The Intercept

Como conversar com desconhecidos no Signal sem revelar seu número de telefone

12 October 2017 - 7:59am

Alguns anos atrás, enviar mensagens criptografadas era difícil. Para começar, você tinha que passar horas seguindo tutoriais cheios de termos técnicos ou ter a sorte de contar com a ajuda de algum amigo nerd. Os poucos que conseguiam superar essa dificuldade logo encontravam mais uma barreira: era possível trocar mensagens protegidas apenas com outros usuários que haviam passado pelo mesmo tortuoso processo que você. Ou seja, mesmo conseguindo configurar um e-mail criptografado, você não podia enviá-lo para quem quisesse.

Hoje em dia isso ficou muito mais fácil. Há muitos aplicativos conhecidos do grande público que permitem que qualquer um criptografe suas comunicações. Um dos mais seguros é o Signal, um software de código aberto para iOS e Android que virou moda entre ativistas, jornalistas e outras pessoas cujo trabalho exige discrição. O mais populares desses apps é o WhatsApp, uma plataforma de propriedade do Facebook cuja criptografia é derivada do Signal. Com a popularização desses aplicativos, com raríssimas exceções, todas as minhas mensagens de texto – com amigos, familiares ou de trabalho – são protegidas com criptografia de ponta a ponta, e ninguém precisa saber o que é uma “chave pública”.

Mas tanto o Signal quanto o WhatsApp têm um problema: sua conta é atrelada ao seu número de telefone.

Isso facilita o uso desses aplicativos, já que torna desnecessários os nomes de usuário e senhas. Também é mais fácil encontrar outros usuários – se um contato da sua agenda também instalar o app, vocês podem começar a trocar mensagens criptografadas imediatamente, sem necessidade de nenhuma configuração.

Mas isso também quer dizer que, para receber mensagens protegidas, você precisa fornecer seu número de telefone, o que coloca quem trabalha com o público em um dilema: a possibilidade de se comunicar com estranhos de forma protegida vale a pena o risco de tornar público o seu número pessoal?

Neste artigo, vou explicar como criar um segundo número no Signal, que pode, então, ser publicado no seu perfil no Twitter e nos seus cartões de visita, para que você possa receber mensagens criptografadas de qualquer pessoa sem ter que revelar o seu verdadeiro número. Vou fazer um passo a passo de como obter um segundo número de telefone, registrá-lo no servidor do Signal e configurá-lo para usar o Signal Desktop – mesmo se você já estiver usando o Signal Desktop com o seu verdadeiro número. Esse tutorial usa como exemplo o Signal, e não WhatsApp, por razões que explicarei mais adiante (o WhatsApp parece bloquear todo número de telefone fixo, o que não acontece com o Signal).

Por que não revelar o seu número de telefone?

Ao dar o seu número de telefone para um estranho, você corre o risco de ser importunado ou seriamente assediado. A ativista pela liberdade de expressão Jillian York escreveu em seu blog: “Como mulher, dar o meu número de telefone a um estranho não deixa de ser arriscado: ‘E se ele me ligar no meio da noite? E se eu for assediada com mensagens? E se eu tiver que mudar de número para me livrar dele?’”

Se você é uma figura pública – principalmente se for mulher ou negro –, já deve estar estar acostumado com insultos machistas ou racistas proferidos por idiotas no Twitter, Facebook e nos comentários dos seus artigos. Publicar o seu número de telefone pessoal pode piorar ainda mais o problema, pois isso abre mais um canal para essas pessoas se manifestarem.

Além disso, suas contas online ficam mais vulneráveis a ataques. No ano passado, alguém invadiu o Twitter e o e-mail do ativista dos direitos dos negros DeRay Mckesson usando o seu número de telefone. O hacker ligou para a Verizon (uma operadora de telefonia americana), fazendo-se passar por ele, e convenceu a empresa a mudar o chip associado ao número de Mckesson, passando a receber todas as mensagens e chamadas destinadas a ele.

Ter um número de telefone público exclusivamente para o Signal é uma proteção contra esse tipo de ataque; sem conhecer o número associado ao seu e-mail e ao seu Twitter, é muito mais difícil para um hacker invadir essas contas.

(Porém, se alguém assumir o controle do seu número de telefone, como no caso de Mckesson, ele também poderá invadir a sua conta do Signal. Se isso acontecer com um de seus contatos, você será avisado de que o “número de segurança” desse usuário foi modificado – é o mesmo aviso de quando um contato troca de telefone. Se você continuar escrevendo para esse contato, quem receberá suas mensagens será o hacker. É possível verificar os números de segurança para confirmar que o Signal está realmente enviando mensagens para a pessoa certa).

Como obter um segundo número de telefone

Quando você abre o Signal pela primeira vez e digita o seu número de telefone, acontece o seguinte:

  • O Signal tenta enviar uma mensagem de texto com um código de verificação para o seu número. A conta só é registrada se você receber a mensagem e inserir o código correto no aplicativo.
  • Se você não receber a mensagem de verificação, o Signal oferece a opção de verificação por chamada telefônica. Nesse caso, o aplicativo tenta ligar para o seu telefone. Ao atender, você ouve uma gravação com o código de verificação que deve ser inserido no aplicativo. Se o código for digitado corretamente, a conta é registrada com sucesso.

O primeiro passo na verificação de um número de telefone é o único que faz uso da rede de telefonia. Depois disso, o Signal passa a usar a internet para tudo. Seu número de telefone só serve para identificar a sua conta (de certa forma, é o seu nome de usuário); sua operadora não tem acesso a nenhum dado da sua conta do Signal.

Isso significa que qualquer número de telefone capaz de receber chamadas – como uma linha fixa ou um número virtual (VoIP) – pode ser associado à sua conta do Signal. Porém, isso não é caso para todos os aplicativos desse tipo – o WhatsApp parece permitir apenas o uso de números de telefone celular (mas já ouvi relatos conflitantes sobre isso, então não custa nada tentar).

Em primeiro lugar, você precisa de um segundo número de telefone que possa ser publicado sem problemas. Por exemplo:

  • Um telefone fixo do seu escritório;
  • Um número gratuito do Google Voice, caso você more nos Estados Unidos (é o meu caso);
  • Qualquer número de um serviço de telefonia online, como o Skype;
  • Um chip pré-pago barato (colocado temporariamente no seu aparelho para registrar sua conta no Signal);
  • Twilio, um serviço de nuvem que permite que desenvolvedores criem programas para fazer e receber chamadas e mensagens de texto. Se você não achar este tutorial muito complicado, é possível comprar números de telefone por apenas 1 dólar ao mês para usar com o Signal. Confira este outro tutorial, escrito por Martin Shelton, com informações mais detalhadas sobre como usar o Twilio para obter um segundo número de telefone.

É importante ter controle exclusivo sobre o seu novo número. É possível utilizar um serviço de SMS online para registrar sua conta do Signal – há muitos sites na internet que oferecem esse serviço – mas o problema é que esses números podem ser usados por qualquer um. Da mesma forma, evite usar um telefone público ou um número de celular que você pretende desativar. Se o seu número do Signal for parar nas mãos de outra pessoa, ela poderá assumir o controle da sua conta.

Se você conhecer outras maneiras de obter um número de telefone permanente, compartilhe conosco nos comentários.

Escolhendo um aparelho para o seu segundo número do Signal

Se você é usuário do Android, o procedimento é mais simples. Talvez você nunca tenha usado essa função, mas o Android permite a criação de mais de uma conta de usuário em um mesmo aparelho. Cada conta tem acesso a seus próprios aplicativos e dados. Você pode criar uma conta de usuário apenas para o seu número do Signal.

Abra as “Configurações” do aparelho, acesse “Usuários” e selecione “Adicionar usuário ou perfil” para adicionar um novo usuário. Em seguida, faça login com o novo perfil e instale o Signal. Não esqueça de configurar o bloqueio de tela para o novo usuário – sem isso, qualquer um que pegar o seu telefone poderá acessar as suas mensagens do Signal, mesmo se a conta principal estiver bloqueada.

Para alternar entre as contas do telefone, acesse a barra de notificações e selecione o ícone de “Usuário”.

Se você é usuário do iPhone e já está usando o Signal com seu número de telefone privado, é um pouco mais complicado configurar uma conta pública do Signal. Infelizmente, não é possível ter dois números diferentes do Signal no mesmo iPhone.

A maneira mais simples de resolver isso é usando outro aparelho – iOS ou Android – para configurar o segundo número. Esse aparelho não precisa ter acesso a um serviço de telefonia; pode ser um iPhone velho ou um aparelho com Android que você não usa mais – é possível até usar um iPad, um iPod Touch ou um tablet com Android.

Você também pode escolher usar seu novo número de telefone exclusivamente com o Signal Desktop. Para isso, você precisa apagar a sua conta privada do Signal do seu iPhone, criar uma conta pública no Signal Desktop e só então restaurar a sua conta privada – seus contatos receberão um alerta dizendo que seu número de segurança mudou. Isso também limita drasticamente as funções do Signal à sua disposição, como explicarei mais abaixo.

Para os usuários mais avançados, também é possível usar seu computador para registrar o segundo número do Signal, mas essa alternativa é recomendada apenas para os ratos de informática que adoram resolver problemas complicados. Você pode usar uma ferramenta de linha de comando chamada signal-cli para registrar seu número no servidor do Signal, ou então instalar o android-x86 em uma máquina virtual, utilizando-a como um emulador do Android. Se essas soluções parecem complicadas demais para você, é melhor arranjar um velho smartphone usado.

Registrando seu novo número no Signal

Agora que você já tem um segundo número de telefone e um aparelho, chegou a hora de registrá-lo no Signal pela primeira vez. Digite o novo número – não o seu número telefone pessoal! – e confirme a inscrição.

Agora o Signal enviará uma mensagem de texto para esse número. Porém, como seu aparelho não está associado ao novo número, acontecerá uma falha no envio. Pelo menos no Android, é preciso esperar dois minutos até o erro ocorrer. (Se você usa o iOS e conseguir receber a mensagem com o código de verificação – graças ao Google Voice, por exemplo –, insira o código no Signal e pule para a etapa seguinte: “Configurando o Signal Desktop”).

Agora que a verificação via SMS falhou, você pode fazer a verificação de voz. Prepare-se para atender uma ligação para o seu segundo número de telefone. Caso se trate de uma linha fixa, fique perto do aparelho; caso você tenha um número do Google Voice, configure o aplicativo corretamente para receber chamadas.

 

Por fim, selecione o botão “Me ligue”. Atenda a ligação. Você ouvirá um número de seis dígitos; insira esse número no Signal e selecione o botão “Verificar”.

Se tudo correr bem, o processo de verificação será completado com sucesso, e seu novo número de telefone ficará registrado no servidor do Signal.

E pronto! O seu aparelho agora pode receber mensagens enviadas para o seu segundo número de telefone. Agora seus contatos podem se comunicar com você via Signal utilizando esse novo número; as mensagens recebidas serão encaminhadas a esse aparelho.

Contudo, agora você terá que usar dois aparelhos diferentes para ler suas mensagens – ou duas contas de usuário em um aparelho com Android. Para facilitar um pouco as coisas, é recomendável utilizar o Signal Desktop.

Configurando o Signal Desktop

 A versão para computador do Signal é uma extensão do Google Chrome; ou seja, é instalada dentro do seu navegador (isso vai mudar em breve, como explicarei mais adiante). Você pode saber mais sobre o Signal Desktop aqui, onde também falo sobre os riscos de usar o Signal no computador.

Se você quiser usar o Signal Desktop com apenas um número de telefone, o procedimento é simples. Por exemplo, talvez você queira usar o Signal no smartphone apenas com o seu número privado, e o Signal Desktop com o número público. Nesse caso, baixe o Signal Desktop na Chrome web store e siga as instruções para configurá-lo com o aparelho que quiser.

Se você quiser usar o Signal Desktop com ambos os números, será preciso criar dois perfis de usuário no Chrome (ou “pessoas”, como eles são chamados nesse navegador). A maioria dos usuários do Chrome usam apenas o perfil padrão – que armazena seu histórico de navegação, favoritos, extensões e outras preferências. Mas é possível criar novos perfis e alternar entre eles com facilidade. Você pode configurar o Signal Desktop no perfil padrão para usar o seu número privado e criar um segundo perfil só para o seu segundo número.

Os desenvolvedores do Signal estão alterando o Signal Desktop. Em breve, o aplicativo será um software independente, não precisando mais do Chrome para funcionar. Isso significa que não será mais possível alternar entre dois perfis no mesmo computador, mas, por enquanto, as instruções a seguir ainda funcionam.

Em primeiro lugar, vamos configurar o Signal Desktop no perfil padrão do Chrome, que usará o seu número particular (se você já é usuário do Signal Desktop, pule os próximos parágrafos). Abra o Chrome e instale o Signal Desktop. Após a instalação, uma tela de boas-vindas aparecerá, explicando que você precisa instalar o Signal no seu telefone primeiro. Escaneie o código QR mostrado na tela com o seu smartphone, como no exemplo abaixo:

 

Siga as instruções do aplicativo para conectar seu smartphone com o Signal Desktop.

Talvez você queria facilitar seu acesso ao Signal Desktop. Para os usuários de Mac, basta fazer um clique secundário (com a tecla “Control” pressionada) no ícone do Signal no Dock , selecionar “Opções” e marcar a opção “Manter no Dock”. No Windows, clique com o botão direito do mouse no ícone do Signal na barra de tarefas e selecione “Fixar na barra de tarefas”.

Agora vamos criar um novo perfil do Chrome para o seu segundo número de telefone. Abra o menu do Chrome (o ícone de três pontos no canto superior direito) e acesse as “Configurações”. Na aba “Pessoas”, clique em “Gerenciar pessoas”.

No canto inferior direito, clique em “Adicionar pessoa”. Crie um nome e selecione um ícone para o novo perfil. Na imagem abaixo, escolhi o nome “Signal para desconhecidos” e o ícone de um ninja.

Após clicar em “Salvar”, o Chrome abrirá uma nova janela com o nome “Signal para desconhecidos” no canto superior direito – você pode clicar no nome para alternar entre diferentes perfis.

Agora instale novamente o Signal Desktop, desta vez no novo perfil. Você verá outra tela de boas-vindas com instruções para começar a usar o programa, além de um novo código QR.

