The Intercept

Mexican Journalist Carmen Aristegui Slams Government Spyware Targeting Her Teenage Son

18 July 2017 - 11:36am

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As the son of Mexico’s most famous journalist, Emilio Aristegui Flores is used to people clamoring for a moment of his mother’s time. Carmen Aristegui, the dogged investigator and press freedom advocate, draws near-constant attention from her fellow reporters and citizens in the street alike. In a country long ruled by corrupt and powerful strongmen, Aristegui, a relentless woman with a microphone, has been an inspiration — and irritant — to many. For 18-year-old Emilio, it’s a dynamic he’s grown up with, and one that makes sense. What’s harder for him to wrap his head around is that his own government would go so far as to deploy multi-million dollar spying tools designed to take down terrorists and other national security threats against him, a teenage kid, in order to get at his mother.

Carmen and Emilio Aristegui had their phones targeted by a sophisticated hacking tool called Pegasus beginning two years ago, in a far-reaching surveillance scandal that has just been revealed in recent months. Forensic experts investigating the tools in question say the aggressiveness of the campaign in Mexico is unlike anything they have ever seen. And while the surveillance targets include many Mexican media figures, a government scientist, and international human rights investigators — each united by challenges they have publicly posed to the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — so far, it appears nobody got it worse than Emilio and his mother. An examination of their phones revealed that each were targeted dozens of times with tailor-made messages to entice them to click, including while Emilio, who was 16 years old when the attacks started, was attending high school in the United States.

In an interview with The Intercept, Aristegui called the attacks “sinister.” By targeting her family with tools designed to fight terror and crime, Aristegui told The Intercept, the Mexican government is treating its critics like “enemies of the state.” And she is demanding answers not only as journalist, but as a parent as well.

“What did they want to know about my son Emilio?” Aristegui asked. “Why did the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, want to know about the friendships, the communication my son had, his photos, what he does, what he says in real time? That is what Pegasus does. When you are with somebody, they are listening to you. When you are speaking, watching or doing something with someone in your house or in a cafe or wherever you may be, they are there listening to you, watching everything that you do. Everything that you do in your bedroom, the shower, in your kitchen, in your office with your friends or whoever.”

The story of how Aristegui and her son were wrapped up in a sprawling surveillance scandal underscores the increasingly dire situation for reporters in Mexico — a nation where murders of journalists go unsolved — and reflects the danger in marketing private spy gear to weak democracies with a tendency towards authoritarianism.

In conversations with The Intercept — Emilio’s first ever with a media outlet — the Aristeguis described how the attacks began, what they say about tolerance for dissent in Mexico, and how the family plans to move forward. The accounts of the hacking that they experienced are backed up by a series of recent reports published by The Citizen Lab, a forensics research outfit at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with a crew of Mexican NGOs, including R3D, Social Tic and Article 19. The forensics reports have been further fleshed out by a collection of stories published by the New York Times’ Mexico City bureau.

To date, there is no definitive evidence concretely linking the Mexican government to the hacking efforts — though Citizen Lab’s experts have noted that the forensic information they have gathered pointing to government involvement is “about as good as it gets.” The New York Times has reported that “since 2011, at least three Mexican federal agencies have purchased about $80 million worth of spyware” from NSO Group, the Israeli company that manufactures Pegasus. The company insists that its products are sold only to governments, and the use of such invasive technologies against activists and political opponents would be illegal under Mexican law.

In Aristegui’s view, there is no question where responsibility lies. “The Mexican government is responsible for all this because Pegasus, which is an Israeli system, is only sold to governments and the Mexican government has acquired this and other spying systems, and that only leaves us to say that the Mexican government was responsible for this spying,” she said. “The Mexican government has to explain clearly why and to what end they used these spying systems, with public money that paid for it, to spy on journalists, a son of a journalist, and human rights lawyers.”

Yet she has little faith that the government will conduct a credible investigation into itself. “That is why those of us who are the ones affected by this situation and people who are worried by the issue are calling for an investigation independent from the Mexican government,”Aristegui said, “that would preferably include independent international experts, an investigation that will sanction those who are behind Pegasus.”

Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui speaks during an interview with AFP about the New York Times reporting on the spyware scandal in Mexico City on June 22, 2017.

Photo: Bernardo Montoya/AFP/Getty Images

As far as Aristegui and the forensic experts examining her case can tell, the veteran journalist’s troubles began after her website, Aristegui Noticias, broke a major story in November 2014 revealing that President Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera, had received a sweetheart real estate deal from a contractor close to her husband, paving the way for the purchase of a roughly $7 million home well outside of the family’s budget. “This house was located in one of the most luxurious areas of Mexico and it was registered in the name of a contractor, a businessman, who was friends with the president and possessed the legal register of this residence that the president and his family lived in,” Aristegui explained. The so-called Casa Blanca scandal eventually forced the first lady to give up the property and, two years later, resulted in an apology from the president himself. Though a far cry from official accountability, it was an achievement of sorts — but it came at a price. “This journalistic investigation, for those of us journalists who participated in it, came with a high cost and led to us getting kicked off the radio in Mexico,” Aristegui said. In the months that followed, Aristegui’s office was broken into and she was targeted with a series of lawsuits, including one accusing her of “excessive use of freedom of speech.”

“They have tried to annihilate us using censorship and lawsuits against us and attacks like a break-in,” Aristegui said.

In the wake of Casa Blanca, Aristegui started to get mysterious text messages on her personal cellphone. The first appeared on January 12, 2015, two months after the Casa Blanca story broke. The text informed Aristegui that her “previous message was not sent” and provided a link. More than two-dozen messages would follow over the next year and a half. The content varied and evolved over time. Several of the early messages reflected familiar phishing attempts — claims about past due balances in various accounts — but they soon became more specific. One text, delivered in July 2015, reported that Anonymous had announced plans to hack Aristegui’s website and provided a link for more info. Another purported to come from the U.S. Embassy, advising Aristegui that there was a problem with her visa.

Aristegui did her best to disregard the dubious links filling her inbox. “At one point in the beginning I consulted with people who told me, this is a system that installs itself on your phone, just don’t open it, don’t pay attention to it, and that is what we did,” she said. But the messages kept coming and, in March 2016, whoever was sending them began intensifying their focus on Aristegui’s son, Emilio, who was attending high school in Massachusetts. The first message Emilio had received, in August 2015, appeared tailor-made to grab his attention: a link to a news website reporting that the presidency was considering jailing journalists involved in the Casa Blanca reporting. Others appeared to come from friends asking if Emilio had changed his Facebook and Twitter accounts. Like his mother, Emilio received a faked message from the U.S. Embassy concerning his visa — a potential violation of U.S. law considering Emilio’s status as a student legally studying in the United States at the time.

For Emilio, the electronic onslaught was bewildering. “It is a situation that you, as a teenager, find yourself in and you don’t know what to do because it is not part of your upbringing where they tell you this is going to happen — there is no preparation someone can give you regarding this situation,” Emilio said. “I am still in shock.” While he initially tried to ignore them, Emilio described the messages he received as “devilish” in their design, baiting him with “information about who I am, what I am interested in, who I hang out with, messages that are made for me to make me interested enough to click so that my phone gets tapped.”

By summer 2016, the attackers targeting the Aristegui family shifted their tactics again, alternating between mother and son with new messages every few days. “Emilio and myself each received so many of these kinds of messages,” Aristegui said. “There were a lot of attempts to gain access to our private conversations.”

A chart depicts how an espionage tool infects mobile phones during a journalists’ press conference in Mexico City on June 19, 2017.

Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

Though it was obvious to Aristegui that something was afoot, a deeper understanding of what was going on did not become possible until earlier this year, when the researchers at The Citizen Lab published a report revealing that a prominent scientist working with the Mexican government’s National Institute for Public Health, as well as two NGO directors, had been targeted with sophisticated surveillance technology exclusively marketed to governments. Each of the targets had been involved in a campaign to support a tax on sugary drinks — an issue that public health experts consider critical given the soaring rates of obesity and related illnesses in Mexico. Efforts to raise taxes on soda in Mexico have been met with intense corporate and political pushback, with the CEO of Coca Cola going so far as to personally call President Peña Nieto to solicit his support in opposing a tax.

Citizen Lab had previously investigated a similar case in the United Arab Emirates, one in which an activist’s cellphone was hacked with high-end, government-exclusive spyware. Citizen Lab determined that the secretive Israeli company NSO Group was responsible for the technology that allowed for the hacking of the activist’s phone, and it seemed the same tool was at work in Mexico.

Marketing itself as “a leader in Cyber warfare,” NSO has insisted that its surveillance tools are strictly designed for use by “authorized government agencies,” as a means to combat “terror and crime.” The product that’s made NSO famous, despite the company’s efforts to keep a low-profile, is Pegasus, a tool designed to allow government customers to gain remote access to cellphones by tricking targets into clicking links that expose the phone’s operating system. Once described by Forbes as “the world’s most invasive mobile spy kit,” Pegasus allows NSO customers virtually unfettered access to the phone’s most sensitive features, including its microphone, camera, text messages, contact list, and so on — in real time.

While the company is Israeli, NSO maintains significant U.S. ties. Francisco Partners Management LLC, an American private equity firm, purchased the company for $120 million in 2014 (NSO is reportedly now up for sale again, with a price tag exceeding $1 billion.) The company, operating under a different name, also at one point paid former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn more than $40,000 to serve as an advisory board member.

After Citizen Lab published its report in February concluding that the same Pegasus technology it detected in the UAE case had been used against the soda tax campaigners in Mexico, Aristegui got in touch with local researchers on the ground in Mexico and turned over the messages that she and Emilio had received. The Aristeguis’ suspicions were confirmed — they too had been targeted with Pegasus spyware. And they were not alone.

In a report published in June, Citizen Lab and its partners in Mexico revealed that it uncovered “over 76 messages with links to NSO Group’s exploit framework.” The affected individuals included two of Aristegui’s colleagues — Rafael Cabrera and Sebastián Barragán — as well as Carlos Loret de Mola, a well-known Mexican investigative journalist and TV anchor. Around the time that he began receiving disturbing messages, Mola was reporting on a potential cover-up on the part of the federal government stemming from an operation in which Mexican security forces killed 42 suspected drug traffickers. Forensic evidence also pointed to cellphone hacking attempts targeting journalists Salvador Camarena and Daniel Lizárraga. According to Citizen Lab, at the time that the two journalists began receiving Pegasus-linked text messages, they were “investigating evidence of offshore holdings linked to corrupt officials and prominent individuals in Mexico.”

Civil society activists and journalists pretend to turn themselves in during a protest against alleged government spying on the media and human rights defenders, outside the attorney general’s office in Mexico City on June 23, 2017.

Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

In a particularly chilling development, Citizen Lab also uncovered evidence that legal advocates with the Centro Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez had been hit with NSO exploit links. For more than two years, Centro PRODH, as it’s known in Mexico, has provided legal support to the parents of students from a rural teaching college called Aytozinapa. In September 2014, a contingent of more than 100 students from the school, most of them freshmen, were targeted in a coordinated attack by Mexican security forces. Six students were killed in the assault, two dozen were wounded and 43 disappeared at the hands of local police — a chip of bone belonging to one of the students was later recovered, the rest have not been seen since. The crime rocked Mexico and in 2015 The Intercept published the results of seven-month investigation into the students’ disappearance, which revealed glaring holes in the government’s investigation into the case. Amid public outcry that included massive protests across the country, a team of highly-respected independent human rights investigators appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were invited by the Mexican government to investigate the crime. This month, Citizen Lab revealed that the independent experts, despite their diplomatic immunity status, were also targeted with NSO spyware, with the attacks beginning shortly after the team “criticized the Mexican government for interference in their investigation, and as they were preparing their final report” on the students’ disappearance.

Aristegui is quick to put her family’s ordeal in the proper context. “Sadly, there are cases that are much worse than ours,” she said. “Mexico has been converted into one of the highest risk countries to be a journalist. In the past 15 years in Mexico more than 100 journalists have been killed — 100 dead journalists.”

Still, Aristegui argued, the forces that were leveled against her and others reveal uncomfortable truths about the state of democracy in Mexico. “I believe that the Mexican government has authoritarian leanings,” she explained. “You would not define the government of Peña Nieto as a democratic government. The way that they conduct themselves, espionage being one of them, and all that has happens with this government, is what happens under an authoritarian state. Democracy is not exercised here because democracy includes respect of dissidents, the opposition and of the work of critical journalists.”

“If this is non-existent,” Aristegui asked, “What democracy are we speaking about?”

Emilio, for his part, still has a hard time believing that the whole ordeal happened in the first place. High school is weird enough — adding international news stories reporting that you and your mom were the targets of a state-sponsored hacking campaign takes things to a whole other level. “My friends, they’re angry,” he said. “[Because] at the end of the day if I am tapped they also are tapped. Considering our age, for us it is a surprise. It is not something that you think will happen.” Emilio added, “You also don’t know what their reaction will be like. Do you take it in a humorous fashion or do you take it seriously or both? It is a very intense thing that they spied on a minor that lives abroad.”

As intense as the experience was, Emilio remains a steadfast supporter of the work his mother does. “I have so much admiration for my mom. She is a leader for me and the most important person in my life and I am so proud of her and I hope that I can follow in her path. She should keep doing what she is doing,” he said. “This country needs what she is doing.”

The post Mexican Journalist Carmen Aristegui Slams Government Spyware Targeting Her Teenage Son appeared first on The Intercept.

Jornalista Carmen Aristegui e seu filho denunciam uso de software de espionagem pelo governo do México

18 July 2017 - 11:25am

Filho da jornalista mais famosa do México, Emilio Aristegui Flores está mais do que acostumado a ver gente implorando para falar com a mãe dele. Investigadora obstinada e defensora da liberdade de imprensa, Carmen Aristegui não anda na rua sem chamar a atenção de colegas repórteres e cidadãos mexicanos. Em um país governado há anos por políticos corruptos e opressores, a implacável Aristegui e seu microfone inspiram muitos e irritam outros tantos.

Emilio, de 18 anos, cresceu nesse contexto. Para ele, isso tudo é normal. O que ele não consegue entender é o fato de o governo mexicano chegar ao ponto de usar ferramentas de espionagem que custam milhões de dólares, feitas para parar terroristas e outras ameaças à segurança nacional, contra um adolescente como ele, com o intuito de atingir sua mãe.
Há dois anos, os telefones de Carmen e Emilio Aristegui foram alvos do Pegasus, um sofisticado programa de hacking. Mãe e filho são vítimas de um grande escândalo de monitoramento que veio à tona há poucos meses. Peritos legais que investigam o uso dessas ferramentas afirmam nunca terem visto uma operação de hacking tão violenta quanto a que aconteceu no México. Entre os alvos do monitoramento, estão personalidades da mídia mexicana, cientistas do governo e pesquisadores internacionais de direitos humanos — pessoas que têm em comum o fato de terem contestado publicamente ações do governo Enrique Peña Nieto. Mas parece que o pior caso é mesmo o de Emilio e sua mãe. Uma análise revelou que os telefones receberam dúzias de mensagens direcionadas para eles, feitas sob medida para levá-los a clicar e infectar seus aparelhos com o programa de espionagem. Na época em que os ataques começaram, Emilio tinha 16 anos e estudava num colégio nos Estados Unidos.

Em entrevista a The Intercept, Aristegui classificou os ataques de “sinistros”. Ao usar contra sua família ferramentas feitas para combater terroristas e criminosos, o governo mexicano deixa claro que trata críticos como “inimigos do Estado”, afirma Aristegui. Ela exige respostas — não só como jornalista, mas como mãe.

“O que eles queriam saber sobre meu filho Emilio?”, pergunta ela. “Por que o governo de Enrique Peña Nieto quer saber das amizades, dos contatos, das fotos do meu filho, o que ele faz e fala em tempo real? É isso que o Pegasus faz. Quando você está com alguém, ele ouve a conversa. Quando você está falando ou assistindo a alguma coisa ou fazendo alguma coisa com alguém na sua casa, num café ou qualquer outro lugar, eles estão escutando, vigiando tudo o que você faz. Tudo o que você faz no seu quarto, no banho, na cozinha, no escritório, com seus amigos ou qualquer outra pessoa”.

A história de como Aristegui e seu filho se viram reféns de um vasto escândalo de monitoramento é mais uma prova da situação de calamidade em que vivem repórteres no México, um país em que casos de assassinato de jornalistas não costumam ser resolvidos. E mostra também o perigo por trás da comercialização de equipamentos de espionagem privada para democracias fracas e com tendências autoritárias.

Em conversas com The Intercept, as primeiras de Emilio com um veículo de imprensa, os Aristeguis contam como os ataques começaram, o nível de intolerância à divergência no México e os planos da família para seguir em frente. Os relatos deles estão respaldados por uma série de relatórios recentemente publicados por The Citizen Lab, uma equipe de investigadores forenses da Munk School of Global Affairs, da Universidade de Toronto (Canadá), em colaboração com um time de ONGs mexicanas como R3D, SocialTIC e Artigo 19. Esses relatórios foram esmiuçados por uma série de reportagens publicadas pela redação do New York Times na Cidade do México.

Até o momento, não há prova definitiva que ligue diretamente o governo mexicano às ações de hacking, apesar de peritos do Citizen Lab afirmarem que as informações coletadas sobre um eventual envolvimento do governo são “as melhores possíveis”. O New York Times informou que “desde 2011, pelo menos três agências federais mexicanas investiram 80 milhões de dólares em softwares de espionagem” da NSO Group, a empresa israelense que fabrica o Pegasus. A companhia afirma que seus produtos são vendidos exclusivamente para governos e que o uso de tecnologias invasivas contra ativistas e opositores políticos é ilegal segundo a lei mexicana.

Para Arestegui, não há dúvidas quanto à responsabilidade pelos ataques. “O governo mexicano é responsável por tudo isso porque o Pegasus, que é um sistema israelense, só é vendido para governos, e o governo mexicano adquiriu esse e outros sistemas de espionagem. Isso só pode querer dizer que o governo mexicano é o responsável por esse caso de espionagem”, afirma ela. “O governo mexicano tem que explicar claramente por quê e com que objetivo sistemas de espionagem pagos com dinheiro público foram usados contra jornalistas, contra o filho de uma jornalista e contra advogados de direitos humanos”.

No entanto, Arestegui não acredita que o governo seja capaz de investigar a si mesmo com credibilidade. “É por isso que nós, que fomos afetados, e as pessoas que estão preocupadas com essa questão estamos exigindo uma investigação independente do governo mexicano, que inclua, de preferência, peritos independentes internacionais. Uma investigação para punir quem está por trás do Pegasus”, diz ela.

 

A jornalista mexicana Carmen Aristegui dá entrevista à AFP após o artigo do New York Times sobre o escândalo de espionagem. Cidade do México, 22/06/2017.

Photo: Bernardo Montoya/AFP/Getty Images

De acordo com Aristegui e os peritos forenses que investigam o caso, os problemas da experiente jornalista começaram depois que seu site “Aristegui Notícias” revelou, em novembro de 2014, que a esposa do presidente Peña Nieto, Angélica Rivera, tinha feito um negócio da China com um empreiteiro próximo de seu marido ao adquirir uma casa de 7 milhões de dólares, um valor incompatível com o orçamento da família. “A casa ficava em uma das regiões mais luxuosas do México. Estava registrada no nome do empreiteiro, um empresário amigo do presidente e que tinha o registro legal dessa residência em que o presidente e sua família moravam”, detalha Aristegui. O escândalo da Casa Branca, como ficou conhecido, acabou levando a primeira-dama a desistir da propriedade. Dois anos depois, o próprio presidente pediu desculpas pelo episódio. Apesar de não ter levado a uma prestação de contas oficial, a reportagem de Aristegui teve êxito — mas teve também um preço. “Para nós, jornalistas que participamos dessa apuração, o custo foi muito alto. Fomos expulsos da rádio no México”, conta ela. Nos meses seguintes, o escritório de Aristegui foi invadido e ela foi processada diversas vezes, inclusive por “uso excessivo da liberdade de expressão”.

