The Intercept

Suruba do PSDB com Doria e Temer desnuda opção pela velha política de conchavos

14 June 2017 - 3:49pm

O Brasil está farto dos políticos tradicionais, não aguenta mais corrupção, o sistema está podre e precisa mudar. Das manchetes às redes sociais, passando por botecos e padarias, esse é o discurso dominante. Precisamos desesperadamente de algo novo. O que se vê na prática, contudo, é que os brasileiros e seus principais partidos continuam apostando no de sempre.

Quanto ao povo, o maior indício dessa tendência vem das últimas pesquisas eleitorais, que colocam o ex-presidente Lula na liderança, seguido pela reincidente Marina Silva e por um militar da reserva cujo nome preferimos não mencionar. Quanto aos partidos, o mais recente sinal de conservadorismo vem do PSDB, que tinha tudo para assumir as rédeas da nação, mas parece ter montado ao contrário na sela e só consegue olhar para trás.

Tentam vislumbrar as eleições de 2018, mas o fazem olhando o estrume pisado das eleições passadas e abraçam o PMDB. Eles até torcem o pescoço para espiar o caminho, mas logo se cansam e voltam a encarar a poeira do que passou. Atualmente, tentam vislumbrar as eleições de 2018, mas o fazem olhando o estrume pisado das eleições passadas e abraçam o PMDB. Nesse processo, dão as costas à juventude do próprio partido (onde a novidade supostamente deveria estar) que quer manter distância do Conde Temer.

Não se importam com malas de dinheiro, com reuniões em porões, não se importam com Renans, Romeros e Eunícios. Nem com reformas. Caso contrário, poderiam apoiá-las mesmo fora do governo, como chegaram a aventar.

Mas não. Eles querem mesmo é repisar o estrume, mantendo a aliança com o mastodonte fisiológico que sustentou e vampirizou FHC, Lula e Dilma, transformando a política no reino dos Joesleys, Marcelos e Eikes. Eles querem tempo de TV e quiçá uma futura base ampla no Congresso.

O prefeito de São Paulo, João Doria, cumprimenta o presidente Michel Temer durante evento em São Paulo, em maio.

Foto: AFP/Getty Images

O mais irônico nisso tudo talvez seja a constatação de que o primeiro nome de destaque do partido a fincar pé publicamente na ideia de continuar com Temer foi justamente o homem que, para o ex-presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso – e consequentemente para boa parte da nação coxinha –, é a própria personificação do novo. Sim, ele mesmo, o pós-prefeito de São Paulo, João Doria Júnior.

Na segunda-feira da semana passada (5) o tucanato paulista tinha se reunido para ensaiar um desembarque da canoa furada do Conde, mas Doria apareceu de surpresa e fez um discurso inflamado em favor da permanência. “Nosso inimigo chama-se PT, partido que é inimigo do Brasil”, afirmou. Depois da fala, tocaram o tema da vitória do Senna e foi que nem chuva em churrasco: os caciques todos metendo as convicções entre as pernas e dando o fora o mais rápido possível.

Abraçar o PMDB não tem nada de novo, João Doria também não tem. A postura de Doria pode parecer incoerente, mas, no fundo, não é. É hipócrita apenas. Porque se abraçar o PMDB não tem nada de novo, João Doria também não tem. O conservadorismo rançoso que ele encarna fica evidente nas políticas que vêm sendo implantadas na maior cidade do país.

Desde que assumiu, nosso pós-prefeito tem feito uma administração que vai contra tudo o que há de moderno em matéria de cidades.

Enquanto Miami atrai turistas com seu bairro grafitado de Wynwood, Doria cobre obras de arte com tinta cinza. Enquanto Frankfurt festeja mais de 20 anos do fim de sua cracolândia, conquistado à base de terapias de substituição e acolhimento, Doria quer resolver o mesmo problema com polícia e internação forçada. Enquanto a ONU recomenda a redução de velocidade para humanizar cidades, Doria pavimenta ciclovias, aposta no acelera, e coleciona multas ao volante de Porsches e BMWs, máquinas superdimensionadas que encarnam o atraso em termos de locomoção urbana.

Ao exibir seus ternos de alfaiataria nas redes sociais o alcaide paulistano parece mirar nas técnicas de comunicação que ajudaram Barack Obama a se tornar o presidente mais moderninho e descolado da história dos EUA.

Mas ao aparecer em vídeo alimentando seus alvíssimos cachorros junto de uma primeira dama que lhe sussurra um subserviente “e agora?”; ao demitir, também em vídeo público, uma atônita secretária de governo; ao incentivar seus empregados a transformarem cidadãos em situação de fragilidade em garotos propaganda involuntários, João Agripino da Costa Doria Júnior exala autoritarismo em vez de charme. E acaba mais parecido com o planetariamente odiado presidente Donald Trump.

O PSDB, claro, não aposta apenas em Dória como novidade. Flerta, por exemplo, com o apresentador de TV Luciano Huck. Isso sim é novidade, certo? Bem, em 1989 outra voz hegemônica dos finais de semana, o comunicador Senor Abravanel, candidatou-se a comandar o país. Mais conhecido como Silvio Santos, teve sua chapa impugnada pela Justiça Eleitoral por não cumprir o rito de convenções estaduais.

Ou seja, o tucano do terceiro milênio seria o equivalente político à internet discada, secretária eletrônica, quebra vento, rádio-taxi… É batata que vai dar certo.

The post Suruba do PSDB com Doria e Temer desnuda opção pela velha política de conchavos appeared first on The Intercept.

Sérgio Cabral condenado: os gritos das ruas e a derrocada do “ditador”

14 June 2017 - 12:17pm

A sentença do juiz federal Sérgio Moro que condenou o ex-governador do Rio Sérgio Cabral a 14 anos e dois meses de prisão por cobrança de propina de R$ 2,7 milhões da empreiteira Andrade Gutierrez nas obras do Comperj (Complexo Petroquímico do Rio de Janeiro) tem trechos duros. No meio das 117 páginas, há expressões como “ganância desmedida” ou frases como “não pode haver ofensa mais grave do que a daquele que trai o mandato e a sagrada confiança que o povo nele deposita para obter ganho próprio”. É bonito. Mas é preciso lembrar que, num passado não tão distante assim, enquanto o hoje presidiário ainda vestia os caríssimos ternos comprados com dinheiro ilícito, vozes que ecoavam numa das esquinas mais nobres do Leblon foram bem mais diretas.

“Cabral é ditador!”, gritou insistentemente um grupo, formado basicamente por jovens sem ligação partidária, que fincou a “Ocupa Cabral” na frente do edifício do então governador, na  quadra da praia carioca. A primeira vez em que o movimento esteve ali foi no fim de julho de 2012, quando permaneceu por pouco menos de duas semanas. “Tá puto com o governo?” era o sugestivo título de um dos vídeos no YouTube que chamavam para a manifestação.

Protesto na frente do edifício do então governador do Rio de Janeiro Sérgio Cabral, em 2013.

Foto: AFP/Getty Images

Pode parecer longe demais, mas é preciso, sim, voltar a 2012, 2013 para que sejam dados os devidos créditos às ruas. Um Cabral preso, condenado no processo que corre em Curitiba e réu em outras nove ações no Rio é, sem dúvida, uma vitória da Justiça. Mas há que se dar crédito às vozes, que, em muitos momentos, não passaram das poucas dezenas. Elas incomodaram.

É claro que seria ingênuo atribuir somente a um grupo de jovens a queda daquele que foi apelidado de ditador. Mas a repetição do refrão teve claramente seu mérito, ao olharmos para o contexto de navegação tranquila que nosso Cabral contemporâneo teve durante boa parte do seu governo.

Desde que começou seu primeiro mandato, em janeiro de 2007, o ex-governador foi visto com olhos favoráveis por aqueles que regiam os rumos da imprensa local. A chegada de Cabral representava o fim de um período de relação turbulenta com o Executivo, depois de quase oito anos nas mãos do casal Rosinha e Anthony Garotinho. Seria uma nova era de “progresso” após um governo populista e rodeado por denúncias de corrupção.

No início, praticamente tudo o que se ouvia ou que se lia era sobre esse novo Rio próspero. Havia um encantamento com o projeto das UPPs. No fim de 2010, a ocupação do Complexo do Alemão e a transmissão ao vivo de dezenas de bandidos em fuga eram mais um marco de um estado de sucesso. Na saúde, as UPAs (Unidades de Pronto Atendimento) surgiram como a solução revolucionária para desafogar os hospitais e melhorar a qualidade do serviço oferecido à população.

Então governador Sérgio Cabral ao lado de secretários estaduais e do empresário Fernando Cavendish em Paris, em 2009.

Foto: Divulgação/Blog do Garotinho

Mas os primeiros sinais mais evidentes de que nem tudo era o que parecia ser começaram a surgir em 2011. A trágica queda de um helicóptero, em junho daquele ano, que culminou com a morte de Mariana Noleto, namorada de Marco Antônio Cabral, filho do então governador; de Jordana Kfuri, mulher do então presidente da construtora Delta, Fernando Cavendish; e de outras cinco pessoas abriu o caminho para a revelação de relações pessoais entre o empreiteiro e o chefe do Executivo fluminense. A aeronave levaria os passageiros à Bahia para o aniversário de Cavendish.

Logo na sequência, o governo admitiu que Cabral também participaria da festa do dono da Delta. Para isso, viajara antes da tragédia num jatinho do empresário Eike Batista, em companhia de Cavendish. Naquele momento, a própria imprensa local parecia cumprir seu papel ao mostrar os milionários contratos da empreiteira com o estado. Na balança entre as denúncias e o “progresso” do Rio, porém, o último falava mais alto. Não à toa, Eike, por exemplo, receberia, no ano seguinte, o prêmio “Faz Diferença”, do jornal “O Globo”, na categoria Economia, por seu desempenho em 2011.

Em maio de 2012, semanas antes da primeira ocupação em frente ao seu prédio no Leblon, o ex-governador vislumbrava a possibilidade de uma CPI que investigava o bicheiro Carlinhos Cachoeira – atualmente em prisão domiciliar – atingi-lo. Mas, ao ser questionado por um repórter sobre o medo de uma possível quebra de sigilo da Delta, acusada de ligação com Cachoeira, Cabral mostrou a arrogância de quem parecia ter a certeza de ser intocável: “Acho até um desrespeito da sua parte me perguntar isso (…) Essas ilações são de uma irresponsabilidade completa, um desrespeito completo com a minha pessoa”.

Secretários estaduais de Sérgio Cabral ao lado de Fernando Cavendish, em Paris, em 2009.

Foto: Divulgação/Blog do Garotinho

O mesmo ano ainda teve a incômoda divulgação, por parte do ex-governador Anthony Garotinho, de fotos da farra numa viagem de Cabral à Europa com outros secretários, como o da Saúde, Sérgio Côrtes, e o de Governo, Wilson Carlos. Foi a chamada “gangue dos guardanapos”. Nada, porém, era suficiente para derrubar a pompa do alcaide. No fim de 2012, sob protestos da oposição, ele sequer foi citado no relatório final da CPI do Cachoeira.

Foi em 2013 que os gritos começaram a ecoar mais alto no Leblon. Na carona das manifestações multifacetadas de junho, o “Ocupa Cabral” ressurgiu. Se tinha uma relação de distância com a imprensa local, acabou ganhando o mundo, com reportagens de correspondentes estrangeiros que queriam saber mais sobre aquele protesto, durante a realização da Copa das Confederações.

Com o fim do torneio e os olhos do resto do mundo já mais distantes, a conhecida truculência policial fez o silêncio voltar ao bairro nobre da Zona Sul carioca. Até as luzes da orla foram apagadas para dificultar o registro da retirada dos manifestantes. Mas a ocupação retornou novamente. E com o reforço de um grito tão incômodo quanto o de “ditador”.

A terceira e última etapa do “Ocupa Cabral” foi a mais longa. Durou de 28 de julho a 6 de setembro de 2013. E, no início de agosto, chegou a ganhar o reforço de moradores da Rocinha. “Cabral, bandido, cadê o Amarildo?” era o refrão que iria atormentar definitivamente o sono do governador. O desaparecimento do pedreiro, morador da comunidade, cujo corpo nunca foi encontrado, num território teoricamente “pacificado”, foi um baque que ressoou sem parar. No ano passado, 13 policiais militares foram condenados no processo do caso.

Quando saíram do Leblon, os últimos manifestantes deixaram um governador já bem mais desgastado. Ainda que denúncias, como a de uso de helicópteros do estado para fins particulares, tivessem sido engavetadas pelo Ministério Público do Rio, Cabral foi aos poucos rumando para os bastidores.

“Ocupa Cabral” atormentava o sono do então governador do Rio de Janeiro, em 2013.

AFP/Getty Images

Em abril de 2014, com a popularidade em baixa, ele renunciou ao cargo para dar lugar ao vice, Luiz Fernando Pezão, que ainda conseguiria vencer as eleições daquele ano para lidar com um estado que caminhava definitivamente para o fundo do poço.

O fim da história – ou ao menos o começo do fim – de Cabral todos sabem. Depois do período de ocaso, o ex-governador voltou às manchetes após ser preso, em novembro do ano passado, durante a Operação Calicute, desdobramento da Lava Jato no Rio. Desde então, não param as notícias de mais e mais milhões que caíram no colo do ex-chefe do Executivo fluminense.

Este ano, sobrou até para o empresário Eike Batista, aquele que “fez a diferença” no passado. E o ex-secretário de Saúde Sérgio Côrtes foi outro a parar atrás das grades por acusações de desvios de verbas em seu governo.

Falar de Cabral agora pode ser, como diz a gíria, “chutar um cachorro morto”. Com variações, a sentença dada por Sérgio Moro nesta terça-feira (13) possivelmente se repetirá nos processos que correm no Rio, a cargo do juiz Marcelo Brêtas.