Siga as instruções, porém, desta vez, utilize o aparelho atrelado ao seu segundo número de telefone (ou o seu segundo perfil, se estiver fazendo tudo no mesmo aparelho Android). Pronto, agora seu segundo número de telefone está conectado ao segundo perfil do Signal Desktop!

Você também pode facilitar o acesso a essa segunda versão do Signal Desktop. No Mac, faça um clique secundário (com a tecla “Control” pressionada) no ícone do Signal no Dock , selecione “Opções” e marque a opção “Manter no Dock”. No Windows, clique com o botão direito do mouse no ícone do Signal na barra de tarefas e selecione “Fixar na barra de tarefas”.

Agora você tem dois ícones diferentes para o Signal Desktop – um para o seu número privado e outro para o número público que você acaba de configurar. Passe o mouse por cima dos ícones para diferenciá-los.

Por fim, uma dica para quem usa mais de um Signal Desktop no mesmo computador: clique no ícone de três pontos do Signal Desktop e selecione “Configurações”. Isso permite que você escolha entre três temas visuais diferentes. Atribua temas diferentes para cada versão do Signal Desktop para ajudar a distinguir uma da outra.

(Para os poucos entre vocês que usam o sistema operacional Qubes, esse processo é muito mais simples. Basta instalar o Signal Desktop em uma Máquina Virtual (AppVM) diferente para cada número de telefone. É o que eu faço.)

Usando o Signal Desktop como aplicativo principal do Signal

Agora que o seu número público do Signal pode ser publicado sem riscos e as mensagens criptografadas chegam diretamente no seu computador, é tentador usar apenas o Signal Desktop para esse número de telefone. Não há nenhum problema nisso, mas não esqueça que existem certas limitações.

O Signal Desktop tem menos funcionalidades do que o aplicativo para celular. É impossível fazer chamadas criptografadas de voz e vídeo na versão para computador, e também não é possível criar ou modificar grupos. Se você quiser usar essas funções, será preciso acessar o aplicativo no smartphone. Além disso, embora a função de “mensagens efêmeras” esteja presente na versão para computador, não é possível apagar mensagens individuais.

Outra limitação do Signal Desktop é a impossibilidade de atribuir nomes aos seus contatos, pois o Signal usa a agenda do seu celular para dar nomes aos seus contatos. Para atribuir um nome a um contato, é preciso adicioná-lo no Signal do smartphone usado para registrar o seu número de telefone.

Por fim, se você ler as suas mensagens apenas no Signal Desktop – e não no telefone utilizado para registrar a sua conta – elas vão se acumular no servidor pela seguinte razão: quando alguém envia um mensagem pelo Signal, ela é criptografada pelo aplicativo e enviada ao servidor. O servidor armazena essa mensagem até que ela seja entregue ao aparelho do destinatário; após a entrega, a mensagem é finalmente apagada do sevidor. Porém, como sua conta do Signal está associada a duas máquinas diferentes – um smartphone e um computador –, o servidor não apaga a mensagem até ela ter sido entregue a ambos os aparelhos. Portanto, é importante acessar periodicamente o Signal no seu celular mesmo se você pretende usar apenas a versão para computador.

Será que o Signal vai simplicar tudo isso um dia?

Atualmente, a única maneira de criar uma conta do Signal é registrando um número de telefone, mas, no futuro, outras formas de identificação também poderão ser aceitas, como endereços de e-mail.

O Signal poderia verificar endereços de e-mail da mesma forma que números de telefone. Além disso, como também é possível armazenar endereços de e-mail na agenda do celular, a descoberta de novos contatos poderia continuar sendo automática. Embora jornalistas e ativistas costumem publicar seus endereços de e-mail para que qualquer um possa entrar em contato, outras pessoas – como informantes, por exemplo – podem querer guardar anonimato. Para elas, é muito mais fácil obter uma conta de e-mail anônima do que um número de telefone secreto.

Essa funcionalidade é muito requisitada pelos usuários, e o tópico de discussão correspondente continua aberto no GitHub, onde é possível acessar o código-fonte do Signal. Mas será que os desenvolvedores do Signal vão implementá-la? Fiz essa pergunta a eles, mas a política da equipe é não fazer comentários sobre funcionalidades ainda não lançadas.

Se você tiver algum comentário a fazer sobre esse tutorial, não hesite em escrever na seção de comentários ou entrar em contato comigo no Signal, no número (415) 964-1601.

Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse

The post Como conversar com desconhecidos no Signal sem revelar seu número de telefone appeared first on The Intercept.

The Airport Bomber From Last Week You Never Heard About

11 October 2017 - 5:10pm

It’s strange how some things really catch on and go viral and others don’t. These days, nothing quite makes a story blow up — no pun intended — like the president’s fixation with it. That’s why it’s so peculiar that what sure looks like an attempted terrorist attack was narrowly thwarted at an American airport this past Friday without so much as peep from Donald Trump about it. No tweets. No nicknames for the alleged would-be-terrorist. Nothing. You’ll see why in a minute.

On past Friday morning, at 12:39 a.m., security footage from the Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina showed a man walking through the front doors wearing black clothing and a black cap, while carrying a bag. “Based on a review of the video, the individual walked near the entrance to the terminal, went out of sight momentarily, and was then seen departing the area without the bag,” according to the criminal complaint.

Following the Transportation Security Administration’s protocols, airport security allowed a bomb dog to sniff the bag for explosives and the dog signaled to the team the presence of dangerous materials in the bag. The concourse was then shut down. The street leading to the airport was shut down. And Asheville Regional Airport officials found themselves in a dangerous emergency situation.

What investigators eventually found in the bag was AN/FO (Ammonium Nitrate/Fuel Oil) explosives that, according to the criminal complaint, have been used “in a number of terrorist-related incidents around the world. When AN/FO comes into contact with a flame or other ignition source it explodes violently. Nails or ball bearings are often items added to the device so as to increase the devastation inflicted by the explosion.”

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In fact, sharp nails and bullets were found in this improvised explosive device. Whoever built it designed the bomb to cause horrific bodily harm. Before disarming it, authorities discovered that the alarm attached to it was scheduled to go off at 6:00 a.m. that morning just as a fresh round of travelers was scheduled to arrive at the airport.

The man who planted it, it turns out, openly admitted to authorities that he was “preparing to fight a war on U.S. soil” and that this bomb was but one part of that war.

Little Fanfare

I bet you never heard about it. I keep an eye on these types of incidents closely and I didn’t hear about it. Someone who follows me online who happens to live in Asheville sent me the story this morning — shocked that it hadn’t gotten any play at all beyond a few mentions in the local paper and some isolated pickup by a few national outlets.

As soon as I clicked on the article, it all made perfect sense.

The story didn’t go viral and Trump didn’t tweet about it because the bomb was not placed by an immigrant, or a Muslim, or a Mexican. It was placed there by a good ol’ white man, Michael Christopher Estes. Unlike the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, whose motive is still hard to discern, Estes wanted to be very clear that his ultimate goal was to accelerate a war on American soil.

Sorry if it sounds like you’ve heard this story before. I’m as tired of writing it as you are reading it, but you know good and well that if Estes was a young Muslim — hell, if he had ever even visited a mosque in the past 25 years — that Trump would be tweeting about him right this very moment to tout how essential a Muslim ban is for American safety.

A Muslim attacker’s mugshot would become a meme across the conservative media. Mainstream American outlets would be covering the heroic bravery of those who thwarted the terrorist plot. We’d all be seeing footage of the perpetrator being walked from the police car to the jail and from the jail to the court room. Out loud, people would talk and tweet about the man’s family and friends and networks — wondering where he was radicalized, and if anyone else feels the way he does.

In this case, though? Crickets. We hear nothing at all — almost exclusively because the man who planted an improvised explosive device, just like ones that have been used to murder and maim people all over the world, was white. His guilt starts and stops with him. His actions aren’t an indictment of his whole faith, political outlook, and race. White people aren’t, thanks to Estes, suddenly labeled terrorists or seen as a threat to American safety in the way that would almost certainly happen had it been anybody other than a white man.

This isn’t me calling for all of those things that happen to Muslims and immigrants every single day to now happen to Estes and white people all over the country. It’s me saying that the fundamentally bigoted double standard by which it is done to virtually everyone except for Michael Christopher Estes and other white men has to stop.

Top photo: A collage shows Michael Christopher Estes and a view of Asheville Regional Airport. (Photos: Google Maps, Buncombe County Detention Center)

The post The Airport Bomber From Last Week You Never Heard About appeared first on The Intercept.

“No Kin In the Game”: Study Finds Members of Congress Without Draft-Age Sons Were More Hawkish

11 October 2017 - 5:08pm

A new study finds that members of Congress who didn’t have draft-age sons were significantly more likely to support hawkish, pro-conscription policies over the course of four major U.S. wars.

Academics from Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown authored the paper, which is titled, “No Kin In The Game: Moral Hazard and War in the U.S. Congress.” They studied 249 conscription-related votes and the family composition of 3,963 members of Congress who served during the period of four conflicts: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

They concluded that lawmakers who had draft-age sons during those periods were between 10 and 17 percent less likely to take hawkish votes, compared to legislators with only daughters of draft age. To understand the scale of these differences, the researchers compared their findings to lawmakers’ tendency to oppose wars based on the president’s political affiliation. “To place this magnitude into perspective, it is equivalent to 50-70% of the ‘party line’ effect of having a sitting president from the opposing party,” they wrote.

It’s difficult to prove that politicians’ legislative decisions are at least partly influenced by their own private incentives, Yale University economist Eoin McGuirk, one of the study’s authors, told The Intercept in an email.

“For example, say that senator votes to go to war,” McGuirk wrote. “It’s later revealed that he received campaign contributions from a weapons manufacturer in his home state. It’s tempting for us to conclude that the donation swayed the politician. But, he can legitimately say that (i) this is his ideological disposition, and the weapons manufacturer gave him $ to help get him elected; or (ii) the weapons manufacturer employs his constituents, and that’s why he voted to go to war. In none of those cases can we say that the donation itself made the politician vote the way he did.”

Studying kinship, though, allowed the researchers to more clearly establish a correlation.

“Our paper proves that private motives do (partly) shape legislative decisions because the gender of a politician’s draft-age son is plausibly ‘exogenous'; in other words, it’s totally unrelated to any other factor that could have influenced the politician’s legislative decision,” he continued. “Our observation that politicians with draft-age sons voted differently to those with draft-age daughters is most likely due to self-interest.”

The researchers also looked at the electoral fortunes of lawmakers with draft-age sons, finding that they were 10 percent more likely to be subsequently re-elected, an indication that voters punish those who favor conscription.

Top photo: U.S. troops take cover from the Vietcong in a trench on Hill Timothy, during the Vietnam War on April 11, 1968.

The post “No Kin In the Game”: Study Finds Members of Congress Without Draft-Age Sons Were More Hawkish appeared first on The Intercept.

This Group Helps Lobbyists Influence Public Officials. The Trump Hotel Is Hosting Its 2018 Gala.

11 October 2017 - 4:50pm

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial group that brings corporate lobbyists together with state legislators to formulate business- and Republican-friendly policies, will host its 45th anniversary gala at the Trump International Hotel next year.

The member-based group, known as ALEC, has much to celebrate. With a strategy of growing its ranks among state-level politicians to affect local change, ALEC has made strides on the national stage, too. Its alumni occupy several leading posts in the Trump administration, and the group boasts more than 80 former members among the Republican majority in Congress.

“This administration does have the potential to be an ALEC administration,” Lisa Nelson, chief executive of ALEC, said in a message to members after the inauguration. “It is full of the people and ideas we’ve advanced since 1973.”

ALEC acts as a talent pool for up-and-coming Republican officials. The group’s meetings serve as a hub for making introductions between state lawmakers and prospective donors, whose lobbyists then work with ALEC to ghostwrite bills that legislators take home and introduce as proposed laws.

For instance, fossil fuel companies, such as Koch Industries and Peabody Energy, worked through ALEC to develop state-based legislation opposing federal standards on clean air and climate change. In the past, private prison firms worked with the group to draft “three-strikes” legislation and other policies that increased incarceration rates. The National Rifle Association partnered with ALEC to author gun rights bills.

The decision by ALEC to bring its conference to the Trump International Hotel comes as an array of special-interest groups hoping to curry favor with President Donald Trump have selected properties owned by the president and his family as venues for their events.

As The Intercept first reported, a major coal and mining lobbying group recently selected the Trump International to host a meeting between senior industry executives and administration officials. Special-interest groups representing a number of other foreign and domestic clients have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars this year hosting lavish parties at the Trump International and other Trump family hotels and resorts.

ALEC recently requested that donors provide sponsorship of up to $100,000 to cover the expense of the conference next year.

Top photo: Then-Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 42nd annual meeting held Thursday, July 23, 2015, in San Diego.

The post This Group Helps Lobbyists Influence Public Officials. The Trump Hotel Is Hosting Its 2018 Gala. appeared first on The Intercept.

General que comanda a Abin fala em vazio de lideranças e elogia feitos da ditadura

11 October 2017 - 4:47pm

O ministro do Gabinete de Segurança Institucional do governo Temer, Sérgio Westphalen Etchegoyen, causou incômodo em parte da comunidade diplomática durante uma palestra no Instituto Rio Branco. O general sugeriu “medidas extremas” para a segurança pública, elogiou feitos dos anos de chumbo e disse que o país sofre com amoralidade e com patrulha do “politicamente correto”.

Etchegoyen começou a fala de quase duas horas contando que tinha sido soldado por 47 anos e que era por essa ótica, militar, que enxergava e interpretava o mundo. Depois do alerta, tentou quebrar o gelo:

“Sou da arma de cavalaria e tem um problema que a ausência do meu cavalo reduz minha capacidade intelectual em uns 45, 40 por cento”, começou general da reserva que  comanda, entre outros órgãos, a Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (Abin). A plateia, majoritariamente composta por futuros diplomatas, riu discretamente.

Foi um dos poucos momentos de descontração. No restante do tempo, segundo pessoas que estiveram presentes, pairou no ar certo desconforto diante da visão de mundo do ministro. A palestra ocorreu no dia 23 de agosto. Nesta segunda (9), The Intercept Brasil teve acesso exclusivo ao conteúdo do encontro, graças a uma gravação de áudio feita sem o conhecimento do Instituto Rio Branco.