 

“Tentaram acabar com a gente usando censura, abrindo processos e realizando ataques como a invasão ao escritório”, conta Aristegui. Logo após o episódio da Casa Branca, a jornalista começou a receber uma série de misteriosas mensagens de texto no seu telefone celular pessoal. A primeira foi em 12 de janeiro de 2015, dois meses depois da publicação da matéria. A mensagem informava Aristegui de que um SMS anterior não havia sido enviado e dava um link para resolver o problema. Ela recebeu mais de duas dúzias de mensagens como essa ao longo de um ano e meio. O conteúdo variava e foi evoluindo com o passar do tempo. Muitas das primeiras mensagens apontavam saldos vencidos em diversas contas, um tipo bem conhecido de phishing, mas logo foram se tornando mais específicas. Uma mensagem de julho de 2015 dizia que o Anonymous tinha anunciado planos para hackear o site de Aristegui e dava um link para mais informações. Outra dizia vir da Embaixada dos Estados Unidos para avisar Aristegui de que havia um problema com seu visto.

Aristegui fez o possível para ignorar os links estranhos que enchiam sua caixa de entrada. “Em determinado momento, logo no início, pedi conselho para algumas pessoas, que me disseram que era um sistema que se instalaria no meu telefone. Me falaram para não abrir o link, para não dar atenção a isso, e foi o que eu fiz”, conta ela. Mas as mensagens continuaram a chegar e, em março de 2016, o foco mudou para o filho de Aristegui, Emilio, que estava cursando o ensino médio em Massachusetts. O primeiro SMS recebido por Emilio parece ter sido feito sob medida para atrair a atenção dele: era um link para um site que noticiava que a presidência estava pensando em prender jornalistas envolvidos na reportagem sobre a Casa Branca. Outras mensagens, que pareciam vir de amigos de Emilio, perguntavam se ele tinha mudado suas contas de Facebook e Twitter. Como já havia acontecido com a mãe, Emilio também recebeu uma mensagem falsa da Embaixada dos Estados Unidos sobre seu visto — uma possível violação da lei norte-americana, já que Emilio tinha o status legal de estudante à época.

O ataque eletrônico desnorteou Emilio. “É uma situação à qual um adolescente não sabe reagir, porque não é algo que te ensinaram que pode acontecer. Ninguém pode te preparar para esse tipo de situação”, afirma ele. “Ainda estou em choque”. Apesar de ter tentado ignorar as mensagens num primeiro momento, Emilio conta que elas eram “perversas”, feitas para seduzí-lo, mostrando informações sobre quem ele era, seus centros de interesse, as pessoas que frequentava. “Mensagens direcionadas para mim, para que eu ficasse interessado o suficiente para clicar e assim grampear meu próprio telefone”.

No verão de 2016, os hackers mudaram mais uma vez de estratégia e passaram a alternar entre mãe e filho, mandando novas mensagens periodicamente. “Emilio e eu recebemos tantas dessas mensagens”, conta Aristegui. “Foram muitas as tentativas de acesso às nossas conversas privadas”.

Gráfico explica como funciona um software de espionagem em uma entrevista coletiva na Cidade do México (19/06/2017).

Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

Apesar de ter ficado óbvio para Aristegui que havia algo de errado, ela só conseguiu entender a fundo o que estava acontecendo no início deste ano, quando pesquisadores do Citizen Lab publicaram um relatório revelando que um importante cientista do Instituto Nacional de Saúde Pública do governo mexicano e dois diretores de ONG tinham sido monitorados graças a uma sofisticada tecnologia de espionagem, vendida exclusivamente para governos. Os três alvos tinham participado da campanha para taxar bebidas açucaradas — uma iniciativa que especialistas em saúde pública consideram essencial, dadas as altas taxas de obesos e de doenças relacionadas à obesidade no México. Os esforços para aumentar os impostos sobre refrigerantes no país têm provocado uma forte reação por parte de políticos e empresários. O CEO da Coca Cola chegou a ligar diretamente para o presidente Peña Nieto para pedir o apoio dele no combate ao aumento dos impostos.

O Citizen Lab já tinha investigado um caso parecido nos Emirados Árabes Unidos, onde o celular de um ativista foi hackeado por softwares de espionagem de ponta, de venda exclusiva para governos. O laboratório concluiu que a dissimulada empresa israelense NSO Group era a responsável pela tecnologia que permitira a invasão ao telefone do ativista. Aparentemente, a mesma ferramenta foi usada no México.

A NSO se vende como “um líder na guerra cibernética” e alega que os dispositivos de monitoramento são feitos exclusivamente para o uso de “agências governamentais autorizadas” com fins de combate “ao terror e ao crime”. O produto que deu fama à NSO, apesar do esforço para mantê-lo discreto, é o Pegasus. O programa dá ao governo acesso remoto a telefones celulares assim que os alvos clicam em links que expõem o sistema operacional de seus aparelhos. O Pegasus, que já foi descrito pela Forbes como “o kit de espionagem móvel mais invasivo do mundo”, permite que seus clientes tenham acesso quase irrestrito — e em tempo real — às informações mais íntimas armazenadas em um telefone, como o microfone, a câmera, as mensagens de texto e a lista de contatos.

Apesar de israelense, a NSO tem fortes ligações com os Estados Unidos. A Francisco Partners Management LLC, uma empresa norte-americana de capital privado, comprou a companhia por 120 milhões de dólares em 2014 (informações dão conta de que a NSO está novamente à venda, por um preço superior a 1 bilhão de dólares). Na época em que operava com outro nome, a empresa chegou a pagar mais de 40 mil dólares para o ex-conselheiro de segurança nacional do governo Trump, Michael Flynn, ser membro do conselho.

Depois do Citizen Lab concluir, em fevereiro, que a tecnologia detectada no caso dos Emirados Árabes era a mesma que tinha sido usada contra os que faziam campanha pelo aumento de impostos sobre os refrigerantes no México, Aristegui entrou em contato com os peritos locais no México e encaminhou as mensagens que ela e Emilio haviam recebido. As suspeitas dos Aristeguis se confirmaram: eles também tinham sido alvos do software de espionagem. E não eram os únicos.
Em outro relatório publicado em junho, o Citizen Lab revelou ter descoberto “mais de 76 mensagens ligadas à estrutura de ação da NSO Group”. Entre os indivíduos que se tornaram alvos da espionagem, estavam dois colegas de Aristegui, Rafael Cabrera e Sebastián Barragán, e ainda Carlos Loret de Mola, um famoso jornalista investigativo e âncora de TV. Na época em que começou a receber mensagens estranhas, Mola realizava reportagens para apurar se o governo federal acobertara uma operação na qual forças de segurança mexicanas haviam matado 42 suspeitos de tráfico de drogas. As provas forenses coletadas também mostravam tentativas de hackear os telefones dos jornalistas Salvador Camarena e Daniel Lizárraga. De acordo com o Citizen Lab, quando começaram a receber as mensagens de texto, os dois jornalistas estavam “analisando indícios da ligação entre empresas offshore, políticos corruptos e figuras proeminentes da sociedade mexicana”.

Ativistas e jornalistas protestam contra espionagem da mídia e de defensores dos direitos humanos em frente à sede da Procuradoria-Geral na Cidade do México (23/06/2017).

Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

Em outro caso particularmente assustador, o Citizen Lab descobriu provas de que advogados do Centro Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez também haviam recebido os links da NSO. Há mais de dois anos, o Centro PRODH, como é conhecido no México, presta serviços jurídicos aos pais dos estudantes da Aytozinapa, uma faculdade rural. Em setembro de 2014, mais de 100 estudantes — a maioria, calouros — foram alvos de um ataque coordenado pelas forças de segurança mexicanas. Seis estudantes morreram, 12 ficaram feridos e 43 desapareceram nas mãos da polícia local. Um pedaço de osso de um deles foi encontrado tempos depois, mas nunca mais se teve notícias dos demais estudantes.

 

O crime chocou o México. Em 2015, The Intercept publicou os resultados de uma investigação de 7 meses sobre o desaparecimento dos estudantes, revelando lacunas graves na apuração oficial sobre o caso. Em meio a protestos e grandes manifestações por todo o país, o governo mexicano convidou uma equipe de investigadores independentes de renome internacional, indicados pela Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos, para apurar o crime. Este mês, o Citizen Lab revelou que, apesar de terem imunidade diplomática, os peritos também foram alvos do spyware da NSO. Os ataques teriam começado logo depois de a equipe “ter criticado o governo mexicano por interferir na investigação, no momento em que preparavam o relatório final” sobre o desaparecimento dos estudantes.

Aristegui se apressa em dar ao calvário de sua família as devidas proporções. “Infelizmente, há casos muito piores do que o nosso”, afirma ela. “O México se tornou um desses países muito arriscados para jornalistas. Nos últimos 15 anos, mais de 100 jornalistas foram assassinados. 100 jornalistas mortos”.

Aristegui argumenta, contudo, que as forças mobilizadas contra ela e contra outros revelam verdades inconvenientes sobre o real estado da democracia no México. “Acredito que o governo mexicano tem tendências autoritárias”, explica ela. “Não dá para chamar o governo de Peña Nieto de democrático. A maneira como agem, com espionagem e tudo o mais o que aconteceu nesse governo, caracteriza um estado autoritário. A democracia não está sendo exercida aqui. Porque democracia inclui respeito aos dissidentes, à oposição e ao trabalho de jornalistas críticos ao governo”.

“Se nada disso existe, de que tipo de democracia estamos falando?”, pergunta ela.

Quanto a Emilio, ainda é muito difícil para ele acreditar que todo esse suplício de fato aconteceu. O ensino médio já costuma ser uma época bem estranha — e que só piora quando reportagens internacionais dão conta de que você e sua mãe são alvos de uma operação de hacking por parte de um governo. “Meus amigos estão bravos”, conta ele. “[Porque], no fim das contas, se eu estou sendo espionado, eles também estão. Levando em conta a idade que nós temos, é uma surpresa para todos nós. Você nunca pensa que esse tipo de coisa pode acontecer”. Emilio continua: “Você também não tem como saber qual vai ser a reação deles. Melhor levar no bom humor ou a sério? Ou os dois? É uma coisa muito grave eles terem espionado um menor que vive no exterior”.

Por mais intensa que tenha sido a experiência, Emilio continua defendendo com unhas e dentes o trabalho de sua mãe. “Eu admiro tanto minha mãe. Ela é uma líder, a pessoa mais importante da minha vida. Tenho muito orgulho dela e espero poder seguir seu caminho. Ela precisa continuar a fazer o que faz”, diz ele. “Esse país precisa que ela faça”.
Tradução: Carla Camargo

Legendas: Bernardo Tonasse

The post Jornalista Carmen Aristegui e seu filho denunciam uso de software de espionagem pelo governo do México appeared first on The Intercept.

Video: Naomi Klein e Jeremy Corbyn debatem o mundo que queremos

18 July 2017 - 10:24am

Naomi Klein: Jeremy Corbyn, que maravilhoso te encontrar novamente. A última vez que nos vimos foi em Paris, durante a Conferência do Clima.

Jeremy Corbyn: Foi durante a Conferência do Clima. Foi uma noite úmida e tormentosa. Mas que reunião maravilhosa tivemos, com pessoas maravilhosas.

NK: Está sendo extraordinário estar aqui no Reino Unido esta semana e ver o espaço político que você criou. E ver que agora os Tories estão tentando se valer de alguns dos seus projetos, se mexendo para tentar atrair os jovens, falando em acabar com as anuidades das universidades.

JC: Bem, justiça social não está protegida por direitos autorais, então tudo bem.

NK: Queria conversar sobre esse momento extraordinário em que o projeto iniciado por Thatcher neste país, e por Reagan nos Estados Unidos – o tal consenso que, na verdade, nunca foi um consenso -, a guerra à coletividade está desmoronando. Mas é também um momento perigoso, de vácuo ideológico, porque ideias perigosas também estão surgindo. Então, qual o plano para garantir que as ideias progressistas e benéficas ocupem esse vácuo?

JC: Eu acho que o sentimento de confiança está crescendo, principalmente entre os jovens, que são os que podem fazer alguma coisa, e o futuro pertence a eles. E também entre todos aqueles que… As certezas trazidas por um sistema de verdadeiro bem-estar, a segurança do bem-estar, é por isso que estamos lutando.

Acabamos de sair de uma campanha de eleição geral, que começamos numa situação política muito difícil e terminamos ganhando três milhões de votos a mais do que em 2015. Foi o melhor resultado do Partido Trabalhista em muitas décadas.

Houve uma grande guinada pró-trabalhista, mas não foi o suficiente, infelizmente, para formar maioria no Parlamento. Então, agora vivemos um momento de grande sentimento de confiança entre os que fizeram campanha pelo fim da desigualdade salarial no setor público, por mais investimentos nos serviços públicos, uma grande confiança. E um alto nível de incertezas por parte da direita e do Partido Conservador.

NK: Minha impressão é que o que sua campanha fez foi provar que quando você apresenta suas ideias, sua visão ousada de um mundo que nós queremos – não apenas como uma oposição à austeridade, sabe? Não apenas um “não”, mas principalmente uma visão de um mundo que poderia ser bem melhor do que nós temos. E isso empolga as pessoas.

JC: Com certeza, a mensagem mais forte da campanha eleitoral… Falei isso em vários comícios e eventos que organizamos: “Olhem em volta, olhem a multidão. Olhem uns para os outros. Vocês são todos diferentes. São todos únicos. São todos indivíduos. Têm trajetórias, línguas diferentes. Comunidades étnicas diferentes. Mas vocês estão todos unidos. Unidos em prol do que querem em termos de coletividade para a sociedade”. E eu acho que a campanha eleitoral foi uma mudança de rumo, saindo do individualismo supremo da direita em direção à ideia de que somos uma sociedade melhor quando pensamos no bem coletivo.

NK: E como fica a visão de mundo após a vitória? Qual a importância disso?

JC: É crucial apresentarmos nossa visão de mundo. Trata-se de agir para lidar com questões como injustiça, desigualdade, pobreza e, acima de tudo, esperança e oportunidade para os jovens. Esperança de ir à faculdade, à universidade; oportunidade de conseguir um emprego decente. Trata-se também de pensar em como contribuiremos para o resto do mundo e como vamos nos relacionar com o resto do mundo.

Eu quero uma política externa que tenha por base os direitos humanos, o respeito à lei internacional, a identificação das causas das ondas de refugiados, das causas da injustiça em todo o mundo. Estamos trabalhando para isso. E, de fato, ocorreram coisas horríveis durante a campanha eleitoral. Logo antes da eleição começar, teve um ataque em Westminter e no Parlamento. Depois, foi a terrível bomba em Manchester. E também um ataque em Londres, na London Bridge.

NK: E você praticamente cometeu uma heresia política ao falar de algumas das causas disso tudo. Mesmo assim, as pessoas pararam para ouvir.

JC: De maneira nenhuma estou minimizando o horror do que aconteceu ou as coisas terríveis que esses indivíduos fizeram. Mas eu só disse que temos que olhar para o contexto internacional no qual esse tipo de coisa foi crescendo. E lembro como se fosse ontem de falar, em 15 de fevereiro de 2003…

NK: É muito importante, nesse momento, que os norte-americanos entendam que você conseguiu falar sobre isso, e que as pessoas pararam para ouvir porque elas sabem que é verdade. Nós não sabemos o que vai acontecer durante o governo Trump. Mas sabemos que Donald Trump tem toda a intenção de tirar vantagem de qualquer crise levar adiante seus projetos extremamente reacionários e xenófobos. Ele tentou até explorar os ataques de Manchester, dizendo que isso tinha acontecido por conta de imigrantes cruzando nossas fronteiras. Tentou se beneficiar do ataque à London Bridge, dizendo que era por isso que precisávamos proibir muçulmanos de entrar nos Estados Unidos.

JC: E ele também insultou o prefeito de Londres, que é o primeiro muçulmano eleito para um cargo importante na Europa Ocidental. As pessoas ficaram furiosas por conta das palavras que ele usou para falar de Sadiq Khan.

NK: O que você tem a dizer a alguns líderes mundiais que acham que não podem fazer muita coisa para fazer frente a Trump? Sabe, talvez até eles bolem um meme sacana ou algo assim. Mas basicamente vão acolher Trump de braços bem abertos. Qual você acha que deve ser a postura de outros líderes mundiais que querem defender valores progressistas neste momento?

JC: Bem, eu acho que eles têm que se encontrar com Trump e debater com ele, como fariam como qualquer outro líder. Eu fiquei chocado com a linguagem usada por ele durante a campanha eleitoral – sobre mulheres, muçulamanos e mexicanos, sobre outras pessoas que fazem parte da sociedade. Também fiquei horrorizado com as palavras usadas para falar das discussões da Conferência do Clima de Paris. São problemas globais muito, muito sérios. Que tipo de mundo vamos deixar no futuro? O que estamos fazendo com esse planeta? E ele achou que seria uma boa oportunidade para promover indústrias poluidoras.

NK: No caso, ele disse inclusive que ia negociar um acordo melhor.

JC: Bem, não sei direito o que ele quer dizer com “acordo melhor”, seria um debate interessante. Mas tendo trabalhado, como você trabalhou, por muito tempo com essas questões, o fato da Índia e da China terem finalmente, numa negociação formal, concordado com a ideia de que deve haver limites para as emissões, para a poluição. Os Estados Unidos também terem concordado com isso no governo Obama e agora desistirem no governo Trump, é algo muito triste.

NK: Mas como eles estão sendo tão desonestos nessa questão do clima, acho que há um senso de responsabilidade que está levando todo o resto a fazer mais neste momento. Não é apenas: “Ok, ele baixou tanto o nível que, em comparação, qualquer um fica bem na foto”. Estamos vendo muitos exemplos disso. Estamos vendo – inclusive nos Estados Unidos, estamos vendo cidades chamarem para si a responsabilidade, dizendo que vão acelerar a transição para energias renováveis. Internacionalmente isso também vem acontecendo.

JC: Eu acho que a imagem dos Estados Unidos está sendo frequentemente apresentada como a imagem do que Donald Trump diz todo dia. Enquanto que, no mundo real, veja quantos empregos na área de energia renovável a Califórnia cria sozinha, são centenas de milhares. Veja o aumento de sistemas de energia renovável nos Estados Unidos, quantos estados e cidades levam a sério a proteção do meio-ambiente e contenção das mudanças climáticas.

NK: Queria falar um pouco sobre como meus amigos nos Estados Unidos estão se sentindo neste momento. Você foi uma fonte de inspiração com sua campanha eleitoral e sua ascensão à liderança do Partido Trabalhista.

Tenho que lhe dizer que as pessoas estão se sentindo meio desestimuladas nos Estados Unidos. São contra Trump, mas também contra um Partido Democrata que não quer saber de saúde pública, de acesso universal à saúde. Parece que querem continuar a traçar o que eles veem como um caminho seguro de centro. Mas o que a gente vem observando é que não é nada seguro, é um caminho errado. Não tratam da demanda urgente por bons empregos, por educação pública e gratuita, por uma saúde acessível. O que você tem a dizer para essas pessoas que apoiaram Bernie [Sanders] e agora estão se sentindo muito frustradas?

JC: Bernie me ligou no dia seguinte à eleição. Eu estava meio dormindo, assistindo a alguma coisa na TV. E Bernie me ligou para dizer: “Parabéns pela campanha. Fiquei interessado nas suas ideias. De onde você as tirou?” E eu disse: “Então, foi de você, na verdade”.

O que eu diria para as pessoas: não desanimem. No fim das contas, seres humanos sempre querem fazer as coisas juntos. Querem coletividade. E esse é o tipo de sociedade que estamos tentando construir. Começamos a campanha numa situação política muito delicada e divulgamos um manifesto com uma abordagem coletiva, bem específico nas suas intenções, defendendo o fim das anuidades, o aumento do salário mínimo, e o resultado foi o maior aumento de votos no nosso partido desde a Segunda Guerra Mundial. Ganhamos o apoio e a participação de um número muito grande de pessoas. Não ganhamos a eleição. Eu queria que tivéssemos ganhado. Mas conseguimos mudar o debate da campanha, do mesmo modo que a candidatura do senador Bernie Sanders nas primárias democratas provocou muita mobilização.

NK: Mas você ganhou a liderança do Partido Trabalhista. E essa campanha não foi tão bem-sucedida dentro do Partido Democrata. Você acha que as pessoas têm que continuar lutando pela alma do partido?

JC: Bem, essa é a alma das pessoas, não é?

Não sou eu quem tem que dizer que organizações as pessoas têm ou não têm que ter nos Estados Unidos, até porque o sistema partidário norte-americano é bem diferente.

