Asked to comment on the fraught national debate over the fitness of Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the Supreme Court, given credible accusations of sexual assault, President Donald Trump said on Tuesday, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America.”
Ignoring the possibility that Kavanaugh’s three accusers could be telling the truth about abuse they found too painful to describe for decades, Trump decried what he said was a new atmosphere in which men were presumed “guilty until proven innocent.”
“You could be somebody that was perfect your entire life,” Trump said, pointing at a male reporter, “and somebody could accuse you of something … and you’re automatically guilty.”
The president, who has privately boasted about getting away with sexual assault, was then asked if he had any message for the young women of America. “Women,” he replied, “are doing great.”
The president’s remark provoked anger and dismay — in the first instance, from women who know how difficult it is to come forward and be believed after being attacked by a man.
But Trump’s complaints about a lack of due process for men also stunned people who recall the public campaign he launched in 1989 to have five black and Latino teenage boys executed for the rape of a jogger in Central Park that they did not commit.
Trump, who famously and falsely accused five Black and Latino teens of rape in the Central Park Five case, now complains that we live in a scary time for young men because "somebody could accuse you of something and you're automatically guilty." https://t.co/DLsNUhT9Fb
2018: “It's a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of,” Trump told reporters.“You can be somebody that was perfect your entire life, and somebody could accuse you of something."https://t.co/H1ZxGjFw5w 1989: ?? pic.twitter.com/cVdYqHsaJ3
Ballots are still being counted in Ohio’s nail-biting special election in the 12th Congressional District, but it looks like Republican Troy Balderson will narrowly defeat Democrat Danny O’Connor.
As of the time of publication, the vote tally is 101,772 for Balderson and 100,208 for O’Connor. But with Green Party candidate Joe Manchik garnering 1,129 votes votes, some Democrats have projected their frustration about their loss onto third parties.
Of course, even with all of Manchik’s votes, O’Connor would still come up 435 votes short. But math hasn’t stopped Democrats from blaming the Green Party.
Adam Best, founder of the sports blog FanSided and better known for his anti-Donald Trump Twitter presence, quipped that Green Party voters just want “a cookie” for being “nonconformist,” and are indifferent to the negative consequences of a spoiler vote. Comedian Kathy Griffin echoed that sentiment, tweeting, “Green Party voters..no one is saying you can’t vote for your candidates….but don’t tell me you care about the environment if you know your vote will make the difference between a Dem winning over a Rep and you still choose to vote for your candidate who has NO chance of winning.”
“Hi. I’m a Green Party voter. I love the environment so damn much I keep accidentally electing climate-change deniers who are owned by the fossil fuel industry. Do I get a cookie now for being a nonconformist?”
Green Party voters..no one is saying you can't vote for your candidates….but don't tell me you care about the environment if you know your vote will make the difference between a Dem winning over a Rep and you still choose to vote for your candidate who has NO chance of winning
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano lamented that Green Party votes were evidence of “Russian meddling,” while the political blog Palmer Report tweeted, “Green Party voters are even worse than Trump supporters” because “Green Party voters know Trump is destroying everything, yet they choose to vote in a way that hands him more power.”
You know what sucks?
Because of our unwillingness to pass policy that protects our election integrity, I immediately think the Green Party votes tonight are Russian meddling.
Why else would anyone cast a protest vote in Ohio when there’s so much at stake?#OH12
If this sounds familiar, it might be because this reasoning has been deployed since America’s first elections, and especially since 2000, when Ralph Nader won more votes than Al Gore’s loss margin in Florida — the state that decided the 2000 presidential election. (Few ever raise the fact that 308,000 registered Democrats voted for George W. Bush in Florida that year, over nine times the 34,000 who voted for Nader.)
But even if we were to credit the assessment that Green Party candidates are responsible for spoiling multiple presidential elections, and now, Ohio’s 12th District, it remains true that the Democratic Party has shown little interest in addressing the underlying cause of the spoiler effect: our first-past-the-post voting system.
In our current system, the person who wins the most votes wins the election. As a result, if a third-party candidate who is ideologically similar to one of the main two parties enters a race, they can split the vote, causing the less popular platform to cary the day. However, in a ranked-choice voting system, voters “rank” the candidates in order of preference. If none of the parties get to 50 percent of the vote, the least popular candidate is stricken, and their votes are allocated according to the second choice of the voter. Meaning that if Stein voters had ranked Clinton second on their ballots, the votes cast by Stein voters would have gone to Clinton once it became clear that Stein finished last.
In 2017, a group of House Democrats, led by Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, introduced H.R. 3057, the Fair Representation Act, which would require every congressional district in America to use ranked-choice voting. It would also require districts to be redrawn by independent redistricting committees, which would diminish the effects of partisan gerrymandering, and it would require the installation of multimember districts — a reform that would allow voters in each district to elect multiple lawmakers instead of just one, so that more people would be represented.
The law would make congressional elections much more competitive and also make it so that voters who feel unrepresented by the major parties, or disenfranchised because they live in a district that is staunchly in favor of one party or another, would have a greater incentive to vote.
When it was introduced, the bill had a total of three sponsors: Beyer; Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
A year later, it has only gained two additional sponsors: Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.
Ranked-choice voting is employed by about a dozen different localities and states. It’s used in municipal elections in Oakland and San Francisco, California; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; and even by the academy. Earlier this year, Maine adopted ranked-choice voting for its June primaries over the legislature’s attempts to block the voter-driven ballot initiative that first brought the system to Maine. The result? Voter turnout was up, implementation was uncomplicated and inexpensive, few errors were made, and outcomes were perceived to be fair.
Ranked-choice voting made news this spring, when the two most left-wing candidates for San Francisco’s mayoral election formed a tactical alliance to win the others’ second preference votes. While they were technically competing against each other, they were also able to cooperate to empower their shared ideology — the beauty of a system that allows voters to cast multiple votes.
And advocates of ranked-choice voting raised the benefits of alternative voting schemes when, after Michigan’s recent governor’s race, the results suggested that if the third place candidate, who branded himself as a progressive, had been reallocated in a ranked-choice system, Abdul El-Sayed, a genuine progressive, might have come within arm’s reach of winning.
Europe provides several examples of other voting alternatives. French President Emmanuel Macron, for instance, ran on introducing greater proportional representation in the French legislature, and is slowly making good on that promise. Under proportional representation, parties are allotted seats based on the total percentage of the vote they get. Under that system, if Democrats were to receive 51 percent of the vote, Republicans 44 percent, and Greens 5 percent, they’d each get that percentage of seats in Congress.
Proportional representation is how elections are run in countries like Sweden, Germany, and Israel. It’s no surprise that legislatures in these countries often have seven or eight different political parties with significant clout, which then work together in coalitions on legislation, offering far more choices to voters.
By contrast, American political parties tend not to offer third-party voters any sort of election reform plans — even to win over their votes.