 “Deserto de lideranças”

O convite para que o ministro falasse a alunos do Rio Branco partiu de Alexandre Parola, porta-voz do atual governo que, nos corredores do Itamaraty, é jocosamente chamado de “porta-malas”. Quando a primeira denúncia contra Michel Temer foi rejeitada, Parola disse, em pronunciamento oficial, que o presidente havia recebido a notícia “com a tranquilidade de quem confia nas instituições brasileiras” e que a decisão era uma “vitória da democracia e do direito”.

Etchegoyen parece pensar diferente. Para ele, o país passa por crises tão profundas que afetam a própria estrutura do Estado: “Nós nunca vivemos, no Brasil, um momento em que coincidisse, com tanta intensidade, tantas crises estruturais e tantas crises setoriais. Isso nos dá uma crise sistêmica”, disse. “E nós não vamos tratar com Aspirina nem com Tylenol. Nós vamos tratar com antibiótico, com todos os efeitos colaterais”.

Ao longo das quase duas horas ao microfone, o militar gaúcho se mostrou bastante cordial, mas, mais de uma vez, pecou pela falta de coerência. Tendo, entre outras, a função de zelar pela segurança de um presidente que vem oferecendo  tudo e mais um pouco em troca da permanência no cargo, Etchegoyen criticou justamente a excessiva preocupação dos políticos em “preservar mandatos e biografias”. E, com distanciamento pouco comum a homens em posição de comando, reclamou que vivemos um “deserto de lideranças”. Uma situação de “perplexidade política” para a qual não há saída à vista e que pode “gerar problemas maiores”.

“Inimigo interno”

Para o chefe da Abin, boa parte do caos atual deve-se ao excesso de ideologias. “Nós criamos uma sociedade, particularmente no Brasil, que resolveu que os fenômenos sociais são todos explicados a partir de uma formulação ideológica”, disse. Depois completou: “Nós temos uma questão prática pra resolver [a crise atual], que não responde a questões ideológicas necessariamente.”

Etchegoyen diz acreditar que a crise atual é o grande “inimigo interno” e pode ser dividida em três vertentes: a econômica, a política e a moral, que, para o homem forte da segurança de Michel Temer, é a maior delas.

Com quase cinco décadas no Exército, o general achou por bem discorrer sobre a violência no Rio de Janeiro. Para ele, a ação do Exército é justificada pela falência do Estado. “Estamos vivendo tempos extraordinários. Precisamos de soluções extraordinárias.”

“Se der pro militar um problema de segurança pública, ele vai se adaptar e vai fazer.”

Para o ministro, o argumento de que as Forças Armadas não são treinadas para atuar no policiamento de cidades é balela de especialistas. “Ninguém sabe a guerra que vai lutar amanhã”, disse. “Somos treinados em cima de princípios, de conceitos, com alguns fundamentos, com muita flexibilidade pra dar agilidade mental pra poder resolver o problema. Então, se der pro militar um problema de segurança pública, ele vai se adaptar e vai fazer.”

Exército distribuem doces na Rocinha, na zona sul do Rio de Janeiro, em setembro, enquanto operações de busca acontecem no local. Para Etchegoyen, “se der pro militar um problema de segurança pública, ele vai se adaptar e vai fazer.”

Etchegoyen acredita que parte dos problemas do Rio, onde o Exército tem atuado com frequência, tem a ver com um interesse eleitoreiro de políticos que não deram a necessária continuidade à segurança pública. Mas o povo também teria uma parcela de culpa: “Uma sociedade no Rio de Janeiro – e me desculpem os cariocas – que ia pra praia com um apito pra avisar o maconheiro que a polícia está chegando, permitiu que se chegasse aonde chegamos.”

Ainda sobre a crise política, Etchegoyen afirmou que o Brasil criou um modelo que está “nos destruindo por dentro.” Uma “sociedade amorfa, que não reage.” E as origens desses males estaria no abandono de um projeto nacional, principalmente durante os mandatos de Lula e Dilma. “Governos mais populares, com vocação mais assistencialista.”

Saudades da “autonomia” da ditadura

Para o chefe da Abin, o Estado democrático brasileiro criou instrumentos que limitaram o nosso desenvolvimento. “Imaginem se hoje seria possível construir, no Rio de Janeiro, o Cristo Redentor? Quanto é que ia nos custar de discussão no Ibama, com o Ministério Público? Quanto nos custaria fazer uma ponte Rio-Niterói, pra ficar no mesmo tema? O bondinho? Itaipu?”, disse, referindo-se a algumas das maiores obras de infraestrutura da ditadura militar.

De toda a palestra, esse foi o momento em que o general mais exalou saudades da ditadura. “Nós tivemos autonomia pra fazer isso… A nossa geração teve autonomia. Fracassou. Fracassou porque utilizou mal essa autonomia e reduziu a autonomia das gerações que vão nos seguir”, ponderou.

Conforme a palestra avançava, os problemas se multiplicaram e, curiosamente, não passaram perto do Congresso ou do Planalto, que estaria tentando implantar uma “agenda modernizadora”. No fim, nem a Constituição escapou da artilharia.

“Nós perdemos a noção de crescimento e passamos a ser uma sociedade de outra natureza, particularmente a partir de 88, a partir da Constituição de 88, que não tem, como prioridade, crescer”, disse. E foi adiante.

“Se não chegarmos a uma posição do que é interesse nacional, nós vamos continuar patinando.”

Denunciou o fato de um cirurgião do SUS que “constitui a mama de um transexual” receber mais do que o colega que “reconstitui” o seio de uma mulher vítima de câncer. E, claro, lamentou o desapreço para com as polícias:

“Nossa sociedade bota o dedo na cara de um policial… Qualquer menino [faz isso] e não acontece nada”, disse, muito improvavelmenteprovavelmente referindo-se aos meninos da Zona Sul do Rio, ou à Zona Oeste de São Paulo. “Nós não podemos, por exemplo, deixar que prossiga esse desamor pela polícia, que tem acontecido no Brasil. Porque são eles que nós temos. Nós não temos outros.”

Entre os atuais entraves ao progresso estavam, claro, os quilombolas. Em particular uma comunidade que ocupa a península de Alcântara, no Maranhão.

“Algumas comunidades permanecem onde estão e não saem para a expansão do centro de lançamento de Alcântara por razões culturais. ‘Ah, não quero sair porque aqui morreu minha vó’”, minimizou.

Para Etchegoyen, essa resistência seria estimulada por algumas lideranças, cooptadas por antropólogos estrangeiros que, na verdade, teriam o objetivo de sabotar o programa espacial brasileiro. “Há 30 anos já se discute isso e não se sai do lugar. E se não chegarmos a uma posição do que é interesse nacional, nós vamos continuar patinando.”

Outro problema apontado pelo general é uma suposta patrulha do  politicamente correto: “Quantos e quantas aqui teriam coragem de levantar e discutir claramente a sua opinião sobre cotas, por exemplo? Isso é uma coisa que, na sociedade, nós estamos buscando uma unanimidade – e eu não estou falando contra as cotas, eu estou tratando teoricamente do assunto – mas nós queremos uma unanimidade na sociedade?”

Por fim, a exemplo de outro militar da reserva que tem ganhado cada vez mais espaço nos microfones do país, o ministro criticou uma suposta patrulha do politicamente correto: “Quantos e quantas aqui teriam coragem de levantar e discutir claramente a sua opinião sobre cotas, por exemplo? Isso é uma coisa que, na sociedade, nós estamos buscando uma unanimidade – e eu não estou falando contra as cotas, eu estou tratando teoricamente do assunto – mas nós queremos uma unanimidade na sociedade?”

The post General que comanda a Abin fala em vazio de lideranças e elogia feitos da ditadura appeared first on The Intercept.

Did Trump Break the Law by Telling NFL Owners to Fire Players?

11 October 2017 - 2:42pm

Two different NFL teams, the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys, have now publicized that they are forcing their players to stand for the national anthem or risk punishment from the team. There are rumblings among players for other teams that their outfits have already done or are about to do the exact same thing. In doing so, these teams are caving to the very public demands of the president of the United States — and questions have been raised about whether Donald Trump may have broken the law in issuing these demands. Let me break it down.

For months on end, Trump demeaned NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial violence in America. But his complaints hit a crescendo last month at a political rally in Alabama when he not only described kneeling players as sons of bitches, but said that they should be yanked off the field. Capitalizing on the political momentum and attention he received from the remarks, Trump has now either commented or tweeted about the NFL nonstop for weeks on end.

Colin Kaepernick, however, still does not have a job. And police brutality and racial violence continue unabated in this country. That’s why these men are taking a knee or having a seat during the anthem. It’s why these men are raising a fist. These men aren’t disrespecting the flag or the military — in fact, some of them come from military families. What they are saying is actually patriotic: Every single player protesting has repeatedly said they want this country to uphold its promises and live up to its ideals.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, though, saw an opportunity to hijack the demonstrations. Last weekend, they orchestrated a publicity stunt, with Pence going to an Indianapolis Colts game, only to deliberately make a spectacle by walking out after players from the visiting 49ers took a knee. Trump acknowledged that the president had told Pence to walk out if any players took a knee, but at least one player from the 49ers has taken a knee in every game for the past 14 months. They knew this was going to happen.

In other words, it was a pre-planned protest — which is wild, because Pence used a football game to make a point about how he doesn’t want players to use a football game to make a point.

On September 27, weeks before Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made it clear that he would bench players who did not stand for the anthem, Trump tweeted about a conversation he had with Jones. In an interview on Monday with NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, Jones admitted that Trump had reminded him of the mechanism he used to beat back the players’ demonstration. Trump then congratulated Jones for agreeing to bench players who did protest.

This is how Trump’s bullying works — but not without a few fascinating wrinkles. One comes courtesy of Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles, son of NFL legend Howie Long, who tweeted a suggestion on Monday that Trump might be breaking the law. Here’s the tweet:

https://t.co/ruDf7iWwez
I'm no more a law expert than he is a world leader but this sounds familiar.

— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) October 10, 2017

What Long linked to was U.S. Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 11, Section 227, which is titled, “Wrongfully influencing a private entity’s employment decisions by a Member of Congress or an officer or employee of the legislative or executive branch.” It states:

(a) Whoever, being a covered government person, with the intent to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity —

(1) takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act, or

(2) influences, or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

(b) In this section, the term “covered government person” means —

(1) a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress;

(2) an employee of either House of Congress; or

(3) the President, Vice President, an employee of the United States Postal Service or the Postal Regulatory Commission, or any other executive branch employee (as such term is defined under section 2105 of title 5, United States Code).

Like Chris Long, I’m not an attorney, but I can read, and this damn sure sounds exactly what Trump has done to influence team owners in the NFL. The question is whether Trump’s actions represent “official acts” — which the law defines as official government actions — for Trump’s anti-NFL push to be a violation of the law. His actions are unethical at best, but could be illegal, too.

What’s inarguable is that the president of the United States is clearly violating the spirit of the law: He is using his influence, and even threats, to impact employment decisions by NFL team owners and the league commissioner. Not only has he called them out from the stage and in interviews, but he has called them out on his huge social media platform. Furthermore, he has openly admitted to having phone calls with team owners on the subject, and then congratulated them when they came forward to take the position he wanted them to take.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted that maybe the NFL should lose the tax breaks the league and teams have at times received:

Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2017

Shortly afterward, the NFL sent out a memo, in which the NFL commissioner, for the first time, made it clear he wants every player to stand for the national anthem. Trump was ecstatic.

At least one of Trump’s most influential supporters, the disgraced Fox News commentator Eric Bolling, suggested Trump’s online threats against NFL as the primary reason the league had a very public shift on the issue. In other words, Bolling seems to believe Trump influenced the NFL’s policies and practices.

At every sporting event in this country, thousands of people can be seen ignoring the anthem, buying refreshments, talking on their cellphones, and taking bathroom breaks. Trump doesn’t care about that. A player from the Houston Astros was just photographed wearing American flag underwear, which apparently violated the U.S. Flag Code, while celebrating players drenched him in alcohol. Not a single person in this country believes Trump is about to call out the Astros or call that player a son of a bitch.

That’s because, for Trump, none of this is about the flag or the anthem. It’s about anti-blackness and the culture war. That’s why, in the NBA, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich can call out Trump, by name, over and over again, and Trump won’t even mention him. Popovich is not only white but also a revered legend in Texas. And yet Trump strangely called out Stephen Curry from the Warriors — but not his coach, Steve Kerr, who has called Trump out by name several times. Trump is looking for opponents and enemies from the sports world that will excite his base. Yesterday, he called out ESPN’s Jemele Hill, a black woman.

In the scheme of all that Trump has done, it’s easy to dismiss his violation of the spirit of the law as small potatoes, but such a dismissal is a troubling sign of our times. It appears that Trump is able to say or do whatever he wants.

The post Did Trump Break the Law by Telling NFL Owners to Fire Players? appeared first on The Intercept.

The Ritual of Silence in an Age of Mass Shootings

11 October 2017 - 1:29pm

On October 1, Stephen Paddock barricaded himself in his Las Vegas hotel room with two dozen guns and opened fire on a country music festival some 30 floors below, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds of others. The term of art for this type of rampage, a “mass shooting,” has no universal definition. As a result, formal tallies have concluded that these events occur anywhere from a few dozen times a year to once every single day.

Around the end of 2015, after 14 people were shot dead at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, news outlets began referring to an “age of mass shootings” in the United States. Every age has its rituals, and ours is no different. The “moment of silence” that public officials invoke to commemorate each new rampage may have its roots in religious practices that predate this era, but its function is entirely contemporary. It imbues a worldly, empirically demonstrable phenomenon with cosmic significance, absolving officials otherwise charged with confronting public problems. There is no way to prevent an act of God.

The moment of silence signifies not only what we do not understand about gun violence — in part because Congress bullied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into defunding almost all targeted research on the issue two decades ago — but also what we understand but do not wish to acknowledge: that gun suicides claim more than 20,000 lives in the United States annually; that American women are 11 times more likely to be shot and killed than their counterparts in other high-income countries; that black men account for 6 percent of the U.S. population but half of its gun homicide victims.

Tackling these phenomena would require both a reckoning with entrenched gender and racial hierarchies as well as a disavowal of the enduring myth of the heroic gunslinger, which promotes the use of lethal implements — the U.S. has as many privately owned guns as it does people — in these already deadly scenarios. It would also require a disavowal of (and divestment from) the hugely profitable industry responsible for supplying these firearms to an eager polity.

