The Intercept

The Madman With Nuclear Weapons is Donald Trump, Not Kim Jong-un

9 August 2017 - 11:20am

For once, Donald Trump has a point. “We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that,” he told Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, according to the transcript from their bizarre phone conversation that was leaked to The Intercept in May.

The madman the U.S president was referring to, of course, was North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The madman the rest of us should be worried about, however, is Trump himself, who — lest we forget — has the sole, exclusive and unrestricted power to launch almost 1,000 nuclear warheads in a matter of minutes, should he so wish.

Most nonproliferation experts — as well as former President Jimmy Carter and a number of former Pentagon and State Department officials, both Republican and Democrat — agree that the brutal and murderous Kim, for all his bluster, is not irrational or suicidal, but bent on preserving his regime and preventing a U.S. attack. Nuclear weapons are a defensive, not an offensive, tool for the North Korean leadership — which, as Bill Clinton’s defense secretary William Perry observed on Fox News in April, may be “ruthless and … reckless” but “they are not crazy.”

Got that? Kim is bad, not mad.

The same cannot be said of The Donald. Think I’m being unfair? In February, a group of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers wrote to the New York Times “that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.” In April, another group of mental health experts told a conference at Yale University’s School of Medicine that Trump was “paranoid” and “delusional” and referred to the president’s “dangerous mental illness.”

Is it any wonder then that so many recent reports suggest that South Koreans are more worried about Trump than they are about the threat posed by their hostile and paranoid neighbor?

People watch a broadcast displaying U.S. President Donald Trump on a screen at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.

Photo: Lee Jin-man/AP

Consider Trump’s reaction this week to a confidential U.S. intelligence assessment — leaked to the Washington Post — that the DPRK is now able to construct a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” the president declaimed, in response to a reporter’s question at his Bedminster Golf Club on Tuesday. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

How is this not an unhinged response from the so-called Leader of the Free World? In May, he said he would be “honored” to meet with Kim and praised him as a “pretty smart cookie.” In August, he took a break from his golfing vacation to casually threaten nuclear annihilation of Kim’s country (not even on the basis of any aggression by the DPRK, incidentally, but only their “threats”).

Does Trump understand the difference between escalating and de-escalating a nuclear crisis? Listen to Republican Senator John McCain, who has never met a “rogue nation” he did not want to bomb, invade or occupy. “I take exception to the president’s words,” McCain said on Tuesday, adding: “That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps.”

I mean, just how crazy do you have to be to advocate a preemptive nuclear strike that even McCain cannot get behind?

Trump has form, though, when it comes to loose talk about nukes. During the presidential campaign, in August 2016, MSNBC host and ex-Republican congressman Joe Scarborough revealed that Trump, over the course of an hour-long briefing with a senior foreign policy adviser, had asked three times about the use of nuclear weapons. At one point during the meeting, according to Scarborough, the then-GOP presidential candidate asked his adviser, “If we had them, why can’t we use them?”

Coverage of an ICBM missile test is displayed on a screen in a public square in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. Kim Jong-un boasted of North Korea’s ability to strike any target in the U.S. after an ICBM test that weapons experts said could even bring New York into range.

Photo: Kim Won-Jin/AFP/Getty Images

To be so blasé, enthusiastic even, about the deployment of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction is a stark indicator of Trump’s childishness, ignorance, belligerence, and, yes, derangement. Here is a president who is impulsive, erratic, unstable; whose entire life and career have been defined by a complete lack of empathy. Remember his strategy for defeating ISIS? “Bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take out their families.”

So do you think civilian casualties were on his mind when he issued his “fire and fury” warning? Come. Off. It.

Listen to McCain’s fellow Republican super-hawk Senator Lindsay Graham. “If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim], it will be over there,” Graham told NBC’s Matt Lauer last week, recounting a recent conversation he had with the president. “If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here — and he’s told me that to my face.”

“This is madness,” Kingston Reif, a nuclear disarmament specialist the Arms Control Association, tweeted in response to Graham’s re-telling of Trump’s remarks. “Unhinged madness.”

Remember that 72 years ago today, the United States dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, killing around 39,000 people in Nagasaki. Three days earlier, the first A-bomb killed around 66,000 people in Hiroshima. But a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula would make those strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like pinpricks. Experts say even a conventional war between the U.S. and the DPRK could kill more than 1 million people; a nuclear exchange, therefore, might result in tens of millions of casualties. Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has admitted that such a preemptive strike by the U.S. would be a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Does the president care? Graham doesn’t seem to think so. Trump’s former ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, who spent 18 months in his company while working on The Art of the Deal, has called the president a “sociopath.” In fact, one quote more than any other stood out from Schwartz’s much-discussed interview with the New Yorker in July 2016 and, perhaps, should keep us all awake at night. “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes,” said Schwartz, “there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

We can’t say we weren’t warned.

Top photo: People wave banners and shout slogans as they attend a rally in support of North Korea’s stance against the U.S., on Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on August 9, 2017.

The post The Madman With Nuclear Weapons is Donald Trump, Not Kim Jong-un appeared first on The Intercept.

Video: Refugees Seeking Asylum in Europe Are Instead Arrested and Beaten by Police in Lesbos

9 August 2017 - 11:04am

After six years of fleeing one home after another in Syria, the Koussa family thought that when they made the difficult decision to leave for Europe, their running might finally come to an end.

But the day after arriving by rubber dinghy from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, they were again fleeing.

“Today is a repeat of what happened in Aleppo when everyone grabbed their kids and fled to safety,” Noura Koussa said.

On July 18, the Koussas and hundreds of other asylum seekers streamed out of the main gate of the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos. Tear gas made it hard to breathe, and many left their possessions inside, clutching only their crying children in their arms as they ran up the road and into the fields away from the camp.

Inside Moria, the protests had ended, but the police repression was ongoing. The loud explosions of tear gas canisters, which many mistook for live gunfire, echoed in the surrounding hills. Large plumes of smoke billowed from tents that had been set on fire, while firefighting airplanes flew low overhead.

“We were locked in the area around our tent. If someone didn’t open the gate to free us, we wouldn’t have been able to escape,” Koussa told The Intercept.

Like thousands of people who have paid smugglers for passage to the Greek islands in recent months, the Koussas were brought to Moria to register their asylum claims. They were unaware that tensions on Lesbos had been steadily rising, with asylum seekers stranded in the island’s crowded camps.

In March 2016, when the countries along the so-called Balkan route shut their borders and the EU agreement with Turkey went into effect, making it harder to reach the Greek islands and seek protection in Europe, the number of refugees arriving from Turkey decreased dramatically. Yet people continue to come, and recent months haves seen a slight increase, especially in women and children. Since May, according to the U.N. refugee agency, at least 2,000 people have arrived to the Greek islands every month.

Once on Lesbos, families tend to fare better than men traveling alone. After registering with Greek authorities, families are often transferred to less crowded camps, and their paperwork is processed more quickly. Many men on the island say they’re faced with more dismaying options: try to make it to the mainland illegally or stay in Moria until decisions are made about their asylum requests — which can take many months, and sometimes more than a year.

“I feel like [Moria] is a prison,” said “Bolonto,” an asylum seeker from West Africa who asked that his real name be withheld because of his pending asylum claim and fear of retaliation from police. “Living [surrounded by] a fence, police around [when] you’re going for food … it feels like I’m living the life of a prisoner in Europe.”

Bolonto, who has lived in Moria for nearly a year, blames anti-black racism by Greek and European authorities as the main reason his asylum claim and those of many other sub-Saharan Africans aren’t treated seriously, and he rejects the term “economic migrants.” “When they say your country at war, it doesn’t mean you should hold a gun. … War happens in different ways in different countries.”

After three asylum seekers died in Moria over the winter, likely from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty heaters, Bolonto and others began demonstrating to be allowed off the island. They’ve held protests in central Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos, and outside the island’s main seaport. On July 17, leaders from different communities within Moria called for protests to be held outside the asylum service. The demonstration ended peacefully, but their demands were not met, so they decided to protest again the following day.

Witnesses said that clashes began after some of the protesters tried to stop a vehicle from entering the camp and police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. The families, locked into a section close to the camp’s entrance, managed to escape to the street outside. Those who lived deeper inside Moria remained behind and took shelter inside their tents and containers.

Bolonto had been at the protests in the morning but returned to his container before the clashes broke out. He stayed inside with several others, including a pregnant woman, while the police went door to door arresting people.

When they arrived, the beating came quickly. “One of the police guys, a huge one, hit my head on the door,” Bolonto said. “I went for black out for like three or four minutes. After I started regaining my consciousness, I saw the policeman push the pregnant woman on the floor and kick her in front of my own eyes.”

Bolonto was treated at the hospital and released that evening; the woman was taken to Athens for treatment not available on the island.

The events that day were captured on cellphone video recorded by activists and others in and around Moria. Footage clearly shows Greek police chasing down asylum seekers and beating them, including some who had already been handcuffed. Several refugees sustained injuries, some with broken limbs. Thirty-five were arrested.

In a statement, a dozen Greece-based NGOs condemned the “police violence” and “harsh criminal treatment of migrants and refugees,” which the groups said “cast serious doubts on the level of protection of the rights in our country.”

The Hellenic Police did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment, though police on Lesbos told staff from Amnesty International that an internal investigation into the allegations of abuse and mistreatment has been ordered. They also informed Amnesty that 12 officers had sustained injuries during the clashes.

For the asylum seekers arrested, the charges include arson, rioting, and property damage. If convicted, they could face jail time and lose their right to asylum in Europe.

Lorraine Leete, a lawyer from Legal Centre Lesbos who is among those representing the asylum seekers, disputed the charges. “There’s very little evidence that we’ve seen so far that actually implicates them in any of the destruction of property,” she said.

“The majority of the people who took part in the protest … were from sub-Saharan Africa, were black refugees. And also the people arrested were mostly black refugees. We believe they were arrested just because of their race and location in the camp,” Leete explained. “And so we’re really worried that this case is going to be used as a punishment of refugees trying to organize for their rights here.”

A week after the clashes, a group of villagers from the towns of Moria and Panagiouda staged their own anti-immigrant protest. They chanted that refugees should be placed on boats and deported and claimed that the island was “turning into Africa.” One demonstrator threatened to “get my gun” if the government didn’t remove refugees from Lesbos.

For those volunteering to support refugees on the island, the blame falls on the European Union and its unsustainable deal with Turkey.

“People will continue to flee situations that are unsafe for them. They’re going to be continuing to try to reach safety in Europe,” said Leete. “The closure of the borders last year with the EU-Turkey deal isn’t going to change that.”

“And so now we’ve seen the results of these new policies. It’s not safe for anyone, it’s not safe for the people living inside Moria camp with the rising tensions, it’s not safe for people living in Mytilene, so it’s clear that the status quo isn’t going to work.”

After many hours of seeking shelter in the olive trees around Moria, the Koussas and hundreds of others were able to return to the camp, the stability they’ve sought for years still beyond reach.

“We are born to live life, to raise our children, and give them a future,” Noura Koussa said. “We’re not meant to live a life of fleeing and fear that we can be killed at anytime.”

The post Video: Refugees Seeking Asylum in Europe Are Instead Arrested and Beaten by Police in Lesbos appeared first on The Intercept.

Intercepted Podcast: Atlas Golfed — U.S.-Backed Think Tanks Target Latin America

9 August 2017 - 6:01am

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


Donald Trump is on his version of a staycation, chilling at his golf course resort in New Jersey and watching FOX News or tweeting nonstop — when he’s not golfing or threatening nuclear war. This week on Intercepted: As Erik Prince peddles his plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan on major news networks, Jeremy gives an update on the aftermath of Blackwater’s 2007 massacre of Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square in Baghdad. Intercept reporter Lee Fang lays out how a network of libertarian think tanks called the Atlas Network is insidiously shaping ideological and political infrastructure across the world, especially in Latin America. As the Trump administration has ratcheted up its hostile rhetoric toward Venezuela, we speak with attorney and former Hugo Chavez adviser Eva Golinger about the country’s political turmoil. And we hear Claudia Lizardo of the Caracas-based band, La Pequeña Revancha, talk about her music and hopes for Venezuela.

Transcript coming soon. 

The post Intercepted Podcast: Atlas Golfed — U.S.-Backed Think Tanks Target Latin America appeared first on The Intercept.

Sphere of Influence: How American Libertarians Are Remaking Latin American Politics

9 August 2017 - 6:00am

For Alejandro Chafuen, the gathering this spring at the Brick Hotel in Buenos Aires was as much a homecoming as it was a victory lap. Chafuen, a lanky Argentine-American, had spent his adult life working to undermine leftwing social movements and governments in South and Central America, and boost a business-friendly version of libertarianism instead.

It was a lonely battle for decades, but not lately. Chafuen was among friends at the 2017 Latin America Liberty Forum. The international meeting of libertarian activists was sponsored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a leadership-training nonprofit now known simply as the Atlas Network, which Chafuen has led since 1991. At the Brick Hotel, Chafuen was reveling in recent victories; his years of work were starting to pay off, thanks to political and economic circumstances — but also because of the network of activists Chafuen has been working for so long to cultivate.

Over the past 10 years, leftist governments have used “money to buy votes, to redistribute,” said Chafuen, seated comfortably in the lobby. But the recent drop in commodity prices, coupled with corruption scandals, has given an opportunity for Atlas Network groups to spring into action. “When there is an opening, you have a crisis, and there is some demand for change, you have people who are trained to push for certain policies,” Chafuen noted, paraphrasing the late Milton Friedman. “And in our case, we tend to favor to private solutions to public problems.”

Chafuen pointed to numerous Atlas-affiliated leaders now in the spotlight: ministers in the new conservative government in Argentina, senators in Bolivia, and the leaders of the Free Brazil Movement that took down Dilma Rousseff’s presidency, where Chafuen’s network sprang to life before his very eyes.

“In Brazil, I have been in the street demonstrations, and I’m like, ‘Hey, this guy I met when he was 17, 18 — he is up there on the bus leading this. This is crazy!’” Chafuen said, excitedly. Those in Atlas’s orbit were no less excited to run into Chafuen in Buenos Aires. Activists from various countries stopped Chafuen intermittently to sing his praises as he walked through the hotel. For many, Chafuen, from his perch at Atlas, has served as a mentor, fiscal sponsor, and guiding beacon for a new political paradigm in their country.

Ousted Honduras’ President Manuel Zelaya, left, looks down inside a car on his way to the airport where he will board a flight to Nicaragua on the outskirts of San Jose, Sunday, June 28, 2009.

Photo: Kent Gilbert/AP

A rightward shift is afoot in Latin American politics. Triumphant socialist governments had once swept the region for much of the 21st century – from Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to land reform populist Manuel Zelaya in Honduras – championing new programs for the poor, nationalizing businesses, and challenging U.S. dominance in hemispheric affairs.

In recent years, however, leftist leaders have fallen one after another, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Zelaya was led from the presidential palace in his pajamas in a military coup; in Argentina, a real-estate baron swept to the presidency and Kirchner was indicted for corruption; and in Brazil, the ruling Workers’ Party, facing a growing corruption scandal and a mass protest movement, was swept out of office via impeachment over charges of budget chicanery.

This shift might appear as part of a larger regional rebalancing, merely economic circumstances taking hold. And yet the Atlas Network seems ever-present, a common thread nudging political developments along.

The story of the Atlas Network and its profound impact on ideology and political power has never been fully told. But business filings and records from three continents, along with interviews with libertarian leaders across the hemisphere, reveal the scope of its influential history. The libertarian network, which has reshaped political power in country after country, has also operated as a quiet extension of U.S. foreign policy, with Atlas-associated think tanks receiving quiet funding from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a critical arm of American soft power.

Though recent investigations have shed light on the role of powerful conservative billionaires, such as the Koch brothers, in developing a business-friendly version of libertarian thought, the Atlas Network, which receives funding from Koch foundations, has recreated methods honed in the Western world for developing countries.

The network is expansive, currently boasting loose partnerships with 450 think tanks around the world. Atlas says it dispensed over $5 million to its partners in 2016 alone.\

Over the years, Atlas and its affiliated charitable foundations have provided hundreds of grants to conservative and free-market think tanks in Latin America, including the libertarian network that supported the Free Brazil Movement and organizations behind a libertarian push in Argentina, including Fundación Pensar, the Atlas think tank that merged with the political party formed by Mauricio Macri, businessman who now leads the country. The leaders of the Free Brazil Movement and the founder of Fundación Eléutera in Honduras, an influential post-coup neoliberal think tank, have received financial support from Atlas, and are among the next generation of political operatives that have went through Atlas’s training seminars.

The Atlas Network spans dozens of other think tanks across the region, including prominent groups supporting rightwing forces behind the unfolding anti-government movement in Venezuela and the campaign of Sebastián Piñera, the right-of-center candidate leading the polls for this year’s presidential election in Chile.

People demonstrate against the government as they take part in protest in favor of impeaching Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, in front of the National Congress, in Brasilia, Brazil in Dec. 2, 2015.

Photo: Eraldo Peres/AP

Nowhere has the Atlas method been better encapsulated than in a newly formed network of Brazilian free-market think tanks. Recently formed institutes worked together to foment anger at socialist policies, with some cultivating academic centers, while others work to train activists and maintain a constant war in the Brazilian media against leftist ideas.

The effort to focus anger solely at the left paid dividends last year for the Brazilian right. The millennial activists of the Free Brazil Movement, many of them trained in political organizing in the U.S., led a mass movement to channel public anger over a vast corruption scandal against Dilma, the left-of-center president popularly known by her first name. The scandal, nicknamed Operação Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, is a still-unfolding tale of bribery involving leading politicians from all of Brazil’s major political parties, including the rightwing and center-right parties. But the social media-savvy Free Brazil Movement, known by its Portuguese initials, MBL, managed to direct the bulk of outrage squarely at Dilma, demanding her ousting and an end to the welfare-centric policies of her Workers’ Party.

The uprising, which has drawn comparisons to the tea party movement, especially considering the quiet support from local industrial conglomerates and a new conspiracy-minded network of far-right media voices, ended 13 years of rule by the Workers’ Party by removing Dilma from office through impeachment in 2016.

The landscape that MBL sprang from is a new development in Brazil. There were perhaps three active libertarian think tanks 10 years ago, said Helio Beltrão, a former hedge fund executive who now leads Instituto Mises, a nonprofit named after the libertarian philosopher, Ludwig von Mises. Now, he said, with the support of Atlas, there are close to 30 such institutes active in Brazil, all working collaboratively, along with groups, such as Students for Liberty and MBL.

“It’s like a soccer team. Defense is the academia. The forward guys are the politicians. We’ve scored a few goals,” he said, referring to Dilma’s impeachment. The midfield, he said, are the “cultural guys” that shape public opinion.

Beltrão explained that the think tank network is hoping to privatize the national post office in Brazil, calling it “low-hanging fruit” that could lead to a larger wave of free-market reforms. Many of the conservative parties in Brazil embraced libertarian campaigners when they showed they could mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to protest against Dilma, but haven’t yet adopted the fundamentals of supply-side theory.

Fernando Schüler, an academic and columnist associated with Instituto Millenium, another Atlas think tank in Brazil, made the case another way.

“Brazil has 17,000 unions paid by public money, one day of salary per year goes to unions, completely controlled by the left,” said Schüler. The only way to reverse the socialist trend has been to out-maneuver them. “With technology, people could by themselves participate, organize at low cost — WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, using networks, a kind of public manifestation,” he continued, explaining the way libertarian organizers mobilized a protest movement against left-leaning politicians.

Organizers against Dilma had created a daily barrage of YouTube videos mocking the Worker’s Party government, along with an interactive scoreboard to encourage citizens to lobby their legislators to support impeachment.

Schüler noted that the Free Brazil Movement and his own think tank receive financial support from local industrial trade groups, but the movement had succeeded in part because it is not identified with the incumbent political parties, most of which the general public views with suspicion. He argued that the only way to radically reshape society and reverse popular sentiment in support of the welfare state was to wage a permanent cultural war to confront left intellectuals and the media.

Fernando Schüler.

Photo: Screenshot from Youtube

One of the founders of Schüler’s Instituto Millenium think tank, Brazilian blogger Rodrigo Constantino, has polarized Brazilian politics with hyperpartisan rhetoric. Constantino, who has been called the “Breitbart of Brazil” for his conspiratorial views and acidic rightwing commentary, chairs yet another Atlas think tank, Instituto Liberal. He sees the Brazilian left’s every move as a veiled attempt at subverting democracy, from the use of the color red in the country’s World Cup logo to the Bolsa Família cash assistance program to poor families.

Constantino is credited with popularizing a narrative that Worker’s Party supporters are limousine liberals, wealthy hypocrites that flock to socialism to claim the moral high ground while snubbing the working classes they claim to represent.

The Breitbartization of public discourse is but one of the many ways the Atlas network has subtly influenced political debate.

“It’s a very paternalistic state. It’s crazy. It’s a lot of state control, and that’s the long-term challenge,” said Schüler, adding that despite recent victories, libertarians had a long way to go in Brazil. He hoped to copy the model of Margaret Thatcher, who relied on a network of libertarian think tanks to push unpopular reforms. “This pension system is absurd. I would privatize all education,” Schüler, rattling off a litany of changes he would make to society, from defunding labor unions to repealing the law that makes voting compulsory.

Yet the only way to make all that possible, he added, would be to build a network of politically active nonprofits all waging separate battles to push the same libertarian goals. The existing model — the constellation of rightwing think tanks in Washington, D.C., supported by powerful endowments — is the only path forward for Brazil, Schüler said.

Atlas, for its part, is busy doing just that. It gives grants for new think tanks, provides courses on political management and public relations, sponsors networking events around the world, and, in recent years, has devoted special resources to prodding libertarians to influence public opinion through social media and online videos.

An annual competition encourages Atlas’s network to produce viral YouTube videos promoting laissez-faire ideas and ridiculing proponents of the welfare state. James O’Keefe, the provocateur famous for needling Democrats with his undercover videos, has appeared before Atlas to explain his methods. Producers from a Wisconsin group that worked create online videos to discredit teacher protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s law busting public sector unions have also provided instructions for Atlas’s training sessions.

Crowd burning puppet of President Hugo Chavez at Plaza Altamira in protest against government.

Photo: Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Among its other exploits of late, Atlas has played a role in a Latin American nation roiled by the region’s most acute political and humanitarian crisis: Venezuela. Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by activists sympathetic to the Venezuelan government, as well as State Department cables disclosed by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, reveal U.S. policymakers’ sophisticated effort to use Atlas think tanks in a long-running campaign to destabilize the reign of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

As early as 1998, Cedice Libertad, Atlas’s flagship think tank in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, received regular financial support from the Center for International Private Enterprise. In one grant letter, NED funds marked for Cedice are listed to help advocate “a change in government.” The director of Cedice was among the signatories of the controversy “Carmona Decree” supporting the short-lived military coup against Chávez in 2002.

