position:chair

  • Burying the Nakba: How Israel systematically hides evidence of 1948 expulsion of Arabs
    By Hagar Shezaf Jul 05, 2019 - Israel News - Haaretz.com
    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-how-israel-systematically-hides-evidence-of-1948-expulsio

    International forces overseeing the evacuation of Iraq al-Manshiyya, near today’s Kiryat Gat, in March, 1949. Collection of Benno Rothenberg/Israel State Archives

    Four years ago, historian Tamar Novick was jolted by a document she found in the file of Yosef Vashitz, from the Arab Department of the left-wing Mapam Party, in the Yad Yaari archive at Givat Haviva. The document, which seemed to describe events that took place during the 1948 war, began:

    “Safsaf [former Palestinian village near Safed] – 52 men were caught, tied them to one another, dug a pit and shot them. 10 were still twitching. Women came, begged for mercy. Found bodies of 6 elderly men. There were 61 bodies. 3 cases of rape, one east of from Safed, girl of 14, 4 men shot and killed. From one they cut off his fingers with a knife to take the ring.”

    The writer goes on to describe additional massacres, looting and abuse perpetrated by Israeli forces in Israel’s War of Independence. “There’s no name on the document and it’s not clear who’s behind it,” Dr. Novick tells Haaretz. “It also breaks off in the middle. I found it very disturbing. I knew that finding a document like this made me responsible for clarifying what happened.”

    The Upper Galilee village of Safsaf was captured by the Israel Defense Forces in Operation Hiram toward the end of 1948. Moshav Safsufa was established on its ruins. Allegations were made over the years that the Seventh Brigade committed war crimes in the village. Those charges are supported by the document Novick found, which was not previously known to scholars. It could also constitute additional evidence that the Israeli top brass knew about what was going on in real time.

    Novick decided to consult with other historians about the document. Benny Morris, whose books are basic texts in the study of the Nakba – the “calamity,” as the Palestinians refer to the mass emigration of Arabs from the country during the 1948 war – told her that he, too, had come across similar documentation in the past. He was referring to notes made by Mapam Central Committee member Aharon Cohen on the basis of a briefing given in November 1948 by Israel Galili, the former chief of staff of the Haganah militia, which became the IDF. Cohen’s notes in this instance, which Morris published, stated: “Safsaf 52 men tied with a rope. Dropped into a pit and shot. 10 were killed. Women pleaded for mercy. [There were] 3 cases of rape. Caught and released. A girl of 14 was raped. Another 4 were killed. Rings of knives.”

    Morris’ footnote (in his seminal “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949”) states that this document was also found in the Yad Yaari Archive. But when Novick returned to examine the document, she was surprised to discover that it was no longer there.

    Palestine refugees initially displaced to Gaza board boats to Lebanon or Egypt, in 1949. Hrant Nakashian/1949 UN Archives

    “At first I thought that maybe Morris hadn’t been accurate in his footnote, that perhaps he had made a mistake,” Novick recalls. “It took me time to consider the possibility that the document had simply disappeared.” When she asked those in charge where the document was, she was told that it had been placed behind lock and key at Yad Yaari – by order of the Ministry of Defense.

    Since the start of the last decade, Defense Ministry teams have been scouring Israel’s archives and removing historic documents. But it’s not just papers relating to Israel’s nuclear project or to the country’s foreign relations that are being transferred to vaults: Hundreds of documents have been concealed as part of a systematic effort to hide evidence of the Nakba.

    The phenomenon was first detected by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research. According to a report drawn up by the institute, the operation is being spearheaded by Malmab, the Defense Ministry’s secretive security department (the name is a Hebrew acronym for “director of security of the defense establishment”), whose activities and budget are classified. The report asserts that Malmab removed historical documentation illegally and with no authority, and at least in some cases has sealed documents that had previously been cleared for publication by the military censor. Some of the documents that were placed in vaults had already been published.
    An investigative report by Haaretz found that Malmab has concealed testimony from IDF generals about the killing of civilians and the demolition of villages, as well as documentation of the expulsion of Bedouin during the first decade of statehood. Conversations conducted by Haaretz with directors of public and private archives alike revealed that staff of the security department had treated the archives as their property, in some cases threatening the directors themselves.

    Yehiel Horev, who headed Malmab for two decades, until 2007, acknowledged to Haaretz that he launched the project, which is still ongoing. He maintains that it makes sense to conceal the events of 1948, because uncovering them could generate unrest among the country’s Arab population. Asked what the point is of removing documents that have already been published, he explained that the objective is to undermine the credibility of studies about the history of the refugee problem. In Horev’s view, an allegation made by a researcher that’s backed up by an original document is not the same as an allegation that cannot be proved or refuted.

    The document Novick was looking for might have reinforced Morris’ work. During the investigation, Haaretz was in fact able to find the Aharon Cohen memo, which sums up a meeting of Mapam’s Political Committee on the subject of massacres and expulsions in 1948. Participants in the meeting called for cooperation with a commission of inquiry that would investigate the events. One case the committee discussed concerned “grave actions” carried out in the village of Al-Dawayima, east of Kiryat Gat. One participant mentioned the then-disbanded Lehi underground militia in this connection. Acts of looting were also reported: “Lod and Ramle, Be’er Sheva, there isn’t [an Arab] store that hasn’t been broken into. 9th Brigade says 7, 7th Brigade says 8.”
    “The party,” the document states near the end, “is against expulsion if there is no military necessity for it. There are different approaches concerning the evaluation of necessity. And further clarification is best. What happened in Galilee – those are Nazi acts! Every one of our members must report what he knows.”

    The Israeli version
    One of the most fascinating documents about the origin of the Palestinian refugee problem was written by an officer in Shai, the precursor to the Shin Bet security service. It discusses why the country was emptied of so many of its Arab inhabitants, dwelling on the circumstances of each village. Compiled in late June 1948, it was titled “The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine.”

    Read a translation of the document here (1)

    This document was the basis for an article that Benny Morris published in 1986. After the article appeared, the document was removed from the archive and rendered inaccessible to researchers. Years later, the Malmab team reexamined the document, and ordered that it remain classified. They could not have known that a few years later researchers from Akevot would find a copy of the text and run it past the military censors – who authorized its publication unconditionally. Now, after years of concealment, the gist of the document is being revealed here.

    The 25-page document begins with an introduction that unabashedly approves of the evacuation of the Arab villages. According to the author, the month of April “excelled in an increase of emigration,” while May “was blessed with the evacuation of maximum places.” The report then addresses “the causes of the Arab emigration.” According to the Israeli narrative that was disseminated over the years, responsibility for the exodus from Israel rests with Arab politicians who encouraged the population to leave. However, according to the document, 70 percent of the Arabs left as a result of Jewish military operations.

    Palestinian children awaiting distribution of milk by UNICEF at the Nazareth Franciscan Sisters’ convent, on January 1, 1950. AW / UN Photo

    The unnamed author of the text ranks the reasons for the Arabs’ departure in order of importance. The first reason: “Direct Jewish acts of hostility against Arab places of settlement.” The second reason was the impact of those actions on neighboring villages. Third in importance came “operations by the breakaways,” namely the Irgun and Lehi undergrounds. The fourth reason for the Arab exodus was orders issued by Arab institutions and “gangs” (as the document refers to all Arab fighting groups); fifth was “Jewish ’whispering operations’ to induce the Arab inhabitants to flee”; and the sixth factor was “evacuation ultimatums.”

    The author asserts that, “without a doubt, the hostile operations were the main cause of the movement of the population.” In addition, “Loudspeakers in the Arabic language proved their effectiveness on the occasions when they were utilized properly.” As for Irgun and Lehi operations, the report observes that “many in the villages of central Galilee started to flee following the abduction of the notables of Sheikh Muwannis [a village north of Tel Aviv]. The Arab learned that it is not enough to forge an agreement with the Haganah and that there are other Jews [i.e., the breakaway militias] to beware of.”

    The author notes that ultimatums to leave were especially employed in central Galilee, less so in the Mount Gilboa region. “Naturally, the act of this ultimatum, like the effect of the ’friendly advice,’ came after a certain preparing of the ground by means of hostile actions in the area.”
    An appendix to the document describes the specific causes of the exodus from each of scores of Arab locales: Ein Zeitun – “our destruction of the village”; Qeitiya – “harassment, threat of action”; Almaniya – “our action, many killed”; Tira – “friendly Jewish advice”; Al’Amarir – “after robbery and murder carried out by the breakaways”; Sumsum – “our ultimatum”; Bir Salim – “attack on the orphanage”; and Zarnuga – “conquest and expulsion.”

    Short fuse
    In the early 2000s, the Yitzhak Rabin Center conducted a series of interviews with former public and military figures as part of a project to document their activity in the service of the state. The long arm of Malmab seized on these interviews, too. Haaretz, which obtained the original texts of several of the interviews, compared them to the versions that are now available to the public, after large swaths of them were declared classified.