The same officials invoking a moment of silence may insist that it’s too soon to politicize a tragedy. But the silence that commemorates these victims cannot prevent their deaths from being sullied by politics. Instead, it only ensures the political conditions that led to their deaths will endure to claim new victims.

Video by Moiz Syed. Text by John Thomason.

The post The Ritual of Silence in an Age of Mass Shootings appeared first on The Intercept.

Puerto Rico Relief Bill Cancels $16 Billion in Debt — But Not for Puerto Rico

11 October 2017 - 12:01pm

House Republicans unveiled a $36.5 billion disaster relief supplemental package on Tuesday night, intended to pay for relief and rebuilding efforts for the floods, hurricanes, and wildfires of the past several months. It includes money for Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, though only a fraction of that headline number. In fact, $5 billion of the funds earmarked for Puerto Rico comes in the form of a loan, increasing the amount of money the island will eventually need to pay back.

And in a cruel irony, the bill also contains $16 billion in debt relief – just not for Puerto Rico’s crushing debt.

The full House chamber will vote on the bill from the House Appropriations Committee this week. Here’s a breakdown of the $36.5 billion in aid that the committee proposed:

There’s $576.5 million in U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior grants for wildfire suppression and management. The west in particular has been rocked by a dangerous wildfire season, including ongoing blazes in Northern California that have killed 17.

Another $18.67 billion is intended to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund, particularly for events caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That means Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands will share that money, as determined by FEMA. The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General gets $10 million of that for audits and investigations of the use of relief funds.

Puerto Rico will get a loan of $4.9 billion out of that same pot, money to be used for maintaining basic government operations. President Trump had previously requested that amount in a loan form. With practically no tax receipts collected since last month’s hurricane destroyed the island – 85 percent of homes remain without power three weeks after the storm – Puerto Rico faces a cash-flow crisis. Officials estimate that the government could run out of money and have to shut down on October 31.

This is critical for Puerto Rico, which has trouble borrowing from private credit markets because of its existing $74 billion debt. But instead of replenishing the coffers with a grant, this is a loan — one Puerto Rico will also need to repay.

The island will get an additional $150 million loan to cover its matching funds for FEMA grants. Cities and states are required to put a small amount of money into sharing costs for disaster relief. That brings the total of loans to the island up to $5.05 billion. The appropriations committee allotted another $29 million for administrative expenses for the loan.

The bill includes a provision enabling the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department to decide to cancel the loan, but that’s no guarantee. And those two agencies set the terms of repayment; while news reports have described a “low-interest” loan, there’s no set interest rate in the text of the bill.

If you’re keeping up with the math, that leaves $13.58 billion of the $18.67 billion in disaster relief. Puerto Rico would have to share that amount with two far more populous states and another territory.

There is one definitive grant to Puerto Rico in the bill: $1.27 billion for “disaster nutrition assistance,” which is basically an extension of the food stamp program for citizens affected by the hurricane. This type of assistance is standard for disaster areas in the continental United States but needs to be enumerated for the territory.

The final $16 billion in the bill goes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), battered by claims payouts from the season’s hurricanes, particularly in Houston after Harvey. And this is where the bill takes on an almost comic level of bad optics.

The way the flood insurance program works is that homeowners pay premiums and file claims when they encounter flood damage. Because premiums are too low and people still build in flood plains over and over, the program has not been able to keep up. So NFIP took out a line of credit with the Treasury Department — capped by law at $30.4 billion — to cover claims. Last month, NFIP reached that borrowing ceiling.

Funds to pay claims are expected to run out this month, so the House bill cancels $16 billion of NFIP’s debt. “To the extent of the amount cancelled… the National Flood Insurance Fund are relieved of all liability to the Secretary of the Treasury under any such notes or other obligations,” the bill states. “The amount of the indebtedness cancelled… may be treated as public debt of the United States.”

This is like the famous meme of the guy checking out a girl with his girlfriend standing right next to him, only the guy is the GOP, the girl he’s checking out is the NFIP, and the girlfriend is Puerto Rico. In a bill intended to give relief to Puerto Rico, the island gets a thin amount of guaranteed aid and a vague level of other funding, along with $5 billion in loans. Meanwhile, in the words of President Donald Trump, the NFIP gets its debt “wiped out.”

The difference between NFIP and Puerto Rico is that the Treasury Department holds the former’s debt, while the island owes money to private investors. Still, Congress has the ability to change the terms of Puerto Rico’s current bankruptcy-style process, or even to buy up that debt eminent domain-style for what it deems just compensation, only to cancel it later. And Congress could certainly give Puerto Rico grants rather than another $5 billion in loans to deal with. Meanwhile, creditors will be lining up to try to claim portions of the aid intended for Puerto Rico, a complication Democrats in Congress are working to sort out. Getting their hedge-fund hands on the loan money could legally prove more difficult. 

The House will vote on the bill this week, and the Senate is likely to follow next week. The bill is in line with White House requests for disaster aid and bridge funding for Puerto Rico, so Trump would likely sign it.

Meanwhile, activist groups have turned their focus to Puerto Rico, with environmental groups demanding mass debt relief from Congress and teaming up with community organizations for a national day of action.

Top photo: President Donald Trump takes part in a food and supply distribution at the Cavalry Chapel in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico on Oct. 3, 2017.

Top photo: A man walks through a road that has been turned into a river caused by heavy rains after Hurricane Maria passed through on October 6, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico.

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The Big Secret Behind a “Small Business” Pushing Trump’s Tax Plan

11 October 2017 - 11:19am

In a bid to win public support for President Donald Trump’s tax cut proposal, lobbyists recently unveiled a website called Tax Reform for America, featuring tools for contacting legislators and testimonials of “fellow taxpayers” to explain why the legislation is necessary.

The promotional website prominently features Loretta Lepore, a small business owner from Atlanta, Georgia, as an ordinary American who would benefit from a tax cut.

“The tax system is so complex that it puts an undue burden on small businesses instead of allowing us to allocate resources back into our businesses and back into our people,” Lepore says in her testimonial. “Tax reform needs to be addressed, to be simplified for every American and every small business across the country.”

Testimonial from Tax Reform for America website.

The nature of Lepore’s small business, however, is never disclosed.

She runs a consultancy that serves big businesses. Lepore’s LLC is registered to lobby on behalf of one of the biggest expected winners of tax reform: Cisco Systems, the California-based technology conglomerate that’s poised to reap a windfall of billions of dollars from a reduction in the corporate tax rate.

In order to avoid paying U.S. federal taxes, Cisco has about $68 billion in earnings in overseas accounts. The company is expected to repatriate a large portion of those funds if corporate tax rates are dramatically lowered. The repatriation dynamic positions Cisco — along with Apple and Microsoft — as one of the companies that stands to gain the most from the tax plan proposed by Republicans.

If Cisco repatriates its overseas cash, don’t expect a sudden rush of investment into new jobs. Kelly Kramer, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Cisco, told a conference of financial analysts in June that the company expects to use the cash to reward investors. Kramer said she expects to use tax reform to “grow to our dividend” and become a “lot more aggressive on the buyback,” referring to efforts to provide a short-term boost to the company’s stock price by buying its own shares on the marketplace.

The Tax Reform for America site is part of a campaign managed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest private sector lobbying organization in the country. The Chamber claims it is the “voice for business,” representing “mom-and-pop shops.” But the business association is largely funded by a relatively small number of massive corporate interests, including Fortune 100 firms such as Microsoft and Dow Chemical.

Top photo: A sign in front of the Cisco Systems headquarters in San Jose, Calif. on Aug. 17, 2016.

The post The Big Secret Behind a “Small Business” Pushing Trump’s Tax Plan appeared first on The Intercept.

New Jersey Teachers Union Backs Pro-Trump Candidate, Warning Democrats Not to Take Educators for Granted

11 October 2017 - 7:00am

In an otherwise predictable New Jersey election season, the state’s largest public sector union has come out behind a Trump-supporting Republican facing an incumbent Democrat. The New Jersey Education Association, which is New Jersey’s top political spender, is backing Republican Fran Grenier against Steve Sweeney, the Democratic state Senate president and New Jersey’s second most-powerful elected official. The controversial endorsement has angered liberal allies, but the union remains unapologetic in its message: Democrats cannot take teachers for granted.

It’s a contentious move, but one that is unlikely to change the ultimate outcome of the election. Democrats are expected to control all three branches of government after November, a major turning point for the Garden State. After seven years under Republican Gov. Chris Christie — a man boasting an impressively low 15 percent approval rating — a majority of voters are expected to cast their ballot for Phil Murphy, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate running against the GOP’s Kim Guadagno. And with a state legislature that’s also expected to remain blue, progressives have been eagerly anticipating their chance to start reversing the policies of Christie’s tenure.

That explains why the NJEA has decided to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in what’s shaping up to be the most expensive legislative race in state history to try to unseat Sweeney: The union feels the top Democrat has betrayed it one too many times.

In late September, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could strike a mortal blow to the NJEA and other public sector unions across the country. Through the case, which mirrors a similar suit that reached the high court in 2016 but ended in a 4-4 deadlock following Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death, union opponents hope to outlaw “agency fees” — mandatory dues all union members must pay for collective bargaining. The NJEA’s controversial endorsement has jeopardized Democratic support at such a precarious moment for unions, especially for someone who appears so at odds with labor’s goals, and has left many liberals squirming. The move has also baffled others in the labor movement — Sweeney is backed by the AFT (the state’s smaller teachers union), the AFL-CIO, the UCFW, UNITE Here, SEIU, AFSCME, among others.

At the same time, many progressives have also long wanted unions to take a more aggressive stance against Democrats who happily court labor’s campaign contributions, yet fail to push for a strong pro-worker agenda once in office. The NJEA’s leadership, which has defended its endorsement by saying it is “not an arm of the Democratic Party” — echoes some of the rhetoric of more left-leaning activists who urge unions to actively challenge more corporate, Wall Street-aligned Democrats. Yet it’s one thing to primary an establishment candidate from the left, and another to campaign hard for a Republican during the general.

Sweeney, who first joined the state Senate in 2002, became majority leader in 2007 and Senate president in 2010. His relationship with the NJEA began to sour in 2011 when he pushed forward a deal with Christie that limited pension and health benefits for public sector workers. The union says Sweeney has continued to cozy up with Christie and has failed to forcefully criticize the governor’s underfunding of public education. The relationship deteriorated even further last year when Sweeney walked back on a promise to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to fully fund pensions, and then accused the NJEA of bribery and extortion.

This past March, the NJEA declared it would try to unseat Sweeney, but there were no Democrats willing to primary him. The union could have chosen to give no endorsement and still run negative ads against Sweeney, but the NJEA instead decided to endorse his Republican challenger along with running attack ads.

“This is Jersey politics, not tiddlywinks,” Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, told The Intercept. “It’s tough, it’s rough, people hit each other in the face, and when you get knocked down you get back up.”

Still, the controversial endorsement has drawn fire from Democratic leaders, who say it forces the party to spend money defending Sweeney’s seat when they should be funding Democratic candidates in more competitive districts.

“It’s wrong, it’s mind-boggling, and it doesn’t help their reputation,” Joe Vitale, one of the legislature’s most prominent liberals, told NJ.com.

In mid-September, 16 Democratic state senators sent a letter to NJEA President Marie Blistan calling her union’s endorsement “inconceivable” and one that would carry damaging consequences for the party, Murphy, New Jersey, and the NJEA. “We understand that you have had differences with Senator Sweeney, but how can that possibly justify endorsing and funding a candidate who stands for everything your members oppose?” the state senators wrote. “To put it bluntly, the millions you’re spending on behalf of Fran Grenier is preventing us from spending money on candidates your own PAC has endorsed. The NJEA’s actions contradict your promise and ours to teachers throughout New Jersey to fight for their best interests, especially in the face of politicians unfriendly to education like Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Fran Grenier.”

By early August, both sides had already spent nearly $1 million on television ads, an unusually high amount, especially so far out from November. Travis Ridout, a political science professor and the director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks all broadcast ads in federal and state elections across the country, told The Intercept that political advertising in state senate races usually doesn’t occur until fairly close to Election Day — and spending levels are still fairly low in those races. “In fact,” he added, “most state legislative races don’t see any TV advertising at all.”

In July, Lily García, president of the National Education Association, the NJEA’s parent organization and the largest labor union in the United States, gave a speech saying she “will not allow the National Education Association to be used by Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos” and that her union “will not find common ground with an administration that is cruel and callous to our children and their families.” The NEA primarily, but not exclusively, backs Democrats for office.

When asked for comment on the NJEA’s endorsement of Grenier, the NEA told The Intercept it does not weigh in on endorsements from its affiliates.

Steve Baker, an NJEA spokesperson, declined to share the union’s candidate screening questionnaires with The Intercept, but said that union members felt comfortable recommending Grenier for endorsement after talking with him about a “wide range” of issues. NJEA’s Executive Director Ed Richardson offered a bit more insight in an interview with NJTV News, saying that after putting Grenier through an extensive screening process, the union felt he aligned with their positions — specifically on school funding, charter schools, pensions, and privatization.

Local New Jersey media has described Grenier as an arch-conservative, a climate-science denier, and someone who has demeaned public employees. Though he was a member of the electrical workers union from 1995 to 2005, the president of his former local, which endorsed Sweeney, said Grenier “was not a union guy.”

In an interview with The Intercept, Grenier confirmed he supports President Donald Trump’s policies, though he thinks the president “could reign in the Twitter a little.” He praised “the direction that [Trump] is taking the country as far as the amount of illegal immigrants coming across the border, and for upholding the laws of the country.” Grenier is also backing Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial opponent, Kim Guadagno.

Grenier told The Intercept that during his NJEA screening process, he made clear that if he were elected, he would not be willing to take on more debt, but he’d support identifying and eliminating inefficiencies in the state budget to potentially support new initiatives. “We need to stop borrowing, we’re already the most taxed residents in the country,” he said. “What I told them is I’m a fiscal conservative who has led Salem County in reducing their debt, and we’ve done so without layoffs. I will bring that fiscal responsibility to Trenton.”