A 2006 cable laid out a strategy from U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield for funding politically active nonprofits in Venezuela: “1) Strengthening democratic institutions, 2) penetrating Chávez’s political base, 3) dividing Chavismo, 4) protecting vital U.S. business, and 5) isolating Chávez internationally.”

In Venezula’s current crisis, Cedice has promoted the recent spate of protests against President Nicholas Maduro, Chávez’s embattled successor. Cedice is closely affiliated with opposition figure María Corina Machado, one of the leaders of the massive anti-government street demonstrations in recent months. Machado has publicly recognized Atlas for its work. In a videotape message delivered to the group in 2014, she said, “Thank you to the Atlas Network, to all freedom fighters.”

Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado has recognized Atlas for its work: “Thank you to the Atlas Network, to all freedom fighters,” she said in 2014.

At the Atlas Network’s Latin American Liberty Forum in Buenos Aires, young leaders buzzed back and forth, sharing ideas on how to defeat socialism at every level, from pitched battles on college campuses to mobilizing an entire country to embrace impeachment.

Think tank “entrepreneurs” from Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras competed in a format along the lines of “Shark Tank,” an America reality show where start-up businesses pitch to a panel of wealthy, ruthless investors. Instead of seeking investments from a panel of venture capitalists, however, the think tank leaders pitched policy marketing ideas for a contest that awarded $5,000. In another session, strategies were debated for attracting industry support to back economic reforms. In another room, political operatives debated arguments “lovers of liberty” can use to respond to the global rise of populism to “redirect the sense of injustice many feel” toward free-market goals.

One young leader from CADAL, a think tank in Buenos Aires, presented on an idea to rank each Argentine province using what he called an “economic liberty index,” which would use the level of taxation and regulation as the main criteria to generate buzz for free-market reforms. The idea is consciously modeled on similar strategies from the U.S., including the Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Economic Freedom,” which measures countries based on criteria that includes tax policies and regulatory barriers to business formation.

Think tanks are traditionally associated with independent institutes formed to develop unconventional solutions. But the Atlas model focuses less on developing genuinely new policy proposals, and more on establishing political organizations that carry the credibility of academic institutions, making them an effective organ for winning hearts and minds.

Free-market ideas — such as slashing taxes on the wealthy; whittling down the public sector and placing it under the control of private operators; and liberalized trade rules and restrictions on labor unions — have always struggled with a perception problem. Proponents of this vision have found that voters tend to view such ideas as a vehicle for serving society’s upper crust. Rebranding economic libertarianism as a public interest ideology has required elaborate strategies for mass persuasion.

But the Atlas model now spreading rapidly through Latin America is based on a method perfected by decades of struggle in the U.S. and the U.K., as libertarians worked to stem the tide of the surging post-war welfare state.

Map of Atlas group locations in South America.

Map: The Intercept

Antony Fisher, a British entrepreneur and the founder of the Atlas Network, pioneered the sale of libertarian economics to the broader public. The tack was simple: Fisher made it his mission to, in the words of an associate, “litter the world with free-market think tanks.”

The basis for Fisher’s ideals came from Friedrich Hayek, a forbearer of modern thought on limited government. In 1946, after reading the Reader’s Digest version of Hayek’s seminal book, “The Road to Serfdom,” Fisher sought a meeting with the Austrian economist in London. As recounted by his close colleague John Blundell, Fisher suggested Hayek enter politics. But Hayek demurred, replying that a bottom-up focus on shifting the public discourse could better shape society.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., another free-market ideologue, Leonard Read, was entertaining similar notions after leading the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Los Angeles branch into bruising battles with organized labor. To counter the growth of the welfare state, a more elaborate response would be necessary to share popular debates around the direction of society, without the visible link to corporate interests.

Fisher was propelled forward by a fateful visit to Read’s newly formed nonprofit, the Foundation for Economic Education, in New York, which was founded to help sponsor and promote the ideas of free-market intellectuals. There, libertarian economist F.A. Harper, at the time working at FEE, advised Fisher on methods for creating his own nonprofit in the U.K.

During the trip, Fisher also traveled with Harper to Cornell University to observe the latest animal industry breakthrough of battery cages, marveling at the sight of 15,000 chickens housed in a single building. Fisher was inspired to bring the innovation home with him. His factory, Buxted Chickens, grew rapidly and made Fisher a substantial fortune in the process. Some of those profits went into other goal fostered during his New York trip: In 1955, Fisher founded the Institute of Economic Affairs.

IEA helped popularize the once-obscure set of economists loosely affiliated with Hayek’s ideas. The institute was a place to showcase opposition to British society’s growing welfare state, connecting journalists to free-market academics and disseminating critiques on a regular basis through opinion columns, radio interviews, and conferences.

Businesses provided the bulk of funding to IEA, as leading British industrial and banking giants — from Barclays to BP — pitched in with annual contributions. According to “Making Thatcher’s Britain,” by historians Ben Jackson and Robert Saunders, one shipping magnate remarked that, since universities were providing ammunition for the unions, the IEA was an important source of bullets for business.

As the economic slowdown and rising inflation of the 1970s shook the foundations of British society, Tory politicians gravitated more and more to the IEA to provide an alternative vision — and IEA obliged with accessible issue briefs and talking points politicians could use to bring free-market concepts to the public. The Atlas Network proudly proclaims that the IEA “laid the intellectual groundwork for what later became the Thatcher Revolution of the 1980s.” IEA staff provided speechwriting for Margaret Thatcher; supplemented her campaign with policy papers on topics as varied as labor unions and price controls; and provided a response to her critics in the mass media. In a letter to Fisher after her 1979 victory, Thatcher wrote that the IEA created “the climate of opinion which made our victory possible.”

“There’s no doubt there’s been enormous progress in Britain, the Institute of Economic Affairs, which Antony Fisher set up, made an enormous difference,” Milton Friedman once said. “It made possible Margaret Thatcher. It made possible not her election as prime minister but the policies that she was able to follow. And the same thing in this country, the developing thought along these lines made possible Ronald Reagan and the policies he was able to follow.”

IEA had come full circle. Hayek set up an invitation-only group of free-market economists called the Mont Pelerin Society. One of its members, Ed Feulner, helped found of the conservative Washington think tank the Heritage Foundation, drawing on IEA’s work for inspiration. Another Mont Pelerin member, Ed Crane, founded the Cato Institute, the most prominent libertarian think tank in the U.S.

Austrian-British economist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek with a class of students at the London School of Economics, 1948.

Photo: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images

In 1981, Fisher, who had settled in San Francisco, set out to develop the Atlas Economic Research Foundation at the urging of Hayek. Fisher had used his success with IEA to court corporate donors to help establish a string of smaller, sometimes regional think tanks in New York, Canada, California, and Texas, among other places. With Atlas, though, the scale for Fisher’s free-market think tank project would now be global: a nonprofit dedicated to continuing his work of establishing libertarian beachheads in every country of the world. “The more institutes established throughout the world,” Fisher declared, “the more opportunity to tackle diverse problems begging for resolution.”

Fisher began to fundraise, pitching corporate donors with the help of letters from Hayek, Thatcher, and Friedman, including an urgent call for donors to help reproduce the success of IEA through Atlas. Hayek wrote that the IEA model “ought to be used to create similar institutes all over the world.” He added, “It would be money well spent if large sums could be made available for such a concerted effort.”

The proposal was sent to a list of high-level executives and soon, money began pouring in from corporate coffers and Republican mega-donors, including Richard Mellon Scaife. Companies, such as Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, and Shell, all gave to Atlas. But their influence would need to remain cloaked for the project to work, Fisher contended. “To influence public opinion, it is necessary to avoid any suggestion of vested interest or intent to indoctrinate,” Fisher noted in a proposal outlining the purpose of Atlas. Fisher added that IEA’s success hinged on the perception that it was academic and impartial.

Atlas grew rapidly. By 1985, the network featured 27 institutions in 17 countries, including nonprofits in Italy, Mexico, Australia, and Peru.

And the timing could not have been better: Atlas’s international expansion came just as the Reagan administration was doubling down on an aggressive foreign policy, hoping to beat back leftist governments abroad.

While in public, Atlas declared that it received no government funding (Fisher belittled foreign aid as just another “bribe” used to distort market forces), records show the network quietly worked to channel government money to its growing list of international partners.

In one 1982 letter from the International Communication Agency, a small federal agency devoted to promote U.S. interests overseas, a bureaucrat at the Office of Private Sector Programs wrote to Fisher, in response to an inquiry about acquiring federal grants. The bureaucrat said he was barred from giving “directly to foreign organizations,” but could cosponsor “conferences or exchanges with organizations” hosted by groups like Atlas. He encouraged Fisher to send over a proposal. The letter, sent one year after Atlas’s founding, was the first indication that the network would become a covert partner to U.S. foreign policy interests.

Memos and other records from Fisher show that, by 1986, Atlas had helped schedule meetings with business executives to direct U.S. funds to its network of think tanks. In one instance, an official from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the principal foreign aid arm of the federal government, recommended that the head of Coca-Cola’s subsidiary in Panama work with Atlas to set up an IEA-style affiliate think tank there. Atlas also drew funding from the coffers of the National Endowment for Democracy, a government-charted nonprofit, founded in 1983, that is funded largely by the State Department and USAID to build U.S.-friendly political institutions in the developing world.

Alejandro Chafuen, of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, back right, shakes hands with Rafael Alonzo, of Venezuela’s Freedom Center for Economic Studies, CEDICE, left, as Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa applauds during the opening of the “Freedom and Democracy” international forum in Caracas, Thursday, May 28, 2009.

Photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP

With corporate and U.S. government funding pouring in, Atlas took another fortuitous turn in 1985 with the arrival of Alejandro Chafuen. Linda Whetstone, Fisher’s daughter, remembered in a tribute that, in 1985, a young Chafuen, then living in Oakland, showed up to Atlas’s San Francisco office “and was willing to work for nothing.”

The Buenos Aires-born Chafuen hailed from what he described as “an anti-Peronist family.” They were wealthy and, though raised in an era of incredible turmoil in Argentina, Chafuen lived a life of relative privilege. He spent his teenage years playing tennis, dreaming of becoming a professional athlete.

Chafuen credits his youthful ideological path to his appetite for devouring libertarian texts, from Ayn Rand to booklets published by FEE, the Leonard Read group that had originally inspired Fisher. After studying at Grove City College, a deeply conservative Christian liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, where he served as the president of the student libertarian club, Chafuen returned to his home country. The military had stepped in, claiming a threat from communist revolutionaries. Thousands of students and activists would be tortured and killed in the crackdown on leftwing dissent following the coup d’etat.

Chafuen remembers the time in a mostly positive light, later writing that the military had acted out of necessity to prevent a communist “takeover of the country.” While pursuing a teaching career, Chafuen encountered “totalitarians of every style” within academic life. After the military coup, he wrote that he noticed that his professors became “gentler,” despite their differences with him.

In other Latin American countries, too, libertarianism was finding a receptive audience among military governments. In Chile, after the military swept out the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Mont Pelerin Society economists quickly flocked to the country, setting the stage for widespread libertarian reforms, including the privatization of industry and the country’s pension system. Throughout the region, under the watch of rightwing military leaders that had seized power, libertarian economic policies began to take root.

For his part, Chafuen’s ideological zeal was on display as early as 1979, when he published an essay for FEE titled “War Without End.” He described the horrors of leftist terror, “like the Charles Manson family, or in regimental strength, like the guerilla troops in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.” There was a need, he wrote, for the “forces of individual freedom and private property” to fight back.

His enthusiasm garnered attention. In 1980, at age 26, Chafuen was invited to become the youngest member of the Mont Pelerin Society. He traveled to Stanford, an opportunity that put him in direct contact with Read, Hayek, and other leading libertarians. Within five years, Chafuen had married an American and was living in Oakland. He began reaching out to Mont Pelerin members in the Bay Area, including Fisher.

Throughout the region, under the watch of rightwing military leaders that had seized power, libertarian economic policies began to take root.

According to Atlas’s board meeting notes, Fisher told his colleagues he had made a $500 ex gratia Christmas payment that year to Chafuen, and hoped to hire the young economist full-time to develop Atlas think tanks in Latin America. The following year, Chafuen organized the first Atlas summit of Latin American think tanks in Jamaica.

Chafuen understood the Atlas model well and worked diligently to expand the network, helping to launch think tanks in Africa and Europe, though focusing his efforts in Latin America. Describing how to attract donors, Chafuen once noted in a lecture that donors cannot appear to pay for public surveys because the polls would lose credibility. “Pfizer Inc. would not sponsor surveys on health issues nor would Exxon pay for surveys on environmental issues,” Chafuen noted. Libertarian think tanks, such as the ones in Atlas’s network, however, could not only present the same survey with more credibility, but do so in a way that garnered coverage in the local media.

“Journalists are very much attracted by whatever is new and easy to report,” Chafuen said. The press is less interested in quoting libertarian philosophers, he contended, but when a think tank produced a survey people would listen. “And donors also see this,” he added.

In 1991, three years after Fisher died, Chafuen took helm of Atlas and would have the opportunity to speak to donors with authority about Atlas’s work. He quickly began to rack up corporate sponsors to push company-specific goals through the network. Philip Morris contributed regular grants to Atlas, including a $50,000 contribution to the group in 1994, which was disclosed years later through litigation. Records show that the tobacco giant viewed Atlas as an ally for working on international litigation issues.

Journalists in Chile, however, found out that Atlas-backed think tanks had worked to quietly lobby against smoking regulations without disclosing their funding from tobacco companies, a strategy similar think tanks repeated across the globe.

Corporate giants, such as ExxonMobil and MasterCard, were among Atlas’ donors. But the group also attracted leading figures in libertarianism, such as the foundations associated with investor John Templeton and the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which lavished Atlas and its affiliates with regular contributions.

Chafuen’s fundraising prowess extended to the growing number of wealthy conservative foundations that were beginning to flourish. He was a founding member of Donors Trust, a secretive donor-advised fund that has doled out over $400 million to libertarian nonprofits, including members of the Atlas Network. He also serves as a trustee to the Chase Foundation of Virginia, which was founded by a Mont Pelerin Society member and similarly sends cash to Atlas think tanks.

Another wellspring of money came from the American government. Initially, the National Endowment for Democracy encountered difficulty setting up U.S.-friendly political nonprofits. Gerardo Bongiovanni, the president of Fundación Libertad, an Atlas think tank in Rosario, Argentina, noted during a lecture with Chafuen that the early seed money from NED’s grant partner, the Center for International Private Enterprise, totaled $1 million between 1985 and 1987. The think tanks that received those initial grants quickly folded, Bongiovanni said, citing lack of management training.

Atlas, however, managed to turn U.S. taxpayer money coming through the NED and Center for International Private Enterprise into an important source of funding for its growing network. The funding vehicles provided money to help boost Atlas think tanks in eastern Europe, following the fall of the Soviet Union, and, later, to promote U.S. interests in the Middle East. Among the recipients of the Center for International Private Enterprise’s cash is Cedice Libertad, the group thanked by Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado.

White House Deputy Assistant To The President Sebastian Gorka participates in a television interview outside the White House West Wing June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

At the Brick Hotel in Buenos Aires, Chafuen reflected on the last three decades. Fisher “would be overall pleased, and he would not believe how much our network grew,” Chafuen said, noting that perhaps the Atlas founder would not have expected the level of direct political engagement the group is involved in.

Chafuen lit up when U.S. President Donald Trump came up, offering praise for the president’s appointees. And why not? The Trump administration is littered with alumni of Atlas-related groups and friends of the network. Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s Islamophobic counterterrorism adviser, once led an Atlas-backed think tank in Hungary. Vice President Mike Pence has attended an Atlas event and spoken highly of the group. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Chafuen were close through their leadership roles at the Acton Institute, a Michigan think tank that develops religious arguments in favor of libertarian policies — which now maintains an affiliate in Brazil, the Centro Interdisciplinar de Ética e Economia Personalista.

Perhaps Chafuen’s most prized figure in the administration, however, is Judy Shelton, an economist and senior fellow at the Atlas Network. After Trump’s victory, Shelton was made the chairman of the  NED. She previously served as an adviser to the Trump campaign and transition effort. Chafuen beamed when he talked about it. “There you have the Atlas people being the chair of the National Endowment for Democracy,” he said.

Before ending the interview, Chafuen intimated that there was more to come: more think tanks, more efforts to overturn leftist governments, and more Atlas devotees and alumni elevated to the highest levels of government the world over. “The work is ongoing,” he said.

Later, Chafuen appeared at the gala for the Latin America Liberty Forum. Along with a panel of Atlas experts, he discussed the need to ramp up libertarian opposition movements in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Danielle Mackey contributed research to this story.

The post Sphere of Influence: How American Libertarians Are Remaking Latin American Politics appeared first on The Intercept.

Jornal “O Dia” retirou Igreja Universal de matérias sobre Marcelo Crivella durante as eleições

8 August 2017 - 5:28pm

A relação entre o jornal “O Dia” e o prefeito do Rio, Marcelo Crivella, marcada em março deste ano pela demissão de um jornalista após a publicação de uma matéria crítica à atual gestão, teve outro episódio nebuloso. Um levantamento feito por The Intercept Brasil mostra que ao menos quatro matérias colocadas no ar desde o fim de 2015 foram atualizadas numa mesma data: 14 de setembro de 2016. Em todos os casos, o objetivo foi mesmo: retirar qualquer referência de relação entre Crivella e a Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, da qual ele é bispo licenciado.

As alterações das reportagens do site de “O Dia” coincidiram com um período em que a campanha do primeiro turno das eleições de 2016 esquentava. Naquela época, o Ibope divulgara a segunda pesquisa da corrida pela prefeitura do Rio, consolidando Crivella na liderança, com mais de dez pontos percentuais à frente do segundo colocado. O candidato do PRB, porém, ainda tinha que lidar com um índice de rejeição de 24%, quarto maior entre os 11 postulantes ao cargo. Por e-mail, o presidente de “O Dia”, Marcos Salles, negou qualquer interferência política no conteúdo editorial do jornal.

O incômodo de Crivella em ver seu nome relacionado à Universal chegou a ser alvo de uma reportagem de “O Estado de São Paulo”, publicada durante o segundo turno das eleições cariocas. Segundo o jornal, o então candidato havia omitido no site de sua campanha o fato de ser fiel e bispo licenciado da igreja, dizendo apenas que “nunca sofreu nenhum tipo de influência de líderes religiosos”. A relação também foi muito atacada pelo seu principal adversário, Marcelo Freixo (PSOL), que chegou a questionar o opositor, durante um debate na TV Globo, sobre o “projeto político da Universal para o Rio de Janeiro”. Crivella também é sobrinho de Edir Macedo, fundador da igreja.

Palavras e frases cortadas

Os textos publicados em “O Dia” tiveram desde a simples retirada de palavras que faziam a relação entre Crivella e a Universal até o corte de frases inteiras. Para fazer o levantamento, TIB utilizou o site Web Archive, que possui o registro de mais de 302 bilhões de páginas em diversas datas, e comparou com as versões atuais que estão no ar, atualizadas em 14 de setembro do ano passado.  

No dia 7 de agosto de 2016, dias antes do início da campanha eleitoral, o jornal publicou uma entrevista com o candidato do PRB, que já aparecia no topo das pesquisas. O título era uma frase com uma provocação ao futuro adversário nas urnas Pedro Paulo (PMDB), que vinha sendo minado por acusações de agressão à ex-mulher. “Bato na trave, mas não bato em mulher”, disse Crivella, fazendo também uma referência às suas próprias tentativas anteriores mal-sucedidas de conquistar um cargo no Executivo.

Nesta reportagem, há um breve perfil de Crivella antes da sequência de perguntas e respostas. E é aí que surge a modificação. A frase original do texto dizia que “aos 58 anos, o engenheiro e bispo licenciado da Igreja Universal não mede também críticas aos gastos de R$ 14 bilhões da prefeitura carioca com a Olimpíada”. Na matéria atualizada em 14 de setembro, a expressão “bispo licenciado da Igreja Universal” simplesmente desaparece.

Uma modificação semelhante já havia sido feita na reportagem “Pré-candidato a prefeito do Rio, Marcelo Crivella vai se filiar ao PSB”, publicada originalmente em 25 de fevereiro de 2016. Atualizada no mesmo 14 de setembro, a matéria que falava sobre uma aproximação com o senador Romário – que futuramente se transformaria em rusgas – teve também a expressão “bispo licenciado da Igreja Universal” retirada, numa referência que havia sido colocada logo no primeiro parágrafo.   

Interferência até em nota de coluna

As alterações foram ainda além no caso de uma coluna publicada em 22 de maio de 2016 pelo jornalista Paulo Capelli, cujo tema principal também era a aproximação entre Crivella e Romário. Para que a referência à igreja criada pelo tio do atual prefeito do Rio, Edir Macedo, não aparecesse mais, foi retirada uma nota inteira: “Amigos de (Hugo) Leal (deputado do PSB) dizem que o fator religioso pesou na decisão de não compor a possível chapa: ele é ligado à Igreja Católica; Crivella, à Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus”.

Da reportagem “Record denuncia família Picciani, que acusa emissora de fazer campanha“, publicada em 25 de novembro de 2015, houve a retirada de uma frase inteira que, originalmente, fechava o texto: “Ainda segundo a assessoria (de imprensa do deputado), (Jorge) Picciani e filhos ‘consideram o material veiculado uma clara demonstração de que a TV Record, ligada à Igreja Universal e ao bispo Marcelo Crivella, candidato declarado à Prefeitura do Rio no ano que vem, já iniciou a campanha eleitoral’”.

A matéria tratava de uma reportagem veiculada à época pela Rede Record que relacionava a família de Picciani a uma mineradora que forneceria brita para a Prefeitura do Rio. O presidente da Alerj disse que iria processar a emissora.

Cobertura positiva sobre o atual prefeito

Além das alterações em reportagens antigas, a própria linha editorial adotada por “O Dia” nas matérias que envolvem o atual prefeito do Rio mostra um tom bem mais positivo do que crítico.  Em junho passado, por exemplo, no meio da polêmica em torno do corte de verbas no carnaval carioca, o jornal deu destaque a uma reportagem em cima de uma pesquisa contratada pelo próprio veículo cujo título dizia que a decisão de Crivella era apoiada por 78% da população.

A pergunta principal do levantamento, realizado pelo Instituto Paraná Pesquisas era: “Em São Paulo, a prefeitura destina R$ 25 por dia por crianças para as creches; em BH, R$ 20. No Rio, são R$ 10. Para destinar R$ 20 para as crianças das creches do Rio, o prefeito propôs diminuir os recursos que a prefeitura gasta com os desfiles das escolas de samba, passando de R$ 2 milhões para R$ 1 milhão por escola. O sr.(a) concorda com esta diminuição?”.

Após a enchente que castigou a cidade em junho deste ano, uma das principais reportagens de “O Dia” sobre o assunto veio com o título “‘A cidade resistiu’, diz prefeito Marcelo Crivella após temporal no Rio de Janeiro”. Principal aposta para a sequência política da família, Marcelo Hodge Crivella, que agora adota o nome de Marcelo Crivella Filho, também tem periodicamente assinado uma coluna no jornal.

