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DCCC Goes Nuclear, Slams Dem Candidate As Corrupt For Same Behavior It Engages In Regularly

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 3:42pm in

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On Thursday evening, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the extraordinary step of publicly attacking a prominent Democratic candidate in a contested Texas primary. The party committee’s move was made all the more jarring given the background of the candidate, Laura Moser, who in 2017 became a hero of the Trump resistance movement as the creator of Daily Action, a text-messaging tool that channelled progressive anger into a single piece of activism per day.

“Voters in Houston have organized for over a year to hold Rep. [John] Culberson accountable and win this Clinton district,” DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly told the Texas Tribune. “Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.”

The comment followed the release of an oppo dossier the party compiled on Moser. To date, the DCCC has made only two such memos public, one on Moser, and the other on arch-conservative Rick Saccone, a Republican running in an upcoming special election.

“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington. She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress,” warned the DCCC in its memo.

The dropping of the opposition research on Moser came after The Intercept published an article Thursday morning highlighting a rift in the race, with the pro-choice women’s group backing Lizzie Pannill Fletcher against Moser. The DCCC and EMILY’s List often work hand in glove. Meanwhile, candidate Alex Triantaphyllis, a former Goldman Sachs analyst, has told people on the campaign trail he was recruited by the DCCC, according to local Indivisible leader Daniel Cohen.

Fletcher, a corporate lawyer with ties to a mega-donor steel magnate, worked for a firm that routinely represents employers. The firm recently defeated local janitorial workers in a labor law case by studying social media feeds to ensure the jury had a healthy number of Trump supporters, a tactic it later boasted about publicly. Fletcher said she didn’t work directly on the case. But the local AFL-CIO made a rare non-endorsement in the race, urging residents to vote for any candidate other than Fletcher, and pledging to do what they can to defeat her.

The suggestion that Moser, a freelance writer, has “outright disgust for life in Texas” takes a snippet of Moser’s writing from 2014 in Washingtonian magazine out of context. In an article about her preference for city over rural life, she wrote that she would “sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than move to the town where her grandparents had recently sold their house, Paris, Texas. National Democrats may not be familiar with Texas — indeed, the DCCC failed to field a single candidate in a Dallas district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — but in fact Paris, Texas, and Houston, Texas, where Moser is running, are hundreds of miles apart and very different places. Houston is a city.

But the more serious charge the party leveled at Moser was to imply corruption and self-dealing. “In 2017, Moser paid over $50,000 in campaign money to her husband’s DC consulting firm. More than 1 of every 6 dollars spent by her campaign went straight into her husband’s DC company’s bank account,” writes the DCCC.

Most of that money was for ad buys, which meant that it may have gone into the bank account, but it didn’t stay there long, and was instead destined for TV station or digital coffers. But setting that aside, it has long been known that Moser is married to Arun Chaudhary, a partner at Revolution Messaging, a consulting firm that is most well-known for its work on the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. As The Intercept noted, Daily Action and Revolution had a financial relationship, as well, according to public disclosures.

That the DCCC would attack a Democrat for funneling money to a campaign consultant is itself rich, given how the organization habitually steers candidates to its own consultants. Its nickname in Washington, after all, is “the consultant factory,” as so many of its operatives go on to be campaign consultants working on the party doll. James Thompson, a congressional candidate in Kansas who nearly won a 2017 special election for the seat vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, told The Intercept last month that the DCCC told him flat-out “to spend a certain amount of money on consultants, and it’s their list of consultants you have to choose from.”

This is made explicit in a memo sent to candidates seeking DCCC support last December. In exchange for that support, candidates must “hire professional staff and consultants who can help execute a winning campaign,” and “the DCCC will provide staff resumes and a comprehensive list of consultants as well as helpful resources to the campaign including staff trainings.” Rep. Tim Ryan said after the 2016 elections that the DCCC “need[s] to go on a consultant detox.”

The DCCC has instead done the opposite. Relationships like Moser’s and her husband’s are easy to find in Washington. A cursory look at the leadership of the DCCC, in fact, turned up a few.

The DCCC’s independent expenditure director, for instance, is Jessica Mackler, the spouse of BluePrint Interactive partner Geoff Mackler. Federal Election Commission disclosures show that Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, Moser’s opponent, retained BluePrint Interactive to help the campaign on its digital consulting work, paying the firm $7,500 in September. The firm also lists Emily’s List, which is supporting Fletcher’s campaign, as a client.

Consultants often take a percentage of all media placement of election ads in addition to a consulting fee. That enabled consulting firm Mothership Strategies, founded by DCCC veterans, to earn $3.9 million from the failed special election campaign for Jon Ossoff in Georgia last year. Around $2.5 million of that Ossoff haul came from media buys. Mothership veterans also birthed End Citizens United, which has become something of a stalking horse for DCCC-backed candidates this cycle.

The DCCC’s new executive director, Daniel Sena, is married to Elizabeth Christie Sena. After Daniel was named executive director, Elizabeth was made a partner at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a prominent DCCC consulting firm. In the 2016 campaign cycle, the DCCC paid GQR $395,000 over two years. With Elizabeth Sena not just a partner at the firm but literally handling the DCCC account, according to her biography on the site, the firm has already pulled in $525,523 so far this campaign cycle.

The firm threw Sena a party less than a week before Ossoff’s loss in Georgia, inviting her husband, an event memorialized in Playbook.

SPOTTED at a Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner party last night for new COO Lindsey Reynolds (longtime COO of the DNC) and new partners Elizabeth Sena and Kristi Lowe: Anna Greenberg, John Hagner, Al Quinlan, Lauren Dillon, Jeremy Rosner, Dan Sena, Earl Fowlkes, Jeremy Baker, and Maureen Garde.

The consulting firms did not respond to a request for comment sent after hours, but none of this is to suggest that the Senas or the Macklers have done anything illegal, but rather that the relationships appear to parallel the one criticized by the DCCC.

Moser in 2017 drew the attention of the DCCC with a piece she wrote in Vogue that goes unmentioned in the party’s oppo book. It was headline “Want More Women to Vote? Here’s an Idea: Stand Up for Them” — and it went on to slam the DCCC for saying the party would welcome anti-choice candidates. It began:

As a first-time Congressional candidate, I’ve been warned not to criticize Ben Ray Luján and the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I’m running in one of the most competitive House districts in the country, and I’ll need all the support, financial and organizational, that I can get from party leaders and organizations. But I cannot hold my tongue while Luján and the DCCC abandon the commitment to human rights that brought me to the party in the first place.

The DCCC couldn’t hold its tongue either, but despite the lashing, groups backing Moser, including Democracy for America and Justice Democrats, aren’t going anywhere. Actor Alyssa Milano, who had previously endorsed Moser, said she still plans to travel to the district and stump for her ahead of the March primary, in which the top two candidates will advance to a runoff.

The most generous explanation for the DCCC’s harsh attack on Moser is that the party believes she can’t win the general election, so is trying to block her from winning the primary. “I think the DCCC believes they’ll struggle to win in November with Moser,” tweeted Walker Agner Jr. an observation that was retweeted by the DCCC’s Kelly. 

 

(She also RTed somebody calling her “an opportunistic grifter who’d kill the party’s chances in a key seat.”)

But in 2006, the last time Democrats were washed into the House on a blue wave, the DCCC also worked against a handful of candidates it believed couldn’t win the general election. When they won their primaries, the DCCC walked away, declaring the races un-winnable.

They won anyway.

Top photo: Laura Moser picking up her campaign materials at a print shop in Houston, Monday May 22, 2017.

 

 

The post DCCC Goes Nuclear, Slams Dem Candidate As Corrupt For Same Behavior It Engages In Regularly appeared first on The Intercept.

Science and the quest for truth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 11:06am in

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from Lars Syll In my view, scientific theories are not to be considered ‘true’ or ‘false.’ In constructing such a theory, we are not trying to get at the truth, or even to approximate to it: rather, we are trying to organize our thoughts and observations in a useful manner. Robert Aumann   What a […]

Civilian Casualties Soared in Iraq and Syria in 2017. Was Trump’s Bloodthirsty Rhetoric to Blame?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 9:45am in

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After three years of brutal fighting, the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is winding down, the U.S. military announced on Thursday, saying the coalition has “liberated” more than 98 percent of the area formerly controlled by ISIS, or Daesh, freeing “7.7 million Iraqis and Syrians once held under brutal Daesh rule.”