    These included, for example, sections of the testimony of Brig. Gen. (res.) Aryeh Shalev about the expulsion across the border of the residents of a village he called “Sabra.” Later in the interview, the following sentences were deleted: “There was a very serious problem in the valley. There were refugees who wanted to return to the valley, to the Triangle [a concentration of Arab towns and villages in eastern Israel]. We expelled them. I met with them to persuade them not to want that. I have papers about it.”

    In another case, Malmab decided to conceal the following segment from an interview that historian Boaz Lev Tov conducted with Maj. Gen. (res.) Elad Peled:
    Lev Tov: “We’re talking about a population – women and children?”
    Peled: “All, all. Yes.”
    Lev Tov: “Don’t you distinguish between them?”
    Peled: “The problem is very simple. The war is between two populations. They come out of their home.”
    Lev Tov: “If the home exists, they have somewhere to return to?”
    Peled: “It’s not armies yet, it’s gangs. We’re also actually gangs. We come out of the house and return to the house. They come out of the house and return to the house. It’s either their house or our house.”
    Lev Tov: “Qualms belong to the more recent generation?”
    Peled: “Yes, today. When I sit in an armchair here and think about what happened, all kinds of thoughts come to mind.”
    Lev Tov: “Wasn’t that the case then?”
    Peled: “Look, let me tell you something even less nice and cruel, about the big raid in Sasa [Palestinian village in Upper Galilee]. The goal was actually to deter them, to tell them, ‘Dear friends, the Palmach [the Haganah “shock troops”] can reach every place, you are not immune.’ That was the heart of the Arab settlement. But what did we do? My platoon blew up 20 homes with everything that was there.”
    Lev Tov: “While people were sleeping there?”
    Peled: “I suppose so. What happened there, we came, we entered the village, planted a bomb next to every house, and afterward Homesh blew on a trumpet, because we didn’t have radios, and that was the signal [for our forces] to leave. We’re running in reverse, the sappers stay, they pull, it’s all primitive. They light the fuse or pull the detonator and all those houses are gone.”

    IDF soldiers guarding Palestinians in Ramle, in 1948. Collection of Benno Rothenberg/The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives

    Another passage that the Defense Ministry wanted to keep from the public came from Dr. Lev Tov’s conversation with Maj. Gen. Avraham Tamir:
    Tamir: “I was under Chera [Maj. Gen. Tzvi Tzur, later IDF chief of staff], and I had excellent working relations with him. He gave me freedom of action – don’t ask – and I happened to be in charge of staff and operations work during two developments deriving from [Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion’s policy. One development was when reports arrived about marches of refugees from Jordan toward the abandoned villages [in Israel]. And then Ben-Gurion lays down as policy that we have to demolish [the villages] so they won’t have anywhere to return to. That is, all the Arab villages, most of which were in [the area covered by] Central Command, most of them.”
    Lev Tov: “The ones that were still standing?”
    Tamir: “The ones that weren’t yet inhabited by Israelis. There were places where we had already settled Israelis, like Zakariyya and others. But most of them were still abandoned villages.”
    Lev Tov: “That were standing?”
    Tamir: “Standing. It was necessary for there to be no place for them to return to, so I mobilized all the engineering battalions of Central Command, and within 48 hours I knocked all those villages to the ground. Period. There’s no place to return to.”
    Lev Tov: “Without hesitation, I imagine.”
    Tamir: “Without hesitation. That was the policy. I mobilized, I carried it out and I did it.”

    Crates in vaults
    The vault of the Yad Yaari Research and Documentation Center is one floor below ground level. In the vault, which is actually a small, well-secured room, are stacks of crates containing classified documents. The archive houses the materials of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, the Kibbutz Ha’artzi kibbutz movement, Mapam, Meretz and other bodies, such as Peace Now.
    The archive’s director is Dudu Amitai, who is also chairman of the Association of Israel Archivists. According to Amitai, Malmab personnel visited the archive regularly between 2009 and 2011. Staff of the archive relate that security department teams – two Defense Ministry retirees with no archival training – would show up two or three times a week. They searched for documents according to such keywords as “nuclear,” “security” and “censorship,” and also devoted considerable time to the War of Independence and the fate of the pre-1948 Arab villages.
    “In the end, they submitted a summary to us, saying that they had located a few dozen sensitive documents,” Amitai says. “We don’t usually take apart files, so dozens of files, in their entirety, found their way into our vault and were removed from the public catalog.” A file might contain more than 100 documents.
    One of the files that was sealed deals with the military government that controlled the lives of Israel’s Arab citizens from 1948 until 1966. For years, the documents were stored in the same vault, inaccessible to scholars. Recently, in the wake of a request by Prof. Gadi Algazi, a historian from Tel Aviv University, Amitai examined the file himself and ruled that there was no reason not to unseal it, Malmab’s opinion notwithstanding.

    According to Algazi, there could be several reasons for Malmab’s decision to keep the file classified. One of them has to do with a secret annex it contains to a report by a committee that examined the operation of the military government. The report deals almost entirely with land-ownership battles between the state and Arab citizens, and barely touches on security matters.

    Another possibility is a 1958 report by the ministerial committee that oversaw the military government. In one of the report’s secret appendixes, Col. Mishael Shaham, a senior officer in the military government, explains that one reason for not dismantling the martial law apparatus is the need to restrict Arab citizens’ access to the labor market and to prevent the reestablishment of destroyed villages.
    A third possible explanation for hiding the file concerns previously unpublished historical testimony about the expulsion of Bedouin. On the eve of Israel’s establishment, nearly 100,000 Bedouin lived in the Negev. Three years later, their number was down to 13,000. In the years during and after the independence war, a number of expulsion operations were carried out in the country’s south. In one case, United Nations observers reported that Israel had expelled 400 Bedouin from the Azazma tribe and cited testimonies of tents being burned. The letter that appears in the classified file describes a similar expulsion carried out as late as 1956, as related by geologist Avraham Parnes:

    The evacuation of Iraq al-Manshiyya, near today’s Kiryat Gat, in March, 1949. Collection of Benno Rothenberg/The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives

    “A month ago we toured Ramon [crater]. The Bedouin in the Mohila area came to us with their flocks and their families and asked us to break bread with them. I replied that we had a great deal of work to do and didn’t have time. In our visit this week, we headed toward Mohila again. Instead of the Bedouin and their flocks, there was deathly silence. Scores of camel carcasses were scattered in the area. We learned that three days earlier the IDF had ‘screwed’ the Bedouin, and their flocks were destroyed – the camels by shooting, the sheep with grenades. One of the Bedouin, who started to complain, was killed, the rest fled.”

    The testimony continued, “Two weeks earlier, they’d been ordered to stay where they were for the time being, afterward they were ordered to leave, and to speed things up 500 head were slaughtered.... The expulsion was executed ‘efficiently.’” The letter goes on to quote what one of the soldiers said to Parnes, according to his testimony: “They won’t go unless we’ve screwed their flocks. A young girl of about 16 approached us. She had a beaded necklace of brass snakes. We tore the necklace and each of us took a bead for a souvenir.”

    The letter was originally sent to MK Yaakov Uri, from Mapai (forerunner of Labor), who passed it on to Development Minister Mordechai Bentov (Mapam). “His letter shocked me,” Uri wrote Bentov. The latter circulated the letter among all the cabinet ministers, writing, “It is my opinion that the government cannot simply ignore the facts related in the letter.” Bentov added that, in light of the appalling contents of the letter, he asked security experts to check its credibility. They had confirmed that the contents “do in fact generally conform to the truth.”

    Nuclear excuse
    It was during the tenure of historian Tuvia Friling as Israel’s chief archivist, from 2001 to 2004, that Malmab carried out its first archival incursions. What began as an operation to prevent the leakage of nuclear secrets, he says, became, in time, a large-scale censorship project.
    “I resigned after three years, and that was one of the reasons,” Prof. Friling says. “The classification placed on the document about the Arabs’ emigration in 1948 is precisely an example of what I was apprehensive about. The storage and archival system is not an arm of the state’s public relations. If there’s something you don’t like – well, that’s life. A healthy society also learns from its mistakes.”

    Why did Friling allow the Defense Ministry to have access the archives? The reason, he says, was the intention to give the public access to archival material via the internet. In discussions about the implications of digitizing the material, concern was expressed that references in the documents to a “certain topic” would be made public by mistake. The topic, of course, is Israel’s nuclear project. Friling insists that the only authorization Malmab received was to search for documents on that subject.

    But Malmab’s activity is only one example of a broader problem, Friling notes: “In 1998, the confidentiality of the [oldest documents in the] Shin Bet and Mossad archives expired. For years those two institutions disdained the chief archivist. When I took over, they requested that the confidentiality of all the material be extended [from 50] to 70 years, which is ridiculous – most of the material can be opened.”