O que fizemos foi mudar os termos do debate. Mas o outro ponto fundamental, e isso vale para os dois lados do Atlântico, é a estratégia de campanha. Você tem que bater de porta em porta e identificar eleitoras. Isso é fundamental, crucial. Mas se você só é visto pelo prisma da mídia, que tem uma visão bastante de direita e conservadora, o que vai acontecer quando você bater à porta de um eleitor é que você só vai ouvir o eco do que ele ouviu num canal de TV de direita ou pela mídia impressa.

A mídia social, a tecnologia e as técnicas disponíveis nessas redes são uma oportunidade inédita de divulgar sua mensagem. Pense bem, a única coisa que as pessoas que militavam por justiça social na Chicago dos anos 20 podiam fazer era imprimir os próprios jornais, se pudessem pagar por isso, fazer panfletos e distribuí-los na fila do pão. Eu sou da época que você tinha que imprimir seus próprios panfletos e sair distribuindo. Hoje você pode mandar qualquer coisa via mídia social e sua mensagem chega a milhões de pessoas em cinco minutos. As oportunidades estão aí. E não é regulado, não é censurado, não é controlado.

NK: Eu acho que você foi tratado pela mídia e pela elite midiática da pior maneira possível. E mesmo assim, não funcionou. Na verdade, o tiro saiu pela culatra e contribuiu para um sentimento geral de perda de confiança em muitas dessas instituições elitistas.

JC: Acho que é por aí. Depois de um certo tempo, o discurso abusivo da mídia acaba por criar uma curiosidade sobre você.

NK: Você fala em mudar o debate, e isso tem claramente acontecido. Vimos isso no caso da catástrofe da Torre Grenfell, aquela cena de crime. E esse acontecimento terrível está sendo interpretado pela sociedade britânica como uma prova clara de um sistema falido que não valoriza a vida humana, que hierarquiza vidas.

JC: O que ficou exposto foi o estilo de vida moderno e urbano. Esse é o bairro de Londres mais rico do país. É um bairro muito, muito rico. E o conselho do bairro deu um desconto para os maiores pagadores de impostos no ano passado. Deu a eles um presentinho.

NK: O dinheiro de volta.

JC: O prédio tinha algumas centenas de moradores. Alguns deles eram inquilinos do conselho local, do distrito de Kensington e Chelsea. Alguns apartamentos tinham sido comprados de maneira independente, eram sublocados ou sub-sublocados. Ninguém sabia muito bem quem morava no prédio. O sistema inteiro ruiu. O prédio virou fumaça e o resultado foi uma catástrofe, muitas e muitas mortes. Provavelmente nunca saberemos quantas pessoas morreram lá. E a realidade é que foi uma consequência da regulação insuficiente, da desregulação. Foi um inferno na torre de pobres sendo queimados no bairro mais rico do país.

É um alerta para a segurança nos prédios. É um alerta para essa ideia de que se pode viver nesse maravilhoso mercado livre, a Valhalla do futuro, rasgando qualquer tipo de regulação que possa ser um entrave às oportunidades de negócio do setor privado. Então o debate em torno dessa questão amadureceu bastante. Eu fui lá no dia seguinte e passei muito tempo conversando com gente que escapou da torre, com bombeiros, paramédicos, motoristas de ambulância e policiais traumatizados, que se preparavam para entrar no prédio, que estava sendo resfriado após o incêndio, para buscar corpos. Eles são os verdadeiros heróis nisso tudo.

NK: Tem uma parede – que você já deve ter visto – sobre a qual moradores colaram perguntas para as autoridades. E essas perguntas são de cortar o coração. Crianças que perguntam: “Minha escola é segura?”. Tem uma pergunta de uma criança de 10 anos: “Por que precisamos disso para nos unir?”

JC: Essa é uma boa pergunta.

NK: É a mesma lição aprendida a cada período de crise, quando somos testados. Podemos nos fechar e nos voltar uns contra os outros. Vimos muito disso depois do 11 de Setembro nos Estados Unidos, quando muçulmanos foram usados como bodes expiatórios e perdemos muitos das nossas liberdades tanto no nosso país quanto no resto do mundo, com leis draconianas sendo aprovadas. Guerras foram declaradas em nome daquele ataque.

JC: Com certeza, a resposta ao racismo, à pobreza, à desregulação está na força da comunidade e do coletivo. Se Grennfell deixa uma lição, tem de ser essa.

NK: Queria lhe perguntar se tem algum momento específico dessa campanha que você vai lembrar como um momento de esperança, em que você tenha visto o país no qual você gostaria de viver, ou um sinal dele.

JC: Um senhor foi a um comício em Hastings, uma cidade de pescadores na costa sul. Ele tinha 91 anos. Eu brinquei com ele porque tinham me dito que ele tinha 92. E ele me perguntou como eu tinha coragem de dizer que ele tinha 92 se ele só tinha 91. Ele entrou para o Partido Trabalhista em 1945, é membro desde essa época. Muito ativo a vida toda. E ele me falou que este era o período de sua vida em que estava se sentindo mais esperançoso. Me contou que a mãe dele tinha sido uma sufrafista que tinha militado pelo direito das mulheres ao voto na época da Primeira Guerra Mundial. E que o avô dele tinha participado do cartismo em 1850, um movimento que ajudou a trazer alguma democracia à Grã-Bretanha. E eu pensei: esse homem veio a um comício no sábado de manhã com essa idade porque ele está cheio de esperanças para os jovens.

Ficamos marcados como uma campanha cheia de pessoas jovens e idealistas. Claro, tinha mesmo muitos jovens conosco, e muitos deles com ideais e imaginação brilhantes. Tinha também muita gente mais velha que chegou dizendo: “Eu quero algo melhor para meus netos. Quero algo melhor para a sociedade do futuro”. Foi um encontro de muitas pessoas. 

NK: Eu queria agradecer muito sua liderança e sua ousadia, porque elas não estão inspirando pessoas só aqui neste país. Acho que estão arrebatando gente do mundo inteiro, pessoas que estão precisando de uma força inspiradora neste momento, e principalmente nos Estados Unidos.

JC: Muito obrigado. Não é só uma questão de mim ou de você como indivíduos. Quando as mentes estão abertas, não há limite para o possível.

Tradução: Carla Camargo Fanha

The post Video: Naomi Klein e Jeremy Corbyn debatem o mundo que queremos appeared first on The Intercept.

It’s Not The Avocado Toast: Federal Reserve Finds Student Debt Reducing Millennial Home Ownership

18 July 2017 - 7:44am

In May, a Melbourne-based real estate mogul’s claim that millennials would be able to afford homes if only they cut back on discretionary expenses such as avocado toast went viral — with many heaping mockery on the suggestion.

Now the Federal Reserve has its own hot take to throw on the pile. Except this one is based on empirical research. In a paper published last week by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, five researchers offered an explanation for declining home ownership rates among millenials that does not require avocado toast.

Looking at nine student cohorts, they concluded that the increase in public tuition and resulting student debt can account for anywhere between 11 and 35 percent of the decline in home ownership for 28-to-30 year olds in the years between 2007 and 2015.

That decrease has been sizeable. They note that relative “to the 2001 age 22 cohort, the mean age 28 to 30 homeownership rates for the 2009 age 22 cohort is approximately 7.74 percentage points lower.”

The paper also finds that there isn’t a significant relationship between increasing tuition and the number of students seeking higher education — perhaps a sign of the increasing necessity of higher education in attaining living wage work. “Students’ price elasticity of demand for higher education is quite low,” they conclude. “As college costs increase, American students do not forego education, but instead amass more debt.”

The second finding, the researchers caution, shouldn’t distract policymakers from the first one. “To the extent that the ongoing de-funding of public higher education has not been met, according to these estimates, by significant declines in educational attainment, some policymakers might be tempted to infer that de-funding public higher education is costless,” they write. “However, our estimates indicate that the cost of shifting the burden of funding higher education onto the student may arrive with a lag: Early homeownership, in our empirical models, appears responsive to the costs of higher education.”

This leads the researchers to a final conclusion: “The evidence points to a final policy opportunity to stimulate youth homeownership over the long run: funding state higher education.”

Top photo: An “Open House” sign is displayed outside of a home for sale in Miami, Florida on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

The post It’s Not The Avocado Toast: Federal Reserve Finds Student Debt Reducing Millennial Home Ownership appeared first on The Intercept.

Pezão fica em spa de executivo ligado à assessoria de imprensa do governo

17 July 2017 - 7:49pm

Com o estado afundado numa grave crise que está fazendo até com que servidores tenham de apelar para campanhas de arrecadação de alimentos para sobreviver, o governador Luiz Fernando Pezão pediu licença médica do cargo por uma semana para passar este período num paraíso em Penedo, na Região Serrana, cujo dono é um velho conhecido do governo.

Na tarde desta segunda (17), o colunista Lauro Jardim, do jornal O Globo, publicou que Pezão está se refugiando no Rituaali, um spa onde também funciona desde maio do ano passado uma clínica médica. A informação foi confirmada pelo governo, que informou a The Intercept Brasil que o chefe do Executivo fluminense está lá desde domingo. De acordo com o site da Receita Federal, o estabelecimento tem como sócio-administrador Marcos Ferreira Trindade, um dos homens fortes da FSB, empresa que realiza trabalhos de assessoria de imprensa para o governo.

Empresa ganhou força com PMDB no Rio

A FSB é uma verdadeira gigante do setor, com pelo menos quatro firmas relacionadas ao nome. No Rio, está muito ligada ao PMDB, com contratos ao longo do governo de Sérgio Cabral e também com a prefeitura da capital, durante a gestão de Eduardo Paes.

Trindade é atualmente diretor da FSB Holding. A empresa é uma das sócias da FSBPar que, por sua vez, está entre as donas da FSB Estratégia em Comunicação. Esta última tem contrato com o governo estadual desde 2011, que foi sendo prorrogado com uma série de aditivos. O mais recente – oitavo – foi publicado no dia 20 de setembro de 2016 em Diário Oficial.

Procurada por TIB, a assessoria de imprensa de Pezão encaminhou um atestado assinado pelo médico Cláudio Sahione Schettino, que informa que o governador precisa se afastar das atividades de trabalho por motivos de saúde.

Pezão: despesas pagas com recursos próprios

A assessoria também informou que Pezão está na Rituaali “pagando todas as despesas com recursos próprios e sem benefícios”.

Esta não é a primeira vez que o governador vai ao spa de Marcos Trindade em Penedo. Em fevereiro do ano passado, ele já havia passado quatro dias no local com a primeira-dama.

Em abril deste ano, o Instituto Estadual do Meio Ambiente (Inea), órgão ambiental do governo estadual, concedeu à Rituaali uma licença prévia de instalação (LPI), com duração de quatro anos.

The post Pezão fica em spa de executivo ligado à assessoria de imprensa do governo appeared first on The Intercept.

Com país afundado na crise, Temer e aliados vivem em realidade paralela em que tudo dá certo

17 July 2017 - 4:55pm

Eram 12h10m da quarta (12), quando Michel Temer ocupou o púlpito no Palácio do Planalto para fazer o anúncio de um repasse bilionário de recursos para investimentos em infraestrutura de estados e municípios.

“Esta ousadia vem dando certo. Vem sendo apadrinhada pela sociedade brasileira e, especialmente, pelo Congresso Nacional”, disse o presidente dos 7% de aprovação.

Uma hora antes, no mesmo dia, a Comissão de Constituição e Justiça (CCJ) da Câmara havia iniciado as discussões sobre o relatório de Sérgio Zveiter(PMDB/RJ), que recomendaria o prosseguimento da denúncia contra o presidente por corrupção passiva e que acabou derrubada pelos demais deputados.  Entre inacreditáveis trechos de discussões na CCJ e os discursos de Temer em pelo menos três cerimônias no Planalto a pergunta que fica da semana que passou é: em que mundo vivem essas pessoas?

Para montar um cenário perfeito em que tudo parece bem, Temer contou com plateias lotadas. O auge foi na tarde de quinta (13), quando foi canetada a Reforma Trabalhista. Segundo o próprio presidente, pelas suas contas, foram quase 20 ministros presentes, que repetiram entusiasmadas “palmas de coração” ao ouvirem o presidente falar sobre uma “suposta crise”:

“Nessas últimas semanas, em função de uma ‘suposta crise’, o que tem acontecido é um entusiasmo extraordinário. Hoje de manhã, quando nós lançávamos um plano para a área de saúde, quando entregávamos 9 mil veículos para a Saúde, mais de R$ 1 bilhão em custeio, os aplausos que recebi do Ricardo Barros (ministro da Saúde) e dos que estavam presentes eram uma coisa entusiasmada. E eram palmas que, como digo eu de vez em quando, não eram cerimoniais e formosas. Eram verdadeiras. Na vida pública, aprendemos que há palmas que vêm do coração. Hoje de manhã e aqui encontrei palmas que vêm do coração.”

“O Brasil do amanhã não viverá mais com essa triste realidade que nós vivemos, a realidade do desemprego”

O primeiro a discursar no evento da reforma trabalhista havia sido o titular da pasta do Trabalho, Ronaldo Nogueira (PTB), que, se não conseguiu cravar que o país vive um grande momento, garantiu que logo, logo, amanhã, tudo será diferente:

“O Brasil do amanhã não viverá mais com essa triste realidade que nós vivemos, a realidade do desemprego”, afirmou o ministro do governo que viu crescer em 2,6 milhões o número de desempregados em um ano de gestão.

Cercado de parceiros e otimismo, Michel Temer, sanciona a lei da Reforma trabalhista.

Foto: Beto Barata/Presidência da República

Nas cerimônias, Temer teve ainda a companhia do fiel escudeiro e queridinho do mercado Henrique Meirelles que, como todo ministro da Fazenda sempre faz, acalmou a todos dizendo que está tudo bem com as nossas finanças:

“A economia brasileira, eu gostaria de enfatizar, com a recuperação da confiança dos consumidores e dos produtores, e o resultado do aumento da produção, do comércio, do consumo, que começa cada vez mais a apresentar resultados positivos, vem como consequência dessas reformas fundamentais”, comentou o homem forte da economia do país que amargou o último lugar num ranking de crescimento divulgado em junho.

Enquanto se cerca de gente que diz que tudo está bem, Temer também é o presidente denunciado pela Procuradoria Geral da República (PGR). Mas isso não interfere no cenário perfeito se olharmos para os discursos de deputados que deram os 40 votos necessários para derrubar o parecer de Zveiter a favor da continuidade do processo na CCJ. E não se limitou ao ultraprocessado Paulo Maluf (PP-SP), que chamou Temer de probo, honesto, pobre não só uma, mas várias vezes, até aos berros.

O “povo” sabe que a crise ficou para trás

O deputado Evandro Roman (PSD-PR), por exemplo, conseguiu até fazer uma “pesquisa” com o “povo” para chegar à conclusão de que o país está mesmo andando nos trilhos. Numa manobra do Planalto, ele havia entrado na comissão dias antes para votar a favor de Temer.

“Estive com produtores rurais, comerciantes… De 36 prefeitos, conversei com 23 pessoalmente, que me apoiam. Empresários, profissionais liberais, dirigentes de cooperativas… Enfim, o povo. Conversei com o povo. E todos foram muito seguros de que o sentimento da população de meu estado é que finalmente a crise e a depressão econômica, a mais profunda e longa da nossa história, vão ficando para trás”, disse, na quarta (12), ao resumir a opinião dos mais de 11 milhões de paranaenses.

Logo depois de Roman, tivemos ainda o Danilo Forte (PSB-CE). Convicto defensor de Temer, o deputado foi contra até o que, teoricamente, um partido mais à esquerda pensaria num momento como o de agora para defender o presidente. Não é nada, não é nada, ganhou de presente R$ 2,8 milhões em liberação de emendas às vésperas da votação.

“Não há paralelo entre uma pedalada fiscal (de Dilma), que criou uma instabilidade financeira no país, e uma ilação de que recursos adquiridos de forma ilícita possa provocar uma decisão desta Casa no que diz respeito ao presidente Michel Temer”, afirmou.

E, como Temer tem dificuldade em saber como Deus o colocou na presidência, ninguém  melhor para fechar a sequência deste mundo paralelo com Aleluia. Ou melhor, com José Carlos Aleluia (DEM-BA) que, ao atacar o empresário Joesley Batista,pode ter definido bem o estado de espírito que ronda o presidente e suas companhias:

“Estamos tratando de um teatro. De um artista.”

 

 

The post Com país afundado na crise, Temer e aliados vivem em realidade paralela em que tudo dá certo appeared first on The Intercept.

The Incredible Lost History of How “Civil Rights Plus Full Employment Equals Freedom”

17 July 2017 - 11:54am

Washington, D.C.’s think tanks produce a tsunami of studies, reports and manifestos. Most of it has a readership that, outside of wonks and reporters, could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

It truly matters that this not be the fate of a new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Fed Up, and the Center for Popular Democracy.

Titled “The Full Employment Mandate of the Federal Reserve: Its Origins and Importance” – WAIT, don’t switch tabs and check Facebook! – it’s a history of the economic policies of the Civil Rights movement, the movement’s focus on capturing the Fed’s power to generate full employment, how they partially succeeded, and why we have to fight right now to preserve their accomplishments. It deserves to be discussed and carefully studied by absolutely everyone on the left side of the political spectrum — Democrats, Greens, Hillaryites, Berners, Autonomous Collectives, and miscellaneous.

Before looking at what the paper says in detail, I want to explain my own perspective on why it’s so significant.

Ask yourself this: When was the last time you sat around with your family and friends talking about the Federal Reserve? By far the most likely answer is never, because you are normal human beings.

But when was the last time you all hashed over one of you needing a job, or your healthcare coverage, or your asshole boss, or the chances you’ll get laid off? The answer to that is, you never stop talking about it.

The combination of these two things is truly bizarre, because the Fed has more power than any institution over everything about work in America.

Here’s how the Fed does it:

The Fed largely sets short term interest rates. If it lowers interest rates it heats up the economy, because cheap money makes it easier for entrepreneurs to start new businesses, for old businesses to expand, and for everyone to borrow to buy expensive stuff like homes or cars. That in turn generates new jobs and lowers the unemployment rate. And low unemployment takes leverage away from employers and gives it to employees, making it far, far easier for everyone to get raises and demand decent working conditions.

Meanwhile, the 0.1 percent who actually own and operate the country generally do not want full employment — and keep a close eye on the Fed to make sure it doesn’t make it happen. Why? Straightforward class conflict. For instance, a current Ohio business owner who’s feeling pressure to raise wages to attract workers recently told the New York Times, “I sometimes wish there was actually a higher unemployment rate.” Full employment would also tend to raise the rate of inflation, thereby reducing the value of government and consumer debt — which is largely owned by the creditors at the top of the economic pyramid – and relieving the burden on all the debtors down below.

So the Fed sits right at the center of American politics. Yet for most of us, it might as well be invisible.

How can this be?

The explanation is a phenomenon known in anthropology as “social silence.” Here’s how Gillian Tett, the U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, describes it:

… the way that an elite typically stays in power in almost any society is not simply by controlling the means of production (i.e. wealth), but by shaping the discourse (or the cognitive map that a society uses to describe the world around it). And what matters most in relation to that map is not just what is discussed in public, but what is not discussed because those topics are considered boring, irrelevant, taboo or just unthinkable. Or as [French anthropologist Pierre] Bourdieu wrote: “The most successful ideological effects are those which have no need of words, but ask no more than a complicitous silence.”

In other words, the Federal Reserve hasn’t vanished from political debate despite the fact it’s so critical to our lives, but because it’s so critical.

None of this is a conspiracy. It’s just the way human societies work, as natural as water running downhill.

However, with enormous amounts of effort, political movements can break social silence and force what truly matters onto the agenda of the whole country.

Doing that with the Federal Reserve was one of the key accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement. Yet since the 1970s what happened has slowly slipped from popular political memory, letting social silence once again envelope the Fed. What “The Full Employment Mandate of the Federal Reserve” does is excavate this buried history and explain its tremendous continuing relevance.

If all you know about the modern Civil Rights movement comes from TV or one class in high school, it seems like it started with Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 and was mostly about desegregating schools, lunch counters and water fountains.