Critics charge that Grenier supports Christie’s regressive school funding ideas, though Grenier told The Intercept that’s not true and he’s “not really familiar” with Christie’s plans. “Someone reported I supported Christie’s plan, but I don’t really know the details of it, and my comments at the time were focused on looking at whatever other states are doing to fund their education,” he said. He added that some New Jersey school districts are overfunded, and others are underfunded, because “powerful Democrats can manipulate things so some schools suffer.”

Controversially, Sweeney also maintains that school districts are unequally funded and that some level of redistribution is required, a position at odds with the NJEA, which argues that no existing school budget should be cut. In a C-SPAN interview last month, Sweeney defended his work on school funding reform and touted his support for labor. “I’m a union leader myself, I work for the Ironworkers International Union of North America, and you’re not going to find anybody more union than I am,” he said. “But as a senator I have to look at all members of the community, not just labor, and that’s what I do.”

Teacher and New Jersey Education Association president, Marie Blistan, second right, answers a question, as she stands in front of the Statehouse with others holding a display of photographs entitled “A Blind Eye: the Immorality of Inaction,” in Trenton, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.

Photo: AP


Ultimately, as one of the best-funded candidates, Sweeney is likely to win his race next month. He did not return The Intercept’s requests for comment on NJEA’s Grenier endorsement, but in an interview with NJ Advance Media, he again defended his loyalties to organized labor and working people. “It’s frustrating because [the NJEA is] not being truthful,” he said.

Political analysts suspect the NJEA is pursuing this strategy largely to send a message to other Democratic legislators that if you cross unions one too many times, they’ll come after you, too.

“Sweeney is extremely well-connected, has the resources to combat a barrage of negative attacks, but not every legislator can say that,” said Dworkin. “The fact that the NJEA is not likely to knock off the legislative leader doesn’t mean their strategy isn’t working on some level.”

Others wonder if the NJEA’s hardball approach will come back to bite it, especially if Sweeney is elected and holds a grudge. Yet Dworkin notes that the powerful teachers union tried to oust the former Democratic Senate president in 1991, so this sort of politicking has some precedent in the NJEA’s playbook. With 200,000 members across every district in New Jersey, the union has some latitude. Plus, though the NJEA may take some heat if Democrats lose their races elsewhere in New Jersey, if Murphy (who the NJEA endorsed) is elected, then a veto-proof majority is less important.

Donna Chiera, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, declined to comment on the NJEA’s endorsement, but said she does worry it has diverted too much attention away from the fact that New Jersey has the opportunity to elect a Democratic governor with a Democratic legislature. “My concern is that members are hearing mixed messages, and sometimes when people get mixed messages they don’t vote at all,” she told The Intercept.

Murphy has so far refused to criticize the NJEA for endorsing Grenier. In Politico he was quoted as saying he’s “incredibly honored” to be backed by the teachers union, and yet “at the same time, I’m also on the line with and I’m campaigning with Steve Sweeney.” One Star-Ledger columnist argued that Murphy’s silence will weaken him, as other legislators “will see that he refused to throw a fellow Democrat a life-preserver in his hour of need.”

To some extent, this remains inside baseball for a relatively isolated political district. But as Dworkin put it, for those who follow these things, “it’s one of the more exciting fights.”

Top photo: New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney speaks to a colleague prior to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivering his budget address for fiscal year 2016 to the Legislature, February 24, 2015 at the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey.

The post New Jersey Teachers Union Backs Pro-Trump Candidate, Warning Democrats Not to Take Educators for Granted appeared first on The Intercept.

Intercepted Podcast: The White Stuff

11 October 2017 - 6:01am

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

 

Donald Trump sent Mike Pence on a $250,000 secret mission to protest black protesters at an NFL game. It was like the White House’s own bizarro version of the civil rights movement. This week on Intercepted, acclaimed author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about Trump, Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, the NFL, and much more. The Color of Money: Mehrsa Baradaran breaks down the roots of economic apartheid in the U.S., the ongoing impact of slavery on black communities, and offers a provocative history of black banks. The Egyptian government has launched a targeted assault on LGBTQ people, following a Cairo concert of the popular band Mashrou’ Leila where rainbow flags were waved by the crowd and gender conformity challenged from the stage. We speak with the band’s lead singer Hamed Sinno about being queer and Arab in the Middle East and Trump’s America.

We’re doing a live show this Friday, October 13th, at the Hot Docs Podcast Festival in Toronto. Tickets are still available here.

Transcript coming soon.

The post Intercepted Podcast: The White Stuff appeared first on The Intercept.

“Escola sem partido” quer apagar Paulo Freire da educação brasileira

10 October 2017 - 3:36pm

Um abaixo-assinado online já tem as assinaturas necessárias para que o Senado Federal discuta a retirada do título de patrono da educação brasileira dado ao educador e filósofo Paulo Freire. Segundo o pedido, a filosofia de Freire “ja demonstrou em todas as avaliações internacionais que é um fracasso retumbante”[sic].

A meta inicial era atingir 20 mil assinaturas em quatro meses, número mínimo exigido para que a proposta se torne uma Sugestão Legislativa, a ser debatida pelos senadores membros da Comissão de Direitos Humanos e Legislação Participativa (CDH). Mas em apenas um mês, a ideia já conseguiu mais de 21 mil apoiadores.

Agora caberá aos senadores da Comissão de Direitos Humanos e Legislação Participativa debater e emitir um parecer sobre o assunto. Caso a comissão a aprove, a sugestão se torna proposição legislativa e é encaminhada à Mesa da Casa para tramitar como um projeto de lei.

“Pedagogia do Oprimido” é o único título brasileiro entre os mais requisitados nas listas de leituras de universidades de língua inglesa.

Foto: Divulgação/ Instituto Paulo Freire

A autora da proposta, Steffany Papaiano, é estudante de direito, coordenadora do movimento Direita São Paulo e apoiadora do projeto “Escola Sem Partido”, que endossa a proposta.

Em abril, a convite do deputado Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSC-RJ), Papaiano participou de audiência pública para defender o “Escola sem Partido” na Câmara dos Deputados. Também foi à Assembleia Legislativa de São Paulo no ano passado para fazer lobby pela aprovação do programa no estado — sem sucesso, já que o projeto foi rejeitado.

As contas de Facebook e Twitter de Papaiano foram desativadas. No entanto, graças a seus fãs, é possível verificar na coletânea de tweets, abaixo, o exemplar nível de argumentação usado em debates com figuras públicas: todas as frases terminam com variações da expressão “seu bosta”.

Foto: reprodução/ Facebook

Stefanny, conheça Paulo Freire

Premiado pela UNESCO, Freire foi alçado a Patrono da Educação Brasileira em 2012.

Foto: Divulgação/Instituto Paulo Freire

Premiado pela UNESCO por seu trabalho pela educação brasileira, Freire foi alçado a Patrono da Educação Brasileira em 2012, por meio de lei sancionada pela ex-presidente Dilma Rousseff. O título lhe foi concedido após votação unânime na Comissão de Educação, Cultura e Esporte do Senado, um reflexo de seu reconhecimento tanto por organizações de esquerda quanto de direita.

É o terceiro pensador mais citado atualmente em trabalhos acadêmicos no mundo, segundo levantamento feito pela London School of Economics em 2016. “Pedagogia do Oprimido” é o único título brasileiro a aparecer na lista dos 100 livros mais requisitados nas listas de leituras exigidas pelas universidades de língua inglesa.

Para conhecer melhor a obra de Paulo Freire, clique aqui e tenha acesso ao seu acervo.

À frente de seu tempo

Em um cenário de desmonte da educação pública, de reforma do Ensino Médio e de debates sobre “Escola Sem Partido”, a filosofia de Freire nunca esteve tão atual. Perseguido durante a ditadura, o filósofo via a educação como uma ferramenta de desenvolvimento e não como uma simples transferência de conhecimento.

Os que defendem o projeto de “Escola Sem Partido” alegam que estão preocupados com a capacidade do aluno de desenvolver seu próprio ponto de vista. Se esse fosse de fato o verdadeiro mote do movimento, ninguém iria querer mexer no status de Paulo Freire de patrono da educação já que, para ele, o objetivo do ensino é justamente que cada aluno cresça como um sujeito crítico, construindo sua concepção de mundo compreendendo que não há verdades absolutas, mas sim visões que devem dialogar. O pedagogo defende o diálogo como caminho e o respeito a todas as visões de mundo.

Papaiano pode não saber, mas ao defender que seus pontos de vista — de direita conservadora, como ela deixa claro neste vídeo — sejam respeitados dentro de uma sala de aula, ela está defendendo valores muito presentes na obra de Freire. Independentemente da orientação política de cada um, o que Freire postula é o respeito ao desenvolvimento do sujeito e à construção da sua opinião individual.

The post “Escola sem partido” quer apagar Paulo Freire da educação brasileira appeared first on The Intercept.

ICE Detainee Punished With Solitary Confinement for Shouting “No Work, No Pay”

10 October 2017 - 2:46pm

In June, officials at a privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in rural Georgia sentenced an immigrant detainee to a month in solitary confinement to punish him for encouraging fellow detainees to stop working in protest of low wages at the facility. Three days after the detainee shouted “no work, no pay” in a facility kitchen, according to ICE records, “the detainee was found guilty of encouraging others to participate in a work stoppage and was sentenced to 30 days of disciplinary segregation.”

Immigrants confined in ICE facilities often work for only a dollar per day, but the immigration agency’s guidelines state that all such work must be voluntary. Earlier this year, a federal judge cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit originally brought by nine ICE detainees alleging that ICE contractor the GEO Group had profited off forced labor in violation of federal anti-slavery laws.

In the case of the Georgia facility, ICE’s records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request simply list “work stoppage” as the reason for using solitary confinement to punish the immigrant detainee, who is originally from Haiti.

In response to questions from The Intercept, ICE did not attempt to defend this use of solitary confinement at the facility, Stewart Detention Center, which is run by private prison contractor CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America).

An ICE spokesperson said that detainee labor at Stewart is governed by the agency’s “voluntary work program,” and sent a link to ICE detention standards, which state, “Detainees shall be able to volunteer for work assignments but otherwise shall not be required to work, except to do personal housekeeping.” The spokesperson told The Intercept to contact CoreCivic for questions regarding the disciplinary action.

Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the Atlanta-based social justice group Project South, who has extensively criticized conditions at Stewart, said in an email that this is not the first hint of forced work at the privately run facility.

“This is extremely disturbing,” Shahshahani said. “We keep hearing from ICE and the prison corporation that the program is ‘voluntary.’ We have always questioned how a labor program in a corporate prison setting for sub-minimum wages could be truly voluntary. In the past, we had documented at least one instance where detained immigrants who did not want to work were threatened with being put in the hole.”

In response to questions about the Haitian immigrant’s placement in solitary confinement, CoreCivic did not provide any details but broadly defended the quality of its services.

“Providing a safe, humane, and appropriate environment for those entrusted to our care is our top priority, and we work in close coordination with our partners at ICE to ensure the well-being of the detainees at Stewart Detention Center,” CoreCivic spokesperson Jonathan Burns said in an email.

Burns also disputed The Intercept’s use of the term solitary confinement to refer to conditions in which detainees are held in isolation for the vast majority of each day.

“CoreCivic does not use ‘solitary confinement’ at Stewart Detention Center (nor at any of our other facilities),” Burns said. “I’d submit to you that using the term in your coverage with regard to Steward [sic] would give readers a false impression of the reality of restricted housing at the facility.”

CoreCivic has previously raised similar objections to this wording. Burns sent The Intercept a list of amenities at the Stewart facility’s restrictive housing unit, including law library access, visitation, mail, visits with ICE, an hour of recreation each day, and access to showers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Burns said that the Stewart facility follows the standards for ICE’s voluntary work program. He did not respond to a question asking whether the Haitian detainee was earning any wage at all for his labor.

Top photo: Detainees at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, are escorted through a corridor.

The post ICE Detainee Punished With Solitary Confinement for Shouting “No Work, No Pay” appeared first on The Intercept.

As Texas Prepares to Kill Robert Pruett, He Leaves Behind a Literary Indictment of Us All

10 October 2017 - 2:31pm

On Thursday, the state of Texas will kill Robert Pruett.

The 38-year-old has been behind bars since he was 15.

He was arrested in 1995 as an accomplice in his father’s murder of a neighbor; five years later, a prison guard who had given him a disciplinary infraction for eating a sandwich in a hallway was found stabbed to death. Although he continues to maintain that he is innocent, multiple witnesses claimed that Pruett was responsible, and he was sentenced to death for the crime.

For proponents of the death penalty, the events that define Pruett’s life serve as the case for killing him. He spent his pre-prison years in a vortex of violence — getting into fights, stealing, developing a drug addiction. Once he arrived in prison, he briefly flirted with neo-Nazi beliefs, reading “Mein Kampf” and getting a swastika tattoo to intimidate other inmates.

Wherever you fall on the question of Pruett’s guilt or innocence in the prison guard murder, a brief look at his life could make you think that he’s at least the sort of person who may do something like that.

But a person’s life is not defined just by their worst actions. People grow, and they change, and Pruett’s decades in prison gave him time to reflect on the life he had lived. He turned those reflections into an autobiography. It was reviewed in early October by Current Affairs’s Nathan Robinson.

This is probably the most important thing I've written. It was certainly the most difficult to write. https://t.co/1t9dy1OhIw

— Nathan J Robinson (@NathanJRobinson) October 9, 2017

The autobiography serves as a sort of sociological self-examination — an attempt by Pruett to understand why his life went the way it did. He writes not to absolve himself of the choices he has made, but to impart why he felt like his options were so limited.

“Why are we the way we are? What causes human behavior? … I believe we can understand ourselves and what influences us through an introspective process that includes an examination of our past experiences and the behavioral patterns in our families,” he writes. “Ultimately, we make our own choices in life, but it helps to know why we are inclined or predisposed to certain types of behavior.”

It is almost a cliche to explain criminal behavior through proverbs about a “bad childhood.” But explaining something and justifying it are two different things, and the more you learn about Pruett’s upbringing, the more remarkable it is that someone so deprived of a nurturing environment could grow to write so profoundly about his life circumstances.

If violent tendencies have a hereditary component, Pruett lost the gene lottery. He describes his father as “the most violent man I ever met”; his father had frequent stints in prison and would get into fights with family and just about anyone else.

Pruett’s family was dirt poor; they were frequently ejected from trailer parks and motel rooms, as his father worked minimum-wage jobs to try to keep them above water.

