Domingo à noite, os Estados Unidos vivenciaram o pior massacre da sua história recente. Pelo menos 58 pessoas morreram e mais de 500 ficaram feridas. Não é erro de digitação: um só tiroteiro fez mais de 500 vítimas.
Enquanto dezenas de milhares de amantes da música country curtiam um festival nas ruas de Las Vegas, Stephen Paddock, 64 anos, nascido em Mesquite, no estado de Nevada, se encarapitava no 32º andar do hotel Mandalay Bay. Paddock tinha 19 fuzis e centenas de balas à disposição – nenhum exagero em um país que tem mais armas de fogo do que habitantes. Poucos minutos depois das 22h, ele começou a disparar contra a multidão. Um alvo fácil.
Um dispendioso muro na fronteira com o México não teria evitado a tragédia; a proibição à entrada nos EUA de imigrantes e refugiados de um punhado de países muçulmanos também não.
Paddock, como a maioria dos autores de massacres em território americano, era cidadão dos EUA e branco. Esse pequeno detalhe transforma completamente o discurso midiático e oficial sobre a tragédia. Por alguma razão, ser branco protege as pessoas do rótulo de terrorista.
Porém, quando um ataque é perpetrado por pessoas de cor, a culpa costuma ser estendida à natureza destrutiva da comunidade a que pertencem. Quando um muçulmano comete um crime terrível, boa parte da direita afirma que o próprio Islã é o problema. Há séculos, quando um negro pratica algum ato violento, logo aparecem generalizações racistas, criminalizando e desumanizando um grupo étnico inteiro.
Um privilégio sempre fica em evidência quando comparado ao tratamento dispensado aos não privilegiados, e esse caso não é diferente. Homens brancos que cometem assassinatos em massa costumam ser caracterizados como “lobos solitários”, sem nenhuma conexão entre si. Fazemos vista grossa para os aspectos mais problemáticos da identidade branca nos EUA – uma indulgência exclusiva para brancos.
E, por ser branco, Stephen Paddock tem contado com inúmeras benesses da imprensa.
Enquanto o sangue ainda nem havia esfriado nas ruas de Las Vegas, uma manchete do USA Today declarou que Paddock era um “lobo solitário”, embora as investigações sobre seu passado e motivações estivessem apenas começando. A polícia ainda não havia sequer revistado a casa e os computadores do assassino; seu histórico de viagens não havia sido devassado; ninguém ainda havia investigado sua família e amigos e esmiuçado suas redes sociais.
Stephen Paddock foi chamado de “lobo solitário”, não como resultado de uma meticulosa investigação, e sim porque essa era a única conclusão possível para um assassino em massa de pele branca.
“Lobo solitário” é um rótulo comumente usado para caracterizar brancos suspeitos de cometer massacres. James Holmes foi chamado de “lobo solitário” quando abriu fogo em um cinema em Aurora, no estado do Colorado, deixando 12 mortos. Dylann Roof, o supremacista branco que entrou em uma igreja em Charleston, na Carolina do Sul, e matou a tiros o pastor e oito fiéis, logo recebeu a mesma alcunha.
Para pessoas de cor – principalmente muçulmanos – o tratamento costuma ser diferente. Um muçulmano é tachado de “terrorista” antes mesmo que os fatos sejam revelados.
Vejamos o exemplo do presidente dos EUA, Donald Trump. Ontem de manhã (segunda-feira), Trump tuitou: “Meus pêsames às vítimas do ataque em Las Vegas e às suas famílias. Que Deus os abençoe!”. Tudo bem, mas Trump não parece estar irritado. É estranho ele não ter chamado o atirador de “filho da puta”, como fez com os jogadores da NFL (a liga de futebol americano dos EUA) que se ajoelharam durante o hino nacional. Ele também não deu um apelido depreciativo a Paddock, e tampouco propôs novas medidas para combater o problema.
Comparemos isso com a reação de Trump a ataques que ele acredita terem sido cometidos por muçulmanos. Depois do atentado a bomba no metrô de Londres, Trump afirmou no Twitter que os criminosos eram “terroristas patéticos”, antes mesmo que as autoridades britânicas tivessem descoberto o nome do suspeito. Trump ainda usou esse ataque para defender a proibição de entrada imposta aos muçulmanos nos EUA.
É aí que devemos nos perguntar: por que certos atos violentos deixam Trump e seus partidários indignados, enquanto outros inspiram apenas pêsames e preces? Este foi o maior massacre da história dos Estados Unidos! Onde está a indignação? Onde estão as propostas de medidas políticas?
Estamos diante de uma manifestação gritante do privilégio branco, que protege até alguém como Stephen Paddock – suspeito de ter cometido um massacre – não apenas do rótulo de terrorista mas também da fúria que certamente se abateria sobre qualquer suspeito de cor. A sua pele o protege – e também impede que os EUA encarem de frente duas importantes questões: por que tantos homens brancos fazem o que ele fez? Por que esse país parece determinado a não fazer nada contra isso?
Conversei com duas pessoas ontem de manhã – uma negra e uma muçulmana. As duas, assim que souberam da tragédia em Las Vegas, rezaram para que o atirador não fosse negro ou muçulmano. Por quê? Porque, se fosse, elas sabiam que a reação contra a comunidade negra ou muçulmana seria terrível.
Há algo muito errado na sociedade quando alguém se sente aliviado por causa da cor da pele de um criminoso. Mas os brancos não têm esse problema, pois sabem que não precisam temer nenhuma reação aos atos de Stephen Paddock – foi o que aprenderam ao longo de 400 anos de história.
Além de todas as vantagens que têm de berço, os brancos ainda desfrutam, de fato, de um privilégio especial: imunidade às consequências dos atos de outros indivíduos da sua etnia.
Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse
The post “Lobo solitário”: um rótulo exclusivo para brancos appeared first on The Intercept.
Michael Dourson, the toxicologist who will be the subject of a confirmation hearing on Wednesday for what many consider the second most powerful post at the Environmental Protection Agency, has been hired by industry to consult on at least 30 of the chemicals he may be responsible for reviewing if he assumes office.
Dourson’s consulting company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, was paid by Dow Chemical, CropLife America, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries, and other companies and industry groups to study dozens of chemicals. The evaluations TERA produced consistently failed to recognize threats that were clear to scientists and regulators not on the companies’ payrolls.
If confirmed as director of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Dourson will be in a position to set safety levels for many of the same chemicals his company was paid to defend, including nine pesticides scheduled for scrutiny and 20 industrial compounds that may be evaluated under the recently updated chemical safety law.
Dourson would also be in a position to make decisions affecting chlorpyrifos, another pesticide he’s been paid to research, which can cause memory, intelligence, attention, and motor problems in children. Based on numerous studies that found that very low doses of the pesticide can harm children’s brains, the EPA proposed banning chlorpyrifos in 2016. In research paid for by Dow, the manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, Dourson came up with a safety threshold that was some 5,000 times less protective than what the EPA recommended for children between the ages of one and two.
After reversing the proposed ban, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently delayed the evaluation of both chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates, the chemical class to which it belongs, which had been scheduled to begin in 2017. Dourson would have input on the timing of those evaluations, as well as the research considered in them. About two dozen organophosphate pesticides are commercially available, all of which are neurotoxins.
Environmental scientists have long recognized that children are especially vulnerable to chemicals, including organophosphates, throughout their development. But in a 2002 paper paid for by the American Chemistry Council and the pesticide industry group CropLife America, Dourson suggested that after six months, most children are no more sensitive to chemical toxicity than adults and that in some cases, they are even less sensitive. This idea places him well outside the scientific mainstream and suggests how he might approach not just these pesticides but all chemicals affecting children.
In addition to overseeing pesticides if confirmed, Dourson would be responsible for the implementation of the new Toxic Substances Control Act, which entails setting safety levels for some of the most dangerous chemicals in use. As the 2016 law required, the EPA has already chosen the first 10 substances to be evaluated. Of those 10, Dourson has been paid to work on three — Trichloroethylene, 1-Bromopropane, and 1,4-Dioxane — and in each case, found them to be safer than independent scientists did.
Often the standards TERA recommended weren’t just off, they were wildly off. In the research commissioned by manufacturers of 1-Bromopropane, which the EPA is considering adding to its list of hazardous air pollutants, TERA put forward a level that was 67 times lower than one recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. For 1,4-Dioxane, a solvent that harms the liver, kidneys, and nervous system, TERA calculated a safety level that was 1,166 time less protective than that of the EPA.
For PFOA, a chemical used to make nonstick products that has been found in the drinking water of 6.5 million Americans, Dourson helped West Virginia set a state safety standard in 2002 that was 150 times higher than an internal level DuPont itself had set years earlier and 7,500 time higher than the lowest standard set by a state.
TERA consulted on another 17 worrisome chemicals — including lead, arsenic, and the carcinogens chromium and benzene — that the EPA has identified as needing further assessment as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act Work Plan.
In 2015, Dourson and TERA joined the University of Cincinnati and rebranded as the Risk Science Center. Since then, Dourson has co-authored at least one scientific paper with staff of the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical, and Exxon.
Dourson and the EPA declined repeated requests to answer questions for this article.
After Dourson’s nomination was announced in July, the agency issued a press release that cited “widespread praise” for the toxicologist from his colleagues. “Dr. Dourson has a can do and winning temperament that inspires confidence,” said Gio Batta Gori, who, like Dourson, has consulted for tobacco companies.
Chemical safety advocates say the overlap between Dourson’s work and the chemicals under EPA scrutiny isn’t surprising. “These companies aren’t hiring Dourson if their product is hunky-dory,” said Jack Pratt, chemicals campaign director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “He comes in when they’ve got a fire. Over and over, he’s the guy that chemical companies hire when some regulator looks at their products and might potentially set a regulation.”
This coziness with industry has led environmental groups to wage a vocal campaign against Dourson, one of four nominees to high-level EPA positions being considered by the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee this week.
“It’s simply absurd that industry’s go-to science-for-hire guy would now be charged with reviewing the safety of many of the same chemicals he’s previously greenwashed,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, which has dubbed Dourson Mr. Pay to Spray. “It’s like putting Philip Morris in charge of the American Lung Association.”
Patti Goldman, an attorney at Earthjustice, also strongly opposes his confirmation. ButMichael Dourson, nominated by President Donald Trump to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety programs, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 14, 2017.ed. “As someone who’s been a scientist for hire, Dourson should recuse himself from decisions affecting chemicals he’s worked on,” said Goldman. “It’s impossible for Dourson to be free of bias. What’s he going to do, cite his own studies?”
The post Trump’s Pick for EPA Safety Chief Argued Kids Are Less Sensitive to Toxins appeared first on The Intercept.
Last night, the United States experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. At least 58 people are dead and over 500 more wounded. No, that’s not a typo: more than 500 were injured in one, single incident.
As tens of thousands enjoyed a music festival on the streets of Las Vegas, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada, was perched 32 floors above them in his Mandalay Bay hotel room. Paddock had 19 rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammo — supplies that are plentiful in a nation that has more guns than people. A few minutes after 10 p.m., Paddock opened fire on the unsuspecting crowd. They were sitting ducks.
No expensive wall along the Mexican border would’ve prevented this. No Muslim ban stopping immigrants and refugees from a few randomly selected countries reaching our shores would’ve slowed this down.
Paddock, like the majority of mass shooters in this country, was a white American. And that simple fact changes absolutely everything about the way this horrible moment gets discussed in the media and the national discourse: Whiteness, somehow, protects men from being labeled terrorists.
The privilege here is that the ultimate conclusion about shootings committed by people from commonly nonwhite groups often leads to determinations about the corrosive or destructive nature of the group itself. When an individual claiming to be a Muslim commits a horrible act, many on the right will tell us Islam itself is the problem. For centuries, when an act of violence has been committed by an African American, racist tropes follow — and eventually, the criminalization and dehumanization of an entire ethnic group.
Privilege always stands in contrast to how others are treated, and it’s true in this case, too: White men who resort to mass violence are consistently characterized primarily as isolated “lone wolves” — in no way connected to one another — while the most problematic aspects of being white in America are given a pass that nobody else receives.
Stephen Paddock’s whiteness has already afforded him many outrageous protections in the media.
While the blood was still congealing on the streets of Las Vegas, USA Today declared in their headline that Paddock was a “lone wolf.” And yet an investigation into his motivations and background only just started. Police were only beginning to move to search his home and computers. His travel history had not yet been evaluated. No one had yet thoroughly scrutinized his family, friends, and social networks.
Stephen Paddock was declared a “lone wolf” before analysts had even started their day not because an exhaustive investigation produced such a conclusion, but because it is the only available conclusion for a white man in America who commits a mass shooting.
“Lone wolf” is how Americans designate many white suspects in mass shootings. James Holmes was called a “lone wolf” when he shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. And Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot and killed the pastor and 8 other parishioners was quickly declared a “lone wolf.”
For people of color, especially for Muslims, their treatment is often different. Muslims often get labeled as “terrorists” before all the facts have come out.
Just consider President Donald Trump. This morning, Trump tweeted, “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!” That’s fine, but Trump doesn’t even seem angry. It’s peculiar that he didn’t call the shooter a “son of a bitch,” like he did the NFL players who took a knee during the anthem. He didn’t create an insulting nickname for Paddock, nor make an immediate push for a policy proposal.
Compare that to how Trump treats incidents where he believes the assailants are Muslims. After a bomb exploded in the London subway, Trump tweeted that the attackers were “loser terrorists” — before British authorities had even named a suspect. He went on to immediately use the attack to push his Muslim ban.
We must ask ourselves: Why do certain acts of violence absolutely incense Trump and his base while others only illicit warm thoughts and prayers? This is the deadliest mass shooting in American history! Where is the outrage? Where are the policy proposals?
What we are witnessing is the blatant fact that white privilege protects even Stephen Paddock, an alleged mass murderer, not just from being called a terrorist, but from the anger, rage, hellfire, and fury that would surely rain down if he was almost anyone other than a white man. His skin protects him. It also prevents our nation from having an honest conversation about why so many white men do what he did, and why this nation seems absolutely determined to do next to nothing about it.
I spoke to two people this morning, one black and the other Muslim. Both of them said that, when they heard about this awful shooting in Las Vegas, they immediately began hoping that the shooter was not black or a Muslim. Why? Because they knew that the blowback on all African Americans or all Muslims would be fierce if the shooter hailed from one of those communities.
Something is deeply wrong when people feel a sense of relief that the shooter is white because they know that means they won’t suffer as a result. White people, on the other hand, have no such feeling this morning, because 400 years of American history tells them that no such consequences will exist for them today as a result of Stephen Paddock’s actions.
It is an exemplar of white privilege: Not just being given a head start in society, but also the freedom from certain consequences of individual and group actions.
Catalonia remained on edge Monday, a day after millions voted for independence from Spain in a referendum that the central government used force to disrupt, severely limiting turnout but also raising questions about the legitimacy of a democracy that orders the police to beat voters.
As the European Union spurned an appeal from the president of the Catalan autonomous region, Carles Puigdemont, to facilitate talks with Spain about what comes next, tens of thousands of students marched through the streets of Barcelona with their mouths taped shut, to express their frustration about the Spanish government denying them a voice.
— Unis x la República (@unisxrepublica) October 2, 2017
This generation of Catalan youth's consent to be governed by closet Falangists of the PP elite just evaporated pic.twitter.com/j8IwgtZJ3a
— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) October 2, 2017
— Alfonso Congostrina (@alfcongostrina) October 2, 2017
There was particular outrage at the violence inflicted on voters by members of Spanish police forces who were called in to block the referendum after a Spanish court ruled that it was unconstitutional. The images of police officers beating voters and firing rubber bullets at polling places on Sunday stunned and horrified Catalans, and rage at the police only grew on Monday as more video clips were broadcast and circulated on social media.
¿Alguien puede defender esto? pic.twitter.com/WOVIYCnmAS
— Julia Otero (@julia_otero) October 1, 2017
— Europa Press (@europapress) October 1, 2017
— Alberto Pradilla (@albertopradilla) October 1, 2017
— Dani Cordoba (@Dani_CCardenas) October 1, 2017
In Barcelona, hundreds of protesters blocked traffic outside the headquarters of the Spanish national police force in the city, where Catalan nationalists were tortured during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. As protesters screamed abuse at the Spanish police inside the building, the autonomous Catalan police force, the Mossos, was called in to keep the peace.
— eduard colldecarrera (@educollde) October 2, 2017
Protest outside Policía Nacional station in BCN: more Mossos arrive to make a barrier between crowd and PN pic.twitter.com/UsyhLDeWgm
— Zach Campbell (@notzachcampbell) October 2, 2017
Ahora mismo en Vía Laietana frente a la Jefatura Superior de Policía pic.twitter.com/ztk52EA1h3
— Antonio Maestre (@AntonioMaestre) October 2, 2017
Els Nacionals han aprofitat un moment de distracció per treure les furgonetes i escapar de la manifestació pic.twitter.com/fUgpqsRPSl
— Ferran Pallàs (@ferranbdn) October 2, 2017
Outside Barcelona, in the town of Calella, residents demanded that Spanish Guardia Civil officers be withdrawn after video showed that plainclothes officers had attacked protesters outside their hotel.
Esta madrugada en Calella ( Barcelona) un grupo de Guardia Civiles de paisano salieron del hotel a dar palizas pic.twitter.com/FfNEUGv9EN
— Irreverent (@Nen__17) October 2, 2017
Aquí teneis un vídeo en el que se ve a los Guardias Civiles de paisano con las porras extensibles https://t.co/ccSxwNB816
— Antonio Maestre (@AntonioMaestre) October 2, 2017
The officers were evacuated from Calella after a day of angry protests.
— Ràdio Calella TV (@RadioCalellaTV) October 2, 2017
— Publio C. Escipión (@c_escipion) October 2, 2017
Rage at the national police was not dimmed by the revelation that officers billeted at the port of Barcelona posed with the Spanish flag for a triumphal victory photograph after attacking Catalan voters.
— La Vanguardia (@LaVanguardia) October 2, 2017
How the crisis can be defused without further violence remains a mystery, but the next step for Catalans seeking to put pressure on the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is a general strike called for Tuesday.
— 15MBcn_int (@15MBcn_int) October 2, 2017
Els cartells reclamant la Vaga General (o Aturada Nacional) ja són als carrers pic.twitter.com/Rd9D0cblt1
— Carles Garcia (@CarlesGN) October 2, 2017
The planned action appears to have widespread support, even from opponents of independence who feel that Spain denied them their democratic rights by hampering the referendum. Major Spanish trade unions refused to sanction the strike, but it was supported by the city of Barcelona and important Catalan cultural and sporting institutions, including FC Barcelona and the Sagrada Familia cathedral.
Demà, aturada general. Se suspenen tots els actes institucionals i els serveis no imprescindibles per al funcionament de la ciutat tancaran.
— Ajuntament de BCN (@bcn_ajuntament) October 2, 2017
FC Barcelona joins the country wide strike called for by Table for Democracy and therefore the Club will be closed tomorrow.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 2, 2017
The Basilica of the Sagrada Família condemns the violence experienced yesterday in Catalonia and will be closed all day tomorrow, 3 October.
— La Sagrada Família (@sagradafamilia) October 2, 2017
The images of police violence enflamed opinion in Catalonia and abroad, yet instilled fear locally and likely had a chilling effect on voter turnout, leaving the legitimacy of the result in doubt.
A Catalan activist who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jordi, because he feared retribution from the Spanish authorities, told The Intercept that he was distraught to hear that turnout for the referendum had been limited to about 42 percent and blamed the images of police beating voters for convincing many supporters of independence to stay home on Sunday. The activist also said that he feared that the Spanish government might be planning to arrest the Catalan president to provoke a crisis on the streets that would justify calling in a far larger security force, perhaps including the military.
The sense of frustration and hopelessness was expressed across Catalonia on Monday night in a form of noisy protest known as a casserolada, in which keys are shaken and casseroles, pots, and pans are banged on loudly.
— Marc (@marcballesco) October 2, 2017
— Lorena #SÍ l|*|I (@LorenaAlmi) October 2, 2017
— desdeminuberosa (@desdeminuberosa) October 2, 2017
Són les 22? "Cassolada" a Via Laietana! pic.twitter.com/9Lli07cWVS
— Ferran Pallàs (@ferranbdn) October 2, 2017
The post A Mix of Hope, Fear and Anger in Catalonia After Millions Vote for Independence From Spain appeared first on The Intercept.
A program that provides health coverage to some nine million children was allowed by the GOP-controlled Congress to expire over the weekend.
CHIP, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a bipartisan initiative which was originally co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and the late Ted Kennedy in the 1990s, allows children who fall above the Medicaid threshold to obtain low-cost health insurance.
Republicans diverted nearly all attention to another failed Obamacare repeal attempt. The bill’s sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., claimed to have momentum on their side and enough votes to pass the measure, but that turned out to be false, as the effort fell short of even the mark set by the previous failed effort. Graham later acknowledged he had no idea what he was doing.
Democrats in Congress and around the country, however, fully mobilized against it, while paying little attention to the looming expiration of CHIP.
Low-income children, infants and pregnant women rely on coverage through CHIP and it’s particularly vital for women and children of color.
Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee respectively, announced an agreement in September to extend CHIP funding for another five years and boost funding over time.
But the Graham-Cassidy bill, the Republican party’s most recent attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, quickly drowned out any talk of CHIP’s future after being unveiled ahead of the deadline. “Momentum was building,” Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy group, told a columnist for the L.A. Times. After Graham-Cassidy, Lesley said, “No one was even taking our calls.”
The Senate Finance Committee is holding a CHIP bill markup on Wednesday but states have already been bracing for the worst and some may have to shut down their children’s health program until funding is received.
Ten states, including Arizona, California, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., will run out of funding between October and December, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), a nonpartisan congressional advisory body, but most are projected to exhaust money by March 2018.
“Congress needs to act quickly to secure kids’ health care, and next week’s markup of the Senate’s strong, bipartisan CHIP bill is an important step,” Wyden said in a statement.
“Every day that passes without action following the funding deadline this Saturday means more heartache for children and families and more uncertainty for states. I will be pulling out all the stops to ensure Congress keeps its promise to America’s kids.”