Michelle Obama, one of Clinton’s more powerful surrogates, neatly summarized the argument against voting for third parties in 2016, telling voters, “Here’s the truth: Either Hillary Clinton or her opponent will be elected president this year. And if you vote for someone other than Hillary, or if you don’t vote at all, then you are helping to elect Hillary’s opponent.”
Even after the election, in her campaign memoir, Clinton seemed focused on her entitlement to votes rather than policies which could prevent future spoilers. “In each state, there were more than enough Stein voters to swing the result, just like Ralph Nader did in Florida and New Hampshire in 2000. Maybe, like actress Susan Sarandon, Stein thinks electing Trump will hasten ‘the revolution.’ Who knows?” she flippantly wrote.
This attitude is particularly disheartening when one considers that third-party votes are, unlike the failure to cast a ballot, a direct expression of disenchantment with the two major parties. And black voters are particularly hurt by the two-party system, as votes cast by historically marginalized groups are often presumed rather than earned.
Although the Green Party, stymied by ballot-access battles and boxed out by the major party giants, struggles to mount candidates with sufficient mainstream qualifications to capture more than a narrow slice of the vote, it has been a much more consistent advocate for progressive ideals than the Democratic Party has been. Its members are often those who care more, not less, about left-wing ideological commitments. Thus, it feels particularly cruel to attack engaged voters rather than flawed institutions.
As Elizabeth Bruenig recently argued, there’s some value to believing in something — especially when a “lesser of two evils” mindset forces Democrats ever rightward. The goal should not be to attack the left, but to dismantle the voting system which forces such regressive results. In the interest of representation and ideological integrity, it’s clear that it’s time to give alternative voting schemes a try.
Top photo: Voters in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District wait in line to cast a ballot for their next congressperson on Aug. 7, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio.
The moment president Donald Trump invited the neocon John Bolton to run his foreign policy it was obvious Iran would fall between the crosshairs. Bolton has advocated killing Iranians since his days as US ambassador (unconfirmed) to the UN. Last month, Trump threatened Iran and president Rouhani. The Donald felt it was necessary to use all caps to get his message across. Following this, ABC News in Australia reported sources in the government saying an attack on Iran could come this month. Iran has always figured large on the neocon hit list. Now Bolton and the Defense of Democracy crowd and their fellow travelers in Congress are finally in a position to do to Iran what they did to Iraq—send the country back to the Stone Age. It’s not about nukes. It’s about taking out the only viable competitor in the Middle East. As in Iraq this will entail taking out all traces of modernity—electricity, sanitation, water purification, agriculture, hospitals, government institutions, and more. This is what Bush and the neocons targeted in Iraq after the country suffered a raft of medieval sanctions, killing half a million children. The financial elite and its political class will push for war—economic and military—and Trump and his neocons will follow instructions. The American people will also follow along, unable to think for themselves and dependent on the propaganda media to formulate their opinions.
Hey. Did you play video games 35 years ago in the local arcade or on your Atari set at home? Remember how thrilled you felt zapping into oblivion those enemy spaceships in Galaga, or slicing up the snakes & other obstacles in Dragon’s Lair? I don’t care that I’m aging myself, stick with me. I mean……those digital means are analogous to what the architects of modern global financial warfare scheme up in the way of fiscal threats in foreign nations & markets, only to later promise to zap them down, thereby drawing said nations back into a compliant, obedient fold. Literally programming in perceived threats for an emerging market nation’s populace in order to get them riled up, only to then propose effective means for doing away with said nemesis using exclusively available tools, such as, say, the dollar as king global currency benchmark to tie the ruble, yuan, lira, rial, bolivar or other currency against.
Well, imagine the video game with glitches, or with malfunctioning code. You’d walk away toward a better game. One where the rules worked consistently and, perhaps, ‘winning’ involved not simply obtaining a high score, but a tangible prize like a toy or tokens you walked away with. In the geopolitical equivalent, the ‘better game’ is being designed by the global East and South. By Eurasian giants like Russia, China, Iran, Turkey & their growing list of multi-hemispheric partners who are sick of absorbing wanton economic sanctions & currency wars as if they’re weary participants in a morbid collective video game. Like Jeff Bridges in Tron, or Keanu in the Matrix. Yes, I’m old…
In this 26th episode of Money & Fear, and as always, in the show’s detailed Show Notes listed under the videos on our website, expect a detailed review of the massive economic and financial stakes underlying threats, sanctions, currency assaults and related acts of hostility from an anxious, desperate Atlanticist Establishment against rapidly scurrying, agile & increasingly cross-collaborative nations in the global East & South. We’ll question the means used to punish nations straying from the Washington Consensus, the responses from these nations, and the critical roles of the US dollar versus rising rival currencies at the center of this Long Game of perception & confidence.
If you’re not a Newsbud member yet, please join and tell others. It costs practically nothing, yet gives you information you’re not supposed to know, thus empowering you to stay ahead of the herd … and think … like these financial alchemists – and just plain, rotten grifters – think. The time is now to support independent, nonpartisan media, so please consider joining the worldwide Newsbud community today and tell other genuinely curious friends & family out there as well!
In this breaking news report, Newsbud’s Founder & Editor Sibel Edmonds uncovers bombshell reports of a plot to assassinate the American pastor being detained in Turkey, Andrew Brunson. Find out about the contract on Brunson’s life, the hit team that was arrested and why the media is blacking out this report! Support Newsbud.com by becoming a member today so we can continue to bring you news and analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
The Trump administration, fresh off its battle against breastfeeding at the United Nations, is once again pressuring countries to revise a U.N. public health resolution, this time focused on tuberculosis.
The U.S. is seeking to remove language asserting the legal right for developing countries to override drug industry patents and license low-cost versions of otherwise expensive TB medicines, arguing over the wording of a draft declaration for a high-level meeting on tuberculosis scheduled to take place in September.
But in this effort, the administration has an unlikely ally: a former Obama administration senior adviser who has criticized Trump.
Josh Black was the White House director for U.N. and Multilateral Affairs under Barack Obama in 2016. A career diplomat and sanctions negotiator, he served in the State Department under three presidents, but quit this January amid “growing disillusionment” with the Trump administration.
Black now works as the point person at the U.N. for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the nation’s main drug industry lobbyist. And the U.S. meddling on the tuberculosis declaration aligns with PhRMA’s stated desire to protect corporate patents.
The famously loyal Trump operating hand in hand with someone who worked for his heated rival Obama and condemned his leadership is an anomaly. In the rarefied world of global pharmaceutical profits, however, it’s just par for the course.
The Trump administration courted controversy last month when the New York Times reported that it opposed a resolution supporting breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly. The U.S. reportedly threatened countries with trade sanctions and withdrawal of military aid if they introduced the resolution, and later sought to soften the resolution’s text. The aggressive action aligned with the interests of the $ 70 billion infant formula industry, which has thrived on providing misinformation about breastfeeding to the developing world.