Prefeitura vai responder “do jeito que quiser”

Fundado na década de 1950, o jornal “O Dia” teve durante muitos anos o papel de um dos protagonistas da imprensa escrita carioca. Nos anos 1990, chegou a ter uma tiragem próxima a 500 mil exemplares aos domingos, com servidores públicos e aposentados entre os leitores fiéis. Na atual década, porém, a publicação entrou em uma grave crise, que provocou a demissão de diversos jornalistas. Em meio a atrasos de salários, profissionais chegaram a fazer uma paralisação em maio deste ano.  

Apesar da crise, o jornal pode ser um caminho para Crivella diante de uma realidade onde os outros dois grandes veículos impressos cariocas (“O Globo” e “Extra”) são controlados pelo Grupo Globo, adversário direto da Record, com histórica relação com a Igreja Universal.

Enquanto “O Dia” esconde as relações do atual prefeito com a igreja, “O Globo”, por exemplo, tem soltado constantemente reportagens que abordam o tema, como a presença de Crivella em cultos da Universal na África do Sul ou a cantoria no Senado em homenagem à igreja.

TIB enviou, na manhã desta terça (8) para a assessoria de imprensa do prefeito Marcelo Crivella as seguintes perguntas:

– O prefeito teve algum tipo de interferência, fez algum tipo de pedido para que reportagens que o relacionassem à Igreja Universal fossem editadas?

– O prefeito exerce algum tipo de influência editorial no jornal “O Dia”?

– Quanto a prefeitura gastou em publicidade em jornais impressos este ano e, deste valor, quanto foi destinado ao jornal “O Dia”?

Daniel Pereira, um dos assessores de imprensa da Prefeitura do Rio, ligou para a reportagem dizendo que havia se sentido “ofendido com as perguntas”. Em resposta ao pedido de que  enviasse as respostas por e-mail, afirmou que responderia “do jeito que quisesse”.

Por isso, a orientação que repassei à redação é que cada um deles seja tratado exclusivamente por sua atuação no Legislativo ou no Executivo e não por sua religião, como acontecia até então.

O presidente de “O Dia”, Marcos Salles, que assumiu o cargo em meados do ano passado, enviou por e-mail as seguintes respostas:

– O prefeito teve algum tipo de interferência, fez algum tipo de pedido para que reportagens que o relacionassem à Igreja Universal fossem editadas?

– Desde que assumi a presidência da empresa, determinei que não houvesse qualquer discriminação no nosso noticiário quanto à opção religiosa de qualquer político. Por isso, a orientação que repassei à redação é que cada um deles seja tratado exclusivamente por sua atuação no Legislativo ou no Executivo e não por sua religião, como acontecia até então. A imprensa nunca qualificou outros candidatos por sua opção religiosa, fazê-lo agora seria um ato discriminatório.

– O prefeito exerce algum tipo de influência editorial no jornal “O Dia”?

– Não há qualquer interferência política ou partidária no conteúdo editorial do jornal, o que inclui a figura do prefeito.


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Citizen Groups Will Sue DuPont and Chemours for Contaminating Drinking Water in North Carolina

8 August 2017 - 4:29pm

After years of litigation over PFOA, an industrial toxin used to make Teflon and other non-stick and stain-resistant products, in 2009 DuPont introduced GenX. Now the slippery substitute has followed the path of the molecule it replaced, contaminating water near plants in West Virginia and North Carolina and attracting its own intense legal interest.

The lawsuits over PFOA exposed the chemical’s links to several diseases, including kidney and testicular cancer. Like PFOA, also known as C8, GenX is a perfluorinated compound, and as with PFOA, GenX was the subject of internal DuPont research showing it poses many of the same health concerns as the original chemical. Also like PFOA, GenX persists indefinitely in the environment.

In the past two weeks, two citizens groups in North Carolina announced plans to sue Chemours, the DuPont spin-off company that now makes GenX, over its release of the chemical from its plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority issued a letter of intent to sue both Chemours and DuPont last week over violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by releasing GenX into the Cape Fear River, which is a source of drinking water for more than 250,000 people in the Wilmington area. A conservative group called Civitas also announced its intention to sue Chemours over GenX. Both groups must wait at least 60 days after sending the letters before filing suit.

The legal activity adds to the pressure on Chemours over GenX in North Carolina. On July 22, the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina served the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality with a criminal subpoena to appear before a grand jury on August 22 and supply all records pertaining to the release of GenX into the Cape Fear River.

In West Virginia, where GenX has been found in ground water — though not yet in drinking water — attorney Robert Bilott, who sued DuPont over PFOA contamination, on July 28 issued a stern letter to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection requesting information about what the state agency knew about GenX when it allowed DuPont to release the chemical into local waters near the company’s plant in Parkersburg.

Levels of GenX in the waste water released from the plant into local water have been recorded in some locations in concentrations as high as 278 parts per billion, thousands of times higher than the drinking water standards the EPA set for PFOA, which is structurally similar to GenX and expected to have similar biological effects. On several occasions in 2013 and 2014, the levels of GenX in water coming from the Parkersburg plant were also higher than those set by the WVDEP, according to reports DuPont submitted to the WVDEP.

Bilott’s letter, which asked the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to “take immediate action to protect community drinking water supplies from possible GenX contamination,” echoed another he sent 16 years earlier asking the EPA to regulate PFOA “on the grounds that it ‘may be hazardous to human health and the environment.’” Chasing GenX through the environment and the courts may take just as long. Both chemicals are considered emerging contaminants, meaning they are not regulated under federal statutes, which makes it difficult to force polluters to clean them up. The EPA’s drinking water advisories for PFOA are voluntary rather than mandatory.

And the chemical industry seems to remain several steps ahead of regulators. After spinning off its “performance chemicals” division, DuPont settled the class action suit over PFOA for $671 million in February. DuPont is poised to merge with Dow at the end of August.

While the EPA has been slowly turning its attention to the class of chemicals that includes GenX and PFOA, considering the safety and cleanup of individual toxins one by one, industry has quietly come up with hundreds of replacements, introducing them to the market before they’ve proven to be safe. Although it wasn’t officially introduced until 2009, GenX was being released into the Cape Fear as a byproduct as early as 1980.

In what appears to be an attempt to disrupt this cycle of regrettable substitutions — and speed up the pollutant-by-pollutant approach to tackling their harms — the lawsuit the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is planning will target several chemicals. A recent study found six similar compounds in the Cape Fear River water, some at levels 100 times that of GenX. The water utility is planning to sue over the release of several of these “GenX pollutants,” as the Notice of Intent to Sue calls them.

Chemours did not respond to repeated requests for comment. A DuPont spokesperson declined to comment, saying that the company had “not been served with a complaint and therefore cannot comment on this matter.”

According to George House, one of the North Carolina utility’s lawyers, it’s the companies’ job to prove their products are safe — not the people’s responsibility to act as guinea pigs. “That’s putting the cart before the horse,” said House. “Why would someone think they can discharge whatever they want and then make the regulating body prove that it’s harmful to stop?”

The post Citizen Groups Will Sue DuPont and Chemours for Contaminating Drinking Water in North Carolina appeared first on The Intercept.

Rafael Braga é insignificante para o Judiciário, que se comporta como casta corporativista

8 August 2017 - 1:52pm

O Tribunal de Justiça do Rio de Janeiro negou o pedido de habeas corpus para o jovem Rafael Braga Vieira, no caso de sua condenação a 11 anos por porte de drogas e tráfico, e a defesa vai recorrer ao Superior Tribunal de Justiça. 

Já não é possível dizer que o caso de Rafael Braga Vieira seja desconhecido. A imprensa no Brasil e no mundo acompanha e noticia sua história a cada julgamento. O Instituto Tomie Ohtake, uma das salas de arte mais importantes do país, está com uma exposição em sua homenagem e cada vez mais artistas o citam em seus shows e espetáculos. A filósofa Ângela Davis, em recente passagem pela Bahia posou para foto com camisa do Rafael. Há quatro anos, ele conta com o apoio direto da Campanha Pela Liberdade de Rafael Braga Vieira, grupo que se reúne nas escadarias da Cinelândia, no Rio, para discutir o caso, acompanhar, organizar mobilizações e demais estratégias.

Ainda assim, o jovem negro e pobre, preso no contexto das manifestações de 2013 e com uma nova condenação por tráfico em abril de 2017, segue na prisão. As sistemáticas recusas do Judiciário do Rio em absolver Rafael Braga entram e saem mais ou menos em evidência na medida em que algum fato faz com que ele seja inevitavelmente comparado. O mais recente foi  o surpreendente (e vergonhoso) caso em que a desembargadora Tânia Garcia Freitas, presidente do Tribunal Regional Eleitoral do Mato Grosso do Sul, foi pessoalmente tirar o filho, o empresário Breno Borges, de 37 anos, da prisão. Breno cumpria pena por prisão em flagrante portando 130 quilos de maconha, além de munição.

A comparação com Rafael Braga é inevitável, considerando-se  que ele foi preso com 0,6g de maconha, 9,3 g de cocaína e um morteiro na mochila.

Breno Borges tem também contra ele gravações de conversas em que ele ajudaria na fuga de um detento em Três Lagoas. Mas nada disso fez diferença sobre a mudança de compreensão de que seu caso era de internação e tratamento, e não punição e encarceramento. Nem de longe o jovem negro e pobre teve esta possibilidade.

Surdez do judiciário

Já não se trata mais de o Brasil não ser para principiantes. O Brasil (e suas instituições de poder) não é para insignificantes. Só isso explica a surdez do Judiciário do Rio sobre o Rafael Braga. A elite brasileira não aceita e não perdoa insignificantes: essa gente preta, pobre, iletrada, de moradia precária; indígenas “incivilizados”; camponeses broncos, cuidadores de pequenas e paupérrimas terras. Gente que não tem nada a oferecer. E a elite brasileira é sobretudo medíocre, não importa que cargo de que área ela ocupe ou conquiste. No Brasil, os privilegiados do poder não conquistam espaço, eles colonizam. A classe média alta brasileira é medíocre, não importa que lugar ocupe. Talvez esta seja uma das razões para agirem como agem com o poder como se ele fosse feudo particular, e não serviço em defesa da justiça e zelo pelo comum.

A classe de juízes, desembargadores, procuradores, não está livre da mediocridade e da compreensão elitista e burguesa de que o poder da função é seu poder pessoal.

A classe do Judiciário, não de hoje, é a classe mais perigosa quanto ao risco social, exatamente por lidarem com aquele poder que, em tese, é o último a se recorrer quando os demais poderes se impõem. A classe de juízes, desembargadores, procuradores, não está livre da mediocridade e da compreensão elitista e burguesa de que o poder da função é seu poder pessoal, e que tal poder não está em defesa do comum, mas em defesa da preservação do seu poder, e em defesa dos seus. A indignação causada pelo abuso de autoridade da desembargadora Tânia Freitas, torna-se apenas mais uma indignação em meio a tantas.

O que pensar do caso do índio Galdino dos Santos, em 1997, em Brasília? Como esquecer que cinco jovens da alta casta de Brasília incendiaram o corpo do índio enquanto ele dormia, num ponto de ônibus? Um deles, Antônio Novely Vilanova, na época com 19 anos, é filho de juiz federal. Os quatro (um era menor) só foram condenados quatro anos depois. O outro, Max Rogério Alvez, na época com 16 anos, passou em concurso e tomou posse como servidor do Tribunal de Justiça de Brasília em 2016. Foi o mesmo órgão que o condenou há mais de uma década, mas como ele também pertence à casta, está tudo em casa.

Protesto em São Paulo, em maio de 2017, organizado por As Mães de Maio e diversos movimentos sociais contra a condenação de Rafael Braga

Em São Luís, Maranhão, em 2015, o estudante Denys Martins Cavalcante, atropelou um pedestre numa avenida da cidade.Foi preso em flagrante e solto horas depois,sem pagar fiança. Denys é filho de um influente juiz da cidade, não prestou socorro à vítima ou apoio à família. Foi preso tentando fugir.

É importante lembrar que, no caso da condenação de Rafael Braga, o juiz Ricardo Coronha diz ter se baseado única e exclusivamente no depoimento dos policiais. Não aceitou testemunhas, negou diligências da defesa do jovem e se deu por satisfeito com o testemunho dos policiais que efetivaram a prisão e agrediram Rafael.  O juiz, alegou crer no compromisso destes com a verdade e a instituição.

O que faremos com todos os casos conhecidos, via imprensa, em que policiais forjam cena de crime, ocultam corpos e mentem sobre conflitos que não houveram, para legitimarem os casos de “autos de resistência”? Apenas quando se trata de “insignificantes” isso não faz diferença.

E o que dizer do juiz João Carlos de Souza Correa, que, em 2011, ao ser parado em blitz, se sentiu ofendido ao resistir à abordagem e ter ouvido da agente Luciana Tamburini que ele “não era Deus”?

Ciente da casta à qual pertence, o juiz chegou a dar voz de prisão à agente, que depois  foi condenada a indenizar o magistrado em R$ 5 mil, que conseguiu com ajuda de amigos e pessoas que ficaram indignadas com o caso.

Por tudo isso, uma desesperança vai tomando conta dos que acompanham o caso de Rafael Braga. Porque ele não é o único. Ele pode ser emblemático, mas não é único. Estamos reféns de um poder que circula em meio a uma casta medíocre e militarizada, que dorme em berços privilegiados à noite e julgam sujeitos “insignificantes de dia”. O corporativismo do Judiciário brasileiro dificulta a abertura de diálogo com as pressões populares e a busca pela razoabilidade em julgamentos em que, na pessoa do acusado, a falta de provas é nítida, o racismo se destaca e a criminalização da pobreza é inegável.

Liberdade para Rafael Braga!

The post Rafael Braga é insignificante para o Judiciário, que se comporta como casta corporativista appeared first on The Intercept.

Documents Reveal the Behind-the-Scenes Chaos of the Muslim Ban

8 August 2017 - 12:19pm

At the end of the day on Friday, January 27, Donald Trump’s newly signed executive order banning travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries began circulating among officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

As the agency in charge of admitting people to the country, CBP would have lead responsibility for implementing the president’s new policy. Emails and other government documents, released to The Intercept under the Freedom of Information Act, show how ill-prepared the agency was, crafting guidance on the fly and frantically adjusting its response as thousands of protesters descended on airports around the country.

“Headquarters is currently working on instructions for the field,” wrote CBP’s acting deputy executive director of field operations in an email shortly after the executive order came down. “Please standby for guidance.”

In the middle of the night, a memo arrived instructing CBP officers on how to handle travelers from the countries subject to the ban.

The document tells agents to give passengers the option to either withdraw their application for admission to the country or else be put in proceedings for deportation. Some categories of visitor, including permanent residents, refugees, and unaccompanied children, would be held until they could be given an exemption from the order, an authority that initially rested with the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security.

An hour later, at 1 a.m., an email clarified that field office directors could give waivers to legal permanent residents themselves, without the State Department weighing in. By 9 p.m. Saturday, another email shows, CBP also had the authority to approve waivers for refugees, unaccompanied children, and certain other people. And that same night, when news came that a federal judge in New York had blocked parts of the order, CBP ordered internally that “we are to suspend all departures of those found inadmissible under the Executive Order, including those who wish to depart.”

“We should freeze all departures,” the memo continues, “but continue to detain the individuals in the airports while we await further legal guidance.” 

Late Sunday night, a new instruction went out that the “limited number of travelers subject to the executive orders currently in CBP custody” should be referred for an examination and a potential waiver and that they should not be removed from the country.

As these emails flew behind the scenes, reports of passengers being detained on arrival were filtering out of airports. Lawyers and protesters arrived, trying to make contact with detainees and demand their release. There was widespread confusion about the impact of the ban, even before court challenges further complicated its implementation. CBP and the Department of Homeland Security did issue some public statements and sets of frequently-asked-questions on their websites that generally track with what is shown in the emails — but lawyers and the public were still scrambling to understand how the ban was being applied.

Members of a coalition of immigration lawyers wait for people affected by US President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on incoming refugees and travelers from seven Muslim countries, at the Los Angeles International Airport, California on Jan. 30, 2017.

Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

“As far as we knew there was no implementing guidance, no indication as to which groups of people this would apply to,” said Betsy Fisher, policy director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, which organized lawyers around the country amid the chaos of the weekend when the ban took effect. “Whether it would include refugees who were cleared to travel, dual nationals, special immigrant visas. On Friday night and Saturday, when we realized our clients were being held, we weren’t aware of any guidance, and the only information we were getting was from the courts. So it was over the next several days that we got the word that legal permanent residents could get in, and that [Defense Secretary] General [Jim] Mattis was intervening to make sure Iraqis could get in, but we were just getting that from the news.” (The White House clarified that the executive order would not apply to Green Card holders on February 1. The Pentagon, reportedly at the request of Mattis, compiled the names of Iraqis who had worked with the U.S. military and who should be exempted from the ban.)

Sirine Shabaya, senior staff attorney with Muslim Advocates, said her group was largely in the dark about who could be issued a waiver. “That was obviously the only way you could get in, but publicly no guidance was released about what documents you should present, who might qualify,” she said.

The documents also offer some insight into CBP’s response to the onslaught of criticism from the public and elected officials. As first reported by the Daily Beast, CBP closely monitored airport protests, noting the number of people and which public figures were in attendance, and instructed employees “NOT to engage with the media or Congressional representatives.” One email alerted field office directors that they were receiving a “high volume of calls from various individuals and others claiming to be attorneys.” The email dismissed the callers as “reading from a script” and said it was “most likely a form of telephonic protest.”

As the Daily Beast noted, CBP also circulated bulletins from various airports, noting the number of protesters, the presence of media and particular political figures, including photos and even summaries of protesters’ chants. (A sample from Washington Dulles airport: “protesters have been witnessed cheering when passengers exit…and occasionally chanting ‘love, not hate. That’s what makes America great.’”) CBP officers were instructed to wear plain clothes and avoid crossing public areas of the terminal. The bulletins also relay information from local police, such as San Francisco police officers saying that “they are hearing ‘chatter’ from the crowd suggesting that ‘they rush the doors.’”

In an email sent at 8 p.m. on Saturday, acting CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan noted that the “UN is expressing concern that we are denying G-4s,” a special visa for employees of international organizations and their families, which the State Department had exempted from the effects of the Executive Order.

“The purpose of congressmen and lawyers trying to get information about who was getting held and how many people it was, was that there was a real danger that CBP was ignoring the court orders,” said Michael Price, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Included in the documents are two examples of people who were given waivers and allowed into the United States, though details are heavily redacted for privacy reasons. One was for a child who arrived in Baltimore with their U.S. citizen father, the other an Iraqi refugee at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport who had fled “due to death threats and an attempted kidnapping.” The details visible in the summary of the waiver for the Iraqi refugee line up with those of Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, one of the plaintiffs in one of the first lawsuits against the muslim ban, in the Eastern District of New York.

A Tuesday email also notes that incoming airline crew members subject to the ban “may be detained on board the vessel…for the duration of the vessel’s U.S. voyage.” In the days after the ban, some flight attendants were reportedly detained.

On the evening of Friday February 3, after a federal judge in Washington state blocked the order, the CBP stopped enforcing the ban, according to an email from the acting commissioner.

As reports from the ground suggested that rank-and-file CBP officers were being overzealous in enforcing the ban and ignoring court decisions, some asked if the U.S. Marshals should be stepping in to enforce them. Emails from the U.S. Marshals Service show bewildered officials inquiring what they were supposed to do about it, after judges in New York and Massachusetts issued orders citing the service. “We’re still wrestling with guidance on this matter,” the chief of public affairs wrote back to a deputy U.S. Marshal in Boston. Another email from an official in Boston says that they “never heard a peep” from the U.S. Attorneys office after they were sent the order. Another email says that the New York judge, Ann Donnelly, had been advised to include the language about the Marshals but “she does not expect us to take any action.”

The documents recently released to The Intercept by CBP are not comprehensive; this reporter has sued the government for failing to process a variety of requests for documents related to the travel ban within the time frame required by law. Lawyers Marcia Hofmann and Kendra Albert of Zeitgeist Law, who are representing the reporter, have asked a federal judge to order the agencies to finish processing the documents by September 5, ahead of when the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the ban in October.

Top photo: Thousands flood into Terminal 4 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 28, protesting Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from certain countries from traveling to the U.S.

The post Documents Reveal the Behind-the-Scenes Chaos of the Muslim Ban appeared first on The Intercept.

João Doria choca o discurso para 2018 com ovos e afagos de Temer e ACM Neto

8 August 2017 - 11:56am

Com tempo contado entre a sobrevida obtida na Câmara e o calendário eleitoral, Michel Temer, retirado do túmulo pelos deputados, não esperou o próprio cadáver esquentar. Dias após a votação, viajou a São Paulo para se encontrar com João Doria (PSDB), prefeito eleito sob as bênçãos de Geraldo Alckmin, seu antigo padrinho com quem, dizem por aí, rivaliza a indicação tucana à Presidência.

Ouviu do presidente, do alto de seus 5% de popularidade, ser alguém com a alma da conciliação e que “compreende como ninguém os problemas do país”, ainda que parte dos problemas do país se acomodem bem debaixo do Minhocão, via pelo qual a companheira do alcaide dizia, até pouco tempo, não saber para que servia. “É um tipo um viaduto, né?”

Os caminhos para Brasília, no entanto, tem rotas alternativas, como o aeroporto. De lá, após ouvir os gracejos de Temer, João Doria voou para Salvador, onde recebeu o título de cidadão soteropolitano e reuniu-se com o prefeito ACM Neto (DEM).

“Não há ovo, não há agressão, não há palavrão que me intimide.”

Ex-apresentador de TV, o prefeito paulistano, que em sete meses de gestão já demonstrou toda sua sensibilidade ao gravar e compartilhar a demissão de auxiliares, desancar jornalistas nas redes, mandar o paulistano acelerar nas marginais sem ligar para as consequências do aumento das vítimas do trânsito ou promover sua “limpeza” na cracolândia, foi atingido por um ovo arremessado em sua direção antes de receber a homenagem em Salvador. Chocou dali, com uma boa ajuda do engajamento torto do arremessador, um discurso pronto para acusar a intransigência da oposição – prontamente nomeada como petista, esquerdista e comunista, para aplausos dos comentaristas de portal preocupados com as insurgências do lado de lá do Muro de Berlim.

“Não há ovo, não há agressão, não há palavrão que me intimide. Ao contrário, saio daqui revigorado, com vontade de lutar pelo Brasil”, disse o tucano.

Seguranças tentam proteger Doria de chuva de ovos em Salvador.

Mila Cordeiro/Ag. A Tarde/Folhapress

Reparem que o prefeito da maior cidade do país não falou em “lutar por São Paulo”.