    In 2010, the confidentiality period was extended to 70 years; last February it was extended again, to 90 years, despite the opposition of the Supreme Council of Archives. “The state may impose confidentiality on some of its documentation,” Friling says. “The question is whether the issue of security doesn’t act as a kind of cover. In many cases, it’s already become a joke.”
    In the view of Yad Yaari’s Dudu Amitai, the confidentiality imposed by the Defense Ministry must be challenged. In his period at the helm, he says, one of the documents placed in the vault was an order issued by an IDF general, during a truce in the War of Independence, for his troops to refrain from rape and looting. Amitai now intends to go over the documents that were deposited in the vault, especially 1948 documents, and open whatever is possible. “We’ll do it cautiously and responsibly, but recognizing that the State of Israel has to learn how to cope with the less pleasant aspects of its history.”
    In contrast to Yad Yaari, where ministry personnel no longer visit, they are continuing to peruse documents at Yad Tabenkin, the research and documentation center of the United Kibbutz Movement. The director, Aharon Azati, reached an agreement with the Malmab teams under which documents will be transferred to the vault only if he is convinced that this is justified. But in Yad Tabenkin, too, Malmab has broadened its searches beyond the realm of nuclear project to encompass interviews conducted by archival staff with former members of the Palmach, and has even perused material about the history of the settlements in the occupied territories.

    Malmab has, for example, shown interest in the Hebrew-language book “A Decade of Discretion: Settlement Policy in the Territories 1967-1977,” published by Yad Tabenkin in 1992, and written by Yehiel Admoni, director of the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Department during the decade he writes about. The book mentions a plan to settle Palestinian refugees in the Jordan Valley and to the uprooting of 1,540 Bedouin families from the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip in 1972, including an operation that included the sealing of wells by the IDF. Ironically, in the case of the Bedouin, Admoni quotes former Justice Minister Yaakov Shimshon Shapira as saying, “It is not necessary to stretch the security rationale too far. The whole Bedouin episode is not a glorious chapter of the State of Israel.”

    Palestinian refugees leaving their village, unknown location, 1948. UNRWA

    According to Azati, “We are moving increasingly to a tightening of the ranks. Although this is an era of openness and transparency, there are apparently forces that are pulling in the opposite direction.”
    Unauthorized secrecy
    About a year ago, the legal adviser to the State Archives, attorney Naomi Aldouby, wrote an opinion titled “Files Closed Without Authorization in Public Archives.” According to her, the accessibility policy of public archives is the exclusive purview of the director of each institution.
    Despite Aldouby’s opinion, however, in the vast majority of cases, archivists who encountered unreasonable decisions by Malmab did not raise objections – that is, until 2014, when Defense Ministry personnel arrived at the archive of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. To the visitors’ surprise, their request to examine the archive – which contains collections of former minister and diplomat Abba Eban and Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Gazit – was turned down by its then director, Menahem Blondheim.

    According to Blondheim, “I told them that the documents in question were decades old, and that I could not imagine that there was any security problem that would warrant restricting their access to researchers. In response, they said, ‘And let’s say there is testimony here that wells were poisoned in the War of Independence?’ I replied, ‘Fine, those people should be brought to trial.’”
    Blondheim’s refusal led to a meeting with a more senior ministry official, only this time the attitude he encountered was different and explicit threats were made. Finally the two sides reached an accommodation.
    Benny Morris is not surprised at Malmab’s activity. “I knew about it,” he says “Not officially, no one informed me, but I encountered it when I discovered that documents I had seen in the past are now sealed. There were documents from the IDF Archive that I used for an article about Deir Yassin, and which are now sealed. When I came to the archive, I was no longer allowed to see the original, so I pointed out in a footnote [in the article] that the State Archive had denied access to documents that I had published 15 years earlier.”
    The Malmab case is only one example of the battle being waged for access to archives in Israel. According to the executive director of the Akevot Institute, Lior Yavne, “The IDF Archive, which is the largest archive in Israel, is sealed almost hermetically. About 1 percent of the material is open. The Shin Bet archive, which contains materials of immense importance [to scholars], is totally closed apart from a handful of documents.”

    A report written by Yaacov Lozowick, the previous chief archivist at the State Archives, upon his retirement, refers to the defense establishment’s grip on the country’s archival materials. In it, he writes, “A democracy must not conceal information because it is liable to embarrass the state. In practice, the security establishment in Israel, and to a certain extent that of foreign relations as well, are interfering with the [public] discussion.”

    Advocates of concealment put forward several arguments, Lozowick notes: “The uncovering of the facts could provide our enemies with a battering ram against us and weaken the determination of our friends; it’s liable to stir up the Arab population; it could enfeeble the state’s arguments in courts of law; and what is revealed could be interpreted as Israeli war crimes.” However, he says, “All these arguments must be rejected. This is an attempt to hide part of the historical truth in order to construct a more convenient version.”

    What Malmab says
    Yehiel Horev was the keeper of the security establishment’s secrets for more than two decades. He headed the Defense Ministry’s security department from 1986 until 2007 and naturally kept out of the limelight. To his credit, he now agreed to talk forthrightly to Haaretz about the archives project.
    “I don’t remember when it began,” Horev says, “but I do know that I started it. If I’m not mistaken, it started when people wanted to publish documents from the archives. We had to set up teams to examine all outgoing material.”
    From conversations with archive directors, it’s clear that a good deal of the documents on which confidentiality was imposed relate to the War of Independence. Is concealing the events of 1948 part of the purpose of Malmab?

    Palestinian refugees in the Ramle area, 1948. Boris Carmi / The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives

    “What does ‘part of the purpose’ mean? The subject is examined based on an approach of whether it could harm Israel’s foreign relations and the defense establishment. Those are the criteria. I think it’s still relevant. There has not been peace since 1948. I may be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge the Arab-Israeli conflict has not been resolved. So yes, it could be that problematic subjects remain.”

    Asked in what way such documents might be problematic, Horev speaks of the possibility of agitation among the country’s Arab citizens. From his point of view, every document must be perused and every case decided on its merits.

    If the events of 1948 weren’t known, we could argue about whether this approach is the right one. That is not the case. Many testimonies and studies have appeared about the history of the refugee problem. What’s the point of hiding things?
    “The question is whether it can do harm or not. It’s a very sensitive matter. Not everything has been published about the refugee issue, and there are all kinds of narratives. Some say there was no flight at all, only expulsion. Others say there was flight. It’s not black-and-white. There’s a difference between flight and those who say they were forcibly expelled. It’s a different picture. I can’t say now if it merits total confidentiality, but it’s a subject that definitely has to be discussed before a decision is made about what to publish.”

    For years, the Defense Ministry has imposed confidentiality on a detailed document that describes the reasons for the departure of those who became refugees. Benny Morris has already written about the document, so what’s the logic of keeping it hidden?
    “I don’t remember the document you’re referring to, but if he quoted from it and the document itself is not there [i.e., where Morris says it is], then his facts aren’t strong. If he says, ‘Yes, I have the document,’ I can’t argue with that. But if he says that it’s written there, that could be right and it could be wrong. If the document were already outside and were sealed in the archive, I would say that that’s folly. But if someone quoted from it – there’s a difference of day and night in terms of the validity of the evidence he cited.”

    In this case, we’re talking about the most quoted scholar when it comes to the Palestinian refugees.
    “The fact that you say ‘scholar’ makes no impression on me. I know people in academia who spout nonsense about subjects that I know from A to Z. When the state imposes confidentiality, the published work is weakened, because he doesn’t have the document.”

    But isn’t concealing documents based on footnotes in books an attempt to lock the barn door after the horses have bolted?
    “I gave you an example that this needn’t be the case. If someone writes that the horse is black, if the horse isn’t outside the barn, you can’t prove that it’s really black.”

    There are legal opinions stating that Malmab’s activity in the archives is illegal and unauthorized.
    “If I know that an archive contains classified material, I am empowered to tell the police to go there and confiscate the material. I can also utilize the courts. I don’t need the archivist’s authorization. If there is classified material, I have the authority to act. Look, there’s policy. Documents aren’t sealed for no reason. And despite it all, I won’t say to you that everything that’s sealed is 100 percent justified [in being sealed].”

    The Defense Ministry refused to respond to specific questions regarding the findings of this investigative report and made do with the following response: “The director of security of the defense establishment operates by virtue of his responsibility to protect the state’s secrets and its security assets. The Malmab does not provide details about its mode of activity or its missions.”

    Lee Rotbart assisted in providing visual research for this article.