At that same World Health Assembly, countries gathered to prepare for the first U.N. General Assembly high-level meeting on tuberculosis, which was announced in December 2016. Tuberculosis is the world’s leading infectious disease killer and the ninth leading cause of death worldwide, killing 1.674 million people in 2016, per the World Health Organization’s most recent report. Over half of the 10.4 million new cases that year came from just five countries: India, Pakistan, Indonesia, China, and the Philippines. And new strains of drug-resistant TB reached 600,000 people last year, suggesting a continuing struggle.
Most TB deaths are preventable with early detection and treatment. But the drugs necessary to treat TB are costly, particularly the multidrug-resistant strain. “The average regimen can cost up to $ 2,000,” said Palumbo.
In 2013, Johnson & Johnson developed bedaquiline, the first new TB treatment in 40 years, but other than that and Japanese manufacturer Otsuka’s delamanid, breakthroughs have been scarce because it’s hard to get a drugmaker to see the profit in creating medicines to eradicate a disease that primarily affects poor countries. And these drugs have suffered from slow scale-up; MSF estimated in February that less than 5 percent of those afflicted with TB had access to the new medicines.
A donation program runs out next year, which could lead to even higher prices. The high-level meeting is intended to guide the global response to TB, with the goal of wiping it out. And civil society groups had one major priority: reaffirm the right for all countries to legally ensure access to affordable TB treatments.
Under the 2001 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, agreement worked out at a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, all countries can use “compulsory licensing” to rip patents away from drug companies and produce low-cost versions that increase competition. As Palumbo explains, this flexibility was used to reduce the cost of HIV medications by 99 percent over a 20-year period. “Ensuring intellectual property rights should not be a barrier for wider access to medicines,” Palumbo said.
Again, this is allowable under international trade law. Global society has agreed that countries’ lack of wealth shouldn’t force them to suffer with epidemics that kill citizens on a mass scale, for the sake of a profit margin on a drug company spreadsheet.
But when negotiations ramped up in June, the U.S. rejected this reaffirmation. According to an early draft reviewed by The Intercept, the U.S. objected to paragraphs that specifically cited the TRIPS agreement and the rights of countries to put access to medicines for all above intellectual property concerns. Instead, the U.S. wanted to soften the references to TRIPS, and demanded inclusion of this passage: “Intellectual property rights are an important incentive in the development of new health products.”
The World Health Organization’s Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation, and Intellectual Property includes the same line, but adds, “This incentive alone does not meet the need for the development of new products to fight diseases where the potential paying market is small or uncertain.” The U.S. didn’t want that part in.
According to Médecins Sans Frontières, the U.S. refused to sign the draft declaration without its changes. The European Union, Norway, South Africa, Russia, and the Group of 77 coalition of developing nations all supported the original language; only the U.S. lodged an objection on paper. But in the end, the final draft released on July 20 included the U.S. version.
“How is it possible that global leaders will gather for the first time to decide how to tackle the world’s most deadly infectious disease killer, and yet some countries backed by their big pharma lobbies are pushing to remove any mention of the need for vital medicines to be affordable?” asked Sharonann Lynch with MSF’s Access Campaign in a damning statement.
After a four-day “silence procedure,” South Africa formally objected to the document, reopening negotiations. This sets new negotiations and a somewhat unclear way forward leading up to the high-level meeting in September. South Africa’s ambassador to the U.N., Jerry Matjila, did not answer questions from The Intercept.
If the resolution doesn’t reaffirm compulsory licensing, it sends a political message that countries opting for this legal procedure would face blowback from the world’s global superpower. While the TRIPS option would remain, poor countries wouldn’t have the backing of a global declaration to support their actions.
Health and Human Services spokesperson Ryan Murphy told The Intercept that the U.S. has been the global leader in funding the fight against TB, through research and subsidies for treatments to poorer countries. In a statement, Murphy said, “Experts and stakeholders know that what impedes TB patients from receiving treatments and care is not U.S. insistence on basic protections of intellectual property. Rather, it is the fundamental failure of healthcare systems to connect sick people with lifesaving treatments that are readily available and inexpensive.”
Médecins Sans Frontières didn’t think much of this argument. “There’s nothing stopping government from both taking actions to strengthen health systems and implement measures to promote access to medicines,” Palumbo said. “And when countries spend less on medicines, they have more resources for paid staff.”
But the White House’s line matches the pharmaceutical industry’s position on the issue. In a response to The Intercept, PhRMA spokesperson Megan Van Etten said, “The issues involved in the U.N. negotiations on tuberculosis are much more complex than any one press release has portrayed. Instead of tackling the real barriers to improved TB treatment – particularly the urgent need to strengthen and better fund health care systems – the negotiations risk getting stuck in an ideological trap focused on anti-IP arguments that aren’t relevant to the unique challenges of tuberculosis care.”
Not only does this mirror the White House’s position on TB, it’s nearly identical — as in word for word — to a private communication obtained by The Intercept from PhRMA’s lead representative at the U.N., Josh Black.
Photo: Ron Sachs, Pool/Getty Images
Black began his career at the State Department in 2000, working on negotiations on Kosovo’s future status. He moved to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in 2008, working on sanctions related to Iran, North Korea, Yemen, South Sudan, and several terrorist groups. He helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna in 2015. This led to a White House position advising Obama on U.N. and human rights issues.
After the Trump inauguration, Black returned to the State Department and lasted about a year before resigning. Foreign Policy magazine reported that Black “had grown disillusioned serving an administration that was contemptuous of multilateral institutions.” Obama administration colleagues Samantha Power and Susan Rice praised Black on the way out, calling him a “national treasure” and a “pro’s pro.”
After Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, one of Black’s biggest diplomatic triumphs, he vented in a private Facebook message obtained by The Intercept, lamenting the White House’s “soul-crushing stream of boorishness, malevolence, and ignorance.” He added that “today’s decision … wasn’t just bad policy — it was DUMB policy, poorly executed.”
When Black left the State Department, he moved to PhRMA, becoming associate vice president for international advocacy. There is no direct link of Black to U.S. posturing over the TB declaration, but his entire job description is to “support U.S. pharmaceutical industry engagement with the United Nations” and “ensure that U.N. and other multilateral institutions understand the importance of protecting intellectual property.”
Representatives from the two major companies involved, Johnson & Johnson and Otsuka, both were present at civil society hearings on TB, and spoke on the floor. PhRMA’s role is a bit more obscure. “It’s fair to say they play a role in U.N. debates,” said MSF’s Palumbo. “But it’s more behind the scenes.”
Private communications show Black relating the precise argument of his employer on TB negotiations. He also cited an article from IP Progress, a pro-intellectual property coalition that includes PhRMA, in making his case.
That article makes the claim that most TB drugs are off-patent, although this isn’t accurate for newer, multidrug-resistant treatments from Johnson & Johnson and Otsuka. That talking point, however, wound up in the mouth of the spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. at the TB hearing. “We would like to take this opportunity to point out that most existing treatment drugs for TB are off-patent and inexpensive,” she said, adding that the U.N. should focus on improving health systems rather than be “distracted” by compulsory licensing.