By all accounts, this victory has come at a huge cost to civilians, but how huge depends on who you ask. The U.S.-led coalition says it conducted 29,070 strikes between August 2014 and January 2018, killing “at least 841 civilians.”

But that figure is much lower than independent estimates, raising questions about the conduct of the war and its disproportionate impact on Iraqi and Syrian civilians. According to reporting by the nonpartisan monitoring group Airwars, between 6,136 and 9,315 civilians have died in coalition strikes since 2014, with death tolls spiking sharply in 2017. A recent New York Times investigation on airstrikes in Iraq also found drastic underreporting of civilian casualties in official statistics, with thousands of civilian casualties undocumented by official figures.

In its annual assessment issued last month, Airwars found that 2017 was the deadliest year for civilians in Iraq and Syria, with between 3,923 and 6,102 civilians killed in strikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition. During 2017, civilian deaths from coalition air and artillery strikes in support of local ground forces in Iraq and Syria increased more than 200 percent over the previous year. Roughly 65 percent of all civilian deaths recorded by Airwars since the air campaign began in 2014 have occurred over the last 12 months.

“We expect that there are going to be civilian casualties in military operations — particularly during large-scale urban assaults — but we were not expecting casualties to increase at such a rate,” said Alex Hopkins, a researcher at Airwars. “We’re looking at extraordinarily high levels of civilian harm over the past year. It raises serious questions about level of care that the coalition is taking in its operations.”

The staggering increase in civilian casualty rates also raises questions about how political changes in the United States may be influencing the conduct of the war. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to take brutal and indiscriminate measures against territories under ISIS control in Iraq and Syria once in office, pledging to “bomb the shit out of them” and “take out [the] families” of suspected terrorists.

It’s doubtful that Trump has been closely involved in the military campaign, but he is the commander-in-chief of U.S. forces and his rhetoric seems to have influenced the Pentagon. In a significant departure from the public position of Obama-era military officials such as David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal — commanders who generally emphasized the strategic value of judicious use of force and protecting civilians — Defense Secretary James Mattis has publicly called for the use of so-called annihilation tactics against militant groups.

And Mattis’s attitude seems to have trickled down through the ranks. On January 9, the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted officer, Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, stated that if ISIS fighters do not surrender, “we will kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that be through security force assistance, by dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face, or beating them to death with our entrenching tools.” Months earlier, in the run-up to the coalition assault on Raqqa, then-coalition commander Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend bragged that his forces “shoot every boat we find” in the Euphrates River running alongside the city. Townsend’s statement seemed to ignore the fact that the Euphrates River was then the main avenue of escape for civilians fleeing the city.

TOPSHOT - Smoke plumes rise after an airstrike in west Mosul on March 10, 2017 as Iraqi forces advance in the city during the ongoing battle to seize it from the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group. / AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS        (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Smoke plumes rise after an airstrike in west Mosul on March 10, 2017, as Iraqi forces advance in the city during the ongoing battle to seize it from the the Islamic State.

Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

The correlation between the bloodthirsty public rhetoric and the skyrocketing civilian death tolls seems to suggest, at minimum, a more aggressive approach to the battle in the last year. While Mattis has indicated in public statements that decision-making on airstrikes has devolved to lower-level commanders, the Pentagon has also maintained that its formal rules of engagement governing the use of force in Iraq and Syria have not changed since Trump took office.

“While the coalition does not provide public details on our rules of engagement, we can tell you that our rules of engagement have not changed in the past year,” a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command told The Intercept in an email. “At this point in the operation, we are focused on dismantling their network, degrading their capabilities, exposing their extremist ideology for the senseless violence it represents, and preventing their resurgence.”

But experts say that even without a formal change, a shift in emphasis, resources, and expectations within the military may be leading commanders to take aggressive targeting decisions that will lead to more casualties.

“Just three or four years ago, there were phrases that senior commanders used indicating essentially that we cannot kill or capture our way out of this problem. That language has now disappeared, and under Mattis in particular, the language is strictly about killing the enemy,” says Micah Zenko, a national security expert at the international affairs think tank Chatham House. “As important as formal rules are the points of emphasis made by senior leaders. If the secretary of defense or [CENTCOM commander] Gen. [Joseph] Votel cared about this issue, they would devote more resources and attention to understanding and mitigating it. It indicates what the command sees as a priority.”

Zenko is also skeptical that the rise in civilian casualties can be wholly attributed to increased fighting in the urban areas of Raqqa and Mosul. “The ability to model targets and blast radiuses on munitions is now so advanced, it almost doesn’t matter where battles take place,” he says.

In one notorious incident during the battle for Mosul, U.S. forces used a 500-pound GBU-38 bomb to target a pair of ISIS snipers. That airstrike set off a chain of secondary explosions that killed over 100 civilians in the area, something that might have been avoided had a smaller munition been used for the strike. Zenko says that in that case, “It didn’t necessarily matter that the strike took place in an urban setting — it was the munition that was employed that raised the risk to civilians. These are choices about weaponeering that are not unique to urban settings.”

In recent weeks, there has been a steady decline in the pace of U.S. air operations in Iraq and Syria, as the three-year campaign to defeat the Islamic State draws to a close. But the loss of life and destruction of infrastructure in Iraq and Syria will leave lasting scars.

“War is never clean. You will always have civilian deaths and the destruction of infrastructure, but the question is, how do you try to minimize that?” says Sahr Muhammadally, director of the Middle East and South Asia program at the Center for Civilians in Conflict. “This was an intense campaign and the price that civilians paid in places like Mosul was just horrific.”

Top photo: Relatives mourn as the bodies of Iraqi residents of west Mosul killed in an airstrike targeting the Islamic State are placed on carts on March 17, 2017.

The post Civilian Casualties Soared in Iraq and Syria in 2017. Was Trump’s Bloodthirsty Rhetoric to Blame? appeared first on The Intercept.

“Black Panther” Is Inspiring Black Brazilians to Occupy Elite, White Shopping Malls

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 9:24am in

“How different. Exotic,” commented one women as she watched a group of almost 50 people — mostly young and black, many wearing bright fabrics with African designs — stroll through the Shopping Leblon mall. They came this Monday to participate in a rolezinho pretoi, roughly translated to “black stroll,” and watch the film “Black Panther” in Rio de Janeiro’s most exclusive shopping center, a place where black Brazilians are commonly employed, but are rarely seen as customers. Amid suspicious looks and a VIP escort of security guards, I accompanied the group that went to see the film.

Much of the hype around “Black Panther” focuses on black professionals occupying positions in Hollywood that are usually dominated by whites, from heroic lead to producer to director. As tribute to that fact, the organizers of the rolezinho preto, the Black Collective (Coletivo Preto) and the Grupo Emú, chose the whitest and most elitist spaces in one of Rio’s toniest neighborhoods to stage a group viewing of the movie. The event also protested the lack of black professionals in Brazil’s entertainment industry. A survey by the National Cinema Agency, Ancine, revealed that only 7 percent of professionals in the field are black in a nation in which the majority of citizens have African ancestry.

Rolezinho as Protest

Rolezinhos are not new to Brazil. They began as a way for fans to meet internet celebrities in 2012 and evolved into a form of protest in São Paulo in 2013 and 2014, quickly spreading to other cities. Organizers would start an event on Facebook and call for everyone to meet at a certain mall at a certain time. Young, mostly dark-skinned residents of the city’s poor and working class neighborhoods on the urban periphery would take a sometimes one- or two- hour train or bus ride to shopping centers in the bougiest enclaves and just go for a walkabout. In some cases, thousands showed up, much to the horror of Brazil’s white elite, whose ever-present racial and class-based fears were palpable. Malls, including Shopping Leblon, closed down in anticipation of these protests. Others were broken up with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Across Latin America, the wealthy, hyper-segregated segments societies flock to shopping malls for respite from the crime, grit, and disorder that they either benefit from or directly perpetuate. These sparkling sanctuaries of consumerism have become quasi-religious shrines to Brazilian racial and class divides. Many Brazilians claim that the society is not racist, but reactions to the rolezinhos, the attempt to impede young, dark-skinned boys and men from enjoying Rio de Janeiro’s beaches in wealthy neighborhoods back in 2015 and other daily offenses are evidence of how that claim rings hollow.

