Moines Register reported last year. The school board held a series of hearings, ultimately writing and passing the anti-discrimination guidelines that Miller voted for, drawing the ire of conservative groups, including the Family Leader, a Christian organization.

The policy “endangers the safety and privacy of schoolchildren,” the Family Leader wrote last summer.

Miller defended his vote on the policy last year.

“As an elected official you have to understand and study and follow the law,” he said, according to Iowa Starting Line. “And that’s what we did: we followed Iowa civil rights law. Iowa civil rights law that says you cannot discriminate against a person’s gender identity. Period. School boards cannot write law. We obey the law. And that’s what we did.”

Miller, a large-animal veterinarian, got 4,020 votes to Republican candidate Travis Harris’s 3,324, according to unofficial results from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Libertarian candidate Joshua N. Miller received 71 votes, while Edward T. Hee III of the Constitution Party received 58 votes.

Harris took two of the three counties represented in the district—Davis and Van Buren counties—but Miller stole the race in his home county of Jefferson with 2,792 votes to Harris’s 1,200.

#ialegis HD 82 unofficial results:
All counties.

R-Harris 3,324
D-Miller 4,020
L-Miller 71
C-Hee 58

— Iowa Sec. of State (@IowaSOS) August 9, 2017

As of August 1, there were 6,257 active Democrats, 6,611 active Republicans, and 5,738 active voters with no party affiliation in the district, according to the Iowa Secretary of State.

The special election for House District 82 was called in June, following the death of Rep. Curt Hanson, a Democrat who had held the seat since 2009. The Democrat’s victory does not change the Iowa House’s party alignment of 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. The Iowa election marks Democrats’ fourteenth special election victory since Trump’s election, according to Daily Kos.

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The post Iowa Voters Reject Transphobia, Democrats Win Surprise Election appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s Opioid Commission Had Some Stunningly Good Recommendations. He Ignored Them for 80s Drug War Nostalgia.

9 August 2017 - 11:35am

The Trump administration will not declare a public health emergency related to the opioid epidemic, dismissing the top recommendation his own blue-ribbon commission called for a week ago. The commission argued such a declaration was critical to unlock emergency funding and expand treatment.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said at a Tuesday news conference that public health emergencies have traditionally been limited to specific areas of the country, like after Hurricane Sandy. “We believe… that the resources that we need, or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis at this point can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency,” Price said.

Some experts might react to Trump declining to invoke an emergency with a sigh of relief; lots of mischief could be accomplished with such expanded powers. But in remarks at a hastily arranged “major briefing,” the president seemed to want to respond to an epidemic that took over 33,000 lives in 2015 (numbers that could be underreported, according to a new study) with a time warp to the failed policies of the 1980s.

“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place,” Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “So if we can keep them from going on and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: ‘No good, really bad for you in every way.’”

If you were reminded of Nancy Reagan’s cameo on Diff’rent Strokes, you’re not alone. But “Just Say No” didn’t work as a policy 35 years ago – teenagers in programs like DARE were as likely to use drugs as those who weren’t. It also initiated the school-to-prison pipeline by creating “drug-free schools” and other policies of overcriminalization. And it’s particularly useless for an opioid epidemic where adolescents aged 12-17 represent a little more than one-tenth of those affected.

Even if a just-say-no policy could reduce to zero the number of new people who initiate heroin use, that would still leave a massive population of people living with substance use disorders, all of them at risk of overdose and death.

But the only other strategy Trump mentioned to fight opioid abuse was also a throwback: the tough-on-crime policies of the war on drugs. He lamented a decrease in federal drug prosecutions under President Obama, and lower sentences for dealers “that poison our communities.” He vowed “strong law enforcement” and getting “very, very tough” on the southern border and China, “where much of this comes in.”

This aligns with tough-on-crime policies endorsed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While Trump’s opioid commission did propose interdicting the entry of deadly fentanyl from China, this represented just one of their dozens of interim recommendations, none of which the president cited. Instead, he fell back on the drug war, which led to zooming incarceration rates and no letup in drug use during the Reagan years and beyond.

While Trump’s abstinence and supply-side approach would do nothing for that already-addicted population, his commission put forward some shockingly reasonable suggestions. The best that can be hoped for, perhaps, is that Trump won’t get around to reading the report, and will just ask that it be implemented.

so, i’m waiting for trump’s opioid briefing to start and just noticed … the white house spelled opioid wrong pic.twitter.com/nyCvLlOp4Y

— kelly cohen (@politiCOHEN_) August 8, 2017

Even without the emergency declaration, at least one of the commission’s recommendations would transform the U.S. approach to the crisis and give those in its grip a real chance of recovery. It’s an approach that was embraced by the surgeon general in a report in November and consistently by the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama.

The recommendation is a direct shot at a drug-treatment industry that still relies on strict abstinence as the only form of true recovery, rejecting any intervention by medication. The stigma associated with what’s known as medication-assisted treatment is leading to unnecessary death and suffering across the country. The commission’s recommendations are so well put, it’s worth including them in full:

 

Immediately establish and fund a federal incentive to enhance access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Require that all modes of MAT are offered at every licensed MAT facility and that those decisions are based on what is best for the patient. Partner with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the industry to facilitate testing and development of new MAT treatments.