Em meio a uma série de manifestações dúbias do tucano sobre suas pretensões eleitorais, as pontas da zona leste e oeste paulistanas parecem ter ficado ainda menores para quem acabava de ser contemplado pelos afagos de Temer e ACM Neto – afagos aparentemente em falta no próprio partido.

Isso possivelmente explica os elogios rasgados ao clã Magalhães, cujo patriarca costumava, entre outros desmandos, violar o sigilo dos painéis de votação no Senado e não se constrangia em usar a estrutura da Secretaria de Segurança Pública da Bahia para realizar escutas telefônicas ilegais contra seus desafetos políticos.

O discurso da “nova” cara da política nacional, ali presentada por Doria e ACM Neto (integrante, aliás, da planilha da Odebrecht), era um aceno de cortesia para um símbolo do século passado.

Uma ponte para dobrar tucanos

Na votação da denúncia da Procuradoria Geral da República, na semana passada, 22 deputados tucanos tomaram posição pró-Temer. Só uma, Bruna Furlan, era de São Paulo, onde o PSDB elegeu todos os governadores desde 1994 e tem hoje mais de um possível candidato a presidente.

Os caminhos até 2018 começam a ser pavimentados. A queda-de-braço pela coroa paulista é o posto de largada.

Temer, que dobrou o Congresso, vê em Doria uma ponte para dobrar os tucanos de São Paulo e, consequentemente, ganhar ali o terreno. Doria, ao que parece, vislumbra nessas pontes uma forma de ganhar o país.

Um é figura desgastada, sem votos ou popularidade; outro é uma figura em ascensão, e tem a seu favor uma matilha eletrônica capaz de atacar qualquer um que se aproxime do protegido – inclusive repórteres dispostos a fazer…reportagem sobre a gestão.

Seja como for, as alianças ensaiadas para 2018, se houver eleição até lá, mostram como é possível criar um mundo paralelo a partir de hologramas no Brasil de 2017.

Doria não teve tempo sequer para mostrar se é um gestor político ou um político gestor, mas já desponta no cenário nacional como o anti-Lula. Tem, para isso, a bênção de outro holograma, um fiador da estabilidade econômica em um país onde só Temer e seus deputados fiéis parecem habitar. Nas ruas, longe dos palácios, o medo do desemprego, sintoma da instabilidade, acaba de atingir 66,1 pontos, quarto maior valor da série histórica iniciada em 1999 pela Confederação Nacional da Indústria (CNI).

Na política de hologramas e discursos divorciados da realidade, a mentira é repetida à exaustão até virar slogan. Assim é possível transformar presidente denunciado em “conhecedor” das entranhas do Congresso e mala de dinheiro apreendida em ausência de provas consistentes. Nada estranho a um país que acaba de ver os responsáveis por um consistente mar de lama em tamanho real em Mariana (MG) virarem vítimas de uma acusação sem provas.

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Orrin Hatch, the Original Antitrust Hipster, Turns on His Own Kind

7 August 2017 - 3:03pm

Before Congress checked out for the August recess, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, made sure to use some of the waning moments to come to the defense of giant internet platforms, contradicting a long history of concern over the power of tech monopolies, a concern that lasted right up through last year.

In a Thursday speech, Hatch warned about the rise of “hipster antitrust,” a flailing attempt at a derisive term for a group of experts and observers who look uneasily at growing concentrations in every sector of our economy. These hipsters — for the sake of sanity let’s just call them anti-monopolists or the New Brandeis movement — believe that antitrust officials at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have for the past 35 years viewed the question of anti-competitive mergers and industries too narrowly, guided by something called the “consumer welfare” standard.

Initiated by failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and associates at the University of Chicago, the consumer welfare standard maintains that, as long as merging companies make the case that prices will drop and “efficiencies” will occur due to their combination, the merger should go forward. Anti-monopolists, seeing how market concentration has affected not just prices but wages, suppliers, quality of service, regional inequality, economic dynamism, and democracy itself, believe the authorities must look at economic sectors with a much broader lens.

It’s an odd time for Hatch to have backed off what was once a lonely crusade, just as the wings of both parties are coming around to the issue. Anti-monopoly politics has gotten high-level buy-in from Democrats, who placed trust-busting at the head of their “Better Deal” agenda. Even alt-right populist Steve Bannon has told people privately he favors regulating Google and Facebook as public utilities, a disclosure that led to a rather combative segment on CNBC that my editor Ryan Grim insists I link to.

But on Thursday, Hatch called this idea “little more than pseudo-economic demagoguery and anti-corporate paranoia.” In a paean to self-regulation and the free market’s invisible hand, Hatch praised the consumer welfare standard as “an absolute boon to our economy and society” and lamented it being “besieged from the left.” While he admitted that “many markets are concentrating,” particularly in the tech sector, he said this was not a major concern, that markets concentrate and disperse, and everything balances out in the end.

Hatch added that the consumer welfare standard can easily adapt to meet particular challenges like the merger between Amazon and Whole Foods, or the question of Google’s anticompetitive conduct in search, which just drew a $2.7 billion fine from the European Union. Departing from that approach serves “the same old collectivist impulse that we’ve seen time and again.”

But while in the speech Hatch joked that “nobody would mistake me for a hipster,” on the issue of concentration in the tech sector, the Utah senator is actually the original cool kid.

Back in 1998, Hatch wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Beware High-Tech Monopolies,” expressing fears that “a positive ‘feedback cycle’ in high-tech markets often allows individual firms … to garner unusually large market shares.” He uses the example of Microsoft Windows’s popularity spurring more software developers to contour their programs for that platform, leading to more market share for the operating system with the best applications. The trend makes it much harder to switch operating systems than to switch shampoos, Hatch wrote, and dominance that reduces competition can lead to high prices, less innovation and fewer choices.

This is precisely the “network effects” dynamic that Hatch denigrated in his Thursday speech as “sleek new jargon” from academics used to attack the consumer welfare standard. Hatch keenly understood the danger of platform monopolies 19 years ago. In fact, he was one of the biggest proponents in Washington for breaking up Microsoft in the 1990s, and would give long speeches about “Antitrust in the Digital Age.”

And he continued to express his concern about it until very recently. In 2007, Hatch sharply questioned Google’s chief legal officer about the merger between Google and DoubleClick, which created a dominant online advertising provider. He also wrote to antitrust authorities opposing the deal, worrying about not only market dominance but consumer privacy.

Last year, in a Senate hearing with then-FTC Chair Edith Ramirez, Hatch cited a 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation showing that the FTC’s Bureau of Competition wanted to charge Google with illegally preferencing its own companies in search results, but the FTC’s senior leadership overrode the bureau and closed the case. He also highlighted a paper by Tim Wu, reading the line “Google is degrading its search results at the expense of its users.” Hatch asked whether the FTC would re-open its Google investigation in light of these developments.

So why did Hatch, a longtime proponent of tough scrutiny of internet monopolies, back off? And how did Microsoft become the largest giver to Hatch’s campaign this cycle?

We reached out to the person from whom he borrowed the term “hipster antitrust,” George Mason University law professor Joshua Wright, to see if he had any insight into Hatch’s about-face. “I’ve not been in contact with Sen. Hatch or his office and am not advising them,” Wright said. “Seems like they follow antitrust issues, saw the hashtag, and decided to use it.”

In an impressive display, Wright has managed to bounce back and forth from the Google payroll to government service four different times in the past four years. As a law professor he received generous funding from Google for at least four different academic papers, all of which took Google’s side that they violate no antitrust laws. Wright became an FTC commissioner in 2013 and had to recuse himself from Google decisions for two years because of their funding of his research. After leaving the FTC in 2015, Wright became an “of counsel” at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Google’s main outside law firm, which has represented Google before the FTC. Then in late 2016, Wright joined the Trump transition team, managing the FTC transition for the president-elect.

Wright is still of counsel with Google’s main outside law firm and back on the faculty at Antonin Scalia Law School (which had briefly been named the Antonin Scalia School of Law before internet mockery of its acronym forced a change).

Matt Whitlock, a spokesman for Hatch, said that the office had been getting a number of inquiries about Hatch’s stance following the speech, which seemed to be a dramatic departure from his past antitrust crusade. But, said Whitlock, Hatch hasn’t truly changed. His full comment:

Senator Hatch remains just as concerned today as he did in the 1990’s about monopolization and other anticompetitive behavior, whether in the tech sector or elsewhere. The purpose of this speech was to defend the consumer welfare antitrust standard against calls to move to something else. “Network effects” is a good example. Network effects, as an economic concept, is very real and has been a part of competitive analysis for some time, including in the Microsoft case (as the prior editorial shows). But lately it’s been used in a sense completely untethered from traditional analysis, to suggest that the consumer welfare standard is no longer workable. That is why he said in the speech that concepts like network effects “do less to define new economic concepts than to explain how old economic concepts are manifesting themselves in modern markets. Through history, we’ve seen this time and time again. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Google portion of the speech is another example. Senator Hatch made clear that “nobody is suggesting that no enforcement is necessary,” and that “genuinely anticompetitive conduct must be stopped.” Again, in defense of the consumer welfare standard, he made clear that “[w]e must weigh the procompetitive aspects of Google’s conduct with its anticompetitive potential. The ultimate inquiry should be whether consumers are better off as a result of Google’s actions.” He was critiquing the alternative approach, growing in popularity, which “instead of asking what lowers prices and increases quality—instead of considering actual proof of harm to consumers—[asks] what best serves the social goals in vogue at the moment.

Back in the 1990s, when Hatch was going after Microsoft, he told a technology industry conference, “If you want to get involved in business, you should get involved in politics.” The clear implication was that tech companies needed to increase lobbying and campaign contribution spending, to favor politicians who would subsequently favor their interests. In the wake of this shakedown, Microsoft started to spend more on K Street, and maxed out to Hatch’s re-election campaigns. The company opened an office in Utah in 2009.

Today, Google is spending more on lobbying than ever before, over $6 million in the past three months. And Hatch himself has been courting tech interests in 2017. He rolled out an agenda that would increase H1-B immigration visas, and meeting with key trade groups like The Software Alliance and the Internet Association (which counts Google, Amazon, and Facebook as members), along with Apple and old nemesis Microsoft. Hatch even spoke last month at the launch of a Utah affiliate of, a national pro-immigration organization formed by tech billionaires Marc Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.

Sen.Hatch faces re-election in 2018, and despite being 83 years old, he intends to run.

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These Are the Technology Firms Lining Up to Build Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” Program

7 August 2017 - 1:45pm

Back when he was a presidential candidate, in August 2016, Donald Trump promised his followers and the world that he would screen would-be immigrants using “extreme vetting,” a policy that has remained as ambiguous as it is threatening (his haphazard and arbitrary “Muslim ban” was the apparent result of that pledge). Today, Homeland Security documents show the American private sector is eager to help build an advanced computer system to make Trump’s “extreme vetting” a reality.

On July 18 and 19, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division hosted an “industry day” for technology companies interested in building a new tool for the Homeland Security apparatus. The event was only supposed to take one day at the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, but was expanded to two after what ICE called an “overwhelming response” from interested companies. According to an ICE document titled “Extreme Vetting Initiative” provided to potential contractors, the agency’s current ability to evaluate an immigrant’s potential for criminality or terrorism is inadequate, “fragmented across mission areas and are both time-consuming and manually labor-intensive due to complexities in the current U.S immigration system.” ICE is simply digging around so much, at such a fever pitch under Trump, that they’ve created a hopeless backlog.

So it’s time for something new and better, says ICE: a system that will serve as an “overarching vetting” machine “that automates, centralizes, and streamlines the current manual vetting process while simultaneously making determinations via automation if the data retrieved is actionable” in order to “implement the President’s various Executive Orders (EOs) that address American immigration and border protection security and interests.” In other words, data-mining software that helps ICE agents find human targets faster.

A slide from an ICE presentation made at the agency’s “Industry Day” in July.

ICE’s hope is that this privately developed software will help go far beyond matters of legality to matters of the heart. The system must “determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society, as well as their ability to contribute to national interests” and predict “whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.” Using software to this end is certainly in line with Trump’s campaign rhetoric — during a rally in Phoenix, he described how “extreme vetting” would make sure the U.S. only accepts “the right people,” using “ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.”

Sign-in sheets from the ICE event show a sizable private sector turnout, including representatives from IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, LexisNexis, SAS, and Deloitte, along with a litany of smaller firms, such as Praescient Analytics, Red Hat, PlanetRisk, and Babel Street (the sign-in sheets can be read below).

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The tool, according to ICE documents, will solve the fact that the agency is dealing with such an enormous volume of people that analyzing them through traditional means is becoming less feasible — Homeland Security’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) “reviews over 1,000,000 violator leads for derogatory information annually and sends approximately 8,400 cases to HSI field offices for investigation.”

Should ICE succeed, the Extreme Vetting Initiative will make analyzing millions of people for potentially threatening traits more manageable. The initiative appears to be chiefly aimed at what ICE calls “nonimmigrants,” a term for foreign nationals seeking “temporary entry to the United States for a specific purpose.” Interested contractors were told their system must be capable of scraping not only “data in various law enforcement databases” and “other government agency computer systems” (including FALCON, an immigration database created by Palantir) but will extensively exploit anything that can be found on the public internet in order to provide “continuous vetting” of foreign visitors for the entirety of their stay. Essentially, anything online that doesn’t require a password would be fair game under the Extreme Vetting Initiative:

The Contractor shall analyze and apply techniques to exploit publically [sic] available information, such as media, blogs, public hearings, conferences, academic websites, social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, radio, television, press, geospatial sources, internet sites, and specialized publications with intent to extract pertinent information regarding targets, including criminals, fugitives, nonimmigrant violators, and targeted national security threats and their location.

ICE declined to comment for this article, but in a Q&A session with contractors, the agency lamented that its “biggest constraint, because we are a vetting/screening operation, is that we are required to work with what is publically [sic] available.” That said, ICE told the contractors that as far as what data is ingested into the Extreme Vetting Initiative system, they’re willing to be very flexible:

We are open to anything right now. We’d have to run it thru Privacy but the idea is to be nimble here. We don’t want to be restrictive so we don’t want to strictly limit it to certain datasets. We recognize things are changing all the time as is our ability to navigate thru new permissions to enhance law enforcement’s ability to do their job. We expect that to continue in the near term to get the job done.

That same Q&A document includes a pointed question from an unnamed contractor about the potential for the entire plan to be foiled by the American Civil Liberties Union:

Five years ago the FBI tried to accomplish the objectives that are being stated here and the ACLU shut it down. The FBI tried to [do] this type of contract in the past and the ACLU shut them down. Does ICE realize the problems of the past and what happened before?

But ICE doesn’t seem particularly worried, explaining that while the FBI has been tripped up when attempting similar data-mining operations against American citizens, an operation focused on non-citizens would be less likely to face such obstacles. “The prediction is that in the near future there will be legislation addressing what you can and can’t do,” the agency answered. “We will continue to do it until someone says that we can’t.”

Documents published with this article:

The post These Are the Technology Firms Lining Up to Build Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” Program appeared first on The Intercept.

Around Mar-a-Lago, No Deportation Exemption For Trump Supporters

7 August 2017 - 9:00am

Francisco Javier Gonzalez manages an upscale pizzeria in Palm Beach, just two miles down the road from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private Florida club. The Trumps have long been a presence in the community, and back when he was working his way up through the industry, Gonzalez, then in his early 20s, waited on the future president.

“I didn’t know much about him at the time,” he said of that day back in 2004. “I just knew that he was a multimillionaire. We didn’t know that he was ever going to run for president. I didn’t really pay much attention because over there you get a lot of customers at the same level.”

Over the years, Gonzalez has crossed paths with some of Palm Beach’s most influential figures, including news personalities and entrepreneurs. Trump’s nephew, David Desmond, referred to Gonzalez as an “old friend” in a 2011 column for the Palm Beach Daily News.

When Trump announced his candidacy, Gonzalez hoped he would win.

“I knew that 90 percent of my customers wanted him to be the president, and I had a feeling that it was good for us, for the economy, and I thought that people would be happy and spend more money,” he said. After the election, with local officials complaining that Trump’s frequent visits to his “Winter White House” were bankrupting the town, Gonzalez stuck up for his old customer in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times.

But there is no deportation exception in current immigration policy for Trump supporters, so Gonzalez remains a potential target for removal. By the time he waited on Trump, he had already been in the country without proper papers for seven years, having arrived when was a 15-year-old boy.

Gonzalez, a father to three U.S.-born daughters, came to the United States in 1997 to live with his brother. He entered using a tourist visa, attended school, and worked in a restaurant. A few years later, he traveled to Mexico to visit his parents. He didn’t understand immigration policy at the time — very few teenagers do — but if he had, he would have never left. He tried to re-enter the U.S. using the same visa, but border agents told him it wasn’t valid and sent him back. After four years in Palm Beach, Gonzalez couldn’t imagine returning to life on his family’s farm, so he crossed the southern border illegally.

“When you cross the border illegally, you don’t think of any of it — you’re just looking for a better life, you want to be at a better place,” he told The Intercept. “You don’t think you’re committing a crime.”


Francisco Javier Gonzalez, who supported Donald Trump’s bid for presidency, now finds himself a potential target for deportation under Trump’s immigration policies.

Photo: Maryam Saleh

He stayed in the restaurant business after finishing high school, and for the past nine years he has run Pizza al Fresco, a restaurant tucked into a courtyard in a downtown Palm Beach shopping district that hosts a number of high-end shops like Chanel and Tiffany & Co.

Gonzalez was due to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement under a supervised release program earlier this month, and he feared he might be detained as a result of changed enforcement policies. ICE granted him a three-month reprieve, though, giving Gonzalez relative peace of mind.

Two miles from the restaurant, down roads lined with mansions concealed by towering hedges, is Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. Despite the president’s “America First” agenda, his businesses are seeking to hire 70 temporary foreign workers for Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Club in nearby Jupiter, Florida, according to a recent Buzzfeed News report.

The businesses’ requests under the H-2B visa program claim — or perhaps admit — that there are no American workers to do the job. When asked if, given the opportunity, he would work at a Trump-owned business, Gonzalez said yes without hesitation. “Absolutely,” he told me. “I mean, I think he’s a great guy.”

Not everyone in South Florida — home to an estimated 450,000 of America’s 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, according to the Pew Research Center has such an optimistic outlook about Trump.

For the last four years, Matias Muy Carillo, 42, and her husband, Victor Chavez, 39, have run a tire shop in Jupiter, four miles from Trump’s golf club. Both unauthorized immigrants from Guatemala with final orders of removal, they felt the change in immigration enforcement firsthand in March, when ICE officers detained Chavez and affixed a GPS monitor to Carillo’s ankle.

At her family’s Tikal Tires shop, Carillo said she wouldn’t think of working at Trump’s golf club. “I would never accept money from him when he is causing my people to be poor and to work for low wages and is deporting them,” she said.

When Carillo, who received a final order of deportation in 2006, showed up at an ICE office in Miramar, Florida, in March, she was hoping the agency would renew the stay of deportation first issued to her in 2014. Instead, the officers told her to return the next day with her husband and their U.S.-born son, Jimmy Chavez, 13. Like many immigrants in her situation, she decided to do the right thing and show up, hoping that her continued cooperation with authorities would be met with mercy. It wasn’t.

Agents separated Carillo and Chavez, while Jimmy was told to wait outside. Even though Chavez’s work permit and stay of deportation were renewed in December 2016 and were good for two years, the immigration agents told him they was no longer valid “because the law has changed,” Carillo said. (An ICE spokesperson said he had no way to confirm the account.)

Chavez was arrested and taken to Broward Transitional Center, a for-profit detention center in Pompano Beach, Florida, where he has been detained since.

The policy that allowed the couple to stay and work in the United States was completely discretionary, and their luck turned as a result of changed immigration enforcement policies that “virtually eliminated the practice of using discretion to close cases,” according to a Migration Policy Institute report on the first six months of Trump’s immigration policies.

While the Obama administration carried out a substantial number of deportations in the former president’s first few years in office, it narrowed the focus of its enforcement efforts in 2014, setting out priorities that included individuals who threatened national security and public safety, people with felonies or significant misdemeanors, recent arrivals, and those who had final orders of removal issued after December 2013. The Trump administration’s policy also identifies priority categories for deportation, but it has cast a wide net that includes those charged with a criminal offense but not yet convicted, those who have committed acts that constitute a crime but have not been charged, and anyone subject to a final order of removal.

Gonzalez, the restaurant manager in Palm Beach, was ordered deported in 2002, according to ICE. He  has been trying to get legal status since marrying his American wife in 2006. DHS granted Gonzalez supervised release a few years ago, which meant he had to check in with ICE officials every year, he said.

He was due to check in with ICE officers earlier this month. His attorney, Richard Hujber, feared that changes to immigration enforcement put Gonzalez at risk of deportation, so the lawyer created an online petition calling on DHS to exercise prosecutorial discretion to postpone Gonzalez’s deportation.

This month, after Hujber took the case public in the local community, the immigration agency gave Gonzalez a three-month extension to complete the adjudication of certain waivers necessary for his attempt to obtain legal status, the immigrant said.

“Honestly, I’m so thankful to ICE. They’ve been giving me a chance to take care of it. They’ve been so great about it,” Gonzalez said, sitting in a quiet courtyard near his restaurant last week. “They understand my situation.” Customers occasionally interrupted our conversation. “I’ve been reading about you. Everything OK?” one woman asked after giving him a hug. “I’m so sorry about all this trouble. You going to be OK now?”

“Yes, I’m going to be OK,” Gonzalez responded, smiling.

Carrillo wears a GPS ankle monitor issued by ICE in Jupiter, Florida on July 25, 2017.

Photo: Maryam Saleh

Matias Muy Carillo is not so upbeat about her family’s future.

Her husband, Chavez, entered the United States illegally 24 years ago, hoping to escape the violence of Guatemala’s civil war. His father was killed when Chavez was a toddler, and his family continued to face threats, Carillo said. When Chavez was 17, he was caught up in an immigration raid at a chicken slaughterhouse he worked at in Ohio, according to his attorney, Hector Diaz. Because he was a minor, the agents decided not to detain him. Chavez, who spoke a Mayan dialect and no English or Spanish at the time, moved to Rhode Island for a different job and says he never got notice of the immigration proceedings against him, according to his lawyer. The proceedings went on in Chavez’s absence, and an immigration judge issued a final order of removal against him in 1996, ICE told The Intercept in a statement. (He received a second order of removal 10 years later after using false identification, according to ICE.)

The couple met in Massachusetts shortly after Carillo made the journey across the southern border into Arizona in 2002. They got married and had a child and, when Jimmy was one-and-a-half years old, they moved to Jupiter. At that time, the town of 64,000 people was experiencing a boom in Guatemalan immigrants looking for jobs in construction, according to a 2007 film called “Jupiter or Bust: The El Sol Solution.”

Carillo and Chavez lived in the shadows for many years while Jimmy attended Jupiter public schools. In 2014, they turned themselves in, Diaz said, reassured by the fact that they did not fall into any of the Obama administration’s priority categories for removal. They were entered into a supervised release program that required them to check in with ICE annually, the lawyer said, and they have been able to get work permits ever since.