At about $14 billion a year, the program is significantly smaller than Medicare and Medicaid, and is responsible for reducing the uninsured rate among children from 14 percent to 5 percent over two decades.
Because funding was not renewed, MACPAC says states will need to make decisions including whether to end CHIP, how to finance Medicaid-expanded CHIP with reduced federal spending, and how to provide information to families, providers, and plans.
Top photo: Supporters of the Affordable Care Act rally on the state Capitol steps in Denver on Jan. 31, 2017.
The post Congress Threatens to Take Health Insurance Away From 9 Million Kids, Just Because appeared first on The Intercept.
Trump Economic Director Gary Cohn Says It’s Fine for Corporations to Use Tax Breaks to Enrich Executives
One part of the White House’s proposed tax reform framework would involve a “tax repatriation” holiday for U.S. corporations that are storing profits overseas. The logic is that offering a lower tax rate to corporations would entice them to bring money onshore that would then lead to the hiring of American workers.
The proposal re-ups a Bush-era policy that failed to boost job growth; the top 15 companies that took advantage of the repatriation holiday actually reduced their total employment of U.S. workers over the period of the policy.
Many of the corporations that took part in the tax holiday instead spent the money on stock buybacks, a way to enrich insiders and executives; among the top 15 beneficiaries, stock buybacks jumped 16 percent from 2004 to 2005 and 38 percent from 2005 to 2006.
On Thursday, White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told CNBC’s Eamon Javers that it’s “fine” if corporations do the same thing after this tax holiday.
Eamon Javers: On the corporate side, your critics say on the repatriation of overseas assets that history would show that companies don’t always use those assets when they’re repatriated to invest in manufacturing and jobs and the things that you guys are talking about. They do share buybacks and other financial engineering. How can you guarantee that this won’t happen this time?
Gary Cohn: So look we’ve heard that numerous times. If that’s our worst-case scenario, that companies repatriate their money, and they use it for share buybacks and dividends, what happens? They buy back shares, they issue dividends. They pay the repatriation tax. We get another 20 percent tax on capital gains or dividends. And then the people that get that money back do what? They reinvest it back in the economy in new investments and new capital. We’re putting some very enticing rules into the system that will entice people to invest capital for the next five years. We’re giving people a five-year write-off that they can instantly expense. So look, if that happens, that’s fine. We know that that money will get invested right back into the economy, and drive jobs, drive economic growth, drive wages, and drive prosperity.
What Cohn is articulating is a version of the theory of trickle-down economics. The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker is skeptical of Cohn’s explanation of corporate behavior during another tax holiday.
“Cohn’s story on repatriation goes the wrong way for a supply-side tax cut,” he told The Intercept. “Insofar as the repatriation does lead to more money being paid out to shareholders as dividends or capital gains, and they spend a portion of this money, it leads to the higher interest rate and less investment story. Of course, if we feel the problem is the economy doesn’t have enough demand, this is fine, but the easiest way to generate demand with a tax cut is to give the money to low- and middle-income people who will spend almost all of it.”
William Lazonick, an economist at UMass Lowell who studies stock buybacks, was also skeptical of Cohn’s theory.
“Dividends flow as income to pension funds and mutual funds, but the gains from buybacks, which are reaped by selling shares, go to Wall Street bankers, hedge-fund managers, and top corporate executives who are positioned to time the selling of their shares,” he wrote to The Intercept. “Companies in the S&P 500 Index did about $4 trillion in buybacks in the decade 2007-2016, equal to about 54% of profits, and almost $3 trillion in dividends, another 39% of profits. Cohn is trying to perpetuate a myth that all financial flows end up in investment that generates value-creating employment for the middle class. It is clear, however, that much of the trillions of corporate cash that flows out of companies to shareholders ends up in the ‘war chests’ of corporate predators on Wall Street, who use their enhanced power to grab even more corporate cash for themselves.”
In a 2015 interview, former President Bill Clinton said that George W. Bush told him he was disappointed because corporations ended up using the repatriation holiday to boost executive pay and stock buybacks. Cohn seems to believe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a repeat of the Bush experience.
Sentado numa cadeira acima de uma plateia lotada, o bispo Inaldo Silva, da Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, levanta a mão direita para o alto enquanto o público vibra ao som da música “A volta por cima”, da cantora gospel e pastora Flordelis, uma das líderes de uma comunidade evangélica que leva o seu nome. A cena – comum, se estivéssemos falando de algum templo – aconteceu no plenário da Câmara Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, onde o bispo também cumpre um mandato de vereador.
Em dois vídeos publicados em sua página no Facebook, Inaldo Silva mostra pequenos trechos da comemoração realizada na última sexta (29 de setembro). Tratava-se de uma homenagem ao Dia do Encontro Interdenominacional (reunião de igrejas evangélicas), que, graças a um projeto de lei dele, entrou oficialmente para o calendário da cidade este ano, no terceiro domingo do mês de setembro.
O bispo é vereador em primeiro mandato, eleito pelo PRB, mesmo partido do prefeito do Rio, Marcelo Crivella.
No primeiro vídeo publicado, é possível ver Inaldo Silva sentado da cadeira que é usada nas sessões plenárias pelo presidente da Câmara, com flores em sua volta. Na mesa diretora, aparecem a cantora Flordelis e Eduardo Lopes (PRB), suplente que assumiu a vaga no Senado de Crivella após ele ter sido eleito prefeito do Rio.
Na outra postagem, o público que lotou as galerias vibra ainda mais quando um cantor gospel se apresenta no púlpito que é usado pelos vereadores para realizarem seus discursos. Como a qualidade do som não é muito boa, fica difícil identificar a letra da música, mas é possível ouvir alguns “aleluias”.
Os encontros interdenominacionais são realizados pela Igreja Universal para reunir diversos líderes evangélicos. No ano passado, por exemplo, o evento foi realizado no Templo de Salomão, em São Paulo. O coordenador era exatamente o bispo Inaldo Silva.No ano passado o evento foi realizado no Templo de Salomão, em São Paulo. O coordenador era exatamente o bispo Inaldo Silva.
O vereador é bastante ligado ao prefeito Marcelo Crivella, sobrinho de Edir Macedo, líder da Universal. Sua mulher, Sandra Pereira Ramos da Silva, chegou a trabalhar no gabinete de Crivella no Senado, com salário de mais de R$ 15 mil.
Além dos vídeos publicados por Inaldo Silva, a cantora e pastora Flordelis também publicou em sua página um discurso que fez na mesa diretora da Câmara condenando a exposição no Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) de São Paulo, que gerou reação de setores conservadores após a divulgação de imagens de uma criança numa sala onde havia a performance com um homem nu:
“É uma exposição que eles estão chamando de arte, mas eu, como pastora, como mãe, como mulher, chamo de pedofilia… Nós somos protestantes e temos que protestar contra as coisas que estão erradas em nossa volta. Está na hora de o povo de Deus se levantar”.
Flordelis termina o discurso falando da força dos evangélicos na política:
“É hora de nós mostrarmos a nossa força. Já estamos mostrando isso na época das eleições. Nunca houve tantos candidatos evangélicos que foram eleitos. E agora está na hora de continuarmos mostrando a nossa força. Vamos embora para a rua, minha gente. Vamos dar as mãos, vamos gritar que essa nação não pertence a Satanás, ela é do senhor Jesus!”Frente evangélica tem 40% do Congresso
Atualmente, entre os 51 vereadores da Câmara do Rio, três são do PRB, partido de Marcelo Crivella e de forte ligação com a Igreja Universal: além de Inaldo Silva, Tânia Bastos e João Mendes de Jesus. Há pelo menos outros dois com forte ligação com os evangélicos e as pautas conservadoras: Otoni de Paula (PSC) e Alexandre Isquierdo (DEM), este bastante ligado ao pastor Silas Malafaia.
A composição do Congresso Nacional, por sua vez, mostra a força dos evangélicos. A frente parlamentar que reúne o setor tem nada menos do que 198 deputados. Ou seja, são quase 40% dos 513 que têm mandato na Casa. Eles estão na linha de frente de pautas conservadoras como a “cura gay”, aliando-se inclusive a grupos como o Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL).
The post Vereador e bispo da Universal faz Câmara do Rio ter dia de igreja evangélica appeared first on The Intercept.
Last night, a Las Vegas gunman killed over 50 people and injured hundreds in the worst mass shooting in American history.
The hundreds wounded are being tended to in Clark County’s network of hospitals in Nevada. But because this is a country that has never had guaranteed universal health care, they will soon be besieged by a second tragedy: enormous medical bills.
This morning, Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak, set up a GoFundMe, a private crowdfunding platform, to request charity for those injured in the massacre.
Sisolak, who is running for governor as a Democrat, pitched in $10,000 and explained that he is currently at the county’s level-one trauma center with victims:
I’m Steve Sisolak, Clark County Commission Chair from Las Vegas. We are raising funds to assist the victim’s of the tragic Las Vegas shooting. I am at Clark County’s only level-one trauma center with the victims and their families as we speak.
Funds will be used to provide relief and financial support to the victims and families of the horrific Las Vegas mass shooting?.Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed legislation over the summer that would have allowed Nevadans to buy into the state’s Medicaid program.
Asking strangers for charitable donations to tackle medical bills is ubiquitous in the United States. A report by NerdWallet released in 2015 found that $930 million of the $2 billion raised by GoFundMe since its 2010 launch have been related to medical bills. Yet NerdWallet’s comprehensive survey of crowdfunding sites found that barely 1 in 10 medical campaigns raised the full amount they asked for.
Contrast this American experience with that of some of our allies. In June, dozens of people were injured and eight people were killed when London terrorists ran a van through a crowd and then proceeded to stab multiple people. It was the second major terror attack of the year, the first one being in March in Manchester.
In the United Kingdom, most health care is free. The National Health Service, erected in the ashes of World War II, provides comprehensive health care to all British residents.
At the London attack, NHS staff were on the scene within six minutes, aiding the injured. Last month, the NHS gave a special honor to the first responders, nurses, and doctors who aided the victims of the London terror attack. “They highlighted the resilience and the compassion of the NHS staff who time after time responded to victims, who had suffered unimaginable injuries – putting the needs of those people first. This is the NHS at its best,” Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer of the NHS, said.
In the Manchester attack, American Kurt Cochran was killed. His wife, Melissa Cochran, returned to the U.S. with the need for continuous care. With no American NHS, she had to set up a GoFundMe to finance her treatment. Thankfully, this one both met and exceeded its goal, having raised $83,512.
It’s the price of a free-market approach to health care.
The post Las Vegas Official Sets Up GoFundMe to Aid Shooting Victims — the Price of No Universal Health Care appeared first on The Intercept.
Os dados da última pesquisa Datafolha, divulgados entre sábado (30) e segunda (2), levantam questionamentos que saem do universo da política para entrar no da psicologia: estaria o país mergulhado num surto de esquizofrenia coletiva? Afinal, numa corrida eleitoral em que 87% das pessoas quer candidatos livres de corrupção, o favorito, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, foi condenado, em primeira instância por… corrupção. As perguntas sobre intenção de voto e tolerância à ladroagem foram feitas aos mesmos 2.772 brasileiros.
Há, claro, a hipótese de uma massa petista fiel que veja Lula como vítima de uma grande conspiração. Os números apoiam essa tese. Pouco mais da metade dos brasileiros (54%) disseram achar que o petista tem de ser preso por conta de tudo o que foi revelado na Lava Jato. Em 2014, quando o atual Congresso foi eleito, nada menos do que 40% de seus integrantes já eram investigados pela JustiçaO número combina bem com os resultados de Lula no segundo turno. Contra o tucano Geraldo Alckmin, por exemplo, ele receberia o voto de 46% dos eleitores. Proporção que, numa conta simplificada ao extremo, poderia corresponder à outra metade da população votante.
Não haveria, portanto, tanta esquizofrenia aí. Mas então a gente lembra que, em 2014, quando o atual Congresso foi eleito, nada menos do que 40% de seus integrantes já eram investigados pela Justiça. Entre eles estava outro ex-presidente, Fernando Collor de Mello, que recebeu 56% dos votos em seu Estado, Alagoas. Era a segunda vez que a vontade popular conduzia ao Senado o ícone máximo da corrupção nacional.
The post Brasileiros querem Lula preso e também Lula presidente appeared first on The Intercept.
For more than two years, the United States has been providing support for a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen that has cost the lives of over ten thousand civilians and plunged much of the country into a humanitarian crisis.
The U.S. government is providing weapons and targeting intelligence, and is also flying refueling missions for the Saudi-led coalition. But the U.S. Congress has never voted on whether or not the United States should be supporting our Saudi allies. It is essentially the president’s choice — first Obama’s, then Trump’s — with little accountability beyond that.
Now, four Members of the House from very different ideological poles are teaming up to force the body to vote for the very first time on whether the United States should continue to support the Saudi war in Yemen. Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Walter Jones, R-N.C. have introduced what’s called a privileged resolution that will force a vote on the war within fifteen days.
H.Con.Res.81 would invoke the War Powers Act to terminate U.S. involvement in the war.
“It’s beyond time for the country to stop conducting refueling for missions over Yemen. Congress and the American people know too little about the role we are playing in a war that is causing suffering for millions of people and is a genuine threat to our national security,” Rep. Khanna said in a statement to reporters.
Peace advocates noted that the bill will soon come up to vote, something that Khanna’s office confirmed.
“H.Con.Res.81 is privileged under the War Powers Act of 1973, meaning it’s guaranteed a vote and doesn’t have to have the blessing of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rules Committee, or leadership, who would normally block these things from getting to the floor because they don’t want to debate war,” Kate Khizer, who works with Yemen Peace Project, told The Intercept. “It will sit with the Foreign Affairs Committee for 15 calendar days, and will then be discharged for consideration by the full House. At that point, any member of Congress can call the resolution up for a debate and floor vote.”
That means sometime in the week of October 9, the U.S. House will vote on participation in the war for the first time.
The post Using an Arcane Maneuver, Bipartisan Group Plans to Force Congressional Vote on Yemen War appeared first on The Intercept.
AIPAC is paying a visit to Washington, D.C. in mid-October, threatening to bring renewed focus on legislation a leading civil liberties group warns will criminalize support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lists support of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act as a key issue in its legislative agenda, asking people to urge their members of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. Several thousand leading AIPAC activists will arrive in Washington beginning October 17.
The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, maintains that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720) would have a chilling effect on free speech, as it threatens to penalize U.S. individuals and companies solely on expressed political beliefs. The ACLU opposition reversed the momentum of the legislation, as Democratic senators have been wary of winding up on the opposite side of a central player in the resistance to President Donald Trump.
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act on March 23, is still working with members to review potential clarifications to the bill, according to his office.
Cardin promised to amend the measure without changing its core function after the ACLU’s legal interpretation of the bill found that violations “would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.”
The ACLU said they will “carefully evaluate” any amendments to the bill to see whether they address concerns.
Following the ACLU announcement, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York withdrew co-sponsorship. She said at a town hall in August that she would not support the bill in its current form and called on the authors to change it.
“That directly contradicts the First Amendment, which protects voluntary participation in a political boycott,” ACLU attorney Brian Hauss said. “Even if the bill could be interpreted more narrowly, as some of its supporters claim, its broad language and significant penalties would still chill protected expression by scaring people into self-censorship.”
Cardin continued to defend the bill in a briefing Wednesday, saying the bill does not affect freedom of speech, impose jail sentences, nor penalize individuals for their activities, and the criticisms “are just wrong.”
“We can clarify certain additions that do not change the function of the bill, but will give people more comfort,” Cardin said.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a reliable supporter of Israel and a respected voice in the party on foreign policy, said recently that he does not support the bill because of the concerns put forward by the ACLU. “My interpretation of that legislation is that it does things that the sponsors say were not intended,” said Van Hollen. “I don’t think any American, for example, should be threatened with fines or imprisonment for expressing their views in the form of participating in economic actions with respect to Israel. I certainly don’t support that bill, certainly in its current form.”
The ACLU has said that even with tweaks to the bill that eliminate the criminal penalties, the civil penalties would still lead to an unconstitutional chilling of speech. The bill also does not distinguish between a boycott of products made in occupied territory versus products made in Israel proper, an aspect of the bill Cardin said will not change. JTA reported Cardin insisted on maintaining the provision “to keep outside actors from imposing a final status solution on Israel absent a peace process.”
There are currently 49 co-sponsors, including 36 Republican senators and 13 Democratic senators.
When The Intercept first reported on the ACLU’s opposition in July, the bill had the backing of 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats.
The post Upcoming AIPAC Visit Promises To Renew Focus on Israel Anti-Boycott Bill appeared first on The Intercept.
Catalonia’s independence referendum concluded on Sunday night amid deep uncertainty about everything from the integrity of the vote to the meaning of the result.
The counting of what the Catalan government said would be millions of votes came at the end of a long day, which began before dawn with voters and poll workers across the region defending polling places from closure by national and regional police forces, acting on orders from Spain’s constitutional court to block the vote.
100s of referendum supporters wait at a Barcelona polling place where activists spent the night; plan passive resistance when police come pic.twitter.com/9RGf6bWV4B
— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 1, 2017
Catalan police dispatched to close polling station greeted by chants of "We will vote!" pic.twitter.com/xMmBuYZIv5
— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 1, 2017
— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 1, 2017
— Joan Rabasseda (@JoanRabasseda) October 1, 2017
— Cristina Brotons (@BrotonsCristina) October 1, 2017
Speaking after poll workers opened those ballot boxes that had not been seized by the police, Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Generalitat, a local executive with centuries of history, suggested that the count could take days, in large part because the region’s computer systems had been seized by the national police. Puigdemont made it clear, however, that he expected the vote to result in the formation of “an independent state.”
“Today, we have earned our right to sovereignty and respect,” Puigdemont said, calling on the European Union to help mediate dialogue with Spain. “This is no longer an internal affair, this is a European affair,” he added.
Some European leaders, including the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, had indeed deplored the use of force by Spanish police officers against Catalan voters.
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) October 1, 2017
Although an international observer mission of former parliamentarians praised the referendum, there was no sign of any intention from the E.U. to intervene in what it has always considered an internal affair of a member state.
Earlier on Sunday, a spokesman for the regional government in Barcelona, Jordi Turull, hailed the courage of voters who had turned out in large numbers, braving long lines and what he called “savage,” violence inflicted by police officers from outside the region.
— Michael Stothard (@MStothard) October 1, 2017
— Gerard Albacete (@gerardalbacete7) October 1, 2017
— Rebeca Carranco (@RebecaCarranco) October 1, 2017
En el instituto Pau Claris, ahora. Mi hermana llora y yo con ella desde Madrid. pic.twitter.com/USE5FHkPxA
— Luz Sanchis (@LuzSanchis) October 1, 2017
— El Salto (@ElSaltoDiario) October 1, 2017
— Clara Vera (@ClaraVera14) October 1, 2017
— EL PAÍS Catalunya (@elpaiscatalunya) October 1, 2017
així ens han tractat al cap guinardó. imatges de jordi folch pic.twitter.com/q35tOc5n1u
— natza farré (@natzafarre) October 1, 2017
— Catalans for Yes (@CatalansForYes) October 1, 2017
Man injured in Girona "this happened in ceip Verd" pic.twitter.com/NxVzP6EOVE
— Anna Codina (@ultrasonica) October 1, 2017
“We want to live in peace without violence,” Puigdemont said, “outside a state that can give us no reason to be with them.”
In Madrid, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain seemed untroubled by the shocking images of police violence, which he made no mention of in a televised address. Rajoy instead insisted that the Catalan referendum, which he called “an attack” on the Spanish state, had been so severely hampered that it effectively had “not taken place.”
— Jack Quann (@jqbilbao) October 1, 2017
As the British journalist Paul Mason reported from the Plaça Catalunya in central Barcelona, where supporters of independence watched the prime minister’s speech, his remarks seemed to many in Catalonia to have come not just from a different country, but a parallel universe.
I'm standing in a square of 30k + educated, cultured Europeans hearing Rajoy tell they did not take part in a referendum
— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) October 1, 2017
— Jon Sindreu (@jonsindreu) October 1, 2017
After claiming that the referendum had been stopped, ignoring the vast numbers of votes cast before the eyes of the international press, Rajoy went on to praise the national police officers deployed to the region who, he insisted had “reacted in a peaceful way,” despite copious visual evidence that they used excessive force to disperse voters at some polling places who were clearly peaceful.
— SER CATALUNYA (@SERCatalunya) October 1, 2017
— NacióDigital (@naciodigital) October 1, 2017
Som gent de pau! Grita la gente pic.twitter.com/DzKw5sUB92
— Clara Blanchar (@clarablanchar) October 1, 2017
— Anna Codina (@ultrasonica) October 1, 2017
— Anna Codina (@ultrasonica) October 1, 2017
The most severe injuries, the Catalan government said, were caused by the firing of rubber bullets, which required two voters to undergo surgery.
— XabiBarrena (@XabiBarrena) October 1, 2017
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 1, 2017
The wounding of more than 800 voters by the police provoked widespread anger and even led to tension and scuffles in some places between officers from the autonomous regional force, known as the Mossos, and Spain’s national guard, the Guardia Civil.
Algunos parecen no tenerlo nada claro. Vergonzoso. pic.twitter.com/NinygR2GMy
— AUGC Guardia Civil (@AUGC_Comunica) October 1, 2017
— SER CATALUNYA (@SERCatalunya) October 1, 2017
Ada Colau, Barcelona’s mayor, who opposes independence for Catalonia, but insisted that the region should have been allowed to vote on the matter freely, called on Rajoy to resign.
— Ajuntament de BCN (@bcn_ajuntament) October 1, 2017
As the Catalans stressed their commitment to non-violence, several voters at a polling place in Barcelona told me that it was outrageous that their region was given less autonomy than another part of Spain, the Basque Country, where militants had for years carried out terrorist attacks in pursuit of independence.
While the thousands of police officers from outside Catalonia took the heavy handed measures to stop voting caught on video, the larger regional force largely restricted its efforts to issuing stern warnings to voters and standing aside as they cast their ballots.
Mossos tell the crowd: 'What you are doing is illegal. We are asking you to hand over ballot papers & pens, after that we can do nothing'
— Mike Wade (@mikewadejourno) October 1, 2017
As voting center doors close, one person: "what if Mossos come and close it now?" Another: "they won't, they're on our side."