    (1) https://www.haaretz.co.il/st/inter/Heng/1948.pdf

  • Democrats and Republicans Passing Soft Regulations - The Atlantic
    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/06/democrats-and-republicans-passing-soft-regulations/592558

    Your face is no longer just your face—it’s been augmented. At a football game, your face is currency, used to buy food at the stadium. At the mall, it is a ledger, used to alert salespeople to your past purchases, both online and offline, and shopping preferences. At a protest, it is your arrest history. At the morgue, it is how authorities will identify your body.

    Facial-recognition technology stands to transform social life, tracking our every move for companies, law enforcement, and anyone else with the right tools. Lawmakers are weighing the risks versus rewards, with a recent wave of proposed regulation in Washington State, Massachusetts, Oakland, and the U.S. legislature. In May, Republicans and Democrats in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard hours of testimony about how unregulated facial recognition already tracks protesters, impacts the criminal-justice system, and exacerbates racial biases. Surprisingly, they agreed to work together to regulate it.

    The Microsoft president Brad Smith called for governments “to start adopting laws to regulate this technology” last year, while the Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy echoed those comments in June, likening the technology to a knife. It’s a less dramatic image than the plutonium and nuclear-waste metaphors critics employ, but his message—coming from an executive at one of the world’s most powerful facial-recognition technology outfits—is clear: This stuff is dangerous.

    But crucially, Jassy and Smith seem to argue, it’s also inevitable. In calling for regulation, Microsoft and Amazon have pulled a neat trick: Instead of making the debate about whether facial recognition should be widely adopted, they’ve made it about how such adoption would work.

    Without regulation, the potential for misuse of facial-recognition technology is high, particularly for people of color. In 2016 the MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini published research showing that tech performs better on lighter-skinned men than on darker-skinned men, and performs worst on darker-skinned women. When the ACLU matched Congress members against a criminal database, Amazon’s Rekognition software misidentified black Congress members more often than white ones, despite there being far fewer black members.

    This includes House Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore native whose face was also scanned when he attended a 2015 rally in memory of Freddie Gray, the unarmed black teenager who died of a spinal-cord injury while in police custody. The Baltimore Police Department used facial recognition to identify protesters and target any with outstanding warrants. Most of the protesters were black, meaning the software used on them might have been less accurate, increasing the likelihood of misidentification. Expert witnesses at the committee hearing in May warned of a chilling effect: Protesters, wary of being identified via facial recognition and matched against criminal databases, could choose to stay home rather than exercise their freedom of assembly.

    Microsoft and Amazon both claim to have lessened the racial disparity in accuracy since the original MIT study and the ACLU’s report. But fine-tuning the technology to better recognize black faces is only part of the process: Perfectly accurate technology could still be used to support harmful policing, which affects people of color. The racial-accuracy problem is a distraction; how the technology is used matters, and that’s where policy could prevent abuse. And the solution Microsoft and Amazon propose would require auditing face recognition for racial and gender biases after they’re already in use—which might be too late.

    In early May, The Washington Post reported that police were feeding forensic sketches to their facial-recognition software. A witness described a suspect to a sketch artist, then police uploaded the sketch to Amazon’s Rekognition, looking for hits, and eventually arrested someone. Experts at the congressional hearing in May were shocked that a sketch submitted to a database could credibly qualify as enough reasonable suspicion to arrest someone.

    Read: Half of American adults are in police facial-recognition databases

    But Jassy, the Amazon Web Services CEO, claimed that Amazon has never received a report of police misuse. In May, Amazon shareholders voted down a proposal that would ban the sale of Rekognition to police, and halt sales to law enforcement and ICE. Jassy said that police should only rely on Rekognition results when the system is 99 percent confident in the accuracy of a match. This is a potentially critical safeguard against misidentification, but it’s just a suggestion: Amazon doesn’t require police to adhere to this threshold, or even ask. In January, Gizmodo quoted an Oregon sheriff’s official saying his department ignores thresholds completely. (“There has never been a single reported complaint from the public and no issues with the local constituency around their use of Rekognition,” a representative from Amazon said, in part, in a statement to Gizmodo.)

    #Reconnaissance_faciale #Libertés #Espace_public #Etat_policier

  • View from Nowhere. Is it the press’s job to create a community that transcends borders?

    A few years ago, on a plane somewhere between Singapore and Dubai, I read Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983). I was traveling to report on the global market for passports—how the ultrawealthy can legally buy citizenship or residence virtually anywhere they like, even as 10 million stateless people languish, unrecognized by any country. In the process, I was trying to wrap my head around why national identity meant so much to so many, yet so little to my passport-peddling sources. Their world was the very image of Steve Bannon’s globalist nightmare: where you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many passports.

    Anderson didn’t address the sale of citizenship, which only took off in earnest in the past decade; he did argue that nations, nationalism, and nationality are about as organic as Cheez Whiz. The idea of a nation, he writes, is a capitalist chimera. It is a collective sense of identity processed, shelf-stabilized, and packaged before being disseminated, for a considerable profit, to a mass audience in the form of printed books, news, and stories. He calls this “print-capitalism.”

    Per Anderson, after the printing press was invented, nearly 600 years ago, enterprising booksellers began publishing the Bible in local vernacular languages (as opposed to the elitist Latin), “set[ting] the stage for the modern nation” by allowing ordinary citizens to participate in the same conversations as the upper classes. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the proliferation (and popularity) of daily newspapers further collapsed time and space, creating an “extraordinary mass ceremony” of reading the same things at the same moment.

    “An American will never meet, or even know the names of more than a handful of his 240,000,000–odd fellow Americans,” Anderson wrote. “He has no idea of what they are up to at any one time.” But with the knowledge that others are reading the same news, “he has complete confidence in their steady, anonymous, simultaneous activity.”

    Should the press be playing a role in shaping not national identities, but transnational ones—a sense that we’re all in it together?

    Of course, national presses enabled more explicit efforts by the state itself to shape identity. After the US entered World War I, for instance, President Woodrow Wilson set out to make Americans more patriotic through his US Committee on Public Information. Its efforts included roping influential mainstream journalists into advocating American-style democracy by presenting US involvement in the war in a positive light, or simply by referring to Germans as “Huns.” The committee also monitored papers produced by minorities to make sure they supported the war effort not as Indians, Italians, or Greeks, but as Americans. Five Irish-American papers were banned, and the German-American press, reacting to negative stereotypes, encouraged readers to buy US bonds to support the war effort.

    The US media played an analogous role in selling the public on the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But ever since then, in the digital economy, its influence on the national consciousness has waned. Imagined Communities was published seven years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, twenty-two years before Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat, and a couple of decades before the internet upended print-capitalism as the world knew it (one of Anderson’s footnotes is telling, if quaint: “We still have no giant multinationals in the world of publishing”).

    Since Trump—a self-described nationalist—became a real contender for the US presidency, many news organizations have taken to looking inward: consider the running obsession with the president’s tweets, for instance, or the nonstop White House palace intrigue (which the president invites readily).

    Meanwhile, the unprofitability of local and regional papers has contributed to the erosion of civics, which, down the line, makes it easier for billionaires to opt out of old “imagined communities” and join new ones based on class and wealth, not citizenship. And given the challenges humanity faces—climate change, mass migration, corporate hegemony, and our relationships to new technologies—even if national papers did make everyone feel like they shared the same narrative, a renewed sense of national pride would prove impotent in fighting world-historic threats that know no borders.

    Should the press, then, be playing an analogous role in shaping not national identities, but transnational ones—a sense that we’re all in it together? If it was so important in shaping national identity, can it do so on a global scale?

    Like my passport-buying subjects, I am what Theresa May, the former British prime minister, might call a “citizen of nowhere.” I was born in one place to parents from another, grew up in a third, and have lived and traveled all over. That informs my perspective: I want deeply for there to be a truly cosmopolitan press corps, untethered from national allegiances, regional biases, class divisions, and the remnants of colonial exploitation. I know that’s utopian; the international working class is hardly a lucrative demographic against which publishers can sell ads. But we seem to be living in a time of considerable upheaval and opportunity. Just as the decline of religiously and imperially organized societies paved the way for national alternatives, then perhaps today there is a chance to transcend countries’ boundaries, too.

    Does the US media help create a sense of national identity? If nationalism means putting the interests of one nation—and what its citizens are interested in—before more universal concerns, then yes. Most journalists working for American papers, websites, and TV write in English with a national audience (or regional time zone) in mind, which affects how we pitch, source, frame, and illustrate a story—which, in turn, influences our readers, their country’s politics, and, down the line, the world. But a news peg isn’t an ideological form of nationalism so much as a practical or methodological one. The US press feeds off of more pernicious nationalisms, too: Donald Trump’s false theory about Barack Obama being “secretly” Kenyan, disseminated by the likes of Fox and The Daily Caller, comes to mind.