The same program that brought the family out of the shadows ultimately led to Chavez’s detention when the policy was changed under Trump, and the check-ins became roundups.

In Chavez’s absence, Carillo has become the family’s sole breadwinner, taking on laborious tasks while she works in the front office of their tire shop, where the walls are covered with colorful tapestries from Guatemala.

“I only did the front office. I took the orders and spoke to people that came in. I did not do the heavy work,” she told The Intercept, speaking through an interpreter. “The tires are very heavy. It’s a man’s work because you have to have strength to lift up the tires.”

Jimmy, who helps his parents out at the shop when he’s not in school, wants to become a biotechnical engineer, but he said his father’s absence has made getting through school more difficult.

“It’s been hard because I haven’t had that person to be around me and help me out in certain things that I need,” he said. “Take, for example, my homework sometimes. He would be there to try to teach me how he learned it and how he memorized so many things. Now that he isn’t here, it’s kind of hard now doing my summer packet because I don’t have his advice.”

Jimmy Chavez, 13, speaks to a customer by phone at his parents’ tire shop in Jupiter, Florida on July 25, 2017.

Photo: Maryam Saleh

Carillo said her family went public with their story because they want to bring attention to the plight of other detained immigrants who are unable to speak for themselves.

“It’s God. He makes me strong and he gives me strength and I want people to know that there are people that are unjust,” she said. “It’s inhumane, but there is a God who is just, and he will get justice for us.”

An online petition calling on the Department of Homeland Security to halt Chavez’s threatened deportation has more than 1,000 signatures.

“There’s a lot of support in the community,” said Jill Hanson, a board member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Her church has been very supportive, and people just couldn’t believe— People hoped that Trump didn’t mean half of what he said.”

The family supports a local soccer league, gives discounts to customers who can’t afford to pay full price for new tires, and is involved with El Sol, a neighborhood resource center that connects day laborers with employers and helps new immigrants adjust to life in the United States, Carillo said.

El Sol was established in 2006, as Washington lawmakers struggled to pass immigration reform and Jupiter dealt with an influx of immigrants living in the country without legal permission who struggled to assimilate — but whose labor was necessary to the town’s success. The center “is a great achievement for a small town that had the political courage and community support to find a solution to a difficult problem,” said the narrator of the 2007 film.

Cliff Ross, El Sol’s gardening coordinator, has known Carillo and Jimmy since he joined the organization one-and-a-half years ago. They invited him to Jimmy’s birthday party, Ross said, and Carillo took good care of him when he took his car in for a tire change.

Ross, a landscaper, manages the gardening plots El Sol rents out to local residents. Carillo plants one of those plots. All the gardeners must share 10 percent of their crops with El Sol’s kitchen as a condition of the lease, but Carillo stands out because of her generosity, Ross said. “They share everything they grow,” he said.

The Chavez family is a role model to other immigrants in Jupiter, said Andres Lopez, El Sol’s communications coordinator. “That’s something to aspire to: to be established, to have your own business, to be able to give back,” Lopez said. “This family has remained committed to El Sol despite not needing us.”

Top photo: Matias Muy Carillo works at the tire shop in Jupiter, Fla. on July 25, 2017.

The post Around Mar-a-Lago, No Deportation Exemption For Trump Supporters appeared first on The Intercept.

As Congress Tries to Criminalize BDS, the Democratic Socialists of America Endorse It

6 August 2017 - 12:36pm

Some members of Congress are trying to criminalize support for the campaign to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territories.

The U.S.’s new premiere left-wing organization, however, is moving the other way, undaunted by the threat of legislation against the BDS movement, as it is known.

The Democratic Socialists of America, which gathered this weekend in Chicago for its biennial convention, passed a resolution on Saturday to endorse the BDS movement. The vote in favor was so overwhelming, with so few dissenters — more than 90 percent supported the resolution — that no formal tally was taken. It marked the first time in the group’s 35-year history that it has taken a position on the issue.


— harrington slayer ? (@kid_mao) August 5, 2017

“I expected it to pass, but it did surprise me how overwhelming the support was,” said Rawan Tayoon, a Palestinian DSA activist from Los Angeles. Tayoon helped draft the resolution as part of a group that began its work in the spring.

Another drafter, Benjamin Balthaser, a Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago member, who joined the DSA last year, said it was especially important for people from the Jewish community to make their voices heard on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The Israeli government says it represents all Jews in the world,” Balthaser, who is Jewish, told The Intercept. “And I think it’s very important for the Jewish community to say, ‘We don’t feel represented by an apartheid government. We don’t feel represented by a military occupation.'”

Passing a pro-BDS resolution puts the group at odds with a national political figure whose avowedly democratic socialist presidential campaign helped DSA grow to 25,000 members over the past year: Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. Earlier this year, Sanders was asked by Al Jazeera’s Dena Takruri about whether he supported the BDS movement. While he offered implied criticism of unconditional military aid to Israel, he also told Takruri that he does not support the boycott movement.

“People will do what they want to do, but I think our job as a nation is to do everything humanly possible to bring Israel and the Palestinians and the entire Middle East to the degree that we can together. But no, I’m not a supporter of that,” Sanders said. “What must be done is that the United States of America is to have a Middle East policy which is even-handed, which does not simply supply endless amounts of money, of military support to Israel, but which treats both sides with respect and dignity and does our best to bring them to the table.”

Despite Sanders’s hesitancy, support for BDS in the U.S. is growing rapidly, particularly on college campuses and among faith organizations.

Top photo: Attendees react during the Democratic Socialists Convention at UIC in on Aug 4, 2017.

The post As Congress Tries to Criminalize BDS, the Democratic Socialists of America Endorse It appeared first on The Intercept.

Is Donald Trump Tweeting the U.S. Into a War on North Korea?

6 August 2017 - 10:33am

The political burlesque show running at the White House seems to consume the overwhelming majority of attention among cable news pundits and personalities. Such attention is not entirely unfounded given the potential for criminal indictments to hit members of Donald Trump’s family and inner circle. Any issue or scandal with potential to challenge the viability or very existence of the current presidency deserves intense scrutiny. But the rest of the world still exists and U.S. military involvement in an array of wars and conflicts also demands far more coverage than it receives. This has always been true, including under President Barack Obama, but under Trump, the stakes have been raised dramatically.

Trump has exhibited a disturbing pattern of reckless spontaneity, usually expressed publicly through his Twitter feed, when announcing what could rightly be construed as new U.S. policies. Indeed, when Trump’s senior adviser Sebastian Gorka was asked on Fox News what leverage Trump has left to pressure China to do more to contain potential threats from North Korea, Gorka shot back: “We have, you know, the president’s Twitter feed.”

Perhaps more disturbing than what Trump tweets publicly is what he is telling influential U.S. senators privately. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said recently that Trump told him he is willing to militarily obliterate the nation of North Korea if necessary. “There is a military option to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself,” Graham told NBC. Trump, he said, “told me that to my face.”

Trump is doing his best to inflame tensions with North Korea and China. Last weekend, the U.S. flew two B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula. It also conducted a ballistic missile test in the region. That followed a July 28 intercontinental ballistic missile test by North Korea. That missile reportedly has a longer range than any previously tested by Pyongyang and in theory, according to experts, could reach the United States. South Korea is now asking the Trump administration for its own new missiles with a capacity to strike deeper into the North. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to impose new sanctions on North Korea over it’s missile tests and nuclear program.

Trump punctuated the U.S. military posturing against North Korea with a public twitter attack on China and his American predecessors. “I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

For its part, China appeared to laugh off Trump as a naïf. “Such a statement could only be made by a greenhorn U.S. president who knows little about the North Korean nuclear issue,” declared an editorial in one Chinese state-controlled newspaper. “Pyongyang is determined to develop its nuclear and missile program and does not care about military threats from the U.S. and South Korea. How could Chinese sanctions change the situation?”

Tensions on the Korean peninsula are not new. And every U.S. administration seems to find itself in a similar conundrum with the regime. But Trump is erratic and tends to just spit out whatever he is thinking. And that could prove very dangerous with nuclear weapons and nuclear powers.

When North Korea is discussed in the U.S. media, coverage largely centers around how unstable and crazy Kim Jung-un is and the utterly repressive nature of his regime. How we got to a point of constant tension is largely ignored.

On this week’s Intercepted podcast, we took a deep dive into the history of North Korea and its leaders with John Feffer, the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Feffer is the author of several books, including “North Korea/South Korea: U.S. Policy and the Korean Peninsula” and “Power Trip,” which examined U.S. unilateralism during the George W. Bush administration. The following is an expanded transcript of that interview.

Listen to the interview here:

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


Jeremy Scahill: John Feffer. Welcome to Intercepted.

John Feffer: Thanks for having me on your show.

JS: Part of the reason I want to talk to you is that I want to step back from the current situation with North Korea and Mike Pence’s visit [to the demilitarized zone in April] and just start with a very basic historical outline, if you could give us that. How did we get to this situation — not just with Kim Jong-un in power — how is it that the Korean Peninsula is divided and what happened in what’s called the Korean War?

JF: Well, even prior to the Korean War, it’s important for folks to understand that the Korean Peninsula has long been subject to outside control, first by the Chinese, and then most notoriously by the Japanese under occupational authority — basically the first half of the 20th century. So WWII and the defeat of Japan meant, for the first time, independence for Korea.

Of course, it also meant division for Korea as the United States and the Soviet Union basically drew a line across the map without regard to anything except the convenience of where they were drawing the line, and divided the peninsula between a zone of influence for the Soviets to the north and a zone of influence for the United States in the south. And both sides, I think, even from the very beginning — both North Korea and South Korea kind of aspired to unify the peninsula under their own control.

And there were also, of course, people who had hoped to unify the peninsula independent of any kind of ideology, a kind of nationalist movement that emerged on the peninsula immediately World War II.

But thereupon began a series of skirmishes, long before even the Korean War broke out in 1950 — jostling for power, essentially — for territory and for authority between a Soviet-aligned north and the U.S.-aligned South. And that brings us up to the Korean War, a kind of miscalculation by North Korea thinking that once they invaded the South, they would not only get the complete backing of the populace in the South, but they would have kind of undiminished support from the Soviet Union and perhaps as well from China.

And the war didn’t necessarily go their way, nor did it go the U.S. and its allies’ way either. It led to a stalemate and the same division, at pretty much the same line in the Korean peninsula, as it was drawn immediately after World War II. That was the stalemate of 1953 and the armistice.

JS: And what was the motivating factor for the United States to get involved in Korea?

JF: Well, that’s a good question, because initially the United States did not see Korea as a national priority. It didn’t fall within its ambit of interests. But they suddenly became very interested in Korea after Mao Tse Tong took over China and installed communist rule there. And a perception emerged that Asia was falling — a falling set of dominoes, that the first domino, of course, was China, following the pattern of the Soviet Union, and then the communist model would continue to propagate, if you will, throughout the region, with Korea being next. Certainly, the North had already fallen under communist influence, but the fear was that that would spread throughout the entire peninsula and then perhaps move farther.

There was concern, for instance, that even Japan — because of radical trade unionists in the country immediately after World War II — Japan, too, could easily go communist. And then, suddenly, the United States would be facing not only the Soviet Union and the emerging Eastern Bloc, but it would be facing a very strong communist bloc in Asia as well, anchored by communist China.

JS: And what happened during the Korean War? I think this is a part of history that a lot of people are not aware of. The United States gets involved and how was that war staged — on a military level and strategic level by the United States? Who was on the side of the U.S.; who were they fighting against; who was backing the North Koreans?

JF: Well, first of all, it technically wasn’t the United States — of course it was the United States — but technically it was a U.N. operation, so it was under the banner of the United Nations. And the United States fought alongside South Korea, as well as some key European allies.

The other factor in there was Japan, which was a very impoverished country after the devastation of World War II. But the Korean War served as a kind of springboard for Japan to jump into the modern industrialized age, if you will. And because Japan served as a staging area for much of the Korean War for the United States, Japan profited enormously, economically, from the war.

On the other side, of course, North Korea had the Soviet Union as its putative ally, although the Soviet Union didn’t really provide all that much support. Much more critical, certainly to North Korea’s survival, was China. But that was only after the United States pushed North Korea all the way up into the northern corner. This was after MacArthur’s landing in Incheon — famous push back up the peninsula by U.S. and South Korean forces.

North Korea was hanging on by a thread. It was, you know, a very small island, all the way up in the northern part of the country — until a million Chinese volunteers entered on the side of North Korea and pushed U.S. forces all the way back down the peninsula, thus leading to the stalemate at roughly what we have as the DMZ today. In terms of military strategy, you saw kind of the first threats to use nuclear weapons by the United States, and of course, the United States was the only country at that time and continues to be the only country to have used nuclear weapons, but you have the first threats to use nuclear weapons against another country.

You also have the use of napalm for the first time. You have wide-scale bombing campaigns in North Korea — very similar, in some sense, to the bombings that took place in Tokyo, in Dresden, during World War II, saturation bombings that led to enormous civilian casualties — so you had some innovations in the Korean War, and you had some continuity as well with World War II.

JS: Now, when you say a million Chinese volunteers — outside of the obvious geostrategic battle that was going on between the United States, China, as you say to an extent, the Soviet Union — what would have been the motivation of a million Chinese to volunteer to go and fight on behalf of or in defense of North Korea?

JF: Well, officially, it was a kind of solidarity action in response to Korean communists’ assistance during the Chinese Communist Revolution. And so there were people like Kim Il-sung — at that time, the first North Korean leader who had operated as a guerrilla in China, but also in support of Chinese communists. So this was, at an explicit level, it was just a kind of repayment. But I think the Chinese government was quite concerned about the possibility that the United States would suddenly have forces stationed along the Chinese border if North Korea were to disappear and South Korea pushed its border all the way up to the border with China. So that, I think, was perhaps the greater motivating factor for China to become involved in the war.

JS: Now you know, of course, Kim Jong-un, the current leader of North Korea, is generally derided in the U.S. press and made fun of and treated as though he is, you know, a fat little lunatic, and of course, particularly with this current administration in the United States, he’s described as kind of a mixture between a porky little brat and a dangerous dictator.

But I want to peel back the layers on the kind of dynasty of the Kim family, starting with Kim Il-sung. How is it that the Kims, particularly Kim Il-sung, achieve this deity-like status within North Korea? Maybe unpack some of the historical context of who Kim Il-sung was and how he came to consolidate the level of power in North Korea that he ultimately did very quickly.

JF: Yeah, that’s an important question, because much of what we understand about North Korea today should be based on our understanding of Kim Il-sung and how he came to power. Because at the end of World War II, when Korea was divided and North Korea was effectively created, Kim Il-sung was not in Korea, he was actually in Russia. He had spent much of the war in the Soviet Union after having effectively lost in his guerrilla struggles in China and in North Korea.

So he spent much of that time in the Soviet Union. He comes back to Korea, basically on Soviet ships, and is effectively installed as the leader of North Korea by the Russians who see him as a pliant client.

But it’s important to realize that at that time, he was quite young. He was, you know, 32, 33, when he comes back to North Korea — quite young by leadership standards in Korea. Korea is a Confucian society; great deference paid to the older members of society. The notion of someone at the age of 33 taking over was kind of a challenge to traditional notions of leadership. Compound that with the fact that when Kim Il-sung came back to Korea, he was facing some significant opposition from indigenous communists, from communists that had spent the time in South Korea during the war, and as well from communists who had spent time in China. So, three different factions.

And he came back with approximately 200 guerrilla fighters. Between 1945 and 1950, the outbreak of the Korean War, Kim Il-sung consolidates his position rather ruthlessly by eliminating all three of these factions and establishing his own guerrilla cohort as the leading faction of society.

That continues during the Korean War. Purges take place as well during the war, and even after the war, and Kim Il-sung emerges from the Korean War having effectively consolidated his political position — gotten rid of his political rivals. And he also learns from the Soviet model the importance of a strong leader — a leader who commands not only the respect of the population but is, in effect, worshiped by the population.

So he merges the idea of a government and personal authority and establishes a personality cult — which becomes extraordinarily important in the development of North Korea because he leads from 1945, 1946, all the way to his death in 1994.

So it’s an extraordinary period of time that he controls the country. And he controls the country in a way that, from an outside perspective, seems quite successful. In other words, if you look at North Korea and South Korea as they emerge from the Korean War, North Korea develops economically much faster than South Korea, seems to develop a much more prosperous country in a shorter period of time using the Soviet-style command-economy strategies.

South Korea, not as successful. This is the case up until approximately the 1970s. So this model that Kim Il-sung develops attains a credibility, a legitimacy, within North Korea, not only on the basis of manufactured reality, if you will, the personality cult, but even by some objective standards, economic standards and social standards.

JS: This cult of personality that you’re talking about and you know it’s akin, I think, in some ways to almost a religion; how did that become commonplace in North Korea? Because that — typically when that happens it’s — you have a society that is cut off from the outside world and you start to tap into the new generations and ensure that they’re kind of brainwashed into believing that this is the truth and this is the way the world is. When did that start in North Korea around Kim Il-sung’s identity?

JF: Well Kim Il-sung came from a very Christian family and North Korea was — or the northern part of Korea was — very strongly Christian during the late 19th and early 20th century.

In fact, Pyongyang was really the center of Christian theology. Many people came to Pyongyang to study, including Billy Graham’s wife studied in Pyongyang at the theology center there, which was why Billy Graham was so interested in North Korea. So, Kim Il-sung bases his cult of personality on Christian roots. It’s kind of like what Christianity did in strengthening itself by building itself on an earlier pre-Christian Roman or other kind of pagan rituals. So you have, for instance, the father and the mother and the son. Kim Il-sung, his first wife and their first son, Kim Jong-il, formed this kind of Trinity in the North Korean ideology, very similar to a Christian Trinity.

And you find that Kim Il-sung, through this period, is able to add on to this cult of personality with some indigenous aspects. I mean, of course, it was identified as a Communist country, but gradually over the decades, those communist elements become superseded by more nationalist elements. And of course, the ideology that many people are familiar with is the Juche, an ideology that Kim Il-sung developed, which is effectively a self-reliant ideology — says that North Korea really can’t depend on other countries. And that’s why at the top of the show, I mentioned that it’s important to know that Korea was subjugated by outside forces for hundreds of years: China, Japan, etc.

So, the notion of self-reliance of nationalist sovereignty — extremely important to the North Korean ideology. And Kim Il-sung graphs this onto the personality cult, so that you have a rich kind of nationalist underpinning.

So it’s not just Kim Il-sung. It’s Kim Il-sung’s kind of merging with the nation as a whole to create a kind of organic, one mind-one body ideology, if you will.

JS: And, and from that period that you’re describing where North Korea was, let’s just say, simply, it was more advanced than — advancing quicker than — South Korea. Take us from that period through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, and then the ultimate ascent to power of Kim Jong-il following the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994. What happened from the ’70s up to the fall of the Soviet Union?

JF: Well, North Korea with its kind of Juche ideology decides not to integrate into the Soviet Comecon, or the economic cooperation sphere of the Soviet Union. It also doesn’t tie itself inextricably to the Chinese economy; the Chinese economy actually wasn’t doing very well in the 1960s and 1970s.

It establishes itself as a kind of indigenous autonomous economy and it also does not take much in the way of foreign loans. It does take some, but it doesn’t integrate itself into the global capitalistic economy either.

So it is isolated from both the East and the West. South Korea, of course, makes its decision to become a, a very globalized economy. It will base its economy on trade, on exports, on its integration into the world economy. So that decision that was made both in the North and the South in the 1970s leads to a pretty extreme divergence in economic performance in North Korea. Because it’s not connected really to any other economic bloc, cannot compete really, it cannot generate enough, you know, autonomous, indigenous capacity to meet the needs of its population.

South Korea advances very rapidly, you know, from the 1960s — South Korea was basically at the level of a sub-Saharan African country. And within the space of one generation, South Korea becomes one of the top industrial powers in the world. So this divergence is quite dramatic and it’s really exaggerated or aggravated by the collapse of communism because, basically, you know what — where North Korea was successful it was successful because it was running on cheap oil. North Korea had, for instance, the most mechanized agriculture in the region, which is quite remarkable when you think of it because you know Japan was quite an advanced country and had advanced agricultural techniques. But North Korea was the one that really was using much more oil, fertilizer in order to boost its food production. But that whole system was based on cheap oil — cheap oil either provided in at subsidized rates by the Soviet Union or China.

When [the] Soviet Union collapses in ’91, when China decides to go on, to eliminate the subsidized prices and go to world market rates for energy, suddenly North Korea faces an enormous crisis. Everything that was based on cheap oil suddenly becomes prohibitively expensive. It becomes impossible, in fact, for North Korean agriculture to survive and its industrial capacity also drops, since it too is based largely on cheap energy. And so, you see this hit in the early ’90s. And then by 1993-1994, all it took was a little push. And that little push was floods and droughts — weather conditions, in other words — that tipped North Korea over the edge.

And so by 1995, North Korean agriculture had collapsed — its industry had collapsed, it could no longer feed its population — and it enters into the famine period, and that comes right after Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994. So, for a lot of people, this was, you know, a sign of the heaven’s displeasure with North Korean leadership.

Kim Il-sung dies, the country’s plunged into crisis, the famine kills a lot of people. We don’t know how many — as much as 10 percent of the population of approximately 25 million people in North Korea — but it’s still difficult to find estimates, a famine that lasts from approximately 1995 to 2000.

And then you also in this period, you have Kim Il-sung’s son, Kim Jong-il, take over. Someone who you ho you could say never really wanted to be the leader of a country. I mean, here was a guy who was much more comfortable behind the camera. I think he wanted to be a film director. He loved films. He had this enormous private library of movies. If he could have just sat in a movie theater all day long, he would have been a happy guy. But he’s thrust into this position that I don’t think he ever wanted, and he certainly wasn’t, he didn’t have the capacity for. He was not charismatic. He barely uttered any word in public. He didn’t have a kind of a notion of where he should take the country economically

He did know that he shouldn’t listen to the Chinese or the Russians because this was, you know, the legacy of his father. It should be indigenous. It should be autonomous. It should be nationalist. But he doesn’t really take the country in an important new direction. He manages by 2000-2001 to stabilize the country, but it’s been knocked backward significantly, and North Korea, you could say it really hasn’t recovered from that period of the 1990s. Even today, I mean, and it has a modest economic growth, but it really, you take a tour of the North Korean countryside and you know it’s still because of the, because energy is expensive, it looks futile, it looks like people you know pushing plows instead of tractors.

It’s, it’s an industry industrial infrastructure that doesn’t have consistent electricity. And so, the factories aren’t working at peak capacity. So it’s still suffering from the problems it faced in the ’90s.

JS: Well also, John, I mean, another key component of this is that in the mid-1990s, or I guess around 1995, the North Koreans begin to invest more heavily in nuclear power in part to try to offset what you’re describing from the evaporation of their cheap fuel supplies from Russia or the Soviet Union, and also then, you know, facing a depletion of their economic prospects or positive economic prospects.