— Zach Campbell (@notzachcampbell) October 1, 2017
For this “passivity,” the Catalan force was severely criticized by the central government’s representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo.
The regional government, in turn, called for Millo to resign.
Spokesman Turull: "On behalf of the Catalan Government, we ask @EnricMillo to step down as the Spanish state's delegate in Catalonia"
— Catalan Government (@catalangov) October 1, 2017
In response to the violence, the board of Football Club Barcelona — the team that was for years under the Franco dictatorship a focus of Catalan national pride — demanded that a match scheduled for Sunday afternoon be postponed. The Spanish league, however, denied the request, apparently as part of an official effort to pretend that all was well in Catalonia.
Statement from Barça condemns "today's actions in Catalunya preventing citizens from exercising and expressing their democratic rights" pic.twitter.com/cfWODWAGb7
— AS English (@English_AS) October 1, 2017
The club then decided to go ahead with the match against Las Palmas, a team from the Canary Islands which had been granted permission to add Spanish flag patches to their jerseys for the game, but in an empty stadium to make it clear that the day was anything but normal.
Busquets scores pic.twitter.com/OjsvcSe8Is
— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) October 1, 2017
Among those most clearly moved by the day’s events was Gerard Piqué, a Catalan native who stars for both the club and the Spanish national team. The defender, who expressed pride when he voted earlier in the day, was visibly shaken as he addressed the media after the game.
Ja he votat. Junts som imparables defensant la democràcia. pic.twitter.com/mGXf7Qj1TM
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) October 1, 2017
Piqué: "This is one of the worst decisions in 50 years. They have separated Catalunya and Spain more and there will be consequences."
— Ben Hayward (@bghayward) October 1, 2017
Piqué, whose Catalan nationalism has led to him being booed by Spaniards when he represents the country, teared up as he said that he would be willing to stop playing for Spain if he is no longer wanted.
— Jamie Johnson (@JamieoJohnson) October 1, 2017
Several of the fan-owned club’s members, including the former captain and manager Pep Guardiola, were angered by the board’s refusal to simply forfeit the match in protest.
Pep Guardiola: "They said that we attacked police officers. With what? With votes?" #CatalanReferendum
— FC Barcelona Fl (@FCBarcelonaFl) October 1, 2017
One club member who took part in the effort to defend the referendum, and was among those who slept in a polling station the night before, told The Intercept that he was “ashamed” FC Barcelona had played the match on a day of such violence against Catalans. “I will quit FCB if the board does not resign this week,” the activist said. “Where is the dignity?”
The post Spanish Police Beat Catalan Voters, Deepening Divide That Threatens Spain appeared first on The Intercept.
Em março de 2013, Dilma ostentava 65% de aprovação popular nas pesquisas, maior que Lula e FHC no mesmo período de governo. Segundo o Datafolha, os brasileiros estavam otimistas com a situação econômica pessoal e acreditavam no poder de compra dos salários. Apenas três meses depois, logo após as Jornadas de Junho, a popularidade da presidenta despencou, uma queda de 27 pontos. Foi a maior redução de aprovação de um presidente entre uma pesquisa e outra desde que Collor confiscou as poupanças.
Enganou-se quem achou que as manifestações de junho teriam um efeito renovador nas eleições. No ano seguinte, o Brasil elegeu o congresso mais conservador desde 1964. Em 2016, este mesmo congresso derruba a presidenta reeleita através de um golpe parlamentar. PMDB e PSDB assumem o poder, dão um cavalo de pau ideológico e formam um governo reacionário como há tempos não víamos.
Em 2017, estamos diante de um quadro sombrio: um entusiasta da tortura no regime militar tem 21% de intenções de voto a um ano da eleição presidencial; o STF decide que professores das escolas públicas podem promover uma crença específica em sala de aula; o projeto Escola Sem Partido passa a ser aprovado em algumas cidades; um deputado quer mudar a Constituição para voltar a criminalizar o aborto; museus viraram alvo da fúria moralista; e o General Mourão se sente confortável para cogitar publicamente um golpe militar. Esse fatos pinçados indicam que o conservadorismo está na moda no país, mas há muitos outros. A onda reacionária já virou tsunami e parece que ainda não atingiu o seu auge.
Ostentando crucifixo preso na parede do plenário, o STF, instituição máxima do Poder Jurídico de um Estado laico, decidiu por 6 votos a 5 que professores do ensino público poderão ensinar suas próprias religiões em sala de aula. A decisão se deu a partir de uma ação da PGR, que propunha que o ensino religioso deveria tratar “das doutrinas, práticas, histórias e dimensão social das diferentes religiões” — nada mais coerente e óbvio para um país que prevê a laicidade do Estado na sua Constituição.
Não nos enganemos, apenas as religiões cristãs serão ensinadas em sala de aula.
A lei já previa a obrigatoriedade do ensino religioso, mas não determinava se as aulas poderiam ser ligadas a alguma religião específica. Como havia essa brecha na lei, a ação da PGR pretendia proibir o ensino confessional por violar o princípio do Estado laico. A maioria dos juízes discordou que exista essa violação, já que a presença nas aulas de religião é facultativa. O fato de ser opcional não muda o fato de que contribuintes de várias religiões, inclusive os ateus, irão pagar para a promoção de religiões das quais não fazem parte.
Trata-se, obviamente, de uma violação da laicidade estatal. Agora, padres e pastores estão autorizados pelo STF a catequizar na rede pública de ensino, inclusive aqueles que literalmente demonizam as religiões afro-brasileiras. Não nos enganemos, apenas as religiões cristãs serão ensinadas em sala de aula.
Enquanto o STF abre espaço para que um assunto da esfera privada seja ensinado nas escolas, o projeto Escola Sem Partido proíbe que professores exponham suas visões políticas aos alunos. Partidos de direita, a bancada evangélica e o MBL são os principais agitadores da ideia e estão obtendo sucesso. No auge dos seus delírios anticomunistas, pretendem combater uma suposta “doutrinação ideológica marxista” em sala de aula. São 62 projetos de lei que estão em tramitação em câmaras municipais do país e em pelo menos quatro cidades já foram aprovados. Não importa se o MPF já declarou por diversas vezes que o projeto é inconstitucional, nem se o ministro Barroso do STF tenha suspendido a lei em Alagoas justamente por sua inconstitucionalidade. Quem dá bola para a Constituição nesses tempos de hoje?
Pelo que entendi:
Professor ciências sociais
NÃO pode ter ideologia,
Professor de religião
PODE doutrinar na sua
— Beatriz (@be882288) 27 de setembro de 2017
O padre poderá ensinar tranquilamente que a humanidade surgiu com Adão e Eva, enquanto o professor de História terá que tomar muito cuidado para falar sobre a Revolução Russa ou Cubana. Como o professor deverá chamar a intervenção militar de 1964? Golpe ou Revolução? Dilma caiu por um impeachment legítimo ou por um golpe parlamentar? Quem decidirá os termos que o professor usará em sala de aula? Quem será o censor que julgará se há ou não doutrinação ideológica? Não é à toa que o projeto é chamado de Lei da Mordaça.
Os reacionários estão mais fortes do que nunca. Após a declaração golpista do General Mourão, um pesquisa do Instituto Paraná identificou que 43,1% dos brasileiros apoiam um golpe militar. Apesar do instituto não ser dos mais confiáveis, o quadro não me parece tão distante da realidade quando o maior entusiasta da ditadura militar aparece entre os líderes nas pesquisas de intenções de voto. Ou quando o Datafolha revela que as Forças Armadas são a instituição em que os brasileiros mais confiam. O mais estarrecedor da pesquisa é que jovens entre 16 e 24 anos são os mais favoráveis à proposta — parece que a tal “doutrinação marxista” imposta pelo professores não está dando tão certo, não é mesmo? Em dezembro do ano passado, o instituto fez a mesma pesquisa e concluiu que 35% dos brasileiros eram apoiadores da intervenção. Ou seja, o golpe militar ganhou oito pontos de apoio em apenas nove meses. Se esse viés de crescimento continuar, podemos chegar às vésperas das próximas eleições com a maioria dos brasileiros aprovando a tomada do poder pelos militares.
E é nesse ambiente propício que Jair Bolsonaro aparece com 21% de intenções de voto, com viés de alta. Em um mês, cresceu 7 pontos. É uma porcentagem altíssima, perde por pouco apenas para Lula, que provavelmente não concorrerá. Como bem lembrou Tomás Chiaverini para The Intercept Brasil, há uma certa negação coletiva sobre a possibilidade de Bolsonaro se tornar nosso próximo presidente. Argumentam que ele não tem estrutura partidária por trás, terá pouco tempo de TV na propaganda eleitoral e é um falastrão sem estofo político e intelectual que se enrolará nos debates. Bom, eu acredito que esses fatores podem ser bastante favoráveis para ele, em tempos de insatisfação geral e negação da política. As candidaturas de Trump e Doria percorreram caminhos bastante parecidos. Já passou da hora de a gente acender o sinal vermelho. O tsunami reacionário não está para brincadeiras.
The post Onda reacionária aponta futuro sombrio para o país appeared first on The Intercept.
On a Friday afternoon in late March, some of the most powerful people in Wellington, Kansas, crowded into the office of physician Faustino Naldoza. The civic leaders, were trying to prevail upon state Sen. Larry Alley to side with them in a vote the following week. The state legislature would be deciding on whether to overturn a veto by Gov. Sam Brownback of an expansion of the state healthcare program called KanCare — otherwise known, unfortunately for its prospects, as Medicaid.
Kansas had long rejected the expansion of Medicaid authorized by the Affordable Care Act, until, that is, President Barack Obama left office, and the legislature voted to accept the federal money. The expansion was a lifeline to towns like Wellington. Across Kansas, and throughout much of the rural U.S., small hospitals have been closing. In 2017, Wellington’s Sumner Regional Medical Center joined a growing list of more than 600 rural hospitals that, according to 2016 report by health analytics firm iVantage, are at risk of shuttering, potentially leveling blows to local economies and leaving residents without nearby emergency services and accessible routine care.
Expanding Medicaid, according to Sumner Regional officials, would bring in an extra $750,000 a year, enough to keep it afloat. Alley had nonetheless voted against the expansion, but it passed without him. Then Brownback vetoed the bill, and Alley’s vote became necessary to override the veto.
In Naldoza’s office, according to an account in Sumner Newscow, a local news site, and interviews by The Intercept, town leaders brought every argument they had to bear on Alley.
Wellington’s mayor, Shelley Hansel, recalled an injury to her young son, wondering if he would have even survived if the facility hadn’t been so close by. J.C. Long, president of the town’s Bank of Commerce and himself a former firebrand Republican lawmaker, told Alley that “good policy should trump good politics.” From his perspective as a banker, a struggling hospital was better than no hospital —and if the hospital closed, the community would suffer through job losses (Sumner employs 130 people, according to Stacy Davis, the Director of Economic Development for Sumner County).
Also present were officials from GKN Aerospace Precision Machining, one of the town’s leading employers, who explained that their workplace insurance premiums would jump, because insurers don’t look kindly on factories with no emergency room anywhere nearby. What’s more, recruitment is difficult in towns without hospitals, they said, and absent one in Wellington, the company would consider moving elsewhere.
That Monday, the House fell three votes short of the number needed to override, so the Senate never even needed to vote.
The looming closure of Sumner Regional Medical Center stands as a potential disaster for many Sumner County residents.
Tagging clothes for her volunteer post at the Presbyterian Church thrift shop on a summer afternoon, Betty Farley expressed her fear that the closure could have a lasting impact on the community. But for the nearby hospital, the mother would not have been able to deal with her daughter’s treatment that has required both emergent and routine care over the last 15 years. The nearest hospital would now be 30 minutes away. For residents caught in a medical emergency, this could mean a costly ride in an ambulance or worse, not receiving that care in time.
To understand the magnitude of a local hospital closure, you only need turn to nearby Independence, Kansas, which lost its hospital two years ago.
When her son’s finger was severed in a home accident, Rhonda Graven, a resident of Independence and at the time uninsured, was forced to make a drastic decision. She had her son Justin airlifted to Wichita but, when he arrived, doctors there refused to operate on him without a signature from his parents, who were a 90-minute drive away (they could not accompany Justin in the helicopter). The effort proved fruitless; Graven attributes the lapse in time from the accident to surgery as the reason why doctors could not reattach the finger.
“It’s a traumatic thing,” Graven said. “When your son wakes up and he’s 12 years old and you have to tell him they couldn’t attach it, it’s devastating.”
Then came the bills. Graven, who owns a furniture depot in Independence, is still dealing with the fallout more than a decade later. Without insurance, her son’s procedure was billed at nearly $40,000 — more than their combined annual income. After filing a hardship waiver that covered $26,000 of the total, the Gravens paid off the balance on their credit cards. But even those payments were too much to keep up with, and Rhonda Graven’s credit rating has not since recovered.
With more than a fifth of Independence residents living below the poverty level, paying for health insurance quickly falls off the list of priorities. Heath Welton — a cowboy, Army veteran, and physician’s assistant in nearby Coffeyville — knows this too well. He said it costs him $2,000 per year in tax penalties for leaving his family of four uninsured —but that’s cheaper than spending $7,200 a year on insurance
Welton has the luxury of being able to attend to some of his family’s medical needs himself, but many of his neighbors are not so lucky. When he is not working at the clinic, herding cattle, or working on the ranch, he makes house calls for uninsured members of the community, sometimes trading services for chickens and eggs.
In Wellington, the community’s emergency response teams know the financial burden of the hospital closure will go well beyond chickens and eggs, bracing for the impact of increased demand for emergency services.
Sumner County EMS already responds to more than 1300 calls per year, according to EMS Chief Tim Hay, a number that is rising steadily year-to-year. If the local hospital closes, the total time for ambulance trips to Wichita would be two hours — an extended trip time that requires extended staffing. According to a fact sheet prepared by the EMS team laying out contingencies to deal with closing Sumner Regional, EMS Chief Hay estimates that hiring emergency responders, purchasing ambulances, and creating a larger station to accommodate staff would increase annual spending by close to a million dollars.
The cost to Sumner County as a whole will be especially difficult to bear because the closure of the hospital could incur a $6 million hit to the retail economy, according to Stacy Davis.
Wellington residents have consistently voted to tax themselves — 63.6 percent of voters approved a one-cent sales-tax increase in November 2014 — to keep the hospital open. The funds from the tax directly benefit the Sumner Regional Medical Center, but they have not proved to be enough.
For Wellington farmers, who, along with their food processing counterparts make up almost 50 percent of the local economy, skipping town is not an option. “We can’t just pick and up go,” said Bob White, whose family’s wheat farm dates back to 1902. In a late morning drive toward White’s farm this summer, speeding down gravel roads through the sea of Kansas wheat to his farm just outside of Wellington, he mused on the issue of universal access to healthcare. “Most people around here know how much it costs, but they don’t understand the value of it.”
The real problem for Wellington, however, is momentum. The impending closure of Sumner Regional coupled with consistent population decline — meaning even fewer tax-paying residents — could trigger further dislocations, causing further economic woes.
Federal funding can help close the gap in financing for local hospitals that rural communities like Sumner County must contend with. That’s why local leaders in Wellington took such drastic action trying to convince Larry Alley to vote to override Brownback’s veto of expanding Medicaid; the Kansas Hospital Association estimates the state lost nearly $1.8 billion in lost federal funding due to the expansion effort’s failure. In turn, the debate about expanding Medicaid and local hospital closures is percolating into national politics.
In an April special election for Kansas’s 4th Congressional District, the Democrat James Thompson came close to beating the Republican candidate in a district that the GOP — including Donald Trump — routinely wins by 50 or more percentage points. In his bid to run again in 2018, Thompson’s strategy is to have liberal Wichita push him over the top, but he needs to perform decently in surrounding rural areas like Sumner County. He sees a political opportunity in Republicans’ failure to expand Medicaid. In the April special election vote, which came just a week after the failure to override Brownback’s veto of Medicaid expansion, the likely death knell of Sumner Regional, Thompson exceeded expectations in Sumner County, cutting Trump’s 50-point margin in half.
“When I go out to the rural areas now, the things they’re talking about are how these policies are really starting to affect them. The failure to expand Medicaid is hurting rural hospitals in particular,” Thompson told The Intercept. “The people out there realize that. The hospital is the lifeblood of the community.”
The post Kansas Wouldn’t Expand Medicaid, Denying a Lifeline to Rural Hospitals and Patients appeared first on The Intercept.
Austin Frerick couldn’t believe the numbers. Last year, while working as an economist at the Office of Tax Analysis in the Obama Treasury Department, Frerick co-wrote a paper on “excess returns,” which he describes as “a fancy way of saying monopoly profits.” And the data were leaping off the charts. “We were seeing returns in places we shouldn’t,” said Frerick, 27. “It’s baby formula, strawberries, crackers. The barriers to entry of making crackers should be next to nothing.”
The paper is focused on tax policy and therefore somewhat unintelligible. But its conclusion, that outsized profits have been rising across virtually all sectors of the economy, has formed the basis of a newly prominent concern: that too much wealth and power has been concentrated in the hands of a few giant corporations. “It’s the issue of our time,” said Frerick. “It’s everywhere.”
It’s difficult to translate a wonkish concept like excess returns into something bite-sized for voters. And it’s difficult to revive a long-dormant anti-monopoly movement, to explain why corporate concentration is not only bad because of potential consumer price increases, but because of reduced entrepreneurship, abandoned communities, poor quality of service, and a diminished democracy.
But Austin Frerick is willing to try. He left Treasury for his native Iowa, where he’s running for the House of Representatives in the third Congressional district, a swing seat occupied by two-term Republican David Young. And Frerick has made the fight against corporate monopolies the centerpiece of his campaign. He’s probably the only congressional candidate in history who lists among his heroes RuPaul and Thurman Arnold, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.
Frerick and another other anti-monopoly candidate in Texas, Lillian Salerno, represent a new school of thought in the Democratic Party, criticized in the past for too much coziness with corporate donors. A populist challenge to corporate power and growing monopolization is part of the party’s “Better Deal” midterm campaign platform. Newer members of Congress like Ro Khanna, D-Calif., have foregrounded market concentration as a threat; with some colleagues, he is building a Congressional Monopoly Caucus to develop policies to counter the trend.
In 2018, we’ll see if this interest in monopoly politics can play on the campaign trail.
Frerick talks about running a Teddy Roosevelt-style campaign. In rural towns in southwest Iowa, he has challenged the merger between Monsanto and Bayer, which would give two companies (the other is Dow/DuPont) control of 75 percent of the U.S. corn seed supply. Add the company created by the merger of ChemChina and Syngenta, and three companies would sell 80 percent of all seeds. Farmers have no ability to bargain for corn seed, which has doubled in price over the last decade, even while crop prices have dropped.
Free market theory says that in a mature market profits should be low as a result of competition. It’s hard to think of a mature market than that for seeds, a business that is roughly 14,000 years old, give or take a millennium.
Monsanto also has a foothold in fertilizers and pesticides, a dominance that will grow as they get bundled with seed purchases, Frerick believes. This makes it difficult for rural America to survive. In Red Oak, where Frerick called me from last week, over 60 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the state Department of Education.
“Debt levels in these communities are as high as the farm crisis” of the 1980s, Frerick said. “The land’s the most productive it’s ever been and none of the money ever stays here. These little towns are hollowed out, and you get lack of hope.”
Beyond advocating to block the Monsanto-Bayer merger, Frerick wants to break up Monsanto and other Big Ag corporations. As a young gay Democrat — three marks against him for some voters — Frerick believes this straight talk gives him a chance with rural voters. “Democrats are an urban party, especially in Iowa,” he said. “The fact that I’m young and can talk corn prices and crop insurance, that makes people happy.”
But Frerick has a broader case to make on monopolies. In urban areas of Des Moines with less connection to farm life, he’s talked about cable companies who take hours to answer customer service calls, or shrinking local newspapers due to Facebook and Google’s capturing of prized eyeballs for advertisers. In older communities, he’s condemned pharmaceutical companies that funnel patients to expensive drugs with little or no competition. A separate 2016 paper Frerick wrote while at Treasury explained how drug companies use corporate charity as a profit center, by paying discounts for individuals so insurers and government plans have to pay exorbitant rates for medications.
Frerick believes focusing on corporate power can reach voters who have backed away from Democrats in recent years. “When we were putting together the campaign, every consultant said nobody understands antitrust,” Frerick said. “They take people for dummies. You just have to build the bridge for people.”
Lillian Salerno has the same idea. She recently announced her candidacy for Texas’ 32nd Congressional district, which Pete Sessions has represented for 11 terms. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in this suburban Dallas district in 2016, but Democrats inexplicably didn’t run a candidate. This year several Democrats are vying to challenge Sessions, including Clinton-world favorite Ed Meier, and former NFL linebacker–turned–civil–rights attorney Colin Allred.
But Salerno believes her story will resonate. “I had a front-row seat on the game being rigged,” she said.
In the late 1980s, Salerno and an engineer friend, Thomas Shaw, became disturbed by news reports about surging HIV and Hepatitis C contractions among health-care workers. When treating patients, hospital personnel would accidentally stick themselves with used needles, with hundreds of thousands of accidents annually.
Shaw spent years tinkering with syringes until perfecting a design that worked like a ball-point pen: Once you fully depressed the needle into the patient, a ring would snap and retract the needle, allowing workers to safely pull out the implement. Shaw and Salerno formed a company, Retractable Technologies, to sell this life-saving syringe to hospitals. They even received a $650,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to bring it to market. But that’s when they found out about Becton, Dickinson & Co., which sells 80 percent of all syringes in America.
Most hospitals buy supplies in bulk through group purchasing organizations (GPOs) which carry a “90/10” requirement. Hospitals must continue to purchase at least 90 percent of their supplies from inside the GPO to qualify for discounts and avoid millions of dollars in penalties. This contractual obligation fortified BD’s monopoly, despite selling a more dangerous, more expensive product.
Even after a federal law, the 2000 Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, mandating that hospitals work to prevent needle-stick injuries, and after two successful lawsuits forcing BD to pay over $400 million for violating anti-monopoly statutes, Retractable has been unable to penetrate the U.S. market, doing most of its business overseas. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control estimated 380,000 needle-sticks at hospitals every year. Today, they estimate 385,000.