But being poor in America is often associated with more than just not having money; violence and crime was all around him. His brother Steven was molested by a family member; his mentally disabled sister was raped and placed into a foster home. His drug addiction started early, when he was offered a huff of gasoline from a stranger at age five. Both parents smoked marijuana, and his dad took him along on a marijuana sale to use him as cover.

Pruett’s writing about prison demonstrates that it is a brutal place. He immediately learns to defend himself against prison rape and at first, becomes even more violent.

But spending the rest of your life behind bars gives you a lot of time to think and to read. Pruett read the works of Carl Jung and B.F. Skinner, and developed a fascination with psychology. Eventually, he came to see the forces that pushed him toward anger and violence, and that the same forces acted on African-Americans he came to despise during his flirtation with white nationalist beliefs:

I didn’t realize it back then, but all of my anger and hate regarding race was misdirected and ignorant. I was so pissed off at the system for throwing me away that I needed somewhere to focus my negative energy. As the years passed I opened my eyes and matured, slowly growing out of that convoluted ideology on race. Today, I realize that there is no pure race; we all share DNA and we all sprang from the same source…. I understand that more often than not socioeconomic factors play the largest role in how people are treated. The rich and famous have it made; while the poor outcasts from both the ghetto and trailer park have it rough. My hope is that as society evolves, we’ll erase the things that separate and divide us such as race and class.

After being sent to death row, Pruett developed friendships with fellow inmates. As they were executed one by one, he came to the conclusion that the people being executed are no longer the same people they were in the moment of their crimes:

The thing is, they aren’t killing the same people who committed the crimes. It takes years for the appeals to run their course and in that time people change. Sure, some are just dangerous as the day they arrived, and I’m not saying everyone’s some kind of angel, but so many have grown and matured in here and found their true Self. Many have realized the errors of their ways and would be productive members of society if they were given the chance. Even with a life in prison, these guys had much to offer humanity, not to mention the loved ones left with the scars of their murders.

When Pruett is executed on Thursday, he won’t be the same young man who stood and watched his father kill a neighbor over a petty argument, or who may or may not have murdered a prison guard for the same reason. His writing makes clear that he is a deeply reflective person who sought to understand the forces bearing down on him for the first time.

Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of Pruett’s case. Because the United States is not one of the 105 countries that have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, Pruett’s journey of self-discovery and redemption will end on Thursday, when the state of Texas will kill him.

Top photo: A holding cell for death row inmates that are scheduled to be executed in the Texas death chamber June 23, 2000 in Huntsville, TX.

The post As Texas Prepares to Kill Robert Pruett, He Leaves Behind a Literary Indictment of Us All appeared first on The Intercept.

Nos EUA, Jair Bolsonaro oferece promessas vagas para empresários e “carta branca para a polícia matar”

10 October 2017 - 1:42pm

Tarde de outono em Deerfield Beach, Flórida, temperatura batendo os 30 graus e brasileiros legais e ilegais permaneciam firmes, em fila, para ver e ouvir as propostas de Jair Bolsonaro, caso ele seja eleito o próximo presidente do Brasil. Entre gritos de “mito, mito, mito” e “fila é uma coisa muito brasileira”, centenas de pessoas se amontoavam para esperar o “presidente” chegar.

No evento, realizado neste domingo (8) num bar brasileiro a 45 minutos de carro de Miami, não houve protestos contrários à presença de Bolsonaro. Essa foi só uma das paradas da viagem do deputado pelas terras de Trump. Com a ideia de angariar apoio estrangeiro para sua candidatura presidencial em 2018 e estruturar a imagem de liberal sério, estão previstas visitas – e protestos – em Massachusetts, Nova York e Washington D.C.

Fila de espera para o evento de Jair Bolsonaro em Deerfield Beach, Flórida no dia 8 de outubro de 2017.

Foto: Andrew Fishman/The Intercept

O Tour Bolsonaro está sendo apoiado por grupos interessados e investidores brasileiros que apostam numa imagem mais sóbria, com foco na economia liberal. E isso foi ao encontro do exposto pelo deputado. Apesar de as pessoas ouvidas por The Intercept Brasil priorizarem o problema da violência como o motivo para migrar para a Flórida, Bolsonaro — entre desvios para reclamar de Marxistas e atacar a imprensa — tentou focar seu discurso na esfera econômica, demonstrando uma visão claramente patronal.

Ele endossou o fim da CLT, a redução de impostos, a desburocratização para empresas, uma resolução para que “a questão indígena” não limite o desenvolvimento do agronegócio, “a tal de parceria público-privada” para abrir mais investimentos dos EUA e uma lei antiterrorista mais dura para “evitar que os marginais, os terroristas do MST continuem barbarizando lá no Brasil”. “Eu não vou fazer uma política de massa, chama ‘o trabalhador, o trabalhador’. Não, tudo bem, o trabalhador tem seu valor, mas o patrão também”, discursou o deputado.

“Eu não vou aqui ser o Jairzinho Paz e Amor”

Mas, no fim, a essência de Jair prevaleceu: “Eu vou dar carta branca para a polícia matar”. E então, a plateia, que já estava animada, foi à loucura: “Mito, mito, mito!”

No evento de mais de duas horas, o que emergiu foi mais do mesmo, a velha visão política: o Estado deve fazer tudo que puder para servir aos interesses financeiros da classe empresarial tradicional e usar os mecanismos de repressão física, política e cultural para combater qualquer ameaça. Essa postura sempre teve um lugar proeminente na governança do Brasil, mas o que o Bolsonaro propõe é tirar as luvas e redobrar o esforço.

Apesar de fazer chacota com o jornal Valor Econômico, que o comparou a Dilma no quesito economia, de fato ele não apresentou novas ideias para alcançar as mudanças econômicas desejadas. E, de fato, ele repetiu as propostas “desburocratização”, hidrelétricas, PPPs, fortalecimento do agronegócio e investimento em pesquisa científica para fortalecer a indústria. Todas estas opções estavam na cartilha de Dilma Rousseff.

Nas palavras do próprio Jair Bolsonaro: “A imprensa fala que eu não entendo da economia. Olha, pelo que eu sei, o Ronald Reagan também não sabia e ele foi um dos melhores presidentes americanos.” (Mas há controvérsias.)

Outro presidente americano que pouco entende de economia e que o Bolsonaro elogiou foi Donald Trump. “O que eu falo lá é muito parecido com o Trump aqui. … Então, acho que com a questão do Trump, se eu chegar lá, pode ter certeza que ele vai ter um grande aliado no hemisfério sul.”

Os paralelos entre os dois políticos foram evidentes no domingo, e se for para aprender algo da vitoriosa campanha de Trump, é que grande parte do seu apoio não veio porque os eleitores o acharam mais coerente, consistente ou qualificado. Muitas pessoas votaram em Trump porque interpretavam que o país estava no caminho errado, liderado por uma classe política corrupta e desconectada da realidade. Então apostaram nele como a melhor chance para fazer mudanças drásticas em pouco tempo — porque, para elas, isso seria menos assustador do que mais do mesmo.

The post Nos EUA, Jair Bolsonaro oferece promessas vagas para empresários e “carta branca para a polícia matar” appeared first on The Intercept.

The Real Reason Donald Trump Is Targeting NFL Owners Rather Than Protesting Players

10 October 2017 - 1:20pm

As the controversy over protests during the national anthem grew, President Donald Trump denounced NFL owners as being “afraid of the players,” a state of affairs that he called “disgraceful”. The lament fits a pattern in Trump’s war with the NFL, which has routinely been characterized as the president attacking African-American athletes, when, in fact, Trump’s immediate target is one much closer to him: the class and race traitors who make up the owners of the NFL.

One of the most haunting aspects of Trump’s battle with the players has been his consistent refusal to talk directly to or with them. His complaint, that they are refusing to stand during the national anthem, has been directed at the owners, a way to offer up an extra level of disrespect to the players. That refusal continued this week, as Trump spoke directly to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, reminding him of NFL rules he said applied to players around the anthem.

When Trump sparked the national debate, he did so by going right over the heads of the players. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump bellowed at a rally in Alabama in September.

Trump went on: “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it, they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

For Trump, it comes back to being popular — with the right audience. But if that carrot isn’t enough, he has the stick of tax and antitrust policy to wield at the owners.

Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2017

Like everything else with Trump, his war with the NFL is layered with motivations ranging from the base to the financial to the personal. It hints at his own history with the NFL, his particular vision of rule, and ultimately, a sense of betrayal that has set the league on a collision course with not just Trump, but his supporters as well.

Trump has commodified a vision of ownership that demands that bosses project complete dominance lest they become traitors to both their class and their nation — and, to the extent that Trump sees himself embodying the national spirit, they are at war with him personally. Through his so-called populist campaign and his TV show “The Apprentice,” he’s democratized that vision, transforming many of his supporters not into would-be apprentices hoping to learn from the great man, but mini-moguls with their own innate, incontrovertible knowledge about who should be “fired” and under what circumstances. Every viewer a king.

Trump began his relationship with the NFL back in the early 1980s, as a team owner in the upstart United States Football League. According to Trump’s pseudo-autobiography “The Art of the Deal,” he “liked the idea of taking on the NFL, a smug, self-satisfied monopoly” that he believed was vulnerable to an “aggressive competitor” like himself.

The USFL had favored a conservative and patient approach to challenging the NFL’s dominance, but Trump had other ideas. Once he joined the USFL, he spearheaded an effort to move its football season from the spring to the fall, so that they could compete head-on with the NFL. It was a complete disaster.

Then, with Trump again at the forefront, the USFL sued the NFL for having an illegal monopoly. This time they were victorious. After five days of deliberation, the jury ruled in the USFL’s favor and awarded them $1 for damages. Thanks to the Sherman Antitrust Act, that dollar was automatically tripled to $3. However, that windfall was not enough to save the USFL, which was broke by 1986 and dissolved.

The USFL continued to appeal the verdict, and according to David Cay Johnston’s “The Making of Donald Trump”: “Years later, after the Supreme Court declined to hear the matter, the NFL sent a check to the USFL, adding to the three dollars the legally required interest: seventy-six cents.”

Trump’s $3.76 victory did not end his interest in football or the NFL. He used his war with the league to gain publicity and put fellow members of the ownership class on notice. In the coming years, he would continue to circle the sport: befriending ownersrevising history, and commenting on everything from draft picks to safety standards.

In 2014, he attempted to join the NFL’s ownership class once and for all by buying the Buffalo Bills for $1 billion. It was a serious effort, and one that faced pushback from the public. When ESPN’s Bomani Jones panned the idea of Trump as an owner, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, reached out to Jones to try to broker a meeting between Trump and Jones to win the latter over. The meeting never happened, according to Jones, who shared the story on his podcast, “The Evening Jones.”

Public perception of Trump aside, he was outbid by real estate mogul Terry Pegula, leading to one of his trademark Twitter tirades arguing that the new owners had overpaid for the team, that the game itself had gotten too “soft,” and that owners were not smart or tough enough to make the sport itself a “winner.”

Even though I refused to pay a ridiculous price for the Buffalo Bills, I would have produced a winner. Now that won’t happen.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2014

The @nfl games are so boring now that actually, I’m glad I didn’t get the Bills. Boring games, too many flags, too soft!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2014

Yet, despite all of this, Trump maintained close ties to the league, especially in his run for president. Some NFL team owners were among his most generous donors, contributing at least $7.75 million to his inaugural committee after having contributed to the campaign itself.  

Trump appeared to repay the league’s loyalty. He appointed NFL Jets team owner Woody Johnson as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. He fawned over NFL stars, such as Tom Brady and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. His proposed tax plan would certainly reward team owners and other billionaires.

For presidents, football became a kind of depoliticized zone in which they could promote militarism or exorcise their personal political demons. According to Steve Almond’s “Against Football,” it was George H.W. Bush who transformed Super Bowl XXV into a kind of “infomercial for war,” culminating with a halftime address in which he described the Gulf War as what Almond described as “his Super Bowl.” Promoting war in that setting helped Bush combat the “wimp factor” that had plagued him for years.

The patriotic piety of football has been a refuge for every subsequent president, but with the rise of protests by players like Colin Kaepernick, Trump finds a safe space — a desperately needed safe space — vanishing, thanks in his mind to the spinelessness of fellow billionaires. And so, Trump is speaking past the players and to the owners directly: one boss to another. He needs a favor. He needs solidarity.  

Trump’s vision of the employer-employee relationship is clearer and more consistent than his political views. David Cay Johnston documents Trump’s habit of not paying workers, noting that when building the Bonwit Teller building, Trump was accused of cheating workers out of overtime pay and workers compensation coverage, or simply not paying at all. Separately, Steve Reilly of USA Today discovered hundreds of dishwashers, mechanics, painters, and waiters who sued Trump for not paying his bills. These are just the workers and other contractors and counter-parties who bothered to file a suit, among some 3,500 who did — a truly staggering amount.

The NFL is no model employer or corporate steward either. The league has lied about the dangers of injury to its players. It hid from the public the extent to which the league was pushing painkillers on players, according to a lawsuit filed some league athletes. Teams often use public money to build stadiums, then collect all of the revenue from games. And, before Trump had even suggested it, the league had effectively fired Kaepernick.

These are the kinds of tactics that are part of Trump’s personal brand, but flaunting them would only hurt the league. To showcase their indifference to players’ health or to brag about naive, desperate municipalities paying a fortune to stadiums would make the league look like traitors to the public trust, which is exactly what they are. But, unlike Trump, the NFL cannot perform this exploitation without losing fans.

For Trump, performing and mainstreaming dominance is key to his appeal. His call for a “boycott” mobilizes his supporters, not as offended patriots, but as mini-moguls living vicariously through Trump: putting privileged workers in check, firing at will, and showing the world who’s boss.

Top photo: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signs autographs before the start of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sept. 25, 2017 in Glendale, Ariz.

The post The Real Reason Donald Trump Is Targeting NFL Owners Rather Than Protesting Players appeared first on The Intercept.

Recordings Capture Brutal FBI Tactics to Recruit a Potential Informant

10 October 2017 - 10:45am

Abailiff pushed Jabar Ali Refaie’s wheelchair into a federal courtroom in Tampa, Florida, on September 20. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and looking weak from not having had the drugs he takes to treat his multiple sclerosis, the 37-year-old Refaie was here for a bond hearing after being indicted on felony charges that allege he sold counterfeit BMW logos and diagnostic software on eBay.