    That isn’t to say that global news outlets don’t exist in the US. When coaxing subscribers, the Financial Times, whose front page often includes references to a dozen different countries, openly appeals to their cosmopolitanism. “Be a global citizen. Become an FT Subscriber,” read a recent banner ad, alongside a collage featuring the American, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, and European Union flags (though stories like the recent “beginner’s guide to buying a private island” might tell us something about what kind of global citizen they’re appealing to).

    “I don’t think we try to shape anyone’s identity at all,” Gillian Tett, the paper’s managing editor for the US, says. “We recognize two things: that the world is more interconnected today than it’s ever been, and that these connections are complex and quite opaque. We think it’s critical to try to illuminate them.”

    For Tett, who has a PhD in social anthropology, money serves as a “neutral, technocratic” starting point through which to understand—and tie together—the world. “Most newspapers today tend to start with an interest in politics or events, and that inevitably leads you to succumb to tribalism, however hard you try [not to],” Tett explains. “If you look at the world through money—how is money going around the world, who’s making and losing it and why?—out of that you lead to political, cultural, foreign-policy stories.”

    Tett’s comments again brought to mind Imagined Communities: Anderson notes that, in 18th-century Caracas, newspapers “began essentially as appendages of the market,” providing commercial news about ships coming in, commodity prices, and colonial appointments, as well as a proto–Vows section for the upper crust to hate-read in their carriages. “The newspaper of Caracas quite naturally, and even apolitically, created an imagined community among a specific assemblage of fellow-readers, to whom these ships, brides, bishops, and prices belonged,” he wrote. “In time, of course, it was only to be expected that political elements would enter in.”

    Yesterday’s aristocracy is today’s passport-buying, globe-trotting one percent. The passport brokers I got to know also pitched clients with the very same promise of “global citizenship” (it sounds less louche than “buy a new passport”)—by taking out ads in the Financial Times. Theirs is exactly the kind of neoliberal “globalism” that nationalist politicians like Trump have won elections denouncing (often hypocritically) as wanting “the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much.” Isn’t upper-crust glibness about borders, boundaries, and the value of national citizenship part of what helped give us this reactionary nativism in the first place?

    “I suspect what’s been going on with Brexit and maybe Trump and other populist movements [is that] people. . . see ‘global’ as a threat to local communities and businesses rather than something to be welcomed,” Tett says. “But if you’re an FT reader, you see it as benign or descriptive.”

    Among the largest news organizations in the world is Reuters, with more than 3,000 journalists and photographers in 120 countries. It is part of Thomson Reuters, a truly global firm. Reuters does not take its mandate lightly: a friend who works there recently sent me a job posting for an editor in Gdynia, which, Google clarified for me, is a city in the Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland.

    Reuters journalists cover everything from club sports to international tax evasion. They’re outsourcing quick hits about corporate earnings to Bangalore, assembling teams on multiple continents to tackle a big investigation, shedding or shuffling staff under corporate reorganizations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “more than half our business is serving financial customers,” Stephen Adler, the editor in chief, tells me. “That has little to do with what country you’re from. It’s about information: a central-bank action in Europe or Japan may be just as important as everything else.”

    Institutionally, “it’s really important and useful that we don’t have one national HQ,” Adler adds. “That’s the difference between a global news organization and one with a foreign desk. For us, nothing is foreign.” That approach won Reuters this year’s international Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the mass murder of the Rohingya in Myanmar (two of the reporters were imprisoned as a result, and since freed); it also comes through especially sharply in daily financial stories: comprehensive, if dry, compendiums of who-what-where-when-why that recognize the global impact of national stories, and vice versa. A recent roundup of stock movements included references to the US Fed, China trade talks, Brexit, monetary policy around the world, and the price of gold.

    Adler has led the newsroom since 2011, and a lot has changed in the world. (I worked at Reuters between 2011 and 2013, first as Adler’s researcher and later as a reporter; Adler is the chair of CJR’s board.) Shortly after Trump’s election, Adler wrote a memo affirming the organization’s commitment to being fair, honest, and resourceful. He now feels more strongly than ever about judiciously avoiding biases—including national ones. “Our ideology and discipline around putting personal feelings and nationality aside has been really helpful, because when you think about how powerful local feelings are—revolutions, the Arab Spring—we want you writing objectively and dispassionately.”

    The delivery of stories in a casual, illustrated, highly readable form is in some ways more crucial to developing an audience than subject matter.

    Whether global stories can push communities to develop transnationally in a meaningful way is a harder question to answer; it seems to impugn our collective aptitude for reacting to problems of a global nature in a rational way. Reuters’s decision not to fetishize Trump hasn’t led to a drop-off in US coverage—its reporters have been especially strong on immigration and trade policy, not to mention the effects of the new administration on the global economy—but its stories aren’t exactly clickbait, which means ordinary Americans might not encounter them at the top of their feed. In other words, having a global perspective doesn’t necessarily translate to more eyeballs.

    What’s more, Reuters doesn’t solve the audience-class problem: whether readers are getting dispatches in partner newspapers like The New York Times or through the organization’s Eikon terminal, they tend to be the sort of person “who does transnational business, travels a good deal, is connected through work and media, has friends in different places, cares about what’s going on in different places,” Adler says. “That’s a pretty large cohort of people who have reason to care what’s going on in other places.”

    There are ways to unite readers without centering coverage on money or the markets. For a generation of readers around the world, the common ground is technology: the internet. “We didn’t pick our audience,” Ben Smith, the editor in chief of BuzzFeed, tells me over the phone. “Our audience picked us.” He defines his readers as a cohort aged 18–35 “who are on the internet and who broadly care about human rights, global politics, and feminism and gay rights in particular.”

    To serve them, BuzzFeed recently published a damning investigative report into the World Wildlife Fund’s arming of militias in natural reserves; a (not uncontroversial) series on Trump’s business dealings abroad; early exposés of China’s detention of Uighur citizens; and reports on child abuse in Australia. Climate—“the central challenge for every newsroom in the world”—has been harder to pin down. “We don’t feel anyone has cracked it. But the shift from abstract scientific [stories] to coverage of fires in California, it’s a huge change—it makes it more concrete,” Smith says. (My husband is a reporter for BuzzFeed.)

    The delivery of these stories in a casual, illustrated, highly readable form is in some ways more crucial to developing an audience than subject matter. “The global political financial elites have had a common language ever since it was French,” Smith says. “There is now a universal language of internet culture, [and] that. . . is how our stuff translates so well between cultures and audiences.” This isn’t a form of digital Esperanto, Smith insists; the point isn’t to flatten the differences between countries or regions so much as to serve as a “container” in which people from different regions, interest groups, and cultures can consume media through references they all understand.

    BuzzFeed might not be setting out to shape its readers’ identities (I certainly can’t claim to feel a special bond with other people who found out they were Phoebes from the quiz “Your Sushi Order Will Reveal Which ‘Friends’ Character You’re Most Like”). An audience defined by its youth and its media consumption habits can be difficult to keep up with: platforms come and go, and young people don’t stay young forever. But if Anderson’s thesis still carries water, there must be something to speaking this language across cultures, space, and time. Call it “Web vernacular.”

    In 2013, during one of the many recent and lengthy US government shutdowns, Joshua Keating, a journalist at Slate, began a series, “If It Happened There,” that imagined how the American media would view the shutdown if it were occurring in another country. “The typical signs of state failure aren’t evident on the streets of this sleepy capital city,” Keating opens. “Beret-wearing colonels have not yet taken to the airwaves to declare martial law. . . .But the pleasant autumn weather disguises a government teetering on the brink.”

    It goes on; you get the idea. Keating’s series, which was inspired by his having to read “many, many headlines from around the world” while working at Foreign Policy, is a clever journalistic illustration of what sociologists call “methodological nationalism”: the bias that gets inadvertently baked into work and words. In the Middle East, it’s sectarian or ethnic strife; in the Midwest, it’s a trigger-happy cop and a kid in a hoodie.

    His send-ups hit a nerve. “It was huge—it was by far the most popular thing I’ve done at Slate,” Keating says. “I don’t think that it was a shocking realization to anyone that this kind of language can be a problem, but sometimes pointing it out can be helpful. If the series did anything, it made people stop and be conscious of how. . . our inherent biases and perspectives will inform how we cover the world.”

    Curiously, living under an openly nationalist administration has changed the way America—or at the very least, a significant part of the American press corps—sees itself. The press is a de facto opposition party, not because it tries to be, but because the administration paints it that way. And that gives reporters the experience of working in a place much more hostile than the US without setting foot outside the country.

    Keating has “semi-retired” the series as a result of the broad awareness among American reporters that it is, in fact, happening here. “It didn’t feel too novel to say [Trump was] acting like a foreign dictator,” he says. “That was what the real news coverage was doing.”

    Keating, who traveled to Somaliland, Kurdistan, and Abkhazia to report his book Invisible Countries (2018), still thinks the fastest and most effective way to form an international perspective is to live abroad. At the same time, not being bound to a strong national identity “can make it hard to understand particular concerns of the people you’re writing about,” he says. It might be obvious, but there is no one perfect way to be internationally minded.