In fact, its roots were in the Great Depression of the 1930s and then World War II in the 1940s. And the war powerfully demonstrated something that had only been theoretical before: that democracies can set government policies that create full employment.

This meant more for African Americans than anyone. Blacks had always been locked out of decent work, with unemployment rates far higher than that of whites. But the war created the demand for so much labor that for the first time significant numbers of blacks could find good jobs and gain a small toehold of economic security. The question was what would happen when the war ended.

The paper quotes Willard Townsend, a prominent African American union leader, saying this in a 1944 speech at Fisk University in Nashville:

Will peace destroy the gains toward full employment of the Negro? What will be his status at the end of hostilities? A depressed economy has always meant but one thing for the Negro worker — widespread unemployment. If we have an economy of full employment, it will establish a framework favorable to the continuing occupational advancement of the black worker; and to the removal of white worker’s fear of him as economic rival.

Noticeably, Fisk’s perspective was not just that full employment was critical for the material wellbeing of African Americans, but that it would in fact weaken white bigotry. How true that it is is certainly up for debate. But it’s a reasonable read of human nature, since people are far less hostile to others and more willing to share in environments of plenty than in environments of scarcity.

Regular Americans’ post-war economic hopes were embodied in the proposed Full Employment Act of 1945, which stated that the government must “assure the existence at all times of sufficient employment opportunities” for all adults. But after it passed the Senate, the bill was partially neutered in the House – not just by GOP business interests but by Southern Democrats who clearly understood how it would change racial power dynamics. Among the bill’s leading opponents were Rep. William Whittington of Mississippi, who thanks to Jim Crow was elected by just 4,000 people in a district of 435,000, and Rep. Carter Manasco of Alabama, who worried that full employment would let sharecroppers leave for better work elsewhere. The equivalent of today’s D.C. Twitterati liked to joke that the bill had been “Manascolated.”

This did not lead the Civil Rights movement to discard the economic side of its agenda. The 1963 rally at which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream Speech” was officially named the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and in its planning stages had been called the Emancipation March for Jobs. One of the most prominent placards at the Lincoln Memorial was “Civil Rights Plus Full Employment Equals Freedom.”

Afterwards the Kennedy administration showed some openness to the civil rights part of that equation — but none at all to the full employment part. So two of the movement’s leaders, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, drafted the “Freedom Budget for All Americans.” One of its central demands was “more effective public control of the Federal Reserve.” King called the Freedom Budget “essential if the Negro people are to make further social progress.”

In a speech four days after King’s murder in 1968, his widow Coretta Scott King declared that “we must carry on.” The Civil Rights movement, she said, had fought for desegregation and voting rights “so that we could have political power. And now we are at a point where we must have economic power. …  Every man deserves a right to a job.”

Coretta Scott King speaks with reporters during a news conference in Washington on Aug. 18, 1977.

Photo: Henry Griffin/AP

Scott King went on to found the National Committee for Full Employment/Full Employment Action Council in 1974. And the NCFE/FEAC in turn helped create the political space for the high-water mark of the Civil Rights movement’s influence on economic policy: the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978.

The most powerful, lasting impact of the Full Employment Act is that (together with the Federal Reserve Act of 1977) it made it explicit that Congress was giving the Fed a “dual mandate” of maintaining reasonable price stability and maximizing employment. The 0.1 percent had always preferred that the Fed focus solely on inflation, pushing it to raise interest rates and throw people out of work at any sign of rising prices, real or imagined.

At the bill’s signing, Scott King recognized the momentousness of what had just happened, saying:

This is indeed a great historical occasion, perhaps as significant as the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Perhaps in the future, history will record that it may be even more significant, Mr. President, because I think it deals with an issue on a basic human right that’s the most basic of all human rights, the right to a job.

The 40 years since have shown exactly how right she was, even if we’re still a long way from full democratic control of the Fed.

As the paper points out, almost all America’s economic sages were certain that we’d reached full employment in the mid-1990s, and that the Fed had to raise rates to head off a dangerous bout of inflation. Instead the Fed held rates steady and sometimes actually cut them. The unemployment rate fell to 4.0 percent, the economy grew far faster than the experts believed possible, and for the first time in decades labor markets worked for regular people. The median wage for African American men rose by 8.9 percent, and for African American women went up 11.2 percent. Comparable numbers for Latinos were 6.5 percent and 10.2 percent.

Likewise, the dual mandate made it easier for the Fed to massively intervene to keep the 2007-9 economic collapse merely horrendous for Americans, rather than absolutely catastrophic. By contrast, the European Central Bank’s orders are to “maintain price stability,” period. That’s one reason Greece and Spain saw unemployment explode to levels unimaginable in the U.S., at one point over 25 percent in both countries.

But if we’ve forgotten this history and why the Fed matters, the right never has.

Conservative pundit George Will fulminates endlessly on the danger of regular Americans seizing the power of the Fed for their own benefit. Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney have all supported attempts to kill the full employment part of the Fed’s mandate. And Pence co-sponsored a 2008 bill to eliminate the Full Employment Act completely.

Less awful but still dangerous is the Financial CHOICE Act, which passed the House a month ago. While the headlines were about the bill gutting the Dodd-Frank Act’s restrictions on Wall Street, it also would impose strict rules that would limit the Fed’s freedom of action in economic emergencies, and change its structure in ways that would give private banks more influence.

So gather all your people together, share “The Full Employment Mandate of the Federal Reserve” everywhere, and get started with some economic consciousness raising. The few would far prefer that U.S. politics maintain its four decades of discreet silence about the Fed. The many have to recover our own story and start talking.

Top photo: Large crowds gather at the Lincoln Memorial to demonstrate for the civil rights movement in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963.

The post The Incredible Lost History of How “Civil Rights Plus Full Employment Equals Freedom” appeared first on The Intercept.

With New D.C. Policy Group, Dems Continue to Rehabilitate and Unify With Bush-Era Neocons

17 July 2017 - 10:53am

One of the most under-discussed yet consequential changes in the American political landscape is the reunion between the Democratic Party and the country’s most extreme and discredited neocons. While the rise of Donald Trump, whom neocons loathe, has accelerated this realignment, it began long before the ascension of Trump and is driven by far more common beliefs than contempt for the current President.

A newly formed and, by all appearances, well-funded national security advocacy group, devoted to more hawkish U.S. policies toward Russia and other adversaries, provides the most vivid evidence yet of this alliance. Calling itself the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the group describes itself as “a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative” that “will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions,” and also “will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.”

It is, in fact, the ultimate union of mainstream Democratic foreign policy officials and the world’s most militant, and militaristic, neocons. The group is led by two long-time Washington foreign policy hands, one from the establishment Democratic wing and the other a key figure among leading GOP neocons.

The Democrat, Laura Rosenberger, served as a foreign-policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and Chief of Staff to two Obama national security officials. The Republican is Jamie Fly, who spent the last four years as counselor for Foreign and National Security Affairs to one of the Senate’s most hawkish members, Marco Rubio; prior to that, he served in various capacities in the Bush Pentagon and National Security Council.

Fly’s neocons pedigree is impressive indeed. During the Obama years, he wrote dozens of articles for the Weekly Standard – some co-authored with Bill Kristol himself – attacking Obama for insufficient belligerence toward Iran and terrorists generally, pronouncing Obama “increasingly ill suited to the world he faces as president” by virtue of his supposed refusal to use military force frequently enough (Obama bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries during his time in office, including an average of 72 bombs dropped per day in 2016 alone).

The Democrats’ new partner, Jamie Fly, spent 2010 working in tandem with Bill Kristol urging military action – i.e. aggressive war – against Iran. In a 2010 Weekly Standard article co-written with Kristol, Fly argued that “the key to changing [Iran’s thinking about its nuclear program] is a serious debate about the military option,” adding: “it’s time for Congress to seriously explore an Authorization of Military Force to halt Iran’s nuclear program.”

Fly then went around the D.C. think tank circuit, under the guise of advocating “debate,” espousing the need to use military force against Iran, spouting standing neocon innuendo such as “we need to be wary of the Obama administration’s intentions” toward Iran. He mocked Obama officials, and Bush officials before them, for their “obsession with diplomatic options” to resolve tensions with Iran short of war. The Kristol/Fly duo returned in 2012 to more explicitly argue: “isn’t it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program?”

Beyond working as Rubio’s foreign policy adviser, Fly was the Executive Director of “the Foreign Policy Initiative,” a group founded by Kristol along with two other leading neocons, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor, who was previously the chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. That group is devoted to standard neocon agitprop, demanding “a renewed commitment to American leadership” on the ground that “the United States remains the world’s indispensable nation.” In sum, as Vox’s Dylan Matthews put it during the 2016 campaign, “If you want a foreign policy adviser with strong ties to the neocon world, it’s hard to do better than Fly.”

When it comes to this new group, the alliance of Democrats with the most extreme neocon elements is visible beyond the group’s staff leadership. Its Board of Advisers is composed of both leading Democratic foreign policy experts, along with the nation’s most extremist neocons.

Thus, alongside Jake Sullivan (national security adviser to Joe Biden and the Clinton campaign), Mike Morrell (Obama’s acting CIA Director) and Mike McFaul (Obama’s Ambassador to Russia) sits leading neocons such as Mike Chertoff (Bush’s Homeland Security Secretary), Mike Rogers (the far-right, supremely hawkish former Congressman who now hosts a right-wing radio show); and Bill Kristol himself.


In sum – just as was true of the first Cold War, when neocons made their home among the Cold Warriors of the Democratic Party – on the key foreign policy controversies, there is now little to no daylight between leading Democratic Party foreign policy gurus and the Bush-era neocons who had wallowed in disgrace following the debacle of Iraq and the broader abuses of the War on Terror. That’s why they are able so comfortably to unify this way in support of common foreign policy objectives and beliefs.

 

Democrats often justify this union as a mere marriage of convenience: a pragmatic, temporary alliance necessitated by the narrow goal of stopping Trump. But for many reasons, that is an obvious pretext, unpersuasive in the extreme. This Democrat/neocon reunion has been developing long before anyone believed Donald Trump could ascend to power, and this alliance extends to common perspectives, goals and policies that have little to do with the current President.

It is true that neocons were among the earliest and most vocal GOP opponents of Trump. That was because they viewed him as an ideological threat to their orthodoxies (such as when he advocated for U.S. “neutrality” on the Israel/Palestine conflict and railed against the wisdom of the wars in Iraq and Libya), but they were also worried that his uncouth, offensive personality would embarrass the U.S. and thus weaken the “soft power” needed for imperial hegemony. Even if Trump could be brought into line on neocon orthodoxy – as has largely happened – his ineptitude and instability posed a threat to their agenda.

But Democrats and neocons share far more than revulsion toward Trump; particularly once Hillary Clinton became the party’s standard-bearer, they share the same fundamental beliefs about the U.S. role in the world and how to assert U.S. power. In other words, this alliance is explained by far more than antipathy to Trump.

Indeed, the likelihood of a neocon/Democrat reunion long predates Trump. Back in the Summer of 2014 – almost a year before Trump announced his intent to run for President – long-time neocon-watcher Jacob Heilbrunn, writing in the New York Times, predicted that “the neocons may be preparing a more brazen feat: aligning themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign, in a bid to return to the driver’s seat of American foreign policy.”

Noting the Democratic Party’s decades-long embrace of the Cold War belligerence that neocons loves most – from Truman and JFK to LBJ and Scoop Jackson – Heilbrunn documented the prominent neocons who, throughout Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, were heaping praise on her and moving to align with her. Heilbrunn explained the natural ideological affinity between neocons and establishment Democrats: “And the thing is, these neocons have a point,” he wrote. “Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iraq war; supported sending arms to Syrian rebels; likened Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to Adolf Hitler; wholeheartedly backs Israel; and stresses the importance of promoting democracy.”

One finds evidence of this alliance long before the emergence of Trump. Victoria Nuland, for instance, served as one of Dick Cheney’s top foreign policy advisers during the Bush years. Married to one of the most influential neocons, Robert Kagan, Nuland then seamlessly shifted into the Obama State Department and then became a top foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign.

As anti-war sentiment grew among some GOP precincts – as evidenced by the success of the Ron Paul candidacies of 2008 and 2012, and then Trump’s early posturing as an opponent of U.S. interventions – neocons started to conclude that their agenda, which never changed, would be better advanced by realignment back into the Democratic Party. Writing in the Nation in early 2016, Matt Duss detailed how the neocon mentality was losing traction within the GOP, and predicted:

Yet another possibility is that the neocons will start to migrate back to the Democratic Party, which they exited in the 1970s in response to Vietnam-inspired anti-interventionism. That’s what earned their faction the “neo” prefix in the first place. As Nation contributor James Carden recently observed, there are signs that prominent neocons have started gravitating toward Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But the question is, Now that the neocons has been revealed as having no real grassroots to deliver, and that their actual constituency consists almost entirely of a handful of donors subsidizing a few dozen think tankers, journalists, and letterheads, why would Democrats want them back?

The answer to that question – “why would Democrats want them back?” – is clear: because, as this new group demonstrates, Democrats find large amounts of common cause with neocons when it comes to foreign policy.

The neocons may be migrating back to the Democratic Party and into the open embrace of its establishment, but their homecoming will not be a seamless affair: Duss, for instance, is now the top foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders. After spending little energy on foreign affairs as a candidate, Sanders’ hiring of Duss is a sign that he sees a rejection of interventionism as ascendant with the populist element of the party.

He will have allies there from whatever is left of the faction within the Obama administration which willingly took so much heat from the foreign policy establishment for its insufficient aggression toward Russia or other perceived enemies; Sen. Chris Murphy, for instance, has been vocal in his opposition to arming the Saudis as they savage Yemen. But now that hawkish rhetoric and belligerent policies have subsumed the Democrats, it remains to be seen how much of that anti-interventionism survives.

 

For many years – long before the 2016 election – one of the leading neocon planks was that Russia and Putin pose a major threat to the west, and Obama was far too weak and deferential to stand up to this threat. From the start of the Obama presidency, the Weekly Standard warned that Obama failed to understand, and refused to confront, the dangers posed by Moscow. From Ukraine to Syria, neocons constantly attacked Obama for letting Putin walk all over him.

That Obama was weak on Russia, and failing to stand up to Putin, was a major attack theme for the most hawkish GOP Senators such as Rubio and John McCain. Writing in National Review in 2015, Rubio warned that Putin was acting aggressively in multiple theaters, but “as the evidence of failure grows, President Obama still can’t seem to understand Vladimir Putin’s goals.” Rubio insisted that Obama (and Clinton’s) failure to confront Putin was endangering the west:

In sum, we need to replace a policy of weakness with a policy of strength. We need to restore American leadership and make clear to our adversaries that they will pay a significant price for aggression. President Obama’s policies of retreat and retrenchment are making the world a more dangerous place. The Obama–Clinton Russia policy has already undermined European security. We can’t let Putin wreak even more havoc in the Middle East.

In 2015, Obama met with Putin at the U.N. General Assembly, and leading Republicans excoriated him for doing so. Obama “has in fact strengthened Putin’s hand,” said Rubio. McCain issued a statement denouncing Obama for meeting with the Russian tyrant, accusing him of failing to stand up to Putin across the world:

That Putin was a grave threat, and Obama was too weak in the face of it, was also a primary theme of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign:

Obama allows Russia & Iran more influence in Syria & Iraq. Not good for US, Israel, or our moderate Muslim partners http://t.co/nAb2mhqpUG

— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) September 27, 2015

And even back in 2012, Mitt Romney repeatedly accused Obama of being insufficiently tough on Putin, prompting the now-infamous mockery by Obama and Democrats generally of Romney’s Russiaphobia, which they ridiculed as an ancient relic of the Cold War. Indeed, before Trump’s emergence, the hard-core pro-GOP neocons planned to run against Hillary Clinton by tying her to the Kremlin and warning that her victory would empower Moscow:

Even through the 2016 election, McCain and Rubio repeatedly attacked Obama for failing to take Russian hacking seriously enough and for failing to retaliate. And for years before that, Russia was a primary obsession for neocons, from the time it went to war with Georgia (at the time headed by a neocon-loved President) and even prior to that.

Thus, when it came time for Democrats to elevate Putin and Russia into a major theme of the 2016 campaign, and now that their hawkishness toward Moscow is their go-to weapon for attacking Trump, neocons have become their natural ideological allies.

The song Democrats are now singing about Russia and Putin is one the neocons wrote many years ago, and all of the accompanying rhetorical tactics – accusing those who seek better relations with Moscow of being Putin’s stooges, unpatriotic, of suspect loyalties, etc. – are the ones that have defined the neocons smear campaigns for decades.

The union of Democrats and neocons is far more than a temporary marriage of convenience designed to bring down a common enemy. As this new policy group illustrates, the union is grounded in widespread ideological agreement on a broad array of foreign policy debates: from Israel to Syria to the Gulf States to Ukraine to Russia. And the narrow differences that exist between the two groups – on the wisdom of the Iran Deal, the nobility of the Iraq War, the justifiability of torture – are more relics of past debates than current, live controversies. These two groups have found common cause because, with rare and limited exception, they share common policy beliefs and foreign policy mentalities.

 

The implications of this reunion are profound and long-term. Neocons have done far more damage to the U.S., and the world, than any other single group – by a good margin. They were the architects of the invasion of Iraq and the lies that accompanied it, the worldwide torture regime instituted after 9/11, and the general political climate that equated dissent with treason.

With the full-scale discrediting and collapse of the Bush presidency, these war-loving neocons found themselves marginalized, without any constituency in either party. They were radioactive, confined to speaking at extremist conferences and working with fringe organizations.

All of that has changed, thanks to the eagerness of Democrats to embrace them, form alliances with them, and thus rehabilitate their reputations and resurrect their power and influence. That leading Democratic Party foreign policy officials are willing to form new Beltway advocacy groups in collaboration with Bill Kristol, Mike Rogers, and Mike Chertoff, join arms with those who caused the invasion of Iraq and tried to launch a bombing campaign against Tehran, has repercussions that will easily survive the Trump presidency.

Perhaps the most notable fact about the current posture of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party is that one of their favorite, most beloved, and most cited pundits is the same neocon who wrote George W. Bush’s oppressive, bullying and deceitful speeches in 2002 and 2003 about Iraq and the War on Terror, and who has churned out some of the most hateful, inflammatory rhetoric over the last decade about Palestinians, immigrants, and Muslims. That Bush propagandist, David Frum, is regularly feted on MSNBC’s liberal programs, has been hired by the Atlantic (where he writes warnings about authoritarianism even though he’s only qualified to write manuals for its implementation), and is treated like a wise and honored statesman by leading Democratic Party organs.

We actually had a great event at @CAPAction with @davidfrum @joanwalsh and Ruy Teixeira on it in Feb. https://t.co/Scc5Dum0BW

— Neera Tanden?? (@neeratanden) March 28, 2016

One sees this same dynamic repeated with many other of the world’s most militaristic, war-loving neocons. Particularly after his recent argument with Tucker Carlson over Russia, Democrats have practically canonized Max Boot, who has literally cheered for every possible war over the two past decades and, in 2013, wrote a column entitled “No Need to Repent for Support of Iraq War.” It is now common to see Democratic pundits and office-holders even favorably citing and praising Bill Kristol himself.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with discrete agreement on a particular issue with someone of a different party or ideology; that’s to be encouraged. But what’s going on here goes far, far beyond that.

What we see instead are leading Democratic foreign policy experts joining hands with the world’s worst neocons to form new, broad-based policy advocacy groups to re-shape U.S. foreign policy toward a more hostile, belligerent and hawkish posture. We see not isolated agreement with neocons in opposition to Trump or on single-issue debates, but a full-scale embrace of them that is rehabilitating their standing, empowering their worst elements, and reintegrating them back into the Democratic Party power structure.

If Bill Kristol and Mike Chertoff can now sit on Boards with top Clinton and Obama policy advisers, as they’re doing, that is reflective of much more than a marriage of convenience to stop an authoritarian, reckless President. It demonstrates widespread agreement on a broast range of issues and, more significantly, the return of neocons to full-scale D.C. respectability, riding all the way on the backs of eager, grateful establishment Democrats.

The post With New D.C. Policy Group, Dems Continue to Rehabilitate and Unify With Bush-Era Neocons appeared first on The Intercept.

Maryland Democrat Running for Governor Wants Investors to Fund Child Care. Experts Are Skeptical.