As one unidentified person, interviewed by EFE Brasil in 2014 during the thwarted rolezinho outside of Shopping Leblon, put it:

I think that the rolezinhos reveal how racist the Brazilian society and elite actually are. They reveal a fear that is unjustifiable. They reveal that as long as Brazilian racism is able to ‘keep everyone in their places’ there is no problem. The problem is, since the ‘90s, thanks to the efforts of the black movement, blacks have begun to enter into spaces that they hadn’t previously occupied.

Four years after the peak of rolezinhos, the “Black Panther” gatherings have rekindled this legacy. In São Paulo, a group sold out a movie theater by gathering 275 people for a screening. A quick events search on Facebook will yield several other events scheduled for this week.

“This is how white people feel all the time.”

The Marvel film is considered a cultural milestone owing to the fact that its writers, producers, director, and the overwhelming majority of its cast are black. Beyond that, “Black Panther” pushes beyond the stereotypes of both the black hero and Africa that we usually encounter on the movie screen.

The film premiered worldwide on February 15 and has grossed $462.3 million in its first five days. At the rolezinho and online, the film’s profitability and the effusively positive response to it in the black community has provoked debates about whether this is truly progress in the fight for racial equality or merely the adaptation of capitalism to new market demands. Even if the cast and crew are mostly black, the industry is still mostly controlled by whites and they are the ones that stand to profit most from the film’s success.

However, many of those in attendance felt this dynamic does not overwhelm the symbolic conquest of the film. “The great message of this film is that we have to write, we have to produce, we have to unite and do it together,” explained Licínio Januário, one of the organizers of the Leblon rolezinho.

That reaction is one felt both in the United States and Brazil. One video circulating on Facebook shows a black American man’s reaction to seeing the film’s promotional poster on display: “This is how white people feel the whole time,” he says. “If this is what y’all feel like all the time I would love this country, too.”

Ygor Marinho, a 28-year-old resident of Rio de Janeiro, was similarly moved when he watched the film on Monday. “A movie with 90 percent black actors fills me with pride,” Marinho said. “It makes me want to win. It makes me want to fight. It makes me like myself more, like my own skin tone, like my kind of hair, like the shape of my nose, like the shape of my lips, like myself more. Because you start to see people who are like you and you see how they carry themselves — empowered, happy with themselves — and you start to like yourself better. And you see there’s nothing wrong with you — that, really, black is beautiful, black is capable, black is incredible, and blackness needs to be respected.”

Translation: Taylor Barnes and Andrew Fishman

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Ohio Governor’s Race Turns to Gun Control, Assault Weapons Debate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 9:22am in

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The debate about gun control that was reignited by last week’s tragedy at Parkland High School is playing out in Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, where Dennis Kucinich is calling out his opponent Richard Cordray for his track record as a pro-gun advocate.

Kucinich, considered the most progressive candidate in the race, is calling for Ohio to ban assault weapons. “We are going to change the politics of the state on this single issue,” he said at a press conference in mid-February.

The former Cleveland mayor and current member of Congress and his running mate, Akron City Council member Tara Samples, plan to enlist volunteers to pressure local city councils to pass resolutions urging the state to ban weapons similar to the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. The campaign announced that in the first 24 hours after it issued this call, 1,500 Ohioans signed up to volunteer.

Meanwhile, a pair of Democratic Ohio senators this week introduced legislation that would make it a fifth-degree felony to possess or acquire assault weapons.

However, Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief, has thus far not joined the push to ban assault weapons. Cordray, the frontrunner in the Democratic race, went only as far as saying, “We also need to rethink our approach to military-style weapons that are used to perpetrate mass shootings.” He is instead supporting expanding universal background checks and other more modest reforms.

“Cordray’s refusal to support an assault weapons ban in Ohio puts him on the wrong side of recent federal court decisions, and the wrong side of all Ohioans who want to see these weapons off the streets,” Kucinich said in a statement. “Ohio’s next Governor will either lead the way to an assault weapons ban, or support a deadly status quo. The assault weapons ban has become a defining issue in the Democratic primary election.”

Cordray’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Polling conducted in late January found that Cordray had the support of 23 percent of Democratic voters, while 16 percent backed Kucinich. A whopping 52 percent of voters were undecided, but the growing Democratic Party-aligned activism related to guns may end up being a factor in the May 8 primary.

In a recent campaign email, Kucinich’s campaign pointed out that Cordray as Ohio’s attorney general helped lead a legal defense of a law that prohibits Ohio’s cities from pursuing assault weapon:

In 1991, Cleveland enacted an Assault Weapons Ban. Nineteen years later, upon taking office, the newly-elected Democratic Ohio Attorney General and NRA champion took it upon himself to lead the charge to defend the NRA-controlled state legislature’s effort to strike down the assault weapons ban in the case entitled “Cleveland vs. State of Ohio”.

He succeeded, while simultaneously offering his services to bring a case to the U.S. Supreme Court which resulted in a decision nullifying the ability of local communities across our nation to make gun laws to protect their people. Home rule was overturned in favor of state government control. It was a massive shift away from #PowerToWeThePeople, to Power To The Lobbyists.

In late 2006, the Ohio legislature passed a pre-emption law that would prohibit any city from passing gun laws that are stricter than those of the state.

This infuriated the city officials who ran Cleveland, which had passed a law that prohibited the possession of assault weapons and required handgun registration. They took the state to court.

As the state’s attorney general, Cordray helped author a merit brief before the state’s Supreme Court in 2010. That year, the court upheld the 2006 law in a 5-2 decision. “Law-abiding gun owners would face a confusing patchwork of licensing requirements, possession restrictions and criminal penalties as they travel from one jurisdiction to another,” Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton wrote.

Justice Paul E. Pfeifer offered an opposing view, writing that the law “infringes upon municipalities’ constitutional home-rule rights by preventing them from tailoring ordinances concerning the regulation of guns to local conditions.”

“This is an important victory for every gun owner in Ohio,” Cordray said in a statement following the court case. “Before 2006, Ohioans faced a confusing patchwork of local ordinances with different restrictions on gun ownership and possession.”

The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland newspaper, noted that Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, “echoed Cordray’s comments” in his own statement on the case. “If Cleveland, or any other city, wants to crack down on violence, city leaders there should focus on prosecuting criminals, not enacting new gun laws that only serve to restrict law-abiding citizens,” Cox said at the time.

Kucinich has also taken issue with Cordray joining a number of pro-gun conservative attorneys general in co-sponsoring an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the McDonald v. City of Chicago case in 2009. The law enforcement officials asked the court to rule that state and local governments cannot get in the way of the constitutional right to bear arms.

That case served as a follow up to the decision in the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller, which affirmed that the Second Amendment applies to the individual right to keep and bear arms.  The McDonald case revolved around Otis McDonald, a retired engineer who wanted to purchase a handgun but couldn’t because of Chicago’s restrictive gun laws. He and three other residents of the city filed a lawsuit which eventually went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments as well as the federal government. Wayne LaPierre, the president of the NRA, called the decision “a great moment in American history.”

“We are proud to defend the Second Amendment rights of Ohioans in this important Supreme Court case. We are joining with other state attorneys general in arguing that the court should hold that the people’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms is fundamental and cannot be denied by state and local governments,” Cordray said at the time. “The Supreme Court has now given full meaning to the Second Amendment for all Americans, no matter where we live or what level of government might seek to restrict our rights.”

The Buckeye Firearms Association, an Ohio-based gun rights group, endorsed Cordray in 2010, citing his defense of Ohio’s pre-emption law and the 2009 amicus brief.

Buckeye Firearms Association Chair Jim Irvine said at that time, “Attorney General Cordray has proven to be a strong pro-gun ally. He has staunchly defended our laws and our rights in court and expanded concealed carry reciprocity agreements. His work as Attorney General continues to bring direct benefits to gun owners in Ohio and across our great country.”