PhRMA did not make Black available for comment. An attempt to reach Black through his Facebook page was not returned.
The Obama administration went hand in hand with PhRMA on the issue of access to drugs in the developing world. PhRMA chastised India’s “anti-innovation intellectual property policies” at the same time that Obama sent John Kerry to the country to pressure them over their use of generic drugs that cut into industry profits.
Members of Congress have sought to prevent a replay in the Trump administration. A bipartisan group of senators have sent a series of letters to administration officials, imploring them to show leadership on the epidemic and close gaps in TB diagnosis and treatment around the world. One of those signatories, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, responded to the controversy over the draft declaration in a statement to The Intercept: “The global fight against TB makes us all safer, and the administration cannot put big pharma’s profits ahead of global health.”
But the Trump administration has consistently backed the drug industry’s efforts to squeeze more money from abroad. The president’s blueprint on lower drug prices is predicated on getting other countries to pay more, with the rather optimistic idea that the industry would subsequently lower prices in the U.S. And Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly executive, publicly criticized how other countries “command unfairly low prices for innovative drugs” at the World Health Assembly this May.
He reinforced this in Senate testimony in June, calling compulsory licensing a “socialist” process to “expropriate the product and get the product even cheaper.”
Putting big pharma’s profits ahead of global health is a bipartisan affair.
Top photo: A man suffering from tuberculosis holds his medication after receiving it at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)-run clinic in Nairobi on March 24, 2015.
Lori Swanson, Minnesota’s three-term attorney general and current candidate for governor, has presided over an office culture in which professional success is linked to the willingness of employees to participate in Swanson’s campaign work, eight former and current employees of the attorney general’s office told The Intercept.
Swanson, a moderate Democrat who was first elected in 2007, has kept a remarkably low profile throughout her 11 years in office, largely avoiding crowds and close media coverage. Just last month, Minnesota Public Radio described her as “an atypically private politician who runs a tightly-controlled office and makes few public appearances.” Unlike nearly all other politicians across the country, she maintains no personal or professional presence on Twitter or Facebook.
None of this is by accident, according to sources familiar with Swanson. Lawyers and other employees who have worked for her describe a highly politicized office in which burnishing Swanson’s image is a primary focus.
The lawyers and other staffers in the attorney general’s office interviewed for this article said they felt pressured to carry out tasks like stuffing envelopes for the benefit of the campaign and scheduling campaign events, sometimes during the work day. They said they felt their promotions and pay raises were based partly on participation in political campaigns. Attorneys reported foregoing basic legal work to instead correspond with constituents and defend the office’s and Swanson’s reputation in various public relations campaigns — work they said they felt was political. Multiple sources reported that these office dynamics began as early as Swanson’s first year in office and continued through this year.
It is not illegal for politicians to invite their employees to get involved with their campaigns. However, Minnesota law bars the use of “official authority or influence” to compel employees to engage in political activity.
Ruth Stanoch, a spokesperson for Swanson’s campaign, said the allegations are “categorically false” and that additional questions should be directed to the attorney general’s office. A spokesperson from that office, Benjamin Wogsland, told The Intercept that anyone who volunteers on a political campaign must do so own their own personal time, and that “the office does not consider an employee’s participation in the political process or lack thereof in determining raises and promotions.” He declined to answer specific follow-up questions unless The Intercept would name the employees we interviewed.
Former staff and legal observers are also calling attention to other elements of Swanson’s record. These include what was widely considered an aggressive union busting effort she conducted early in her first term. Also of note, they say, is a history of touting high-profile lawsuits against corporate defendants and the Trump administration — and then settling or exiting them quietly after the press had moved on.
Democrats are expected to maintain control of the governor’s mansion in the November election, and a recent poll showed Swanson with a narrow lead over her two more progressive primary opponents. But with the August 14 primary fast approaching, those who worked with her say they want Democratic voters to know more about the candidate for whom they’re being asked to cast a ballot.
Swanson’s gubernatorial campaign has prompted former and current employees to reveal what they say is political activity within her office. Most who spoke to The Intercept did so on the condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation by one of the most powerful Democrats in the state. They told The Intercept that, throughout Swanson’s tenure, they and other employees scheduled campaign events and stuffed envelopes while working in the attorney general’s office. They also said employees staffed campaign events during the business day and on the weekends. According to a source with detailed firsthand knowledge of these practices, not all employees were asked to participate, and those who did engage in campaign work were typically shuttled from the attorney general’s large office in downtown St. Paul to a much smaller executive suite at the state Capitol, to maintain discretion. Multiple sources said political work also took place in the downtown office, in the consumer services division, and in the Medicaid fraud unit, among other places. Sometimes, according to another source who left the downtown office this year, attorneys were asked to spend full days doing public relations work, researching information to rebut any negative news articles about the attorney general.
The current and former staffers described how Swanson’s inner circle would ask workers, including attorneys, to conduct political work for the attorney general. According to these sources, Swanson’s revolving network of allies included individuals from different levels of her office, with varying job titles, responsibilities, and qualifications. To induce participation, they emphasized that Swanson was a rising political star who would one day be governor, and therefore in control of thousands of appointments that she could give to her supporters. Sources described these supporters making these pitches one-on-one, often behind closed doors.
Five employees told The Intercept that they believed that advancement in the attorney general’s office was partly tied to participation in political events on Swanson’s behalf, though she never explicitly stated this. According to these accounts, supporting Swanson politically yielded professional rewards, including promotions and pay raises. One source described other benefits, such as tickets to sporting events. Two sources told The Intercept they were aware of political activity in the office but declined to participate, including, in one instance, after receiving a direct overture. They said they felt no pressure but speculated that this choice may have affected future promotions.
“They’d recruit folks out of the consumer division, who were generally young and wanting to build their careers and connections in politics.”
Publicly available state payroll databases showed seven employees identified to The Intercept as politically tied to Swanson receiving high salaries, and, sometimes, substantial raises in short periods. The salary of one employee described by three sources as an important Swanson supporter increased 127 percent in a recent six-year period. Another, who the Swanson campaign confirmed volunteered to help produce campaign materials, received a 130 percent salary increase in three years. Sources made clear that these seven individuals did not represent a complete list of Swanson’s political allies.
When asked whether those seven staffers’ compensation had any relation to their political activities, Wogsland, the office spokesperson, said they were all “highly-capable and talented individuals and valued members of our staff. Their pay raises and salaries are based exclusively on their talent, merit and responsibilities.” He added that their salaries were commensurate with those of their peers.
Since 2013, six of the seven identified staffers had made a combined 46 contributions to Swanson’s political campaigns, including $ 11,175 to her recently launched gubernatorial effort. State records show only one donation was made to any other Minnesota political campaign.