Was, was it actually the case that the nuclear aspirations of North Korea started from that position? Or was it always dual-hatted with a military aim?

JF: Yeah I think it was always two-pronged. As you point out, it was necessary for North Korea to find some other fuel source and nuclear power seemed a very attractive alternative. South Korea was investing enormous amount into nuclear power, it had the example of Japan, which also relied heavily on nuclear. North Korea kind of saw itself is following in that in those footsteps.

But there was a military component as well. Because at the same time that North Korea and South Korea were roughly equal economically up until the ’70s, you could argue that they were roughly equal militarily as well. But from the 1970s on, in part because of South Korea’s economic success and the fact it could invest more money into the military, and in part because it had the United States, as an ally, and the U.S. was providing cutting edge technology in the military sector, North Korea fell behind rather rapidly. It had a large standing army. It had large artillery positions, facing Seoul. It could do a lot of damage to South Korea, no question about it but the edge had clearly gone to South Korea and U.S.-South Korea combined, to level the playing field, well, to have a nuclear capability that was perceived as a cheap way of coming up to speed essentially. Even though, you know we know that nuclear weapons are not cheap, when you look at all of the costs combined, but looked at narrowly from the North Korean perspective they thought that was that was a kind of quick fix, if you will.

And they were also concerned of course that the United States was, you know, invading other countries around the world and it was kind of taking advantage of the unipolar moment that happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so nuclear weapons was not, were not just a way of leveling the playing field with South Korea but they offered a real deterrent against any possible U.S. intervention. Either bombing or actual physical military intervention in the country.

JS: But on some level, you know, just speaking from a strategic perspective, it was smart on the part of the North Koreans to want to pursue nuclear weapons given that they watched what happened in World War II. But also the fact that, in the emerging nuclear world, countries with nuclear weapons seem to have at least some form of an insurance policy from their complete destruction?

JF: Absolutely. No I mean the North Korean decision, from the perspective of North Korea, was absolutely the right one. If they had not developed nuclear weapons, North Korea probably would not exist today and — and that’s an important consideration when we think about what kind of negotiations can solve the current conflict between the United States and North Korea as well as between North Korea and South Korea.

If nuclear weapons serve this critical deterrent function, why on earth would North Korea give them up? Would they give them up simply in exchange for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War? Well, I mean, North Korea has asked for a peace treaty, and, and certainly there are a lot of folks here in the United States and in South Korea that support peace treaty, but honestly a piece of paper is probably not going to substitute for a nuclear deterrent.

So we have to come up with different kinds of security guarantees in the process of negotiating with North Korea, as well as acknowledging that A) North Korea’s not going to give up its nuclear capability as a precondition for negotiations, which was of course the Obama administration’s articulated position, and they’re not going to give away that nuclear capability after, say, only a week of negotiations and they say, “Hey, you know, you guys convinced us. We really believe in your sincerity. Thank you for your offers of removing sanctions. We’ll get rid of our nuclear weapons.” No! I mean they’re not going to trust us after a week of negotiations. It’s going to take a while for this trust-building exercise to have any kind of impact on the size and the technical qualifications of North Korea’s nuclear capability.

JS: Now I want to ask you two questions that I think are really vital and I don’t think that they’re all that often asked, and in part the answers are probably very complicated or incomplete, but I’m going to ask them anyway given your experience both in Korea and studying Korea for as long as you have. The first is: who really is in control of North Korea, because it’s hard to believe, particularly now, that Kim Jong-un is actually the one in charge in North Korea?

And then the other part of it is to what extent are the horror stories that we hear about the regime’s treatment of its own people within the country true? We had this, this case where there were these reports that Kim Jong-un had you know his uncle who was a military figure eaten alive by dogs, and now it seems like that’s completely untrue, but it still sticks, so the first part of it is, who really is in control in North Korea?

JF: Well that the easy answer is: I don’t know. And the second answer is nobody really knows outside of North Korea. The regime has always been opaque in terms of its decision making. We know that there are two power centers: military and the party. They overlap and a successful leader is going to have a foot in both camps, but there’s also going to be some disagreement over policy.

I’ll give you an example. The case on industrial complex, it was an economic complex located just north of the DMZ, it was run by South Korean managers with South Korean companies, but the workforce was North Korea. And this was a kind of innovative economic project that was established during the sunshine period of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, South Korean leaders. And it ran up and told me about a year or two ago was closed down by Park Geun-hye.

But in North Korea, in order to get that project green-lighted, well there were basically two different approaches. I mean one faction, the military faction, said, “Hey, that’s an important military route, we’re not going to establish an industrial center in this important route that allows us to potentially invade North Korea, South Korea or defend against a South Korean assault. And you’re just going to put this economic complex there? That doesn’t make any military sense.” And another faction that said, “Hey you know this is really great economic advantage to us and potentially you know, it builds some kind of relationship with the South that also could down the line prove advantageous to us.”

Economic reformers effectively won the day, and the industrial complex was built so you have that kind of factionalism inside North Korea even though there are no official factions. I mean there are no political parties, we haven’t really identified any kind of political, ideological blocs within the party or within the military. All of that’s quite opaque. I mean, we only find out about it after the fact, for instance, when, you know, Kim Il-sung put down a rebellion by military officers or executed a group of people that then later became associated with a political faction.

Kim Jong-un, as you said, got rid of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, didn’t have him eaten by dogs, but you know, still, kind of brutal the way he killed him. Jang Song-thaek, well, it’s possible he represented a different faction, a faction more aligned with China, aligned with economic reform inside North Korea, but also aligned with Jang Song-thaek lining his own pockets as a result of his relationship with China. But whatever, however you want to interpret it was definitely a center of power that Kim Jong-un felt uncomfortable with and we’ve seen over the last five, six years his, as, as his grandfather did, his a limitation of all potential rival.

Does that mean that Kim Jong-un is the number one decision maker in North Korea today? Well, according to official ideology and according to, you know, a lot of experts looking at North Korea, well he does seem like he’s number one, but we can’t say that with any 100 percent degree of certainty.

JS: But you know John, I, I have to say, when I watch, you know, the propaganda footage out of North Korea and you see Kim Jong-un walking around and he’s got all of these generals and other military figures with their chests filled with all of their medals, I can’t help but wonder when I look at that stuff like, what the hell do these guys think that having to walk around with this, this kid and act like he’s just this uber-genius? Like why wouldn’t the gang of them get together and just sort of say, “We all think this is crazy, right?”

I mean yes you point out that they could be killed in a horrifying way, but I just have to think that there, there, there must be some basic consensus where they all kind of look at each other and they’re like, “Yeah this is really effed up that we have to be around this kid and act like he’s God incarnate.”

JF: Yeah and that, and that in fact could be a scenario we see in the future. I mean I don’t see for instance democracy taking over in North Korea, but there is a good possibility that we would see a military coup and the generals ultimately deciding that Kim Jong-un doesn’t know what he’s talking.

JS: But then aren’t there are people that think, that truly are kind of brainwashed, they were born into this, it’s all they know, what they’ve been told about the outside world is completely nuts. I mean is part of it that, “Yeah we, this, this is like a really nutty little kid that we have to be bowing down to here, but if we were to whack him there’d be an insurrection because everyone somehow thinks he’s god”?

JF: No I don’t think at this point that’s the case. I mean we don’t have obviously access to North Koreans to do public polling or anything like that but we do know from defectors and there are about 30,000 defectors in South Korea, as well as occasional polls done of North Koreans in China to find out what they’re thinking, and their allegiance to the regime is not nowhere near as strong as it was under Kim Il-sung, or even Kim Jong-il.

In other words, the charismatic authority that established the North Korean regime has effectively evaporated. The reason why people obey is not so much that they’re brainwashed, but really out of fear. The North Korean regime has an extraordinarily extensive surveillance system that requires, for instance that three people report on any one person in the neighborhood and that those three reports are then triangulated to make sure that not only did the person who’s being surveilled not say anything inappropriate, but even that the three people who are doing the surveillance, to make sure that all of their observations conform to one another, to make sure that they are on track as well.

So you have this incredibly intricate, interlocking surveillance system that makes it extremely difficult for any dissent to take root. I mean everybody is afraid that, you know, even their family members might give them away, or their friends might give them away, because, you know, it’s survival.

But your second question was, you know, to what extent are these stories of human rights abuses true. And I would say that, yes, there are some that are not true, that have been fabricated, but for the most part we have enough evidence to suggest that the regime has maintained pretty horrific labor camp conditions. It has engaged in summary executions on a regular basis.

But we have to remember that this is, this applies to only a small percentage of the population. I mean it’s as if you know you would ask your average American about, you know, solitary confinement in prisons. They might know of it but they wouldn’t necessarily know anybody who had been in solitary confinement and they would say well it really doesn’t affect me personally, or my pocketbook, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the United States is a human rights-abusing country.

There are lots of people in North Korea who have very little connection to what’s going on in the labor camps. They are worried about it. They’re worried they might end up there, but they go about their life in a pretty normal way, you know they go to work, they do their job, they keep their head low, and they hope things will change. And it’s so there’s a there’s a big discrepancy between the horrifying conditions that take place in the prison camps, and your everyday existence, especially in Pyongyang, which is a kind of a city of the elite anyway.

JS: Right, and that’s part of the nuance that I think is often lost when you listen to, well, now there’s instant-ready experts on Korea that are on TV because of the Trump administration’s posturing, but you know it is described as basically like every single person in the country is in prison and on a daily basis having their rights heinously violated. And I think that they’re, that the impression given is not simply that they live in a military dictatorship and that is akin to being in prison, but that the prison labor camps is how the entire country is functioning. I think you could get that impression from watching particularly corporate cable news coverage.

But I wanted to ask you how — how do these — how do the North Korean leaders get their money? Like what is fueling the largesse among the elites like where does the money come from that the North Korean elite government, the military has?

JF: Well of course the North Korean economy does exist and so you know the North Korean government can extract a certain amount of money from the industrial and agricultural production that goes on. But I would say the most money would come from other sources. So for instance, the Chinese government is pretty heavily invested in North Korea, especially the northern part of North Korea. North Korea has a lot of mineral wealth, it has coal, it has gold, it has rare earth materials and China is invested in extracting that, those materials and of course the money is produced by that and that money flows upward as well.

Beyond China, of course, North Korea is notorious for engaging in the international economy in the only way that it can — in other words, because of sanctions, because of other restrictions placed on the North Korean economy, North Korea cannot participate in capitalism as it would like to, and instead, it kind of does so in a gray market or black market ways. In the past it has certainly engaged in drug production and drug sales. Its embassy officials throughout the world have been arrested kicked out of countries for engaging in all sorts of contraband activities, from selling alcohol and cigarettes to actually trafficking in like rhino horns.

So there is money from that. And then I would say finally that there are kind of newer ways of making money in the cyber sphere. So for instance, there’s some evidence that North Korea has been hacking into banks to just withdraw money that way. And again, you could say, well this is the way any country would react if it was denied entry in a legitimate way from the global economy, well it would have to find a back door. Perhaps if it is given an opportunity to operate legitimately in the global economy, it will behave legitimately. But that of course is something to be tested.

JS: Now I want to go to the present and talk about the position that the Trump administration there, the emerging position, of course we had Vice President Mike Pence just at the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, and he reiterated what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on his recent visit to South Korea, which is that the era of strategic patience is over. And Pence actually said that we’re putting the North Koreans on notice regarding their nuclear weapons. What’s your read on how the Trump administration’s public posture is being received in Pyongyang, and what this could lead to?

JF: Well, the Trump administration comes in like pretty much every previous administration in its policy toward North Korea saying that what his predecessors did failed, and he’s going to do a better job. So of course Obama said that. George W. Bush said that, even Clinton said that. So that’s nothing new. Obama positioned for eight years with strategic patience. It failed, I mean failed obviously, there were no successful negotiations with the exception of the Leap Day agreement that lasted for about a day and a half.

And North Korea continued to build up its nuclear capabilities, so it’s quite obvious that it failed. And then the Trump administration has discovered as all other administrations did previously that, yes, it’s easy to say that the previous government’s position was a failure, but it’s really difficult to come up with a more successful alternative.

Trump initially said that he would, as previous administrations said, outsource the problem to the Chinese, get China to solve this problem for the United States. And that of course fails on any number of counts. Number one China does not do the bidding of the United States on foreign policy issues, and number two China doesn’t have that kind of influence in Pyongyang, Pyongyang assiduously avoids any kind of dependency relationship from China with China and spurns all of China’s advice. for the most part.

So failing that, of course Trump realize that he couldn’t rely on the Chinese, he tried something else, we’ll do it ourselves. But what does that mean? Well it could mean tighter economic sanctions, it could mean a pre-emptive military strike, it could mean negotiations.

Well the Trump administration conducted its own strategic review of North Korea policy. The conclusion was that a pre-emptive military strike was wrong on probably every conceivable count, that it would be catastrophic for the United States and even more so for South Korea and Japan, and of course North Korea and China. And so that leaves tighter economic sanctions and negotiations. And I think we got both of those coming out of the administration right now, with Pence dangling the possibility of negotiations in his recent visit.

How it’s received? Well of course South Korea’s tremendously anxious about any possible attack on North Korea because, of course, the South Koreans would suffer the consequences. North Korean missiles can’t reach the United States, could barely reach Japan — China, South Korea would bear virtually the entire brunt of North Korea’s attack. So they don’t want that obviously.

Pyongyang — well, Pyongyang’s reaction was to have a missile display on the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday. And so they trotted out as many missiles as they could find, even if they are not operational, to send a signal that they are ready for any kind of attack. And if the United States were foolish enough to try to take out North Korea’s nuclear testing site, they would respond in kind.

And so that, I think, is where we’re heading. We have you know kind of the usual steps towards escalation, that every kind of initial government, new administration the United States faces with North Korea. My hope is that the Trump administration recognizes that, OK, tighter economic sanctions is one possibility but frankly we’ve tried that and it hasn’t really worked.

But negotiations, well they have worked, and it worked in 1994, even worked during the George W. Bush administration with the six-party talks. Both of those agreements lead to effective freezes and even some dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear capability. So that’s the no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a question of whether the Trump administration comes to that realization as well.

JS: Or, if there’s actually like sane people, you know, running the show. I do think that when we talk about Bush and Cheney, you know, there’s a particular form of heinousness that came with the neoconservatives, but on some levels, they were kind of competent and within the accepted discourse in Washington, D.C. I have my own critical analysis of that and both parties play into it but with Trump we really are, I think, in a bit of a different universe.

As we see through his Twitter feed, and my concern is not that someone like Mattis who’s the defense secretary would say, “Oh yeah, let’s do a pre-emptive first strike against North Korea.” But that’s some of the kind of shadow nuts that are, are around this administration including some very decorated retired U.S. military figures, we’ve been hearing that they’re they are pushing for that and, and hopefully that’s just a minority voice but I do think there is a unique kind of cause for concern with this administration versus even the Bush-Cheney crowd and I’m curious if you want to push back on that if you agree or, some different version?

JF: Well, I would agree to a certain extent, but I would I would say that the Bush administration, for basically six years, took a pretty hostile attitude toward North Korea, and we came pretty close to escalation as a result of, frankly, the ideologues within the Bush administration. Cheney, the inclusion of North Korea in the Axis of Evil, Cheney’s statement that, “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat evil.” The refusal to deal with North Korea at —

JS: Well, and John Bolton.

JF: And John Bolton. Absolutely. So you know we did have a kind of ascendancy of the ideologues for the first, first term and then even the first couple years of the second term before some career diplomats took over. In this case, Chris Hill who had been posted variety of places, later in Iraq but in Poland and Macedonia, people like Victor Cha, who I disagreed with on Korea policy, you know, before he entered the Bush administration, but I think he went through a kind of sea change in his understanding of North Korea as a result of seeing what the ideological position coming from the neocons was.

And so he’s like, “Ah, well I do think we can we can negotiate with North Korea after all.” And then persuading Condoleezza Rice to take that position at the highest level.

With the Trump administration, yes, absolutely, you know there are you know people like Steve Bannon who, you know, have a very fixed nationalist perspectives and the real question is, you know, you know, for the Bush administration was six years, it took six years before a different policy bubbled up from below we don’t have that kind of time and I trust we don’t have Two terms for the Trump administration, for such a policy come up six years from now and we’re seeing some indications of the sidelining of the worst types of ideologues. Of course kicking Bannon off the principal’s committee and the National Security Council, sending K.T. McFarland off to Singapore.

You know, maybe we’re seeing some accelerated version of what happened during the Bush years in which the ideologues are pushed to the sidelines a little bit more quickly and maybe we will see you know a kind of pragmatist, a pragmatic approach to North Korea emerge much more quickly than it did during those years.

JS: And, as we wrap up here, I’m curious your take on what happened, we don’t know exactly what Barack Obama said to Donald Trump, but it was reported that he basically scared the shit out of Trump when he brought up North Korea, as they had their meeting. Do we have reason to be afraid of North Korea right now and what would you imagine was the content of what Barack Obama actually said to Donald Trump?

JF: Well, I suspect that Obama said to Trump something similar to what Bush said to him during the transition. And Bush, we know, said two things. He asked Obama please to keep two programs in place, and that was the drone program and the Stuxnet program, the kind of hacking of Iran’s centrifuges that set back their nuclear program.

And Obama said, “OK, I mean there are other things going to change.” But Obama held to those two positions. In this go-round I suspect that Obama said, “Please stick to the drone program.” Because Obama, you know, was very much in favor of that and I suspect he said something similar about a comparable program with North Korea’s nuclear program. In other words, a kind of hacking of the code there that has, from all reports, impeded North Korea’s success rate with its missile launches.

I think he also probably said that North Korea is a significant problem that Trump cannot avoid it, cannot ignore it. And you know whether, whether that’s effective, you know, you know, it’s hard to know what gets through to Trump. It’s certainly not policy advice. Certainly special pleading gets through to him from Jared Kushner or his daughter.

JS: Fox and Friends, John. Fox and Friends is the single most important source of information for this White House.

JF: (laughing) That’s true. So —

JS: But the point I’m getting at is do we have something to, do we actually have something to fear from North Korea? And when I say “we,” I don’t mean necessarily the United States, but that’s how things get covered here, we always ask how does it affect us personally? But, my sense, and I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert on Korea, I’ve never been, I’ve never reported on it. So I’m asking this I think with a lot of other people as well — my sense is you know if we don’t swap the hornet’s nest, the chances that North Korea is going to just attack the United States or even South Korea is basically nonexistent. Am I wrong in that or is there fearmongering that’s going on?

JF: No, I think you’re basically correct. North Korea, you know as you said at the start of the show, the representation of Kim Jong-un as a kind of tyrannical brat or an infant who has no rational goals is incorrect. Number one rational goal for Kim Jong-un is preservation of his own authority and the preservation of his system of government. He knows that any attack of South Korea or the United States would spell the end of North Korea as a country, and of course, by extension the end of him and his regime. So pure self-preservation dictates that, no, North Korea is not going to engage in any kind of attack on a sovereign country.

On the other hand, just as we fear that Donald Trump might do something entirely unexpected because he’s listening to Fox and Friends, or he has developed some you know, hobbyhorse notion about a country that he might indulge in some entirely irrational act that would be shooting the United States in the foot and undercutting his own political authority.

But he would do it anyway because you know, he doesn’t think about these things. It is conceivable that Kim Jong-un would do something similar. I would put that in a very remote, you know, set of possibilities. But I wouldn’t you know just exclude it entirely. I would say, you know, I’m not worried about North Korea in that way but there is this kind of, you know, if North Korea is pushed against to the wall, if it feels like it has absolutely no other choice, that the system — its system — is on the brink of collapse anyway and it’s being threatened by both South Korea and the United States and Japan and the only way out of that seems to be a military approach, well it is not inconceivable that they would go that route.

JS: OK, John, really quick, a speed round here: Who is more likely to use a nuclear weapon, Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un? Brief answer, please.

JF: Donald Trump.

JS: Donald Trump?

JF: Donald Trump.

JS: OK, who is more of a narcissist: Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump?

JF: Donald Trump, absolutely (laughing). I mean that’s, it’s a function of American culture. Korean culture doesn’t foster that kind of narcissism.

JS: Who spends more time on their hair each morning: Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump?

JF: That’s a good question. I mean probably, you know Donald Trump because he’s older and his hair requires that kind of care.

JS: Whose suits are more expensive: Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un?

JF: Definitely Donald Trump. Absolutely.

JS: Are both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump’s suits made in China?

JF: (laughs). Not the North Korean I mean Kim Jong-un is either going to get suits from the West or they’re going to be produced by the vinyl lawn factories inside North Korea.

JS: OK, well we’re going to give you — your prize is on the way, it’s an amazing North Korean car it runs totally on Juche.

JF: That’s fabulous and is this going to be delivered by Amazon drone?

JS: It is yes, we’re, we’re trying to, we’re trying to have our own peace settlement here between Trump and Kim Jong-un, and I think we’ve figured it out, John. John Feffer, thanks for being with us on Intercepted.

JF: Thank you for having me on the show.


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The post Is Donald Trump Tweeting the U.S. Into a War on North Korea? appeared first on The Intercept.

Operação Estanca Sangria cumpre mais uma etapa

6 August 2017 - 9:17am

O congresso mais conservador desde 1964 cumpriu o papel que lhe cabia na Operação Estanca Sangria e enterrou a primeira denúncia por corrupção passiva da história do país contra um presidente da República. A cova é a mesma onde foi enterrada a democracia no ano passado, quando uma presidenta eleita foi deposta não por tentar comprar o silêncio de um criminoso ou por ter assessor flagrado carregando mala com propina, mas pelo hediondo crime das pedaladas fiscais.

A grande maioria dos deputados que votou pela varrição da sujeira do presidente para debaixo do tapete, havia votado para derrubar a ex-presidenta. É sempre bom lembrar como essa base de apoio herdada por Temer começou a ser construída. Às vésperas das eleições de 2014, Cunha, com ajuda de Padilha e do doleiro Funaro, teria financiado 140 deputados com dinheiro de propinas da Odebrecht para formar uma bancada com o objetivo de elegê-lo presidente da Câmara – tudo isso foi revelado por José Yunes, ex-assessor especial e amigo de Temer há mais de 50 anos. A história foi confirmada por Joesley Batista em delação e interlocutores de Funaro garantem que o doleiro fará o mesmo. Cunha foi eleito com o voto de 267 deputados. Temer se livrou da denúncia com 263.

Enfraquecido pelas denúncias e com a popularidade nas canelas, Temer viu sua base ameaçar debandada e usou despudoradamente a máquina pública para mantê-la. Arregaçou os cofres para atender qualquer demanda de qualquer deputado, distribuiu cargos, recebeu o baixo clero em seu gabinete, ameaçou traidores, enfim, fez o diabo. Tratam-se de práticas recorrentes na política brasileira, o ineditismo fica por conta do presidente tê-las utilizado unicamente para se safar de um julgamento por crime comum. E se safou.  