In an statement to The Intercept, Buckeye Firearms Association Executive Director Dean Rieck said that the group has generally viewed Cordray as an ally, but is critical of his more recent advocacy for universal background checks.

While Richard Cordray has been pretty good on our issue for many years, we do not support the idea of so-called ‘universal’ background checks, which would infringe on the right of personal property owners. Instead, we support enforcing the law and making sure all required data is included in the current background check system. What universal background checks would do is prohibit me, for example, from passing down a family heirloom to a relative. It would not stop people who are already prohibited from owning firearms from continuing to get guns through the black market. As for helping to defend the law prohibiting cities from banning assault weapons, Cordray did exactly what he should have done. Ohio has ‘preemption,’ which prohibits cities from illegally enforcing gun laws that run counter to state law. As Attorney General, that was his job at that time, and he did it.

Top photo: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray arrives at a meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Council November 16, 2016 at the Treasury Department in Washington, DC.

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Betsy DeVos is Helping Puerto Rico Re-Imagine Its Public School System. That Has People Deeply Worried.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 5:55am in

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Puerto Rico, in the midst of the chaos and instability following Hurricane Maria, is moving quickly forward with plans to institute a wide swath of education reforms, with the help of the aggressively ideological federal education department, helmed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Puerto Rico’s governor and education secretary have expressed openness to the concerns raised by parents, teachers and community members, and stress they are not looking to implement an extreme version of privatization. Yet at the same time, they have stoked fears by pushing forward a notably vague charter law that does little to address what people are most worried about. This “trust us” mentality has not been helped by the engagement of DeVos, nor by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s recent visit to a notorious charter chain in Philadelphia last week — a prime example of the kind of low-performing, fiscally reckless charter that school advocates warn about.

At a time when the island is starved of investment and inching slowly through a storm recovery, many Puerto Ricans worry that the government is treating this more as an opportunity to disrupt education, rather than stabilize it — while also potentially opening the doors for supercharged corruption.

Puerto Rico’s public school system remains severely ravaged since Hurricane Maria, the Category 4 storm that tore through the island in late September. “The recovery has gone very slowly,” said Aida Díaz, president of the island’s 40,000-member teachers union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico. “We still have hundreds of schools without electricity, internet, and many of our teachers and students are having classes just half-day.”

“We still have hundreds of schools without electricity, internet, and many of our teachers and students are having classes just half-day.”

Rosselló delivered a televised address in early February announcing a package of educational reforms he’d like to bring to the island – including charters, vouchers for private schools, and the first pay increase for teachers in a decade. Puerto Rico teachers earn on average $27,000 a year, and would see increases of $1,500 under the governor’s proposal. “The current educational system does not respond to what is needed to train our students to succeed in a world that’s ever more competitive and complex,” Rosselló  declared.

Rosselló’s big announcement came on the heels of a separate plan he outlined in January, to close 305 of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 public schools. Rosselló said these closures would lead to an estimated $300 million in savings by 2022 – and by extension help the island recover from Maria and its long-term debt crisis. Puerto Rican citizens have long worried the government’s interest in shuttering schools would be a first step on the road to privatization.

Take a Survey: Should Puerto Rico’s debt be forgiven?

While Rosselló’s televised address garnered a lot of national attention, little has been paid to the 136-page bill that was introduced several days later, and the vocal debate it has sparked within the territory.

Who helped craft the bill is not entirely clear.

Díaz, the teachers union president, told The Intercept that her members played absolutely no role in drafting the proposals. “They didn’t consider us, they didn’t invite us, we didn’t participate,” she said.

Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, told The Intercept they “were not deeply involved in the bill drafting at all” but that they did have some conversations with people in Puerto Rico’s education department about charter legislation and how other states have handled certain issues. Ziebarth added that while his organization has not done a deep analysis of Puerto Rico’s bill, he thinks “it provides a good start for getting charters up and running.”

DeVos and her federal education department have certainly been involved. DeVos’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Botel has been in “close communication” with Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary Julia Keleher for months since the storm, and in a blogpost published in January, Botel wrote, “We look forward to supporting students, educators and community members as they not only rebuild what’s been lost, but also improve, rethink and renew.”

In an interview with The Intercept, Keleher, Puerto Rico’s education secretary, said that a local law firm helped them craft the bill, two law firms from the mainland that had experience working with charter schools, and a team from the federal department of education. “We did have a series of technical assistance from the U.S education department,” she said. “They didn’t comment on the bill but they did help us think through it, and helped us define what we thought should be the final set of things to include.”

In November, Rosselló tweeted pictures of a meeting he and Keleher held with DeVos and her staff, noting they were “itemizing the areas that need the most attention in order to restore our education system.”

The Department of Education did not return The Intercept’s request for comment, but earlier this month DeVos told a group of reporters that she was very encouraged by Puerto Rico’s leadership for embracing school choice after the hurricane. She praised its approach for thoughtfully “meeting students needs … in a really concerted and individual way.”

In November, In the Public Interest, a research and policy organization focused on privatization and contracting, submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Department of Education requesting all communications between Jason Botel and Julia Keleher between July 1 and mid-November, and all emails sent or received by Botel during that period that mention charter schools or Puerto Rico. The Education Department confirmed receipt of the FOIA request a week later, and granted the group’s fee waiver request on January 12. Shar Habibi, the research and policy director at In The Public Interest, told The Intercept they’re still waiting to receive the records.

Noviembre 08, 2017 - El gobernador Ricardo Rosselló Nevares visita comunidad escolar junto a la secretaria de Educación Federal, Betsy DeVos y la secretaria de Educación, Julia Keleher.Foto xavier araujo / 2017xavier.araujo@gfrmedia.com (GDA via AP Images)

A view of a classroom visited by Governor Ricardo Rosselló and U.S. Education Secretary Besty DeVos in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Nov. 8, 2017.

Photo: Xavier Araujo/AP

One controversial aspect of Puerto Rico’s proposed legislation is its language to allow multiple charter school authorizers. Authorizers are entities – such as school districts, state commissions or nonprofits – that grant charter schools the right to exist. They are also then responsible for ensuring that the schools produce sufficient academic results and comply with relevant laws and regulations. If a school fails to do so, an authorizer is supposed to revoke the school’s charter and shut them down. The quality of charter school authorizing ranges widely throughout the United States.

Section 13.04 of the bill states that either Puerto Rico’s education department or a Puerto Rican university can authorize charter schools. This language has raised concerns that Puerto Rico will open the floodgates to many charter authorizers like in Michigan – a state that has earned a reputation for having notoriously lax charter oversight. The more there are, the easier it is for bad charters to shop around for an authorizer that will let them stay open.

Karega Rausch, the interim CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told The Intercept that their group does not have a hard-and-fast rule, or even guiding data, on the number of authorizers a jurisdiction should have – but they have observed that the overall quality of a charter sector can be “diluted” in places with too many authorizers. (Places like D.C., New Jersey and Massachusetts have just one charter authorizer, while states like Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota have many.)

Keleher, Puerto Rico’s education secretary, said she expects the legislation to be amended to allow for just one authorizer. “I think we’d want to stay away from having two based on what we understand as effective practice,” she said. The island’s senate is still holding public hearings on the bill.

Multiple news outlets this month reported that Puerto Rico aims to start with 14 charter schools, two in each of the island’s seven provinces.

Keleher told The Intercept that this has never been a formal plan, and her off-the-cuff remarks were interpreted by the media as something she never intended. “People were asking me how many we would have, so I was trying to answer the question and suggested maybe two per region,” she said. “The next thing I know people are asking me where I’m going to get these 14 [charter] applications. I just said that number because two per region seemed reasonable to manage, so I thought it was a number that could help calm people down.”

Keleher says the department has no plans to do what New Orleans did following Hurricane Katrina, and that it should develop a formula to limit the number of charter schools in Puerto Rico. But, she said, that formula needs to be flexible and should be handled by education department after the law is passed. “If the schools are super successful and more people want them, we should allow that up to a point,” she said.

The proposed legislation would also allow for the creation of virtual charters in Puerto Rico – a particularly contentious type of online school, even among school choice supporters. (DeVos is a big proponent of virtual charters, and a former investor in them herself.)

The proposed legislation would also allow for the creation of virtual charters in Puerto Rico — a particularly contentious type of online school, even among school choice supporters.