“If you wanted to be someone who went from being a low-level analyst answering phones to someone with an office and a secretary, you had to participate [in campaign events],” said one former staffer who worked closely with Swanson for years.
That employee’s account is substantially similar to the descriptions shared by current and former employees, most of them lawyers, who worked at the attorney general’s office during different periods, spanning from before Swanson’s first term in 2007 until today. Sources were reached independently of one another and worked in different divisions.
Linda McEwen, who worked at the state Capitol office as Swanson’s executive assistant from 2007 to 2009, said she directly witnessed employees engaged in political campaigning while there. McEwen was fired at the end of 2009, citing conflicts with Swanson over her mentor and former attorney general Mike Hatch’s role in office management. (She then went to work as the executive assistant to the chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the Democratic Party is known in Minnesota, for the next six years.) McEwen told The Intercept that, during her tenure, she knew which employees were participating in campaign work, and she saw firsthand those individuals receive disproportionate promotions and pay raises.
“They’d recruit folks out of the consumer division, who were generally young and wanting to build their careers and connections in politics,” said McEwen, referring to staffers Swanson used to mobilize others. “I worked closely with Swanson, I was right across the hall from her office, and I would schedule these people to accompany her to campaign events.” McEwen thinks she herself was hired because she volunteered on Hatch’s gubernatorial campaign.
“There’s no question” that raises and promotions were tied to whether staffers were willing to work on campaign events, McEwen added. “I saw it directly, including for senior staff who were given raises beyond what other people were given because they were politically supportive and politically involved in her campaign,” she told The Intercept.
McEwen is now retired, and she said she’s in a place in her life where she feels she can speak out publicly. She said, “I always told myself that if she ever ran for governor I would come forward.”
Swanson spends unusually little on campaign staff. Her attorney general campaign committee, which has spent $ 660,000 since the beginning of 2014, does not report a single dollar of payroll or employee expense. In the current gubernatorial race, among the 10 candidates with the highest campaign expenditures, staff expenses account for about 25 percent of all campaign spending — an average of about $ 107,000 per candidate. Every one of those candidates reported significant staff costs — all, that is, except for Swanson, who again reported $ 0 in payroll or employee expense. This was despite spending nearly $ 470,000 overall, more than all but three other candidates.
Asked if Swanson maintains separate campaign staff, Stanoch, her campaign spokesperson, responded that her previous attorney general campaigns had been “volunteer-driven.” She did not address the present gubernatorial campaign.
After seeking comment from the attorney general’s office about the activities described above, The Intercept also received a communication from a private attorney representing unnamed clients at the office. He stated that “to the extent any of these individuals ever participated in the democratic process, whether in support of the Attorney General or any other candidate or cause, it was done on their time and not paid for by the government.” He noted that government employees are free to use “extracurricular time, vacation hours, lunch hours, etc.” as they wish. He added that his clients “are highly-credentialed, hard-working professionals” whose salaries are “commensurate with other similarly situated employees.” The Intercept requested an interview with the employees through their lawyer but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Swanson’s campaign for governor has been brief, but dramatic. Up until early June, she was running for re-election as attorney general. But after failing to win the DFL endorsement at a statewide convention, she abandoned that bid and jumped into the governor’s race at the last minute. (She lost the attorney general endorsement to a relatively unknown progressive candidate after opting not to address the delegates.) Two progressive candidates for governor emerged at that same convention: Erin Murphy, a former Minnesota House majority leader running on single-payer health care who scored the party’s formal endorsement; and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is considered another strong liberal challenger. Swanson’s late entry into the race – one day before the state’s filing deadline for candidates and after the endorsement convention had passed — meant that party delegates never had a chance to weigh in on her candidacy.
But if she had hoped to sneak through the primary with little public scrutiny, those hopes were dashed when news broke in July that her running-mate, Rep. Rick Nolan, rehired a former legislative director to work on his 2016 re-election campaign just months after a group of female staffers reported him for routine sexual harassment. A subsequent leaked recording revealed Nolan discussing the “fragility” of white-collar women.
Following these revelations, progressive and feminist groups immediately called on Swanson to drop Nolan as her lieutenant governor, but she made no public comment for over 24 hours. This prompted Minnesota residents to take to Twitter to discuss other moments when their attorney general was missing in action, getting the hashtag #WhereIsLori to trend locally on the website.
No secret, Swanson has been silent on her stance regarding most issues. MN can't let it slide. Enabling sexual harassment is unacceptable and it endangers women. We shouldn’t tolerate it from anyone, including our candidates and statewide office holders. #WhereIsLori
Eventually, Swanson issued a statement on the matter, in which she condemned sexual harassment while reiterating her support for Nolan, who had apologized. Her campaign also suggested the accusations against Nolan were part of an effort to politically advance her gubernatorial opponents, sparking a fresh round of public outrage.
Photo: Jim MoneAP
Swanson’s trajectory through Minnesota politics has been defined by unusually close ties to Mike Hatch, Minnesota’s previous two-term attorney general and three-time candidate for governor.
The two have been a team for decades. Swanson’s first job out of college in 1989 was working as an analyst for the state commerce department, where Hatch was commissioner. Impressed by her work, Hatch encouraged her to attend law school, and afterward hired her at his private law firm. In 1998, when Hatch launched his bid for attorney general, Swanson helped run his campaign. By 1999, 32-year-old Swanson was named deputy attorney general.
Hatch dramatically changed the culture of Minnesota’s attorney general’s office, which had formerly been one of the most highly regarded in the country, according to reports from people who worked there. Employees who worked under Hatch described him as a “foul-mouthed screamer and a bully” where any second-guessing of an order “could lead to a sudden loss of status with the management, an unwanted transfer, or being called into a meeting and offered a choice between resignation or dismissal.”
When Hatch left to run for governor in 2006, and Swanson ran to replace him as attorney general, staffers thought that breaking up the duo might lead to improvements within the office. But when Hatch lost, and Swanson won, Swanson’s first official move was to rehire her mentor back. She placed Hatch in charge of all complex litigation.
The continuation of the Hatch-Swanson relationship demoralized an office that was hoping for a fresh start. In her first 18 months, more than 35 percent of the rank-and-file attorneys quit or were fired. Swanson described the turnover as “healthy” and insisted morale was fine. She added that some attorneys who left “were not good fits” because they were not willing to work hard enough.
The culture of fear that permeated the attorney general’s office under Hatch and Swanson prompted attorneys to launch a union drive in the spring of 2007. Employees reached out to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, a public-sector union that had backed Swanson during her campaign. When a majority of assistant attorneys general signed union cards and asked to meet with Swanson, she declined, saying her staff lawyers were not covered under the Public Employee Labor Relations Act. In response to a question from The Intercept, Wogsland cited two Minnesota statutes as evidence that employees working for the state attorney general can’t unionize. But the staff attorneys and AFSCME disputed the attorney general’s legal conclusions, countering that nothing in the law barred Swanson from meeting with a union representing her employees.