Refaie’s case seemed by appearances to be about a lot more than selling shady car parts on the internet. That much was obvious from Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlton C. Gammons’s stiff bond requests — $25,000, a GPS monitoring device, the surrender of his passport, and the removal of all firearms from his residence — as well as the six U.S. Homeland Security agents who packed into the courtroom for Refaie’s hearing.

Refaie’s 30-year-old girlfriend, Felicity, was present in the courtroom. She and Refaie had been married before; after their divorce, when Refaie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, they rekindled their relationship and live together again but never remarried. Felicity told U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun III that Refaie wasn’t a flight risk. They have 4-month-old daughter together, she said. The government knows all about their lives. “The government has been monitoring us for the better part of two years,” she told the judge matter-of-factly. McCoun agreed with the suggested conditions from the U.S. attorney’s office, and Refaie was released from jail that evening after posting bond. Prior to this charge, Refaie had no criminal history.

For two years, the FBI has followed and harassed Refaie as part of an apparent effort to recruit him to become an informant or cooperate in some way with counterterrorism investigations. The FBI has more than 15,000 informants today, many working because they have been coerced or threatened by criminal prosecution or immigration enforcement. Classified FBI policy documents published by The Intercept in January revealed the often heavy-handed methods used by the government to recruit informants, including so-called threat assessments as “a means to induce him/her into becoming a recruited [informant] mainly through identifying that person’s motivations and vulnerabilities.” What’s unique about Refaie’s interactions with the FBI is that he recorded and documented the conversations and events that led to his indictment. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment or a list of questions about Refaie’s case.

“I don’t believe they are representatives of the government; they’re misusing the government with their badges,” Refaie said of the federal agents he’s come to know. “They’re breaking oaths that they swore to uphold.”

Federal agents raided Jabar Ali Refaie’s home in Riverview, Florida, on September 6, 2016. Security cameras on the outside and inside of the home recorded the agents’ actions. Video: Jabar Ali Refaie

Refaie’s story begins in September 2015, when agents claiming to be from Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed up unannounced at the offices of a web hosting company where Refaie oversaw data center operations. A Muslim U.S. citizen whose mother was Jewish-American and father a Jordanian citizen, Refaie brought the agents to a conference room, where they told him he might be a victim of identity theft and then showed him a mugshot of an Arab man.

“I was staring at the picture, and I said, ‘I know a lot of people who look like him. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen this guy,’” Refaie told the agents. As the months passed, Refaie began to grow suspicious. He saw cars that he suspected were following him. A camera appeared to be mounted on the light pole near his house, so he took pictures of it. On August 17, 2016, he found a GPS device on his girlfriend’s Toyota Camry and filmed himself removing it. A week later, he found another GPS device on his BMW. He also found electrical outlets in his house that he says were replaced with ones that looked identical but seemed to have listening equipment on the inside. He took pictures of those too.

He called the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to document what he’d found. A police report written on September 1, 2016, described how Refaie “provided us with a wrapped-up towel containing several electrical outlet plugs and a device that appeared to be a GPS.” In another report from that day, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Detective John McDarby wrote: “Mr. Refaie is not aware if he is being followed by a law enforcement agency or a private corporation. He is in fear.”

Less than a week later, Refaie had the answer to the question of who was following him. Agents with the Department of Homeland Security came to his office. They were at that moment executing a search warrant at his home, they told him. “I’ll see you at the house,” he told the agents.

Security cameras inside and outside of Refaie’s house in Riverview, Florida, south of Tampa, recorded the raid. At 12:27 p.m. on September 6, 2016, a black Homeland Security armored vehicle and a large blue van parked on the cul-de-sac in front of Refaie’s driveway. Wearing body armor and carrying a large shield, agents broke down the front door. An inside camera recorded two of Refaie’s six cats scurrying for safety as the front door flew open. The agents then walked slowly back down the driveway, their movements captured by an outside camera.

At 12:29 p.m., Felicity, who was pregnant at the time, walked downstairs from her bedroom and saw the front door busted open. She was then instructed to walk backward to the middle of the driveway, lift her shirt above her waistline, and turn around in a circle. She then was ordered to get on her knees and crawl backward to the end of the driveway, where she was detained by two agents. About 15 minutes later, the agents sent a bomb robot into the house; it went around the first floor and then struggled to get up the stairs, all while being recorded by the inside security cameras. Agents, guns pointed forward, finally entered the house using tactical formation at 1:54 p.m. A few minutes later, one of the agents noticed a security camera mounted high on the wall by the stairs. He grabbed a piece of the door’s trim molding that they’d busted off and used it as a makeshift club to strike the camera.

The search warrant, which a magistrate judge signed based on alleged government evidence that Refaie was selling counterfeit car parts on eBay, suggested that federal agents were particularly interested in Refaie’s computer activity and provided authority to collect all computer equipment and storage media.

As federal agents searched Refaie’s home, he was desperately trying to get there. Thinking that agents might have blocked off the main entrance to his neighborhood, Refaie took a back way to his house. As he did, a 2013 Dodge Caravan crashed into the side of his car. He said he got out to check on the driver, fearing he’d just been in an accident with a neighborhood soccer mom. An FBI agent knocked him to the ground, he said. Later, Refaie discovered that the minivan was registered to the FBI and was driven by FBI Special Agent Candace C. Calderon. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office faulted Refaie for the accident, based on the eyewitness account of another FBI agent, according to a traffic crash report, which identified the FBI as the owner of the van. (The traffic charge against Refaie was later dismissed after he went to court to fight it and the FBI agents did not show up to testify.) Refaie said the federal agents left his house at about 9 p.m. that evening. According to a receipt of what was seized, agents took much of Refaie’s electronics and even Felicity’s designer purses.

Jabar Ali Refaie met with FBI Special Agents Moises Quiñones and Retzilu Rodriguez outside a Wawa gas station on March 16. He recorded their meeting with the agents’ consent. Video: Jabar Ali Refaie

Months passed, and Refaie was not arrested. The government returned some of his belongings, including the purses. Refaie said that Homeland Security agents suggested he could improve his situation if he’d work with them as an informant — something he wasn’t willing to do.

Then, in January, Refaie received a call from FBI Special Agent Moises Quiñones, who told Refaie that Homeland Security agents had found some ISIS videos on a USB flash drive, and now he was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry. Refaie said Quiñones also told him that the FBI was in possession of the GPS device and electrical outlets that he had given the local sheriff’s office. Quiñones sent out agents to interview Refaie’s friends and family. Agents asked these people if Refaie was known to have any connections with ISIS.

In a subsequent call, Refaie told Quiñones that he would be recording their conversations. “With me, if you want to record our conversation, I don’t have a problem with it,” Quiñones replied. In the phone conversations, Quiñones assured Refaie that he hadn’t committed a crime, but they needed to meet in person to discuss the ISIS videos. “We cannot waste time. We have a job to do,” Quiñones said.

Refaie agreed to meet with Quiñones in a public place, and he told him in advance that their conversation would be recorded. On March 16, Refaie met with Quiñones at a table outside a Wawa gas station. Another FBI agent, Retzilu Rodriguez, accompanied Quiñones.

“The reason I called you is I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt,” Quiñones told Refaie.

“The benefit of the doubt for what?” Refaie asked.

“To what I’m going to ask you about right now,” Quiñones answered.

Quiñones told Refaie that the Homeland Security search of his home had uncovered ISIS materials. “They’re videos about recruitment, ISIS recruitment,” he told Refaie. “Propaganda videos.”

“I don’t believe that,” Refaie said.

“No, they are,” Quiñones followed.

Quiñones asked Refaie if he knew Neil Prakash, an Australian ISIS member who was arrested in Turkey in November 2016. After Refaie said he didn’t know who that was, Quiñones told him that a video of Prakash was among those they’d found.

“I’m not aware of that,” Refaie said.

“I’m fully aware of that,” Quiñones retorted.

“But anyway, it’s not something illegal if it’s —” Refaie said, shaking his head.

“I’m not saying it’s illegal,” Quiñones said, interrupting. “But it’s very concerning.”

The FBI agent also told Refaie that they’d found a video of Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a Florida man who went by Abu Huraira al-Amriki and had died in a suicide attack in Syria. These videos are “red flags,” Quiñones told him. Quiñones said during the meeting that Abusalha fought for ISIS; in fact, he was with the Nusra Front.

“These things were on YouTube, my friend, OK?” Refaie said. “So don’t tell me I have them.”

“You had ’em on a thumb drive,” Quiñones said.

“Show me. Show me the evidence. Where’s your evidence?”

“Let’s go to the office, and I’ll show it to you.”

“Fuck you and your office.”

The conversation continued this way, until Quiñones seemed to threaten prosecution if Refaie did not cooperate with their investigation. “It’s not a threat. I’m just going say this. I know Mr. Joe Durand, OK?” Quiñones said, referring to the Homeland Security Investigations agent who led the raid of Refaie’s home. “And just in case you didn’t know, he has a very good case on you.”

“Oh, really, for counterfeit car parts?” Refaie asked, laughing.

“Again, you can laugh all you want. But you know what? He has a good case on you. He just wanted me to convey that to you.”

Quiñones also told Refaie that he was present for the search of his home, which would suggest that the FBI’s counterterrorism interests in Refaie began before the agents had found the purported videos.

“Why were you at my house?” Refaie demanded to know.

“Because sometimes we work together,” Quiñones said.

“Why would the Joint Terrorism Task Force work together with Homeland Security in order to raid my house for counterfeit car parts?” Refaie asked incredulously.

Toward the end of the interview, Refaie grew frustrated. “Listen, I intend to waste your time, your resources, OK, and your people, if they continue to harass me over and over and over again, because you’re going to come up with cero, zilch,” Refaie told the agent. He then ended his statement with the Arabic word for zero.

“Probably because you stopped what you were doing,” Quiñones told him.

Jabar Ali Refaie began to confront cars he suspected were following him, including the driver of this Ford Fusion on April 25. With the driver cornered, Refaie whistled to get a security guard’s attention. Video: Jabar Ali Refaie

In the weeks that followed this meeting, Refaie said he witnessed increased surveillance. He began to confront the people who were following him and recording his encounters with a camera mounted on his BMW’s dashboard.

April 25 was particularly intense. He found himself being followed by a Chevy Malibu. At one point, in a shopping mall parking lot with the Malibu directly behind him, Refaie stopped his car in the lane and hopped out to confront the driver. “Who are you?” he demanded. “Open your door. I’ll call the police. I’ll call the police right now. You got a warrant?” The driver, whose car had a large radio antenna mounted on the trunk, just backed up slowly without engaging Refaie and left the parking lot, as Refaie drove behind him honking the horn.

Later that day, while at a county government office, Refaie cornered a Ford Fusion he’d seen following him. As the driver attempted to back out, Refaie walked in front of the car. Blocked in by a curb and Refaie’s body, the driver stayed put but would not get out of the car or put down the window. Refaie whistled, and a security guard came out to assess the situation. Still, the driver would not exit the vehicle. As the security guard called local police and Refaie went back to his car so it would no longer obstruct traffic in the parking lot, the Ford took a quick turn and left the parking lot. “Did you see this shit?” Refaie can be heard asking the security guard.

When he returned home, a frustrated Refaie called Quiñones to ask him about the surveillance.

“Let’s make a point clear right now,” Quiñones told him. “If you’re calling me to find out what I’m doing, I mean, then I think we’re wasting our time because I’m not going to tell you anything as to what we’re doing. So we’re clear.”

Quiñones then told Refaie that he could make the investigation go away. “Mr. Refaie, you have the way out. I gave you —”

“Oh, you want me to confess to your crimes? You want me to confess to your crimes, your manufactured bullshit?” Refaie answered angrily.

“We’re not talking about any crimes here, Mr. Refaie,” Quiñones said.

Refaie took this to mean he was being asked to cooperate with FBI investigations and possibly serve as an informant. “Moises, that’s called extortion,” Refaie answered.

“You can call it whatever you want.”

“No, it’s called extortion.”

Quiñones again told Refaie that he believed he was communicating with people overseas. “You have the way out, Mr. Refaie,” Quiñones said. “Tell me why. Just tell me why you were in communication with those guys overseas. And you know the ones I’m referring to.”

“I don’t know who you’re referring to,” Refaie said.

“You have the way out,” the agent said again.

By this time, Refaie had already been indicted. He just didn’t know. On April 13, a grand jury charged Refaie under seal with filing a false income tax return, alleging that he did not report his eBay earnings for the 2010 tax year. Over the next five months, as Refaie refused to cooperate with the FBI, federal agents and prosecutors continued to work on his indictment. On September 6, 2017, in another sealed indictment, a grand jury added the charges of wire fraud and dealing in counterfeit goods based on allegations that Refaie was selling fake BMW parts and diagnostic software.

Evidence collected by federal agents from Jabar Ali Refaie’s home included computer storage media and BMW emblems.

Photo: Jabar Ali Refaie

Refaie and I had been in contact for a few months, starting well before his arrest. I had initially suspected that he would be like many others who have contacted me with claims of FBI harassment and surveillance. I had assumed his claims, like theirs, would be impossible to prove, but Refaie turned out to be different. By recording his conversations with federal agents and filing local police reports, Refaie had effectively run a one-man counterintelligence program against the FBI.

Refaie and I had agreed to meet one last time in mid-September before I’d write an article about him. Then Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean and up the middle of Florida. We rescheduled our final meeting for September 20.

Two days before our scheduled meeting, around 10 p.m., Refaie sent me a series of long messages on Signal describing the FBI surveillance, and he expressed some concerns that his story, once told, might embolden conspiracy theorists who are being followed not by real agents but by ghosts in their heads. Refaie ended his series of messages with the kicker: “Enjoy. Talk soon!”

I did not respond until nearly 5:30 p.m. the next day. I noticed that a second checkmark, which indicates in Signal that the message has been delivered, had not appeared next to my reply. The next morning, as I was headed to Refaie’s house, I wrote again: “Leaving here soon. Not sure you got my messages from yesterday (Signal shows only one checkmark next to them).” Again, only one checkmark displayed next to that message.

Refaie and his girlfriend feed the outdoor cats in their neighborhood; in the entryway to their two-story, concrete-block house are bowls of food and water. I rang the doorbell, and Felicity answered. She was holding their 4-month-old daughter in her arms. “He was arrested yesterday,” Felicity told me.