Keleher acknowledged the concerns around virtual charters, but says she remains optimistic about their potential. “I’ve taught in online classrooms,” she said. “It requires discipline and fidelity, and it may not be right for everyone.” She emphasized the importance of providing “options,” which she said could help bring new infusions of funds to the island. “If you look at what the president is prioritizing in his new budget, there’s a lot of emphasis on educational options,” she said.

In general Keleher advocates for an approach that leaves the charter law fairly vague (or as she calls, it “flexible”) so that her department can then craft regulations as it sees fit.

“We don’t want the law to be so tied to the reality of today,” she said. “We want to make it function as a lever to get the [education] department to behave in a way that we will produce strong results.” She pointed out that their last education law was incredibly detailed, “but very poorly implemented” and so this time they tried to go in the opposite direction. “We want to be sure that the system is responsive, rather than every time you want to adjust your program you have to amend your law,” she said.

The idea of creating an ambiguous law understandably has not eased much anxiety amongst Puerto Rico residents concerned about the pitfalls of school choice.

Even Ziebarth of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools says it’s better to put more into the charter law than less. “We tend to try to get as much into the law as we can, and while some decisions make sense left to regulation, I think if they have a chance to pass a strong charter law that’s better,” he said. “I think we know enough about what the fundamentals should look like – particularly around flexibility, accountability and funding – that they can put that in statute now and not go back later and deal with it.”

Ziebarth adds that especially if Puerto Rico is considering going down the road of virtual charter schools, the island should include their six policy recommendations. “They should definitely not repeat the mistakes that others have made in that area,” he said.

Vouchers for private schools are included in the education reform bill, but they would likely not be implemented until after charter schools get started. Keleher told The 74 that given their budget situation, “it’s not something we can execute right now for obvious reasons.”

In 1994, back when Rosselló’s father, Pedro Rosselló, was governor, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court struck down a proposal to establish a school voucher program. Puerto Rico’s leadership believes a series of court decisions issued over the past two decades, including from the U.S. Supreme Court, have now paved the legal path for them to move forward with school vouchers.   

A recent trip taken by Rosselló has exacerbated concerns that he is not seriously grappling with the risks of his proposed education reforms.

Last week he visited an ASPIRA charter school in Philadelphia, and tweeted out after his visit that it represents an “excellent charter school model.”

But just two months ago Philadelphia voted to close two ASPIRA charter schools for their low academic quality, as well as a host of financial scandals and mismanagement issues. For years there have been concerns that ASPIRA was self-dealing with public funds, and the situation was difficult to track because each ASPIRA charter is structured as an independent nonprofit, despite all sharing the same board of trustees through their parent organization. “It’s very difficult to follow the financial trail when there are so many complicated, connected entities, and money flowing throughout them,” said an official working in the Philadelphia School District official in 2014. A former accounts payable coordinator at ASPIRA also filed a federal whistle blower lawsuit in 2014, alleging that the charter operator misappropriated more than $1 million in federal funds. The employee charged that ASPIRA made “repeated false representations” to the U.S. and state Departments of Education “in an effort to defraud the United States of taxpayer dollars, under the guise of providing quality education to some of the nation’s neediest students.” ASPIRA dismissed the charges as politically motivated. Then in 2016 news emerged that ASPIRA’s CEO had paid a top employee $350,000 in a sexual harassment settlement. Another former senior employee filed a lawsuit claiming she had been wrongfully terminated for helping her colleague file that sexual harassment complaint.

Díaz, the teachers union president, told the Intercept that Rosselló has been unresponsive to their concerns.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Puerto Rico’s governor should be ashamed of himself. “He pretends that he’s a Democratic governor, but his playbook on schools is right out of Trump and DeVos,” she told The Intercept. “He won’t even tell the people of Puerto Rico what he’s doing as he secretly travels to an ASPIRA charter for a tour.” Weingarten says his behavior is “just baffling” and “one wonders who he is listening to.”

Keleher, for her part, emphasized that she’s trying to be very transparent and accessible with Puerto Ricans to discuss the reforms. This week her department organized a forum and last week she met with parents from each region of the island.

“The governor appointed me and I am fully accountable to the people,” she said. “You can like my decision or not but I think I’m responsible for showing you how I got my decision, and at the end of the day I have to take the hit.”

“He pretends that he’s a Democratic governor, but his playbook on schools is right out of Trump and DeVos.”

Still, the education secretary’s engagement with the public hasn’t always gone smoothly. Last week during a union-sponsored Q&A, Keleher abruptly stormed out when one teacher said the education secretary should return when she’s more prepared to answer their questions.

“Before this bill we were working together, we understood each other, and we agreed on many things,” Díaz told The Intercept. “But right now communications are stopped, I don’t think [the government] wants to understand our point of view.”

Indeed the question of whether charter schools in Puerto Rico would be unionized remains an open one. The proposed legislation says nothing about it. Most states do not require charter teachers to be in unions – indeed being union-free is seen by many charter advocates as a key characteristic of the model – but a few states, including Maryland and Hawaii, require it.

Keleher told The Intercept that they are staying intentionally “silent on the union issue” though she’s “not adamantly opposed if in the context of Puerto Rico” unionized charters seem like the best way to do it. She said, though, that if charter school operators want to come and oppose doing so with a unionized staff, she “would also understand and respect that” and she’s “very much in a let’s-see-what-makes-the-most-sense” position.

The last time Puerto Rico passed major education reforms was in the 1990s, and some elements of the controversial bill have attracted support from union members. Aside from the $1,500 pay hikes, Díaz says her union also likes the new procedures outlined around making school budgeting more transparent, and creating regional education offices.

“But the rest of the bill is unacceptable to us, and we cannot support it,” she said. For now the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico will continue mobilizing against the charter and voucher proposals, and Díaz said they are also going to start more vocally championing for public schools that provide robust wraparound social services.

“These kids and their parents have been traumatized,” said Weingarten. “Let’s try to create some stability in Puerto Rico after this terrible storm.”

Top photo: Governor Ricardo Rosselló , U.S. Education Secretary Besty DeVos and teacher Jean Carlos Ruiz visit a school in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Nov. 8, 2017.

The post Betsy DeVos is Helping Puerto Rico Re-Imagine Its Public School System. That Has People Deeply Worried. appeared first on The Intercept.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Will Remove “Nation of Immigrants” From Mission Statement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 4:56am in

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The lead U.S. agency tasked with granting citizenship to would-be Americans is making a major change to its mission statement, removing a passage that describes the United States as a nation of immigrants. In an email sent to staff members Thursday and shared with The Intercept, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna announced the agency’s new mission statement.

It reads:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.

USCIS’s previous mission statement, still available on the agency’s website Thursday, read:

USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.

Cissna went on to write, “I believe this simple, straightforward statement clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people.” The director highlighted, specifically, the removal of the word “customers” from the new mission statement, making the case that the word gave a false impression.

USCIS-highlight-1519321010

Screenshot: USCIS

“What we do at USCIS is so important to our nation, so meaningful to the applicants and petitioners, and the nature of the work is often so complicated, that we should never allow our work to be regarded as a mere production line or even described in business or commercial terms,” Cissna wrote. “In particular, referring to applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits, and the beneficiaries of such applications and petitions, as ‘customers’ promotes an institutional culture that emphasizes the ultimate satisfaction of applicants and petitioners, rather than the correct adjudication of such applications and petitions according to the law.” Critically, Cissna added, “Use of the term leads to the erroneous belief that applicants and petitioners, rather than the American people, are whom we ultimately serve.”

“All applicants and petitioners should, of course, always be treated with the greatest respect and courtesy, but we can’t forget that we serve the American people,” the director wrote. According to one senior U.S. immigration official, who spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press, “While it doesn’t expressly say it, it means that they aren’t customers, but aliens.”

The USCIS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the past, the services provided by USCIS fell to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The change from INS to USCIS, the official said, was in part rooted in an effort “to move away from that image where people were afraid of us. We wanted people to feel comfortable with coming to us and know that they could get a fair hearing — that we were different from ICE and CBP.” When asked if they were surprised at the change, which abandons a phrase many consider to be a bedrock principle of the country, the official replied, “No. Disappointed though.”