    Alan Rusbridger—the former editor of The Guardian who oversaw the paper’s Edward Snowden coverage and is now the principal at Lady Margaret Hall, a college at Oxford University—recognizes the journalistic and even moral merits of approaching news in a non-national way: “I think of journalism as a public service, and I do think there’s a link between journalism at its best and the betterment of individual lives and societies,” he says. But he doesn’t have an easy formula for how to do that, because truly cosmopolitan journalism requires both top-down editorial philosophies—not using certain phrasings or framings that position foreigners as “others”—and bottom-up efforts by individual writers to read widely and be continuously aware of how their work might be read by people thousands of miles away.

    Yes, the starting point is a nationally defined press, not a decentralized network, but working jointly helps pool scarce resources and challenge national or local biases.

    Rusbridger sees potential in collaborations across newsrooms, countries, and continents. Yes, the starting point is a nationally defined press, not a decentralized network; but working jointly helps pool scarce resources and challenge national or local biases. It also wields power. “One of the reasons we reported Snowden with the Times in New York was to use global protections of human rights and free speech and be able to appeal to a global audience of readers and lawyers,” Rusbridger recalls. “We thought, ‘We’re pretty sure nation-states will come at us over this, and the only way to do it is harness ourselves to the US First Amendment not available to us anywhere else.’”

    In employing these tactics, the press positions itself in opposition to the nation-state. The same strategy could be seen behind the rollout of the Panama and Paradise Papers (not to mention the aggressive tax dodging detailed therein). “I think journalists and activists and citizens on the progressive wing of politics are thinking creatively about how global forces can work to their advantage,” Rusbridger says.

    But he thinks it all starts locally, with correspondents who have fluency in the language, culture, and politics of the places they cover, people who are members of the communities they write about. That isn’t a traditional foreign-correspondent experience (nor indeed that of UN employees, NGO workers, or other expats). The silver lining of publishing companies’ shrinking budgets might be that cost cutting pushes newsrooms to draw from local talent, rather than send established writers around. What you gain—a cosmopolitanism that works from the bottom up—can help dispel accusations of media elitism. That’s the first step to creating new imagined communities.

    Anderson’s work has inspired many an academic, but media executives? Not so much. Rob Wijnberg is an exception: he founded the (now beleaguered) Correspondent in the Netherlands in 2013 with Anderson’s ideas in mind. In fact, when we speak, he brings the name up unprompted.

    “You have to transcend this notion that you can understand the world through the national point of view,” he says. “The question is, What replacement do we have for it? Simply saying we have to transcend borders or have an international view isn’t enough, because you have to replace the imagined community you’re leaving behind with another one.”

    For Wijnberg, who was a philosophy student before he became a journalist, this meant radically reinventing the very structures of the news business: avoiding covering “current events” just because they happened, and thinking instead of what we might call eventful currents—the political, social, and economic developments that affect us all. It meant decoupling reporting from national news cycles, and getting readers to become paying “members” instead of relying on advertisements.

    This, he hoped, would help create a readership not based on wealth, class, nationality, or location, but on borderless, universal concerns. “We try to see our members. . . as part of a group or knowledge community, where the thing they share is the knowledge they have about a specific structural subject matter,” be it climate, inequality, or migration, Wijnberg says. “I think democracy and politics answers more to media than the other way around, so if you change the way media covers the world you change a lot.”

    That approach worked well in the Netherlands: his team raised 1.7 million euros in 2013, and grew to include 60,000 members. A few years later, Wijnberg and his colleagues decided to expand into the US, and with the help of NYU’s Jay Rosen, an early supporter, they made it onto Trevor Noah’s Daily Show to pitch their idea.

    The Correspondent raised more than $2.5 million from nearly 50,000 members—a great success, by any measure. But in March, things started to get hairy, with the publication abruptly pulling the plug on opening a US newsroom and announcing that staff would edit stories reported from the US from the original Amsterdam office instead. Many of the reasons behind this are mundane: visas, high rent, relocation costs. And reporters would still be reporting from, and on, the States. But supporters felt blindsided, calling the operation a scam.

    Today, Wijnberg reflects that he should have controlled the messaging better, and not promised to hire and operate from New York until he was certain that he could. He also wonders why it matters.

    “It’s not saying people who think it matters are wrong,” he explains. “But if the whole idea of this kind of geography and why it’s there is a construct, and you’re trying to think about transcending it, the very notion of Where are you based? is secondary. The whole point is not to be based anywhere.”

    Still: “The view from everywhere—the natural opposite—is just as real,” Wijnberg concedes. “You can’t be everywhere. You have to be somewhere.”

    And that’s the rub: for all of nationalism’s ills, it does instill in its subjects what Anderson calls a “deep, horizontal comradeship” that, while imagined, blossoms thanks to a confluence of forces. It can’t be replicated supranationally overnight. The challenge for a cosmopolitan journalism, then, is to dream up new forms of belonging that look forward, not backward—without discarding the imagined communities we have.

    That’s hard; so hard that it more frequently provokes a retrenchment, not an expansion, of solidarity. But it’s not impossible. And our collective futures almost certainly depend on it.

    https://www.cjr.org/special_report/view-from-nowhere.php
    #journalisme #nationalisme #Etat-nation #communauté_nationale #communauté_internationale #frontières #presse #médias

  • The Tiananmen Square massacre, 30 years on - World Socialist Web Site
    https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/06/08/tian-j08.html

    By Peter Symonds, 8 June 2019 - Thirty years have passed since heavily-armed Chinese troops, backed by tanks, moved through the suburbs of Beijing on the night of June 3–4, 1989, killing hundreds, probably thousands, of unarmed civilians. The military forces overwhelmed makeshift barricades with brute force as they made their way to Tiananmen Square—the site of weeks of mass protests by students and workers.

    Those barbaric events, which demonstrated the willingness of the Stalinist Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime to do anything to stay in power, have gone down in history as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Yet most of deaths during that murderous assault were of workers who courageously tried to halt the progress of troops to central Beijing. Estimates vary, but up to 7,000 were killed and 20,000 wounded.

    Moreover, in the reign of terror that followed throughout China it was the workers who received the harshest penalties, including lengthy jail terms and death sentences. Around 40,000 people were arrested just in June and July, mostly members of Workers Autonomous Federations that had sprung up in the course of the protests.
    Protesters in Tiananmen Square

    What is commonly depicted as the crushing of student protesters was in fact a wave of repression directed overwhelmingly against a mass movement of the working class. What had begun in April as student protests calling for democratic reforms had swelled into the millions as workers joined the demonstrations by mid-May, making their own class demands.

    The Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation was established on April 20 with a handful of workers and rapidly expanded to become a major organising centre by mid-May. On May 17, up to two million people marched through the centre of Beijing, the majority being workers and their families under the banners of their work units or enterprises. Reflecting the impact of events in Beijing, Workers Autonomous Federations were established in a host of major cities, including Changsha, Shaoyang, Xiangtan, Hengyang and Yueyang.

    While moderate student leaders were intent on pressing the CCP bureaucracy for concessions on democratic rights, workers were animated by concerns over deteriorating living standards, soaring inflation and a wave of sackings and closures. The regime’s embrace of the capitalist market since the 1970s had led to widening social inequality and rampant bureaucratic corruption and profiteering. Workers were bitterly hostile to the accumulation of privileges and wealth by the top CCP leaders, such as Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, Chen Yun and their family members, and were contemptuous of their claims to be communist and socialist.

    A statement by workers issued on May 25 expressed the rebellious currents in the working class. “Our nation was created by the struggle and labour of we workers and all other mental and manual labourers. We are the rightful masters of this nation. We must be heard in national affairs. We must not allow this small band of degenerate scum of the nation and the working class to usurp our name and suppress the students, murder democracy and trample human rights.” [1]

    Premier Zhao Ziyang had been sympathetic to the demands of student leaders and had counselled making small concessions to calls for basic democratic rights. However, no compromise was possible with the working class, whose unrest threatened the very existence of the regime. As the protest movement rapidly grew in size and confidence, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping removed his ally Zhao as premier, installed hardline Li Peng in his place and ordered the military to violently suppress the protests in Beijing and nationally.
    The crisis of Stalinism

    The resort to such extreme measures was bound up with the profound crisis of Stalinism, not only in China but internationally. In response to deepening economic and social crises, a turn was underway in China, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union toward the dismantling of centralised bureaucratic planning mechanisms, encouragement of private enterprise and establishment of market mechanisms.

    After assuming the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his keynote policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness and transparency) that laid the framework for greater autonomy for enterprises outside the central planning mechanisms and, under the guise of democratic reform, sought to establish a base of social support for the regime among the petty bourgeoisie.