“When you have something as a small business and try to sell it, and the big guys don’t want that done, there’s no opportunity,” said Salerno, who served as Retractable’s chief operating officer for over a decade. She added that BD’s control of the halls of Congress and hospital wards mattered more than the safety their product provided. “I don’t advise [entrepreneurs] to do this anymore, and that makes me really sad.”
Salerno worked with the World Health Organization on global HIV prevention, and joined the Obama Administration as Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development in the Department of Agriculture. But she never forgot the plight of startups that run into buzzsaws of market concentration. “When they were talking about TPP, I would say what about the markets in this country, why not open them up?” Salerno said. “They thought I was kidding, I said no. Why are we worrying about the Pacific Rim when companies can’t sell into Dallas?”
Salerno, who just joined her race in mid-September, believes antitrust policy can make the economy more dynamic. New business creation has fallen dramatically in recent years, stifled by incumbent behemoths who either buy out or cripple the competition. “I have eight siblings, four are entrepreneurs,” Salerno said. “I have 26 nieces and nephews, and one is an entrepreneur. And he was unsuccessful, though he tried like hell. Innovation, people should be really worried about that one. That is our competitive edge.”
As a small businesswoman in the healthcare sector, Salerno brings a fresh perspective about how the system really works. She supports a single payer system but believes that it must be paired with changing how market structures raise costs. And the way medical supply giants bundle their products and force providers into all-or-nothing deals make those costs hard to see. “I’ve talked to politicians. If you just put engineers around a table, with devices used in a hospital, and figure out what it costs to make and what it would cost to buy, it would change everything,” she said.
Though voters may be unfamiliar with the terminology of antitrust enforcement, Salerno thinks she can sell its importance to exurban Dallas voters. “There’s not a Texan that doesn’t have a rural connection. They remember when Walmart came to town, when the storefronts shut on Main Street,” Salerno said. “They get that there’s something wrong with the fact that they’re walking in to buy something for a phone, and they have only two companies to choose from. They get it.”
Both Salerno and Frerick believe that concrete examples of how workers, businesses and consumers have been damaged by corporate monopolies can resonate. And they believe that America cannot respond to income inequality or a captured political system without taking on the economic royalists who have consolidated wealth and power.
After seeing Frerick at a Progressive Change Campaign Committee conference, Khanna endorsed him. “He’s a candidate expressing the themes of antitrust enforcement and economic concentration and connecting that to real people’s lives in the heart of the country,” Khanna said. He’s been assembling the Monopoly Caucus with other Democrats like Keith Ellison and Rick Nolan of Minnesota and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. While Khanna has also put forward progressive welfare policies like expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Social Security, he believes a comprehensive economic vision must include a focus on how monopolies rob people of economic liberty.
As for how to fix that, the Better Deal outline urges antitrust authorities to look more skeptically at mergers, expand the scope of enforcement beyond consumer prices to look at how monopolies hurt suppliers and business rivals, and conduct retrospective studies to identify anti-competitive behavior. But most of these policies are the province of the executive branch, which under Donald Trump doesn’t even have leadership in place in the agencies with jurisdiction yet. Both parties have shown willingness to crack down on tech giants like Facebook and Google, but action has yet to emerge.
Anti-monopoly politicians think change starts with building a grassroots movement. Notably, there’s no clear example of electoral success yet. Tom Perriello drove these themes in his race for Virginia governor, and did well in blue-collar communities, but still lost the primary to Ralph Northam. Zephyr Teachout beat expectations but didn’t oust Andrew Cuomo when she challenged him in the Democratic primary for Governor of New York, and subsequently lost a congressional race after beating on the same themes. Khanna didn’t exactly run on monopoly politics when winning his congressional seat over longtime progressive Mike Honda.
But monopoly politics have changed in recent months. Even Democratic leaders like Chuck Schumer have embraced the issue, and you can see discussion of it on Fox News. The midterms could be where anti-monopoly candidates finally break through.
“People are starting to recognize this,” said Lillian Salerno. “If we get enough people in, it can be interesting.”
The post Anti-Monopoly Candidates are Testing a New Politics in the Midterms appeared first on The Intercept.
It was a typical Saturday night at the Border Patrol checkpoint outside Laredo, Texas: cars and commercial trucks lined up and waiting to pass the last line of agents and cameras on the northbound highway. Every day there are thousands of them, an endless river of people and things moving between the U.S. and Mexico. Among the vehicles that night was a blue and white Peterbilt semi-truck with a glistening, stainless steel bumper. James Matthew Bradley, the 60-year-old long-haul driver behind the wheel, purchased the vehicle just a few months earlier, paying $50,000 with plans of financing the remaining $40,000. It was Bradley’s first job since his leg was amputated in May, making the July 22 trip a sort of maiden voyage in the new rig. Bradley didn’t have a license to operate the vehicle, but that didn’t stop him from accepting a contract with his former employer, the Iowa-based company Pyle Transportation, for work in Texas. With the slogan “Keepin’ it Cool Since 1950,” Pyle advertised itself as a pro in long-distance, refrigerated meat and produce delivery.
Bradley was waved through the checkpoint at 10:01 p.m. without going through secondary screening. Though the sun set hours before, the heat wasn’t letting up as he rolled on toward San Antonio. Signs along Interstate 35 issued advisories about the danger of leaving children alone in a vehicle. On the day Bradley hit the road, the high in San Antonio reached 100 degrees. Making his way into the city, the temperature remained in the upper 90s. But for the people crammed inside his trailer, it was much, much hotter. They came from Mexico and Guatemala. Most were men, many of them young, but there were women and children packed into the space as well. It was dark, and oxygen was in short supply. The refrigeration system wasn’t functioning, and the heat, resonating off the tightly packed bodies, was unbearable. Skin turned hot to the touch. People began losing consciousness, one later woke up certain he had died and gone to hell. With no water to drink and their screaming and pounding failing to bring Bradley’s vehicle to a stop, the people inside the trailer began to die.
A specialized ambulance bus capable of carrying 20 patients at a time was called in, and a disaster plan overseen by a coalition of San Antonio emergency service providers was activated. “Normally our disaster plan is for trauma,” said Dr. David Miramontes, medical director for the San Antonio Fire Department, who was on hand for the response. “Shootings, bus accidents, multiple vehicle accidents,” are more common. Multi-casualty incidents in which everybody’s suffering from the same medical condition are very unusual, he told me. The heat-related medical issues in this case were particularly serious, with many of the migrants on the scene exhibiting temperatures of 106 degrees. Without swift action, they wouldn’t be able to get rid of the heat and risk of tissue damage to their kidneys, lungs, and brain would rise. If left untreated, heatstroke can break down the human body’s ability to clot blood, resulting in extensive bleeding, Miramontes explained. “If you saw these patients the next day,” he said. “They’d be bleeding from everywhere.”
Walmart shoppers gathered to watch, some snapping photos on their phones, as the patients were loaded into emergency vehicles and a medevac helicopter, bound for seven hospitals across the San Antonio area. Overhead, a police chopper scanned the shrubbery and backyards that partially surround the store. Local TV crews assembled for a late-night press conference. Laying out what he described as evidence of a “human trafficking crime,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said surveillance footage at the store captured “a number of vehicles” pulling up to Bradley’s trailer and whisking away an unknown number of migrants. “This is not an isolated incident,” the police chief said. “Fortunately, there are people who survived, but this happens all the time.” Because of the nature of the crimes allegedly involved, agents with the San Antonio office of Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, the wing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that conducts human trafficking and smuggling investigations, were called in. Bradley was transferred to the feds and taken into custody for questioning.
At first, Jonathan Ryan ignored the late-night buzzing of his cellphone. But by the time Chief McManus showed up on TV, Ryan, an immigration attorney and executive director of Raices, a Texas-based legal advocacy organization, was tuning in. As it happened, Ryan’s office had been in communication with the Mexican consulate in San Antonio as part of an outreach effort to Mexican nationals in the city. Speaking with contacts there, Ryan agreed to meet with survivors at hospitals across San Antonio. His first attempt, the Monday after Bradley’s trailer was discovered, was unsuccessful. “Administrators completely ceded authority of their hospitals to civil authorities,” Ryan said. The following day, he succeeded. “It was a bizarre scene,” Ryan said, recalling a hospital room with four Border Patrol agents in body armor and a pair of HSI agents clustered around the bed of a survivor. He described it as “a tableau of our times — a person in bed with IVs coming out of their body and a military apparatus hovering over them.” Because most survivors were being held two to a room, the opportunity for confidential conversations was shot. Still, Ryan managed to bring on seven survivors, all Mexican men, as clients. “They were very quickly discharged after we got access to them,” he said. Escorted out of the hospital by armed immigration agents, the men were taken to HSI headquarters in San Antonio. Ryan joined them.
The interviews lasted roughly an hour each. Ryan said his clients wanted to share what they knew. Still, it was difficult. They were still wearing their paper hospital gowns. “One gentleman still had an IV in his neck,” Ryan said. “Another individual, just hours before, had just learned of the death of a close family member in the trucking incident. Another had, maybe just the day before, learned of the death of his own sibling.” Invited by the U.S. attorney’s office to take part in the interviews, Ryan met with each of the men one-on-one. He explained their rights and described the existence of visas designed for victims of crimes who cooperate with law enforcement. HSI agents reiterated those rights, Ryan said, telling the men that the interviews were not for prosecution because they were considered victims in the matter. “Multiple times, people said that they were the people that these visas were invented for,” Ryan said. One by one, the survivors detailed the final horrifying hours of their trip. According to Ryan, one HSI agent, who described himself as “grizzled,” commented that the accounts he heard left him “shaken.” Once they were done, the men were shackled and transferred to the Central Texas Detention Facility — the same for-profit jail run by GEO Group where Bradley was being held.
Waving his Miranda rights, Bradley was interviewed by HSI agents at San Antonio police headquarters following his arrest. An account of his statements was included in a criminal complaint provided to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas the next day. According to the complaint, Bradley told the police officer who first responded to the scene that he had no idea what was in the trailer, that he was transporting it on behalf of his boss to an unidentified purchaser in Brownsville, Texas, though his boss had provided no address or a timeframe for the delivery. Bradley explained that he first drove south, to Laredo, to have the truck washed and detailed, before returning north to San Antonio, even though Brownsville is roughly three and a half hours in the other direction. He said it wasn’t until he got to the parking lot, where he stepped out of his cab to pee, that he heard noise coming from inside. He was surprised, he told agents, when he opened the door and was met with a rush of “Spanish people.” Peering inside the cavity, it was then that he “noticed bodies just lying on the floor like meat,” the complaint said. Bradley told the agents he tried to administer aid to the migrants and that nobody came to take them away. He acknowledged that he knew the refrigeration system in the trailer was not functioning, that its four ventilation holes were likely plugged, and that he did not call 911.
Born in Gainesville, Bradley had lived in Florida, Colorado, and Kentucky. He took a job with Pyle Transportation in 2010, after answering a listing online. The company pled guilty to falsifying Department of Transportation records in 2001 and faced allegations from the IRS in 2015 for failing to pay employment and highway use taxes, the Associated Press noted, in an unsparing account of Pyle’s “financial troubles and tangles with prosecutors, regulators and tax collectors.” Former colleagues cast doubt on the idea that the man they knew as “Bear” would knowingly take part in a human smuggling operation. Pyle’s owner has denied any knowledge of his employee’s alleged involvement in the case. Federal regulators, meanwhile, have opened an investigation into the company’s operations. According to his fiancée, Darnisha Rose, Bradley’s leg was amputated as a result of diabetes. He then lost his trucking license after he failed to secure a medical card confirming he was fit to operate a big-rig. Rose said Bradley called her from the Walmart distraught and in tears.
Within 36 hours of the trailer’s discovery, HSI interviewed at least three survivors of the journey at local hospitals. Identified in the criminal complaint by initials, the undocumented men outlined a harrowing series of events that called parts of Bradley’s story into question. One described traveling with seven family members in hopes of reaching San Antonio. He said his contingent was part of a larger group of 24 people that were held in a Laredo stash house for 11 days before being loaded into the trailer, suggesting the trailer was loaded in the city while Bradley was there. The survivors estimated anywhere between 100 to 200 people were crammed into the space, a collection of voices potentially loud enough to be heard in Bradley’s cab.
The most detailed account was provided by a man from Aguascalientes, Mexico, who expected to pay his smugglers $5,000 for his journey to San Antonio. The complaint indicates the man first traveled to Nuevo Laredo, in the state of Tamaulipas, just across the border from Laredo, and was ferried across the Rio Grande at night with 28 others. The man told investigators he was asked to pay around $700 in fees that would be given to individuals linked to the Zetas drug cartel, both for protection and use of the raft. Once across, the man said his group walked all night and into the next morning. They were picked up by a silver Chevrolet Silverado and driven to the trailer, the man said. He estimated 70 people were already inside when his group arrived. The passengers were given pieces of tape of different colors, part of a system smugglers use to ensure their clients are transferred to the right people when a new stage of their journey begins. Told to step inside, the trailer’s door was closed behind them. It was pitch black and already hot, the man recalled, and there was no food or water. At approximately 9 p.m., word came that they would be taking off soon. The refrigeration was working, they were assured. It was about an hour before people began struggling to breathe. They pounded on the trailer and took turns taking in air through a single hole in its wall. At one point, the driver hit the brakes hard, causing the passengers to tumble over one another in the dark. Someone opened the door and there were six black SUVs waiting to take them away. They filled up quickly before disappearing into the night.
U.S. attorney Richard Durbin charged Bradley with approximately 36 counts of unlawfully transporting aliens for money, resulting in 10 deaths. Together, the charges carried a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty. Bradley pleaded not guilty on all counts.
While Ryan, the immigration attorney, tried and failed to visit with his clients the day after their interviews with HSI, he managed to glean a “small sliver” of the stories behind their journeys in the days following their apprehension. “You’ve got people who were trying to save themselves, people who were trying to save their families, people who are trying to find a better life from all sorts of circumstances, some of which are very perilous,” he said. Their panic set in soon after the doors of the trailer closed, he was told. The lucky ones, if they could be called that, passed out quickly and were revived later. Anyone who stayed conscious throughout the trip, Ryan said, “witnessed horrible things and suffered horrible things.” A week after they were found, his clients had not seen the sky or breathed fresh air since the moment they stepped into the trailer. Ryan called the ordeal a symbol of “everything that’s wrong with our so-called criminal justice system” and “a glaring example of the use of incarceration as the single response to all humanitarian needs.” He also described a fear that, in the weeks to come, his clients’ trauma might evolve into a prolonged nightmare because, as he put it, “a tragedy can turn into a travesty at any time.”
The Border Patrol checkpoint Bradley passed through is located at mile marker 29 on I-35. “Charlie 29 is our flagship checkpoint,” Gabriel Acosta, assistant chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol’s Laredo sector, told me one afternoon as we made our way there. Passing warehouses and commercial trucks offered a reminder that Laredo is a border city, and that big rigs are part of its lifeblood. The trailers come up from Mexico loaded with merchandise before arriving at one of the U.S. warehouses, where a long-haul driver loads up the goods for their final destination. Acosta said he always knew he would join the Border Patrol. His dad wore the uniform for years. His brother wore it, too, though now he works at ICE doing deportations. It’s a familiar story in the Texas law enforcement community: a Latino guy, as comfortable in Spanish as he is in English, with deep roots in the state. Rumbling over a dirt road on a tour of Laredo earlier in the day, Acosta explained that the people who move unauthorized immigrants into the country are generally not members of some rigid, top-down criminal organization overseen by any specific Mexican drug cartel. “It’s not like what people see in the movies,” he said.
Instead, Acosta said, smugglers along the border operate more like a chain of independent contractors, each offering different services along the routes migrants rely on to get into the country. Their services were born out of the unprecedented post-9/11 build-up of enforcement and surveillance infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to a recent Department of Homeland Security analysis, just over half of all unauthorized border crossers used a smuggler 30 years ago; now, nearly all do. The expansion of the border enforcement apparatus has increasingly required would-be border crossers to make a decision between the desert and the highway. Smugglers who specialize in the latter option require drivers, who use either passenger vehicles or commercially licensed tractor trailers. “Most of the truckers that come into Laredo, they’re not from here,” Acosta explained. “They’re not used to life on the border, and the criminal element, they know that and they try to exploit that. So they’ll go and they’ll try to recruit using women, drugs, booze, and money. To someone who’s not from here, never been exposed to that — it’s easy to make a quick thousand dollars, five thousand bucks.” With the driver recruited, the next stage in a smuggling or trafficking operation typically involves picking passengers up from a stash house somewhere in or around Laredo. Acosta said he couldn’t recall a single case in his 20 years on the job of a loaded trailer being busted as it passed through the city’s actual port of entry.
Once the loaded trailer is attached, the final obstacle for a northbound driver is Charlie 29. Pulling into the six-lane checkpoint, with its two outside lanes reserved for commercial trucks, we slowed down to watch the inspection process. One by one, the truckers pulled up, a Border Patrol agent would approach, the two would speak, then the truck would be waved through. It took about 30 seconds — no canine unit, no X-ray machines, no peeking into the trailers. Those only occur in secondary screenings, Acosta explained, and only if an agent has reason to suspect that something’s up. I asked Acosta what the agent is trained to look for. “That’s just law enforcement 101,” he said. “Like any cop, you just see, you just look at the person.”
With billions of dollars poured into border security each year, one might think detecting a crowd of people loaded into the back of a semi-truck would be the kind of thing the Border Patrol agents are well-positioned to stop. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, representing the 28th District, which includes Laredo, explained why that’s not exactly the case. Laredo’s port of entry processes the most commercial trucks in the country — more than 2 million each year, which translates to about 14,000 trucks per day, Cuellar told me. The congressman produced a stack of papers to illustrate his point: The graphics put the volume of truck traffic passing through the Laredo port in visual terms, illustrating that if you parked every commercial truck that passes through the port in a single day end to end, that 140-mile line of vehicles would nearly stretch from Laredo to San Antonio. If you did the same thing with the trucks that pass through the port in a year, the line would wrap around the planet twice. Of all the Border Patrol checkpoints the Laredo port feeds into, Charlie 29 is the busiest, with an average of 3,600 trailers coming through daily. Some of those go through secondary screening but most do not. Time is money, and in Laredo the minutes truckers spend waiting at checkpoints could impact hundreds of millions of dollars in trade. Still, if you want to find people loaded into the back of a commercial truck trailer, Cuellar said, “The whole key is send them to secondary inspection.” Cuellar’s office confirmed that did not happen on the night of July 22.
The tensions between competing economic, law enforcement, and humanitarian priorities that play out every day at the Charlie 29 checkpoint is one of the places where a Trumpian vision of perfect security runs into reality.
From the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump surrounded himself with some of the most anti-immigrant figures in American politics, including individuals opposed not just to unauthorized immigration, but legal immigration as well; men and women whose policy views sit comfortably alongside those of white nationalists bent on reversing the country’s changing demographics. Inheriting a machinery for cracking down on immigrants that has evolved over multiple administrations, the White House has agitated for the maximum level of enforcement possible. As a result, virtually every undocumented immigrant in the country has now been prioritized for deportation. By broadening the category of individuals prioritized for enforcement, millions of people who had little reason to fear being deported this time last year now do. In June, ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan — an immigration enforcement veteran who has made a name for himself as a prolific deporter — said the psychological impact was a good thing, telling Congress that every undocumented person in the country “should be afraid.”
In addition to expanding its deportation targets, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made smuggling cases a prosecutorial priority. On a tour of the border last summer, in which he described the region as a sprawling war zone where beheadings are rampant, the attorney general paved the way for the administration to federally prosecute individuals who pay to have their loved ones smuggled into the U.S., including parents trying to reunite with their children. Those investigations have already begun, and hundreds of people have already been arrested.
By unchaining ICE, the administration addressed a longstanding frustration among the agency’s rank and file, said Jerry Robinette, a former San Antonio HSI special agent in charge, or SAC. On one hand, any honest ICE agent can see the dire situations people are fleeing from when they come to the U.S. “The threats in those countries are real, and if anybody thinks it ain’t, then they’ve got their head in the sand,” Robinette said. “It’s heartbreaking.” But on the other hand, there was a sense among some ICE agents, particularly in the final years of the Obama administration, that enforcement priorities handed down from the White House hobbled agents in their efforts. In Robinette’s view, this contributed to a lack of deterrence that in turn encouraged migrants to take dangerous risks.
In the months before and after Trump’s election — October and November 2016 — border apprehensions climbed to levels not seen since the arrival of tens of thousands of Central American children and families fleeing violence and poverty in 2014. Once Trump took office, those numbers plummeted to levels not seen since the 1970s. The administration repeatedly points to this drop as vindication of its deterrence-centric model of enforcement. As a DHS report published this month noted, however, apprehensions alone are not a clear measure of unauthorized immigration into the U.S. and, contrary to the Trump administration’s depiction of a porous divide between the U.S. and Mexico, “the southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.”
“It’s dramatically more secure,” John Sandweg, a former ICE acting director during the Obama administration, told me. “We are just incapable of passing any immigration legislation.”
With men like Sessions and his longtime aide Stephen Miller crafting and implementing policy, the Trump administration has done the opposite of moving toward a model in which legal immigration to the U.S. becomes easier for populations that have historically done so without authorization, all the while calling for massive increases in enforcement. In other words, Sandweg argued, the exact conditions that have made crossing the border deadlier are becoming more entrenched under Trump. “When you take this ‘we’re going to be tough’ approach, what you end up doing is you’re not eliminating people’s desire to come this country, nor the opportunity that is here to work even when you’re unlawful, and you end up paying smugglers and you end up seeing extreme measures,” he said, including tragedies like San Antonio.
“This idea that we’re going to be harder on immigration, that it’s somehow going to be a deterrent, is ridiculous,” Sandweg added. “It’s a byproduct of our failure to get any legislation done to address this issue.”
For all of the talk of immigration and border security that’s made its way into the national political conversation, a deeper understanding of the way smuggling and unauthorized border crossings actually work is crippled by a lack of critical information. “We don’t even know how many people make it,” Dr. Gabriella Sanchez, a sociocultural anthropologist with the Migration Policy Centre, told me. “If we are only going by the stories or the testimonies of the migrants who weren’t able to make it, if we only listen to that side of the story, we’re just getting half of it.”