At his bond hearing, Refaie gave me a friendly nod. Felicity was there with their daughter in a stroller. “She wants to see you,” Felicity said softly, as she held up the infant and turned her toward Refaie.

Refaie and I met at his home two days later. He said he was suspicious of me after he’d sent me those Signal messages, I hadn’t responded, and then he had been arrested. It was weird, he said. “I think I’m at 70/30 that you’re not working for the FBI,” he told me.

I pressed him: “If you’re only at 70 percent on this, why are you even talking to me?”

He conceded that it was unlikely I was working with the FBI. In turn, I’ll concede that it appears unlikely Rafaie is involved in terrorism. But I don’t know about the allegedly counterfeit car parts. Refaie said he intends to plead not guilty to those charges.

The post Recordings Capture Brutal FBI Tactics to Recruit a Potential Informant appeared first on The Intercept.

It’s Not Regulation That’s a Threat to Jobs, It’s Climate Change

10 October 2017 - 10:39am

President Donald Trump and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt have a go-to argument they lean on when pushing for repeal of the Clean Power Plan or other government regulation: The red tape is costing America jobs.

To get the economy humming, Pruitt on Monday announced that his agency would take formal steps toward repealing the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era suite of rules meant to scale down U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. “The war on coal is over,” Pruitt boasted to a crowd of coal miners in Hazard, Kentucky, this morning. “The EPA and no federal agency should ever use its authority to say to you, ‘We are going to declare war on any sector of our economy.’”

Pruitt may be right about a connection between climate change policy and jobs, but he seems to have it backward. The United States shed 33,000 jobs in September, ending a seven-year streak in U.S. jobs growth — the longest-ever in U.S. history. Two of the main causes of that reversal?

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

As Economic Policy Institute Senior Economist Elise Gould wrote, the drop-off in unemployment “was almost certainly due to Hurricane Irma, which struck smack in the middle of the reference period, and the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.” Over the phone, she told The Intercept that the storms had “a larger effect than I would have expected.”

While drawing direct correlations between warming and any single storm is virtually impossible, rising temperatures almost certainly shaped both Irma and Harvey. Each benefited from unusually warm waters in the seas where they brewed. The fact that sea levels are higher than they were just a few decades ago also makes storm surges higher. Worth noting as well is that Harvey was the third “once-in-500-year” flooding event Houston had experienced in just three years.

It wasn’t all bad news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal body that collects employment statistics. Unemployment fell across race and ethnicity. Wages also grew by 2.9 percent over the same period, though Gould notes that this might be a misleading result of the storms. “Ordinarily that would seem like a nice boost,” she said, “but in the service sector, for instance, you had around 75,000 losses — greater than overall losses. That may be in part because workers who work in low-wage sectors like that are less likely to be counted as employed because they didn’t work any shifts in that period. If you take a bunch of low-wage workers off the market, it brings wage numbers up.”

Storms in general tend to hit low-wage workers the hardest, and not just in BLS accounting. On top of the hardship caused by wages lost by shuttered or destroyed workplaces, poorer workers and the unemployed have a much harder time relocating away from areas vulnerable to storm damage, let alone rebuilding after the fact — either in shouldering costs up front or in navigating the kinds of lengthy red tape required to get substantial aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Gould did caution against jumping to conclusions about September’s jobs figures too soon. “There’s a lot of taking with a grain of salt in this whole report,” she said and advised holding off on any scaremongering about recent unemployment data until more is available. “I don’t think any decisions should be made based on this report,” Gould told The Intercept. State-level jobs numbers, she noted, could show an uptick in industries, like construction, as rebuilding efforts get underway in Texas and Florida, though those figures have yet to surface in national statistics. (Notably, national jobs figures from the BLS do not show employment levels in Puerto Rico, which will appear in state-level reporting.)

So what can be made of this month’s jobs report and its relationship to our warming world? It’s not the case that climate change is already wreaking untold havoc on our economy: The economic shocks of Irma and Harvey are confined to specific areas, and climate-fueled storms have not somehow triggered a massive spike in unemployment, which remains around 4.2 percent. For any number of reasons, jobs figures themselves can be fickle; we’ll have to wait and see whether last month’s losses point to a longer term decline. And even if it is the case that unemployment is ticking upward, the main culprit likely won’t be a hurricane.

What the BLS did give us is a sign of things to come. Reading between the lines of last week’s report shows thousands of people thrown out of work by decidedly unnatural disasters, lives shattered by lost homes and lost paychecks, and climate impacts that fall unevenly. As the poorest Americans get hit hardest, the richest — corporations, developers, and more — could start swooping in as they did after Katrina to turn a profit from the wreckage, making the cities rebuilt after a storm still more unequal than the ones that preceded them.  

Larger-scale economic impacts from climate change are also on the horizon. Worldwide, climate change could cost world governments as much as $8 trillion by 2030. Running 29,000 simulations based on the economic impacts of past weather events (droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc.), the authors of another recent study in the journal Science found that a worst-case scenario climate impact — 6 degrees Celsius of warming — could drive down GDP in the U.S. by as much as six points by the end of the century. “When you start changing the climate,” one of the report’s authors told NPR in June, “it starts affecting all these aspects of the economy, and it makes the future world harder to predict.”

Trump, meanwhile, is only making the situation worse. Just 100 companies — many of them fossil fuel producers and utilities — have been responsible for 71 percent of atmospheric warming since 1988. While Republicans go out of their way to give many of those same companies handouts in the name of job creation, their competitors are putting more people to work. Growth in the renewables sector has far outpaced that in the traditional fuel sectors Trump is keen to support, with solar alone adding jobs 17 percent faster than the economy as a whole. As of earlier this summer, there were 374,000 people employed in the solar industry, as opposed to 362,000 in natural gas. Coal jobs, by contrast, have declined steadily over the last few years as the industry has struggled financially. Moreover, there are potentially millions of jobs to be had — for coal miners and many others — in the transition away from fossil fuels and the construction of a low-carbon economy. Puerto Rico, for instance, could take advantage of plentiful sun and reliable easterly winds to reshape its energy economy.

So far, Trump has been predictably quiet about the latest jobs report, though officials were eager to conclude that bad jobs numbers could be chalked up entirely to the storms. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said he was “excited” about the numbers,” adding that “there is some noise in the number because of the hurricane, and as you said you discount that noise out.” The question is how much longer the GOP can discount the economic effects of the storms its regulatory rollbacks are helping feed.

Top photo: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks with coal miners at the Harvey Mine on April 13, 2017, in Sycamore, Penn.

The post It’s Not Regulation That’s a Threat to Jobs, It’s Climate Change appeared first on The Intercept.

Workers Featured in Ads Pushing Trump’s Tax Plan Won’t Benefit From It

10 October 2017 - 8:58am

On television networks in Ohio and New York, a sunny advertisement features a series of characters taking turns speaking to the camera to plead with the audience to call Congress in support of tax reform. There’s a retail clerk, a mechanic, a man standing in front of a wall of tools, an apparent factory worker, and a woman seated at a nondescript office desk — all calling for the passage of a tax reform plan that amounts to a corporate handout.

The ad, part of a nationwide marketing campaign to build support for President Donald Trump’s tax-cut plan, belies the true sponsor of the message: large corporate interests, including Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft.

The ad follows a now-familiar script: Dark-money groups backed by billionaires and powerful business lobbies attempt to build support for tax-cut legislation by concealing donor information and portraying middle-class Americans as the ones who benefit the most.

Watch the ad:

The disclaimer at the end of the spot says it is sponsored by the local state chamber of commerce. But the reality is more murky. The ad campaign is actually financed by a national group: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a private organization that lobbies on behalf of major corporations.

The Chamber touts itself as a the “voice of business,” but filings suggest that the organization is largely dependent on contributions from just 64 donors providing $500,000 or more. The donor data is closely guarded, but previous reports claim firms such as Prudential, MetLife, AT&T, Bayer, Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft are among the largest corporate members.

“What the Chamber wants would not remotely benefit any of the people featured in its ads,” said Dan Dudis, the director of U.S. Chamber Watch, an advocacy group sponsored by the consumer-rights watchdog Public Citizen. “The Chamber wants a massive reduction in the corporate tax rate, and a lower tax rates for high-income earners.”

Details of the tax reform package touted by the Trump administration indeed suggest that the workers depicted in the ad would benefit the least, while the ad’s sponsors are poised the reap significant windfalls. The plan calls for lowering the top income tax rate, lowering the corporate tax rate, increasing the size of the standard deduction while eliminating some deductions, and eliminating the alternative minimum tax.

An analysis by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center found that nearly 30 percent of taxpayers between $50,000 and $150,000 would likely see a tax increase under the plan. Meanwhile, when the tax cuts are fully implemented, 80 percent of the benefits would flow to the top 1 percent of earners.

Rather than benefiting the mechanics or retail clerks featured in the ad, the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s plan are more likely to be the chief executives and shareholders of companies that support the Chamber — including its chief lobbyist. Tom Donohue, the president of the Chamber and its outspoken advocate on Capitol Hill, is paid about $6.5 million a year. Under the GOP plan, Donohue’s tax bill for about $6 million of his income would be slashed by 4.6 percent, or about $276,000 in annual savings.

The Chamber ad is one of several similar ads from lobbyists to use regular working people to build support for the plan. Late last week, the American Action Network, another GOP-aligned group managed by corporate lobbyists, began airing a series of TV advertisements to sell the plan.

Watch it:

“Our family is living paycheck to paycheck,” says Melissa Skowronski, a woman in the American Action Network ad. “Congress, do the right thing for working families and give us a simpler, fairer tax code.” The ad closes with a hotline that connects callers to the American Action Network, which forwards them on to the congressional switchboard to speak to their representative’s office. The lobbyists in charge of the American Action Network are hoping to cash in on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enrich their clients.

Just ask Tom Reynolds, a lobbyist for student loan company Navient and a former Republican lawmaker who sits on the board of the American Action Network. “You’re either going to be at the table, or you’re going to be on the table,” Reynolds told the New York Times in a piece on the potential for $1 billion to be spent on lobbying for the tax bill.

Another ad went to air on Friday that strikes a populist tone and encourages voters to pressure Democrats to support the Republican plan. The ad is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded and financed by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, the owners of the petrochemical, financial, and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries.

Watch it:

“Fixing our broken tax system isn’t about politics. It’s about helping people. It means the powerful, the well-connected, the politicians, they’ll stop benefitting from a rigged system,” says a woman in the Koch brothers-backed advertisement.

The ad does not disclose that it is sponsored by two of the richest men in the world, or that the legislation calls for eliminating the estate tax, which would allow the children of the Koch brothers, worth an estimated $94.8 billion, to inherit their parent’s wealth without paying a dime in taxes.

The post Workers Featured in Ads Pushing Trump’s Tax Plan Won’t Benefit From It appeared first on The Intercept.

An Al Jazeera Reporter Went Undercover with the Pro-Israel Lobby In Washington

9 October 2017 - 3:58pm

Britain’s broadcasting regulator on Monday concluded that Al Jazeera did not violate any rules in its controversial undercover investigation exposing the Israeli embassy’s campaign to target British citizens critical of Israel, a campaign that included attempts to destroy the careers of pro-Palestinian British politicians.

The move by the communications regulator, known as Ofcom, clears the way for a follow-up documentary focused on Israeli influence in the United States, the existence of which has previously been suspected but had yet to be made public. Clayton Swisher, director of investigative journalism for the Al Jazeera Media Network, confirmed it on Monday to The Intercept. The goal of the British complaint may partly have been to delay publication of the follow-up American version, he said. “At the very same time [as the London investigation]–and we can safely reveal this now–we had an undercover operative working in tandem in Washington, DC. With this UK verdict and vindication past us, we can soon reveal how the Israel lobby in America works through the eyes of an undercover reporter,” he said.

The four-part series “The Lobby” dug into the Israeli embassy in London, as well as several other pro-Israel lobby groups, and their campaign to “take down” British Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan.

The investigation led to the resignation of a top Israeli official in London, as well as a high-profile complaint that Al Jazeera had broken broadcasting regulations in the United Kingdom. One of the complaints charged the investigation with anti-Semitism, but the government board ruled that imputing such a motive to a film critical of Israel would be akin to calling a series on gang violence racist.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May in January, calling for a probe into Shai Masot, the Israeli Embassy’s then Senior Political Officer. An undercover reporter secretly filmed Masot discussing a plot to “take down” Duncan, which Corbyn described as “improper interference in this country’s democratic process.” Masot resigned shortly after the recordings were made public.

Swisher, whose writing has also appeared in The Intercept, said that his outlet turned over reams of its unpublished audio and video files to demonstrate that its report had not been unfairly edited. “For several months we were put through the equivalent of an editorial colonoscopy. Turning over emails, different edits, all the raw footage, photos, cell phone messages–basically anything the investigators found of interest,” said Swisher.

Ofcom received complaints about the series from pro-Israel British activists and a former Israel embassy employee. It dismissed all charges, which included anti-Semitism, bias, unfair editing and the infringement of privacy.

It ruled that as per the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) guidance: “It did not consider that such a critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted anti-Semitism, particularly as the overall focus of the programme was to examine whether the State of Israel was acting in a manner that would be expected of other democratic nations.”

All other charges were also dismissed as Ofcom found the program maintained due impartiality, the footage was not edited in a way which resulted in unfairness, and there was no unwarranted infringement of privacy.

In January, pro-Israel activists in the United States began to suspect they’d been infiltrated when footage in America appeared in the British version of The Lobby. Tablet began piecing things together, and identified the likely hoaxer as a highfalutin British intern who’d dissonantly been renting a fully furnished $5,460 per month corporate apartment.

Swisher wouldn’t confirm or deny the identity of the American operative, but he said that with the American political class focused on foreign intervention in the affairs of the United States, now is an appropriate time to run the follow-up investigation. “I hear the US is having problems with foreign interference these days, so I see no reason why the US Establishment won’t take our findings in America as seriously as the British did, unless of course Israel is somehow off limits from that debate,” he said.

Top photo: An employee of the Qatar based news network and TV channel Al-Jazeera is seen at the channel’s Jerusalem office on July 31, 2017.

The post An Al Jazeera Reporter Went Undercover with the Pro-Israel Lobby In Washington appeared first on The Intercept.

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