Então, fui buscar palavras de quem, lá atrás, insistiu em gritar contra um governador que parecia inatingível. Recebi duas respostas distintas sobre o que sentiam ao participarem do “Ocupa Cabral”:

  • “Não tinha a esperança de que isso (a prisão do ex-governador) fosse acontecer porque a gente sabe como é o sistema político, né?”
  • “Eu só fui protestar pela prisão dele porque sabia que ele ia acabar preso”

Ou seja, fosse o grito mais ou menos convicto de uma real consequência, há que se registrar que ele ecoou.

E, quem sabe, o “Cabral é ditador” do passado não possa se transformar no “Fora, Temer” do futuro.

 

The post Sérgio Cabral condenado: os gritos das ruas e a derrocada do “ditador” appeared first on The Intercept.

GOP Lobby Shop Courts Black and Hispanic Democrats in Vacuum Left by Liberal Establishment

14 June 2017 - 9:00am

CGCN Group, a Republican lobbying firm with ties to the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, has formed a new strategic alliance with four Democratic firms that work closely with the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. The odd quintuple said that despite wildly diverging politics on a slew of issues, they all have one thing in common: high levels of poverty back home.

“Despite their ideological differences, members of the CBC, CHC, and conservative Republicans represent districts that need the most help jump-starting their local economies,” according to a memo drafted to explain the budding partnership. “Most of these districts have at least 20 percent of their populations living below the federal poverty line and are in desperate need of jobs, transportation infrastructure, outside investment, energy, and economic development.”

Jennifer Stewart, of Stewart Strategies & Solutions, one of the Democratic groups involved in the partnership, cited “transportation infrastructure, nutrition programs, education, and criminal justice” as potential areas the crew could work together. “The opportunities are limitless.”

Entrenched, generational poverty has bred universal anger at Washington, Wall Street, and other elite institutions, which establishment Democrats have yet to figure out how to channel, according to the memo. That creates an opening for Republicans looking to exploit class politics, while using Democratic identity politics as leverage. The preponderance of white faces at Democratic lobby shops, meanwhile, puts such firms at a disadvantage in challenging the attack.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative Republicans, was ready with praise for the new partnership.

“The biggest problems facing our country demand solutions that transcend partisanship,” Walker said in a statement to The Intercept. “Whether it’s inter-generational poverty, national security crises, or criminal justice reform, we must bridge traditional political and cultural divides to find lasting resolutions with buy-in from all sides.”

At the height of the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Clinton built her critique of Sanders on the argument that issues of class and the economy should not dominate the agenda and divert the focus from racism and sexism.

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton asked at one rally during the primary. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will, if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism?”

“No!” shouted the mostly union audience.

“Would that end sexism?”

“No!”

“Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”

“No!”

“Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

“No!”

Clinton was tilting at a straw-man. Sanders never pretended that breaking up the banks would end racism, but now that the Democrats’ class vs. race debate has moved from the hot-take corridors of the internet over to K Street, corporate America has a way to leverage the salience of liberal identity politics toward its own ends.

People listen as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Gala in Washington on Sept. 15, 2016.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The new lobbying partnership takes this Clinton argument in a direction she was unlikely to have intended: Since breaking up the banks won’t end racism overnight, let’s not focus on breaking up the banks. Instead, let’s find areas where we agree.

A source at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told The Intercept the lobbying powerhouse was aware of the new effort and “supportive of anything that gets policymakers from both sides together to talk about how we can do more to grow the economy and create jobs.”

The partnership may be a new one — and, unusually, public — but the strategy is not. In recent years, bank lobbyists have sought out members of the CBC to co-sponsor deregulatory measures, hoping that the caucus’s imprimatur can mark bills as OK for progressives to support.

And corporate America has long relied partly on identity to lobby Congress. Different firms tend to specialize in their ability to lobby different factions, typically as a result of having partners who previously worked on Capitol Hill for someone in a particular orbit. A company looking to influence the CHC, for instance, might turn to Velazquez & Associates, one of the four Democratic firms in the partnership. CGCN has built much of its practice around an ability to reach the Freedom Caucus, but it also has close ties to House Republican leadership.

A partner at CGCN, Sam Geduldig, was a top aide to former House Speaker John Boehner. Geduldig has spent years blasting Democrats both publicly and privately for their lack of diversity on K Street, in leadership positions and in the Senate, going so far as to give money to then-Rep. Donna Edwards’s failed bid for the Senate in Maryland.

For Geduldig, the lack of diversity exposes Democrats and, more generally, liberals as hypocrites. As satisfying as the new partnership may be, it could also prove effective, he said.

“If you have minority Democrats and conservative Republicans in support of an issue, whether it is infrastructure, access to capital, or lowering your energy bill, you are well on your way to legislative success,” he said. “This partnership was born out of that concept.”

Top photo: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus arrive on stage during the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on July 27, 2016.

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Intercepted podcast: The Trump Mixtape — Dante’s Inferno meets Disco Inferno

14 June 2017 - 6:01am

Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.

 

Donald Trump has made crystal clear that he has a great affinity for strongmen and for unquestioned loyalty of those who work for him. This week on Intercepted: Trump’s besties in Saudi Arabia convinced him that Qatar, the host of U.S. Central Command, is the premiere Arab nation sponsoring terrorism. Amnesty International’s Sherine Tadros and al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan analyze the hypocrisy-laden, bizarre crisis. We also discuss the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy addresses the Justice Department’s allegations about The Intercept’s recent NSA story and the prosecution of the alleged leaker. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes talks Russia, Trump, the media and his new book, “A Colony in a Nation.” DJ Spooky joins the conversation and imagines a Trump-inspired mash-up of Dante’s Inferno and Disco Inferno.

Transcript coming soon.

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A Transgender Candidate Won Her Virginia Primary With A Focus On Fixing Route 28

13 June 2017 - 10:52pm

Virginia Democratic voters nominated the first transgender candidate for the state’s House of Delegates on Tuesday, pitting former journalist Danica Roem against a leading transphobic lawmaker, incumbent Republican Bob Marshall.

Roem won a heavily contested primary, as a number of Democrats jumped into the race sensing that Marshall may be vulnerable. Marshall is in his eleventh term in a district that encompasses Prince William County and parts of Loudoun – the nation’s richest county — which have been been trending more Democratic in recent years, and away from Marshall’s brand of politics.

He has spent significant amounts of his legislative career pushing a hardline Christian conservative agenda. He has attempted to ban gay people from serving in the Virginia National Guard, pushed for a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound for women seeking an abortion, and in January introduced a “bathroom bill” to discriminate against transgender people. Roem played a leading role in the successful opposition to the bill.

Meanwhile, traffic in the district has gotten worse and worse, and that’s the issue Roem ran and won on. “He spent more time on where I go to the bathroom than on fixing Route 28,” Roem told The Intercept in an interview after she was declared the winner. Route 28 is a major commuter road in the area.

She planned to beat Marshall in the general election, she said, with the same message that carried her in the primary: fixing Route 28, bringing high-paying jobs to the district, raising teacher pay, expanding healthcare coverage and defending LGBT rights. Indeed, for anyone who has spent time in suburban Virginia, it’s difficult to overstate the salience of traffic as an issue.

“We’re gonna knock on more than 20,000 doors in the next four months,” said Roem, adding that she and her team had already knocked on 8,000 during the primary, and had all 18 precincts staffed on election day, a serious feat for a delegate primary. “I know how to beat Bob Marshall, because I already beat him in the General Assembly,” she said.

The skills she picked up in her career as both a local and a national reporter helped her in the campaign, and will be a boon in the assembly, she said. “I’m running to bring a reporter’s sensibility to Richmond. The skills are directly transferable: you research, listen, research, listen more, then write your first draft.”

Though she finished third in the money race, knocking on so many doors, and having so many conversations, is what mattered, she said.

“Don’t let anyone tell you a transgender person can’t win, because we just did,” she said.

The post A Transgender Candidate Won Her Virginia Primary With A Focus On Fixing Route 28 appeared first on The Intercept.

Jeff Sessions Can’t Remember Anything

13 June 2017 - 8:25pm

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of the first members of the Republican establishment to ally himself with then-candidate Donald Trump, appeared on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. In his testimony, Sessions sought to staunch the increasingly rapid flow of embarrassing information from the Trump White House. The attorney general is near the center of multiple controversies dogging Trump. One is the firing of FBI Director James Comey, which Sessions recommended in a memo, for reasons that are still unclear. Another is contact between Sessions and Russian ambassador to Washington Sergei Kislyak, whom Sessions has variously claimed he did not meet with during the campaign, met with only twice, and now, perhaps, met with three times. The third alleged meeting with Kislyak, during a campaign event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, was one of many important particulars that Sessions claimed he could not remember. He answered more than 20 questions with some version of “I don’t recall,” “I don’t recollect,” or “I don’t remember.”

Combined with last week’s testimony from Comey, today’s hearing crystallized the tenor of Washington under the Trump administration. Much of the government seems bogged down in litigating the Russia controversy and strange happenings in the Oval Office, where the half-life of presidential confidences has never been shorter. Today, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., insisted that on top of its Russia investigation, his committee was continuing to oversee the intelligence community’s $50 billion-plus budget and considering the renewal of major, controversial legal authorities for government surveillance. In public, however, not much aside from the Russia investigation is getting done.

Sessions, a small man whose gray hair cuts against his boyish, almost elfin appearance, arrived nine minutes late, wearing his usual expression of slightly startled amiability. He sipped from two glasses of ice water as he tried to convince the committee of how little he could remember despite a sincere desire to help. The campaign moved so quickly, Sessions said, that he often didn’t keep a diary or contemporaneous notes. He could not say with absolute certainty who he did and did not meet with, what was discussed, or who other members of the Trump campaign might have met with. “If I don’t qualify it, you’ll accuse me of lying,” he said in response to an aggressive series of questions from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. “I don’t want to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.”

Sessions was unequivocal about at least one thing. He said he never sought or received intelligence relating to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper,” he said.

Sessions’s admittedly poor and incomplete memory sharpened up considerably when the time came to discuss a fateful meeting between Comey and Trump in the Oval Office in February. In his own testimony, Comey said that Trump asked to meet with him alone and that Sessions was the last one out of the room. Then Trump, according to Comey, brought up the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. Flynn had resigned the previous day, and Trump, Comey alleged, said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He’s a good guy.”

Today, Sessions corroborated that the meeting between Trump and Comey had taken place, and that Comey approached him the following day with concerns. “I do recall being one of the last ones to leave,” Sessions said. “Did you decide to be one of the last to leave?” asked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “I don’t know how that occurred,” Sessions replied. He did differ from Comey on two points. In Sessions’s version of events, it was Comey’s job, not Trump’s, to make sure that their conversations did not stray into active investigations. And Sessions denied remaining silent when Comey brought up his concerns about being left alone with the president. Instead, Sessions said, he told Comey that the FBI and Justice Department “needed to be careful” about following their own guidelines.

Then there were the things that Sessions could perhaps remember, but could not discuss — his conversations with Trump. He refused to say whether he had discussed pardons with Trump; or whether they had talked about the Russia investigation; or how Trump had made the decision to fire Comey, a decision that initially rested on a memo Sessions himself had signed, but which Trump later said, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, came as the president mulled the Russia investigation. Sessions explained his refusal to answer these questions by citing “long-standing department policy,” but ran into some difficulty when asked by Harris exactly what that policy was. He had not read the policy; nor had he asked that the policy be provided to him. He had “talked about it,” he said, although the “it” that was talked about may not have been a policy after all. Instead, Sessions said, it was “the real principle” — that the Constitution guarantees what Sessions called the president’s “confidentiality of communications,” terms that appear in certain legal decisions but do not appear in the Constitution. “It would be premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege,” Sessions said. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., took a different view, telling the attorney general, “You’re impeding this investigation.”

Evidently, Sessions felt that he could not speak about anything that could conceivably fall under executive privilege in the future, whether or not that privilege had actually been invoked. He continued to insist that there was a written rule, somewhere, supporting his position. He promised Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., that he would track it down and provide it to the committee in the future. More than an hour after the hearing ended, the Justice Department provided reporters with a statement pointing to a 1982 memo justifying an attorney general’s refusal to answer Congress’s questions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 13, 2017.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

His Deputy Under Fire, Too

In the run-up to the hearing, Sessions canceled a previously scheduled appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, where he was supposed to discuss the Trump administration’s multibillion-dollar budget request for the Justice Department. As a candidate, Trump vowed to be a “law and order” president, one who would lean heavily on his hard-line attorney general to re-make core elements of the country’s criminal justice and immigration systems. Sessions referenced this agenda in his opening statement on Tuesday. “The gangs, the cartels, the fraudsters, and the terrorists — we are coming after you,” he said. But instead of showing up to explain how public money would be spent in the service of that evolution, he sent Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in his place. Rosenstein took the heat for his boss on matters not only related to the Russia investigation, but also on the critical and wide-ranging work of his department’s new law-and-order agenda.

“I won’t mince words, you’re not the witness we were supposed to hear from today. You’re not the witness who should be behind that table. That responsibility lies with the attorney general of the United States,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee’s ranking member, said in his opening remarks. “Attorneys general of the past did not cower at the request of Congress to oversight responsibility, and they didn’t agree to come and then cancel at the last minute and then send their second-in-command in their stead.”

Noting that the administration’s multibillion-dollar budget request includes hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to assistance provided to victims of crimes, as well as support federal law enforcement investigations, Leahy questioned Sessions’s capacity to lead the Justice Department. “I want to know how he believes he can credibly lead the Justice Department, for which he’s requested $28.3 billion, amid such distressing questions about his actions and integrity,” Leahy said, adding that the department’s workforce deserves a justification from Sessions for the priorities reflected in the Trump administration’s budget. “He owes them that courtesy because the president’s budget request for the Justice Department is abysmal.”