What followed was described by insiders as an ugly chapter of union busting. In 2008, three assistant attorneys general sent Swanson a letter on behalf of the organizing committee asking her to recognize “the will of the staff to be represented by a labor union.” The organizing cohort also asked Swanson to work with them to amend the Public Employee Labor Relations Act so that it would “unambiguously include” the 135 attorneys and other at-will professional staff working in her office. They pointed to the unionized attorneys in Hennepin,Ramsey, and St. Louis counties, as well as the unionized city attorneys in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They got no response and published their letter online.
Employees later said they were asked to sign petitions pledging loyalty to Swanson.
According to local reports at the time, Swanson then circulated a staff memo that called the online letter “a political swipe” and charged the authors with bringing “embarrassment to this Office.” Swanson later accused AFSCME of ginning up fake turmoil in order to advance its agenda, and insisted, again, that her staff’s morale was good. Employees later said they were asked to sign petitions pledging loyalty to Swanson and disavowing the union effort. One employee who spoke to The Intercept said they were asked to sign such a letter.
Some staffers said they were fired for their union activities, the local news outlet Pioneer Press reported in 2007. One pro-union attorney was fired less than a month after being given a raise and a letter of commendation. When the employee asked why she was being dismissed, she was told “it was office policy not to give a reason why,” and was escorted out.
Swanson denied these accusations at the time. In interviews with The Intercept, staff close to Swanson recalled the attorney general seeking out intel on those who supported the union effort and then later terminating them without explanation. Swanson’s campaign did not directly respond to the union-busting allegation, but said, “the law simply does not allow for [unions] and as the chief legal officer of the state, the Attorney General must follow the law.”
Hatch, Swanson’s mentor at the time, at the time issued a statement disavowing any sort of union at the attorney general’s office. “The state must speak with one voice on legal matters,” he said. “A union is simply not compatible with the constitutional and fiduciary relationship of trust and confidence owed to the Attorney General.” Hatch dismissed the employees who spoke to reporters as “disgruntled” and “mud throwers.”
The union effort died.
Swanson is running for governor as a “proven progressive,” but former employees at the attorney general’s office said she complained privately about the modern Democratic Party moving too far left.
Sources who worked close to Swanson described an aversion to public appearances or statements that might suggest a too-liberal political affiliation. This included, they say, a reluctance to appear at political events in Minneapolis or St. Paul, out of concern that it would associate her with the cities’ progressive urban politics. Despite Minnesota legalizing gay marriage in 2013, Swanson notably did not join the more than a dozen other Democratic attorneys general in signing briefs supporting marriage equality the following year, and she declined to explain why. (Swanson ultimately declared her office’s support in 2015, two months before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land.)
Instead, her political image is maintained through a heavy focus on constituent services. Former lawyers told The Intercept that they spent substantial amounts of time authoring personalized responses to non-pressing constituent questions and complaints, particularly from rural parts of the state. Some lawyers said they felt this was a frustrating political exercise that furthered Swanson’s political goals while diverting work hours from the office’s core legal duties. This has been a longstanding concern. In 2009, the Minnesota Monthly quoted a former assistant attorney general who quit under Swanson saying, “If a lawyer is working on a $ 200 million case and is being told to write letters to people complaining about coupons misrepresenting the price of melons at Cub Foods, you begin to wonder if their time is being used wisely.”
Wogsland, the office’s spokesperson, defended this work. “We are extremely proud that we make it a priority to help people in need,” he told The Intercept. “Doing so enhances, not diminishes, the legal work of the office. There have unfortunately been some attorneys employed in the office over the years who believed they were too important to interact with the public.”
Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune/AP
That’s not to say that the office of the attorney general steers clear of political lawsuits. Indeed, in the age of Donald Trump, Democratic attorneys general have honed the legal playbook advanced by Republican attorneys general under Barack Obama, filing case after case challenging the Trump administration’s policies.
But while Swanson’s campaign has strongly touted the role she’s played in the resistance, some political observers say she has been unusually slow to sue the federal government compared to her Democratic counterparts around the country. Since January 2017, Paul Nolette, a Marquette University political scientist, has tracked the number of lawsuits filed by Democratic attorneys general against the administration. With 15 such suits, “Swanson is near the bottom of the list, well behind small offices like Vermont and D.C.” which have filed 29 and 27 cases, respectively, Nolette told The Intercept. She “has also largely deferred taking the lead on multistate litigation,” Nolette added, noting that she has the power and legal authority to do so. “She has taken a different path than her predecessor a few years ago, Skip Humphrey, who was one of the most active [attorneys general] nationally during his time in office,” he said.
Minnesota legal observers have also criticized Swanson for filing big lawsuits, including against the Trump administration, that generate favorable press coverage, but that quickly flounder or settle once reporters have moved on.
“There was a relentless focus on media attention, getting the headline.”
“There was a relentless focus on media attention, getting the headline,” said Prentiss Cox, a longtime employee in the Minnesota attorney general’s office who now works as a consumer law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. Cox worked under Swanson when she was deputy attorney general, eventually leaving the office to teach law. After her 2006 election, she picked him to head an influential predatory lending task force. “If it wasn’t a headline, it wasn’t important,” he said.
Locals point to the Trump travel ban lawsuit brought by Washington state in February of last year, which Minnesota jumped quickly into as a plaintiff. Together, they won a temporary injunction, earning the state a slew of positive press. But six weeks later, Swanson quietly withdrew from the lawsuit.
“She’s never explained it,” said Kara Lynum, an immigration attorney in St. Paul. “We joined the Washington case and dropped out, and then she could have signed onto the Hawaii lawsuit which went to the Supreme Court, but she didn’t do that either,” Lynum added, referring to a second nationwide lawsuit against the travel ban.
Wogsland, the spokesperson for Swanson’s office, said “it made sense for Minnesota to monitor the litigation that moved forward (Hawaii) and be in a position to file an ‘as-applied’ challenge in the event that the order unconstitutionally applied to the people in the State of Minnesota.” He said Minnesota remains positioned to file such a challenge “if necessary and supported by the facts and the law.” (In June, the Supreme Court ruled against Hawaii, upholding the ban.)
As she runs for governor, Swanson has been also pointing to consumer protection victories, including lawsuits she filed against an arbitration firm, for-profit colleges, and pharmaceutical companies.
One example her campaign has pointed to is Swanson’s 2012 lawsuit against Accretive Health, a voracious hospital debt collector that has since changed its name to R1 RCM.
After launching an investigation, Swanson’s office published a jaw-dropping six-volume report into Accretive’s practices in one Minnesota hospital system. The attorney general’s office prominently publicized the report online, an archived version of the website reveals. It detailed practices like patient bedside debt collection and mandatory meetings for emergency room personnel to learn that “their primary mission [was] the collection of money as opposed to the well-being of the patient.” The report described the hospitals coordinating with the firm to identify the easiest targets for increased collections. For example, one manager noted, “We need to get cracking on labor and delivery, there is a good chunk to be collected there.” Accretive ultimately negotiated a contract with the hospital system that delivered over $ 100 million annually to the collection firm.