Because smuggling successes unfold in secret, other metrics are used as proxies to estimate how many people are coming into the U.S. without authorization. Apprehensions are one example; deaths could be used as another. This summer, the Missing Migrants Project, a Berlin-based United Nations affiliate, issued a report noting that migrant deaths over the first seven months of 2017 were up 17 percent from last year, with July marking the deadliest month so far. Although the number sounds quite high, the increase reflected a total of 35 more deaths. As of this month, Missing Migrants’ data now indicates the overall number of border deaths is lower than it was last year. These kinds of numbers get interpreted to justify and criticize various border-related polices, but they can quickly change and none of them are an adequate stand-in for the data that’s missing. Take the number of migrants found in the back of commercial trucks like Bradley’s. According to Customs and Border Protection figures released to The Intercept, the total number of “deportable aliens” found in the Border Patrol’s Laredo sector jumped from 335 in 2015 to 697 in 2016. In the first seven months of 2017, however, the Border Patrol recorded finding 212 undocumented immigrants in trailers — exactly half of what the total was over the same period last year. One could interpret the drop as reflecting some broader trend, but then again, two heavily loaded trailers could be discovered tomorrow and the gap between 2016 and 2017 could be significantly reduced. All the while, an unknown number of trucks would be passing through Laredo undetected.
In general, the half-dozen current and former federal immigration officials I spoke to on the border acknowledged that the use of tractor trailers on I-35 is on the rise. Explanations varied, however. Alonzo Peña, a 28-year veteran of border law enforcement, who served as an ICE SAC in both San Antonio and Phoenix, had the most specific theory: that a 2014 decision to flood the border with hundreds of state troopers may have prompted smugglers to shift from using passenger vehicles to commercial trucks. “In a passenger vehicle or a passenger van, it’s easier to detect a large load of individuals than it is in a concealed tractor trailer,” he said. Port cities like Laredo, where tractor trailers are everywhere, are easy places to blend in, he said, adding, “We’re probably going to see more tractor trailers used to move these individuals.”
Weaving through Laredo’s back streets, Acosta downplayed the increased use of commercial trailers along I-35. “We’ve always seen it,” he said. For a lifelong Texas border lawman like Acosta, history did not begin with Donald Trump, and so he resists describing what’s happening right now as genuinely new or unprecedented. He’s part of a community that remembers the 2003 Victoria case, in which 19 migrants died after the trailer they were riding in was abandoned along the highway. The dead included a 5-year-old boy who perished in his father’s arms, suffocating in the trailer’s 173-degree heat. Homan, the current ICE acting director, investigated Victoria. Relying on information provided by survivors, the case led to more than a dozen convictions, including the driver, Tyrone M. Williams, who, after being initially sentenced to life in prison, is now serving a nearly 34-year sentence. It was the first major investigative test for ICE — created just two months before as part of the post-9/11 creation of the DHS — and it all happened a decade and a half before Trump.
“It’s stuff that we see on a daily basis on the border, that’s just how life is,” Acosta said. “Illegal immigration has been here way before I got here, and it’s gonna be here once I retire.”
Harry Jimenez, a career border law enforcement official, said the explanation for the increased use of tractor trailers was simple: money. A trailer full of people is worth more money than a carload. One has to assume that trucks are getting through, Jimenez explained. “The consolidation, evidently, has proven to the organizations that it’s worth it,” he said. “That’s why when Border Patrol talks about the great job that they’re doing, the apprehensions are down, I don’t believe it. Is it that the apprehensions are down or you’re catching less people?”
For nearly 30 years, Jimenez worked as a federal immigration agent, rising through the ranks to become HSI’s San Antonio SAC. In March, he retired and became deputy chief of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. Jimenez views smugglers with contempt and believes in arresting them. But like many career law enforcement officials I spoke to on the border, he also recognizes that enforcement drives changes in smuggling practices, which heightens dangers for migrants. He observes that enforcement alone won’t fix a broken immigration system; that the people who cross the U.S. border are human beings; that nearly all of them present zero threat to the country; and that most are fleeing serious danger and economic despair.
“Many people inside the beltway cannot find the I-35 checkpoint, or the border for that matter, not even with a GPS or a compass,” he said. As a result, half-baked policies like arresting parents who pay to be reunited with their children get passed off as serious solutions to unauthorized migration. And that’s when people are paying some attention. Most of the time, Jimenez added, the tragedies and complexities of the border simply go unnoticed. “It’s sad because we are talking about this case because it happened here in the backyard,” Jimenez said, referring to San Antonio. “If it happened 50 miles away from here, nobody cares. That’s the challenge we have.” The San Antonio case may have received national attention because of the current political atmosphere, Jimenez went on to say, but “it’s not going to be the last time that you’re going to have people dying in the back of a tractor trailer, or in the trunk of a car, or in the back of van, or in the back of a box truck.
“It happens every day,” he said. “And until we figure out a way to balance that immigration reform, it’s going to happen.”
On July 26, nine shaken and exhausted survivors of the San Antonio journey appeared in a San Antonio court. The eight men and one woman wore the same navy-blue prison jumpsuits given to federal prisoners. Chains were wrapped around their waists and their hands were cuffed in front of them. Along with four others who appeared in court earlier in the week, they were informed that they would be held as material witnesses in the capital case against Bradley, which U.S. attorneys would present before a grand jury. Through a translator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Chestney explained that they were not being charged with a crime, but they would be held in federal custody under supervision by the U.S. Marshals Service. They were then led to a white Geo Group van and returned to the private prison company’s downtown detention center.
As the U.S. attorney’s office began building its case, new information about the men and women who boarded the trailer emerged. The vast majority were Mexican nationals, with at least 11 hailing from Aguascalientes. A half-dozen others came from Guatemala. Thirteen remained hospitalized, some in grave condition. Four of the survivors were minors, each having made the journey without their parents. As they worked to identify and repatriate the dead, the consulates of Mexico and Guatemala were flooded with calls from concerned family members wanting to visit their loved ones, but fearful that they would be seized by ICE agents and deported for being unauthorized. “We have been in touch with U.S authorities, and anyone who is accompanied by a consular official will not be questioned about their status,” said Reyna Torres Mendivil, the consul general of Mexico in San Antonio, at a press conference. Despite the assurances, tensions remained. Jose de Jesus Martinez, father of 16-year-old Brandon Martinez, told NPR that he was aggressively questioned by U.S. immigration officials as his comatose son was transferred between rooms. The confrontation led to nurses yelling at ICE agents to “take it outside,” said Martinez’s attorney, Alex Galvez. ICE defended its agents’ actions, saying they had no idea they were dealing with the father of a survivor.
In the days after Bradley’s arrest, mourners built a modest shrine in the corner of the Walmart parking lot where his trailer was opened. A gold-framed painting of the Virgin Mary rested against the trunk of a slender tree. Surrounding the virgin were flowers, candles, stuffed animals and, more than anything else, bottles of water. Each afternoon, people would come to pay their respects. They were overwhelmingly Latino families — grandmothers and grandfathers, young couples, men in work pants and dusty leather sandals, and many parents with their children. As shoppers bustled in and out of the store a few hundred yards away, they maintained a constant presence through sunset and into the evening, quietly saying prayers and sharing updates on the case. In a semi-circle around the tree stood 10 white crosses, one for each life lost. In front of the crosses was an overturned Styrofoam cooler. Buscando el sueño Americano, it said in Spanish. Then, in English: “Looking for a better life.”
The story of the camión de la muerte, the truck of death, rattled the Latino community in Texas during a tense period of policy fights over immigration enforcement. Politicians and law enforcement officials uniformly condemned the ordeal as a human tragedy, before offering up their takes on what it said about the nation’s immigration system. “Sanctuary cities entice people to believe they can come to America and Texas and live outside the law,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wrote on Facebook the night after migrants were rushed to the hospital. “Sanctuary cities also enable human smugglers and cartels. Today, these people paid a terrible price and demonstrate why we need a secure border and legal immigration reform, so we can control who enters our country.” Sessions echoed the line days later. Homan said more of the same during an appearance at the White House, telling reporters the “message” sent by so-called sanctuary cities “drives what happened in San Antonio.”
Patrick said the case was the reason he made passing a controversial law known as SB4 a “top priority.” As a guiding star for what the Trump-Sessions vision of immigration enforcement could look like at the state level, SB4 not only permits police to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts and to question anyone they stop about their immigration status, it also bars any public official from preventing them from doing so by leveraging the threat of a misdemeanor charge and possible jail time. The law, which was blocked by a federal court in late August, has been deeply unpopular among police chiefs in the state’s largest cities, who argue that such initiatives create fear in immigrant communities and result in fewer crimes being reported. Several of those cities, including San Antonio, joined a lawsuit, brought by the city of El Cenizo, arguing the bill was unconstitutional. “There’s nothing positive that this bill does for the community or law enforcement,” said McManus, the San Antonio chief whose officers were first to respond to the trailer tragedy.
The fraught political context was one of the complicating factors facing attorneys for the San Antonio survivors. Following their first court appearance, American Gateways, a legal organization that provides services to low-income immigrant communities across central Texas, joined Jonathan Ryan and the legal team at Raices in addressing the survivors’ immigration-related legal matters. Judge Chestney appointed a separate attorney to advocate for the material witnesses, selecting Michael McCrum, a veteran of the San Antonio legal community. McCrum spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, including serving as chief of the Major Crimes Division in the Western District’s San Antonio division. As the weeks went on, the government’s list of material witnesses would expand to include 22 survivors. McCrum was responsible for their representation in the U.S. attorney’s case against Bradley, while American Gateways and Raices handled the immigration issues.
Comments from public officials repeatedly portrayed the attorneys’ clients as victims of terrible crimes. Exactly what crimes, however, was open to interpretation. Despite earlier characterizations of what happened from McManus, as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, it quickly became clear to the immigration attorneys that the DoJ would be pursuing the case as a smuggling crime, not human trafficking. This meant the possibility of getting trafficking visas for the survivors was off the table. Instead, the lawyers would be pursuing so-called U visas, which apply to victims of a range of crimes who suffer significant abuse and cooperate with authorities on investigations into those crimes. Unlike the T visa, certification of a U visa requires signoff from a law enforcement agency.
As the immigration attorneys worked to gather information for the requests, they collaborated with McCrum on a shared goal: getting their clients out of jail. “Every day that they spend in a jail cell affects their psyche,” McCrum told me, shortly after he was assigned the case. “They’re in a confined area that they’re not allowed to leave — just like they were in that truck when they were not allowed to leave, and they were dying in there.”
The U.S. attorney’s office had leveraged the harshest punishment available against Bradley, and it was widely understood that prosecutors would lean hard on the driver, in hopes that he would flip and lead investigators to others involved in the alleged scheme. “The truck driver is certainly being charged, but that’s not the endgame,” Shane Folden, the current HSI SAC in San Antonio, told me. “Charging one person in an organization certainly isn’t going to be a significant disruption or a dismantlement.” Investigators wanted to find those responsible for bringing the migrants across the border, they wanted the money men, and the stash house managers, Folden explained. “People are dying,” he said, adding that the smugglers “consider these folks commodities.”
Where that process would leave the material witnesses, who each shared their stories with investigators, was unclear. One option was that it could go down like the Victoria case in 2003. In that instance, the government had more than 50 material witness, each one a survivor of a hellish ordeal. Roughly 20 of those witnesses were called upon at trial, said Jeff Vaden, a prosecutor in the case. The investigation and the convictions it led to spanned years. Prosecutors borrowed a semi-truck and drove the same route as the driver, at night, to understand how the tragedy might have unfolded. They filled a trailer with 72 people to get sense of what it must have been like inside. “When you put 72 in there, standing up, you’re pretty much shoulder to shoulder,” Vaden told me. Throughout the process, the material witnesses remained in the U.S., outside of detention, and were provided work authorization documents by ICE so they could earn a living while they were in the country. “When we needed them for trial, we would bring them back to Houston,” Vaden said. By the time the cases concluded in 2008, at least one of the survivors had obtained a U visa.
McCrum feared the San Antonio case would take on a different shape. While the Western District had released material witnesses in federal cases in the past, the U.S. attorney’s office in San Antonio, just like every U.S. attorney’s office in the country, now operates under the direction of the most anti-immigrant attorney general in recent memory. “The administration won’t want it to appear that they’re being sympathetic to people that are here illegally,” McCrum said. Instead, the veteran attorney worried his clients would be chewed up and spit out, regardless of what they went through or their contributions to the case. “The government wants your help, but then says, once you help me, I don’t have need for you anymore, and so I’m not going to help you at all,” McCrum said. “Here, help me out, but let me stomp on your face after.”
For the attorneys, it felt like a perfect representation of the challenge they kept coming up against: that the government routinely treated their clients more like criminals than cooperating witnesses and victims. In the weeks after Bradley’s trailer was found, the teams of immigration lawyers found themselves bouncing from one law enforcement agency to another, seeking an official who would sign their U visa certification requests. Griselda Barrera, director of American Gateways San Antonio office, sent her first request to the San Antonio Police Department and was told that the department did not have jurisdiction in the case. “So then we made the request with the Homeland Security office,” she said. Same answer. Barrera then sent the request to the U.S. attorney’s office. The office refused to sign. The reason was unclear. “I asked and they would not give me an answer,” McCrum said. As efforts to begin the visa process ran aground, so too did attempts to get the material witnesses out of jail. McCrum spoke to the U.S. attorneys, telling them he intended to seek a reconsideration of the detention because family members had been found who were willing to take the survivors in as the legal process ran its course. “The U.S. attorney’s office said they were going to take an opposing position to that,” McCrum said. “They did not want them released.” Even basic information about the night the lawyers’ clients were found was difficult to obtain, in part because the police refused to release its report because it included potential evidence of crimes against a minor, a protected category of information under Texas law. The report was also withheld from The Intercept following a public information request.
McCrum and the immigration lawyers were running into opposition at every turn. Then, in late August, they seemed to get a break: Chief McManus of the San Antonio Police Department reversed course, signing off on U visa certifications for every witness in the case. Barrera said her organization engaged in talks with police officials in the preceding weeks and explained that the department didn’t need to lead the investigation in order to sign off on the certifications. But, she added, “I’m not sure that that’s the reason why they ended up doing it because we didn’t get a formal response as to why they were going to sign.” With the certifications in hand, the attorneys could now set their clients on the long road to potential visas and turn their attention to more immediate matters, including a series of depositions in the case against Bradley. Generally in federal cases, detained material witnesses are released from custody following depositions, but things get more complicated when those material witnesses are unauthorized immigrants. While American Gateways pushed for a guarantee that the San Antonio survivors would be released following their depositions, the U.S. attorney’s office didn’t budge. “They were very clear that there were not going to be giving any type of guarantees or any type of assurances that any of the individuals would be released for their testimony or their trial,” Barrera said.
For Ryan, the Raices executive director, the U visa certifications felt like the first piece of good news since late July. “What we’ve seen is a police department that has stepped up,” he said. “But I will call it what it is on the part of the U.S. attorney’s office in turning a blind eye to the reality that everyone sees — that these people have been victimized.” Because the certifications could be revoked at any time and because of their lengthy processing time, “law enforcement and prosecutors maintain a heavy hammer over all of our clients,” Ryan said. At the same time, he said, that meant there was “nothing but mutual interest among the prosecutors and the witnesses that everyone stays available and ready to assist, come what may, in the prosecution.”
On September 5, a grinning Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s plans to kill the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era initiative providing protection from deportation for nearly 800,000 individuals brought without authorization to the U.S. as children. That same morning, as young people across the country saw the futures they had strived to build being pulled away from them, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Playton filed a motion to dismiss the complaints against all 22 material witnesses in the San Antonio case. The order was signed and with the stroke of a pen, the survivors of the deadly July 22 journey were told the justice system no longer required their services. They were ICE’s responsibility now. That afternoon the immigration enforcement agency began moving the survivors to a private detention facility for processing.
McCrum was still trying to make sense of the decision when we spoke that night. There had been no call from the U.S. attorney’s office, no heads-up that his clients were being released, and thus no opportunity for him to explain to them what was happening, why they were being relocated to an ICE detention center, and what to expect next. “Their families have been calling me,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell them.” According to McCrum, the obvious explanation for the decision was that Bradley flipped. “They won’t confirm that it’s a plea agreement; they’ve just said it’s an arrangement, which tells me that they’re investigating other folks,” he explained. “That doesn’t necessarily shock me, but what surprises me is just how cavalierly they treat their lives.” It was precisely the scenario he had feared when he was assigned the case in July — that the government would rely on his clients for information, then discard them once they were no longer useful, without taking into account the fact that they were both contributors to the prosecutors’ case and victims of terrible crimes. “They said, ‘We really want your cooperation, we know you’ve been traumatized. Please cooperate with us to get the bad guy,’” McCrum said. “They’ve been nothing but cooperative, but now that they don’t need them anymore, they just dismiss complaints and throw them into ICE custody without even telling me what’s going on.”
The dismissals came on a Tuesday, two days before the material witnesses were scheduled to begin their depositions. “We had been visiting our clients and preparing them,” Barrera said. “Then, from one day to another, we’re at the immigration office having an entirely different conversation.” By Wednesday, two men had been removed to Mexico. Both were clients of Jonathan Ryan and the Raices legal team, though the attorneys didn’t learn about their deportations until the following afternoon. “We’ve been the last to know anything,” Ryan said, an hour after his office received confirmation of the removals from ICE. While two of Ryan’s clients were deported, ICE placed a third under an order of supervision and released him in Florida. The man had a prior order for removal but for reasons that remained unclear to his attorneys, he was spared from deportation. That disjointedness is a core component of the U.S. immigration system, Ryan explained, and part of what makes representation so challenging. Comprised of “many different offices with many different sets of leaders and their own prerogatives and their own goals,” the cogs in that machine sometimes produce favorable or empathetic outcomes, Ryan said, but “the collective whole tends toward the negative, and we’re seeing that play out in real time right here, right now.”
Dismissed as witnesses, the survivors joined the roughly 34,000 other immigrants held in detention centers across the country, their cases added to the hundreds of thousands of others currently being processed by the nation’s overloaded immigration court system. Because the San Antonio Police Department signed off on the U visa certifications, they still have a chance of legally staying in the U.S., but there’s no guarantee. Congress maintains an annual quota of 10,000 U visas. Year after year, including in 2016, that cap has been met. Those who don’t make it get in line for the next year. “The issue now is that they’re in detention and that this U visa application doesn’t really prevent them from being deported,” Barrera said, which means the attorneys are searching for other avenues for relief. “I think most of them are tired of this entire process,” she said. “They’ve endured a lot and I think for them, every minute of the day is eternal.” When asked if she thought things would have gone differently for her clients under a different administration, Barrera said yes. “I do believe that there would have been at least some different steps taken,” she said, adding that the sequence of events “justified the fear that a lot of families here in the community have.
“They weren’t released. They were detained. They’re now in an immigration detention center possibly facing deportation,” she said. “I think that adds to what the community is sensing as a whole — that whether it be this administration or just this time in our life, immigration laws are just a lot harsher, and the compassion is going away.”
The U.S. attorney’s office in San Antonio declined to answer a series of questions for this story and turned down multiple interview requests. Bradley’s attorneys and the San Antonio Police Department did the same. Recent developments in the case, however, suggest McCrum’s conclusion about the driver cooperating with the government may be well-founded. On September 20, the U.S. attorney’s office submitted a notice to the court that it was no longer seeking the death penalty against Bradley. The following day, a superseding indictment was entered disclosing a second arrest in the case. In a flurry of court documents that followed, the government revealed a previously undisclosed HSI surveillance operation that had taken place in Laredo on July 24. That operation led to the arrest of a man named Pedro Silva Segura and the discovery of a stash house containing 18 undocumented immigrants. A criminal complaint submitted in the Southern District of Texas offered few details and the role Silva Segura allegedly played in the San Antonio tragedy was not laid out in the government’s charging documents — though a house prosecutors are seeking to seize in conjunction with Silva-Segura’s arrest is an eight-minute drive from I-35, and HSI’s surveillance operation appears to have begun shortly after Bradley and the survivors pulled from his trailer first spoke to investigators. Six of the migrants found in the Laredo stash house are now being detained as material witnesses in the government’s case against Silva Segura. They reportedly identified the 47-year-old as the man who brought them food each day. Silva Segura is now facing the death penalty.
A common theme emerged in the statements of law enforcement officials after Bradley’s arrest: that what made his actions so heinous was that they required a willingness to see the people in his trailer as something other than human beings. They were treated as nothing more than a means to an end, and that was unacceptable. McCrum said it had become difficult to square the government’s treatment of his clients with its professed concern for their humanity. After nearly two months of being held in the same for-profit jail as Bradley, wearing the same prison garb and the same steel shackles, after being pressed for information and led to believe that they were the types of people the system is designed to protect, they were simply cast off. “The whole crime is that Bradley put them in a truck and didn’t consider them as humans and yet, that’s still how they’re being treated,” he said. “I wanted them to be treated as human beings.”
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In 1936, young Americans began heading over to Spain to confront the rise of fascism in Europe. They became known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. In all, an estimated nearly 3,000 Americans fought in the Spanish Civil War. Spain was viewed as an early front line in the battle against fascism in Europe and these young Americans joined volunteers from across the globe who came to Spain to fight against fascist forces led by General Francisco Franco. Franco was a murderous thug and an ally of Mussolini and Hitler. And eventually, he became a great ally of the United States government.
While the story of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade is not often told or recalled in the modern era, it should be. It is a story of young Americans, many of them immigrants, laborers, and workers, who saw the dangers of fascism years before the U.S. government got militarily involved in the war against Hitler and his allies and the point where the mythical history of the fight against fascism in Europe taught in many U.S. schools begins. The Lincoln Brigade deployed to fight fascism before it spread while powerful American businesses and government officials supported Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco or feigned neutrality that actually amounted to aiding fascism.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump held a joint press conference with the Spanish prime minister. The timing was interesting, given that the Spanish government is at this moment forcefully seeking to stop a referendum on independence in Catalonia. Donald Trump seemed confused about the difference between Spain’s prime minister and its president, but he nonetheless made clear where he stands on this issue. “I speak as the president of the United States, as somebody that has great respect for your president, and also has really great respect for your country,” Trump said, standing next to the Spanish prime minister. “I really think the people of Catalonia would stay with Spain. I think it would be foolish not to. Because you’re talking about staying with a truly great, beautiful, and very historic country.”