Rosenstein was peppered with questions about the Russia investigation. In May, Rosenstein defended a memo he signed laying out his criticisms of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and, in doing so, noted that he had discussed with Sessions his negative view of Comey’s behavior last winter. He repeated the claim on Tuesday. Yet while Rosenstein declined to say who directed him to write the document, Sessions, hours later, testified that the president requested assessments on Comey’s fitness to lead the FBI from both men. This prompted Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, to suggest Sessions was selectively choosing which communications with Trump to disclose to lawmakers and which to keep secret.

Rosenstein declined to describe the scope of Sessions’s recusal Tuesday, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. “In matters in which he’s recused, I’m the attorney general, and therefore I know what we’re investigating — he does not,” Rosenstein said. “He actually does not know what we’re investigating and I’m not going to be talking about it publicly.” The deputy attorney general also testified that he and the president have not discussed the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia investigation. He shot down reports of any involvement, on his part, of reported plans to remove Mueller from his post. “There is no secret plan that involves me,” he said.

Sessions, for his part, said he hadn’t discussed removing Mueller with anyone. “I have known Mr. Mueller over the years and he served 12 years as FBI director. I knew him before that. I have confidence in Mr. Mueller,” Sessions said. “I know nothing about the investigation. I fully recuse myself.”

Top photo: A microphone is placed on the witness table before Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington on June 13, 2017.

The post Jeff Sessions Can’t Remember Anything appeared first on The Intercept.

Senate Votes With Record Opposition to Saudi Arms Sale — but Not Enough to Put On Brakes

13 June 2017 - 6:18pm

Following a last-ditch lobbying effort by the Trump administration, the Senate narrowly rejected a measure condemning a $500 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a brutal bombing campaign in Yemen.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump praised the war in Yemen and signaled his intention to make a total $110 billion weapons package to the Persian Gulf kingdom. That prompted Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Al Franken, D-Minn., to introduce a resolution of disapproval against the sale of precision-guided weapons, pointing out that Saudi Arabia had used U.S. weapons to target civilians in Yemen. The resolution would have forced the Senate to vote on whether to block the transfer.

The measure, however, failed by a narrow margin of 47 to 53. The vote was much closer than a similar measure in September, which failed 71 to 27.

While the resolution went down in defeat, the increased vote total represents a shift in official Washington’s approach to the Middle East. With turmoil in Syria and 2015’s nuclear deal with Iran, the orthodoxies of Middle East policy — including turning a blind eye to rights abuses by U.S. allies — are being overturned. Tuesday’s proposed measure was presented by a bipartisan coalition of Republican libertarians and liberal Democrats.

Many of these shifts, however, are appearing on partisan fault lines. On Tuesday, only five Democrats voted against the resolution — Virginia’s Mark Warner, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Florida’s Bill Nelson, and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly.

Some prominent Democrats who had voted against the September bill changed their tunes on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Ben Cardin, D-Md., both came around to supporting the measure of disapproval against the arms sales.

Cardin told The Intercept that many Democrats changed their vote because they didn’t see a commitment from Trump to end the conflict. “The main reason is we don’t see from President Trump,” he said, “a foreign policy that ends this conflict and the humanitarian crisis it’s causing.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was also one of the Democrats who flipped in favor of the Murphy-Paul bill. “We know more and more what’s happening in Saudi Arabia,” he said, explaining his shift. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon and one of the Senate’s most dovish lawmakers, surprisingly opposed the Murphy-Paul measure in September. But he voted in favor of it this time. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that Saudi Arabia has been deliberately targeting civilian targets,” he explained to The Intercept. “And that’s absolutely unacceptable, so as that became clear that’s why I wanted to help send this message.”

Murphy and Paul made a strong push for their measure in the run-up to the vote. Paul, in particular, took to the Senate floor with an image of a starving Yemeni child, pointing to the growing famine as a result of the war.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul on the Senate floor, June 13, 2017.

Photo: Senate Livestream Screengrab

Paul spoke in moral terms about his opposition to the sale on the floor. “I think to myself, Is there ever anything important that can happen in Washington? Is there ever anything I can do to save some of the millions of children that are dying in Yemen?” he asked. “This is it.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also spoke on the floor in favor of the measure. “In addition to being morally indefensible and strategically shortsighted, the Trump administration’s unconditional support for the Saudi coalition — including billions of dollars in sales — risks dragging the United States into yet another war in the Middle East,” he said.

Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in 2015, when Houthi rebels took over Yemen’s capital and forced out the Saudi-backed ruler. Since then, Saudi Arabia has maintained a strict naval blockade that has left 19 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, the Saudi air force has used U.S. weapons to bomb schools, hospitals, and food and water infrastructure.

When asked whether he had human rights concerns about Saudi conduct in Yemen, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, “I’m very worried about Iranian conduct in Yemen.” When supplied with a follow-up, McCain responded, “I’ve answered all your questions.”

President Donald Trump walks away after posing for a group picture with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on May 21, 2017.

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Proponents of arming Saudi Arabia frequently point to Iran’s support for the Houthis as a reason for justifying their military action. While Iran has sent small arms to the Houthis, many analysts have argued that their influence over the group is vastly overstated.

On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was among those pointing to Iran to defend Saudi Arabia’s conduct. When asked if Yemenis would be radicalized by being bombed by American weapons, he redirected his answer. “They should be mad at Iran who toppled their government, who wants to turn it into a satellite nation,” he said. (Independent Yemen experts have described this claim as untrue.)

Other Republicans told The Intercept that members of their party were concerned about jobs for the U.S. weapons industry.“We need this,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said of the arms sale to Saudi Arabia. “We’re gonna sell arms to them.” He added, “Create jobs, but they’re also an ally.”

Paul told The Intercept he believes there will be votes on future arms sales and that he anticipates further momentum in favor of his point of view. “This may very well not be the last time they have to ask again for permission for more arms,” he said. “And I think as the famine gets more desperate, as the blockade continues, maybe we can convert a few Republicans who may care about the famine and the deaths.”

Though Paul’s effort ultimately failed, he was heartened that more senators had joined him. “We almost doubled our vote!” Paul said.

Top photo: Yemenis stand on the rubble of houses destroyed in a suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Sana on June 9, 2017.

The post Senate Votes With Record Opposition to Saudi Arms Sale — but Not Enough to Put On Brakes appeared first on The Intercept.

The Real Threat To Wall Street Reform Is The Treasury Department, Not Congress

13 June 2017 - 5:29pm

The Treasury Department’s first report recommending changes to the financial regulatory system wildly differs from the plan to dismantle Dodd-Frank that House Republicans passed — and the Trump administration endorsed — just last week. In fact, the report attacks the central mechanism in the House GOP’s bill, even while paying lip service to considering it.

That doesn’t make it benign, however. The Treasury report, compiled with the assistance of 244 different banking industry groups, often cites or lifts directly from bank lobbyist briefing papers. It identifies numerous ways that regulators could go around Congress and significantly undermine the already weakened rules in Dodd-Frank. It’s a wish list for deregulation — but one that could actually get done.

The report was mandated by a February 3 executive order, where President Trump identified core principles for regulating finance. Treasury was supposed to report by June 3 on conforming all financial laws and policies to those core principles. Last month Treasury admitted they couldn’t get such a review done on time, and would instead do it in stages. This report, publicly released nine days after the deadline, only covers banks and credit unions.

But in between that time, the House passed the CHOICE Act, bank lobbyist fantasy legislation that would eliminate most of Dodd-Frank’s core rules. The “choice” in the CHOICE Act, the bill’s signature element, allows banks to opt out of most enhanced regulatory requirements if they maintain a ratio of liquid assets to overall debt — known as the “leverage ratio” — of 10 percent. Every House Republican but one voted for the CHOICE Act.

This put Treasury in a bind, having to pass judgment on the legislation preferred by its party regulars. And in a couple places, they nod to the CHOICE Act, saying that “Treasury supports an off-ramp exemption … for any bank that elects to maintain a sufficiently high level of capital.” But this was almost certainly added in at the last minute. Because elsewhere in the document, Treasury completely contradicts and even savages the types of changes made in the CHOICE Act.

For example, the report asserts that “continual ratcheting up of capital requirements is not a costless means of making the banking system safer,” reflecting the banking industry’s desire to reduce, not increase, capital ratios like leverage. The more debt a bank can play with, the more money they can earn, so banks don’t want to be constrained by high leverage ratios. Treasury has their backs. In that paragraph, at least.

Furthermore, Treasury writes, “a capital regime that is exclusively dependent upon a leverage ratio” — in other words, the one being advocated by House Republicans — “could have the unintended outcome of encouraging risk-taking by banking organizations.” That’s because, under the GOP plan, all debt counts the same toward the ratio, so if banks want to make higher returns, they need to make riskier bets on the debt they take on. The report suggests, instead, a “risk-weighted” system, so as not to “discourage critical banking functions.”

There’s a lot of debate over this point — some experts find risk-weighting overly complex and easily gamed — but the point is that Treasury, while mouthing support for the CHOICE Act’s leverage ratio-dependent off-ramp, is attacking the entire concept of a leverage ratio. Though the Trump administration endorsed the CHOICE Act just last week, one of its most important financial regulatory agencies cut it to ribbons.

Treasury diverges with the House on other parts too. The House GOP wants to eliminate the Volcker rule, a mini-Glass-Steagall preventing banks that take deposits from engaging in risky “proprietary” trading on their own accounts. But Treasury “supports in principle the Volcker rule’s limitations on proprietary trading and does not recommend its repeal.” Both the House GOP and Treasury savage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), but Treasury pulls back from repealing the agency’s critical ability to police unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices — it only says that that authority should be “more clearly delineated.”

Of course, Treasury and House Republicans share a wrongheaded view of financial regulation and its effect on the economy. That’s because both take their cues from the same sources. In an appendix, Treasury lists the organizations and individuals who provided input to them for the report. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office ran the numbers, finding that Treasury consulted with 14 consumer advocates and 244 banking industry groups, a ratio of around 17-to-1.

You can see this influence in several places. The report goes on a long tangent about reducing regulatory requirements on boards of directors that is lifted from a report by The Clearing House, a major bank lobbyist. The section on CFPB cites the Heritage Foundation four times, the Republican staff of the House Financial Services Committee twice, Cato Institute fellow and Antonin Scalia Law School professor Todd Zywicki twice, a lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, conservative Congressman Patrick McHenry, and corporate law firm Ballard Spahr, which represents numerous financial institutions.

Just the authors of the report guaranteed its tilt in favor of Wall Street. Mnuchin was CEO and later chairman of “foreclosure machine” OneWest Bank. Craig Phillips, a Treasury aide, spent the housing bubble years creating fraudulent mortgage securities for Morgan Stanley.

That sets the stage for an orgy of spin and bad-faith arguing. Treasury claims that community banks and credit unions are being strangled by Dodd-Frank regulations, while citing an unbroken trajectory of small bank closures going back to 1984, 26 years before Dodd-Frank’s introduction. The report opposes regulatory fragmentation and overlap and calls for streamlining, but goes after the one Dodd-Frank action that streamlined a fragmentary regulatory framework, the CFPB, as holding too much authority. It blames regulations for low bank growth, not the slow recovery and lack of opportunities to profit. It laments that private mortgage-backed securities are well below the level from 2005-2007, as if the housing bubble should be seen as something to shoot for again.

This leads to a series of recommendations that regulators could accomplish on their own, without waiting for Congress to reach consensus. “A sensible rebalancing of regulatory principles is warranted in light of the significant improvement in the strength of the financial system and the economy,” the report argues, in a literal recounting of how the regulatory pendulum swings toward rolling back rules when people forget crises.

Treasury wants to coordinate bank supervision and enforcement actions spread across multiple regulators, reducing turf wars but also shrinking legal liability for banks. To show what it’s really after here, it wants to cut the FDIC out of the assessment process for living wills, the road maps banks create to unwind themselves in a crisis; the FDIC has been much more stringent on living wills than its counterpart, the Federal Reserve.

The report also calls for eliminating multiple burdens on small banks and credit unions, raising the exemption thresholds for stress tests, capital and liquidity rules, and supervision. But that tailoring doesn’t stop at small banks; even institutions with over $50 billion in assets would likely get relief.

Treasury wants to make stress tests and supervision “more transparent,” which is code for allowing banks to know when examiners will arrive and how to game the process. It also wants to reduce the frequency, with stress tests and living will plans every two years instead of annually. It wants to add multiple exemptions to nearly all capital rules, and would blow enough holes in the Volcker rule (including allowing proprietary trading up to $1 billion) that its support for the idea in principle would not extend to practice. It wants all regulators to engage in cost-benefit analysis in rulemaking, a way to bog the process down in bureaucracy — and to set up targets for lawsuits after the rules are written. It wants to roll back mortgage rules put in for borrower protection after a crisis that resulted in millions of foreclosures. There’s even a reference to targeting the Community Reinvestment Act, the law that makes sure banks lend in low-income communities, the mythical demon many on the right have taken to blaming for the entire financial crisis.

On the CFPB, Treasury recommends making the director removable at will by the president or making the agency a multi-member commission, and putting its funding structure through the appropriations process — all arguments Republicans and bank lobbyists made unsuccessfully during debate over the agency’s creation. But Congress would need to act there; in its place, Treasury supports actions a new director could take unilaterally, like favoring “cease-and-desist” notices over sanctions, making the consumer complaint database secret, and eliminating the agency’s authority to supervise financial institutions.

There’s basically something for every bank of every size here, with enough exemptions, reductions, and referrals back to the lowest common denominator to enable the industry to run wild. And most of it could get done behind closed doors, without a public vote on C-SPAN. “The Trump administration could unilaterally introduce major additional risks to our financial system,” said Americans for Financial Reform Policy Director Marcus Stanley in a statement.