17 July 2017 - 9:54am

Politicians for decades have been calling for the nation to invest in its children. Now one politician wants to turn that metaphor into a genuine financial product.

Alec Ross, a former Obama State Department official running for the Democratic nomination for governor in Maryland, recently released a complex proposal to expand child care in Maryland, likening child care to college tuition, noting that both are significant costs for American families. Because the problem is similar, the campaign argues, the solution should be as well.

Ross’s campaign proposes establishing “a public-private Child Care Equity Fund” which “will be based on innovative solutions to the expanding student loan crisis” — namely, income-sharing agreements (ISAs). ISAs have been used in a handful of pilot projects as a replacement for traditional student loans. The way they work is that an investor subsidizes a student’s tuition costs; the student then agrees to pay a portion of their future income back over a set period of time. Purdue University teamed up with private investment firms to start offering ISAs in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Ross’s proposal would bring the ISA model to child care. The state of Maryland would partner with private investors to create a Child Care Equity Fund that would, like ISAs, help subsidize child care under the condition that families would pay back the funds as a portion of their income.

The Ross campaign makes pains to distinguish this proposal from that of a simple loan. “The central idea is to shift away from loan based finances to a system [of] equity based financing,” its white paper reads. But that may be a tough sell for a model that requires parents to pay back child care costs to the state and private investors.

In interviews with The Intercept, economists and child care experts were skeptical of the program. Some, like Larry Polivka, who directs the Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University, worried that applying the ISA model to child care would be akin to opening up child care financing to profiteering from Wall Street.

“It’s another way of allowing the financial sector to benefit at the expense of ordinary households,” he said. “It’s just another way to let most of the financial camel into the tent in place of publicly funding programs that should be funded primarily through tax dollars.”

He also didn’t buy the idea that the proposal isn’t a form of loan. “This is a more flexible, in that sense, less burdensome credit arrangement on family. I don’t see that as a qualitative distinction from an ordinary loan arrangement,” he said. “Somebody can point it out, but I don’t see it in the white paper.”

Sandra Black, an economist at UT Austin who served on the Council of Economic Advisers between 2015-2017, was generally supportive of the ISA concept for higher education, but did not see it neatly translating to child care.

“I think moving toward an income-based repayment system is a much better place than where we currently are where you’re paying set payments over time,” she said of the ISA system for college tuition.

“Here [in the Ross proposal], you’re making an investment in very small children which I think is a very good investment to make, but the children aren’t going to see the return of that in terms of money for many, many years,” she noted. “So they’re not the ones who are paying back in an investment to them. It’s a little bit of a false comparison in my mind.”

The white paper states that “once it gains a healthy base of investment and return, the Fund will enter a virtuous cycle, not only becoming sustainable from payback income but also attracting more capital investors with the promise of reliable returns with a defined risk profile.”

Black was skeptical of the premise that the fund could be truly self-sustainable. She pointed out that in similar investment arrangements in the private sector, the market would simply risk adjust by charging poor people higher interest rates.

“If they think this is going to run at a profit, or some reasonable return, I don’t understand how that is going to work,” she concluded. “If you’re not charging interest and you’re giving this to low income people, its very hard to think about how the numbers will work if this is going to be a profit making proposal.”

Finally, she was concerned that the proposal as it stands would benefit middle class families more than low-income ones because the proposal aims to cover 50 percent of families’ child care costs. “You’re low-income 50 percent might not be enough to make it affordable,” she said. “In which case the subsidy will be towards higher income people. If you cant afford 50 percent out of pocket then this isn’t going to help you.”

Daniel Ensign, a spokesperson for the campaign, told The Intercept that the plan is far better than the status quo. “Currently, for the vast majority of Maryland households (outside of the very low income), there is zero support for child care — not from public or private sources,” he wrote in an email. “This plan doesn’t propose to privatize something that is currently publicly supported. This plan proposes to introduce a public-interest financing option where none at all exists today. For the public system that partially reimbursement [sic] costs for low-income households, we propose sustaining and expanding that program in Maryland separate from this equity Fund concept.”

Steven Teles, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, dubbed this type of policy approach “kludgy” in an essay in National Affairs. “The complexity and incoherence of our government often make it difficult for us to understand just what that government is doing, and among the practices it most frequently hides from view is the growing tendency of public policy to redistribute resources upward to the wealthy and the organized at the expense of the poorer and less organized,” he wrote.

Others welcomed the focus on making it easier for parents to afford child care, but pointed out that it’s unclear whether the proposal would provide the funding necessary for the child care to be of the right quality.

“It’s always good to hear that policymakers are taking the issue of affordable child care seriously, as this is one of the key challenges facing families and workers today,” Caitlyn McLean, who works at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, told The Intercept. “So Ross is spot-on in identifying the importance of ensuring equitable access to high-quality early care and education in Maryland.”

“However,” she cautioned, “the issue is not just how to make sure parents can afford early care and education, but also to make sure that it’s high-quality. … There’s no indication that these loans will be enough to cover the high costs of quality services — skilled teachers, low staff-child ratios, etc. — which is also a problem with our current financing models.”

Top photo: Children attend a nonprofit providing child care, preschool programs and tutoring in Takoma Park, Md., in 2008.

The post Maryland Democrat Running for Governor Wants Investors to Fund Child Care. Experts Are Skeptical. appeared first on The Intercept.

Financial Advisers Want to Rip Off Small Investors. Trump Wants to Help Them Do It.

16 July 2017 - 9:54am

One of the most important investor protections in decades took effect on June 9. The new rule, issued by the Department of Labor, sets in motion a seemingly commonsense requirement that those who advise on retirement investments must put their clients’ interests ahead of their own. Yet it marks a revolution in retirement security, the result of an epic seven-year battle between consumer advocates and the financial industry that sunk millions of dollars into white shoe lobbying firms, industry-sponsored studies, congressional campaign contributions, and major lawsuits in an effort to block the rule.

“Investment advisers shouldn’t be able to steer retirees, workers, small businesses, and others into investments that benefit the advisers at the expense of their clients,” Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis Borzi, who developed the rule, said in 2011. “The consumer’s retirement security must come first.”

The rule, finalized in April 2016, was scheduled to take effect a year later in order to give firms time to comply. It only survived till now thanks to a veto by President Obama of legislation that would have permanently blocked its implementation; Rep. Paul Ryan, who led the charge in Congress, had tarred the rule as “Obamacare for financial planning.”

Since the rule was already final when President Trump took office, it was invulnerable to his day one directive freezing all pending rule making. Nevertheless, within two weeks Trump signed a memo directing the DOL to review the rule and potentially rescind it. In March, before Trump’s labor secretary had even been confirmed, the Department of Labor issued a proposed rule delaying implementation for 60 days — bringing us to June 9 of this year.

In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined consumer groups and the AFL-CIO to unveil a “Retirement Ripoff Counter,” a digital projection tallying the costs to retirement savers of delaying implementation of the rule — which they calculated at $46 million a day. And in late May, Alexander Acosta, Trump’s newly minted labor secretary, announced in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that the administration had exhausted every “principled legal basis” for further delaying the rule. And so it was that key portions of the fiduciary rule finally went into effect last month.

Whether the rule will survive the Trump administration’s deregulatory campaign is an open question.

Albert Young, a floor official with H&R Block Financial Advisors, watches the early numbers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Feb. 29, 2008.

Photo: Henny Ray Abrams/AP

Like the dozen or so others gathered for the chicken noodle casserole at Johnny’s CharHouse that cold day in January 2007, Stephen Wingate, then 59, had received an invitation in the mail to learn more about financial planning for retirees. “I was interested in trying to get my affairs in order because I was getting closer to retirement,” said Wingate, who’d begun putting away money in 1986 when he was a supervisor at Ideal Industries, a local company that manufactures wire connectors, hand tools, and other equipment. “I’d been saving 10 percent of my income right along.”

He liked what he heard from Jack W. Teboda that evening in Sycamore, Illinois. A handout described Teboda as an adviser who employed conservative strategies and chose investments “that are best suited for my clients.” His two-page bio ended on a personal note. His wife of 30 years had been his high school sweetheart, and they attended the Harvest Bible Chapel in nearby Elgin. “Our relationship with God is the most important aspect of our lives,” it read.

But it was Teboda’s seemingly prudent investment strategy that attracted Wingate most. “What he basically promised was safety,” he said. “He said he could offer us financial peace of mind.”

Sitting beside his wife in Teboda’s office later that month, Wingate moved his entire retirement account of $282,000 from IRAs that had been invested in plain-vanilla Vanguard and Janus mutual funds into two risky, real-estate investment trusts, known as REITs, that invested in and operated commercial properties.

The funds that Wingate liquidated had annual fees of less than one-half of 1 percent. Andrew Stoltmann, the Chicago lawyer who will represent Wingate in an upcoming arbitration against Teboda and the broker-dealer he is registered with, said that the REITs that replaced them, which were highly illiquid and not publicly traded, offered Teboda a 7 percent commission off the top, immediately zapping more than $20,000 from Wingate’s savings.

As he signed the stack of documents, Wingate says he asked about a disclosure that said he could lose some or all of his money, but Teboda was reassuring. “He said, ‘Don’t pay attention to that because they all say that,’” said Wingate. In one of the documents that Wingate signed, Teboda had written that one reason the REITs had been chosen was to “minimize risk.”

It didn’t turn out that way.

Wingate was thunderstruck three years later by news that the private market value of one of the REITs, Behringer Harvard REIT I, had dropped from $10 to $4.25 a share.

He fired off an email to Teboda. “How do I recommend your company to others when I am totally disappointed with what you have done with my account?” he wrote on June 28, 2010. “These are my life savings in your hands.”

Teboda said to hang tight, but Behringer Harvard didn’t rebound. Last year, after consulting with a new adviser, Wingate sold both REITs at a loss of $147,000, half the original value of his retirement account. Like other securities linked to real estate, Wingate’s REITs lost value during the collapse of real estate prices during the financial crisis. But even under the best of circumstances, these products were too risky for anyone approaching retirement. A Vanguard stock index fund, by contrast, had almost completely recovered its pre-crash value by the end of 2010.

Wingate’s personal financial crisis was part of a larger public one. According to a 2015 White House report, Americans lose $17 billion a year from their retirement accounts as the result of advice compromised by conflicts of interest. And such advice has always been perfectly legal for financial advisers who were not specifically charged by regulators to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own, a level of care known as a “fiduciary duty.” Many retirement advisers skated by under a lower standard that investment need only be “suitable.”

The Dodd-Frank reforms passed in 2010 tackled some of the blatant investment risks to average Americans. In addition to measures designed to rein in too-big-to-fail banks, the law sought to protect consumers by mandating the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, putting new restrictions on the packagers of asset-backed securities, and directing the Securities and Exchange Commission to study whether stockbrokers should be held to a “fiduciary” standard. But it did not target the excessive fees that cut into the returns of the nation’s retirement savers.

The same year that Dodd-Frank was signed into law, the Department of Labor, which has jurisdiction over retirement accounts, unveiled its own draft fiduciary rule. While the SEC dragged its heels, the DOL doggedly pushed its proposal through the federal rule-making process.

Experts say that advice like Teboda’s would have been a violation under the DOL’s new rule. “I don’t see how non-traded REITs as they are currently structured and sold would ever comply with the new DOL rule,” said Micah Hauptmann, financial services counsel at the Consumer Federation of America. Craig McCann, a former economist at the Securities and Exchange Commission who has studied the poor performance and conflicts related to non-traded REITs, said in a 2014 blog post that “No investors should buy these illiquid, high-commissioned, poorly diversified non-traded REITs and no un-conflicted broker would recommend them.”

Phyllis Borzi, assistant secretary of labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration, waits to testify at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on retirement insecurity in the United States.

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP

In July 2009, an outspoken former House staffer and public health professor was taking her seat at a daily staff meeting on the fifth floor of DOL headquarters in Washington, D.C. Phyllis Borzi, who had just been sworn in as assistant secretary, charged with running the Employee Benefits Security Administration, had asked her nine office directors to come prepared with a list of their top priorities, the issues they would want on the agency’s agenda if they had her job.

As Borzi listened, most of the directors singled out the same concern: Retirement accounts were hemorrhaging money because of high fees and inappropriate investments, but the agency had limited legal tools to hold the offenders accountable.

The law at the time typically put the fiduciary onus on sponsors of retirement plans, often small employers struggling to set up 401(k)s for their workers. Many of those sponsors, Borzi’s team suggested, were making bad decisions based on the advice of financial experts, resulting in avoidable losses for participants.

“So the employer in many cases was as much a victim of the broker as the employees were,” she said. “They’d paid money to a broker and followed their advice.”

Many of these advisers were free from any fiduciary obligation to their clients thanks to loopholes in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. That law, known as ERISA, only covered advisers who were giving advice on a regular basis and who had a “mutual understanding” with their client that their advice would serve as the driving force behind investment decisions. One-time consultants advising on which mutual funds to offer in a 401(k) did not have to act as fiduciaries. When their faulty advice blew up, Borzi said, advisers could simply tell her investigators, “‘Yeah, I gave advice, but how could I know they would rely on it?’”

For years, those loopholes hadn’t mattered much, as Americans had relied on employer pensions that provided a steady stream of income in retirement. But by 2013, after decades of corporate cost-cutting, pensions constituted only 35 percent of retirement assets; more than half were in so-called defined contribution plans such as and IRAs and 401(k)s.

Just as investors faced the new challenge of managing their own retirement money, the financial industry was adding complex products like REITs to retirement offerings. Savers like Wingate, trying to sort through the dizzying options, turned to brokers and advisers for help. “I knew I needed a very knowledgeable person handling our retirement money,” Wingate said. “I wasn’t qualified to do that.”

Brokers had an irresistible opportunity to steer naïve clients to opaque products that offered the biggest commissions, said Sarasota investment adviser Raul Elizalde. They were also legally permitted to choose funds whose annual fees were higher than equivalent investments. “The model of the financial industry under the suitability rule is to take it little by little – and many times,” he said.

Perhaps most perilous for the burgeoning ranks of small investors was a shift in the industry’s marketing strategy: Stockbrokers, once understood as salespeople, began to call themselves “advisers,” a title that had been used previously only by so-called registered investment advisers who were required to operate as fiduciaries.

In a rule published in 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission conceded that investors were confused about the titles that advisers were using and the obligations they were under. Six out of 10 investors had come to the wrongheaded conclusion that brokers had a fiduciary responsibility, the SEC said, citing research by a brokerage firm. The confusion, the SEC said, raised “difficult questions.”

That year the SEC ordered up focus groups of investors. In a typical response, one Baltimore participant said that he regularly received invitations to free dinners from financial people but was clueless as to what their titles meant. “I don’t know if they’re a financial consultant, financial adviser or financial planners,” he said. “How would I even know the difference?”

Despite the conclusions of its own research, the SEC chose to do nothing about the misleading titles. “We are concerned that any list of proscribed names we develop could lead to the development of new ones with similar connotations,” it wrote at the time.

Pedestrians pass a Wells Fargo bank branch in lower Manhattan on April 15, 2016, in New York City.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

By October 2010, just after Dodd-Frank was signed into law, Borzi and her team had designed a proposed fiduciary rule that would shut down ERISA’s loopholes and introduce a new definition of fiduciary advice. But her first stab at a rule was met by ferocious attacks in comment letters and public statements from the securities industry, afraid it would undermine its commission business, and the insurance industry, concerned the rule would make it harder to sell lucrative annuity products. In the year following the release of the proposed rule, not a single consumer group registered to lobby in support of the rule. But the Chamber of Commerce; industry lobby groups including the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) and the Financial Services Roundtable; major firms that offer mutual funds and annuities such as Fidelity Investments and Prudential Financial; and major financial firms including JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab, and Blackrock sent lobbyists to quash various aspects of it — altogether 37 organizations that cumulatively spent more than $61 million on lobbying that included the fiduciary issue during that period.

“They have more money than God,” Borzi said. “For every 15 or 20 meetings we had with opponents, we would have one conference call or meeting with supporters, and that’s probably overstating the number of supporter meetings.”

By September 2011, the DOL had withdrawn the rule, and she and her staff had regrouped to work on a new version. “We have said all along,” Borzi said in a press release, “that we will take the time to get this right.”

Dodd-Frank had required the SEC to study a possible fiduciary standard, too. As part of that process, the SEC solicited public comment and held sit-down meetings with industry and consumer groups. Of the 111 meetings the SEC held between August 2010 and October 2012, only 31 were with groups promoting stronger fiduciary requirements. The SEC’s 80 meetings with industry included 15 with SIFMA, which represents security firms and banks; eight with the Financial Services Institute, which represents brokers; and 14 with insurance companies and trade groups. After producing a study that recommended establishing a fiduciary standard, the SEC’s efforts stalled. “They had been ‘studying’ the issue for years but never took the next step and actually proposed something,” said the Consumer Federation’s Hauptman.

In the years that followed, Borzi said, as she oversaw the development of a new rule, the disproportionate influence of the financial industry was constantly an issue. As the DOL moved toward a final rule in 2016, the number of organizations registered to lobby against it multiplied. Throughout, consumer advocates, who universally support the rule, have been outflanked.

Of the 98 organizations that declared they lobbied the Senate on the fiduciary rule in 2016, only 11 were unambiguously in favor of the rule. Members of the financial industry prefaced many of their public comments with vague endorsements of a best-interest standard, but these letters typically went on to complain about portions of the rule that didn’t serve their interests.

Those lobbying in favor, including the AARP, the American Association of Justice, which represents trial attorneys, and the AFL-CIO, spent a total of $23.9 million on lobbying during the quarters when they were active on the rule.

By comparison, those who lobbied against the rule, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, SIFMA, the Financial Services Roundtable, the American Bankers Association, the Investment Company Institute, Nationwide, Allstate, and Americans for Prosperity, collectively spent $187.3 million in the quarters when they were registered to lobby on the rule. (The filings don’t break down how much was spent lobbying on the fiduciary rule in particular.)

Along with its big spending on lobbyists, the financial industry has also splashed its largesse directly to lawmakers. In a study released in March based on public filings, Americans for Financial Reform found that the financial sector was by far the biggest business category contributing to federal candidates for office and their leadership PACs during the 2015-16 election cycle, spending $1.1 billion.

Among the top 20 contributors? The American Bankers Association, SIFMA, Wells Fargo, New York Life Insurance, and the Investment Company Institute, the trade group for the mutual fund industry — all of which have filed comment letters opposed to the DOL’s rule.

The brokerage industry argues that since the new rule discourages use of the commission-based accounts that are common among small investors, it will effectively cut off average retirement savers from access to investment advice. The insurance industry claims that the rule will impede access to products, including annuities, which provide investors with guaranteed income.

The stakes, apparently, are high. The consulting firm A.T. Kearney calculated last year that it will cost the financial industry as much as $20 billion in lost revenue by 2020 to comply with the rule, in part because it will dramatically reduce the fees the industry collects from investors.

The United States Chamber of Commerce headquarters at 1615 H Street NW, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: APK

While hearings about the rule were in progress in August 2015, a coalition of insurance companies called Americans to Protect Family Security aired a classic scare-tactic television ad that featured a couple heading home in the car after dropping their daughter off at college.

When the wife says that government bureaucrats want to “make it really hard” to get advice from “Ann,” their financial adviser, her husband is indignant. “We’re gonna call our senators,” he says with resolve.

In another ad that month, this one sponsored by the conservative group American Action Network, an investor who can’t get through to a human at his brokerage firm hears the doorbell ring only to discover a drone hovering at his front door. Hanging from the drone is a sign that reads “NOTICE: NO PERSONAL SERVICE FOR YOUR IRA.” The group, founded by Fred Malek, a former assistant to Presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush, spent $5.6 million during the 2016 federal elections, according to OpenSecrets.

More recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a slick 20-page report featuring cartoon graphics depicting “Jane,” an investor with a small account, whose broker “Steve” was dumping her because the oppressive new rule would make it uneconomical to advise her. “Sadly,” the caption reads, “Steve’s company no longer allows him to serve accounts less than $25K.” Chamber spokesperson Stacy Day declined to comment, but referred me to an article in which a Chamber executive said small investors will be “dumped from their plans” or subject to high fees “that may not be the right option for them.”