It’s interesting that while Trump uses his generic filler for countries he doesn’t know much about — great, historic, beautiful — the U.S. relationship with Spain for many decades was one of normalizing the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Franco. It is unlikely Trump knows much, if anything, about Franco, but he would have loved the dictator who ruled until his death in 1975. Franco’s whole agenda was framed around Making Spain Great Again: shield it from foreign influence; preserve its conservative brand of Catholicism; fascism masquerading as proud nationalism.
There is a lot of debate and discussion today over the tactics of the groups and people generally referred to as Antifa. And it has become a regular talking point of Democrats and some liberal pundits to equate Antifa with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists being more and more empowered by this administration. This both-sides-are-wrong mentality has been used throughout history to forgive the crimes of right-wing fascist movements.
The veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were celebrated as heroes and visionaries who saw the threat early and tried to stop it. But as U.S. interests shifted, they soon became targets of anti-communist witch hunts. And today, they are seldom mentioned, even though they fought and died to defeat fascism before the U.S. ever entered World War II. This story is vital for all of us to study, particularly in this moment in history.
On the Intercepted podcast this week, we dug deep into this history with NYU professor James Fernandez. He is on the board of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive. What follows is the entire transcript of that interview, an excerpt of which was broadcast on Intercepted.
Jeremy Scahill: Jim, welcome to Intercepted.
James Fernandez: Thank you.
JS: So, let’s start at the beginning. Give the political context of what was happening in Europe in the mid-1930s that ultimately spurred so many young people to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
JF: Well, like I tell my students, in the case of Spain, 1931, Spain tries this experiment in democracy, which is really its first real experiment in modern democracy. It’s called the second Republic because it was the first one that lived very briefly in the 19th century.
And the country chooses the worst possible moment, because democracy and capitalism are being called into question all over the world. So, we’re in the throes of the Great Depression, it looks like liberal democracy has maybe reached the end of its course, these alternative ideologies are getting strength all across the ideological spectrum, and, in that context, fascism rises in Italy and Germany, and eventually with the coup that Franco and his generals unleashed on July 18, 1936, it raises its head in Spain.
So, in the States, there were thousands and thousands of folks that were following very closely what was happening in Europe and in Spain, this is something I emphasize a lot to my students. The horrors of World War II have totally eclipsed our memory of Spain. But in 1936, ’37, ’38, Spain was Syria, Spain was the place on the map where it looked like the future of the planet was being played out. And all thinking people were talking and thinking and worrying about Spain, in their literature and newsreels and radio broadcasts
And there were vast communities of intensely mobilized folks that started mainly as pacifists, they were, “Against War and Fascism” was the organization and slogan of a lot of these folks up until ’36, let’s say. But once things evolved some more, they realized that the only way to put down fascism was to, in this case, to kind of put brackets around being against war, and actually taking the war to the fascists in Spain.
So they were, the volunteers that went is almost 3,000, we think 2,800 is our best guess now. And like I said, they came mostly from intensely mobilized communities all over the United States. A lot of them were immigrants or children of immigrants, most of them were from large cities, they were trade unionists, a lot of them were members of the Communist Party, the socialists, anarchists, but generally leftist folks who saw the menace of fascism and took the incredible step of trying to do something about it.
JS: Now, what was the posture of the United States government at the time toward these fascist elements that were starting to quite rapidly rise in Europe, with Spain being the first major front?
JF: The stance was pretty much wait and see. Again, this is something that kind of blows away my students, right? The story that we tell ourselves about the history of the United States is that we are this anti-fascist force, this force that put down fascism in the world, in World War II.
And, I ask my students, “When did the US get serious about putting down fascism” And they usually say Pearl Harbor, which is pretty much right. December of ’41.
Well, we have guys who in December of ’36, December 26, 1936, a bunch of guys walked to Chelsea Piers and got on a ship to France and eventually crossed into Spain to put down fascism, a full five years before Pearl Harbor.
And, you know, in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives we have the letters that they were writing back to their families. The clarity is unbelievable. Their clairvoyance of why they were going and what was there, and what it was that they were fighting is really amazing.
So it’s not, it’s not like — the cool thing about working with archival documents, its that I can show that it’s not hindsight, I’m not attributing to these people, “Oh yeah, they didn’t really know what they were gonna fight against, and it just turned out to be fascism.” They knew exactly what they were going to fight against.
JS: Trying to fathom this now in our current climate, with Donald Trump as President, and a lot of debate about the tactics that are being employed by people calling themselves Antifa, or the idea that in confronting these neo-Nazi elements that people are fighting against a brewing tide of fascism in this country.
Take us back to that time. Why would young Americans decide to actually leave the United States and go to Spain? Like, what was so important to them about what was happening in Spain that they would risk their lives to go and fight and potentially die there?
JF: Yeah. It’s such a big question, right? And it’s one that I try to talk with the students about a lot. It’s, it’s as if we’re adrift. Most of us live adrift in history, and we’re not sure when we’ve crossed certain lines. And the question is, when do you realize maybe that you’ve crossed a line, and it’s time to put your engine on or throw your anchor down, or do something. The cool thing about teaching the Spanish Civil War and the Lincoln Brigade is that it’s a really clear example of this. Right? There’s all kind of currents going on. But these are guys who, many of whom, like I said before, went from being pacifists to taking the step, to, to volunteering for a war.
Their reasons are diverse. And it’s interesting to see how a lot of them project on to Spain their own anxieties. So for a lot of the Jewish volunteers, Spain was a shot at Hitler, directly. They might not have known anything about Spain, they supported the republic because it was the thing to do. But really Spain was a place for certain Jewish volunteers to defend their people and their lives.
JS: Well, and at this point, Hitler had not yet invaded Poland but had risen to power, in part on this rhetoric that Jews across the world were plotting against Aryan people, and that they controlled financial institutions, and they were really at the heart of the problems facing the good, hardworking, whites of Europe.
JF: Exactly. So, some of them saw what was going on in Spain through the prism of their own family history. African-Americans, it’s an amazing story, about 90 African-Americans volunteered to fight in Spain, and they, for the most part, saw fascism as an extension of Jim Crow, as an extension of institutional racism and white supremacy. And they say this very clearly in their letters and so, their motivations for going, there’s a famous short story written by, I think he was an African-American volunteer, called “It Ain’t Ethiopia, But It’ll Do.” And it’s referring to the fact that a lot of these black volunteers would’ve gone to vote Mussolini in Ethiopia had they had the opportunity, but I guess that war ended too quickly and they didn’t, so they’re going to Spain to fight Ethiopia and to fight racism in the States.
JS: And in fact, Langston Hughes, who, at the time, was writing for The Baltimore Afro-American, one of the great black newspapers from American history, he wrote, “Give Franco a hood and he’d be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”
JF: That’s awesome. I hadn’t heard that.
JS: I mean obviously, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was a largely white population, as you point out, there were around 100 or so members that were African Americans. And it was the first actually integrated militarized unit in United States history.
JF: That’s right. And that’s a real point of pride. It was, at the time, among them. And you can see it in the accounts and even in the photographs, you can see there was an official photographic unit charged with documenting the history of the Brigade as it was happening, and you can see in the choices that the photographer made, that the integration, the racial integration was a point of pride.
JS: Why did they choose the name Abraham Lincoln Brigade?
JF: We don’t know. We don’t know. There’s a standard explanation, which doesn’t satisfy me, which is basically that he was the president who presided over a nation that was in the midst of a Civil War. Other people say that along the lines of the Popular Front Strategy, the tendency was to try to name heroes — after national heroes. There was this attempt to claim that there’s nothing incompatible between, say, communism and Americanism. Right? There was in the ’30s, this was in the air. So why not claim Abraham Lincoln?
Some people on the right say that it was a ruse, they were trying to trick people that these were dirty communists who just used this name to pass as something else. But that’s definitely not true. The reason I have doubts about it is because we recently found a photograph with volunteers with a banner with the name on it, which is earlier than any of the accounts that we know about, and it’s being held by a bunch of Cuban volunteers who had been in New York. So we’re trying to figure that out.
JS: Now in, to get to the particulars of what exactly happened, in Spain, as you say, there was this attempt to democratize the country. And then you had a coup d’état led by General Franco. Explain who Franco was and the ideas that he was advocating when he essentially attempted to just put a complete halt to any kind of a democratic process in Spain.
JF: That’s a really tough question, but an important one. Because Franco was astute and shape changing and he was around for a long time and he rewrote himself many times. And so, people think about him in a lot of different ways. But again, if you go back to the archive and to the documents, he was a general who had been seasoned in Spain’s colonial wars in North Africa, putting down the Moroccan plea for independence from Spain. That accounts, in part, for his incredible brutality. And a lot of historians talk about how his army inflicted on Spaniards the kinds of torture and warfare that in the past had never been used in Europe, only on colonial peoples quote-unquote. And he basically carried out a campaign of annihilation.
He wasn’t interested really at any point in truce and negotiation. He realized, especially once he had Hitler and Mussolini’s support, he realized that he could go for the whole enchilada and try to basically annihilate the people that were in Spain that were contaminated with this anti-Spanish zeal for democracy, is basically the way that he saw it.
So the Republic was trying to take measures to bring Spain into modernity. Before the Republic, education was in the hands of the Church, land was largely in the hands of a small number of families, there was of course no divorce, the Church was, as I was saying, running the educational show. And so the Republic was trying to modernize the country in those regards.
And it was also trying to, there’s a great book about this by Helen Graham, “The Short Introduction to the Spanish Civil War” and she’s really strong on this to show how the Republic had the incredible task of not only trying to institute democratic institutions in the hostile climate of 1931-36, it also basically had to create Spanish citizens. Because there were no modern citizens in Spain in the 1930s, there were subjects of a monarchy. There were people who didn’t see themselves as stakeholders in any kind of common Republican process.
And so the Republic is trying to build schools, do land reform, eventually put down a coup that later gets help from Hitler and Mussolini, and create a sense of belonging and stake holding among the Spanish citizens. That’s a tall order.
JS: And the US posture toward Franco at the time? Specifically toward Franco, not fascism in general?
JF: The official posture was one of nonintervention, and, in fact, an embargo on the sale of arms to either side in Spain was approved by Congress, which, of course, only favored the fascist side.
I’ve heard it said that is the first and only time in American history where the United States has refused to sell arms to a legally elected democratic government with which it had diplomatic relations. I mean the Republic had the US ambassador. But, no they decided, Roosevelt decided and Congress, to declare neutrality and nonintervention, and, on top of that, to impose an embargo.
JS: Often through the course of US History, when the United States says, “Both sides need to show restraint,” or “we’re not going to get involved,” it usually is because they are, by default, they’re supporting whoever the most right-wing, well-armed faction is in a particular situation. When the volunteers from the United States started to go to Spain, talk about that. How did they get there, who did they liaise with, who were the first groups of people to go, and how many went initially?
JF: So the war starts in July of ’36. And Franco and his generals really thought that in a couple of weeks they could impose martial law, kind of reset the government, roll back some of the reforms, and just, they thought they were going to hit the reset button. Which was kind of a political tradition in Spain. Throughout the 19th century, there were these military pronunciamentos, they were called, these uprisings, where it was basically this parliamentary system was operating and things got a little bit scary for the military, so they just took over and replace everybody. So they really thought they were going to be finished in a couple of weeks.
But it didn’t turn out that way. There was incredible popular resistance, especially in the major cities, to the fascist uprising. There were large swaths of Spain where there was never any fighting, they just accepted the coup, and went to the Franco side.
JS: So you have this, the coup takes, place, Franco thinks that it’s going to be kind of calmed. When did the first people from the United States start arriving in Spain?
JF: Yeah, so the thought that this might escalate into an international conflagration, I don’t think was on anybody’s mind in July, August, September. But by October of ’36, the battle for Madrid is, they’re there, it looks like it’s going to be a longer war than anyone thought, Hitler and Mussolini were already helping Franco. So it was in the call of ’36 that [the Common Turn] for volunteers to form international brigades, and I think it was in October of ’36 that the first contingent arrived to Madrid. They weren’t Americans.
The first Americans boarded a ship right after Christmas, December 26, ’36, and got there about a week later. And the typical route from here was to take a ship to Paris, a train to southern France, and then, because the border was closed for most of the duration of the Spanish Civil War, most of the guys hiked across the Pyrenees at night, led by smugglers, Catalano or Basque smugglers who knew their way around the Pyrenees, led into Spain.
JS: Did the Americans, the North Americans that went, did any of them have military experience or fighting experience?
JF: Very few. Some did — we’re what, 17 years after the end of World War I. Most of them, no, there’s very little military experience. These guys were workers, factory workers, you know, union organizers, things like that that. Not much military training.
JS: You, at the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive, there’s a growing collection of letters that these individuals that joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade wrote during their time or as they were going or while they were there. Share some of the kinds of reasons that these people joined the Brigade and went to Spain.
JF: That’s a great topic. And the reasons are all over the place, because there were so many people —
JS: I mean, you talked about Jewish Americans and their, their view that this was sort of a frontline of what was an intensifying war of, based on anti-Semitism.
JF: Well, I’m thinking of now, what for me is one of the richest documents in all of the archive, which is a letter that James Lardner wrote to his mother. James Lardner was Harvard-educated correspondent for the International Tribune in Paris. His father was Ring Lardner, a well-known short story writer and radio personality. And this guy had a good job in Paris and went to write a story about Spain, and fell in love with the cause. And against everyone’s advice, including his friends Hemingway and everybody else, very well-connected family, he enlisted.
And we have the letter that he wrote to his mom, I think she was in Darien, Connecticut, or something. And she received this letter from her son that she thinks is in an office in Paris typing out stories, and he says, “Mom I’ve decided to go to Spain, and for my own edification I’ve made a list, in no particular order.”
And then the list is like 22 or 24 items. And it’s a gem because he’ll say things like, “Well my French is pretty good, but I need to improve my Spanish.” Or he says, “There’s a girl in Paris who needs to realize that she can live without me.”
But then he says, “Because I feel that in modern times, war is one of the things, unfortunately that all of us need to prepare for. And I intend to do that. And that fascism needs to be put down.” And he says, “I don’t know what’s going to replace it, maybe it’s communism, I’m not sure, but the first order of fascism is to put down fascism.” And then he says, “I’m tired of wearing a tie.” It’s a beautiful text because it shows the complex motivations of a single person.
But he was a blue blood, and there were some like him, but the vast majority, like I said before, were working class ethnics who were going to put down what they saw as a planetary menace.
JS: Did they have roots in Europe, those immigrants? Were they largely from Europe?
JF: I would say so, yeah.
JS: And when they arrived, who did they report to? Like how does one just go to a place where there’s the rise of fascism and even know where to go?
JF: The Communist Party took care of the logistics.
JS: Communist Party International.
JF: Yeah, here they helped to get the passports and book the tickets. There’s a lot of funny stories about that, because they were travelling illegally right? Their passports were stamped, “Not Valid for Travel in Spain.” That’s how important Spain was, it was an actual rubber stamp on your passport.
JS: That was the policy of the US Government at the time?
JF: Yeah. They were OK, because they were taking a ship to Paris, right? And then they would figure out how to get into Spain with the help of the, of the Communist Party of France. But it’s a real adventure, they’d tell really funny stories about — this one guy from, I forget which one, but he was told to pretend that he was a geologist, and he was like a stevedore or something like that, with ‘dese, ‘dem and ‘dose Brooklyn accent, and I just imagine him telling some official, “I’m an archaeologist” or something like that, it’s a really funny story. They tried to go incognito.
But we’re learned now, we learn all the time that actually the, like local consuls, the American consul in Paris knew who was on these ships, it seems. We’re learning more about this now. They thought they were incognito, but they really weren’t.
JS: And when they finally make it through France and enter Spain, how does the involvement of the Brigade begin in terms of actual fighting or assisting others in the rebellion against Franco?
JF: Well they’re quickly organized into a battalion, eventually a few battalions, so technically the Abraham Lincoln Brigade is a, is a misnomer, there was never such a thing. There was an Abraham Lincoln Battalion and a George Washington battalion and then a third battalion that was Mackenzie–Papineau, that was joint, mixed Canadian and American. But we use the brigade term to refer to all of them.
They were organized into battalions, and with very little training, they were thrown into the first battle, was the Battle of Jarama, which is on the outskirts of Madrid and it was a struggle to keep open the road between Madrid and Valencia, which was going to be the supply line for the Republic for most of the war, for the Mediterranean.
JS: What was the fate of some of the people that ended up going to Spain? Like maybe you could just give some examples of kind of the experience.
JF: On the whole, it was pretty terrible, because they were used as shock troops and because they were not as well equipped as they should have been and they certainly didn’t have the experience and training that they should have had.
So, the actual combat experience was pretty harsh and awful. Especially the first battles: they were they were decimated in Jarama, and they had morale problems because of that.
But they stuck it out and we think that of the 2,800, probably a third are in Spanish soil, died there. And then another third came back and go off the radar. We don’t really have much of a beat on them. And then the other third are people who kind of made their experience in Spain a centerpiece of their life in one way or another. And we know an awful lot about those guys. But I do try to spear my students, to think about the other, the ones who didn’t come back and the ones who came back and did other things. Because it’s two-thirds of the story. We have an archive that tells one-third of the story pretty well. But there’s two-thirds that kind of escapes us.
JS: By no means was it just people from the United States coming to join. I mean, you had people from all over the world. And there are some really interesting films that deal with some of this. There’s the Tierra e Libertad, but also for people that don’t want to dive into something that’s pure history there’s the film, Pan’s Labyrinth, which is a very interesting portrayal of Spain under Franco, that’s kind of a mystic journey, but maybe you can describe where people came from around the world, and how Spain then became this, it was like flypaper for people who were gravitating to the anti-fascist struggle that was emerging in the world.
JF: That’s right. Yeah. I think the number is 45,000. The International Brigade, I think I have this right, we think was made up of about 45,000 volunteers, so the Americans were a drop in the bucket. The most amazing statistic I’ve heard is that 1000 Cubans were there. I think 3000 Americans, and 1000 Cubans — that tiny country, I don’t know what the population of Cuba was in ’36, but it’s a small country.
I think France probably contributed the most volunteers, Germany, there were a lot of people who were already political exiles, kind of stateless people, that went to Spain because they wanted to fight against fascism and they couldn’t live in Italy or Germany.
JS: And you also had people that would become very serious literary figures. I’m thinking of “Homage to Catalonia” by George Orwell. And, of course, Hemingway was on the scene. What was the experience of some of those people that ended up becoming very famous or already had something of a reputation versus the working class, rank-and-file labor guys who went over from the United States? What was Orwell’s war like, compared to others?
JF: I know that Hemingway’s a fascinating case, right? Because he comes back and writes what is billed as the great American novel about the Spanish Civil War. And it is a great novel. But it drove the veterans crazy.
JF: Well, I mean, like we were saying before, the volunteers emerged out of immigrant, working class communities that were deeply mobilized. Hardly any of them was a loner. Hardly any of them was a professor of Spanish, hardly any of them had a name like Robert Jordan. These guys were Fishman, and Pekowski, and Fernandez and things like that.
And so he writes this great American novel about the Spanish Civil War and his hero is this loner WASP from Montana or Wyoming who’s there for unknown reasons, and who speaks Spanish, and who’s just — I think eventually the veterans came to think, well, maybe his heart was in the right place, but he kind of did us a disservice by portraying, you know, the American volunteer in world literature is this guy Robert Jordan who doesn’t really look like most of the volunteers.
JS: How were the battalions covered in the media in the United States at the time?
JF: I guess it depends on the slant of the media, but I think it’s safe to say where subsequent history has kind of tainted the way we think about this. But for the most part, and you can see this in film, Hollywood films, where the Spanish volunteers are a reference, until the Cold War heats up, they were seen as anti-fascist heroes. A lot of people don’t remember, but the scene in Casablanca where they try to convince Rick to do the right thing, the guy says, “I know you, I know you were in Spain.” I mean, the character Rick in Casablanca was involved in the Spanish Civil War. And he kind of gruffly brushes it off as, “Ah, I made a lot of money!” Or something like that. But they use Spain to remind him that he was on the right side. So here’s a Hollywood film from, I guess it’s 1942, where having been in Spain is credentials for knowing how to do the right thing.
And there’s several examples of that, and in the press, too. You see a lot of kind of neutral reporting, there’s a lot of very celebratory reporting, and I guess there’s some, yeah, I’m sure there are people saying, “These Reds, good thing they’ve gone off to die somewhere else.”
JS: That then starts to change, though, as World War II comes to an end and you had volunteers that were targeted by the government, particularly through the lens of the House un-American Activities Committee and anti-communist, kind of, fever that was sparked in the country.
JF: Yeah that’s what’s really amazing. And again the Archive is so valuable because we can see that happen in time. Right, these people go from being seen as anti-fascists, being on the on the right side of history, for that moment, to being subversive communists that need to be surveilled in and persecuted. And it happens in the span of years. And it happens right before your eyes, you know, if you follow the papers.
JS: And why did that happen? I don’t mean that in an oversimplified way. How is it that they go from being the kind of canaries in the coal mine about the rise of fascism, to, as you say, in real time, the subject of investigations or harassment, denial of passports, denial of benefits, the battle of public housing supplements. What was at the heart of that? Was it just a matter of the kind of rise of this Cold War mentality that the communists are working everywhere and they’re infiltrating our society, or was there something else at play?
JF: I think that was mainly it. And Spain was a mark on their passport or not, that would that would put them in that category. Also, you know, from the point of view of Spain, right, I mentioned before how astute and shifty Franco was, but Franco was clearly aligned with the Axis you know for a certainly for during his war until ’39, and then from ’39 on he was kind of hedging his bets, but also clearly pro-Axis.
And when things start to look like they’re going to go the other way, he already starts kind of hedging his bets and reinventing himself and pulling back his rhetoric.