It’s true that fulfilling this industry wish list would take time; regulators would have to traverse the laborious regulatory process to undo the rules, often with multiple agencies having to sign off. Plus, Trump hasn’t appointed key regulators needed to carry this out. But the industry has taken that path before to much success. Dodd-Frank already is a shell of what was envisioned, after insistent lobbying through the legislative and then the rule-making process. The banks will be happy to run the gauntlet again.

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Top photo: A trader leaves the New York Stock Exchange after the closing bell on Jan. 7, 2016.

The post The Real Threat To Wall Street Reform Is The Treasury Department, Not Congress appeared first on The Intercept.

Governo está prestes a aprovar projetos a favor de grilagem e outros crimes ambientais

13 June 2017 - 5:27pm

“Não é pra tirar madeira, é pra tirar minério que eu quero a terra”, explicou-nos no final de abril um grileiro do Pará que se dizia dono de alguns milhares de hectares dentro do Parque Nacional do Jamanxim. A madeira retirada de lá, ele já saqueou e “esquentou” com documentos que atribuíam outra origem a ela e possibilitaram sua venda. Mas um garimpo de grandes dimensões para extração de cassiterita, como é de seu interesse agora, dificilmente passaria despercebido como a pilhagem madeireira, uma vez que as Unidades de Conservação (UCs) constituem um enorme obstáculo ao negócio.

No final de 2016, entretanto, o governo federal, muito “generosamente”, editou as Medidas Provisórias (MP) 756 e 758, que determinam, entre outras alterações, a redução do Parque do Jamanxim e a alteração de parte da Floresta Nacional do Jamanxim para a categoria de Área de Proteção Ambiental (APA). Na prática, trata-se de um ato que retira proteção da área, uma vez que a APA é um tipo de UC pouco restritiva – as terras podem ser privatizadas, e o Estado pode autorizar desmatamento e a garimpagem em seu interior.

Quando foram analisadas pelo Congresso, no final de maio, como seria previsível, as MPs se tornaram ainda mais agressivas, chegando a colocar sob ameaça quase 1,2 milhões de hectares de áreas protegidas. Transformados nos Projetos de Lei de Conversão (PLVs) 4 e 5, os textos reduzem a proteção das áreas em 600 mil hectares que estão em uma região “sob intensa disputa, que sofre com o avanço da fronteira agropecuária, megaprojetos, atividades ilegais de exploração de madeira e minérios e a grilagem de terras públicas”, como manifestou a Ascema, (Associação Nacional dos Servidores Ambientais). A entidade classificou a redução das UCs como “atos autoritários de supressão de direitos feito por um governo golpista, com o apoio da bancada ruralista do Congresso Nacional”.

Na região que visitamos, no sudoeste do Pará, pretende-se a redução do Parque do Jamanxim e a criação, no lugar, da APA Rio Branco. Entretanto, não encontramos nada que justificasse a mudança. Ao contrário. Não há uma única ocupação efetiva, com morador, roça ou qualquer indício da  presença de qualquer posseiro. Por outro lado, a área está permeada de grandes garimpos ilegais e ramais madeireiros. Esses seriam os grandes beneficiários da recategorização da UC, além da grilagem que controla a região.

O presidente Temer tem até 22 de junho para sancionar ou vetar, total ou parcialmente, os PLVs. Em comunicado, o Ministério do Meio Ambiente anunciou que o ministro José Sarney Filho recomendou o veto, entre outros motivos, porque “as MPs alteradas representam também um retrocesso diante dos esforços do governo brasileiro em cumprir os compromissos assumidos no Acordo de Paris para combater o aquecimento global”.

“Não tem mais ponte, não. A gente derrubou pro Ibama e ICMBio não perturbarem.”

Entre abril e maio, a reportagem seguiu pela BR-163, a Cuiabá-Santarém, para apurar denúncias da retirada ilegal de grandes quantidades de madeira de unidades de conservação no Pará. Já havíamos confirmado o saqueio madeireiro com imagens de satélites e sabíamos que passaríamos primeiro uma ponte, construída pelos próprios madeireiros, sobre o Rio Branco e, no final da estrada, o acampamento de extração de madeira ilegal, onde esperávamos encontrar, além do crime ambiental, trabalhadores em condições análogas à escravidão.

Pegamos uma precária estrada de terra que parte da BR-163 rumo ao leste, um pouco ao sul da Vila de Três Bueiros, no município de Trairão (PA). Em poucos quilômetros, entretanto, nossa caminhonete ficou praticamente enterrada na lama. Enquanto tentávamos desencalhar o carro, apareceu um homem de cerca de 40 anos, vindo na direção contrária. Bastante desconfiado, como todos na região, e visivelmente exausto, ele nos contou que vinha de um garimpo muito adiante. Foi nosso primeiro contato com a gravidade da situação envolvendo os garimpos de cassiterita dentro da unidade de conservação, operando na total ilegalidade.

O homem contou que havia partido do garimpo, onde as condições de trabalho eram terríveis e, ainda por cima, não estava recebendo nada por seu trabalho. Falou, ainda, que caminhava desde a manhã do dia anterior e que havia partido com um companheiro que, esgotado, havia ficado para trás. Após uma última olhada para trás, ele sumiu tão rapidamente quanto apareceu minutos antes.

O socorro veio de onde menos esperávamos. Um madeireiro chegou em um trator e, com uma impressionante prática em lamaçais, nos rebocou de lá e avisou, em tom amistoso e sem qualquer constrangimento: “não tem mais ponte, não. A gente derrubou pro Ibama e ICMBio não perturbarem. Sem ponte, eles só chegam lá se for de helicóptero”.

Fomos mais ao sul, até onde a BR-163 atravessa o rio. Fretamos uma canoa com motor de popa (conhecida na região como “rabeta”) e subimos o Rio Branco por uma hora, ao fim, vimos que o madeireiro estava certo. Quando a voadeira dobrou o último meandro do rio antes da ponte, vimos uma grande balsa atracada na margem leste do rio. Da ponte, só restavam alguns resquícios da antiga estrutura de madeira. A travessia agora era operada pela balsa, que ficava atracada do lado da UC e sobre a qual garimpeiros e madeireiros tinham total controle. Só atravessava quem eles quisessem.

Balsa sobre o Rio Branco, no limite do Parque Nacional do Jamanxim, usada exclusivamente por garimpos ilegais e saqueio madeireiro no interior da UC. A área que pode virar APA Rio Branco e beneficiar a exploração criminosa.

Foto: Daniel Paranayba

No porto da balsa, nova surpresa: não encontramos madeireiros, mas garimpeiros que tentavam alcançar os cabos para puxar a balsa até eles. Sem querer conversa, eles deram a entender que o arranjo com o dono do garimpo saíra errado e eles teriam “ficado rodados” – expressão comum em garimpo para dizer que ficaram sem ter como ir adiante ou voltar. Estavam há dois dias em um acampamento improvisado, pouca comida e sem água potável.

Conforme conhecíamos os garimpeiros, ficava claro que são, comumente, trabalhadores rurais da região vivendo em um estado de aguda exploração por parte dos donos de garimpo, que acumulam fábulas às suas custas. Algo semelhante ao crime organizado da madeira, que explora, muitas vezes, os mesmos trabalhadores em uma cadeia que acaba nas grandes madeireiras com fachadas de legalidade.

“Retirar madeira hoje até que é fácil, difícil é vender ela sem documentação”

É bastante comum na região que envolvidos com crime ambiental, como Luiz Carlos Tremonte, que, além de dono de madeireira por muito tempo, foi por anos presidente do Sindicato das Indústrias Madeireiras do Sudoeste do Pará (Simaspa) e Walmir Climaco, atual  prefeito de Itaituba (PA), alcem posições políticas. O prefeito de Trairão, Valdinei José Ferreira, mais conhecido como Django, também madeireiro, acumula multas milionárias extração ilegal de madeira.

Luiz Carlos Tremonte, liderança e empresário do setor madeireiro no oeste paraense.

Foto: Daniel Paranayba

O crime ambiental é tratado como um detalhe burocrático. Quando perguntamos a Climaco se o madeireiro enfrenta dificuldades em explorar madeira, o prefeito responde diante da  nossa câmera: “retirar madeira hoje até que é fácil, difícil é vender ela sem documentação”.

Valmir Climaco, prefeito de Itaituba (PA):”difícl é vender sem documentação”

Foto: Daniel Paranayba

“Você faz um projeto de manejo aqui, que tem pouca madeira, e tira do lado, ou de outro canto qualquer. E aquele documento serve pra esquentar essa madeira. Não é legal falar isso? Não é, mas é verdade e todo mundo sabe”, explica Tremonte, um insuspeito defensor do setor madeireiro.

Ele alega que a exploração madeireira é tão saudável para a floresta que chega a propor que o governo criasse um programa para pagar aos madeireiros para tirarem madeira, pois “o madeireiro pereniza a floresta”. Ainda assim, é taxativo: “O setor madeireiro opera na ilegalidade”

Procuradora da República, Fabiana Schneider explica que a atividade madeireira ilegal é “altamente lucrativa e socialmente aceita, ou até mesmo ‘valorizada’, colocando o criminoso na falsa condição de empresário bem sucedido e gerador de empregos”. Entretanto, segundo a procuradora, essa aura encobre a “prática dos crimes de escravidão contemporânea, homicídios no campo, invasão de terras públicas, receptação e furto de bem público, além de uma enorme cadeia de corrupção”.

Trabalho escravo

Para Tremonte, um grande problema que relega o setor madeireiro à ilegalidade é a Justiça Trabalhista, que, segundo ele, “pega muito pesado na região. Você [o patrão] é sempre errado”. Para o Tremonte, a Justiça Trabalhista “acha que o patrão é inimigo. E patrão não é inimigo, muito pelo contrário”.

Não é a opinião do frei Xavier Plassat, coordenador da Campanha Contra o Trabalho Escravo da Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), um frade dominicano internacionalmente conhecido por sua luta no combate à escravidão contemporânea. Segundo Plassat, a situação dos trabalhadores na exploração – basicamente ilegal – de madeira do oeste paraense vai além do não cumprimento da legislação trabalhista pelos patrões: “pelo que vem sendo evidenciado nas pesquisas dedicadas a essa questão, é impossível não haver trabalho escravo na operação ilegal das madeireiras.

Acampamento na beira do Rio Branco, no limite do Parque Nacional Jamanxim. Trabalhadores em condições análogas à escravidão são comuns no saqueio madeireiro e nos garimpos ilegais.

Foto: Daniel Paranayba

A razão é simples: na forma como vem sendo conduzida naquela região, a própria extração de madeira já nasce ilegal, criminosa, pois, para operar, ela requer a utilização de licenças fraudulentas, para poder saquear áreas onde não seria permitido esse tipo de extração. Uma atividade criminosa dessa natureza só pode continuar funcionando se for na invisibilidade. Essa exigência só se encontra ‘satisfeita’ na imposição do trabalho escravo: zero infraestrutura, zero rastro, vai e volta e some no mato”, explica o dominicano.

O colono Derisvaldo Moreira já foi vítima das comuns condições de trabalho na exploração ilegal de madeira na região de Uruará, na porção paraense da Transamazônica. “A coisa é feia. Quando não mandam comida e a gente tem que caçar é até melhor, senão é só carne podre e comida azeda”, conta. “Se a água é de igarapé, a gente bebe. Se não tem por perto, é o trator que traz aqueles tambor de 200 litros de água que fica lá até ficar verde. É beber aquilo ou passar sede. A gente bebe”, explica.

As precárias condições não se limitam aos acampamentos na floresta. Um professor de uma comunidade perto de Trairão, sem querer se identificar por medo de represálias, nos relatou que entre seus alunos de 13 a 15 anos, vários têm dedos e mãos mutilados por acidentes na madeireira em função da qual a vila se sustenta.

E, não foi só na exploração ilegal da madeira que encontramos trabalho escravo. Houve ainda os garimpos.

A febre da cassiterita

Ao que parece, por conta das oscilações do mercado e do esgotamento das madeiras mais valiosas nas faixas de até 100 km da BR-163, o garimpo ganhou protagonismo como atividade ilegal no interior daquelas UCs. “Vocês estão por fora da realidade daqui.  A estrada chegou aqui por causa da madeira, mas agora a riqueza tá no minério”, nos contou um dono de garimpo no interior do Parque do Jamanxim. Ele se referia ao que parece uma nova febre na região marcada pelo ouro: a exploração de cassiterita, principal fonte do estanho utilizado na produção de latas.

Após não termos conseguido chegar ao nosso destino pela estrada e nem pelo rio, a terceira alternativa foi por ar. Decolamos de Itaituba em um voo tenso, debaixo de muita chuva, e com o monomotor sem a porta do lado direito, para facilitar as filmagens e as fotografias.

“Vocês estão por fora da realidade daqui.  A estrada chegou aqui por causa da madeira, mas agora a riqueza tá no minério”

Depois de uma hora de voo, o que encontramos foi estarrecedor: igarapés e suas matas ciliares completamente destruídos, máquinas de garimpo operando livremente e muitos barracos que evidenciavam a condição de trabalho escravo, como nos descreveu o garimpeiro que encontramos.

Na segunda semana de junho, o Ibama deflagrou uma operação com objetivo de desarticular grupos criminosos que exploravam cassiterita e ouro na região das UCs. Renê Luiz de Oliveira, coordenador-geral de Fiscalização Ambiental do órgão, falando em relação ao local onde se pretende reduzir o parque, explicou que “há ilícitos em todo lugar para onde se olha”. De toda a intensa exploração de garimpos e madeira, “nenhuma atividade se encontrava devidamente licenciada”, complementa o coordenador.