Minnesota ultimately settled the case for $ 2.5 million and an agreement that the company would delete Minnesota health data and not return to the state for up to six years, a moratorium that ends this November. An independent financial analyst noted at the time that the penalty had little financial impact on the company, which ended the quarter with a cash-balance of $ 214.5 million. The dramatic report, a copy of which has been independently obtained by The Intercept, is no longer available on the attorney general’s website, nor are other mentions of the case or its settlement. (Wogsland, the office spokesperson, said it’s been taken down because “the website contains information about current and recent cases and the Accretive matter is 6 years old.”)
Nevertheless, Swanson’s gubernatorial campaign has been presenting this Accretive episode as a reason to vote for her. Swanson referenced the Accretive investigation in her first TV ad, and Stanoch, the campaign spokesperson, told The Intercept that the attorney general “threw a Wall Street-owned corporation out of Minnesota for hounding patients for money while they were suffering medical emergencies in the hospital.”
Cox, the consumer law professor and former assistant attorney general, told The Intercept that he wouldn’t have spoken up about Swanson’s record four years ago, but that he feels compelled to do so in today’s political environment. He said, “It’s really important that we elect people who fundamentally care and support the public institutions that are under attack.”
Top photo: Attorney General Lori Swanson walks up to a set of microphones and recorders as she prepares to announce her run for governor at the Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis, June 4, 2018.
Facebook has shut down InfoWars’ page saying the conservative news outlet used hate speech. An editor at the website says the social media giant failed to tell it what the offending posts were.
InfoWars Editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson said in a tweet that the account has been “permanently banned” for “unspecified” hate speech. Visitors to InfoWars page are now greeted with a message saying: “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now”.
Describing the development as a “chilling precedent for free speech,” Watson said that Facebook did not tell the media organization what the offending posts were.
“To all other conservative news outlets – you are next. The great censorship purge has truly begun,” he wrote.
Facebook has permanently BANNED Infowars.
For unspecified "hate speech". They didn't even tell us what the offending posts were.
This sets a chilling precedent for free speech.
To all other conservative news outlets – you are next.
Facebook said in a blog post on Monday that it was banning four of the pages belonging to Infowars founder Alex Jones for repeatedly uploading content in breach of the social network’s community standards.
The company said that when it deletes content, the removal counts as a strike against the person that uploaded it. It added that the reason for removing Jones’ pages was not related to concerns over false news.
“All four Pages have been unpublished for repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes,” Facebook explained.
“While much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this.”
Jones is being sued by parents of the Sandy Hook school shooting for claiming that the attack was a hoax. Late last month the parents slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to protect them from harassment by conspiracy theorists.
The development comes after Apple removed Jones’ daily podcasts from its podcast directory.
“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” an Apple spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
“Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Apple Podcasts is arguably the most important platform in the podcasting industry. It drives a substantial amount of traffic to the podcasts it features on its homepage or in its charts.
“For the law holds, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer,” wrote Sir William Blackstone in 1765, expressing a fundamental principle of Anglo-Saxon justice. Miko Peled, in “Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five,” his exhaustive study of the U.S. government’s case against five defendants from a friendless minority, demonstrates how American justice has deviated so far from Blackstone that the courts can convict a hundred innocents for one who is guilty. “Injustice” portrays a modern version of Franz Kafka’s “Trial” in which five Palestinian-Americans confront the character Joseph K.’s dilemma: “K. was living in a free country, after all, everywhere was at peace, all laws were decent and were upheld, who was it who dared accost him in his own home?”
The FBI, the Treasury Department, and other assorted police forces in Texas and California accosted them with raids on most of their family houses early in the morning on July 26, 2004. The criminal trial against the Holy Land Foundation Five — or HLF 5, as the five Arab-Americans became known, a reference to the Islamic charity they founded in 1990 — opened exactly three years later. It culminated in a hung jury. The retrial in Dallas federal court began in September 2008, and included unprecedented testimony from “Avi,” the pseudonym assumed by an Israeli intelligence agent whose qualifications the defense was unable to probe. Judge Jorge Solis, although he instructed jurors that they were allowed to weigh the agent’s credibility in light of his anonymity, nonetheless brushed aside the defendants’ right under the Sixth Amendment “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Nothing in the U.S. Constitution until then permitted conviction by anonymous accusations, but the court convicted all five men.
Zaira Abu-Baker, 25, holds her head as Noor Elashi, 22, speaks during an interview at a cafe in Richardson, Texas, on Nov. 20, 2008. Elashi and Abu-Baker wait each day while a jury considers whether their fathers would be found guilty.
Photo: LM Otero/AP
Peled’s book is a fascinating account of immigrants making good in their new country, starting families and businesses and creating a charity to help those they left behind. Through Peled, Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh emerge as decent human beings motivated by the desire to relieve suffering, in line with their religious convictions. They remind the reader of the many Jewish Americans that were persecuted during the McCarthy era for their support of humanitarian causes espoused by organizations that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI declared “communist front organizations.”
Peled, the son of a famous Israeli general and a passionate anti-Zionist, was living near San Diego when he heard about the case in 2011. “I felt there was something seriously wrong here,” he writes. Going to work with the same determination that made him a martial arts master in Japan, Peled visited the federal prisons, dispersed throughout the penitential gulag, where the men are lodged, as well as their families in the houses where government agents seized their fathers and husbands. And he visited the men’s birthplaces in the West Bank. Hovering over his investigation is the memory of a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997, that killed his 13-year-old niece, Smadar Elhanan. Peled shares with Smadar’s parents — his sister Nurit Peled-Elhanan and her husband Rami — the belief that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, rather than charity, caused the suicide bombings, killed his niece, and is causing the deaths of more Israelis and Palestinians. Peled’s moving account is likely to outrage Israel’s defenders, to whom it may read like hostile propaganda, as well as its critics, reinforcing their view of Israeli influence over America’s judiciary, legislature, executive branch, and media.
The charges stemmed from the men’s involvement with the Holy Land Foundation, then America’s largest Muslim charity, that sent aid to Palestinians throughout the Middle East, as well as to refugees and war victims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Turkey, and Africa. The men consulted the U.S. Treasury Department to assure compliance with all laws governing nonprofit organizations. In Israel, the HLF was affiliated with a legal Israeli-Palestinian charity and worked with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Aid to Palestinians, many of them children orphaned in the conflict between occupier and occupied in the West Bank and Gaza, prompted Israel to investigate the charity and the U.S. to follow suit. While unable to prove a direct link between the HLF and Hamas, which President Bill Clinton declared a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1995, prosecutors alleged that civilian aid to Palestinians meant more resources for Hamas to attack Israel.