Rodrigo Maia, que chegou a articular nos bastidores uma traição, não resistiu ao rolo compressor governista e considerou prudente não pular do barco. Chorou na frente dos colegas de bancada e disse que sofreu muita pressão nos últimos meses. Até sua mãe mandou mensagem pedindo que ele não conspirasse contra Temer. Aí não tinha como mesmo. Decidiu não ser o Cunha da vez e trabalhou pelo engavetamento da denúncia.

Quem reagiu muito bem ao acobertamento da lama do presidente foi o mercado e o alto empresariado. A bolsa subiu, o dólar caiu.

O Financial Times tratou o engavetamento como uma “vitória histórica de Michel Temer” que trará “novas esperanças a investidores” de que o presidente “dará continuidade ao empacado programa reformas econômicas”.

Presidida por Skaf – correligionário de Temer citado na Lava Jato  – a FIESP também ficou felizona. Depois de participar intensamente da derrubada de Dilma, chegando a comprar anúncios gigantescos em jornais e servir filé mignon para manifestantes, Skaf passou a dizer durante o governo Temer que não cabia à entidade discutir política. Mas eles não puderam conter a felicidade e comemoraram a “superação de mais uma etapa da crise” nessa nota oficial:

A Band demonstrou mais uma vez sua fidelidade canina a Temer e, nas vésperas da votação, deu voz aos empresários e especialistas que consideram um grande passo para o Brasil não autorizar abertura de investigação de um presidente denunciado por corrupção passiva. Essa reportagem, cuja manchete é “Por avanços, empresários defendem permanência de Temer”, é uma demonstração de carinho tão grande que equivale a uma tatuagem com o nome do presidente no ombro. De henna, é claro.

O mercado financeiro reagiu bem à expectativa de que o presidente Michel Temer seguirá na presidência do Brasil.

— Jornal da Band (@jornaldaband) 3 de agosto de 2017

Essa gente boa que até há pouco tempo estava disposta a passar o Brasil a limpo e combater a corrupção a todo custo, agora se preocupa em manter um presidente que já lhes entregou a reforma trabalhista e promete entregar a previdenciária – rejeitada pela maioria da população e que jamais seria avalizada pelas urnas. 2018 é logo ali e eles têm pressa. Não querem perder esta oportunidade única de cumprir seus objetivos antes daquele dispositivo democrático e inconveniente chamado eleição. Toda aquela indignação de outrora contra a corrupção agora murchou como o pato inflável da FIESP. A coluna de Arnaldo Jabor no dia seguinte à votação resume a lógica da turma:  

“Não sei se (o arquivamento da denúncia) foi bom ou não. Mas certamente acho que foi mais prático, mais simples. (…) Essa crise foi produtiva para conscientizar a população sobre a urgência de reformas que, de fato, transformem a realidade brasileira. Pode ser que tudo isso também motive o presidente Michel Temer a deixar um legado para o país.”

A Globo se manteve firme no objetivo de derrubar mais um presidente que ajudou a colocar no poder e foi a única a transmitir ao vivo a votação histórica em rede nacional. Deixou inclusive de exibir novelas e o Jornal Nacional, um fato raríssimo. Todas as outras emissoras não deram a mesma importância – bastante diferente da igualmente histórica votação do impeachment de Dilma, exibida ao vivo por todas emissoras, exceto o SBT. Talvez seja porque uma pedalada fiscal dê mais audiência que transportar mala com meio milhão em propinas.

Apesar de haver menos holofotes, mais uma vez os deputados deram o seu show de horror. Se na votação do impeachment de Dilma recorreram a Deus, à família brasileira e ao combate à corrupção, e não às pedaladas fiscais, para justificar seus votos, agora também recorreram a outros motivos alheios à denúncia da PGR, como a aprovação de reformas e a manutenção de uma estabilidade econômica que não existe.

E, assim, o bonde do golpe vai concluindo seus principais objetivos com sucesso: implantar na marra um plano de governo de centro-direita que foi rejeitado por quatro vezes seguidas pelas urnas, estancar a sangria e delimitar a Lava Jato onde está. Apesar dos percalços no caminho, tudo parece estar se ajeitando favoravelmente. Nem Aécio será comido.

The post Operação Estanca Sangria cumpre mais uma etapa appeared first on The Intercept.

How Do Chicago Police Treat Mental Health? With SWAT Raids

6 August 2017 - 9:16am

On a balmy day in February, Jedidiah Brown drove onto a busy expressway in the heart of Chicago, firearm in tow, with the intention of killing himself. The South Side activist, now 30 years old, sat in his parked car holding the gun to his head while he broadcast over Facebook Live. He cited the death of a family member and living in a city rocked by police violence and political corruption as reasons for the episode.

While Brown sat weeping, a team from the Chicago Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics division was deployed to the scene. The SWAT team rammed Brown’s car from the front and back with two large armored vehicles, which he says looked like “tanks.” Video footage of the incident, which Brown captured on Facebook Live, shows him growing increasingly agitated and pleading with the police. “Fucking stop it,” he said at one point, to the sound of more crashing.

“It made everything race, made everything chaotic,” Brown said of the SWAT team, comprised of several heavily armed officers. “I went from having the desire to commit suicide to thinking, ‘Now I’m going to be killed by the police.’”

Brown’s friend Alicia Spikes, who says she witnessed the incident, was troubled by the SWAT team’s actions. “I believe,” she said, “they escalated the situation more than it had to be.”

Jedediah Brown stands in his bedroom in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago on July 13, 2017. Memorial photos of his cousin, who he says he raised like a son, hang on the wall above his television.

Photo: William Widmer for The Intercept

Since 2013, Chicago police have deployed SWAT teams at least 38 times to respond to mental health incidents and suicide attempts, according to deployment logs obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Such deployments are picking up pace. In the four months after Donald Trump won the election last November, SWAT teams were deployed at least 10 times in response to suicide threats or attempts. As of this spring, 2017 is on track to see more than twice as many mental health-related SWAT raids as the annual average over the past four years. The figures in the documents likely undercount the number of SWAT deployments in response to mental health crises, because not all cases are logged as such in police records.

SWAT deployments to mental health crises are usually logged as “hostage, barricaded subject or terrorist” incidents. Though not a single raid since 2013 has been recorded specifically as a “terrorist” event, the logic of a “counterterror” approach to policing drives militarized responses to mental health crises. And local law enforcement agencies receive federal government counterterror funding to bankroll training and equipment for SWAT teams. All this comes amid austerity and privatization that has diminished public mental health services — Chicago, for instance, has closed half of its public mental health clinics since 2012. Armored teams of cops have become expensive hammers in search of nails. In Chicago, they have found some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, disproportionately targeting African-American, Latino, and poor people.

“Given both historical and continuous trauma inflicted by various state actors upon communities of color, and particularly upon black and indigenous people, the person in crisis could fear that the heavily armed SWAT team is there to harm them, which could further escalate the crisis,” said Dr. Daniela Kantorová, a clinical psychologist at the Wright Institute. “There are multiple studies showing that black people are at greater risk of being killed by the police, and this risk must be factored in.”

Landscapers work on July 13, 2017 across Lake Shore Drive from “Queens Landing”, the location where Jedediah Brown parked his car near the shore of Lake Michigan and the incident with the Chicago Police Department’s SWAT team ensued.

Photo: William Widmer for The Intercept

“I think the way the CPD handled me, I don’t think that would be a typical encounter in that situation,” Jedidiah Brown said. “I feel they treated me with a little more consideration than they might someone else.” Brown says his life was not ruined by the incident. Instead, he was handcuffed at the scene, taken to the University of Chicago hospital, and later released. He attributes his relatively gentle treatment to his prominent profile as an activist; Brown rose to national visibility when he stormed the stage of an eventually cancelled March 2016 rally for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Militarized reactions to mental health emergencies can often exacerbate the very crises police have been called to help resolve. “If a person is suicidal, they need help, obviously, but they might not be easily open at that point,” said Kantorová. “If police and a SWAT team show up, that person could become more agitated or start acting in a way that could be more erratic, they could act in a way that could appear aggressive to the cops. Then that can also increase the danger of them getting killed.”

“Lethal outcomes are more likely,” Kantorová explained, “when first responders are heavily armed.”

The tragic potential of police escalations is not lost on those at the receiving end of SWAT raids. “The moment that the SWAT team car came, everything I felt intensified,” Brown recalled. “I’m just ready to give up, ready to die. I feel like I am in a war at that moment.”

Brown, and others like him who have faced SWAT teams amid mental health episodes, have every reason to believe their lives are at risk. Unlike Brown, many do not survive. The Guardian determined that in 2016, at least 20 percent of the 1,091 people who, according to records, were killed by police officers either had a mental health condition or were in the midst of a major episode before they died. In at least 80 of these killings, the police arrived on the scene because of a call about self-harming behaviors.

The Woodlawn Health Center at 6337 South Woodlawn, where the mental health center was located until 2012, in Chicago on July 13, 2017.

Photo: William Widmer for The Intercept

SWAT raids are being unleashed on a city still reeling from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 decision to shutter half of its 12 mental health clinics, and privatize the remaining six. In April 2012, patients and activists staged an occupation of the Woodlawn Mental Health Center in the South Side. They constructed makeshift barricades with trash cans and quick-dry cement. Protesters dropped banners from the facility. “Stop Stealing Our Health: Save Our Clinics,” read one banner. The activists demanded negotiations with the mayor.

Instead, the city sent in police — including a SWAT team — and launched a violent crackdown on the civil disobedience action. “One of the clinic consumers was sitting there in a wheelchair,” recalls Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, co-founder of the community organization Southside Together Organizing for Power. “They” — the SWAT team — “took a chainsaw to barricades with him standing inches away. Two of the other people, including Helen, who later died, were so upset and shaking uncontrollably because of the whole thing.”

Ginsberg-Jaeckle was referring to Helen Morley, who had long-term mental health issues and organized for access to health care. Morley regularly used the facilities at the city’s mental health clinic in Beverly/Morgan Park. Many of her loved ones say the clinic’s closure played a role in her fatal heart attack in June 2012 at age 56, by cutting off a vital support network and destabilizing her life. Three months before she died, Morley confronted Emanuel at an anniversary celebration for the Chicago History Museum, telling him over and over, “You’re killing us.”

The Emanuel administration has not provided a systematic review of the full human impact of shuttering these public clinics en masse, although it did hold open hearings in the summer of 2014 that were ostensibly aimed at evaluating the impact of his health care policies. Residents and mental health providers, however, have been tracking the toll. District Council 31 of the union AFSCME, which represents clinic workers, concluded in a 2012 review that the closures “left many communities without reasonable access to services despite the growing need for services.” The clinics mostly served people of color; 61 percent of patients were black residents, followed by Latinos, many of them medically indigent, the study found.

Years later, those Chicago residents are left to deal with the impact of the closures. “In 2011, we had told the mayor that if you close these centers, you are going to have a lot of people lost in the system, people not getting their shots,” said Diane Adams, a board member of STOP who took part in the Woodlawn occupation. “You’re going to have people with mental illness out there, a lot of people who are suicidal. Everything that is happening in Chicago right now, we told the mayor it was going to happen once you close the clinics,” said Adams, who told The Intercept she has chronic depression and survived suicide attempts. “Cook County Jail is the biggest psych ward there is.”

“Cook County Jail is the biggest psych ward there is.”

Some survive mental health crises and decimated public services only to find themselves ensnared in the prison system. In September 2016, a man, who, according to his daughter, has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, experienced a breakdown and went to a 7-Eleven. Though unarmed, he barricaded himself with two store employees for nearly four hours. “He was in the 7-Eleven and called saying he needed his medication,” said the man’s daughter, who requested anonymity for fear that public exposure would adversely affect her father’s mental health. “He has Medicaid and needs his medicine.”

Police called in a SWAT team, and a standoff ensued. “They just kept telling him that he was in trouble,” said the man’s daughter.

The standoff ended when the SWAT team detonated an explosive device to gain entry and take the man into custody. The man harmed no one and yet, unlike Brown, he did not get to walk away from the incident. Instead, the city threw the book at him: In September 2016, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for committing robbery without a firearm; he is currently serving time in Dixon Correctional Center.

“My father has reached out for help so much,” said the daughter. “There is no help at all in Chicago.”

Chicago officials make no secret of their punitive responses to public health crises. “My office’s conservative estimate is that one-third of the 10,000 inmates in custody suffer from serious mental illnesses,” Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart wrote in a 2014 op-ed. Despite this admission, such practices have not meaningfully changed under Dart’s watch, and the sheriff remains the custodian of people with mental illness who are locked in his jail.

In a 161-page investigation released in January, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice noted that Chicago police have a pattern of using “force against people in mental health crisis where force might have been avoided.” The probe outlines a litany of abuses, including one case where “officers used a Taser against an unarmed, naked, 65-year-old woman who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.” In another case, “Officers, who were responding to a call that a woman was ‘off meds’ and ‘not violent,’ Tasered an unarmed woman because she pulled away and ‘repeatedly moved [her] arm,’” the report states.

These patterns are well-known to local residents. In a 2014 report, the grassroots initiative We Charge Genocide documented that the Chicago police department’s “cruel and degrading treatment of Chicago’s youth of color” compounds cycles of trauma and serves to “control entire communities.”

Cook County is not alone in its punitive approach. The Department of Justice determined that, as of the middle of 2005, more than half of all people incarcerated in prisons and jails “had a mental health problem.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2 million people living with mental illness get locked up in U.S. jails every year.

A Chicago Police Department vehicle parked in front of the Special Operations Center at 3393 W Fillmore on July 13, 2017.

Photo: William Widmer for The Intercept

The Chicago Police Department, however, is caught up in a federal push to militarize various cities’ police forces in the face of terrorist threats that never quite materialize in most places. While SWAT teams are by definition militarized, the expansion of their use was not inevitable.

Chicago ranks third among recipients of funding from the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a program overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. The initiative was established in 2003 with the stated purpose of bolstering local governments in “high-threat, high-density urban areas and to assist these areas in building and sustaining capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from threats or acts of terrorism.” In practice, however, the program has helped escalate militarization of police departments across the country, facilitating the purchase of surveillance technology and military-grade weaponry — and funneling money into SWAT team trainings nationwide.

Chicago took in more than $69 million in Urban Areas Security Initiative funds in 2015 and $54 million in 2016. Between 2013 and 2015, Cook County spent at least $20 million from the program on trainings for police, SWAT teams, and other first responders, according to documents obtained through a FOIA request submitted by Brendan McQuade, an assistant professor of sociology who specializes in criminology and surveillance studies at the State University of New York at Cortland.

“Since the proclamation of the war on terror and the formation of Homeland Security, we’ve invested a trillion dollars into homeland security,” he told The Intercept. “The reality is that terrorism is an insignificant threat.”

The Chicago Police Department’s press office said by email that the DHS dollars were “used to fund equipment and training related to all terrorist type of activities by our SWAT members.” When asked for specifics, the department referred The Intercept to the department’s FOIA office. A spokesperson for the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management told The Intercept that the agency is not immediately available for comment on how such funds are disbursed.

Despite the lack of transparency, the Urban Areas Security Initiative has caught the attention of social movements across the country. In a June 2016 letter signed by more than 30 groups, the War Resisters League wrote, “By requiring training supported by these federal funds to contain a ‘nexus to terrorism,’ UASI serves to fuel the dangerous culture of aggression so rampant in U.S. police departments.” (The authors of this post have both spent time organizing with the War Resisters League.) In Berkeley, communities recently mobilized against Urban Shield, an Urban Areas Security Initiative-tied SWAT team training and arms expo — before they were met with police beatings and arrests.

“American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs.”

Federal policies aren’t the only factor driving local law enforcement militarization. Last month, Chicago media reported that Emanuel’s office is moving to funnel $95 million into a new police and fire training center with a shooting range and “active scenario” exercises.

These increasingly militarized police forces disproportionately impact black, Latino, and poor communities. In Chicago, these communities are concentrated in the South and West Sides. These areas of the city saw 70 percent of the “hostage, barricaded subject or terrorist” deployments by SWAT teams, which include responses to mental health crises, between 2013 and 2016, according to department logs. Racial disparities are even more pronounced when it comes to SWAT raids to deliver search warrants, which represented 69 percent of all SWAT raids in Chicago from 2013 to 2016. During this time period, more than 90 percent of search warrant raids were conducted in the South and West Sides.

As suggested in a 2014 American Civil Liberties Union report, this difference could be attributed to the fact that people of color are dramatically more likely to be subject to raids involving drug investigations, due to the racist nature of the U.S. war on drugs. “American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war, with almost no public discussion or oversight,” the ACLU warned.

Jedidiah Brown still thinks about how his encounter with the SWAT team could have turned out much worse. “If I didn’t have the relative visibility I had, they may have been more aggressive toward me,” he said. “And if there weren’t so many people aware of who I was, I’m almost of the persuasion that, if I hadn’t committed suicide, I would have been killed.”

Brown says he has been dealing with complicated grief disorder and exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but is receiving counseling and no longer struggles with suicidal ideations. Since his ordeal, he has become passionate about addressing public health concerns surrounding mental health and suicide. One lesson was abundantly clear to him. “I do not advise such a militarized response,” Brown said. “When someone is in a state of thinking about taking their own life, any act of hostility or aggression will agitate that thought. Their presence did make it worse.”

Top photo: Police barricades lie in a pile on July 13, 2017, one block from “Queens Landing”, the location where Jedediah Brown parked his car on a pedestrian area between Lake Shore Drive and the shore of Lake Michigan and the incident with the Chicago Police Department’s SWAT team ensued.

The post How Do Chicago Police Treat Mental Health? With SWAT Raids appeared first on The Intercept.

What’s Worse: Trump’s Campaign Agenda or Empowering Generals and CIA Operatives to Subvert it?

5 August 2017 - 10:41am

During his successful 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump, for better and for worse, advocated a slew of policies that attacked the most sacred prongs of long-standing bipartisan Washington consensus. As a result, he was (and continues to be) viewed as uniquely repellent by the neoliberal and neoconservative guardians of that consensus, along with their sprawling network of agencies, think tanks, financial policy organs, and media outlets used to implement their agenda (CIA, NSA, the Brookings/AEI think tank axis, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, etc.).

Whatever else there is to say about Trump, it is simply a fact that the 2016 election saw elite circles in the U.S., with very few exceptions, lining up with remarkable fervor behind his Democratic opponent. Top CIA officials openly declared war on Trump in the nation’s op-ed pages and one of their operatives (now an MSNBC favorite) was tasked with stopping him in Utah, while Time Magazine reported, just a week before the election, that “the banking industry has supported Clinton with buckets of cash . . . . what bankers most like about Clinton is that she is not Donald Trump.”

Hank Paulson, former Goldman Sachs CEO and George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, went to the pages of the Washington Post in mid-2016 to shower Clinton with praise and Trump with unbridled scorn, saying what he hated most about Trump was his refusal to consider cuts in entitlement spending (in contrast, presumably, to the Democrat he was endorsing). “It doesn’t surprise me when a socialist such as Bernie Sanders sees no need to fix our entitlement programs,” the former Goldman CEO wrote. “But I find it particularly appalling that Trump, a businessman, tells us he won’t touch Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Some of Trump’s advocated assaults on D.C. orthodoxy aligned with long-standing views of at least some left-wing factions (e.g., his professed opposition to regime change war in Syria, Iraq/Libya-style interventions, global free trade deals, entitlement cuts, greater conflict with Russia, and self-destructive pro-Israel fanaticism), while other Trump positions were horrifying to anyone with a plausible claim to leftism, or basic decency (reaffirming torture, expanding GITMO, killing terrorists’ families, launching Islamophobic crusades, fixation on increasing hostility with Tehran, further unleashing federal and local police forces). Ironically, Trump’s principal policy deviation around which elites have now coalesced in opposition – a desire for better relations with Moscow – was the same one that Obama, to their great bipartisan dismay, also adopted (as evidenced by Obama’s refusal to more aggressively confront the Kremlin-backed Syrian government or arm anti-Russian factions in Ukraine).

It is true that Trump, being Trump, was wildly inconsistent in virtually all of these pronouncements, often contradicting or abandoning them weeks after he made them. And, as many of us pointed out at the time, it was foolish to assume that the campaign vows of any politician, let alone an adept con man like Trump, would be a reliable barometer for what he would do once in office. And, as expected, he has betrayed many of these promises within months of being inaugurated, while the very Wall Street interests he railed against have found a very welcoming embrace in the Oval Office.

Nonetheless, Trump, as a matter of rhetoric, repeatedly affirmed policy positions that were directly contrary to long-standing bipartisan orthodoxy, and his policy and personal instability only compounded elites’ fears that he could not be relied upon to safeguard their lucrative, power-vesting agenda. In so many ways – due to his campaign positions, his outsider status, his unstable personality, his witting and unwitting unmasking of the truth of U.S. hegemony, the embarrassment he causes in western capitals, his reckless unpredictability – Trump posed a threat to their power centers.

It is often claimed that this trans-partisan, elite coalition assembled against Trump because they are simply American patriots horrified by the threat he poses to America’s noble traditions and institutions. I guess if you want to believe that the CIA, the GOP consulting class, and assorted D.C. imperialists, along with Bush-era neocons like Bill Kristol and David Frum, woke up one day and developed some sort of earnest, patriotic conscience about democracy, ethics, constitutional limits, and basic decency, you’re free to believe that. It makes for a nice, moving story: a film from the Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington genre. But at the very least, Trump’s campaign assaults on their most sacred pieties was, and remains, a major factor in their seething contempt for him.


From the start of Trump’s presidency, it was clear that the permanent national security power structure in Washington was deeply hostile to his presidency and would do what it could to undermine it. Shortly before Trump was inaugurated, I wrote an article noting that many of the most damaging anti-Trump leaks were emanating from anonymous CIA and other Deep State operatives who despised Trump because the policies he vowed to enact –  the ones American voters ratified – were so contrary to their agenda and belief system. Indeed, they were even anonymously boasting that they were withholding secrets from Trump’s briefings because they decided the elected President should not have access to them.

After Trump openly questioned the reliability of the CIA in light of their Iraq War failures, Chuck Schumer went on Rachel Maddow’s show to warn Trump – explicitly – that he would be destroyed if he continued to oppose the intelligence community:

Chuck Schumer on Trump's tweet hitting intel community: "He's being really dumb to do this."

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 4, 2017

Although it is now common to assert – as a form of in-the-know mockery – that the notion of a “Deep State” in the U.S. was invented by Trump supporters only in the last year, the reality is that the U.S. Deep State has been reported on and openly discussed in numerous circles long before Trump. In 2010, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Dana Priest, along with Bill Arkin, published a three-part series which the paper entitled “Top Secret America: A hidden world, growing beyond control.”

The Post series documented that the military-intelligence community “has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.” The Post concluded that it “amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.”

In 2014, mainstream national security journalists Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady published a book entitled “Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Agency,” which documented – in its own words – that “there is a hidden country within the United States,” one “formed from the astonishing number of secrets held by the government and the growing ranks of secret-keepers given charge over them.”