No interior da Floresta Nacional de Altamira, rio é destruído por garimpo.

Foto: Daniel Paranayba

Tudo se torna ainda mais chocante ao percebermos que toda a pilhagem e os impactos que vimos correm o risco de serem amplamente beneficiados por uma Medida Provisória.

Em um quadro onde temos atividades ilegais fora de controle dentro de UCs, sua redução acaba sendo uma didática lição de que basta que grileiros, madeireiros e donos de garimpos invadam e saqueiem uma UC que ficarão com a terra.

Mais de 140 organizações se reuniram no movimento #Resista e criaram uma petição para fazer pressão pelo veto presidencial. “A aprovação das MPs seria um desastre para a Amazônia com potencial para fazer explodir o desmatamento ao longo da BR-163 e abrir o precedente para redução da proteção em outros estados da região”, diz Ciro Campos, assessor do ISA.

Colaboração: Isabel Harari

The post Governo está prestes a aprovar projetos a favor de grilagem e outros crimes ambientais appeared first on The Intercept.

The Interior Department’s First Memo For Donald Trump Is A Real Howler

13 June 2017 - 2:06pm

In April, with an eye toward selling off public land, President Trump issued an executive order calling for a review of federal land set aside using the Antiquities Act of 1906.

An interim report by the Interior Department was due June 10, focused mainly on the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.35 million acre site in Utah encompassing Native American land. The report was to produce recommendations on whether to alter the status of Bears Ears, “and other such designations as the Secretary determines to be appropriate for inclusion in the interim report.”

It’s bad.

Junior-high-school-book-report-where-you-move-in-the-margins-to-get-to-the-required-page-length bad.

Before yesterday, none of the presidential-level reports mandated by Donald Trump’s executive orders had been made public. But Monday saw both the Interior report and one from the Treasury Department, a partial review of financial regulations, which appeared to at least be a genuine effort.

On deadline day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivered to the president a five-page memo, one and a half pages of which consist of long quotes from the executive order. The summary of the report is longer than the “results of the interim review” section on page 5, and the recommendations (to reduce the existing boundary of Bears Ears, convert part of the site to a recreation or conservation area, and more clearly define management responsibilities) are duplicated twice.

Sources: Federal Register, The White House, and The Intercept reporting

Though other designations could have been discussed, Zinke stuck with just Bears Ears, skating by with the bare minimum required. In two places, Zinke asserts that the memo satisfies the conditions of the interim report, as if trying to convince himself.

It’s not like Zinke didn’t have the raw materials for a full report; he visited the site and solicited public comment on Bears Ears, receiving 76,500 comments. But what appears in the memo, aside from the quotes from the executive order, is a long background of the Antiquities Act, various concerns raised over its use, a Wikipedia-style survey of Bears Ears and the surrounding area, and exactly one page featuring the results of the interim review and recommendations.

Most of those results hinge on one line in the Antiquities Act, that the area reserved “be limited to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management” of the objects. In other words, it was hardly necessary to leave Washington to write this memo. While acknowledging some parts of Bears Ears include Native American artifacts, traditional gathering places, archeological sites, and rock art, Zinke says those areas should be identified and separated, with other sites given other designations or offered for activities like timber harvest or mining.

Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears is several times the size of this report recommending its curtailing.

It’s not clear which exactly is the greater insult to the public — that the administration is clearly determined to sell off even culturally and archaeologically sensitive sites for commercial use whenever possible, or that the administration can’t be bothered to do more than pretend to take concerns with doing so seriously.

It may be, however, that the report is tailored for Donald Trump, a man who famously has a reading appetite of one page or less. But that’s unlikely, because the report does not mention Trump’s name once, which his advisers have said is necessary to keep him engaged. And it includes no pictures or charts.

The final report under this executive order is due August 24, encompassing all designations over 100,000 acres over the past 20 years. Zinke requested that the full review be completed before more specific recommendations be made for Bears Ears.

Eleven of the 13 reports issued to Trump under executive orders remain a secret. You can follow The Intercept’s interactive tracker of Trump’s executive order actions here.

Top photo: U.S. President Donald Trump pauses during a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 9, 2017, in Washington.

The post The Interior Department’s First Memo For Donald Trump Is A Real Howler appeared first on The Intercept.

Theresa May Puts Peace in Northern Ireland at Risk to Remain U.K. Prime Minister

13 June 2017 - 1:20pm

Two decades of peace in Northern Ireland could be at risk if the United Kingdom’s new government relies on the support of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party, which represents one of the two formerly warring sides, former Prime Minister John Major said on Tuesday.

“I think the peace process is fragile,” Major, a former Conservative Party leader, told the BBC. Major shared his concern as his party’s current leader, Prime Minister Theresa May, was working to strike a deal with the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, that would allow the Conservatives to form a government with the support of the Ulster unionists.

Arlene Foster arrives at Number 10 for talks with the PM pic.twitter.com/nUzNMqNl6x

— grace rahman (@GraceOddity) June 13, 2017

During his time in office, Major helped to start the process that eventually led to the end of violence and a finely balanced local assembly in Belfast — where power is shared between the mainly Protestant unionist community, which celebrates its British heritage, and the mainly Catholic nationalist community, which identifies as Irish.

“A fundamental part of that peace process is that the U.K. government needs to be impartial between all the competing interests in Northern Ireland,” Major said. “And the danger is that however much any government tries, they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a parliamentary deal at Westminster with one of the Northern Ireland parties.”

“The last thing anybody wishes to see,” Major added, “is one or other of the communities so aggrieved that the hard men, who are still there lurking in the corners of the community, decide that they wish to return to some form of violence.”

That concern is made more pressing by two factors: the looming threat of Brexit, which could make it necessary to once again erect barriers along the currently invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, once the U.K. leaves the European Union; and the fact that Northern Ireland’s local assembly is in crisis.

The local government has not been in session for months, due to a stand-off between Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, and the DUP, which is supported by former loyalist paramilitaries.

If, however, the new U.K. government can only function with unionist support, it is indeed hard to see how it could also act, in concert with the Irish government in Dublin, as a neutral arbiter in talks between the two sides in Ulster.

Theresa May's introduces her new Cabinet at PMQs after the DUP deal pic.twitter.com/fI6Q7NcaPi

— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) June 10, 2017

As Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, noted on Monday, the outgoing Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, Enda Kenny, called the British prime minister over the weekend to express his concern that her new alliance could disrupt their efforts to get the legislature in Belfast back on track.

Watch Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams warn of the prospective deal between the Conservatives and the DUP pic.twitter.com/i9QraXUl3C

— Press Association (@PA) June 12, 2017

There have even been suggestions that such an alliance in the British Parliament could be a violation of the terms of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which stipulates that the U.K. must remain impartial in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein claim the Tory-DUP coalition is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. They are correct:#DUPCoalition pic.twitter.com/9GvjIFE7P0

— Kate Flood (@Kateflood) June 9, 2017

Apart from legal wrangling, though, there is also concern that the unionists might seek to extract concessions from the Conservatives that would immediately exacerbate sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland. Some DUP voters even seem anxious to make that a reality.

The Orange Lodge of Portadown, a fraternal order of anti-Catholics that counts among its members David Simpson, one of the DUP’s 10 members of Parliament, issued a statement over the weekend calling on the party to use its leverage with the prime minister to get her to permit its annual parade to once again pass through Catholic areas.

Statement on behalf of @Portadownlol1 pic.twitter.com/JFCkWZhxkt

— Portadown LOL 1 (@Portadownlol1) June 10, 2017

The Orange order’s July 12 parade, celebrating the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, has been barred from passing through a Catholic area by the authorities since 1998, when three Catholic children were murdered by rioting unionists.

One month to go #TheTwelfth2017 pic.twitter.com/3URVQYb2Pu

— Orange Order (@OrangeOrder) June 12, 2017

Apart from the potential threat to peace in Northern Ireland, some members of the opposition Labour Party have spoken out against giving the DUP a formal role in the new U.K. government because of its regressive social views, including its opposition to same-sex marriage.

Labour's gay, lesbian & bi MPs, some only in their second day on the job, united in calling for @theresa_may to oppose a deal with the DUP. pic.twitter.com/baCrmWb0OA

— Benjamin Butterworth (@benjaminbutter) June 13, 2017

The post Theresa May Puts Peace in Northern Ireland at Risk to Remain U.K. Prime Minister appeared first on The Intercept.

There’s a New Way to Make Walmart Pay for the Food Stamps Employees Rely On

13 June 2017 - 11:57am

When Walmart and other low-wage employers fail to pay their employees enough to live decent lives, taxpayers often end up picking the tab for public assistance.

Freshman California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna and nine House cosponsors are introducing legislation to put an end to the free ride.

The Corporate Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act would levy a fee equivalent to the public assistance that a company’s employees are eligible to receive, with the intent to incentivize businesses to pay their employees enough so they don’t need public assistance.

In 2013, Walmart alone cost taxpayers $6.2 billion for expenses such as food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance. One study released earlier this year estimated that taxpayers spent $152.8 billion in 2015 as a result of low wages.

In an interview with The Intercept, Khanna said he introduced the bill partly to highlight the cost of low wages to those besides the employees themselves.

“This also helps people focus attention on the consequences of corporate underpayment,” he told us. “The burden is not just on employees, it’s also on the taxpayer.”

Walmart, meanwhile, is double-dipping in the corporate welfare. It’s able to keep wages low thanks to the benefits — a well-known phenomenon — but then it also cashes in on the other end, when those employees and others earning low wages spend their food stamps at Walmart. The company has disclosed in the past that it was the recipient of an estimated 18 percent of total food stamp spending. That’s $14 billion out of $80 billion in 2012.

A bill like Khanna’s stands no real chance of passage in the current Congress, controlled by Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on one end and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the other. But control of the House is very much in play in 2018, and the Democratic Party is being remade by a surge of enthusiasm and bottom-up challenges to the establishment. What kind of party eventually takes over is being fought over now, and bills like Khanna’s will be increasingly important as that internal struggle plays out.

Walmart didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Top photo: Cashiers work Christmas Eve at a Walmart in Clarkston, Wash.

The post There’s a New Way to Make Walmart Pay for the Food Stamps Employees Rely On appeared first on The Intercept.

Video: How to Resist Trump’s Shock Doctrine

13 June 2017 - 11:57am

Shock. It’s a word that has come up a lot since November— for obvious reasons.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about shock. Ten years ago, I published “The Shock Doctrine,” an investigation that spanned four decades from Pinochet’s U.S.-backed coup in 1970s Chile to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I noticed a brutal and recurring tactic by right wing governments. After a shocking event – a war, coup, terrorist attack, market crash or natural disaster – exploit the public’s disorientation. Suspend democracy.  Push through radical “free market” policies that enrich the 1 percent at the expense of the poor and middle class.

The administration is creating chaos. Daily. Of course many of the scandals are the result of the president’s ignorance and blunders – not some nefarious strategy.

But there is also no doubt that some savvy people around Trump are using the daily shocks as cover to advance wildly pro-corporate policies that bear little resemblance to what Trump pledged on the campaign trail.

And the worst part? This is likely just the warm up.

We need to focus on what this Administration will do when it has a major external shock to exploit.

Maybe it will be an economic crash like 2008. Maybe a natural disaster like Sandy. Or maybe it will be a horrific terrorist event like Manchester or Paris in 2015.

Any one such crisis could redraw the political map overnight, giving Trump and his crew free rein to ram through their most extreme ideas.

But here’s one thing I’ve learned over two decades of reporting from dozens of crises around the world: these tactics can be resisted.

And for your convenience, I’ve tried to boil it down to a 5-step plan.

Adapted from Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, published by Haymarket Books. www.noisnotenough.org

The post Video: How to Resist Trump’s Shock Doctrine appeared first on The Intercept.

U.S. Has Only Acknowledged A Fifth of Lethal Drone Strikes, New Study Finds

13 June 2017 - 8:36am

Over the past decade, the United States has claimed broad authority to carry out drone strikes across the world, even in places far from the battlefield. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. acknowledged killing between 2,867 and 3,138 people in strikes that took place in countries like Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.

Although in the waning days of his presidency, Obama took some steps to improve transparency about drone strikes, including providing the total estimated death toll, a new report by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies says that the U.S. is still lagging in providing a full accounting of its drone program. Among other failures, the report, titled “Out of the Shadows: Recommendations to Advance Transparency in the Use of Lethal Force,” says that the U.S. has only acknowledged approximately 20 precent of its reported drone strikes — failing to claim responsibility or provide details in the vast majority of cases.

Meanwhile, the drone program is intensifying. Since President Donald Trump took office earlier this year, the rate of drone strikes per month has increased by almost four times Obama’s average. Yemen in particular has been a target of many of these operations, with between nine and eleven strikes hitting the country this year, according to statistics compiled by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The authors of the new report say that the government’s failure to provide information or legal rationales for its strikes is making it impossible to understand the full scope of the government’s targeted killing program, as well as its impact on civilians.

“For years, the only way we knew anything about individual strikes was from media reports or individual statements about strikes from government officials,” said Alex Moorehead, of the Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, highlighting the failure of the government to provide details about cases in which drones have been used for targeted killings. “When we talk about official acknowledgment, we are talking about specific information about individual strikes, which is what matters to people who have had loved ones killed.”

The estimated number of civilians killed in U.S. drone strikes varies widely, with some independent estimates recording hundreds of civilian deaths, while the U.S. government often claims that figures run only into the dozens. The U.S. military has also been criticized for policies like “signature strikes,” in which individuals have been killed based on their status as “military-age males” in areas where U.S. drones are operating. These policies are alleged to be responsible for cases in which weddings, funerals, and other communal gatherings have been bombed in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.