The research behind these claims is sometimes thin. The Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund trade group, filed a comment letter to the DOL this year in opposition to the rule, claiming that it had “informally surveyed” its mutual fund members and discovered that 31 out of 32 funds had either received “orphaned” accounts from brokerage firms or gotten notice about accounts that would be orphaned by the firms that previously held them. An ICI spokesperson said in an email that this would be harmful to investors because they would lose access to financial advice and the convenience of having a single financial institution hold all their funds in one place.

“A lot of the pushback is a little bit too hysterical,” said Charles Rotblut, vice president at the Chicago-based American Association of Individual Investors, a nonprofit that educates investors on how to manage their money. “These are accounts that the investor has likely forgotten about. The loss of access to financial advice is a weak argument because the investor probably wasn’t using the advice anyway.”

As for the risk of modest investors losing access to a brokers’ advice? “I’m not so sure at the end of the day that that’s bad for the investor,” Rotblut said. “In fact, quite the opposite – some of these so-called advisers are just glorified salespeople who’ve passed a regulatory exam.” He recommends that investors consult with an hourly financial adviser instead.

The Chamber of Commerce report, issued in May, outlined “new information” about a wave of class-action litigation expected in response to a provision of the rule that allows investors to bring class-action lawsuits for systemic abuses. The Chamber cited a February report by Morningstar, Inc. in claiming that the wealth management industry would pay between $70 million and $150 million annually in new legal costs. The Chamber never mentioned that the same Morningstar report said the risk of litigation could serve as an incentive for firms “to create and adhere to prudent policies and procedures that protect retirement investors’ best interests.”

Michael Wong, the Morningstar senior equity analyst who authored the report, said in an interview that his estimates could actually be too high. “If no investors are harmed, there is no basis for class lawsuits and class settlements,” he said. “Through many lenses, it looks like the benefits outweigh the costs of this rule.”

The Chamber report also referred to a post by Meghan Milloy, director of financial services policy at the conservative American Action Forum, in which she suggests that most consumer claims are baseless. Citing Milloy, the report said that consumers filed nearly 4,000 arbitration cases last year with FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, alleging wrongdoing by brokers, but that only 158 — about 4 percent — of those cases were decided in favor of the consumer.

But Milloy’s denominator was off by a factor of 10. Only 389 cases were decided by arbitrators in 2016, meaning that those 158 customer wins represented 41 percent of the cases decided by arbitrators. The reference to the 158 customer wins appeared on a FINRA chart which clearly shows that customers had won 41 percent of the cases they brought, out of 389 cases decided, not Milloy’s “nearly 4,000.”

In a telephone interview, Milloy initially said that the FINRA arbitration statistics were evidence of the prevalence of “baseless claims” by investors. When I pointed out her substantial error, she responded that it was “still less than a majority” of cases decided in favor of consumers. She has not corrected her original post, which on June 29 was cited in a letter to the SEC from lobbyist Kent A. Mason of the Washington, D.C., law firm Davis & Harman on behalf of an unnamed “group of firm clients.” Mason told the agency that its role protecting IRA investors would be “reduced dramatically” under the rule.

To boost its claim that the fiduciary rule will hurt average Americans, the Chamber features on its website small business owners who express deep concern over the new standard. The government watchdog group Public Citizen got in touch with some of those businesspeople, only to learn that several had little knowledge of the rule.

One business owner, Richard Schneider of Ellisville, Missouri, was quoted on the Chamber’s website saying that the rule would mean more paperwork and hurt his employees. “The Labor Department should just fix this rule already,” he said. When contacted by Public Citizen to hear more about his views, though, Schneider said he didn’t follow the rule closely.

Another person featured on the Chamber’s site, Jim Dower, runs a nonprofit in Chicago. The Chamber quoted him as saying that the “DOL may have the right intention … but I’m worried they’ll still get it wrong in the end.” When Public Citizen emailed him about his comment, Dower responded, “Who do I call to get this down?” The Chamber has since removed him from its site.

Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta arrives for testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee during his confirmation hearing on March 22, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

In a March 16 letter to the DOL on behalf of unnamed clients, lobbyist Mason slammed the agency for taking “the stunning position that selling is advising.” Yet a study earlier this year by the Consumer Federation of America demonstrates that is precisely the message that the financial industry has been delivering to the public

Even as securities firms assailed the fiduciary rule in the lead-up to its June 9 effective date, they continued to deliver marketing messages suggesting they already were serving clients at the elevated standard. On their websites, firms large and small pledge to variations on the themes of “clients first” and advice given “with our clients’ best interests in mind,” despite allowing brokers to pitch high-commission products or illiquid investments, like the non-traded REITs sold to Wingate, that are ill advised for all but the wealthiest investors.

In a study of 81 non-traded REITs published in 2015, McCann, the former SEC economist, found that REIT investors over the past 25 years would have earned as much or more by investing in U.S. Treasury securities. More than half their underperformance, he found, resulted from the upfront fees charged to investors, which largely went to brokers.

“The entire industry is built around practices that would be a crystal clear violation of a fiduciary duty,” said Wingate’s lawyer, Stoltmann. “There is no faster way to clean up the securities industry than imposing a mandatory fiduciary rule.”

Opponents of the DOL rule suggest that improved disclosure would solve many of the problems the rule was designed to fix. But Anthony Pratkanis, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied the characteristics of financial fraud victims, said that’s nonsense: “Consumers and investors do not read disclosures. Period.” Multiple studies have shown that even the people who do read them don’t understand them, he said.

A 2012 report from the SEC found that investors often don’t even understand the information they get from brokers about their trades: Only 53 percent of respondents in an online survey of 1,200 investors could correctly identify a trade confirmation as having been for a stock purchase.

Nevertheless, President Trump’s new secretary of labor, Alexander Acosta, has publicly opposed the rule based on an argument that the government should trust in investors’ “ability to decide what’s best for them.”

White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, one of Trump’s closest advisers, has gone further. “We think it is a bad rule,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “This is like putting only healthy food on the menu, because unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger.”

Illustration: Ben Jones for The Intercept

After five more years, four more days of public hearings, thousands of comment letters, and hundreds of meetings, mostly with industry representatives, the DOL finally published its new rule on April 8, 2016. It took the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and eight other business organizations less than two months to file suit against the agency, saying it had exceeded its authority.

In February, a Dallas federal judge ripped apart their arguments in an 81-page opinion denying summary judgment. To a complaint that the DOL had violated the freedom of speech of insurance agents and brokers, Chief Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn of the Northern District of Texas said, “At worst, the only speech the rules even arguably regulate is misleading advice.” The Chamber and the other litigants have appealed.

Just days before that ruling, on February 3, President Trump signed his memo in the Oval Office directing the DOL to review the rule. He then handed his pen to Rep. Ann Wagner, the Republican from Missouri, standing just to his right, and suggested she say a few words. Wagner isn’t the top recipient of Wall Street money in Congress, but support from the sector looms large for her, and she has returned the favor, sponsoring bills to rein in the power of the DOL and the SEC. According to the online publication Investment News, in a 2015 speech to insurance professionals, Wagner said that if efforts to kill the rule fail, “By God we’ll just defund them.”

Explore Trump’s executive orders by clicking on the above image.

 

In a draft bill in early July, Wagner proposed that the rule be eliminated and replaced with a new standard of conduct that would require investment recommendations to “be in the retail customer’s best interest.” But Wagner’s bill lacks the protections of the DOL rule and fails to adequately address the “complex web of toxic financial incentives” that lead to bad advice, according to a July 11 letter to members of the House Financial Services subcommittee from the Consumer Federation of America.

In the 2015-16 election cycle, insurance companies, securities firms, and commercial banks were the top three industries backing Wagner’s campaign, donating more than $549,000. The two firms that gave the most were Jones Financial Companies, a brokerage firm, and the insurance company Northwestern Mutual. Both wrote to the DOL to oppose the rule. Over the last two election cycles, the financial industry contributed more than $1.1 million to her campaigns.

There in the Oval Office, she referred to the executive order as “my baby,” claiming that the edict would help “low- and middle-income investors and retirees.” It was, she said, a “big moment” for Americans who invest and save. A Wagner spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Three months later, in a May 22 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Acosta said that the DOL should examine ways to revise the rule and open up yet another comment period. Acosta’s arguments, said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, were “straight from the talking points of industry.” A DOL spokesperson declined to comment.

Acosta’s op-ed appeared just weeks before the House Financial Services Committee passed the Financial CHOICE Act, an omnibus bill designed to roll back many of the Dodd-Frank reforms. The bill would repeal the DOL’s fiduciary rule and block the DOL from promulgating a new one until at least 60 days after the SEC issues a final fiduciary rule of its own.

On June 1, shortly before the CHOICE Act passed the full House, the SEC suddenly woke up from its slumber. Trump’s new SEC chairman, Jay Clayton, released a request for public comment about the standards of conduct expected of investment advisers and brokers, asking for feedback about possible investor confusion over “the type of professional or firm that is providing them with investment advice.”

“The timing of the request is troubling,” said Stephen W. Hall, legal director at Better Markets, a nonprofit that promotes financial reform. “It appeared after years and years of SEC inaction, but just as the DOL rule came under fresh scrutiny by the new administration.”

In his request for comment letters, Clayton noted that Acosta wanted the two agencies to work together to analyze the standards of conduct for brokers and investment advisers.

Ben Edwards, associate professor of law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that a new fiduciary rule from the SEC could give Acosta the legal ammunition he needs to scrap the DOL’s rule. “An SEC rule would materially change the regulatory environment,” he said, because it could provide “a basis to question the need” for a DOL rule. That would be a win for the insurance industry in particular, Edwards said, because the SEC’s authority “does not ordinarily extend to insurance products.”

Judith Burns, an SEC spokesperson, declined to comment.

Lisa Donner, executive director at the consumer advocacy group Americans for Financial Reform, worries that the DOL rule, just weeks after taking effect, is already “in danger of being undone.” On June 29, the undoing began, with a request for comment from the DOL asking whether the remaining aspects of the rule, which as of January 2018 would require legally enforceable contracts between clients and any brokers who receive commissions, should be further delayed.

Wingate, now retired, said the catastrophic loss to his retirement account has been “really rough” on his wife, who at 69 continues to work as a nurse to compensate for the lost savings. To make ends meet, they sold the family vacation condo in Florida earlier this year. “It was a real strain on our marriage,” Wingate said.

On Saturday mornings at 7 a.m., Wingate’s former adviser, Teboda, has a radio show on Chicago’s AM 560. On a recent Saturday, Wingate said he listened in frustration as he heard the adviser describe himself as a fiduciary who had clients’ best interests at heart. “My wife said, ‘I can’t take it anymore, so please turn it off.’” On Teboda’s June 17 show, he similarly referred to his “fiduciary firm” several times, noting that he worked in clients’ “best interest.”

Wingate and his lawyer, Andrew Stoltmann, say they will face off in November against Teboda and the broker-dealer he is registered with, ProEquities, at a FINRA arbitration hearing. ProEquities spokesperson Eva T. Robertson and Teboda declined to comment, but ProEquities said in its answer to Wingate’s complaint that he is a sophisticated investor who was able to “talk intelligently” with Teboda.

While they await their day in Finra’s closed-door court, the battle over the kind of advice Teboda got will go on. “It’s a profoundly broken system,” said Donner of Americans for Financial Reform. “If there wasn’t so much money at stake for people making money off the broken system, it would not have taken seven years to get this rule done.”

This article was produced in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

The post Financial Advisers Want to Rip Off Small Investors. Trump Wants to Help Them Do It. appeared first on The Intercept.

A condenação de Lula e a imparcialidade de Moro

16 July 2017 - 9:12am

Um dia após a aprovação de uma reforma trabalhista sem a participação dos trabalhadores, o juiz herói Sérgio Moro condenou a 9 anos e meio o maior líder sindical da história do país. O ex-presidente foi condenado por lavagem de dinheiro e corrupção passiva no caso do Triplex, um desfecho óbvio de um roteiro manjado.

A sentença se debruçou longamente sobre as provas frágeis apresentadas pela Ministério Público, mas ignorou completamente as provas da defesa. A imparcialidade de Moro vem sendo questionada durante o processo por parte significativa da opinião pública e o conteúdo da sentença contribui para reforçar essa percepção. Não é para menos. Desde o início do processo, o juiz foi visto em eventos públicos organizados por tucanos, pela Globo, pela Isto É, pelo Lide de Doria. Enfim, talvez seja mera coincidência, mas Moro só confraterniza com inimigos declarados de Lula.

Em dezembro do ano passado, Moro foi premiado pela revista Isto É junto com a cúpula do Grande Acordo Nacional

Diego Padgursch/Folhapress

Recheada de “poréns” e “entretantos”, a sentença mostra um Moro inseguro, vacilante, preocupado em justificar a ausência de provas materiais e em se defender das acusações de parcialidade — como se isso coubesse a um magistrado. No quesito surrealismo, alguns trechos deixam o powerpoint do Dallagnol no chinelo e demonstram o papel de acusador que o juiz assumiu para si:

“Não se trata aqui de levantar indícios de que o ex-Presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva e sua esposa Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva eram os proprietários de fato do imóvel consistente no apartamento 164-A, triplex, do Condomínio Solaris, no Guarujá.”

Aqui temos um juiz explicando que não está levantando indícios, algo que seria absolutamente desnecessário, já que é algo que foge às suas atribuições. Há algo de errado quando um julgador precisa explicar na sentença que não está cumprindo o papel de promotor.

“Em síntese e tratando a questão de maneira muito objetiva, o ex-presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva não está sendo julgado por sua opinião política e também não se encontra em avaliação as políticas por ele adotadas durante o período de seu Governo (…)Também não tem qualquer relevância suas eventuais pretensões futuras de participar de novas eleições ou assumir cargos públicos.”

A necessidade hercúlea de Moro em se defender das acusações de que pretende tirar Lula das próximas eleições é reveladora. Desde quando um juiz deve esse tipo de satisfação? Por que não se ater unicamente aos fatos que envolvem o processo? Se Lula faz política em cima do processo, Moro jamais poderia fazer. Os motivos são óbvios.

“Essas condutas são inapropriadas e revelam tentativa de intimidação da Justiça, dos agentes da lei e até da imprensa para que não cumpram o seu dever. Aliando esse comportamento com os episódios de orientação a terceiros para destruição de provas, até caberia cogitar a decretação da prisão preventiva do ex-Presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Entretanto, considerando que a prisão cautelar de um ex-Presidente da República não deixa de envolver certos traumas, a prudência recomenda que se aguarde o julgamento pela Corte de Apelação antes de se extrair as consequências próprias da condenação. Assim, poderá o ex-Presidente Luiz apresentar a sua apelação em liberdade.”

Moro considera “tentativa de intimidação” o fato dos advogados de Lula recorrerem à Justiça contra ele por abuso de autoridade, uma ação absolutamente legítima. Não cabe a um juiz desqualificá-la dessa forma em uma sentença.

Moro ainda afirma que poderia cogitar a prisão de Lula tendo como base uma declaração de Léo Pinheiro em delação premiada em que afirma que teria sido orientado pelo ex-presidente a destruir provas. Essa declaração não foi sustentada com provas — fato fundamental para validação de uma delação premiada —  e, sozinha, jamais poderia justificar a prisão por obstrução de justiça. Mas Moro escreveu na sentença que pretendeu evitar “certos traumas” que a prisão de um ex-presidente da República poderia causar. Eu pensei que todos fossem iguais perante a lei e que o juiz julgasse com base unicamente com base nas provas do processo, mas Moro confessa, ainda que indiretamente, que norteia seu trabalho a partir de cálculos políticos. Não podemos nos dizer surpresos.

“Por fim, registre-se que a presente condenação não traz a este julgador qualquer satisfação pessoal, pelo contrário. É de todo lamentável que um ex-Presidente da República seja condenado criminalmente, mas a causa disso são os crimes por ele praticados e a culpa não é da regular aplicação da lei. Prevalece, enfim, o ditado “não importa o quão alto você esteja, a lei ainda está acima de você” (uma adaptação livre de “be you never so high the law is above you”).”

Agora esqueçamos a cafonice anglo-saxã entre parêntesis e nos concentremos na satisfação pessoal de Moro, que ele próprio considerou adequado trazer para a sentença. Quando um juiz precisa precisa explicar que não está julgando com base na sua satisfação pessoal é porque está julgando com base na sua satisfação pessoal. Claro, eu não tenho provas materiais para afirmar isso, porém, entretanto, pelo conjunto de indícios dessa sentença e pelas manchetes e capas de revistas, acredito que a satisfação pessoal de Moro já não cabe dentro dele.  Quando um juiz vê sua imparcialidade sendo questionada publicamente, ele deveria se considerar impedido de julgar para que dúvidas dessa natureza não prejudicassem o processo, e não ficar se explicando infantilmente em sentença.

Houvesse provas substanciais para a condenação de Lula, Moro mataria a cobra e mostraria, orgulhoso, o pau. Mas elas não aparecem na sentença. O interminável titubeio e a necessidade de se justificar revelam um juiz preocupado em se defender politicamente e provar sua imparcialidade. Bom, faltou combinar com a materialidade dos fatos.

Depois de ter uma presidenta eleita arrancada do poder, os brasileiros agora veem o candidato favorito para 2018 sendo expulso da disputa eleitoral após uma condenação sem nenhuma prova material. Por outro lado, grandes nomes governistas como Aécio e Temer gozam de liberdade e continuam ocupando seus cargos mesmo diante de uma pororoca de provas. Obviamente, as circunstâncias são diferentes, mas, na prática, é essa a aberração que o país vive.

Numa época em que se vive a judicialização da política, o que vemos é a balança da Justiça pendendo a favor da turma do Grande Acordo Nacional — aquela que pretendia tirar Dilma do poder e fazer um pacto com Supremo, com tudo. Políticos comprovadamente corruptos seguem no comando da nação, sendo julgados por aliados políticos, enquanto um ex-presidente sem cargo público há quase 8 anos pode ir para a cadeia com base num roteiro traçado por um juiz que claramente rivaliza com o réu e que baseou sua decisão apenas em delações e indícios. E há quem continue dizendo que as instituições estão funcionando normalmente. Funcionando pra quem?

The post A condenação de Lula e a imparcialidade de Moro appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s Team Overseeing Wall Street Brings In More Goldman Sachs Alumni, Docs Reveal

15 July 2017 - 7:34am

After using Goldman Sachs as a punching bag for his campaign, sharply criticizing his political opponents for ties to the investment bank, Donald Trump has taken unprecedented steps to appoint former Goldman Sachs attorneys and executives to the upper echelons of government.

It goes far beyond what’s been reported. Not only is Jay Clayton Trump’s chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, after serving as the attorney who advised the bank during the bailouts of 2008, but new disclosures show that the team Clayton brought with him to oversee the financial market regulator are also former Goldman Sachs attorneys.

The Intercept obtained the ethics disclosure form for Sean Memon, Clayton’s deputy chief of staff, which shows that Memon previously worked for Goldman Sachs, as well as a range of other Wall Street clients, including Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, AIG, MetLife, Ally Financial, and Deutsche Bank.

Last month, Clayton also brought in Steven Peikin as one of two directors of the enforcement division of the SEC, one of the most prominent positions at the agency. Peikin, like Memon, previously served as an attorney to Goldman Sachs and other banks. All three men are former lawyers with Sullivan & Cromwell, arguably the most influential law firm of the 20th Century. 

While previous administrations have retained staff with ties to major banks, Trump has turned his administration into somewhat of a Goldman Sachs alumni organization.

Trump’s inner circle consists almost entirely of former Goldman Sachs executives, including his chief political adviser Steve Bannon, his national security adviser Dina Powell, and his top economic advisor Gary Cohn. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin worked at Goldman Sachs for 17 years. Last month, Trump nominated Eric Ueland, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, to serve as as the Under Secretary of State, one of the most senior posts in the State Department.

The appointments coincide with Trump advancing a regulatory and tax agenda that is largely identical to the policy demands of the financial services industry.

In June, the Treasury Department released a report outlining a new wave of prospective deregulation, including loosening capital requirement standards imposed after the 2008 financial crisis and gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s ability to police financial institutions. The tax reform priorities of the administration, which include lowering the corporate income tax rate and creating a tax holiday for overseas corporate earnings, are strongly shared by the leading figures on Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs’ chief executive Lloyd Blankfein.