And there’s an amazing story of how Franco wrote the script of an autobiographical movie that kind of tells Spanish history through the key of this person that’s clearly him. And it was called Raza and it was it was released in ’41 I think, and if you watch the original film, it’s a Nazi film, basically. It’s a Spanish Nazi film.
When World War II went the way it did, Franco did everything he could to collect and destroy every print of that film. And in 1941, the Spanish government released a new version of the film which they called the re-synchronization, they said they had been problems with the sound.
And if you see the film that came out ten years later, basically he cut out all of the references to fascism. He cut out the fascist salutes. He cut out a couple of jives at the United States. There’s a little scene about the Spanish-American War and that hits the cutting room floor.
And it’s amazing because you can see how it’s literal editing, it’s editing of fascist history to make the regime seem more amenable to the United States. And it worked! Because in the early 1950s, the US escorted Spain into the concert of civilized nations, helped them get into the UN, into the common market.
JS: While this fascist, General Franco, is running the country?
JF: Exactly. Yeah. So, he revamped himself and the US helped him sell that revamped message. Luckily one copy of the original film was found maybe 15 years ago in Berlin, and so we can see what kinds, you know, how he wanted to portray himself in 1941, and it’s striking.
So for me, when I’m with my students, it’s such a perfect example of how history gets rewritten from certain points of view, right? And how you can see the editing process go on.
JS: I want to ask your thoughts on the debate over what is generically being called right now antifa in the United States. And, you know, part of it centers around the clashes with neo-Nazi fascist elements that are trying to defend Confederate monuments. And, of course, we have incidents like the murder of Heather Heyer where, you know, this guy runs her over a car. Or the beating of Deandre Harris by these neo-Nazis.
But there is this trend of, you know, responsible progressives, Democrats, that sort of view antifa as just this uncouth group of troublemakers that are going to ruin it for the rest of us that are trying to responsibly confront the realities of a Trump-governed United States. What are your thoughts, though, about this discussion, and the punching of Nazis that’s become a meme, and the way that antifa is sort of equated with neo-Nazis, including by self-identified Democrats.
JF: Well the first thing I think is that that’s kind of the — I work mostly in Spain, Spanish history and culture. And in a lot of ways, it’s funny to see this happening in the States because that’s precisely the image that Franco and his regime eventually promoted of the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War was the result of these two brutal and excessive forces going at it, and it’s best to just do everything we can to make sure that never happens again on both sides. Right?
So Spain has pretty much done this already this kind of cleansing of history so that it looks like it was this moment of collective craziness that led to this bloodletting that we’ve happily now overcome. And that’s what I see at the bottom of the rhetoric here, of equating these two sides and saying, “Oh no, you know, they’re both, they’re equally, they’re good guys on both sides.” Or whatever, however you want to put it. It’s a way of disarming history. Right? And it’s a way of, yeah, it’s a way of disarming history. And you pretty much said it!
JS: Given your scholarship on Spain, I’m wondering if you sense whiffs of Franco in Donald Trump.
JF: I recently showed a different class that I teach, a photograph that was taken at a right-wing rally in Spain. I think it was right after Trump was elected and there was a guy, a Spanish guy in this big rally, holding up a sign in English that says, “Make Spain Great Again.”
JF: And I think, that kind of sums it up, the flow and backflow of these nations. Because what is he saying? First of all, why does he have the sign in English? It’s kind of weird for a right-wing Spaniard to carry a sign in Spanish?
I ask my students, “Where is the Spain that he wants to go back to, right?” And the first answer is this, the Spain of a dictatorship, right? And the second answer, a longer take, is Imperial Spain, when, you know, Spain ruled the world.
JS: What was Franco’s argument with the people about why what he was doing was right? Like what was his sort of promise to Spain as he sought to stop any kind of a democratic movement in Spain and take power himself? What was the core argument he was making to average Spaniards?
JF: The core argument was that Spain had been infected with this foreign ideology — part of Spain, the part that sided with the Republic — that there was an anti-Spain living within Spain. That people had been infected with the virus of disorder and communism and all of that, and he promised to return to law and order and to return to this Spanish essence.
JS: Which means what?
JF: Oh, inequality, Catholicism, pride in a kind of invented imperial past, law and order.
JS: It sounds so familiar. And so, now I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it sounds so familiar to me.
JS: And when Franco was ruling, from the late 1930s all the way through to his death, the position that the United States adopted toward Franco was one of … ultimately embracing him and normalizing his, brutality and, and what was overtly a dictatorship. What happens when Franco dies in 1975 in Spain?
JF: It’s a complicated process, and it’s often held up as an exemplary democratic transition. People say that there was no violence, that’s not true, there was violence, but it was a relatively peaceful to democracy. But a transition that was carried about, by, as they say in Spanish, passando la página, turning the page, without reading it. In other words, the war and the comportment of the regime and the suffering of the victims of Franco are yet to receive any kind of real, true recognition, from the State. I mean, there’s some symbolic things, but on the whole, there’s a telling statistic. There are 110,000 Spaniards strewn in mass graves around the Iberian Peninsula. Unmarked mass graves, and these are victims, mostly not of combat, because like I said before, large swaths of Spain were never fronts. The authorities followed the coup and the zones became Francoist. 110,000 Spaniards who were often victims of paramilitary or paralegal justice, these summary courts and executions, are still in unmarked mass graves, and it’s still a touchy topic. People think that you’re a troublemaker if you talk about this.
There’s still people who want to find and rebury their loved ones, and they’re portrayed in even mainstream media sometimes as being troublemakers who are trying to stir up this past that we’ve so, you know, that we’ve overcome in such an exemplary and peaceful way?
JS: And what we’re witnessing right now in Spain, that you have this referendum coming up on October 1, I believe it is, where these Catalan people are hoping to have a chance to vote on whether or not they gain independence from Spain. And the Spanish government has vowed to stop that referendum, and also, already, there’s a bit of brutal campaign of repression and suppression of the voice of Catalan people. Maybe you can explain the context of this, and for people to understand, this is happening right now, and we’re days away, potentially, from a vote where Barcelona would be the most famous city that people would identify as being part of the Catalan culture. What does this mean? What’s happening? Why would they want independence and what’s the government of Spain’s response been.
JF: Well it’s funny how this is an echo of things that were going on in the 30s, and of course, much before that right. But when I ticked off the lists of things that Franco promised, I left out “keeping Spain together,” in their expression. Because already in the 30s, and way before, there were strong, regional, kind of subnational cultures that had talked about and yearned for independence. I mean, the Basque country and Catalonia are two, the two examples historically that, you know, accumulated more strength. And so the Republic, again I didn’t, in the list of difficulties that the Republicans were facing, we should add also, “Trying to negotiate with these industry rich-provinces that were thinking about maybe trying to go it on their own.”
So Franco promised to hold Spain together and he was brutal in putting down expressions of Basque and Catalan culture.
JS: And here we are now in the present time.
JF: Here we are in democratic Spain.
JS: And it is very complicated, right, because history doesn’t repeat itself, right? And I’m not an expert in Catalonia, but I can look at it and see that it’s that there are all kinds of motives in the plea for independence and not all of them are as noble as we’d hope. But it at bottom, for me, what’s happening is that Spain is a — the Spanish government has been shown to be deeply corrupt for many years and the party that’s in power has been as corrupt, definitely as corrupt as any party in Spain’s democratic history and yet they keep winning elections.
And, you know, it’s funny, I compare it to my feeling being a New Yorker in Trump’s America. It’s like, you know, independence for New York would be a pretty attractive thing to me now, given what it means to be in this country being run this way. And I think that that’s part of it, too, it’s a kind of exhaustion and impatience with being part of a nation that just keeps electing corrupt politicians. The problem is that Catalonia’s politics are also corrupt in a lot of ways, so that’s where it gets really messy.
JS: As we sort of wrap up, for this generation of young people in the United States, what do you think is the historical lesson to take away from the history of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades?
JF: It’s kind of tough. It can’t be a lesson in what to do when, because people really have to reach that decision on their own. But here’s a historical example — a shining historical example — right, of a world kind of adrift, and some people who realize that some lines have been crossed and actually, OK, it’s time now to abandon pacifism and to do something else. When do you cross that line? That’s the thing. Nobody can be sure it’s time. And that’s the scary thing, that’s the terrifying thing, really, of living in times like these. You know? There’s a tee shirt you see once in awhile that says, “Is It Fascism Yet?” Right? It’s not like fascism is going to arrive on a steed. We’re going to drift into it.
That’s the fear. We could drifted into it. We can drift into it. And who are going to be the people who are going to say, “You know what? We’ve drifted too far. And normal tactics and normal institutions might not be able to get us out of this.”
When does that happen? I mean that’s the question that people have to ask themselves, right? Students would love me to tell them. And I’d love to be able to say, “Now’s the time. Here’s the line. This is too much. But I don’t.”
JS: Professor James Fernandez, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
JF: Thank you. That’s awesome.
The post The 3,000 Americans Who Fought Fascism Before World War II appeared first on The Intercept.
On August 6, 1956, Arnold Mesches had over 200 paintings stolen. When he returned to his Los Angeles art studio that day, the building’s glass front door was shattered. Someone had broken in. The paintings were gone, including a thirty-painting set dedicated to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose trial and execution he had protested. He suspected it was the FBI.
In 2000, his suspicions were confirmed. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, Mesches obtained a box filled with his own 760-page FBI file, discovering that from 1945 to 1972, he’d been carefully watched. Throughout his life as an acclaimed painter as well as an activist, the FBI had been keeping tabs on his personal life, places he lived and worked, book shops he visited, protests he attended and more.
Hundreds of informants had passed through his life. Some were friends, lovers, neighbors. Others posed as local artists. One was a student hiding a camera in his tie. Sometimes it was “a comrade in a meeting, an asshole buddy you trusted with your heart and being, a confidant whose life torments were deeply intertwined with your own, the trusted friend who sat next to you at a funeral,” Mesches wrote in 2001.
Even with his FBI file in hand, the artist still had no information about the 200 missing works, but could draw his own conclusions: the pages covering three months before and after the break-in were missing entirely from the file. Hundreds of other bits were redacted, as well, mostly in thick black marker. The visual power of those redactions resonated with Mesches. He thought they were beautiful, and decided to turn the files into artwork. Today, those works feel eerily prescient.
Fifteen years ago this month, in September of 2002, Mesches (who died last year) opened The FBI Files, an exhibit of forty collages and one painting, layering the pages of his own file with magazine clippings, illustrated texts, photographs and paintings. The result, at the MoMA P.S. 1 arts space, was not just a portrait of his own lived experience, but a series of unconventional illustrations of a moment in American cultural history, a collection of pieces brimming with personal philosophy and critical thought. Where the words are not hidden by government redactions, they are elsewhere covered up by, or juxtaposed with, movie posters, celebrities, slick advertisements, images of Malcolm X, the KKK and Playboy covers — all working together to tell multiple stories of violence, control and power.
On the 15th anniversary of the exhibit, it’s become clear that The FBI Files was ahead of its time. As life in America has become increasingly defined by post-9/11 surveillance, FBI files have emerged as a surprising yet legitimate medium for artistic expression. The pervasiveness of being watched by the state creates a vast anxiety, our world filled with concrete artifacts of declassified and leaked materials. As more artists have embraced these primary documents over the past decade-and-a-half, their artistic processes have filled in the gaps created by government redactions.
Earlier this year, Sadie Barnette’s exhibition Do Not Destroy featured her ex-Black Panther father’s extensive FBI files, which she decorated with glitter, rhinestones and pink paint, re-imagining them as a cross-generational family story. In 2004, Jenny Holzer began using declassified government files, projecting them onto the sides of buildings and referencing them in her Dust Paintings. In her 2016 Whitney Museum exhibition, Astro Noise, Intercept co-founding editor Laura Poitras included excerpts from her FBI file, too. Each of these works takes a different approach at creatively critiquing the pervasiveness of government surveillance, as each of these artists’ relationships with surveillance differ. But it is telling of the surveillance state we live in that these types of works are emerging as common and compelling, allowing artists to interpret and amplify the histories that the authorities don’t want you to hear.
Born in the Bronx, Mesches moved to Los Angeles as a teenager to study advertising design, but dropped out of college. He learned more from his personal practice of painting and protesting. He was working in Hollywood painting sets when studio workers famously went on strike in 1946. “I came out of that strike politically aware, determined, more than ever, to make socially relevant art,” he once said, according to an essay on his art by Howard Zinn, who explains that Hollywood had become “a glamorous target” for the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Perhaps the most moving aspect of The FBI Files is the way his work as an expressionist painter seeps in from the edges of these collages; these are emotional works, with equally distributed moments of sadness, intimacy, horror, humor and emptiness. Many of the pieces are overwhelmingly beautiful. There are pink-hued pages, vivid colors and broad strokes, abstract shapes and lines echoing the blacked out redactions.
Over the years, Mesches’ paintings (featured in over 100 solo shows, and at many major art institutions) depicted social unrest, war and violence. “My paintings are about the frailty of existence, the social tensions of our day, erosion, silence, madness, values, distance, comedy, ridicule and anger,” he wrote in a 1997 text surrounding an exhibition in Florida, where he lived for many years. With The FBI Files, his own life experiences shed further light on the stories he’d spent his life interrogating through art.
It makes sense that in 2014, when Mesches was 91, selections from The FBI Files were exhibited once again at the Life On Mars Gallery in Brooklyn. When Mesches made these works, he called them “illuminated manuscripts,” using paint and ink and mixed media to depict the government tracking his every move. In doing so, his work illuminates even more: the surreal conditions of surveillance we continue to live under today.
The post How Arnold Mesches Turned His FBI Surveillance Files Into Eerily Prescient Works of Art appeared first on The Intercept.
Convênios bilionários mantidos à custa de influência política, relações suspeitas com a Secretaria Especial de Saúde Indígena (Sesai), acusações de suborno de lideranças indígenas, denúncias de assédio moral e ameaças a funcionários da instituição. É assim que a Missão Evangélica Caiuá, sediada na zona rural de Dourados (MS) tornou-se dona da saúde indígena no Brasil, recebendo mais de R$ 2 bilhões do governo federal entre 2012 e 2017. A rede de atuação da entidade está na mira do Ministério Público, do Tribunal de Contas da União, do Ministério Público do Trabalho e da Polícia Federal.
Em 2000, a Caiuá firmou um convênio com a Fundação Nacional de Saúde (Funasa) para prestar serviços de atendimento à população indígena do Mato Grosso do Sul. A parceria durou até 2010, ano em que a Sesai é criada e passa a ser responsável por todas as ações de saúde voltadas aos povos indígenas do país. É a partir daí que o valor dos repasses e a quantidade de convênios entre a Missão Evangélica e a União explodem.
Em 2010, a ONG gerenciava sete dos 34 Distritos Sanitários Especiais Indígenas (DSEIs) do país. No ano seguinte, já eram 17 as unidades gestoras de saúde sob seu comando. Os R$ 36,5 milhões recebidos em 2010 saltaram para R$ 433,4 milhões em 2015, ano em que a Caiuá foi a segunda entidade sem fins lucrativos a receber mais dinheiro do governo federal, perdendo só para o Serviço Nacional de Aprendizagem Industrial (Senai). Somente em 2017, até maio (último dado disponível), a Caiuá já tinha levado R$ 248,6 milhões dos cofres públicos, e lidera o ranking de ONGs mais beneficiadas pela União.ONG tem 64% dos atendimentos
O domínio impressiona: a Caiuá responde por 64% dos atendimentos em saúde indígena. O restante fica a cargo de outras duas entidades: o Instituto de Medicina Integral Professor Fernando Figueira (IMIP) e a Associação Paulista para o Desenvolvimento da Medicina (SPDM). Com mais de 9 mil funcionários espalhados pelos 19 distritos sanitários em que tem contratos atualmente, a entidade atua do Acre ao Rio Grande do Sul – com destaque para Roraima e Mato Grosso do Sul. A ONG cobre, assim, uma população indígena estimada em 510 mil pessoas e é responsável por toda a contratação de profissionais de saúde especializados e pela gestão dos contratos. A Sesai fornece a estrutura adequada e os suprimentos necessários.
Instituição quase centenária, a Caiuá foi fundada em 1928 em Dourados por Albert Maxwell, pastor presbiteriano americano que decidiu empreender uma jornada de evangelização aos povos indígenas brasileiros. Além dos convênios, a entidade é dona do Hospital e Maternidade Indígena Porta da Esperança, inaugurado em 1963, e do Instituto Bíblico Felipe Landes. Além disso, criou a primeira Igreja Indígena Presbiteriana no Brasil, em 2008, e mantém diversas escolas no Mato Grosso do Sul, responsáveis por milhares de alunos, da pré-escola ao ensino médio.Jucá, o padrinho
Para entender a influência atual da Caiuá, é preciso voltar ao ano 2000, quando o farmacêutico Demetrius do Lago Pareja assumiu a coordenação de convênios e passou a ser responsável por toda a articulação política da entidade. Ele é apontado como o principal elo da ONG com o senador Romero Jucá (PMDB-RR), que se tornou o grande padrinho político da Caiuá.
“Ele (Jucá) é quem garante todo o aparato para que a Missão possa continuar com os contratos milionários. Eles batem no peito e desafiam a Justiça a apontar irregularidades na gestão deles. A maioria das denúncias eles conseguem abafar com essa influência forte de padrinhos políticos”, afirma Lindomar Ferreira Terena, ex-presidente do Distrito Sanitário de Mato Grosso do Sul.
Procurado, Romero Jucá se recusou a comentar suas relações com a Caiuá. Ainda um dos homens fortes do presidente Michel Temer (apesar dos 14 inquéritos a que responde no Supremo Tribunal Federal), Jucá se tornou o primeiro governador do recém-criado estado de Roraima, por nomeação de José Sarney, em 1988. Antes disso, de 1986 a 1988, presidiu a Fundação Nacional do Índio.
À frente da Funai, amealhou façanhas: loteou a instituição com indicações políticas, autorizou a extração ilegal de madeira em território indígena, reduziu o tamanho do Parque Yanomami, liberou áreas para exploração de mineração, expulsou médicos e missionários e ainda é citado em relatório da Comissão Nacional da Verdade (CNV) como responsável direto pelo genocídio de milhares de índios yanomamis. Para a CNV, Jucá permitiu que cerca de 40 mil garimpeiros invadissem as terras indígenas, o que causou um impacto devastador na comunidade.
Além do senador, a Caiuá teria a proteção também de Pastor Everaldo, presidente do PSC, partido que controla a Funai e tem promovido um desmonte completo na instituição, como admitiu o ex-ministro da Justiça Osmar Serraglio. O pastor evangélico Antônio Costa, que presidiu a Funai por menos de quatro meses este ano por indicação do PSC, é ex-funcionário da Caiuá, tendo atuado de 2005 a 2009 na instituição. Costa deixou o cargo em maio, trocando farpas com Serraglio e indicando divergências na cúpula.Empregos na ONG em troca de votos
Roraima é o estado com a maior população proporcional indígena do Brasil e concentra também a maior presença institucional da Caiuá, que controla o Distrito Leste e o Yanomami. Juntos, os dois somam mais de 1.800 funcionários da Caiuá e são responsáveis pelo atendimento de cerca de 75 mil indígenas.
Ismael Cardeal, coordenador da Caiuá em Roraima e um dos homens de confiança de Demetrius Pareja, está sendo investigado pela Polícia Federal por oferecer empregos na ONG em troca de votos para sua candidatura a vereador em 2016, cargo para o qual ele não conseguiu ser eleito. A PF realizou busca e apreensão de documentos e dinheiro na sede da entidade em Boa Vista em outubro de 2016. Procurada, a PF não comenta a questão por sigilo. A Missão Caiuá diz que aguarda o resultado do processo para decidir se demite ou não o coordenador regional.
As relações suspeitas entre políticos e gestores de distritos sanitários levaram a Hutukara Associação Yanomami a formalizar denúncia no Ministério Público Federal de Roraima e na Sesai em 2013. Os indígenas tiveram acesso a uma gravação de áudio que apresentava “indícios de ligações e influências” do deputado estadual Jânio Xingu (PSL) com Joana Claudete (coordenadora do DSEI Yanomami), Antônio Gonçalves (assessor de Planejamento do DSEI) e Ismael Cardeal. Para a associação, ficou claro à época nas gravações que havia uma articulação entre essas pessoas no sentido de manter a hegemonia da Caiuá nos convênios com a Sesai.
Na denúncia, a Hutukara afirmou ainda que o DSEI não cumpria a obrigação de disponibilizar os dados epidemiológicos e não era transparente com o uso dos recursos. Denunciaram também a falta de medicamentos, de infraestrutura e de condições para que as equipes de saúde prestem assistência básica. “Não compreendemos como o DSY [DSEI Yanomami] pode estar prestando um serviço de saúde com os problemas que vivenciamos tendo cerca de R$ 48 milhões só para o exercício de 2013, fora os mais R$ 38 milhões da Missão Evangélica Caiuá que é responsável apenas pela contratação dos funcionários. Este orçamento em anos anteriores era de R$ 8 milhões no máximo. Aumentaram os recursos mas não melhorou a saúde e a qualidade de vida”, diz o documento.
Três anos depois, numa mudança de postura no mínimo curiosa, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, presidente da Hutukara, assinou uma “Manifestação de Apoio à Missão Evangélica Caiuá”. Nela, elogia a Caiuá por pagar salários em dia; afirma que os funcionários estão satisfeitos com a entidade; diz que “não há ato que desabone o Coordenador (Ismael Cardeal) e funcionários do escritório da Caiuá em Roraima, uma vez que se pautam pela transparência nos seus atos”.
O presidente da associação diz ainda que a Hutukara, legítima representante do povo Yanomami e Ye’kuana, fiscaliza e monitora todas as ações da Caiuá no estado e, por fim, manifesta “total apoio à permanência da Caiuá como conveniada junto à Sesai para o DSEI Yanomami”. Davi Kopenawa afirma que questionamentos anteriores à Caiuá teriam ocorrido “por um erro de assessoramento”.