“There is a difference in how Western civilians are treated versus non-Western civilians,” Moorehead said. “Of all the civilians who have been killed in these strikes, only the two Westerners who were killed in a 2016 strike have ever received any acknowledgement, apology, or compensation from the government.”

Locals in Yemen have alleged that, in recent months, drone strikes carried out by the Trump administration killed civilians on numerous occasions. One strike reported last month in Yemen’s Shabwah Province allegedly targeted a car full of men with no existing links to terrorist groups, as well as several innocent bystanders. Despite such incidents, Trump has promised measures that would further loosen targeting standards for drone operators, likely putting civilians in even greater danger. Many Yemenis say that the anger and grief inflicted by these strikes is outweighing any perceived counterterrorism benefit — and even driving some local people into the arms of al Qaeda.

“The drone program in Yemen has inflicted a lot of civilian deaths that have not been investigated, acknowledged, or even taken into consideration by the U.S. government,” said Waleed Alhariri, director of the Sana’a Center’s U.S. office and one of the co-authors of the report. “In some cases weddings and funerals have been targeted, which has resulted in a lot of public anger from ordinary people towards the United States and has helped recruitment for al Qaeda.”

The secrecy of the drone program has made it difficult for civil liberties organizations in the U.S. to provide a full accounting of its impact. More importantly, this secrecy has also made it harder for civilians directly impacted by drones to even understand why they have been targeted. Lacking any ability to find out the details about cases in which they or their loved ones were harmed, Yemeni civilians are generally unable to even obtain recognition, let alone compensation, for the life-changing consequences of these attacks. That those targeted often come from poor and remote regions of the country only makes it harder for them to obtain justice.

“The U.S. public is not aware what is happening in this program. They need more transparency and they need to know the truth,” said Alhariri. “But Yemenis who have been impacted also need to know why they’ve been targeted. People have died, lost the ability to work and lost family members they relied on. They’ve been ignored and they feel helpless in the face of U.S. military policy in Yemen.”

The post U.S. Has Only Acknowledged A Fifth of Lethal Drone Strikes, New Study Finds appeared first on The Intercept.

The U.S. Government Has Become the Ultimate Extension of Donald Trump’s For-Profit Brand

12 June 2017 - 4:16pm

In a lawsuit filed today, the attorneys general of the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia claim that by accepting millions of dollars and countless more perks from foreign governments, President Trump is at the center of an “unprecedented constitutional violation.” Whether it’s $270,000 in payments from a lobbying firm working for the Saudi government or praise from the Ambassador of Georgia (also a paying customer), Trump’s hotels and properties continue to rake it in from governments across the globe, from Turkey to Kuwait to India to Afghanistan to Qatar.

The attorneys general claim that “President Trump’s personal fortune is at stake,” whenever he makes a policy decision, whether it be about taxes, climate change, or foreign relations — a troubling notion, to say the least. According to the lawsuit, Trump’s continued entanglement in his business violates the constitutional emolument clause that, in theory, prevents the president from taking payments from foreign governments. The lawsuit is damning, saying, “never before has a President acted with such disregard for this constitutional prescription.”

Trump, of course, still profits directly from his business dealings, since he has not divested from his business holdings in any way.

I’ve spent the last five months researching the Trump family’s global brand-based empire and the various ways that the president has turned the U.S. government into the ultimate extension of his for-profit brand, so far without any repercussion. So it’s good to see the law starting to catch up. But the lawsuit touches on a fraction of the ways in which Trump is actively profiting from the presidency. As I write in the introduction to “No Is Not Enough,” we are seeing this unprecedented level of self-dealing because Trump’s business model is itself relatively new, and certainly a first for a sitting president:

Trump was never the head of a traditional company but has, rather, long been the figurehead of an empire built around his personal brand — one that has, along with his daughter Ivanka’s brand, already benefited from its merger with the U.S. presidency in countless ways (membership rates at Mar-a-Lago have doubled; Ivanka’s product sales, we are told, are through the roof). The Trump family’s business model is part of a broader shift in corporate structure that has taken place within many brand-based multinationals, one with transformative impacts on culture and the job market.

What this model tells us is that the very idea that there could be – or should be – any distinction between the Trump brand and the Trump presidency is a concept the current occupant of the White House cannot begin to comprehend. The presidency is the crowning extension of the Trump brand.

We are in entirely uncharted territory, because let’s face it: human megabrands are a relatively new phenomenon. There’s no rulebook that foresaw any of this. People keep asking — is he going to divest? Is he going to sell his businesses? Is Ivanka going to? But it’s not at all clear what these questions even mean, because their primary businesses are their names. You can’t disentangle Trump the man from Trump the brand; those two entities merged long ago.

There’s a whole web of ways the Trumps can make money off their names and their official and unofficial roles in the White House. Patronage at Trump hotels and resorts by foreign governments and corporations is probably the least of it. Here’s an extract from another relevant chapter:

The conflicts tipped into self-parody on April 6, 2017, when, the Associated Press reported, “Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy.”

But that’s not the only thing that happened that day. “That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago.” A political summit whose details had been arranged by none other than Jared Kushner. This goes well beyond nepotism; it’s the U.S. government as a for-profit family business.

Ivanka Trump and her husband White House senior adviser Jared Kushner attend a dinner with President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 6, 2017.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

And a new twist since the book went to press. In China, three labor activists were detained by the government in May while investigating conditions at factories that make shoes for Ivanka Trump’s brand. This news came not long after the U.S.-based China Labor Watch alleged that some workers in factories that produced for Ivanka’s brand were paid what amounted to less than a dollar an hour, while being forced to work 12.5-hour days, six days a week. Despite mounting international condemnation, the activists have yet to be released. Could it be that the Chinese government decided to provide the ultimate service to the Trump family of brands: silencing whistleblowers who were exposing ugly corporate truths?

A New York Times reporter wrote earlier this month that, upon visiting Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, she was given a (now-discontinued) brochure dangling the possibility of a treat from Trump himself: “If he is on-site for your big day, he will likely stop in.” Despite protestations to the contrary, the idea that Trump-the-man is still deeply involved in Trump-the-business is very much a part of the whole offer of Trump-branded hotels and clubs. And nowhere more so than at Mar-a-Lago:

Mar-a-Lago has already increased its membership fees, to $200,000 from $100,000. And why not? Now, for your fee, you might find yourself witnessing a high-stakes conversation about national security over dinner. You might get to hobnob with a visiting head of state. You might even get to witness Trump announcing that he has just launched an air assault on a foreign country.

And, of course, you might even get to meet the president himself, and have the chance to quietly influence him. (No public records are kept of who comes and goes from the club, so who knows?) For decades, Trump has been selling the allure of proximity to wealth and power — it is the meaning of his brand. But now he’s able to offer, to his paying customers, the real deal.

Anything that increases Donald Trump’s visibility, and the perception of him as all-powerful, actively increases the value of the Trump brand, and therefore increases how much clients will pay to be associated with it — to slap it on their new condo development, say, or, on a smaller scale, to play on his golf courses or buy one of his ties.

Meanwhile, the Trump Organization has worked relentlessly to expand its global reach. And why not? The brand is more visible now than ever before, and customers are willing to pay. As the lawsuit states, Trump’s “high office gives the Trump brand greater prominence and exposure.” And this is the heart of what we need to understand about how dangerous it is to have a president who is in the business of selling not any one particular product but his name:

Given that what the Trump sons — Eric and Donald Jr. — are selling is ephemeral (a name), a buyer could pay $6 million for it or could pay $60 million. Who’s to judge what constitutes a fair market-value price? More worryingly, who’s to say what services are being purchased when a private company pays millions to lease the Trump brand? Do they really think it’s that valuable to their condo tower, or do they think that by throwing in an extra $5 million, they might be looked on more favorably in other dealings that require a friendly relationship with the White House? It’s very difficult to see how any of this can be untangled. A brand is worth whatever buyers are willing to pay for it. That’s always been the appeal of building a business on this model — that something as ephemeral as a name could be vested with such real-world monetary value.

What’s extraordinary about Donald Trump’s presidency is that now we are all inside the Trump branded world, whether we want to be or not. We have all become extras in his for-profit reality TV show, which has expanded to swallow the most powerful government in the world.

The Trumps aren’t going to stop coming up with new ways to cash in on the presidency anytime soon. Since I finished writing “No Is Not Enough,” they’ve announced yet another creative new way to turn the White House into a for-profit family business, which I wrote about last week.

Enter American Idea, “a new midscale brand” hotel chain whose first properties will be in Mississippi, a red state where Trump won 18 percentage points more of the popular vote than Hillary Clinton. This is not just an attempt at crashing the Comfort Inn niche by wrapping it in stars and stripes. It’s also the most vivid window yet into the myriad ways the Trump family is transforming the presidency into a for-profit family business, annihilating the line between government and their web of brands.

It turns out that while the Trump kids were on the campaign trail last year, they weren’t just stumping for their father — they were conducting market research on ways to profit from Trump voters. The sons would return to Trump Tower and report on the quaint and old-timey tastes enjoyed in “real America,” as Eric Trump described it on “Good Morning America.”

As Donald Jr. put it, he realized “there’s something here, there’s a market here that we’ve been missing our entire lives by focusing only on the high end.” And there were more perks to tagging along on the campaign trail. They also met people who donated to the Trump campaign, and some of those very people are now the first partners for this new venture.

So let’s unpack that a bit. In Trump’s world, voters are future customers, campaign donors are future investors, and election results are a rich vein of consumer data.

The new lawsuit, though welcome, is only the first step of understanding the merger of the Trump Organization and the White House – with its almost infinite possibilities for corruption and influence peddling.

Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, will published by Haymarket Books on June 13. www.noisnotenough.org

Top photo: Donald Trump and his family, from left, son Donald Trump Jr., son Eric Trump, wife Melania Trump, and daughters Tiffany Trump and Ivanka Trump cut the ribbon at the Trump International Hotel on Oct. 26, 2016, in Washington.

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Judge In Infamous “Sleeper Cell” Case Agrees to Hear New Evidence That Could Help Convicted Terrorist

12 June 2017 - 2:52pm

A federal judge has agreed to hear new evidence in a California terrorism case notorious for the government’s false claims that it had uncovered an Al Qaeda sleeper cell in rural America.

Lawyers for Hamid Hayat, a 34-year-old Pakistani-American convicted after one of the first post-9/11 terrorism investigations by the FBI, will be able to present evidence to support his claim that he is entitled to a new trial because his lawyer failed her client.

“Finally, after 11 years, the bankruptcy of this conviction is going to be exposed at this hearing,” said Dennis Riordan, Hayat’s appeals lawyer. “It’s going to be obvious that, not only should he have prevailed at trial, but that he’s factually innocent.”

Hayat’s appeals lawyers claim that his trial lawyer, Wazhma Mojaddidi, failed her client in several ways, including not calling alibi witnesses, not applying for a security clearance to see the government’s evidence against her client, and not having her client testify.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California declined to comment on last week’s court order. Mojaddidi did not return calls to her law office. Hayat’s appeals lawyer said that he’d sent the decision to Hayat but hadn’t heard back from him.

The case was the subject of a November 2016 series in The Intercept that uncovered new evidence in the case, including doubts about the credibility of the government’s undercover informant and expert testimony about the terrorist training camp Hayat is alleged to have attended.

In the court order filed on Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes wrote that Hayat’s claims about his trial lawyer “raise serious questions concerning the competency of the defense.”

Stanford Law Prof. Robert Weisberg, a criminal law expert who has written critically about the performance of Hayat’s trial lawyer, called the judge’s decision to hear new evidence “significant.”

“It’s a pretty striking opinion, very well reasoned,” Weisberg said.

No date has been set for the evidentiary hearing. A status conference in the case will be held on June 23 in federal court in Sacramento to discuss logistics and a hearing date. At that time, the court will also consider defense claims that prosecutors withheld key evidence, including information about the terrorist training camp.

Hamid Hayat is interrogated by FBI agents in Sacramento, California, on June 4, 2005.

Hayat’s case began in the fragile days after the September 11 attacks. The FBI sent an undercover informant to a mosque in the rural Central Valley town of Lodi, California, after the informant, a Pakistani immigrant named Naseem Khan, told the FBI that he’d seen Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri praying at Lodi’s mosque. Khan’s claim turned out to be false, but Khan continued providing information to the government and turned his focus onto Hayat, then 19.

Khan befriended Hayat and told agents that Hayat planned to attend a jihadi training camp in Pakistan. Khan secretly recorded conversations in which Hayat made disturbing statements, including saying that he was pleased about the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan. In the spring of 2003, Hayat left California to visit family in his ancestral village in Pakistan.

He was arrested in 2005, a few days after he returned to the United States. He was accused of attending a jihadi training camp in Pakistan and lying to the FBI during an interrogation. Hayat’s father, Umer Hayat, an ice cream truck driver, was also arrested and accused of lying to the FBI.

The case made national headlines after the FBI announced that federal agents had uncovered an Al Qaeda cell in Lodi, the rural Central Valley community where the Hayat family lived. The director of national intelligence at the time, John D. Negroponte, testified to Congress that the Hayat case was a prime example of a “homegrown jihadist cell.” But later, then-U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said in an interview that there had never been an Al Qaeda cell in Lodi.

In 2006, a jury heard Hayat’s case. During opening statements, then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Tice-Raskin described Hayat as a man “with a jihadi heart and a jihadi mind.” A jury convicted Hayat, and a judge sentenced him to 24 years in prison.

Hayat has maintained his innocence, claiming that he never attended a training camp and that he spent his time in Pakistan visiting family and playing cricket video games. His appeal has slowly wound its way through the court system. In 2013, when an appeals court decided to uphold Hayat’s sentence, Ninth Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima sharply disagreed with his colleagues’ decision, writing, “This case is a stark demonstration of the unsettling and untoward consequences of the government’s use of anticipatory prosecution as a weapon in the ‘war on terrorism.’”