Top photo: Pedestrians pass by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. headquarters in New York, U.S., on April 14, 2017.

The post Trump’s Team Overseeing Wall Street Brings In More Goldman Sachs Alumni, Docs Reveal appeared first on The Intercept.

Em era de cinismo, nada mais interessa além da disputa de poder

14 July 2017 - 4:07pm

Na votação na CCJ sobre o parecer que pedia admissibilidade da denúncia contra Michel Temer, a  sessão de discursos  dos deputados começa com o voto de Paulo Maluf (PP-SP) que apresenta o presidente  como “um homem honesto, probo, correto e decente”. Mas quem conhece Paulo Salim Maluf sabe que sua fala seria constrangedora em qualquer lugar do mundo onde a política fosse levada a sério.

O deputado Paulo Maluf, que já foi condenado à prisão na França e figurou na lista da interpol, diz que Temer é homem "honesto e probo". pic.twitter.com/CytvXPLWn8

— The Intercept Brasil (@TheInterceptBr) July 12, 2017

A era do cinismo pelo qual estamos passando permite que alguém como o ex-prefeito de São Paulo, condenado por lavagem de dinheiro pela corte francesa, torne isso completamente irrelevante e invisível. E dita as regras numa comissão que traz no nome as palavras constituição e justiça.

A condenação de Lula por Sérgio Moro, criou o ambiente propício para o tipo de disputa narrativa que se tornou o grande embate na política brasileira atual. Lula é um símbolo, é impossível negar isso, e, como todo símbolo, seu sentido, ou o sentido de tudo que diz respeito a ele, será, inevitavelmente, disputado, concorrido, requerido, reivindicado permanentemente.

Cinismo generalizado

De um lado, falando sobre Lula, a senadora Ana Amélia (PP-RS) dizia que “agora, felizmente, estamos vendo que a lei é igual para todos, porque antes só pobres, ladrões de galinha ou negros iam para a cadeia”. É o cinismo de quem sabe que uma frase como essa nem deveria ser pronunciada, porque é um escárnio diante das diversas histórias cotidianas da seletividade da justiça e do sistema penal brasileiro. Ana Amélia, crítica dos excessivos cargos comissionados do governo do seu estado, mas que foi servidora do Senado enquanto era diretora da RBS, na década de 1980.

O senador Paulo Bauer (PSDB-SC) fez questão de ressaltar que “ninguém está acima da lei, que foi feita para ser cumprida por todos os cidadãos brasileiros”. Ele que, acima da lei, nos custou quase 150 mil reais, alugando carros de luxo para uso particular, para se deslocar no seu estado, Santa Catarina.

Por outro lado, o senador Carlos Zarattini, líder do PT na Câmara, chama atenção para o fato de a condenação de Lula ter de ser reprovada por todos os brasileiros, porque ela atropela a democracia e os processos jurídicos. Cinismo e desonestidade é associar a prisão de Lula a um atropelo da democracia, mas não reconhecer a violação da democracia com a sanção, pelo governo Dilma, da chamada Lei Antiterrorismo em 2016.

Lei e ordem: manifestante é “contido” durante as manifestações contra a Copa, em 2014, em São Paulo.

Mídia Ninja

À revelia dos vetos feitos por Dilma, a lei foi o balde de água fria definitivo em grande parte da herança do junho de 2013. Aliás, em junho de 2013, as manifestações foram, sobretudo no Rio e em São Paulo, reprimidas com força desproporcional, com diversas violações de direitos.

É cínico não reconhecer o atropelo da democracia na assinatura de uma portaria casuística como a 3.461, em 2013, feita por Celso Amorim, à época ministro da Defesa, para garantir a Lei e a Ordem: leia-se, reprimir, com o Exército, todo levante popular contra a maneira que os grandes eventos foram pensados (e pagos) para o Brasil, com a Copa das Confederações, Copa do Mundo e Olimpíadas/Paraolimpíadas.

O cinismo de Moro

Tomados pelo cinismo que inspira e pauta as relações na política no país, nada mais coerente que a construção como herói de uma figura como Sérgio Moro. É ele, hoje, a principal referência de ética e honestidade, à revelia do cinismo com o qual age, mas envolto em uma áurea de imparcialidade inquebrável.

Celebrado pela elite política conservadora que tem nitidamente asco da política de ascensão dos pobres empreendida pela gestão de Lula e celebrado pela elite midiática que não quer mesmo ver o petista novamente no centro do poder, Moro exerce bem sua aparente capacidade de revestir frieza e cinismo de serenidade.

Lukla durante coletiva na sede do PT em São Paulo, na quinta (13)

Lula, se preso preventivamente, só se fortalece como herói, e Moro corre o risco de se afundar na imagem de juiz a serviço de uma torcida, em grande parte, rica e conservadora.

Faz isso quando diz que não decretou prisão preventiva de Lula por prudência, e para evitar “certos traumas”, por se tratar de um ex-presidente da república. Envolto no ambiente do cinismo que envolve a todos, Moro sabe que as provas para a condenação de Lula são frágeis, e as provas produzidas pelo MPF não lhe dão a garantia de que sua decisão não passe na revisão de instância superior.

Neste caso, Lula, preso preventivamente, só se fortalece como herói, e Moro corre o risco de se afundar na imagem de juiz a serviço de uma torcida, em grande parte, rica e conservadora. Dizer “não importa o quão alto você esteja, a lei ainda está acima de você”  é o cinismo típico de quem confunde-se com a própria lei, e que, portanto, está ele mesmo acima de qualquer um.

O cinismo de Renan

E o que diríamos ao ver Renan Calheiros rompendo publicamente com Temer, acusando o governo e criticando a reforma trabalhista. Assim como no caso de Maluf, chega a ser constrangedor sob a luz da troca de carinhos entre os dois políticos, em novembro de 2016, portanto menos de um ano atrás, em que Renan prometia sua fidelidade a Temer, colocando o Senado aos seus serviços para votações, disposto inclusive a cancelar as férias.

Logo ele, que votou contra a PEC do Trabalho Escravo, em 2012. Só o cinismo explica.

Mas no nosso universo cínico, Renan Calheiros critica a reforma trabalhista como um homem preocupado com o direito dos trabalhadores pobres, assim como o senador Ronaldo Caiado (DEM-GO) critica o governo e a reforma da previdência. Logo ele, que votou contra a PEC do Trabalho Escravo, em 2012. Só o cinismo explica.

Renan em sessão do Senado em abril de 2017: grande defensor dos trabalhadores.

Também soa muito cínico o PSDB dissimular uma disputa interna, como se fosse quase uma crise de consciência, sobre deixar o governo ou ficar com o governo, alegando como única questão dessa crise a falta de ética da gestão Temer. Depois de ser marcado por uma geração de políticos de relevância – José Gregori, Mário Covas, Sergio Motta, Celso Lafer, além do próprio Fernando Henrique Cardoso – o PSDB alcança um momento medíocre de sua história, mendigando espaço na cúpula do poder, em crise internamente porque não consegue ocupar e manter este espaço.

É este cinismo que sustenta cada declaração da cúpula do PSDB

O ninho tucano vê a queda política do senador Aécio Neves, sua outrora principal estrela e aposta, enquanto vê agora sua única força política para cargos majoritários, ser possível na figura de um ambíguo e outsider João Doria, prefeito de São Paulo. É o partido cuja metade da bancada fecha com o senador Romero Jucá (PMDB-RR) para blindar membros da linha sucessória da presidência e volta atrás vergonhosamente diante da repercussão negativa.

É este cinismo que sustenta cada declaração da cúpula do PSDB, simulando unidade e compromisso com os interesses do Brasil, enquanto tudo o que querem é que seus poderes e privilégios não percam espaço.

O fato é que, politicamente, o Brasil parece se encontrar no seu momento mais cínico. E o seu momento mais cínico é também o seu momento mais frustrante e diametralmente oposto ao que junho de 2013 esboçou pautar, antes de ser também capitulado por uma pauta cínica anticorrupção.

O que temos no Legislativo  é uma coleção de correlações de forças, onde  tudo se torna imprevisível, toda trama é obscura, a rua está distante, e a democracia é só recurso narrativo impregnado de muito cinismo.

Sérgio Moro participa de apresentação sobre de medidas contra a impunidade em Brasília Foto: Fabio Rodrigues/Agência Brasil)

The post Em era de cinismo, nada mais interessa além da disputa de poder appeared first on The Intercept.

Russian-American Lobbyist Paid to Fight Sanctions Was at 2016 Trump Tower Meeting

14 July 2017 - 2:58pm

The latest revelation about the Trump campaign’s secret meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016 is that the Russian lawyer was accompanied to Trump Tower that day by Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who was working to repeal sanctions on Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses.

The presence of the lobbyist, and his rumored ties to Russian intelligence, undercut claims of transparency by Donald Trump Jr. who somehow failed to mention it in any of his accounts of the meeting, which was also attended by his father’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, whose legal team disclosed it to the FBI recently.

But the fact that Akhmetshin was granted an audience with senior campaign officials could be another indication that Russian attempts to help elect Donald Trump President of the United States might have been part of a broader effort to get sanctions lifted without acceding to American pressure to make democratic reforms at home or withdraw support from separatist rebels in Ukraine.

After email correspondence setting up the meeting was leaked to The New York Times this week, the president’s son admitted that he had agreed to it because a Russian business partner had passed on word that a senior Kremlin official wanted to help the Trump campaign by providing intelligence on Hillary Clinton.

He denied, however, that the Russian who came to the meeting, Veselnitskaya, brought any dirt on Clinton with her from Moscow.

Instead, both Donald Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya now maintain, the lawyer only wanted to speak to the Trump campaign about her quest to repeal the Magnitsky Law, a measure passed by Congress in 2012 that sanctioned Russians connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in custody in 2009 after accusing officials of embezzling $230 million in proceeds from a tax fraud scheme.

According to a complaint filed with the Justice Department last year by lawyers for Magnitsky’s former employer, the American investor William Browder, Akhmetshin had been working with Veselnitskaya to undercut the Magnitsky Law. (The complaint also accused Akhmetshin of being “a former member of the Russian military intelligence services,” an accusation the lobbyist denied in an email to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last year. “I am an American citizen since 2009 who pays taxes, earned his citizenship after living here since 1994, and swore an oath of loyalty to the United States of America,” he wrote.)

In an interview with NBC News this week, however, Veselnitskaya insisted that her work is completely unconnected to the Russian government, and is instead motivated by humanitarian concern for the orphans deprived of a chance to find new homes with American families.

That contention would appear to be undermined by the fact that Veselnitskaya apparently came to the meeting at Trump Tower that day directly from a court appearance in Lower Manhattan, where she had been defending a Russian client who was accused by the federal government of money laundering, in a scheme to hide some of the proceeds from the tax fraud uncovered by Magnitsky before his death. (An email to Donald Trump Jr. asking to delay the meeting until 4 p.m. on June 9 said that Veselnitskaya would be “in court until 3.” Her client, Prevezon Holdings, was scheduled to appear before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Courtroom 1703 of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse at 40 Foley Square that same day.)

Prevezon Holdings eventually agreed to pay $5,896,333.65 to settle that suit, two months after President Trump fired Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who had pursued the case.

At least one of Veselnitskaya’s former colleagues, however, expressed doubts to The Intercept about her claim to have been working against the Magnitsky Law independently of the Russian government. According to her ex-colleague, who would only agree to speak on background, Veselnitskaya made no secret of the fact that she was in frequent contact with a senior Kremlin official, Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, during her work on the legal case.

That connection to Chaika could explain how Veselnitskaya ended up at Trump Tower. In the initial email sent to Donald Trump Jr. outlining a scheme to share Russian intelligence on Clinton, Rob Goldstone, a publicist who works for Trump’s Russian business partners, Aras and Emin Agalarov, suggested that the information would come from Chaika, Russia’s senior law enforcement official.

The New York Times reported in 2013 that the Obama Administration reviewed “a list of 280 Russians compiled by Mr. Magnitsky’s family for possible sanctions, including senior officials like Yuri Y. Chaika, the country’s general prosecutor.”

While the email correspondence suggests that the Kremlin was willing to share dirt on Clinton with the Trump campaign, what if the Russians sent to the Trump Tower that day were not there to give information but to set a price for it, by making clear that Russia would expect sanctions to be lifted in return for its help?

Four days after they attended that meeting at Trump Tower, Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin were in Washington, where they screened a documentary attacking Magnitsky and attended a dinner with Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican Congressman from California who has worked to undercut the law.

The following day, both were seen at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia where Rohrabacher spoke in favor of closer relations with Russia.

Veselnitskaya, wearing a tan dress and staring at her phone, sat directly behind Michael McFaul, the Obama Administration’s former ambassador to Russia, and Akhmetshin was photographed at the side of the room.

Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on June 14, 2016.

Photo: William Browder

One day later, on June 15, 2016, the hacker who called himself Guccifer 2.0 posted opposition research and donor documents stolen from the servers of the Democratic National Committee. The U.S. intelligence community later concluded that hackers working for Russian intelligence were behind the theft of those documents and emails provided to WikiLeaks that served to undercut the Clinton campaign.

Top photo: Donald Trump Jr. spoke at a rally for Republican Greg Gianforte in Bozeman, Montana, on April 22.

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Just Six Days After Trump Jr.’s Meeting, Guccifer 2.0 Emailed Me — But There Was One Key Difference

14 July 2017 - 1:44pm

After 39 years of operating without an apparent conceptual understanding of “consequences,” this week Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out an email thread admitting to soliciting the help of the Russian government in order to damage Hillary Clinton and aid the family campaign. The emails are astounding for more than a few reasons, particularly because of what came next.

On June 3rd, British music publicist Rob Goldstone contacted Donald Jr. with an explicit offer: “Official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” In case Donald Jr. was slow on the uptake, Goldstone made sure to spell out exactly what was happening. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he offered, as if he were writing his email to make the work of future investigators simpler. Thus begun an extremely busy couple of weeks. On June 7th, as Philip Bump at the Washington Post points out, the elder Trump “pledged that he’d give a major speech the following Monday, June 13, ‘discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.'” On June 9th, a meeting between Donald Jr., two other members of the Trump campaign, and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya took place in New York, on the basis of the aforementioned “official documents.” The AP also reports that Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin was also present at the meeting, and claims “Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee.”

Donald Jr. now says the meeting was a dud, and Veselnitskaya didn’t have the goods, but it was interesting enough that all of the participants conveniently forget to mention it any point since then.

Just six days after the Trump/Veselnitskaya meeting, and 12 days after the initial contact by Goldstone, while working as a reporter for Gawker, I received an email tip, including official strategy and financial documents from the Democratic Party:

The U.S. intelligence community claims that “Guccifer 2.0″ was an entity operated by the Russian government. A second email that afternoon expanded on the document claims:

(At no point did Guccifer 2.0 and I have anything even resembling a confidential source agreement, and he very quickly, of course, went public with all of his claims)

This timing is interesting for two reasons. The extreme proximity of promised Hillary-related documents and the arrival of Hillary-documents just days later suggests Guccifer 2.0 could have been part of the plan Goldstone alluded to over email. But secondly, although the documents were surely “official” in that they originated from within the Democratic Party, no one ever found anything in them that could be considered “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” It doesn’t appear that any of the documents released by Guccifer, whether in private to reporters like myself or on the web, pertained to or referenced whatsoever any “dealings” between Clinton and Russia. Guccifer was very eager to “pitch” documents to me that he believed would be particularly damaging or newsworthy (virtually none of them were), so it stands to reason that he would have pushed the Russia/DNC angle, were he in possession of documents along those lines. Guccifer mentioned Russia only a couple of times, first to deny to me that he was Russian, and secondly that “Maybe russians were among” those who had hacked the DNC. So there’s nothing directly tying the contents of the Guccifer emails I (and other reporters at other outlets) received to the contents Trump Jr. et al. were promised in this week’s explosive email thread.

This leaves a lot of possibilities, unfortunately, and chalking the whole thing up to nothing more than giant coincidence feels strange and unwise. Of course, a campaign takes place in a compressed time frame — though, mercilessly, not compressed enough — so the likelihood of events coinciding in time is heightened. It’s possible that a British music publicist wasn’t exactly plugged in to the alleged activities of Russian military intelligence, and got the nitty gritty wrong in his email to Trump Jr. It’s possible the offer emailed to Trump Jr. was just a means of testing how receptive he was to the idea of state-sponsored opposition research (very). It’s possible these people are all smarter than they look, and deliberately did not refer to the actual nature of the hacked documents in writing. It’s possible Goldstone and company were entirely separate from Guccifer, a second, discrete branch of campaign dirt-digging. It’s possible these are coincidences—if so, it would behoove Trumps old and young to explain why the most notorious hacker persona of the modern age started shopping around Hillary-related documents less than a week after similar documents were promised to the campaign.

The post Just Six Days After Trump Jr.’s Meeting, Guccifer 2.0 Emailed Me — But There Was One Key Difference appeared first on The Intercept.

Congress Trying to Sneak Through Major Giveaway to Defense Contractors

14 July 2017 - 1:02pm

Congress is on the brink of a major giveaway to defense contractors, tucking language into a must-pass piece of legislation that would broadly expand their ability to gouge the federal government on sole-source contracts.

The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, is practically the only bill Congress passes on time every year. The last 50 NDAA’s, which authorize funds and set policy for the Department of Defense, have reached the president’s desk without a holdup. Education, healthcare, and jobs can wait, but supporting the troops — actually, supporting the defense contractors who make the weapons — must never face a delay. The bill even goes through a regular process, with dozens of amendments and bipartisan votes. It’s like nothing else in Washington.

This year’s version of the NDAA, which authorizes $696 billion in military spending, includes a nice gift for contractors, particularly those that have monopolized a particular part the Pentagon needs. Buried in the NDAA, which is scheduled to pass the House Friday, is an increase in the amount of products which can be sold to the military without providing cost information — data about the price of manufacturing and labor. Without this information, monopoly contractors could enjoy a huge markup on their sales to the government without anyone knowing about it.

Section 803 of the House NDAA raises the threshold for cost information in “noncompetitive” contracts — meaning contracts that are sole-source, with no other supplier for the government — from $500,000 to $2.5 million. The Senate version, in Section 813, raises that threshold to $1 million. If both pass as written, the gift to contractors will be assured; the only question would be how big.

Hiding cost information benefits a small group of sole-source contractors, including TransDigm, which I wrote about for The Intercept in April. TransDigm, a private equity-style conglomerate, specializes in cornering the market for proprietary parts for military aircraft and then jacking up the price. Several Democrats in Congress have highlighted TransDigm’s practices, and the Defense Department’s inspector general is actively investigating the company.

Increasing the threshold for disclosure could allow TransDigm to further avoid sharing information with the Pentagon. Critics charge that TransDigm has subverted the cost information requirement by creating the illusion of multiple suppliers for a product, when in fact they are all owned by TransDigm. The company wouldn’t need to always resort to such subterfuge if this new loophole becomes law. They can also split up contracts to stay under the dollar threshold and avoid disclosure.

The change updates the Truth in Negotiations Act (TINA), an important law passed in 1962 that almost nobody knows about. That law was part of a strong anti-monopoly tradition in military procurement, dating back to the exposure of profiteering by the Truman Committee during World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Pentagon favored competitive bidding, and under TINA, any sole-source contracting required cost information, so procurement officers at the Defense Logistics Agency could ensure they were only paying a reasonable markup, without price gouging.

This model of competition in defense contracting ran aground after the Cold War, when policymakers made streamlining the primary objective. The number of audits of contractor facilities fell. Experienced procurement officers were let go. Buy American mandates were loosened. Contractors won an exception to cost information disclosure if they listed their items as “commercial.” Indeed, the House’s justification for raising the cost information threshold, obtained by The Intercept in a summary of the NDAA, is to “reduce administrative burdens” and “improve process timelines for smaller contracts.” Keeping costs down is no longer the focus.

In addition to creating fake markets, TransDigm uses the commercial item exception routinely (even if there’s no commercial market for the products), according to an Inspector General’s report in 2006. The increased threshold exemption just adds to the company’s bag of tricks.

Partially due to these procurement changes, the defense contractor sector has concentrated significantly since the 1990s. A handful of companies control the sector, and all these loopholes for disclosure prevent public understanding of whether the taxpayer is being harmed by exorbitant pricing.