“The government also presented evidence,” noted a statement from the Justice Department, “that several HLF defendants have family members who are Hamas leaders, including Hamas’s political chief, Mousa Abu Marzook, who is married to a cousin of Ghassan Elashi, HLF’s former chairman of the board.” Married to a cousin? No comment.
Mahdi Bray, executive director for the Muslim American Society, speaks to reporters outside a federal court building on July 24, 2007, in support of the Holy Land Foundation’s top officials, who were on trial in Dallas.
Photo: Donna McWilliam/AP
One accusation in the 108-count indictment stated that the Holy Land Foundation encouraged suicide bombings by providing welfare to the bombers’ children. Having pored over trial briefs and transcripts, Peled doubted the government’s logic: “The defense demonstrated clearly that of the lists of orphans, none of their fathers were involved in what could be described as terrorism. Furthermore, out of roughly 200 suicide bombers that operated in Palestine at the time, none had children.” In fact, the HLF sent money to the children of men that Hamas had assassinated for collaborating with Israel.
The verdict in United States of America v. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was either “the largest victory against terrorist finance in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks,” as the FBI claimed, or a political decision in which five innocent men are serving between 15 and 65 years in federal penitentiaries — meaning, for most of them, the rest of their lives. Either way, the closure of the HLF charity and the incarceration of its sponsors, in Peled’s view, had little effect beyond the suffering of the defendants and their families: “As I write, it has been fifteen years since the HLF office was closed, and Hamas is doing fine.”
Top photo: Ghassan Elashi, CEO of the Holy Land Foundation, speaks with the media on Dec. 5, 2001, during a press conference in Richardson, Texas. The Holy Land Foundation disputed claims made by the U.S. government that it used charitable donations to fund Hamas.
Google bosses were scrambling to contain leaks and internal anger on Wednesday after the company’s confidential plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China was revealed by The Intercept.
Just a few hundred of Google’s massive 88,000-strong workforce had been briefed on the project prior to the revelations, which triggered a wave of disquiet that spread through the internet giant’s offices across the world.
Company managers responded by swiftly trying to shut down employees’ access to any documents that contained information about the China censorship project, according to Google insiders who witnessed the backlash.
“Everyone’s access to documents got turned off, and is being turned on [on a] document-by-document basis,” said one source. “There’s been total radio silence from leadership, which is making a lot of people upset and scared. … Our internal meme site and Google Plus are full of talk, and people are a.n.g.r.y.”
On a message board forum for Google employees, one staff member posted a link to The Intercept’s story alongside a note saying that they and two other members of their team had been asked to work on the Chinese censorship project, code-named Dragonfly.
“In my opinion it is just as bad as the leak mentions,” the employee wrote, adding that they had asked their manager to be removed from the project because they were uncomfortable with it. Another member of the team, the employee said, had decided to quit Google in large part due to concerns about Dragonfly.
“I had a meeting with my [vice president] about the project before leaving [it]. This was a short meeting for me, because my [vice president] refused to provide any information without me basically agreeing to a verbal [nondisclosure agreement],” noted the employee. “She did reemphasize that they had good reasons to keep all that private: they didn’t want the project to leak externally! That was enough for me to fuck off [from the group working on Dragonfly].”
“There’s been total radio silence from leadership … a lot of people are upset and scared.”
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the backlash.
Following the disclosure on Wednesday, several new sources inside Google independently confirmed the plans to news organizations, including Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times, Agency France-Presse, Vice News, and Bloomberg. One source who spoke to Bloomberg characterized the project as a “censorship engine,” which they said they viewed as a betrayal of Google’s values. Bloomberg described a ferocious discussion among Google staffers, with some backing the company’s censored search proposal because they believed that boycotting the country would not “bring any positive change.”
Publicly, Google has so far stayed silent about Dragonfly. The company has refused to address dozens of reporters’ questions about the project, and has instead issued a boilerplate statement saying that it does “not comment on speculation about future plans.” One source said some members of Google’s search engine team were on a company trip to Lake Tahoe, between California and Nevada, at the time the news broke, which blindsided them and “spoiled some folks’ vacation.”
The Dragonfly project was launched in spring 2017. Since then, small teams of Google engineers have been developing a custom Android app, different versions of which have been named “Maotai” and “Longfei.” The app has been designed to filter out content deemed undesirable by China’s ruling Communist Party regime, such as information about political opponents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest. The censored search will “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, according to internal Google documents.
Google previously launched a censored search engine in China in 2006, but pulled the service out of the country in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech, block websites, and hack Google’s computer systems. The planned relaunch would represent a stunning reversal of that decision.
The company’s censorship project is likely to draw scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted on Wednesday that he wanted to “learn more” about Google’s plans, which he said appeared “very disturbing.”
Human rights groups responded to the revelations with a chorus of condemnation. Amnesty International issued a statement calling on the internet giant to abandon the plan. “It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google’s ‘do the right thing’ motto, and we are calling on the company to change course,” said Amnesty’s Patrick Poon.
A spokesperson for the New York-based group Human Rights in China said that Google had shown willingness to “trade principles and values for access to the Chinese market.” The spokesperson added: “If Google wants to be a credible global technology leader and demonstrate its commitment to core values and responsible corporate citizenship, it has to do better than kneeling before an authoritarian party-state. In the long run, Google will lose more than its own principled employees who refuse to be complicit.”
Maya Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Google’s plans risked abetting Chinese government abuses. “That Google appears to be developing this censored version of a search engine in the midst of a harsh, nationwide crackdown on human rights in China — with the consultation of senior Chinese government officials — is alarming,” said Wang.
“Thank goodness somebody in Google leaked this information.”
Google insiders say that the app has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government. As of last month, its launch was pending approval from officials in Beijing, and slated for potential release in six to nine months. It is unclear whether the leaks — and the public outrage that has followed — will affect the plans. The Chinese government is unlikely to be pleased about the disclosures. State media in the country reportedly denied that Google would be launching the censored search. Either that’s a bold-faced lie, or it means that, in the wake of the revelations and controversy, Communist Party officials have decided they will block approval of Dragonfly.
Some analysts have drawn comparisons between the censorship project and Project Maven, a Google initiative to develop artificial intelligence for U.S. military drones. Project Maven sparked an internal revolt within the company, which led to Google canceling the contract. One of Google’s informal corporate principles is “don’t be evil” — a standard some of the company’s employees felt Project Maven violated.
Charlie Smith, co-founder of GreatFire.org, an organization that monitors Chinese government internet censorship, said he hoped Google employees would refuse to help develop the censored search app.
“Thank goodness somebody in Google leaked this information — that person is a true hero!” Smith told The Intercept. “Hopefully the outrage from Google employees will be enough to convince Google execs that they should not return to China, at least not like this.”
If Google engineers “really speak out about this,” Smith added, “it would be hard for the company to move forward with the plan. … They are really the key here. They must stand up for what is right. Can they really tell themselves that they do no evil?”
Top photo: A Chinese flag flutters near the Google logo on top of Google’s China headquarters in Beijing, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010.