A carta teria sido redigida por Ismael Cardeal, com a anuência e supervisão de Demetrius Pareja, restando a Davi Kopenawa, presidente da Hutukara, a mera assinatura. Procurada, a Hutukara não se pronunciou até o fechamento desta matéria. Os representantes do DSEI Yanomami também se recusaram a comentar o caso. Em ofício enviado para a reportagem, o MPF/RR informa que arquivou a denúncia porque a apuração dos fatos mostrou que “nenhum servidor do DSEI-Yanomami ou político local teve influência na escolha e na manutenção da Caiuá, uma vez que houve um chamamento público federal”.Condições de trabalho em xeque
A Missão Evangélica Cauiá também já se viu às voltas com a Justiça do Trabalho. Em 2012, o Ministério Público do Trabalho (MPT) em Roraima ingressou com uma ação civil pública na Justiça do Trabalho contra a ONG e a União. O objetivo do MPT era assegurar melhores condições para os profissionais da área de saúde que prestam serviços nas comunidades indígenas de Roraima. À época, havia denúncias de condições precárias de trabalho.
Em 2015, a Caiuá firmou um acordo com o MPT, se comprometendo a mudar o modelo e oferecer padrões mínimos de higiene, saúde e segurança. Em entrevista a The Intercept Brasil, a procuradora do trabalho Safira Nila Rodrigues afirmou que a maioria das inconformidades foi ajustada, mas que recentes auditorias, incluindo a que foi realizada em 2017, mostram que a Caiuá ainda não cumpre com todas as condições colocadas – a escala de trabalho prevista em alguns contratos continua a não ser devidamente respeitada, por exemplo. Segundo ela, “o MPT tem ciência de todas dificuldades e está atento no bojo desse processo para requerer que a União também seja intimada. Vamos continuar nas fiscalizações dos polos de saúde”, promete.Falta de transparência
O controle social, através do Conselho Distrital de Saúde Indígena (CONDISI), dos DSEIs, dos Grupos de Trabalho e outras instâncias, é um dos mecanismos mais importantes que os indígenas têm à disposição para fiscalizar a aplicação dos recursos, a qualidade do atendimento, identificar as necessidades de cada povo e fazer suas reivindicações. No entanto, é um processo contaminado pelas influências políticas, que faz com que presidentes de DSEIs e de CONDISIs fiquem na mão das entidades, especialmente a Caiuá.
Para o procurador Gustavo Alcântara, o controle social definitivamente está aquém do que deveria. “As instâncias de controle não têm informações transparentes do que acontece, não têm acesso a vários documentos, não têm estrutura para trabalhar e recursos para realizar fiscalizações, reuniões e deliberações. Há muito o que melhorar”, enumera.
O caso do DSEI do Mato Grosso do Sul é bem sintomático dessa realidade. Lindomar Terena foi presidente da unidade por três meses em 2016. Tanto sua nomeação quanto sua exoneração, no início do governo Temer, causaram protestos – o que dá uma ideia das inúmeras brigas políticas que contaminam as questões indígenas do estado. Durante sua gestão, no entanto, Lindomar pôde apurar várias irregularidades.
Para ele, que atua na luta indígena pelo menos desde 2003 e mora na Terra Indígena Cachoeirinha, situada na divisa do Mato Grosso do Sul com o Paraguai, o estado em geral da saúde indígena é de calamidade pública e falta boa gestão para mudar isso. Lindomar também acusa a Missão Caiuá de utilizar indevidamente as instalações do próprio DSEI para suas despesas operacionais, de pressionar funcionários a defender a ONG, sob pena de demissão, e de manter funcionários fantasmas.
“Encaminhamos ao Ministério Público Estadual alguns dados de funcionários que ganhavam da Missão Caiuá sem trabalhar. Não podíamos conviver com aquela situação e eles foram demitidos. A Caiuá tentou nos intimidar conforme fazíamos auditoria mas mantemos nossa posição”, conta.
No caso da denúncia dos funcionários fantasmas, o MP não conseguiu provar as acusações feitas por Lindomar.Convênios ao menos até o fim do ano
Até 2016, a Sesai foi administrada pelo médico cirurgião Antônio Alves, que comandou a transição da Funasa para a secretaria. Alves teria relação próxima com Demetrius Pareja, o que pavimentou o caminho para que a Caiuá alcançasse os 19 DSEIs no chamamento público de 2013, convênios que serão mantidos até o fim de 2017 e possivelmente, caso uma nova extensão ocorra, até o fim de 2018.
Com a saída de Antônio Alves, a relação entre a Caiuá e seu sucessor no cargo, Rodrigo Rodrigues, hoje diretor de Proteção Territorial da Funai, foi marcada por animosidade. Lindomar Terena conta, por exemplo, que a Caiuá chegou a mandar mensagem para todos seus funcionários no Mato Grosso do Sul convocando-os a manifestarem apoio à Caiuá, para que a ONG continuasse com os convênios. Do contrário, todos seriam demitidos.
“Os funcionários foram para a rua, para o DSEI, para polo de saúde, para a BR, manifestando apoio a Caiuá. Eles usam os próprios funcionários para manter os convênios. Se os funcionários não manifestassem apoio, em 30 dias, todos estariam desempregados. E as pessoas, mal informadas, obedeceram”, afirma.
Segundo Lindomar, a Caiuá em Campo Grande nem se preocupa em ter escritório próprio. Em vez disso, aproveita-se da estrutura dos distritos que comanda. “Quando assumimos o DSEI, descobrimos que ela usava uma sala, as viaturas, telefone, internet, água, luz, tudo dentro dele. Como ficamos apenas 3 meses, não conseguimos removê-los, ela continuou e a nova gestão tomou conta. Esta é a forma que eles atuam no estado”, acusa.Alvo do TCU
Na sua cidade-sede, a Caiuá sempre chamou atenção: foi um dos alvos da chamada “CPI da Desnutrição Indígena”, finalizada em 2008. Na época, o escândalo da morte de mais de 80 crianças indígenas no Mato Grosso do Sul, vítimas de desnutrição ou de doenças associadas à inanição, teve repercussão internacional. O relatório da CPI indicou que havia conflitos de funcionários que não aceitavam o modelo de gestão terceirizado, questionado pelo Ministério Público do Trabalho e pela Controladoria Geral da União.
Para o procurador da República Marco Antonio Delfino de Almeida, que atua em Dourados há 9 anos, um dos fatores que dificultam a fiscalização é que a aplicação do recurso é descentralizada. “Torna-se uma investigação um pouco mais difícil porque em tese esses desvios são realizados nos locais sede e não aqui, em que receberiam só o pagamento. Esse é um fator que dificulta, especialmente com o crescimento que a Caiuá teve nos últimos anos”, afirma.
Há em curso contra a Caiuá também uma investigação do Ministério Público Federal e um processo em andamento no Tribunal de Contas da União (TCU) para auditar convênios da Sesai em todo o país. O processo foi enviado para relatoria do ministro Bruno Dantas em novembro de 2016 e aguarda julgamento do plenário colegiado do TCU, ainda sem previsão de acontecer. A reportagem teve o pedido de acesso ao processo negado.
No entanto, em entrevista, o secretário do TCU no Mato Grosso do Sul, Tiago Modesto, afirma que foram encontradas irregularidades nos convênios das três entidades responsáveis pela contratação de pessoal para os distritos sanitários (Caiuá, IMIP e SPDM). Segundo ele, a auditoria analisou se os profissionais contratados cumpriam a obrigação laboral de acordo com o total de horas previsto no sistema; se a fiscalização da gestão do convênio estava sendo realizada conforme a lei (Portaria Interministerial 507 e Decreto 8.901 de 2016); e se os cerca de 15% do valor de cada convênio para gestão do contrato foram de fato gastos com despesas administrativas.
“O que posso dizer no momento é que todas as entidades apresentaram desconformidades em relação à lei”, adianta Modesto. Segundo ele, a auditoria não partiu de uma denúncia específica, mas porque o volume de recursos repassados para a Caiuá chamou a atenção por ser alto demais.
“Convênios em geral possuem algumas fragilidades de controle, não costumam ter um controle muito apurado”, assume o secretário.
“Dentre as determinações dirigidas à Sesai, destaca-se a que se propõe exigir das convenentes “que todos os profissionais atualmente contratados e ativos comprovem junto às entidades a compatibilidade de seus vínculos adicionais”, bem como a que fixa prazo de 90 (noventa) dias à Sesai para exigir dessas entidades, inclusive da Missão Evangélica Caiuá (responsável pelos indígenas de Dourados/MS), providências com vistas a inserir nos planos de trabalhos de cada um dos convênios demonstração das estruturas de pessoal necessárias para sua gestão..”Outro lado: Caiuá nega irregularidades
Em entrevista concedida pelo seu coordenador de convênios, Demétrius Pareja, e pelo seu presidente nacional, Geraldo Silveira, a Missão Evangélica Caiuá negou todas as irregularidades e afirmou que assumiu os convênios com a Sesai “a contragosto”. Os dois representantes alegam que, no chamamento público de 2013, a intenção era administrar menos DSEIs mas que acabaram assumindo mais distritos “porque não tinha ONGs interessadas”, e a experiência da entidade a credenciava para assumir a responsabilidade.
A Caiuá também afirmou que todas as suas prestações de contas foram realizadas em dia e que, auditadas por instituições públicas, não apresentaram nenhuma irregularidade até o momento. Lembrou ainda que os dados podem ser vistos pelo sistema de convênios do governo federal em tempo real com total transparência.
Segundo seus representantes, a assembleia da instituição já deliberou que a Caiuá irá entregar todos os convênios até o fim de 2017 – ou no máximo até o fim de 2018, caso sejam ampliados pelo ministro Ricardo Barros. Mas após quase 20 anos atuando diretamente na saúde indígena, não participará de novos editais ou chamamentos da Sesai. “Os questionamentos e críticas quanto ao modelo de saúde indígena têm caído nas nossas costas. Isso tem trazido mais prejuízo que benefício para a imagem da instituição”, diz Silveira. Encerrados os atuais convênios, “está oficializado que a Missão não vai participar de novos chamamentos”, comprometeu-se.
Segundo eles, o volume de recursos recebido pelo governo federal teria passado a inibir as doações que sempre mantiveram as ações da instituição desde a sua fundação. De acordo com Pareja, o risco não compensa. “Acumulamos muitos questionamentos e inseguranças jurídicas. Gerir 9 mil funcionários é um risco institucional muito grande. São muitos políticos se arvorando como parte da Caiuá ou nos execrando porque não colaboramos com eles”, defende-se.
As doações recebidas de igrejas brasileiras e do exterior teriam caído mais de 60% em função do protagonismo que a Caiuá assumiu e das centenas de milhões que recebe por ano. “Quando mando uma circular pedindo uma doação para o hospital, por exemplo, a resposta que tenho é ‘porque vamos doar se vocês já recebem tanto?’. Isso é um incômodo muito grande para a instituição”, diz Silveira.
Segundo a entidade, as irregularidades apontadas em ação do Ministério Público do Trabalho de Roraima foram em função de responsabilidades não cumpridas da União. E reiterou que está ciente das investigações em curso do Ministério Público, do TCU e da Polícia Federal mas que, até o momento, a Caiuá não foi condenada e que garante total transparência na sua atuação.
A Caiuá negou qualquer relação com os políticos citados na reportagem que não a meramente protocolar e formal e também que o senador Romero Jucá tenha atuado como seu padrinho. Demetrius Pareja afirmou ainda que sua relação com Antonio Alves, secretário da Sesai, era cordial e próxima, mas absolutamente funcional.
A ONG também negou expressamente que mantenha funcionários fantasmas. Os representantes dizem que jamais ameaçaram ou assediaram moralmente seus funcionários de forma institucional e que todo caso esporádico foi investigado e punido internamente. Por fim, seus representantes reforçaram que a ONG sempre ficou à margem de eventuais disputas políticas.
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TENSIONS ARE RUNNING high in Barcelona. Last month saw a terrorist attack on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Las Ramblas, which killed a dozen people and injured more than 100. At the same time, Barcelona and the greater region of Catalonia are a day away from an independence referendum that has pitted the Catalan and Spanish governments against each other in a way unseen since the fall of Franco’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.
The central government in Madrid is bent on preventing the Oct. 1 referendum: in the last week, Spanish military police have shut down multiple websites associated with the referendum, and raided newspaper offices, TV stations and print shops in search of the ballots and ballot-boxes to be used in the vote. The Spanish interior minister has attempted to seize control of the Catalan police. Meanwhile, two ferries docked in Barcelona’s port are housing thousands of riot police that Madrid has said it plans on using to physically stop the vote. Spanish police have arrested at least a dozen members of the Catalan autonomous regional government and others involved with the independence movement, threatening charges of “sedition“ and “rebellion.“
Last month, as the referendum fervor was heating up, leading Spanish daily newspaper El Periódico published a document alleging that the CIA had warned the Catalan police about a potential attack in Barcelona. The document stated that three months before the attack, the CIA had warned the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, of “unsubstantiated information of unknown veracity“ pointing to a summer attack in Barcelona. The document (pictured below) named Las Ramblas as a potential target.
The revelation had huge implications—if true, it would represent a case of gross negligence on the part of the Catalan police and evidence that Catalonia’s president, interior minister, and police chief had lied to the public. But El Periodico’s initial story unraveled quickly: Soon after its publication, local journalists questioned the veracity of the document. Supposedly authored by the CIA, it was plagued with spelling and formatting errors typical of Spanish speakers. Even WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tweeted that he thought it looked fake.
The publication of the document raises many questions. If it is indeed fake, was it created by El Periódico, or did the newspaper get spun a fabrication by an outside source who was intent on undermining trust in Catalonia’s authorities? Just over one month after the attacks in Barcelona and prior to Catalonia’s impending referendum, The Intercept has delved into the strange case in an effort to shine light on the murky origins of the alleged CIA report.
The story started as a blip in the live coverage of the attack on Aug. 17, 2017. Less than one hour after a large van had rammed through crowds of people on Las Ramblas, El Periódico published an entry on its live blog stating that the “CIA warned the Mossos two months ago that Barcelona, specifically [Las Ramblas], could be the location of a terrorist attack like the attack that happened today.” At the time, dead bodies were still scattered across the street’s pedestrian center.
El Periódico wasn’t the only Spanish newspaper publishing articles trying to prove that police had been warned of a potential attack. In the days following the incident, for example, El País ran a story stating that Belgian intelligence had alerted the Mossos about one of the attackers earlier this year. But the El País report was quickly debunked. Still, the Spanish and Catalan press were eager for the police negligence story.
El Periódico published the first document on Aug. 31, which it claimed was a section of a CIA report about a potential attack in Barcelona. Days earlier, Catalonia’s president and interior minister had both made public statements saying that there had been no warning from the CIA, in response to El Periódico’s post on the day of the attack.
Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the Mossos, held a press conference to say the same, though he added one small detail—the Mossos did receive a warning in May about a potential attack in Barcelona, but it wasn’t from the CIA and it was sent to all levels of Spanish police. Trapero said that the Mossos, alongside the Spanish national police, military police and counterterrorism officials, had all determined the notice to be of “very low quality.” And either way, Trapero insisted, El Periódico’s document was false.
Still, the story was picked up all over Spain and internationally. Politicians and journalists accused Catalonia’s president, interior minister, and police chief of lying to the public about the alleged CIA warning. Each of the three officials were responsible for critical aspects of Catalan governance and all three supported the independence movement. With the Oct. 1 referendum looming, the accusations of negligence and misinformation were significant and damaging.
Enric Hernàndez, director of El Periódico, backpedaled in response to questions about the document’s veracity. In an interview with a Catalan radio station on the same day he published the purported CIA warning, Hernàndez stated that the document was authored by the CIA, but said that it was the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, not the CIA, that had sent the warning to the Catalan police.
Hernàndez added that the warning had also been sent to other Spanish police forces. When asked why he had singled out the Mossos for criticism, he avoided the question. And he bizarrely blamed email encryption for the typos and formatting errors that had appeared in the document.
The following day, Sept. 1, Hernàndez published another article about the alleged CIA warning, including what he called a complete version of the document. The document was similar to the original, with some of the typos corrected. The accompanying article no longer mentioned the CIA, and instead adopted a more generic term: “American intelligence.” Hernandez said the document had been sent from the National Counterterrorism Center to the Mossos and also to CITCO, Spanish counterterrorism police.
As the backlash continued, Hernàndez revised his story again. The published document, he said, wasn’t an original after all—the newspaper had created it based on the text of the original. Hernàndez maintained that his source had, just before publishing, requested that the original document not be published. So El Periódico mocked-up its own version.
Hernàndez stands by his reporting on the case. He said in an interview with The Intercept that the only error El Periódico made was to not initially state that the purported CIA document was an inauthentic version that the newspaper’s staff had recreated.
According to Hernàndez, he first heard about the alleged CIA notice from two sources in the Catalan government on two separate occasions in late May. (In interviews with other media, Hernàndez has said these two conversations took place in June.) The first source, he says, tipped him off to the existence of the warning, and the second, a day later, read him its contents. Both sources said the warning was from the CIA and had been sent to the Mossos raising alarm about a potential attack in Barcelona. Hernàndez says he was not physically shown the document in either meeting.
Journalists at El Periódico began investigating further, Hernàndez says, after the Catalan president, interior minister and police chief denied the existence of a CIA warning in the days following the attack. That’s when, he says, they obtained the alleged document. Hernàndez would not discuss whether or not he tried to verify the document with sources in the U.S.“This is a debate between truth and lies.”
“We had two sources,” Hernandez explains, “so either they both deceived us in the moment, and this warning was never sent and was an invention, or [the Catalan officials] deceived the public by denying the existence of the warning.”
Hernàndez’s battle seems almost personal: “If on Aug. 20, the president of the [Catalan government] hadn’t denied the existence of the warning, we wouldn’t have looked further into it,” he says. “This is a debate between truth and lies.”
The CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Press officers from the National Counterterrorism Center refused to speak about the case.
However, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the National Counterterrorism Center did state that it had no record of any communications sent in 2017 between its office, Spanish counterterrorism police, or the Mossos.
Hernandez argues that the communication was classified, and thus there would have been no record available under FOIA. But Sally Nicholson, FOIA Chief for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the agency responsible for National Counterterrorism Center records, says that in the case of her agency, that is not how it works.
“If there had been communications but they were classified, the FOIA response would have said so,” Nicholson explains. “If you have a request for something that an agency can’t admit to doing, can’t confirm or deny, you still get that answer. You’ll get ‘we can’t confirm or deny, because just by confirming or denying it would give out a classified fact.’”
“If we had an exclusion for records, we would cite the exclusion in the response,” Nicholson adds, “in this case, there are no exclusions that are being cited.”
Las Ramblas is like Barcelona’s Times Square—one of the city’s central streets and tourist destinations. As much now as before the attack, the street’s pedestrian walkway, which leads from the city’s central square to the Mediterranean sea, is constantly packed with tourists, street vendors, restaurants and the occasional artist. Even before the attack, police flanked either side of the entrance, sporting submachine guns and military-style police vans.
After the attack, police quickly found plans for what would have been a larger, more deadly attack: the detonation of a rental truck full of gas canisters next to the Sagrada Familia, another one of Barcelona’s famous landmarks. That plan was foiled when the person modifying the gas canisters set them off prematurely in a house about 120 miles south of Barcelona.
For people on both sides of the Catalan independence movement, the Barcelona attack came to represent a grave example of the other sides’ failings, explains Josep Àngel Guimerà, a journalism professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Separatist press argued that there was a lack of communication between Spanish and Catalan counterterrorism police, says Guimerà. For unionists—with the help of El Periódico’s reporting—the attack came to represent the failings of the Catalan police and three top figures in the independence movement.
Guimerà notes that journalists on both sides of the movement were quick to react to the publication of the alleged CIA report. “All of the media that stand opposed to the Catalan independence movement believed Enric [Hernàndez, the director of El Periódico]. And all of those that support the movement doubted him,” says Guimerà. “There was an almost-automatic response on behalf of the media to believe the warning or not.”
Another issue is that Spanish media don’t typically fact-check their articles or investigations, says María Ramírez, a journalist with two decades of experience working for Spanish media. Ramírez is quick to add that individual journalists do often scrutinize and fact-check their own work, but it’s not a common practice.
“There is no newspaper in Spain that has processes of fact-checking like in the U.S.,“ Ramírez, now a journalism fellow at Harvard, explains. “Typically [Spanish journalists], when a source passes them a document, will publish it and that’s it. It would be much more valuable to find another source and build a narrative to explain.”
“If you just publish without checking,” she adds, “you’re not doing your job for readers.”
Beyond that lies another question: If the document is indeed false, who created it?
Journalist Carlos Enrique Bayo, head of investigations at Madrid-based news organization Público, has been working on cases like these for a year and a half. In 2016, he and a colleague, Patricia López, obtained explosive recordings of conversations that took place inside the office of Spain’s then-Minister of Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz.
The publication of the conversations—in which Fernández Díaz and the former head of the Catalan anti-fraud office can be heard discussing a secret political police force—triggered a major investigation in the Spanish Congress. Congressional investigators verified that Fernández Díaz had, during his tenure as Spain’s interior minister, created a covert police unit tasked with obstructing corruption investigations into the conservative People’s Party, which has been in government in Spain since 2011. According to the congressional probe, the political police also worked to investigate Fernández Díaz’s opponents, among them people involved with the rising leftist-populist movement in Spain and the independence movement in Catalonia.
In both cases, congressional investigators found that Spanish police had leaked falsified documents to the press in order to discredit the then-Interior Minister’s adversaries. Bayo notes that one of those police, José Luis Olivera, now leads CITCO, the counterterrorism agency that supposedly received the purported U.S. intelligence document published by El Periódico. (CITCO did not respond to requests for comment.)
Is this a smoking gun? Bayo says no, it is not. But, he adds, it is strange that “right now, a document would appear, written in terrible English, that they say was sent by U.S. intelligence directly to the Mossos, when evidently intelligence agencies typically speak among each other.”
Josep Àngel Guimerà, the journalism professor, agrees. While it is impossible to be certain about what happened, he says he blames a politically-minded leak and journalists who don’t fact check.
“I’m sure there is a report somewhere that says generally that Las Ramblas is a target,” Guimerà remarks. But, he adds: “Out of one grain of sand, there are people here that have tried to build a mountain.”
The post How A Dubious CIA Document Is Fueling Tensions In Catalonia appeared first on The Intercept.