This document photographed in Washington on in January details the announcement of a five-year, $500 million contract.

Photo: Jon Elswick/AP

“There’s a very serious monopoly problem in the defense industrial space, and it’s time Congress start taking it seriously,” said Matt Stoller, a fellow with the Open Markets Program of the New America Foundation, who is also an Intercept contributor.

It’s hard to identify how this loophole got into the NDAA, because the process is so secretive. Citing national security, the Senate Armed Services Committee did all its work on the bill this year in closed sessions. While the House Armed Services Committee markups were open, some of the subcommittee hearings lasted as little as 2 minutes, merely recording votes on their part of the bill. Seventeen organizations, led by the Project on Government Oversight, protested the closing of the NDAA committee process, insisting, “It’s time to bring the NDAA into the light of day.”

Some people are watching over the process: the ones paid by their defense contractor clients. Lobbying by the defense industry has exceeded $70 million annually for five of the past six years.

The Armed Services Committees claim they are cracking down on the acquisition process. The Senate bill authorizes a study on software acquisition, and enhanced training for procurement officers. The House version requires more oversight in service contracts, which make up about half of Pentagon contract spending. There’s even a provision in the House bill inserted by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who has led the charge on TransDigm, to study the ownership structures of defense contractors, to prevent “hidden monopolists with unreasonable prices.”

But the NDAA also gives a boost to another monopoly provider — Amazon. Both the House and Senate encourage the Pentagon to use online commercial sites for procurement, with speed and convenience again being the primary goal.

So far, no amendments have been filed in either chamber to eliminate the increase on sole-source cost information thresholds. If it becomes law, it’ll be hard to even gauge its impact, because the entire point is to prevent disclosure of how much monopoly defense contractors are overcharging the government.

Top photo:U.S. Marines advance on the Black Sea shore during a military training exercise in Romania on March 20, 2017.

The post Congress Trying to Sneak Through Major Giveaway to Defense Contractors appeared first on The Intercept.

Com condenação de Moro, Lula lança pré-candidatura e aumenta caos para 2018

14 July 2017 - 12:18pm

O juiz Sergio Moro poderia ter seguido o exemplo de nosso líder supremo – Trump, não Temer – e usado o Twitter para espalhar o caos. Em vez disso preferiu gastar 218 páginas na sentença que, tendo como prova basicamente um documento rasurado e o depoimento de um criminoso, condenou um ex-presidente da República à prisão pela primeira vez na história do Brasil. Sim, tivemos Sarney, tivemos Collor, temos Temer, mas coube ao companheiro Lula a honra de ser o primeiro.

A notícia dos nove anos e meio de condenação não foi exatamente uma novidade. Quem assistiu ao juiz agindo como promotor no famigerado depoimento de Lula em Curitiba não poderia esperar outra decisão. Mas, ainda assim, foi um fuzuê danado. Manchete nos jornais, urgência nas redes, vídeo de Jean Wyllys dando munição ao MBL ao afirmar que Moro usa ternos “cafonas” e que os nove anos de encarceramento são uma piada sórdida com os nove dedos de Lula.

Verdade que, nas ruas, a comoção não foi muito mais do que um muxoxo, o que é compreensível. Afinal, se toda vez que a CUT convocasse uma manifestação, o povo obedecesse, nos últimos meses ninguém ia fazer nada além de zanzar pela Paulista de bandeira vermelha em punho.

Lula, por sua vez, resignou-se a assistir ao jogo do Corinthians que, segundo diversos especialistas do Facebook, é a única instituição nacional funcionando plenamente. Só deu as caras aos microfones na hora do almoço de quinta (13), ao lado da fina-flor petista, além de lideranças de esquerda, como Guilherme Boulos  (MTST), Vagner Freitas (CUT) e do escritor Raduan Nassar, que parece ter se enjoado da criação de coelhos e resolvido dedicar-se a arreliar os coxinhas.

Lula fala a jornalistas na sede do PT, na quinta (13).

Foto: Diego Padgurschi /Folhapress)

Lula parecia bem-humorado. Fez piadas de futebol, com Moro, com o Jornal Nacional, passou pelo discurso da falta de provas para a condenação, falou da amizade com seu algoz Leo Pinheiro, do perigo dos depoimentos extraídos após prisões prolongadas, deu uma piscadela para o mercado, mencionando a necessidade de mandar os mais pobres às compras novamente, e tangenciou o luto por Dona Marisa.

Depois, deu uma boa olhada nas cartas sobre a mesa e resolveu aumentar a aposta. Pediu seis em cima do truco de Moro e se lançou pré-candidato para as eleições presidenciais do ano que vem. A pré-candidatura após a sentença foi, ao lado da aprovação da reforma trabalhista que jogou a CLT na lona, a notícia política mais importante da semana.

A assustadora e improvável mistura de autoritarismo e caos que está aí, aí permanecerá até 2019.

Porque, convenhamos, aceita ou rejeitada a denúncia contra Temer, fique ele ou entre Maia, isso pouco importa. A assustadora e improvável mistura de autoritarismo e caos que está aí, aí permanecerá até que outro filho de Deus (ou não), vista a faixa presidencial em 2019. Mas existe também a possibilidade de que o caos permaneça depois de 2019. Uma possibilidade um tanto palpável num país que tem, como segundo colocado na corrida eleitoral, um militar da reserva de extrema-direita cujo nome é melhor não pronunciar. E que, com a decisão do companheiro Lula, torna-se ainda mais palpável.

As chances de o ex-presidente ser de fato mandado para o xilindró diminuem quando ele se torna oficialmente o candidato favorito e, portanto, virtual próximo presidente. Se Moro já ficou com medinho de causar “certos traumas”, e se absteve de colocar um dos políticos mais populares da história atrás das grades, imagine o certo trauma dos desembargadores do Tribunal Regional Federal quando o primeiro lugar na corrida ao planalto se somar na fatura. Portanto, para Lula, a decisão parece acertada. Mas apenas para Lula, em detrimento do povo que ele tanto diz amar. E em prol do caos.

Caos, caos e mais caos

Afinal, haverá um longo período de incertezas. Porque o TRF4 já informou que dará a sentença antes das eleições, mas não disse o quanto antes. A defesa do ex-presidente também pode pedir revisões na decisão de Moro (os embargos declaratórios) além de recorrer a liminares de outros tribunais para manter os direitos políticos do ex-presidente condenado. Mas a dúvida estará sempre à espreita. Teremos uma campanha eleitoral em que, a qualquer momento, o principal candidato pode ser arrancado do palanque direto para a cadeia.

E se isso de fato acontecer? E se o tribunal pedir nove no truco e cassar os direitos políticos do primeiro colocado nas pesquisas? E, pior, se isso for feito poucos meses antes da ida às urnas?

Caos, caos e mais caos. O PT ficará mais perdido do que cachorro em dia de mudança, sem tempo para tirar outro nome da cartola. A esquerda não estará em condição muito diferente, mais dependente do lulismo do que Trump  da Fox News. E o pobre PSDB, atônito em cima do muro, tendo de digerir a vergonhosa derrocada de seu menino de ouro Aécio Neves, perderá também o arqui-inimigo que é basicamente sua atual razão de viver.

Há, contudo, um segundo beneficiado pela decisão de Lula. Sim, ele, o inominável militar da reserva de extrema direita que faz a cabeça de cada vez mais abilolados da nação. O “inominável”, usando sua oratória truncada recendente à mofo da caserna, comemorou a sentença nas redes sociais, bateu continência a Moro e se deu como certeza no segundo turno com uma possível ausência forçada do petista. Então, como diria o nobre deputado Tiririca: pior que está, fica. E, graças a Lula, talvez já tenha ficado.

 

The post Com condenação de Moro, Lula lança pré-candidatura e aumenta caos para 2018 appeared first on The Intercept.

Carta a Sérgio Moro, por Tico Santa Cruz

14 July 2017 - 11:35am

Moro,

O senhor deveria ser apenas juiz, mas o senhor se tornou um herói. Heróis fazem justiçamento, juízes fazem justiça. Entende a questão?

Comecei a desconfiar de que o senhor havia deixado de ser juiz para ser herói quando começou a falar para fãs e não para a sociedade.

Admirador admira, enxerga erros e acertos. O fã não, ele acredita que seu herói nunca falha.

Tudo bem ter admiradores. Admirador admira, enxerga erros e acertos. O fã não, ele acredita que seu herói nunca falha. Isso mexe com a vaidade, e vaidade é um perigo.

E que fotos são aquelas com aquele monte de políticos do PSDB? Sempre sorrindo, pertinho, simpático, convidativo. Arrisco-me a dizer que parecem amigos, daqueles que se sentem confortáveis ao serem fotografados, como se tivessem orgulho um do outro. Isso me soa estranho, Moro.

Um juiz pode ter amigos, mas quando opta por ser juiz e está inserido dentro de um ambiente de conflitos, grandes interesses, guerra política, me parece um pouco imoral se exibir ao lado de um grupo político cujo seus principais personagens estão completamente envolvidos com casos semelhantes aos que o senhor está julgando ou poderia vir a julgar.

Não lhe bateu nenhum constrangimento com isso?

Imagina se as fotos fossem com integrantes do PT? Não seria extremamente execrável?

Fico constrangido. Como confiar diante de tamanha intimidade?

Num momento tão delicado, um juiz preocupado, que não se deixou seduzir, jamais participaria de um evento não oficial, de uma revista que tem por objetivo homenagear “personalidades importantes” e oferecer por exemplo Michel Temer como “homem do ano”. Não lhe bateu nenhum constrangimento com isso? Mandasse um representante…

Nessa mesma festa o senhor aparece trocando risadinhas com Aécio Neves – senador gravado em áudios comprometedores que, como o senhor sabe, sempre esteve metido em maracutaias políticas, porque o senhor tem ciência de que o sistema político elegeu grande parte de suas autoridades com dinheiro ilegal. Isso é do conhecimento de qualquer brasileiro mediano. Mesmo assim, não fez questão de se resguardar.

Eu queria que o senhor fosse apenas um bom juiz. Discreto e eficiente. Que, ao condenar uma figura tão simbólica (para o bem ou para o mal), não nos deixasse dúvidas de que a justiça estavivesse sendo feita. Para acabar de vez com toda essa loucura que virou o Brasil. Mas do jeito que foi feito, só fomentou mais essa polarização caótica, horrível.

Não estou aqui pra ser advogado de defesa de ninguém. Só fiquei com a sensação de que sua última decisão foi motivada pelo herói.

Um juiz a meu ver precisa,acima de tudo, oferecer  a sensação de imparcialidade, mesmo que não seja em seu íntimo. E sendo bem sincero, desculpe-me, isso o senhor nunca fez questão de passar.

O fato é que vossa excelência desfruta da simpatia de uma legião de indignados, guiados pelo sentimento de vingança. Não estou aqui pra ser advogado de defesa de ninguém. Só fiquei com a sensação de que sua última decisão foi motivada pelo herói. Por alguém que almeja um lugar na História do Brasil. Não pelo juiz.

Só que o Brasil  guarda muitos  altares e purgatórios, e aqui se vai do céu ao inferno antes de sentir o gosto das nuvens.

Eu me sentiria mais seguro e representado, se estivéssemos  assistindo a um julgamento justo, onde consta o Ministério Público versus o Réu, e não o juiz versus  o réu. Sem prisões coercitivas desnecessárias e ironias.

Então, caro Moro, se existem provas robustas, por que não prender o condenado? Prenda! Faça valer  sua sentença com a segurança de quem tem como bancar o que assinou. A Justiça não lhe permite?

Estou aqui para dizer que preferia que Sergio Moro fosse apenas o Juiz, mas o senhor escolheu ser herói e heróis são frutos de sociedades decadentes, doentes,  repletas de pessoas confusas e desiludidas. É triste precisarmos de heróis.

Estamos do mesmo lado, sendo explorados da mesma forma.

Certamente o senhor verá meu nome ser massacrado por seus fãs. Contudo, insisto! Precisamos de juízes, de políticos comprometidos com o povo e não com corporações; de policiais bem treinados e conscientes de que não somos seus inimigos.  Estamos do mesmo lado, sendo explorados da mesma forma. Precisamos de médicos humanizados, de professores bem pagos e motivados e de um Estado que atua pelo cidadão e não para beneficiar meia dúzia de famílias e empresas ou bancos.

E quando eu vejo a chance de mudar o sistema de verdade se tornar parte desse mesmo sistema para inclusive fazer a manutenção dele, me dá um aperto no coração.

É isso, Moro. Vossa excelência é um herói no Brasil. Só não sei até onde isso é bom, inclusive para ti.

Vão dizer que estou “defendendo bandido”, mas só queria ter certeza de que a justiça está realmente sendo feita.

Foto em destaque: Sérgio Moro em evento promovido pela revistá “IstoÉ” para a premiação de ”Brasileiros do Ano”, destaques de 2016. Foto: Diego Padgurschi /Folhapress

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Glenn Greenwald fala sobre a condenação de Lula: “terremoto político do Brasil”

14 July 2017 - 10:17am

No show político dos EUA, Democracy Now, nessa quinta (13), o editor co-fundador do The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, discutiu extensivamente as implicações da convicção de Lula sobre acusações de corrupção e lavagem de dinheiro.

“É difícil colocar em palavras o que é um extraordinário terremoto político para o Brasil”, disse Greenwald. Ele descreveu a percepção de que o juiz Moro foi motivado por considerações políticas, os efeitos nas eleições presidenciais de 2018 e o papel-chave da austeridade e das finanças internacionais em toda a atual intriga política que impulsiona a crise política do Brasil.

Veja a entrevista completa com legendas em português acima.

Assista ao original em inglês aqui. Leia a condenação de Lula na íntegra.

Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse

The post Glenn Greenwald fala sobre a condenação de Lula: “terremoto político do Brasil” appeared first on The Intercept.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke Takes Bernie Sanders Fundraising Model Local in Run at Ted Cruz

13 July 2017 - 10:51pm

Thursday was supposed to be a good day for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his new version of his repeal-and-replace healthcare bill, now complete with an amendment from Cruz that guts protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and slashes insurance regulations. It represents a new kind of Ted Cruz, one working productively toward a solution with GOP leadership — a Texas mile from the burn-it-down cowboy the nation has come to know.

As of now, McConnell, R-Ky., doesn’t have the votes to pass the new version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, but Cruz has bigger problems: The most prominent Democrat challenging him in 2018, Rep. Beto O’Rourke from El Paso, just announced raising $2.1 million last quarter.

Cruz, meanwhile, brought in a not-so-Texas-sized $1.6 million (though he has more than $5 million in cash on hand).

O’Rourke did it in a surprising, and for Cruz, concerning way: $0 from corporate PACs, 46,574 individual donations, and more than 80 percent of the money coming from genuine Texans. In other words, this is not a Jon-Ossoff-style phenomenon where people around the country are throwing money at O’Rourke. 

What’s significant here is what it says about the future prospects of candidates like O’Rourke, who was first elected to Congress in 2012.

He won his seat by beating an incumbent Democrat, Sylvestre Reyes, a former border control guard, from the left. Reyes had fought against a resolution O’Rourke had pushed as a city councilman in El Paso that called on the federal government to contemplate legalizing marijuana as a way to tamp down violence on the border. O’Rourke responded by taking him out, and the primary was a pivotal moment in drug policy politics, as it showed politicians there could be electoral consequences for being too trigger-happy in the drug war — a previously unthinkable proposition.

Moreover, O’Rourke is a backer of single payer universal healthcare. He’s ardently pro-choice. And he took on the the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the height of the 2014 Israel-Gaza War, casting one of only eight votes against the Iron Dome rocket defense system. “I tried to find him on the floor, but I couldn’t,” then-Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. (who’s had his own run-ins with AIPAC) later told the New Yorker. “I wanted him to switch his vote. Now, he might not have switched it anyway, because — as shocking as it may be — he’s in Congress solely to do what he considers to be the right thing. I’m afraid he may have a tough race in November.”

O’Rourke did not have a tough race that November, despite electoral threats that were leveled at him after the vote.

He is far from the centrist mold that power brokers in Washington might recruit to run for Senate in Texas, but then again, power brokers in Washington don’t spend much time thinking about running for Senate in Texas.

But the way O’Rourke is raising money changes the game. The El Paso congressman does not have much in the way of a national fundraising network, has refused corporate PAC money, and is known among his colleagues to be a less-than-enthusiastic fundraiser. That’s the kind of lawmaker who often had little future in Washington — but exactly the kind many grassroots Democrats would like to see rise. The type of person who is good at spending hours a day with doctors, bankers, lawyers and other professionals who can write four and five-figure checks is A) probably not hard-wired to be a conviction politician and B) vulnerable to have their politics diluted just by virtue of the conversations they’re having day in and day out.

Former Rep. Tom Perriello,D-Va., said that spending so much time on the phone fundraising winds up creating “an enormous anti-populist element, particularly for Dems, who are most likely to be hearing from people who can write at least a $500 check. They may be liberal, quite liberal in fact, but are also more likely to consider the deficit a bigger crisis than the lack of jobs.”

O’Rourke told The Intercept that the burst of fundraising gives him hope that the legislative process can be salvaged. “It means it’s up to people again, and that, for me, is restoring my faith in our democracy that has been so badly shaken by being in Congress for four and a half years and seeing everyone do what you just said,” O’Rourke said, referring to the hours members of Congress spend hours on the phone with donors. It crowds everything else out, he said, explaining that “it is a luxury to get to sit through a committee hearing, it is a luxury to get to know your colleagues, it’s a luxury to become a subject matter expert on something, because you just cannot afford to do that if you want to get re-elected. And I think if we win part of what people will draw from that is there’s a way to win, and that involves depending on people.”

(He added that he does indeed spend some time on the phone with potential donors, just not as much as a fundraising consultant might like.)

In years past, a congressman like O’Rourke would hit a career ceiling quickly: plum committee spots, which are reserved for good fundraisers looking for PAC money, would be hard to come by, and expensive statewide Senate races off limits. But in 2017, that ceiling is broken, as O’Rourke has managed to localize the model pioneered by Howard Dean, built upon by Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and nearly perfected by Bernie Sanders in 2016.

“I didn’t know what to expect when we announced, I just knew it was the right thing to do, it was the thing I had to do,” said O’Rourke. “It’s been so nice that folks in Texas haven’t been listening to the party bosses who are — understandably — focused on, you’ve gotta keep these ten Senate seats in states that Trump won, and that Texas isn’t worth the risk or worth the money. And they’re not listening to the conventional wisdom that says this is a red state. I’d love to take credit for it but there’s no way — and my wife will remind me if I start getting a big head — the folks who are showing up to events, the folks who are donating, it’s less about me, more about the decision they had already arrived at, that they were going to get involved, they weren’t going to sit this one out and they were going to do whatever it took to make things right and get their state back.”

As a result of O’Rourke’s eye-popping fundraising total, Democrats are now running a serious campaign in Texas — just as they were forced to do with House special elections in Montana and Georgia, both places they were reluctant to engage early on. (They were less reluctant in Georgia, but still only got in after grassroots money began pouring into Jon Ossoff’s campaign.)

The grassroots army doesn’t mean O’Rourke will win, and he is still quite a longshot, but it means Republicans will have to devote resources to it, time and money that can’t go elsewhere. Even a losing campaign builds infrastructure for future efforts, but then again, nobody expected Trump to become president, or Sanders to nearly snatch the nomination. Trump carried Texas by nine points.

If the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee takes several million dollars and burns it on a losing race, it’s fair to wonder if the money should’ve been spent elsewhere. But the money O’Rourke raised, or most of it, at least, was from small donors who wanted to give specifically to O’Rourke, so it wasn’t the Democratic Party’s money to spend.

Or, more to the point, they wanted to give specifically against Cruz. “It’s certainly about Cruz,” said O’Rourke. “In a real fundamental way, even beyond party or ideology, people just want to make sure they’re served and represented, and the guy has been running for president fo four years and has made all these terrible decisions that make him more popular in a national primary, and make him less useful for Texas.

For O’Rourke, the most important thing is that this wasn’t a decision made in Washington. It was made one donation at a time, 46,574 times. “People are going to make it happen,” he said. “They just don’t care what anybody says — they’re going to make this happen.”

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The post Democrat Beto O’Rourke Takes Bernie Sanders Fundraising Model Local in Run at Ted Cruz appeared first on The Intercept.

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