Other journalists, such as Peter Dale Scott and Mike Lofgren have long written about the U.S. Deep State completely independent of Trump. The belief that the “Deep State” was invented by Trump supporters as some recent conspiratorial concoction is based in pure ignorance about national security discourse, or a jingoistic desire to believe that the U.S. (unlike primitive, inferior countries) is immune from such malevolent forces, or both.

Indeed, mainstream liberals in good standing, such as the New Republic’s Jeet Heer, have repeatedly and explicitly speculated about (and, in Heer’s case, warned of) the possibility of Deep State subversion of the White House:

The terrifying thing here is the only people able to stand up to Trump so far are the denizens of the Deep State. Also the Chinese gov't.

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) February 14, 2017

The American Deep State is in open conflict with an incoming president who is twitchy, thin-skinned & paranoid. What could go wrong?

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) January 11, 2017

For me, the most terrifying thing about this political moment is the intervention of the Deep State (against both Clinton & Trump)

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) January 12, 2017

Call it what you will — the National Security Elite, the Deep State, the Blob. It's very pig-headed & knows how to sabotage change.

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) April 17, 2017

To qualify earlier tweet, there's a lot Deep State can do short of a coup: leaking and investigation. That's all to the good.

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) May 12, 2017

That the U.S. has a shadowy, secretive world of intelligence and military operatives who exercise great power outside of elections and democratic accountability is not some exotic, alt-right conspiracy theory; it’s utterly elemental to understanding anything about how Washington works. It’s hard to believe that anyone on this side of a 6th Grade civics class would seek to deny that.


The last several weeks have ushered in more open acknowledgment of – and cheerleading for – a subversion of Trump’s agenda by unelected military and intelligence officials. Media accounts have been almost unanimous in heralding the arrival of retired Marine Gen. John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff (pictured, top photo), widely depicted as a sign that normalcy is returning to the Executive Branch. “John Kelly Quickly Moves to Impose Military Discipline on White House,” the New York Times headline announced.

The current storyline is that Kelly has aligned with Trump’s National Security Advisor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, to bring seriousness and order to the White House. In particular, these two military men are systematically weakening and eliminating many of the White House officials who are true adherents to the domestic and foreign policy worldview on which Trump’s campaign was based. These two military officials (along with yet another retired General, Defense Secretary James Mattis) have long been hailed by anti-Trump factions as the Serious, Responsible Adults in the Trump administration, primarily because they support militaristic policies – such as the war in Afghanistan and intervention in Syria – that is far more in line with official Washington’s bipartisan posture.

As the Atlantic’s Rosie Gray reports, McMaster has successfully fired several national security officials aligned with Steve Bannon and the nationalistic, purportedly non-interventionist foreign policy and anti-Muslim worldview Trump advocated throughout the election. As Gray notes, this has provoked anger among Trump supporters who view the assertion of power by these Generals as an undemocratic attack against the policies for which the electorate voted. Gray writes: “McMaster’s show of force has set off alarm bells among Bannon allies in the pro-Trump media sphere, who favored Flynn and regard the national-security adviser as a globalist interloper.”

In a bizarre yet illuminating reflection of rapidly shifting political alliances, Democratic Party think tanks and other groups have rallied behind McMaster as some sort of besieged, stalwart hero whose survival is critical to the Republic, notwithstanding the fact that, by all accounts, he is fighting to ensure the continuation of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and escalate it in Syria. As usually happens these days, these Democrats are in lockstep with their new neocon partners, led by Bill Kristol, who far prefer the unelected agenda of McMaster and Kelly to the one that Trump used to get elected:

The success or failure of the Bannon/alt-right/Russian assault on McMaster will be a key moment for the Trump Administration–& the country.

— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) August 4, 2017

It is certainly valid to point out that these Generals didn’t use tanks or any other show of force to barge into the White House; they were invited there by Trump, who appointed them to these positions. And they only have the power that he agrees that they should exercise.

But there’s no denying that Trump is deluged by exactly the kinds of punishments which Schumer warned Trump would be imposed on him if he continued to defy the intelligence community. Many of Trump’s most devoted haters are, notably, GOP consultants; one of the most tenacious of that group, Rick Wilson, celebrated today in the Daily Beast that the threat of prosecution and the tidal waves of harmful leaks has forced Trump into submission. The combination of the “Goldman Boys” and the Generals has taken over, Wilson crows, and is destroying the Bannon-led agenda on which Trump campaigned.

Whatever else is true, there is now simply no question that there is open warfare between adherents to the worldview Trump advocated in order to win, and the permanent national security power faction in Washington that – sometimes for good, and sometimes for evil – despises that agenda. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler described the situation perfectly on Friday:

Where the generals haven’t been empowered to run the show, they have asserted themselves nonetheless. “In the earliest weeks of Trump’s presidency,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday, Mattis and Kelly agreed “that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House.”

It would be sensationalizing things to call this a soft coup, but it is impossible to deny that real presidential powers have been diluted or usurped. Elected officials have decided that leaving the functioning of the government to unelected military officers is politically preferable to invoking constitutional remedies that would require them to vote.

Beutler is a full-scale, devoted enemy of Trump’s political agenda, and is clearly glad that something is impeding it. But he also recognizes the serious, enduring dangers to democracy from relying on military officials and intelligence operatives to serve as some sort of backstop, or supreme guardians, of political values and norms.

It’s particularly ironic that many of the same people who have spent the year ridiculing the notion that the U.S. has any kind of Deep State are now trumpeting the need for the U.S. military to save the Republic from the elected government, given that this, roughly speaking, is the defining attribute of all Deep States, at least as they depict themselves.

There have been some solitary Democratic Party voices expressing concern about these developments. Here, for instance, is what Barbara Lee had to say as most of her fellow Democrats were cheering the arrival of Gen. Kelly in the West Wing:

By putting Gen John Kelly in charge, Pres Trump is militarizing the White House & putting our executive branch in the hands of an extremist.

— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) July 28, 2017

But hers was clearly the minority view: the military triumvirate of Kelly, Mattis and McMaster has been cast as the noble defenders of American democracy, pitted against those who were actually elected to lead the government.

No matter how much of a threat one regards Trump as being, there really are other major threats to U.S. democracy and important political values. It’s hard, for instance, to imagine any group that has done more harm, and ushered in more evil, than the Bush-era neocons with whom Democrats are now openly aligning. And who has brought more death, and suffering, and tyranny to the world over the last six decades than the U.S. National Security State?

In terms of some of the popular terms that are often thrown around these days – such as “authoritarianism” and “democratic norms” and “U.S. traditions” – it’s hard to imagine many things that would pose a greater threat to all of that than empowering the National Security State (what, before Trump, has long been called the Deep State) to exert precisely the power that is supposed to be reserved exclusively for elected officials. In sum, Trump opponents should be careful of what they wish for, as it might come true.

The post What’s Worse: Trump’s Campaign Agenda or Empowering Generals and CIA Operatives to Subvert it? appeared first on The Intercept.

Videos of Baltimore Cops Allegedly Planting Evidence Tests Body Camera Programs

5 August 2017 - 9:30am

Baltimore has been wrestling with yet another police scandal. Last month, the city public defender’s office discovered body camera footage showing a local cop placing a bag of heroin in a pile of a trash in an alley. The cop, unaware he was being filmed, walked out of the alley, “turned on” his camera, and went back to “find” the drugs. The cop then arrested a man for the heroin, placed him in jail. The man, who couldn’t afford to post the $50,000 bail, languished there for seven months. He was finally released two weeks ago, after the public defender’s office sent the video to the state attorney.

The officer, Richard Pinheiro, has been suspended with pay, while two other cops in the video have been placed on administrative duty as the investigation pends. More than thirty other cases the three officers were to serve as witnesses for are now being dismissed. On Monday night, the Baltimore Sun reported that the public defender’s office found a second video that appeared to show different cops “manufacturing evidence.” (The second video has not been released.)

Police body camera footage of officer Richard Pinheiro allegedly planting drugs at a crime scene. Courtesy of Baltimore’s Office of the Public Defender

Now, as the credibility of the entire police-worn body camera program is called into question, the public anxiously waits to see if these two videos will actually lead to any sort of consequences. At a press conference on August 2, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis stressed that the body camera program — which he’s committed to — is still fairly new, and there have been some understandable growing pains as officers adjust to the new technology. “While [those gaps in video footage were] ugly, and while I’m disappointed that officers in these two incidents did not have their cameras on, I think it’s irresponsible to jump to a conclusion that the police officers were engaged in criminal misconduct,” he said, urging the public to withhold its judgment until the investigation is complete.

“This is a critical test, and so far the BPD is failing,” said David Rocah, the senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. “The only way not to fail is for these officers to be held accountable, at least at the departmental level. And if that doesn’t happen, and they don’t suffer the most serious consequences, then I think the body camera program, and all the hopes for it, will have been set back almost irreparably.”

The revelations in the Baltimore case came on the heels of a recent police shooting in Minneapolis, where a local officer fatally shot a white woman who had called 911 to report a possible assault behind her house. The officer had his own body camera turned off, so there is no video evidence of the incident. In response to the shooting, the Minneapolis police chief resigned, and the city’s police department updated their body camera policy, outlining more concretely when cameras must be activated.

Baltimore, however, doesn’t have Minneapolis’s problem of a vague policy. The Maryland city developed relatively strong guidelines for their body camera program, which was rolled out in May 2016. Under the policy, unless it’s unsafe, impossible, or impractical to do so, Baltimore cops must activate their cameras “at the initiation of a call for service or other activity or encounter that is investigative or enforcement-related in nature.”

It’s hard to overstate just how devastating this news is for Baltimore – a city desperately trying to restore trust between its residents and the police. In 2016, the prosecution of six officers charged with Freddie Gray’s death in police custody ended with no convictions; the Department of Justice published a damning report finding Baltimore cops engaged in systemic racism and cruelty towards victims of sexual assault; and, on top of everything else, Bloomberg revealed that the police had been secretly filming the city for months from small planes in the sky. Baltimore is also reckoning with several years of staggeringly high homicide rates, claiming over 200 murders already this year.

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis (C) listens as Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta (R), head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, speaks during a press conference at City Hall highlighting a Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department in Baltimore on August 10, 2016.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

At a press conference on July 19, Davis, the police commissioner, emphasized that he understands the gravity of the body camera allegations. “There’s nothing that deteriorates the trust of any community more than thinking for one second that uniformed police officers — or police officers in general — would plant evidence of crimes on citizens,” he said. “That’s as serious as it gets.” Davis also left open the possibility that the officers were re-enacting a drug discovery.

However, Rocah, the ACLU attorney, who served on a city working group to develop recommendations for Baltimore’s body camera program, said the fact that stronger disciplinary action hasn’t already been taken against Pinheiro — and that he’s still getting paid — is wholly indefensible.

“If you take their story at face value — and, frankly, why would anyone do that? — but if you do, they were engaged in a good-faith search when they found the drugs. And when they realized they had turned off the cameras they decided to recreate it with cameras on,” Rocah told The Intercept. “That’s also called lying. Which is both potentially criminal, and a violation of department rules.”

Complicating matters further is a Maryland Court of Appeals decision from 2015, which held that victims of police misconduct do not have a right to learn about departmental investigations into their complaints, including whether discipline was ultimately imposed. The Maryland State Police successfully argued in court that such documents are confidential “personnel records” that cannot be disclosed through the state’s public record law. The ACLU of Maryland has since been pressuring the legislature to allow for public access to police misconduct records, to little avail.

What this means is that, although the credibility of Baltimore’s police body camera program hangs in the balance, the department may not actually share the details of its investigation — or its outcome — with the public.

The Intercept asked the Baltimore police department if it would tell the public if it moved to discipline Pinheiro through firing or otherwise. T.J Smith, the spokesperson for the department, responded, “We aren’t at that point, and I’m not going to speculate.”

All of this comes in the context of a president who just last week endorsed police brutality in front of a crowd of law enforcement officers, and an attorney general who once called court-ordered consent decrees — which are legal settlements between a city and the Justice Department overseen by a federal judge — “undemocratic” and “dangerous.” (Baltimore’s police department, to its credit, remains committed to its new police reform consent decree, even as other cities, like Chicago, have been shirking similar tools since Trump came to power.)

“The White House wants to use surveillance tools when it’s beneficial to them, but shut them down or preclude your access when it hurts,” said Anne McKenna, a visiting law professor at Penn State University and an expert on technology and surveillance. “You have a president who doesn’t want White House press conferences to be recorded, while he goes around delegitimizing what the news media reports. His actions have been incredibly frightening for civil liberties and First Amendment rights.”

The Department of Justice declined The Intercept’s request for comment on the incidents in Baltimore and Minneapolis, and whether its position on body cameras remains as it had been under President Barack Obama. The Obama administration, which endorsed body cameras as an effective tool to promote police accountability, released guidelines for body camera implementation in 2014, later awarding over $20 million to law enforcement agencies to establish body camera programs.

Lindsay Miller Goodison, a senior researcher with the Police Executive Research Forum who helped the DOJ develop its body camera guidelines, couldn’t say how many agencies currently use body cameras, and of those agencies how many have written policies. “I don’t think anyone has done a comprehensive survey to really get those numbers clearly,” she said.

In terms of accountability, Miller Goodison acknowledged their guidelines did not wade into specifics about what accountability should look like if police officers violate body camera policies. “We focused on accountability mechanisms but, with 18,000 police agencies across the country, it would be pretty hard to come up with an appropriate list of consequences.”

Top photo: Police officer Craig Murray is geared with a body camera during a training session in Clearwater, Fla. on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.

The post Videos of Baltimore Cops Allegedly Planting Evidence Tests Body Camera Programs appeared first on The Intercept.

“Our Allies” Film Highlights the Role of Iranian-backed Militias in America’s Anti-ISIS Coalition

5 August 2017 - 8:00am

“Fighting against Americans was easier than ISIS,” the militia commander tells the camera, standing near the frontlines of the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah. “We were setting up ambushes, we were planting bombs. Their humvees would pass by, and the bomb went off. Then you left.”

The man is Hashim al-Mayhi, a commander in Kata’ib Al-Tayyar Al-Risali (“The Missionary Movement Battalions”). Al-Mayhi’s group is one of the Iranian-supported Shia militia groups that once fought U.S. forces in Iraq, but today are part of the U.S. coalition to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The footage from Fallujah with al-Mayhi and his men was shot in 2015, and comes from a new series of short films about the Islamic State war entitled “Our Allies,” by Norwegian filmmaker Anders Sømme Hammer. (You can watch the first and second episodes below, and the third is above, at the top of this post.)

Episode 1: The Kurdish Women Video: Anders Sømme Hammer/Field of Vision

As the anti-Islamic State war ramped up in 2015, Hammer embedded with groups of Shia militia fighters, female members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (known by its Kurdish initials, YPG), and Western volunteers for that group. The result of the embeds were three short films focused on each of these components of the anti-ISIS coalition. While there has been reporting on the YPG and its volunteers in the past, Hammer’s access to Iranian-backed Shia groups is unique. Kata’ib Al-Tayyar Al-Risali is a militia group with historical connections to Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, a Shia militia that fought against U.S. forces during the American occupation. Today, the group is just one of a network Iraqi militias with ties to Iran that joined under the banner of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a Shia movement created to support the anti-Islamic State resistance in Iraq.

As noted in an April 2017 report on the Popular Mobilization Forces by the the Carnegie Middle East Center, “The PMF are not a monolithic Shia militia.” The report describes the movement as being divided into sub-groups with varying ideologies, who are in turn loyal to different Iraqi or Iranian Shia clerics. Some of these groups hold allegiance to Iraqis like Ayatollah Ali Sistani and are generally within the control of the Iraqi government. But other factions are direct proxies of Iran’s leadership, functioning as local surrogates for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its elite Qods Force.

Episode 2: The Foreigners Video: Anders Sømme Hammer/Field of Vision

In the film, al-Mayhi makes little secret of his own loyalties. “Without the help of God and Iran, Iraq would not have been saved,” he says. “Not when facing America or anyone else.” Al-Mayhi is also shown at his home in Baghdad in a separate interview a year after the 2015 Fallujah battle; he appears in a shirt and blazer and shows images of shrapnel and bullet wounds he suffered over the past year of combat. Sitting on a couch in his living room while a TV plays in the background, al-Mayhi makes what one might think a startling admission: “I am now commanding special forces both inside and outside Iraq.” His troops are taking part in battles outside of the country — including against non-ISIS rebels in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

During the impromptu tour of his home, he shows his spacious swimming pool, as well as machine guns and rocket launchers that had previously been used to fight U.S. forces. Holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to the camera al-Mayhi says, “These were used against [an] American Humvee. Poor thing, nothing remained of it.”

Unwilling to commit its own ground troops to the effort, the coalition that the U.S. ended up cobbling together to fight Islamic State drew many fighters who were former enemies of the U.S. While using these fighters has helped achieved America’s goal of defeating ISIS, it has also legitimized an expansion of Iranian influence in Iraqi politics. Iranian resources and manpower played a key role in supporting both Kurdish and Iraqi government forces over the past several years. A recent New York Times piece on Iran’s growing clout highlighted just how much the U.S. invasion has been a gift to one of America’s regional rivals.

Yet the growing influence of proxy groups loyal to Iran has led to tensions with the Iraqi government helmed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Although militias like al-Mayhi’s played an important role over the past few years of war, it’s unclear what will happen to such groups as time passes. With the war against ISIS slowly approaching is end, militia groups seem increasingly bent on transitioning to a political role within Iraq. A report by al-Monitor earlier this year cited plans by some militias to take a role in Iraq’s education system, leading some to express concerns about a “cultural revolution” being fomented among Iraq’s youth.

Over the past several months, Abadi has been more critical of Iranian-backed militias and their attempts to assert themselves in politics. In a recent speech, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned Abadi against taking any steps against Iran’s proxies once the war ends. The groups, Iran’s ultimate leader said, existed to protect Iraq’s sovereignty and served as an important bulwark against the United States.

With Islamic State soon to be defeated, a confrontation between the various components of the fractious anti-ISIS coalition seems increasingly possible. The status of Shia militia groups will be one of the key areas of contention as Abadi tries to reassert his authority over the politically fragmented country. A scene from “Our Allies” gives an insight into why Abadi’s efforts to rein in the militias may prove difficult. Speaking near the frontline with ISIS, al-Mayhi says forthrightly that he considers the militia’s fight against ISIS a religious duty, and one that cannot be subordinated to the interests of any government. “We are Islamists,” al-Mayhi says. “We do what is ordered by our religious authorities, not by any state.”

Videos: All three episodes of the film “Our Allies” are filmed and directed by Anders Sømme Hammer/Field of Vision.

The post “Our Allies” Film Highlights the Role of Iranian-backed Militias in America’s Anti-ISIS Coalition appeared first on The Intercept.

Fotoensaio: tomara que amanheça

5 August 2017 - 6:08am

Com fundamentos sólidos na cidade-problema-quintal-do-PMDB, estruturado por uma profunda crise econômica e construído com papelão e cobertores velhos, um verdadeiro povoado (com mais habitantes do que 3187 dos 5570 municípios brasileiros) desliza sobre carrinhos de supermercado e carroças pela face do Rio.

Num monta-e-desmonta diário, entre um ‘garimpo’ (gíria para o ato de catar coisas do lixo) e outro, cerca de 14.279 pessoas sobrevivem nas ruas de uma das cidades mais desiguais-sangrentas de que se tem notícia.

Enquanto o novo prefeito Crivella afirma que “precisamos ir para as ruas em parceria com as igrejas para mudar este cenário”, estimulando um suposto processo de caridade em detrimento de políticas públicas eficazes, os abrigos continuam com um déficit de mais de 12 mil vagas.

Não me esqueço de quando – nas preliminares da Copa do Mundo – Dona Valéria, que acabara de ser removida com seus filhos e ter sua casa na favela Metrô-Mangueira demolida, me dizia que em “abrigo, eles trata nóis como bicho” e por isso preferia permanecer na rua com suas crianças até encontrar outra morada.

Neste ensaio, acompanhei pessoas em situação de rua que encontraram no garimpo uma forma de subsistência. Ao contrário dos catadores de materiais recicláveis, estas pessoas percorrem os bairros nobres da cidades em busca dos mais diversos itens e os disponibilizam para venda em brechós também conhecidos como “shopping chão”.

Há “lojas” especializadas em roupas, carregadores e baterias de celulares, discos e cds, fotos antigas, livros, pinturas, revistas playboy, eletrônicos e tudo mais que possa soar descartável ao mercado consumidor carioca.

Durante nossas conversas, fui apresentado ao conceito/gíria “rua escura”, representando um caminho de vida árduo, que leva à degradação pessoal e pode ser causado por solidão, depressão, desespero, fome, sentimento de falta de dignidade, vícios… Para muitos que vivem na rua e precisam ganhar um dia de cada vez com o que foi jogado no lixo, manter-se longe da rua escura pode ser uma missão penosa. Por isso, o ensaio foi batizado “Tomara que amanheça”.

Detalhe do pé de pessoa em situação de rua enquanto esperava à chegada de um “sopão” trazido por voluntários.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Rapaz em situação de rua com sua cadelinha prenha antes de dormir na Glória.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Mãos do ‘garimpeiro’ do asfalto ‘Família’.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Nas duas vezes que nos encontramos perguntei seu nome e ela me disse “aqui só me chamam de negona”. Na segunda vez eu a entreguei uma copia impressa dessa foto e ela ficou muito feliz, mesmo não tendo lembrado do encontro anterior que tivemos. Negona diz ter se reconhecido por seu anel no indicador esquerdo e que penduraria a foto em sua “maloca”.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Rafael parecia o mais durão nos primeiros encontros. Mas depois que fiquei amigo das outras pessoas que dormiam na mesma região ele se abriu, e quando o entreguei uma cópia dessa foto foi um alívio, pois ele gostou bastante. Quando o fotografei estava abaixado explicando a ele a idéia do ensaio e fiz a foto sem olhar pela camera, então tecnicamente ele ainda não sabia que havia sido fotografado.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Fogão a lenha, panela feita a partir de lata de tinta vazia e alguns miojos garantem a janta dessa noite. Uns dias depois encontrei o Bruno – rapaz que está cozinhando – e ele tinha muita dor de estômago, pois só havia achado tangerinas para comer o dia todo.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Jerson procura uma camiseta nova, ou ao menos mais limpa, em meio a pilha gigante de lixo.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Conhecido como ‘Família’, é garimpeiro do asfalto e tem uma banquinha no shopping chão, de onde tira seu sustento.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Um dos vendedores do Shopping Chão junto à sua banquinha.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Um possível cliente testa aparelho de mp3 à venda no brechó.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Garimpeiros do asfalto em sua banquinha vendo parte das fotos que fiz durante esse ensaio.

Foto: Thiago Dezan

Moradores de rua assistem tiroteio em copacabana ao vivo em tv encontrada no lixo e disponibilizada para venda no shopping chão

Foto: Thiago Dezan


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