“This is a step backwards,” they said.

Update: February 22, 2018

In a written statement sent to The Intercept after this story was published, Jonathan Withington, USCIS Chief of Media Relations, said the new mission statement is “effective immediately.” Asked if USCIS had changed its view on whether the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, Withington wrote, “The statement speaks for itself and clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and commitment we have to the American people.”

Top photo: A new U.S. citizen holds an information packet at a naturalization ceremony at Alexandria City Hall in Alexandria, Virginia, on Sept. 12, 2017.

The post U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Will Remove “Nation of Immigrants” From Mission Statement appeared first on The Intercept.

Democratic Congressional Candidate Built Lucrative Career Spying on Left-Wing Activists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 4:23am in

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Patrick Ryan, a congressional candidate from New York, is leaning on his experience as a small business entrepreneur to establish his readiness for office, but he has curiously failed to mention the business he used to work in: domestic surveillance.

Seven years ago, Ryan, then working at a firm called Berico Technologies, compiled a plan to create a real-time surveillance operation of left-wing groups and labor unions, hoping business lobbyists would pay top dollar to monitor and disrupt the actions of activist groups across the country. At one point, the proposal included the idea to spy on the families of high-profile Democratic activists and plant fake documents with labor unions in a bid to discredit them.

The pitch, a joint venture with a now-defunct company called HBGary Federal and the Peter Thiel-backed company Palantir Technologies, however, crumbled in 2011 after it was exposed in a series of news reports. 

Years later, Ryan pivoted to a startup called Dataminr, a data analytics company that provided social media monitoring solutions for law enforcement clients. Dataminr, which received financial support from the CIA’s venture capital arm, produced real-time updates about activists for law enforcement. For example, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of California and reported by The Intercept for the first time, Dataminr helped track social media posts relating to Black Lives Matter.

Ryan is one of several Democrats hoping to challenge freshman Rep. John Faso, R-N.Y., for a seat that is expected to be among the most competitive in the country. The Hudson Valley district contains both staunchly conservative and liberal pockets. Donald Trump won the district by a seven-point margin in 2016, but even when Barack Obama took the district by six points in 2012, Democrats failed to win the congressional seat. Republicans have held the 19th District since it was formed eight years ago. This year, as Democrats anticipate a wave of victories in response to Trump and the GOP’s wildly unpopular agenda, they hope that the 19th District, will finally turn blue.

The candidate has the backing of some of the more conservative elements of the Democratic Party. His campaign has won financial support from The New Democrat Coalition PAC, a group that supports business-friendly Democrats for Congress. The PAC is hoping to dramatically expand the number of moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats on Capitol Hill next year and, along with the Blue Dog PAC, is working aggressively to counter more populist and progressive candidates running in Democratic primaries for the midterm elections. Ryan, who served as an Army intelligence officer in Iraq, also won support from Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who has helped raise cash and build political support for a group of veterans and mostly moderate Democrats running for office this year.

In a statement to The Intercept, Ryan’s campaign said he expressed “concerns with the nature of the work” at Berico Technologies:

Pat grew up in a union household. He knows the value of the labor movement, and has always been a strong supporter. In his first job after serving in the U.S. Army, Pat worked at a small software firm and was assigned to develop a proposal, but had concerns about the nature of the work, especially in relation to the protection of American citizens’ privacy and civil liberties. The project did not move past the proposal stage.

Later in his career, Pat worked at Dataminr, a firm with a strong commitment to privacy and civil liberties. His work at the firm saved lives by providing real-time information to first responders and others in harms way. This is a critical area for national security as we work to find the right way to leverage digital intelligence and protect innocent Americans.

The candidate’s history of spying on progressive groups has been conspicuously absent from the personal history he has presented to voters.

The biography section of Ryan’s campaign website references only another technology business he helped found, called Second Front Systems. That company deploys “cutting-edge data analytics software to our troops on the front lines,” according to the site. Ryan continues to own a 10 percent stake in the firm, valued between $15,000 and $50,000, and has discussed his work with the startup as part of his experience of building a business and providing jobs.

But that business venture appears not to have been as successful as Ryan’s domestic surveillance work — at least not from a moneymaking perspective. His candidate ethics disclosure, which covers money made in 2016 and 2017, does not list any income from Second Front Systems — of which he is still a director — but it reveals that in 2016, Ryan collected $325,510 as a vice president of Dataminr. 

In an hourlong presentation to local Democratic voters with Ulster Activists and Move Forward New York, Ryan stressed his experience as a small business entrepreneur. At one moment during the January 7 event, Ryan referenced his job at Dataminr, but did not mention the company’s name or the type of work it engaged in. In a question about whether taking a job in Congress would constitute a pay cut, Ryan said yes and that he had taken work at another “another tech company” in which he “leads the government team.” In terms of his business career, Ryan talked at length about his efforts to employ former veterans.

dataminr-1000x522-1519249199

A screen grab of Dataminr’s diagram showing how it directly licenses a stream of data from Twitter to spot trends and detect emerging threats.

Dataminr

In July 2015, Ryan joined Dataminr, a startup that has worked closely with clients to make sense out of vast amounts of social media data. The company, as The Intercept first reported in 2016, was funded through an investment from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA. The company, formed in consultation with Twitter, maintains access to Twitter’s proprietary “firehose” of user data, giving it an edge in social media data analysis.

The firm amassed law enforcement clients, including the FBI and Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a fusion center used by the government to alert multiple law enforcement departments in the Los Angeles region of potential threats. Documents, uncovered by the ACLU of California through a public records investigation of social media monitoring software, show that Dataminr monitored tweets mentioning Black Lives Matter on behalf of the JRIC. The emails show that Dataminr’s alerts vacuumed up tweets from now-Intercept columnist Shaun King, among other activists, in reports sent to law enforcement.

In another email obtained by the ACLU of California, Dataminr pitched the Los Angeles Police Department to use its tool to track protests, among other events of interest to law enforcement. Dataminr’s social media tracking tools are “highly valued by our clients at FBI CTD, NYPD, DoD and all ‘big five’ intel agencies,” the pitch continued.

In 2016, following a series of news reports on Dataminr’s relationship with law enforcement, Twitter announced Dataminr would no longer service fusion centers, and would restrict the use of its backend Twitter data for its law enforcement and intelligence agency clients.

Four years before he joined Dataminr, Ryan’s work with Berico Technologies was revealed in a hack of its partner firm, HBGary Federal. How his efforts to monitor activists on behalf of business interests were disclosed in an unusual story of spy versus spy.

In 2011, HBGary Federal boasted to the Financial Times that it was working on a plan to undermine WikiLeaks, which at the time was threatening to expose documents from Bank of America. In retaliation, a splinter group from the hacktivist collective LulzSec infiltrated network administrator from HBGary Federal, stealing thousands of emails from the firm and posting them onto the web.

The emails revealed that HBGary Federal had not only pitched a plan to Bank of America to track and discredit supporters of WikiLeaks, including The Intercept’s co-founder Glenn Greenwald, but had developed a larger business proposal to sell activist surveillance to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest pro-business lobbying organization in Washington, D.C.

The chamber had dealt with a wave of negative publicity. In 2010, it was exposed for using its 501(c)(6) tax entity, funded in part by foreign corporate contributions, to air campaign advertisements against Democratic lawmakers, an unprecedented spending spree that helped sweep in the Republican House majority. The revelation sparked calls for investigations and activist demonstrations on the steps of the chamber’s H Street headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The chamber, sensing a conspiracy by left-wing opponents, solicited a plan to monitor labor unions, activists, and reporters through its longtime law firm, the Virginia-based Hunton & Williams.

The stolen emails revealed that lawyers from Hunton & Williams, acting on behalf of the chamber, began working closely with Berico Technologies, Palantir, and HBGary Federal to devise a proposal to monitor and undermine critics of the Chamber, including MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union, the labor coalition Change to Win, and the Center for American Progress, the sponsor of the news outlet that exposed the chamber’s foreign funding. The three firms called their proposal “Team Themis.”

The emails show Ryan at every step of the process to pitch the chamber. He was on the initial email thread on October 19, 2010, discussing the idea. Ryan, responding to a unique opportunity to sell “a complete intelligence solution” using “social media exploitation,” said it “sounded like a great opportunity.”