    Gorbachev’s pro-market restructuring also encouraged the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe in their plans for capitalist restoration, making desperate bids to resolve their mounting economic and political crises. These processes dramatically accelerated as Gorbachev signaled that the Soviet Union would not intervene militarily to prop up its Soviet bloc allies, as it had done in Hungary in 1956 to crush the workers’ uprising and in Czechoslovakia in 1968 to end liberal reforms. In December 1987, he announced the withdrawal of 500,000 Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.

    In a very short period of time, during 1989–90, the Stalinist bureaucracies in one Eastern European country after another moved to restore capitalism, dismantling what remained of nationalised property relations and centralised planning.

    In Poland, talks between the government and opposition Solidarity leaders resulted in a deal in April 1989 to hold limited elections. This paved the way for the installation in August of Solidarity leader Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister. He unleashed sweeping pro-market restructuring.

    Similar negotiations in Hungary, where the processes of pro-market restructuring were already advanced, led to a new constitution in August 1989. Multi-party elections in May 1990 resulted in a government that junked what remained of centralised planning and carried out wholesale privatisation.

    Amid a mounting economic and political crisis, Gorbachev visited Berlin in October 1989 to urge the East German government to accelerate pro-market reforms. Erich Honecker resigned as leader two weeks later. On November 9, the government announced the end of all border restrictions and Berlin citizens tore down the hated Berlin Wall. Before the end of the month, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl unveiled a plan to integrate East Germany with capitalist West Germany—a process that was completed by October 1990.

    The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria quickly followed. By the end of 1990, governments throughout Eastern Europe were giving full rein to the plunder of state-owned property, an influx of foreign capital and the dismantling of social services, leading to a precipitous deterioration in living standards.

    Gorbachev’s policies in the Soviet Union gave rise to intense pressures within the Stalinist bureaucracy and the emerging layer of entrepreneurs for a far speedier dismantling of all fetters on private ownership and market relations. This found expression in the installation of Boris Yeltsin in July 1991 and the implementation of pro-market “shock therapy.” In December 1991, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.

    The break-up of the Soviet Union and collapse of the Stalinist states in Eastern Europe led to an orgy of triumphalism in the capitalist media proclaiming the end of socialism. Pundits, politicians and academics, who had foreseen nothing and could explain nothing, exulted over the triumph of the market, even going so far as to pronounce the end of history. In other words, capitalism supposedly represented the highest and final stage of human development. A new period of peace, prosperity and democracy would dawn, they all declared.

    The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), based on the analysis made by Leon Trotsky of Stalinism, had rejected the universal adulation of Gorbachev and warned that his policies were rapidly leading to the dismantling of the gains of the first workers’ state. Its perspectives resolution entitled “The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International,” published in August 1988, made clear that the breakdown of the Soviet Union was not a product of socialism, but rather of Stalinism and its reactionary autarchic conception of “socialism in one country”:

    The very real crisis of the Soviet economy is rooted in its enforced isolation from the resources of the world market and the international division of labour. There are only two ways this crisis can be tackled. The way proposed by Gorbachev involves the dismantling of state industry, the renunciation of the planning principle, and the abandonment of the state monopoly on foreign trade, i.e., the reintegration of the Soviet Union into the structure of world capitalism. The alternative to this reactionary solution requires the smashing of imperialism’s domination over the world economy by linking up the Soviet and international working class in a revolutionary offensive aimed at extending the planned economy into the European, North American and Asian citadels of capitalism. [2]

    In the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the ICFI identified the root cause of the crisis of Stalinism in the processes of the globalisation of production that had been underway since the late 1970s, which had undermined all programs based on national economic regulation. While the crisis of Stalinism was the most immediate and acute expression, these same processes lay behind the international embrace of pro-market restructuring by Social Democratic and Labour parties, and trade unions, and their abandonment of any defence of the social rights of the working class.
    Capitalist restoration in China

    The events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union had a profound impact in China, where processes of capitalist restoration had been underway since the 1970s. The CCP’s decision in June 1989 to use the military to brutally suppress the working class was in no small measure conditioned by its longstanding fear of a repetition in China of the mass strike movement in Poland in 1980–81 that led to the formation of the Solidarity trade union.

    China specialist Maurice Meisner explained that the involvement of masses of workers in the protests in Tiananmen Square on May 17 “did much to rekindle the ‘Polish fear’ among Party leaders, their decade-old obsession about the rise of a Solidarity-type alliance between workers and intellectuals in opposition to the Communist state. And that fear, in turn, contributed to their fateful decision to impose martial law.” [3]

    While Deng Xiaoping recognised the affinity of Gorbachev’s perestroika with the policies that he had already enacted, he did not embrace the political liberalisation of glasnost, fearing it would undermine the foundations of the CCP regime. When Gorbachev visited Beijing in mid-May 1989 to cement closer Sino-Soviet ties, the Chinese leadership kept him closeted from public view, anxious that his presence would give further impetus to the protests in Tiananmen Square. The rapid collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe only heightened the determination of the CCP bureaucracy to suppress any opposition.

    The roots of the crisis in China lay in the outcome of the 1949 Chinese revolution. The monumental events that brought the Chinese Communist Party to power ended more than a century of imperialist oppression that had mired the country of more than 500 million in squalor and backwardness. It expressed the aspirations of the vast majority of the population for economic security, basic democratic and social rights, and a decent standard of living. Decades of political upheaval and a war against Japanese imperialism from 1937 to 1945 had ravaged the country and left an estimated 14 million Chinese soldiers and civilians dead.

    Like the Soviet bureaucracy, however, the new CCP apparatus was based on the reactionary nationalist program of “socialism in one country,” which was a repudiation of socialist internationalism and Leon Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution which underpinned the October Revolution in Russia in 1917.

    As a result, the course of the revolution and the subsequent evolution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) proclaimed by Mao Zedong in 1949 was distorted and deformed by Stalinism, which dominated the CCP in the wake of Stalin’s betrayal of the Second Chinese Revolution of 1925–27. Stalin subordinated the very young CCP to the bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang, resulting in crushing blows to the Chinese Communists and working class in April 1927, and again in May 1927. CCP leaders and members who supported Trotsky’s analysis of the tragedy were expelled.

    In the wake of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the pragmatic, nationalist ideology of Maoism led China rapidly into a blind alley. Mao’s perspective of a “New Democracy” sought to maintain a bloc with the national bourgeoisie, but the CCP government was driven, under conditions of the Korean War and the internal sabotage by bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements, to go further than intended. By 1956, virtually every aspect of the economy was nationalised and subject to bureaucratic planning along the lines of the Soviet Union, but the working class had no say through its own democratic organs.

    The organic hostility of the Maoist regime to the working class was expressed in its repression of Chinese Trotskyists, all of whom were jailed in 1952 amid the rising resistance by workers. As with the Eastern European states, the Fourth International characterised China as a deformed workers’ state, a highly conditional formula that placed the emphasis on the deformed, bureaucratic character of the regime.

    The national autarky of “socialism in one country” generated worsening economic and social turmoil, and crises for which the CCP bureaucracy had no solution, leading to bitter internal factional warfare. Mao’s fanciful scheme for a peasant socialist society, which underpinned his “Great Leap Forward,” ended in economic catastrophe and mass starvation. His factional opponents, led by Liu Shaoqi, followed the Soviet model of bureaucratic planning with its emphasis on heavy industry, but this provided no alternative.

    The economic crisis was greatly worsened by the 1961–63 split with the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Soviet aid and advisers, as the two Stalinist regimes advanced their conflicting national interests. In a last desperate bid to oust his rivals, Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution in 1966, which rapidly span out of his control, leading to confused and convulsive social struggles that threatened the very existence of the regime. Mao turned to the military to suppress workers who had taken literally his edict to “Bombard the Headquarters,” resulting in mass strikes in Shanghai and the formation of an independent Shanghai People’s Commune in 1967.

    Incapable of resolving the immense economic and social problems wracking the country, and facing a military confrontation with the Soviet Union, the CCP bureaucracy forged an anti-Soviet alliance with US imperialism that laid the basis for China’s integration into global capitalism. While Deng Xiaoping is generally credited with initiating market reforms, Mao’s rapprochement with US President Richard Nixon in 1972 was the essential political and diplomatic pre-condition for foreign investment and increased trade with the West.

    The process of “opening and reform” went hand-in-hand with the imposition of strict discipline and emphasis on boosting production in workplaces. Maurice Meissner noted: “Factory managers dismissed during the Cultural Revolution were restored to their former posts, accompanied by calls to strengthen managerial authority, labour discipline, and factory rules and regulations—and to struggle against ‘anarchism’ and ‘ultra-leftism.’ There were dramatic increases in foreign trade and in imports of foreign technology. Veteran party leaders attacked during the Cultural Revolution were ‘rehabilitated’ at an increasingly rapid pace; by 1973, it has been noted, ‘the pre-Cultural Revolution cadres were running the government ministries.” [4]

    From 1969 to 1975, the value of foreign trade increased from $US4 billion to $14 billion per annum. From the end of 1972 until mid-1975, China imported whole industrial plants, valued at $2.8 billion, mainly from Japan and western Europe.