MAT has proven to reduce overdose deaths, retain persons in treatment, decrease use of heroin, reduce relapse, and prevent spread of infectious disease. Expansion of MAT availability for qualified individuals and for short- or long-term treatment is an essential DRAFT 5 component of treatment services. Yet approximately 10 percent of conventional drug treatment facilities in the United States provide MAT for opioid use disorder.

Individuals seeking SUD treatment, and even those currently enrolled in a treatment system, often find barriers to using MAT as a component of their treatment. Particularly for populations with opioid use disorders (OUDs) involved in the criminal justice system, there is often inadequate access to FDA-approved medications that are proven to improve outcomes as part of a full continuum of care. Multiple studies have shown that individuals receiving MAT during and after incarceration have lower mortality risk, remain in treatment longer, have fewer positive drug screens, and have lower rates of recidivism than other individuals with OUDs that do not receive MAT. The DOJ, in consultation with HHS and ONDCP, should be directed to increase the use of MAT for OUDs in these correctional settings.

In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) should require all federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) to mandate that their staff physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners possess waivers to prescribe buprenorphine.

There are several barriers to the use of MAT, including a prevalent belief that use of MAT does not constitute true recovery or sobriety. The Federal Government, as a major purchaser of health care services, has a tremendous opportunity to increase the availability of MAT for individuals with OUDs. For example, across the Veterans Administration (VA) and Indian Health Services, there is a lack of providers able to prescribe/administer MAT. For Medicare patients, the Part B physician benefit does not cover methadone treatment and the Part D pharmaceutical benefit does not cover it either, as it is administered by a medical professional. CMS should send a letter to state health officials requesting that state Medicaid programs cover all FDA-approved MAT drugs for OUD.

Additionally, all FDA-approved MAT should be offered by authorized providers, not just one or two of these approved options. These decisions of which (if any) MAT to be used must be based upon what is best for the patient, not what is best for the provider. This can be mandated by the Executive Branch.

Finally, we urge you to instruct the NIH to begin to immediately work with the pharmaceutical industry in two areas; the development of additional MAT options and the development of new, non-opioid pain relievers based on research to clarify the biology of pain. The nation needs more options to treat those already addicted and can help to prevent addiction in the first place by avoiding the prescription of opioids. The NIH is best positioned, in our opinion, to lead this effort with industry partners.

But neither Trump nor Price mentioned MAT yesterday. In fact, Price attacked MAT as “substituting one opioid for another” in a listening session earlier this summer, reflecting the very ignorance the commission sought to counter, and drawing a rebuke from hundreds of public health practitioners.

Trump and his team also had few words for the multiple “poisoners of communities” in the pharmaceutical supply chain who started the flow to patients. This is seen as a primary gateway to substance abuse; Trump’s own FDA Commissioner said last month, “most people who become addicted to opioids are medically addicted.” (That’s sloppy wording; plenty of patients who are dependent on pain medication are not addicted anymore than a dialysis patient is addicted to her treatment.)

While several states have sued drug manufacturers and suppliers, most recently New Hampshire, for enabling the crisis by downplaying the risks of addiction from the products they aggressively marketed, HHS Secretary Price said the administration has not taken a position on the cases. “Some have analogized it to the tobacco issue and the master settlement,” Price added, citing an agreement between cigarette makers and 46 states in 1998. “Whether there is something that’s analogous to that, I don’t know.”

In other words, for the Trump administration, the perps are on street corners but not in Big Pharma’s corporate boardrooms.

Price did vow that the administration would mount a comprehensive strategy to deal with the epidemic. He cited making the overdose-reversal medication naloxone “as present as needed and possible anywhere across the country,” boosting research on an addiction vaccine at the National Institutes of Health, and ensuring doctors are not over-prescribing opioid painkillers. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway highlighted better education about pain medication for medical professionals.

All of these mirror recommendations from the commission.

However, the lack of concrete policy announcements from Trump, despite widespread consensus going back to last year’s Surgeon General report on what can be done, has disappointed public health experts. So has the Trump administration’s more prominent policy on opioids thus far: slashing public health budgets and attempting to gut Medicaid, which pays for the treatment of a large chunk of opioid abusers.

Asked whether he still wants to cut Medicaid given its importance in fighting the epidemic, Price said, “Nobody is interested in cutting Medicaid.” Of course, in June Price insisted that nearly $1 trillion in Medicaid reductions proposed in the Senate healthcare bill is not a cut.

The moment that made the most news during Trump’s much-hyped opioid briefing was, instead, an answer he gave to a question about North Korea.

“Fire and fury,” he vowed.

The post Trump’s Opioid Commission Had Some Stunningly Good Recommendations. He Ignored Them for 80s Drug War Nostalgia. appeared first on The Intercept.

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