Later that month, after a meeting with the chamber’s attorney, Ryan announced to his business partners that a “client of theirs is targeted by another entity, specifically a labor union, that is trying to extract some kind of concession or favorable outcome.”

The proposal initially included steps to track the online activities of chamber critics using Palantir’s powerful data analytics tools. The proposal also included a plan to counter the most vocal critics by planting a “false document” and creating “fake insider personnas [sic]” that could be used to “generate communications” with Change to Win.

Other ideas included gathering information on leading Democratic activists, labor union officials, and other chamber critics by scraping their social media accounts and the accounts of their families. HBGary Federal official Aaron Barr, using his company’s knowledge of computer exploits, floated the possibility of even using malware to hack into target computers.

The Team Themis proposal, pitched to the chamber for $2 million, moved along with support from the three firms involved. On January 9, 2011, Ryan emailed his colleagues to inform them that he had scheduled a call with Hunton & Williams to “discuss the way ahead for the Chamber effort.” That contract, however, never materialized.

On February 3, 2011, Ryan continued to email the team on the ongoing negotiations, claiming that he had just met with Hunton & Williams attorney Bob Quackenboss, who “apologized for the confusion/misunderstanding and said he thinks there is a high likelihood of selling the Chamber on this.” The team prepared to potentially revise the asking price and continue with another demonstration of the proposal, using data sent to Team Themis by Hunton & Williams and the chamber.

But the chamber never signed off on the ultimate contract. The next day, on February 4, hackers from LulzSec infiltrated HBGary Federal’s network, stealing and publishing the emails that revealed the Team Themis proposal.

Palantir and Berico executives disavowed the proposal, as did a spokesperson for the chamber. HBGary Federal shut its doors, and its parent company was sold to ManTech International, a major defense contractor.

Soon after the scandal, Ryan left Berico to co-found a company called Praescient Analytics and then, in 2014, Second Front Systems, where he worked until he launched his congressional campaign in 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Though Ryan has distanced himself from the Team Themis controversy, his Team Themis associates have coalesced around his campaign for office.

Palantir executives and employees are among Ryan’s largest campaign donors, having collectively donated $33,400. Palantir’s founder Alex Karp, who signed off on the Team Themis contract, and Palantir executive Shyam Sankar, who was carbon-copied on emails discussing the proposal, both gave $5,400, the legal maximum. Guy Filippelli, the co-founder of Berico, who was also involved in the Team Themis negotiations, gave $1,000.

Top photo: Demonstrators march through the Wynwood neighborhood to protest police abuse on Dec. 7, 2014 in Miami.

The post Democratic Congressional Candidate Built Lucrative Career Spying on Left-Wing Activists appeared first on The Intercept.

GOP Senator Says Impeachment of Judges Who Struck Down Gerrymandered Map Is “A Conversation That Has to Happen”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 3:38am in

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In the wake of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court order that struck down a Republican congressional map as unconstitutionally gerrymandered, Sen. Pat Toomey said that impeachment of the justices is “a conversation that has to happen.”

The GOP map had given Republicans a nearly 3-1 congressional majority in a state that leans Democratic; the court’s new map will still give Republicans a significant advantage, but slightly less of one. For Toomey, that amounted, he said, to a “blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process.”

“I think state House members, state senators, are going to be speaking among themselves and their constituents,” Toomey said. “Does that rise to the level of impeachment? That’s ultimately their decision but it’s a conversation that has to happen.”

The new map means several Republican incumbents now risk losing their seats, and a half-dozen competitive Republican-held congressional districts move left.

Toomey’s floating of impeachment drags what had been a fringe position into the GOP mainstream. And the rhetoric is already intense. The Pennsylvania House Republican spokesman Wednesday morning called the judges “unaccountable despots” after drawing the new lines.

A Republican legislature drew the congressional lines back in 2011, and had the map approved by a then-Republican governor, which led to the party winning 13 of the state’s 18 districts in the 2016 election. The new map isn’t necessarily a Democratic love fest — it was meticulously designed to compensate for the party’s geographic disadvantages and intended to restore fairness even despite the fact that there are currently 4 million registered Democrats in the state outnumbering the 3.2 million registered Republicans.

It’s one of the most consequential events yet in the Democrats’ effort to retake the House. There are now at least five plausible opportunities to pick up a seat in the commonwealth, including the seat held by Rep. Pat Meehan, who is retiring after a sexual harassment case. Besides the districts that have all been shifted away from Republicans, the only other notable change is for Rep. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican moving into a more conservative 11th district. But even there, activists in his Lancaster district say they are still determined to beat him, even if the hill is steeper.

State lawmakers are expected to sue to overturn the new maps and President Donald Trump gave Republicans his blessing to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court “if necessary,” arguing that the original version the court ruled unconstitutional was actually “correct.” Legal experts, however, note that the issue is about state law and Republicans probably won’t find much help in federal courts.  

“It’s unfortunate that the only way the Republican Party can win elections is to dismantle democracy, relying on unconstitutional gerrymandering and calling for the impeachment of judges that have been elected by the voters of Pennsylvania,” said Greg Edwards, a Democratic candidate for Congress running in the Lehigh Valley. “It shows Democracy is nothing more than an accessory to put on and take off when most convenient to the Republicans.”

Update: February 22, 2018, 12:02 p.m.
This article has been updated with a quote from congressional candidate Greg Edwards.

Top photo: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) speaks to reporters about the proposed Senate Republican tax bill, after attending the Senate GOP policy luncheon, at US Capitol on November 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The post GOP Senator Says Impeachment of Judges Who Struck Down Gerrymandered Map Is “A Conversation That Has to Happen” appeared first on The Intercept.

EMILY’s List Weighs in Hard in Texas Primary — Against a Leading Woman in the Trump Resistance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 1:46am in

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EMILY’s List is dumping big money into an upcoming Democratic primary in Texas’s 7th Congressional District, pitting the women’s group against a pro-choice woman who was, in the months after the election of Donald Trump, a face of the resistance.

Laura Moser, as creator of the popular text-messaging program Daily Action, gave hundreds of thousands of despondent progressives a single political action to take each day. Her project was emblematic of the new energy forming around the movement against Trump, led primarily by women and often by moms. (Moser is both.)

It was those types of activists EMILY’s List spent 2017 encouraging to make first-time bids for office. But that doesn’t mean EMILY’s List will get behind them. Also running is Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a corporate lawyer who is backed by Houston mega-donor Sherry Merfish. EMILY’s List endorsed her in November. 

The 7th District includes parts of Houston and its wealthy western suburbs, and Merfish and her husband, Gerald Merfish, are among the city’s leading philanthropists. Gerald Merfish owns and runs a steel pipe company in the oil-rich region and Sherry Merfish, who worked for decades for EMILY’s List, is a major donor to the Democratic Party and to EMILY’s List.

Actor Alyssa Milano, another face of the Trump resistance, is backing Moser, and plans to drive voters to the polls as a campaign volunteer. “I like EMILY’s List a lot but I feel like they missed the boat on this one,” Milano told The Intercept. “Laura is a proud progressive Democrat and her values are the values of the majority of the country, which is evident by the success of her grassroots campaign and her broad base of support.”

The Houston district is one of scores where crosscurrents of the Democratic Party are colliding. Democrats, who in the past have had difficulty fielding a single credible candidate even in winnable districts, have at least four serious contenders in the race to replace Republican John Culberson. Moser, who has more than 10,000 donors — more than 90 percent of whom are small givers — and cancer researcher Jason Westin make up the progressive flank, while Fletcher and Alex Triantaphyllis are running more moderate campaigns. Triantaphyllis, a former Goldman Sachs analyst who doesn’t live in the district, has the backing of some establishment elements of the party.

“Alex T has been open about being the chosen candidate of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee],” said Daniel Cohen, president of Indivisible Houston, who is not endorsing any particular candidate. (The DCCC has not officially endorsed a candidate in the primary, though its support can come in less public ways.)

As the race heats up ahead of the March 6 primary, 905 donors from the Houston area have given to Moser, with 48 percent of itemized donations coming from Texas. She also has gotten money from all 49 of the other states, including $1 from Guam, she told The Intercept. Fletcher, according to her campaign spokesperson Erin Mincberg, has 600 overall donors who live directly in the district, and 75 percent of their funds come from Houston.