The case continues to be controversial in Lodi, which has long been home to a community of Pakistani immigrants. Many felt their community was unfairly targeted after September 11.

Taj Khan, a retired engineer and a leader among the Pakistani community, has long advocated for Hayat’s release. Reached by phone, he said that he plans to attend the hearing. “I’m so glad that somebody is looking into it because the guy is sitting in jail, wasting his life away at taxpayer expense, and this injustice needs to be corrected,” Khan said.

Top photo: A courtroom sketch shows the likeness of terror suspect Hamid Hayat, second from left, with with unidentified translator, far left, attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi, second from right, and attorney Johnny Griffin, right, in a federal court in Sacramento, Calif., on June 10, 2005.

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Virginia Power Company Pushing Employees to Protect Pipeline in Democratic Governor Primary

12 June 2017 - 2:17pm

A Democratic primary in Virginia that shaped up as a contest between the party’s populist wing and its establishment has added a new twist: The state’s biggest power company is helping to get out the vote — and it isn’t hard to figure out why.

The two Democrats in the race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Rep. Tom Perriello, have found few areas of policy disagreement throughout the campaign, though Perriello has emerged as the favorite of the progressive flank of the party, garnering endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

One issue where they do disagree, however, is one that Dominion Energy cares about deeply: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, an epic project that would span from West Virginia to the South Carolina border, cutting through Virginia. Perriello is against it, while Northam wants a strong environmental review, but ultimately wants to leave the decision to federal regulators.

In May, Dominion Energy Chief Executive Thomas Farrell sent a letter to the company’s 76,000 current and former employees and shareholders, suggesting they “take time to review the candidates’ positions and see how they stand on critical projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” The letter went on to emphasize the importance of the pending project to Dominion. “I urge you to exercise your constitutional right to vote in the primary of your choice,” the letter went on.

To make sure that constitutional right is exercised, Dominion set up a pledge-to-vote website, and sent another letter on June 8, reminding folks about the upcoming primary on June 13. Around the same time Dominion sent out its follow-up note, a Goldman Sachs analysis, flagged by influential Richmond Associated Press reporter Alan Suderman, warned investors that the company’s future profits were at risk because “one of the leading Democratic Party candidates has openly discussed opposition to some of the new pipelines proposed in Virginia.”

The follow-up note, like the first one, mentions neither candidate by name. But the message is clear enough: This state-regulated utility wants to pick the most favorable regulator it can in the Democratic primary.

Northam, though, shouldn’t count on the help to last past next week. Dominion is much more likely to favor the likely Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie, in the general election.

Dominion, in a line echoed by Northam, insists publicly that the issue is a federal one, and that Virginia has no authority to block the pipeline. The Goldman Sachs analysis undercuts that claim, but not as much as Dominion is undercutting it on its own — by intervening in the Democratic primary. Dominion can’t both urge its folks to vote for the candidate who is most favorable to the pipeline while also insisting that the governor has no sway over the issue. Its protestations give away the game.

Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, former Congressman Tom Perriello, at podium, speaks during a news conference at a park along the James River in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 8, 2017. Perriello announced his opposition to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Photo: Steve Helber/AP

The pipeline is slated to start in West Virginia, which has been fracked to within an inch of its life. From there, it will pipe natural gas through Virginia and into North Carolina, where it will link up with an existing pipeline and run down to the South Carolina border. Along the way, construction threatens a wide array of endangered species, and the pipeline itself portends its own environmental harm.

David Turner, a spokesman for Northam, said that ultimately the raw politics of the issue in the primary aren’t clear. Perriello’s firm stand against the pipeline is popular among Democratic voters, but it might be balanced out or overwhelmed by Dominion’s intervention in the race. “To be perfectly honest, I have no idea whether or not that’s helpful,” said Turner of the power company’s efforts.

Perriello, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has made much of his refusal to accept money from Dominion, which has become a proxy in Virginia politics for standing up to corporate power. After Perriello made the pipeline an issue in the campaign, Northam sent a letter to the Department of Environmental Quality calling for a rigorous review. At a recent debate, Perriello asked Northam if he’d talked to executives at Dominion before sending the note.

“Well, I’ve had a lot of discussions with a lot of different people, Tom, and I’m not going to stand here on the witness stand, if you will, and respond to what those discussions entail,” Northam said. “Obviously we want the pipeline to be built with science and transparency. We also need jobs in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And so I think all of these things — it’s not a yes or no, or us versus them — it’s something that we all sit down at the table and discuss.”

Internal polls put out by the Northam campaign show Northam with an edge in the race. A spokesperson for Dominion didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Top photo: Dominion Power’s coal fired power plant along the James River in Chester, Va., on April 29, 2015.

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The Trump Administration Makes Its Case For Arming Saudi Arabia In Secret

12 June 2017 - 2:12pm

The Trump administration is engaged in a last-ditch lobbying effort to stop the Senate from condemning a $500 million weapons transfer to Saudi Arabia as the kingdom wages a brutal, U.S.-backed war in Yemen.

After President Donald Trump signed a hastily-assembled $110 billion weapons deal during his visit to Saudi Arabia last month, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Al Franken, D-Minn., introduced a bipartisan resolution of disapproval for a transfer of precision-guided weapons. If passed, it would force the Senate to vote on whether to block the transfer.

Ahead of a vote scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, however, senior officials from the State Department and Pentagon are holding a top-secret briefing on the arms sale to persuade the senators and their staff to support it, according to an invitation obtained by The Intercept.

The briefing, which was organized by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will be conducted by Tina Kaidanow, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for political-military affairs, and Timothy Lenderking, deputy assistant secretary for near-eastern affairs. Both are career officials at the State Department, not political appointees. They’ll be joined by an unnamed brigadier general-level Defense Department official.

“It’s really unfortunate that Senate majority leadership decided to hold this briefing in secret,” said Kate Kizer, advocacy director at the Yemen Peace Project, which opposes the arms deal. “Americans deserve to know the conduct of our allies, especially when the U.S. is intimately involved in starving potentially millions of Yemeni civilians by continuing to provide unconditional support to the Saudi-led coalition.”

After Saudi Arabia bombed a funeral hall in October in its war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Obama administration put a temporary hold on a sale of precision-guided munition to the Persian Gulf dictatorship. An Obama administration official told Reuters that they halted the sale because of “systemic, endemic” problems with Saudi Arabia’s targeting decision.”They’re not picking the right targets,” the official said, citing the funeral bombing.

The Trump administration, though, wasted no time in reversing the decision and moving forward with the sale.

Amid the bi-partisan clamor against the deal, Murphy, a liberal on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has emerged as a leading opponent of the arms transfer.

“The Saudis will tell you they need these precision-guided missiles to more effectively target Houthi military assets inside Yemen,” Murphy said on a press call last week. “They’re not telling the truth. The fact is, they have deliberately targeted humanitarian and civilian assets within Yemen. They are purposefully trying to create a humanitarian nightmare — that they can starve the Yemenis to the negotiating table. The United States should not be a part of that strategy.”

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has waged a brutal war of collective punishment in Yemen. Houthi rebels had ousted the Saudi-backed leader in 2014. A U.S.-supported naval blockade has left 19 million people — more than two-thirds of the country’s population — in need of life saving aid and 7 million on the brink of starvation and famine. Meanwhile, the Saudi air force has deliberately bombed food sources — like farms and fishing villages — as well as factories, hospitals, and children’s schools.

The U.S. has been a constant partner in the war since the beginning. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. provided Saudi Arabia with targeting intelligence, helped refuel Saudi aircraft, and resupplied the Saudi military with more than $20 billion in weapons.

Murphy and Paul tried to pass a similar resolution of disapproval during Obama’s presidency last fall, but the measure failed by a 71-27 vote.

Top photo: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, right, welcomes President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump prior to their meeting at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 20, 2017.

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One Year After Pulse Massacre in Orlando, FBI Hasn’t Publicly Addressed Its Counterterrorism Failures

12 June 2017 - 1:35pm

Omar Mateen, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a 9 mm pistol, entered the crowded Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire at about 2 a.m. on June 12, 2016. Those who weren’t hit by flying bullets or falling people ran toward the doors or to anywhere they could take cover. Mateen fired at anything that moved inside the popular gay club.

The calls to 911 followed within seconds. And just minutes after the shooting began, local police officers arrived. Belle Isle Police Officer Brandon Cornwell and a half-dozen other local law enforcement officers broke through a large window and entered the club, knowing Mateen was likely still inside. The harrowing scene was recorded by Cornwell’s body camera.

On the video, which was released on June 1 by the Orlando Police Department, screams can be heard echoing through the dark club. Televisions above the bar were still playing music videos. The officers entered one of the bathrooms by the bar. “Clear!” they yelled.

Another officer, holding a long gun and leading the group, inched farther into the club. “Where the fuck is this coming from?” he said of the desperate screams.

They saw a door leading to another bathroom. There were noises, something on the other side of the door. The officers moved into position, preparing for a shootout and knowing from the cries that civilians could be in the crossfire.

“He’s loading. He’s in there,” one of the officers said.

Cornwell’s dispatch radio chirped. Ducking behind the bar, he answered calmly: “I’m inside. Suspect is barricaded inside with multiple hostages. We have multiple down and shot inside the bar. Can’t get them out at this time.”

Just then, one of the other officers screamed: “Let me see your hands now!”

Shots rang out.

FBI agents investigate the damaged rear wall of the Pulse nightclub where Omar Mateen killed 49 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Fla.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cornwell, keeping a line of sight on the bathroom door, exhaled a sigh. “Lord Jesus, watch over me,” he said.

Inside the bathroom, at about 2:30 a.m., with those officers just outside the door, Mateen called 911. When the operator answered, Mateen was saying a prayer in Arabic.

“What?” the operator asked, not understanding him.

Mateen continued to pray, and then changed to English. “I want to let you know that I’m in Orlando and I did the shooting,” he said calmly.

“What’s your name?” the operator asked.

Mateen didn’t say. Instead, he said he pledged his allegiance to ISIS and hung up. He then talked for about 30 minutes, in a series of phone calls, with hostage negotiators. “You have to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. They’re killing a lot of innocent people. So what am I to do here when my people are getting killed over there?” he told the negotiators. Mateen claimed there were car bombs outside the club and said his attack was triggered by the May 2016 U.S. airstrike that killed senior ISIS member Abu Wahib.

Outside the club, Orlando Police Officer Justin Wilkins arrived to provide assistance. His body camera recorded as he walked up to other officers and asked what was happening.

“He’s still in the club,” an officer told Wilkins.

“At least we fucking are going to get this guy,” Wilkins responded.

They did get Mateen, by busting through a wall with an armored vehicle and then shooting him eight times. But not before Mateen had killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since September 11, 2001.

Today, a year after this mass shooting, questions remain about the how the FBI, despite having twice investigated Mateen before the attack, did not designate him as a security threat. And this wasn’t the first time that the FBI had missed such a threat since 9/11. The FBI had investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev before he and his younger brother Dzhokhar killed three and injured hundreds more in the Boston Marathon bombings.

In the aftermath of the Orlando mass shooting, FBI Director James Comey promised a full review of the bureau’s threat assessment system.

“I don’t see anything, in reviewing our work, that our agents should have done differently, but we’ll look at it in an open and honest way and be transparent about it,” Comey told reporters during a press conference. “Our work is very challenging. We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack. But we’re also called upon to figure out which pieces of hay might someday become needles. That is hard work. If we can find a way to do that better, we will.”

If the FBI has found a better way to find those needles, the bureau has not been as transparent as Comey promised. Asked what, if any, counterterrorism policy changes were made as a result of the Orlando attack, the FBI answered: “We have no comment.”

“There’s no transparency on these cases. So you cannot — you simply cannot — make a good judgment about the Mateen case,” said Jeffrey Danik, a retired supervisory FBI agent who is now critical of his former employer.

“Did law enforcement do a great job and were they heroes, or were they bumbling, inept dopes? Almost impossible to make the call unless you see the record. Who knew what, and what did they know? The next step is more difficult. What could we do differently? Well, because of the lack of transparency, we don’t know what we did wrong.”

Born in New York to Afghan parents, Mateen grew up in Port St. Lucie, Florida, a sleepy town about 115 miles north of Miami. It’s a mixture of small-town Florida natives and retirees, as well as a contingent of more metropolitan South Floridians fleeing rising living costs near Miami.

Mateen attended public school and went on to obtain an associate’s degree in criminal justice at the local community college in 2006. He applied to be a prison guard with the Florida Department of Corrections, and in his application he admitted to getting into a fight as a minor that resulted in a misdemeanor battery charge. “I did not get handcuffed and I did not go to jail,” he wrote in his application. “It was an experience of me growing up and I learned a big lesson from it.”

The Florida state prison system hired Mateen into its trainee guard program, but he was dismissed after six months for undisclosed reasons, the first of several failures to launch a law enforcement career. He also tried to enroll in the police academy but was denied.

He then took a job as a security guard with the private security firm G4S. Mateen’s posts included the county courthouse, a golf club, and a gated residential community. He obtained a firearms permit for the job.

In 2008, Mateen met on MySpace the woman who would become his first wife, Uzbekistan-born Sitora Yusufiy. After they married, Yusufiy moved to Florida, but their marriage was volatile, and Mateen allegedly abusive, so the union didn’t last.

Mateen met his second wife, Noor Salman, online as well, this time through an online dating site. She lived near San Francisco, and after their marriage in 2011, they settled in Florida.

A couple of years after the marriage, in 2013, Mateen first came to the FBI’s attention when other G4S employees reported that he claimed to have connections with terrorists. The FBI employed an informant to get to know Mateen, but the investigation did not substantiate ties with terrorism. In fact, when the FBI interviewed Mateen, he told agents that he made those comments to scare his co-workers, who had made fun of his religion. The FBI closed its investigation.