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With both Fletcher and Moser battling for a spot in the two-person runoff, and Westin surging in the race, EMILY’s List’s endorsement of Fletcher could end up having the paradoxical effect of producing a runoff between the two men. EMILY’s List, while expending resources in several competitive primaries between women, has also stayed out of other races that pit a pro-choice woman against an anti-choice man. Despite significant pressure, the group held out on endorsing Marie Newman against Democratic incumbent Daniel Lipinski, only shifting course when it became clear the SEIU would be breaking with Lipinski.

EMILY’s List’s endorsement of Fletcher could end up having the paradoxical effect of producing a runoff between two men.

The group has also declined to endorse the pro-choice Kara Eastman running against anti-choice Democrat Brad Ashford; the same is true for Lupe Valdez running against Andrew White for Texas governor. (White says that he believes Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and that his religious beliefs would not influence how he approached the issue, but he is far from a champion of reproductive rights.)

The support of first Merfish and then EMILY’s List for Fletcher raises questions about whether the endorsement was made at the behest of a major donor or because the organization truly believed Fletcher is the stronger candidate.

An EMILY’s List endorsement alone is useful in helping a candidate break out of a crowded pack, but the group has also announced funding for eight rounds of mailers as well as digital ads, including video, all ahead of the upcoming primary. In justifying its decision, EMILY’s List cited Fletcher’s past activism and her legal work. “As a senior in high school, she linked arms with hundreds of other Houstonians to keep protesters out and a Planned Parenthood clinic open. Since then, she became a lawyer to help those in need and co-founded the Planned Parenthood Young Leaders program to get the next generation involved,” reads a statement from the group.

Bryan Lesswing, a spokesperson for EMILY’s List, said that the group backed Parnell Fletcher because of her local roots and a history of activism. “We see so many women running as a good problem to have. Ultimately, we want to see as many women elected as possible and that sometimes means making tough decisions,” he said.

Moser is blunt in her criticism of the group. “Rather than lifting us both up, EMILY’S List has pitted us against each other. I knew as a progressive, pro-choice woman running in Texas, I would face obstacles. I never dreamed EMILY’s List would be one of them,” she said.

Mincberg, Fletcher’s spokesperson, also highlighted the candidate’s ties to the district.

“We’re honored to receive the support of EMILY’s List — just as we are honored to receive the endorsement of the Houston Chronicle. Both groups recognize that Lizzie is the most qualified and best positioned candidate to defeat John Culberson,” she said. “The endorsement is a recognition of her work standing up for reproductive healthcare, her commitment to fighting for Houston’s working families, and her long track record of professional success in this community.”

She noted that the Chronicle’s dual endorsement of Fletcher and another candidate, cancer researcher Westin, could not be explained away as a favor to a donor and had more to do with the type of candidate the paper thought could feasibly win the district. Moser is known as one of the most progressive candidates in the race, along with Westin, in a district that is trending Democratic but by no means a lock. It went to Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by more than 20 points in 2012; Hillary Clinton edged out Donald Trump by just a point in 2016. Clinton topped Bernie Sanders there in the 2016 primary by a 2-1 margin.

Indeed, until 2017, Moser was living in Washington, where she worked as a writer, and only recently relocated back home to Houston. Her husband, Arun Chaudhary, a partner at Revolution Messaging, which did media and email work for the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, hasn’t gotten around to updating his bio, which still suggests that he “lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, son and daughter.”

“I’d always agreed with my husband that we would move back to Houston when the time was right, and part of my commitment [to the resistance] led me to speed up my plans,” Moser said. “Women all over the country felt the same call and returned home to try to ‘be the change.'”

But Fletcher’s legal work for “those in need” has caused her problems in the campaign. The firm where she is a partner largely represents employers and won a major case against local janitorial workers, who were predominantly immigrants. The firm boasted, in its effort to attract future business from employers, that it won the case in part by studying the social media feeds of the jury pool to make sure the jury was stacked with Trump supporters. PJS, the firm’s client, was involved with Empower Texans, a right-wing group working to undermine organized labor in Texas. 

When local unions raised the issue recently, Fletcher defended herself by saying that she did not work directly on the case, and that she does not always share the views of her clients. She also claimed to have represented workers before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The defense has not resonated with local workers. The local AFL-CIO has not endorsed in the race, but it did take the remarkable step of resolving to non-endorse Fletcher: Union members will be canvassing the district urging residents to vote for any candidate other than her.

“She’s trying to claim she’s represented women before the EEOC — but lower and middle class people can’t afford to hire an attorney every time they get screwed by their boss, that’s why they need a union,” said Ginny Stogner McDavid president of the Harris County AFL-CIO Labor Assembly.

The extent of Fletcher’s activism on reproductive rights has also been called into question by a photo she recently posted, and that she presumably will be using in mailers to come.

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Lizzie Pannill Fletcher campaign image.

Photo: Facebook

It’s an image from 1992, when she was a senior in high school at a demonstration supporting a Houston-area Planned Parenthood as the Republican Party gathered for its presidential convention nearby.

The photo has been strangely cropped. Only when examining the original does the reason for the crop become clear: She is standing next to Benjamin Moser, the brother of her primary opponent Laura Moser, who was also at the rally. In addition, in the cropped version the Planned Parenthood sign has been moved so it can be seen over Fletcher’s head.

Benjamin Moser, who was even tagged by Fletcher when she originally posted the photo on Facebook in 2013, raised the obvious question in his own recent Facebook post. “Lizzie, I do get that it’s unfortunate that Laura’s brother is standing right next to you. (Needless to say, Laura was at this same protest.) But isn’t there a better solution?” he wrote. “Maybe a picture from some other event, some other activism you’ve been involved in over the *quarter-century* since this picture was taken? Unless, of course, there aren’t any, and this highly awkward crop is the best you can do.”

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Benjamin Moser, the brother of Laura Moser, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher at a demonstration at a Houston-area Planned Parenthood in 1992.

Photo: Facebook

Fletcher also notes on her website that she co-founded Planned Parenthood Young Leaders, which was a group that met for happy hours and other events to try to attract younger supporters for the organization.

Benjamin Moser’s defense of his sister, though, clashes with the image Laura Moser painted of herself last year as an overnight activist who was startled awake by the election of Trump. As the photo demonstrates, she has been active in, and around, politics for much of her adult life, through her own writing and the work of her husband, Chaudhary, who was a key member of Obama’s 2008 campaign and went on to become the first White House videographer. That led to an iconic photo of Moser’s 2-year-old daughter having a temper tantrum on the floor of the Oval Office.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama talk with guests, including Arun Chaudhary, Laura Moser and their children Leo and Claudia, in the Red Room prior to hosting a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 3, 2015.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama talk with guests, including Arun Chaudhary, Laura Moser and their children Leo and Claudia, in the Red Room prior to hosting a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 3, 2015.

Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

Daily Action, the resistance group Moser founded, lists itself as “paid for by Creative Majority PAC,” which has a close financial relationship with Revolution Messaging.

Indeed, Moser is now leaning into her long record of advocacy on the campaign trail. “I have seen the other candidates say the right things and pay lip service to feminist ideals. And I’ve seen Laura,” wrote Laura’s mother Jane Moser in a recent email to campaign supporters. “I’ve seen her spend a lifetime time standing up, speaking out, and taking action. She never planned all her life to run for office. But she’s been acting and advocating all her life. As a journalist, she has written about everything from K-12 education to gun violence. To be called an activist in this race is a high compliment.”

She said, however, that there is a crucial difference between then and now. “While I had a close-up seat to the political world for the duration of the Obama administration, I had never worked in politics or really ever considered working in politics until Trump’s election,” she said. “I was active in the way many politically aware people are, but I had two kids and a full-time job and it was only after November 8 that I truly decided I had a patriotic duty to turn my whole life upside-down.”

Top photo: Laura Moser picking up her campaign materials at a print shop in Houston, Monday May 22, 2017.

The post EMILY’s List Weighs in Hard in Texas Primary — Against a Leading Woman in the Trump Resistance appeared first on The Intercept.

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