A year later, Mateen was back in the FBI’s sights. The bureau was investigating Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who, having joined Nusra Front, became the first American suicide bomber in Syria. FBI agents discovered that Mateen and Abusalha attended the same mosque and were casual acquaintances. This, coupled with their previous suspicions of Mateen, prompted counterterrorism agents to open a second investigation. FBI agents interviewed Mateen once again, but his answers to their questions appear to have been enough to alleviate concerns. The FBI closed its second investigation of Mateen, and this appears to be the last contact the bureau had with Mateen before the Orlando attack.

By 2016, Mateen and Salman had a 3-year-old son. That spring, Mateen purchased firearms and ammunition, which Salman later admitted to knowing about. He also made a couple of comments to his wife that suggested violence.

“How bad would it be if a club got attacked?” Mateen asked her, according to an account Salman would later give to investigators.

During an early June trip to Disney Springs, a shopping and dining complex that is part of the larger Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Mateen asked her: “What would make people more upset — an attack on downtown Disney or a club?”

Later that month, Mateen made clear his answer to that question.

Mourners hold candles while observing a moment of silence during a vigil outside the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for the mass shooting victims at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 13, 2016.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The exact motivations of terrorists can often be difficult to identify. In the immediate aftermath of the Pulse shooting, speculation mounted that Mateen could have been secretly gay, his violence an act of self-loathing homophobia rather than Islamic terrorism. His pledge to ISIS? Just a way gain attention or maybe bolster his machismo, according to the theory. Several men reported having seen Mateen at Pulse in the past, and others said they recognized his photograph from dating apps. Fusion aired an interview with a man using the name Miguel, his voice altered and wearing a disguise, who claimed to have been Mateen’s lover.

But after investigating these leads, the FBI found no credible evidence to support the theory that Mateen was gay. Instead, agents suspected that he’d followed a well-worn path of extremists in the United States by being influenced online by propaganda from ISIS and other groups. An examination of Mateen’s laptop after the shooting revealed that he had watched extremist videos online and was looking for information about ISIS — suggesting that the FBI investigations in 2013 and 2014 did not uncover this behavior or that Mateen only began to be radicalized after the final investigation in 2014.

Either way, this failure reveals potential flaws in the FBI’s assessments — low-level investigations conducted in response to vague tips, such as the one from Mateen’s co-workers who claimed that he had bragged about having terrorist connections. Although there is no legal time limit for assessments, the bureau as a practical matter limits them to 60 or 90 days, unless agents find information that justifies an extension. Because of the bureau’s policy after 9/11 to pursue every terrorism lead, no matter how far-fetched, assessments pile up. Closing assessments that can’t be advanced immediately becomes a bureaucratic response. As a result, the investigations of Mateen may have occurred during narrow windows of time when he was not exhibiting behavior that suggested the violence to come.

“There are so many assessments, and the agents and supervisors can get complacent in closing these quickly: get ’em off the plate, get ’em off the plate, get ’em off the plate,” Danik, the former FBI supervisory agent, said. “You don’t want to be chasing people too long.”

Following the Orlando mass shooting, there were calls for congressional hearings (none of which addressed the FBI’s intelligence failures in Orlando) and new laws to restrict gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list (which the Senate voted down).

Inside the FBI, it’s unclear what, if any, internal reviews took place.

“The FBI doesn’t do self-criticism very well, and the inspections are designed to exonerate and build a defense against outside criticism that might justify taking away FBI authorities or resources,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “To the extent they needed to lay blame, they typically look for a scapegoat rather than the true source of the problems.”

Whatever flaws in the FBI assessment process that allowed Mateen not to be designated a threat last year, they likely still exist today.

“Information about these terrorism cases, especially when one goes sideways like Mateen, none of that’s coming out,” Danik said. “They don’t want to be second guessed. They don’t want to be held accountable.”

Top photo: Orlando Police officers direct family members away from a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla. on June 12, 2016.

The post One Year After Pulse Massacre in Orlando, FBI Hasn’t Publicly Addressed Its Counterterrorism Failures appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Assigned Himself An Awful Lot Of Homework That Isn’t Getting Done

12 June 2017 - 11:44am

The ceremonial signing of executive orders has become a trademark of the Trump presidency, with elaborate photo ops and presentations of the president’s bizarre signature happening at a record-breaking rate. But in so doing, he has assigned himself — or, at least, the agencies and departments he ostensibly leads — a record amount of homework.

It’s not getting done.

The vast majority of Trump’s executive orders merely direct federal agencies to issue reviews and reports on a host of issues, from education to immigration to financial services to trade. Though the media often present executive orders as actually accomplishing the elimination of regulations or rollback of statutory law, they’re mostly a form of political theater designed to give the appearance of forward motion. “Let’s just dash off a memo, everyone can say we did something today,” said Jon Michaels, an administrative law professor at UCLA.

According to a review of all executive orders and memoranda, the president has ordered 88 different actions for federal agencies in 2017 alone, most of them direct reports to him. If you include actions that spill into 2018, 2019, and 2020, there are 154 specific actions in all.

This is actually a very conservative estimate, because some orders require every agency in the federal government, of which there are over 400, to submit a report.

Since the inauguration, twenty-seven deadlines have come and gone, including thirteen reports to the president, three reports to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), three publications, three memoranda from OMB, and five miscellaneous actions like resumptions of a temporary ban or solicitation of public comment. The Intercept has only been able to determine that thirteen of these twenty-seven deadlines have been met, with at least two of those coming in late and another three under court-ordered injunction. The others are either unclear or didn’t yield a response from the federal agency under deadline, including the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, Homeland Security, Commerce, Treasury, and OMB.

Sources: Federal Register, The White House and The Intercept reporting

More troubling is the fact that not a single report to the president has been made public, in whole or in part. Even when federal agencies have asserted that they delivered their reports, they have refused to make them available.

There’s no real consequence for missing a deadline, outside of perhaps an angry call from the president. But while hitting around fifty percent of self-imposed deadlines on time may translate into a good baseball batting average, it’s pretty terrible for government. “If Trump breaks the record issuing executive orders, and doesn’t do anything, that will say something about the competency of the administration,” said Eric Posner, a law professor with the University of Chicago.

At least one deadline appears to have been missed entirely, by the government’s own admission. At a May 8 appeals court hearing on the constitutionality of President Trump’s travel ban executive order, acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall acknowledged that the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) still had the active responsibility to implement a worldwide vetting program to identify individuals seeking to enter the country who support violent extremism. “My understanding is there has been progress at State and Homeland Security. They haven’t released anything yet but they’ve done a lot of work on it,” Wall told Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.

But an initial report on the progress of the program was due May 5, three days before Wall told the court that the DHS and State hadn’t released anything. The Intercept asked DHS on May 5 whether they delivered the report, and spokeswoman Jenny Burke said that a draft initial progress report was “under review now.” She added, “these reports are progress reports, to inform the President as to how we’re doing on the tasks we were given. They’re not timelines or deadlines for action.”

This is untrue. The executive order, which has the force of law, says explicitly that the President would receive an initial progress report on vetting procedures “within 60 days,” which is May 5. There’s no deadline for action, but there is a deadline for the progress report. Burke did not respond further to requests for clarification, and it remains unclear whether that report has ever been delivered.

This is not the only executive-imposed deadline that has been missed. Guidance in a regulatory reform memorandum that was due from the Office of Management and Budget on April 25 didn’t come out until April 28. A border security executive order directed the State Department to issue a report by March 26 identifying federal sources of aid and assistance to Mexico. A State Department spokesperson told The Intercept the report was “delivered to the White House on March 27, 2017.”

This may sound like nitpicking. But amid legislative gridlock and endless controversy, the reviews and reports generated by Trump’s executive orders and memoranda represent a large portion of his administration’s work product. Before winning the presidency, Trump called executive orders “a basic disaster.” But no president since Harry Truman has issued them at as high a rate, according to data compiled by the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Over time, these reviews could lead to real policy changes, though some would have to traverse the laborious regulatory process, with official notice and public comment. But eventually, the order to reorganize the executive branch can surely lead to reorganizing the executive branch. The orders streamlining permitting for infrastructure or domestic manufacturing or energy projects will probably streamline those regulations. The orders examining trade deals will set the course of negotiation over those trade deals. It all begins with those reports.

Therefore, the public ought to know what’s in them, and whether the Trump administration can even get them done on time.

The Trump administration’s uneven record on executive order reviews could be attributed to many factors. First, the federal government has a significant and worrying manpower shortage. Trump has been slow to fill political appointments across the government, instead centralizing power inside the White House. But leaving federal agencies on an island makes it difficult for them to fulfill the expansive mission of completing these executive reviews.

For example, the Treasury Department, which has eight different reports due this year, the first on June 3, only has one confirmed nominee, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The choice for Mnuchin’s number two recently dropped out. Treasury has already stated that the June 3 report reviewing all laws and regulations related to the financial system will not be done on time, and instead will be completed in stages. The full rollout could be months late. A Treasury spokeswoman told The Intercept that the first report has been issued to the president, but would not be rolled out publicly until the week of June 12, at least nine days after the deadline.

Similarly, Trump issued a sweeping cybersecurity order on May 11, which mandates nineteen different reports over the next three years, though almost none of the vacancies of key cybersecurity officers throughout the federal government have been filled. Acting officials generally hold the senior jobs for cybersecurity, with diminished authorities. “It’s a chaotic time for the agencies and (executive order reviews) get thrown on top of it,” said UCLA professor Jon Michaels.

The combination of not staffing the executive branch and weighing them down with several dozen reports on top of their normal duties raises concerns about how the administration operates more generally. And you don’t have to only look to executive order reviews to find missed deadlines and broken promises. The May 11 cybersecurity order was issued nearly a month past the deadline Trump’s campaign set. After a memorandum restarting the Keystone XL pipeline permitting, Trump promised to call the governor of Nebraska to go over the project, which runs through his state. The phone call never happened.

Even when deadlines do get met, the adequacy of the work product is suspect. For example, the one news item claiming that the Department of Defense sent their plan to the president for rebuilding the U.S. military makes it sound like nothing more than a plan to make a plan at select intervals in the future.

Similarly, as part of a memorandum related to the travel ban, the State Department is supposed to publish a monthly report on the number of visas issued by each global consular office, set out by category and country of issuance. The president also said State should publish “any other information the Secretary of State considers appropriate, including information that the Attorney General or Secretary of Homeland Security may request be published.” But the set of reports, issued in April and May, only have the visa issuance information, the bare minimum of what was required. A companion report from the Department of Homeland Security meant to show adjustments to immigration status, due June 4, has not been published to date.

Finally, we don’t have a good handle on how these reviews are going because of government secrecy, particularly for reports delivered to the President. While mandated public actions – like the Commerce Department’s solicitation for public comment on the impact of “burdensome” domestic manufacturing regulations, or the State Department’s monthly visa reports, or various OMB memoranda – have been put on federal websites, none of the reports to the president have been made public, even in a redacted version.

Not all these reports contain what would be considered classified information; the State Department did not respond to a request to release their report on sources of federal aid to Mexico, for example, even though the U.S. Agency for International Development has published estimates of that in the past. “Generally, these are questions of domestic regulatory governance, usually not the stuff that’s kept from the public,” said Jon Michaels of UCLA. “And when it is, it raises questions.”

As an example of how closely these reviews are being held, when trade publication MeriTalk asked 11 federal agencies in April how they were complying with Trump’s executive order to reorganize the government, only one (the Federal Trade Commission) responded with anything of substance. The others either made bland statements that they were working on it, refused to comment, or said that they couldn’t respond until more appointees were in place.

Similarly, CNBC asked 20 agencies whether they had designated a regulatory reform officer, as required by a February executive order; only 4 of the 20 agencies provided an actual name. Bloomberg was only able to get two names out of the ten agencies they asked.

OMB would not tell The Intercept whether those regulatory reform officers completed a progress report due May 25, identifying regulatory rollbacks within their agencies. The Intercept then contacted nine federal agencies to inquire about their progress reports. Only one of the nine, the Department of Homeland Security, would confirm completion of the report, and when asked to show it, responded “The report has been produced, however is not a public document.” The Departments of Transportation, Interior, Education, Commerce, Defense, and Health and Human Services, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would not confirm that they completed the progress report.

Past presidents have tried to block the public release of internal reports with national security information. The New York Times filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to get at Obama administration threat assessment reports for detainees at Guantanamo Bay; that case is still going through the courts. But Obama’s Detention Policy Task Force released their reports publicly, despite the sensitivity of the topic, and the administration did eventually publish unclassified versions of other reviews. And non-national security reviews, like reports of the Obama-era Economic Recovery Advisory Board, always got released.

At the very least, internal reviews have been distributed in some form to Congress, so it can conduct oversight. “I recall most of that stuff was made available to the relevant committee,” said Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration. “We had issues with Congress, but there was an attempt to work with them.”

One key Democrat expressed alarm over the lack of communication. “The Trump Administration continues to degrade transparency and promote secrecy,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “If the President wants to direct millions of taxpayer dollars to dozens of new reviews and reports, then the American people–and Congress in particular–deserve to know exactly how the White House is spending their money. These reports should be publicly released when they are submitted to the President.”

Indeed, the Trump administration has been criticized for not answering formal requests from Congress, particularly from Democrats. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) conducted an informal audit, finding over 100 unanswered letters to the executive branch just between Inauguration Day and mid-March.

The White House never responded to several requests for comment.

Top photo: Surrounded by miners from Rosebud Mining, US President Donald Trump (C) signs he Energy Independence Executive Order at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Headquarters in Washington, DC, March 28, 2017.

The post Trump Assigned Himself An Awful Lot Of Homework That Isn’t Getting Done appeared first on The Intercept.

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