    Deng Xiaoping who had been ostracised during the Cultural Revolution as the “No 2 capitalist roader,” was rehabilitated, appointed a vice premier of the state council under Zhou Enlai. Deng led the Chinese delegation to a special session of the UN in 1974 where he declared that the “socialist bloc” no longer existed and China was part of the Third World. In the factional power struggle that followed Mao’s death in 1976, Deng emerged as the dominant figure in the Stalinist bureaucracy. He embraced US imperialism ever more closely, formalising diplomatic relations in 1979, launching a border war against neighbouring Vietnam, and defending US allies such as the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

    From 1978, Deng greatly accelerated the “reform and opening” pro-market reforms. Four Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were established in 1979 in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen, where foreign entrepreneurs and joint ventures produced goods for export and enjoyed tax breaks and other concessions. A similar system was later implemented in key port cities such as Shanghai. In the countryside, the collectivised communes were dismantled and restrictions removed on the operation of private enterprises. Prices for agricultural produce were lifted. In the cities, moves were made to transform thousands of state-owned enterprises into profit-making corporations. Private enterprises were permitted, the market was increasingly allowed to determine prices for consumer goods, and a “labour market” was initiated, allowing the hiring and firing of workers.

    The pro-market reforms led to the rapid rise of social inequality. Millions of former peasants were left landless and forced to seek employment in the cities. In the SEZs, where the capitalist market was given free rein, corruption and criminal activity was rampant, including smuggling, bribery and the theft of state-owned property. The sons and daughters of the top party leaders took full advantage of their political connections to establish their own business empires. With the lifting of price restrictions, inflation rocketed to 18.5 percent in 1988, to which the regime responded by drastically reducing credit and re-imposing import restrictions. Hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs, as private enterprises reduced their workforces or closed down altogether. Unemployment, the loss of job security, as well as skyrocketing prices, combined with disgust at the corruption and enrichment of CCP bureaucrats, fueled the social unrest that erupted in the mass protests by workers the following year.
    Capitalist restoration following Tiananmen Square

    In the aftermath of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square and the police dragnet throughout the country, the factional battle inside the CCP leadership sharpened in the next three years over Deng’s program of capitalist restoration. In ordering the troops against workers and students, Deng had removed his chief ally in pro-market restructuring, Zhao Ziyang, as premier. Former Shanghai party leader Jiang Zemin was installed as a compromise choice to the top post of CCP secretary general. The initiative shifted to the so-called hardliners—Li Peng and Chen Yun, who, in criticising Zhao, were also criticising Deng’s policies.

    However, in advocating restrictions on market relations, Li and Chen based their policies on the status quo ante and the nationalist perspective of “socialism in country,” which had already proven to be a dead-end. They were looking toward the Soviet Union, even as the deformed workers’ states in Eastern Europe were collapsing and Gorbachev’s policies were undermining centralised planning and nationalised property relations. Their so-called “Soviet faction” represented sections of the Chinese bureaucracy whose power and privileges resided in their control of key sections of state-owned industry and the central apparatus in Beijing.

    At the Fifth Plenum in November 1989, Li delivered the main report, based on the recommendations of a revived State Planning Commission. The adopted plan called for cutting inflation to 10 percent in 1990 and economic growth to 5 percent by maintaining tight controls on credit and balancing the national budget. Rural industries would not be allowed to compete with state-owned enterprises. While keeping the SEZs and “open door” policy in place, the new restrictions hit rural and provincial industries, particularly in the south of the country.

    While Deng no longer held any official party or state position, he still retained considerable political clout, especially in the southern provinces where the new profit-making industries were concentrated. Deng had sided with the hardliners in opposing any political liberalisation and, above all, supported the 1989 military crackdown, but he was adamant that the restrictions on private enterprises and foreign investment had to be completely dismantled.

    The snowballing crisis in the Soviet Union brought matters to a head. An attempted Stalinist putsch in August 1991 to oust Gorbachev and Yeltsin and wind back their program of pro-market restructuring ended in dismal failure. China scholar Michael Marti explained: “This one event changed the thinking about the political equation within the Chinese leadership, including that of Deng Xiaoping. The failure of the Soviet Red Army to support the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in its bid to regain control threw the CCP into a panic. The Chinese leadership feared that a precedent had been established.” [5]

    The factional battle lines were drawn. While the “Soviet faction” began to call into question the entire agenda of pro-market reforms, including the establishment of the SEZs, Deng insisted that the levels of economic growth were too low to maintain employment and social stability. “If the economy cannot be boosted over a long time,” he told a meeting of party elders as far back as late 1989, “it [the government] will lose people’s support at home and will be oppressed and bullied by other nations. The continuation of this situation will lead to the collapse of the Communist Party.” [6]

    Deng was also concerned that the crisis in the Soviet Union, following the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe, would greatly change geo-political relations. Not only had Deng’s strategy sought to balance between the US and the Soviet Union, but his economic policies depended on a large influx of foreign investment, which could potentially shift to exploiting new opportunities opening up in the former Soviet republics.

    Along with provincial leaders in the southern provinces, Deng counted on the support of People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The generals had been shocked by the way in which US imperialism and its allies had deployed hi-tech weaponry in the 1990–91 Gulf War to rapidly destroy the Iraqi military. Their conclusion was that China had to invest heavily in modernising the PLA and only Deng’s policies could transform the economy and produce the growth needed to supply that investment.

    Deng set out on his “Southern tour” in January–February 1992, just 20 days after the formal liquidation of the Soviet Union in December 1991, accompanied by top generals, the state security chief Qiao Shi and party elder Bo Yibo. As he visited the SEZs and southern cities, he declared that there would be no reversal of economic policies in the face of the Soviet collapse. Dismissing concerns about growing social inequality, he is said to have declared: “Let some people get rich first.”

    In a showdown with Chen Yun in Shanghai, Deng reportedly shouted: “Any leader who cannot boost the economy should leave office.” Openly backing capitalist restoration, he declared: “We should absorb more foreign capital and more foreign-advanced experiences and technologies, and set up more foreign-invested enterprises. Do not fear when others say we are practicing capitalism. Capitalism in nothing fearsome.” [7]

    Deng prevailed, opening the door for wholesale capitalist restoration that transformed the whole country into a giant free trade zone for the exploitation of cheap Chinese labour. The crocodile tears shed by Western politicians over the Tiananmen Square massacre were rapidly cast aside as foreign investors recognised that the police-state regime in Beijing was willing to use any method, no matter how brutal, to discipline the working class. In 1993, the CCP proclaimed that its objective was a “socialist market economy,” giving a threadbare “socialist” disguise to its embrace of capitalism.

    In 1994, the CCP formally established a “labour market,” by legitimising the sale and purchase of labour power. State-owned enterprises were corporatised into companies run for profit. The unprofitable ones were restructured or shut down. The better equipped, in sectors not designated as strategic, were sold off or converted into subsidiaries of foreign transnationals. A small number were preserved as state-owned “national flagships.”

    Between 1996 and 2005, the number of employees in state- and collective-owned enterprises halved, from 144 million to 73 million workers. Along with guaranteed life-time employment, the “iron rice bowl” of cradle-to-grave services was also dismantled. Essential services that had previously been provided by state-owned enterprises—childcare, education, health care and pensions—were now left to individual workers.
    Chinese capitalism today

    The restoration of capitalism in China over the past 30 years has only exacerbated the underlying social tensions within Chinese society and compounded the political and geo-political dilemmas confronting the CCP apparatus.

    The extraordinary economic expansion of China to become the world’s second largest economy has rested, in the first place, on the immense gains of the 1949 Revolution that unified China for the first time in decades, created an educated and skilled workforce, and developed basic industries and essential infrastructure. The flood of foreign investment into the country transformed China into the sweatshop of the world and produced a massive 11-fold increase in the economy between 1992 and 2010. This rapid growth, however, did not reflect an inherent strength of the Chinese economy, but rather its role in the world economy, dependent on foreign investment and technology.

    The imperialist powers, above all the United States, were more than willing to exploit cheap Chinese labour as long as China’s economic expansion did not challenge their own established geo-political interests. However, the vast quantity of raw materials and energy that Chinese industries require from around the world have increasingly brought it into conflict with the US and other major powers, in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and internationally. Moreover, as China has sought to create its own hi-tech “national champions” such as Huawei and ZTE, the US, under the Trump administration, has declared economic war on Beijing, not just in matters of trade. It has openly opposed Chinese plans to develop and expand hi-tech industries and to more closely link Eurasia to China through massive infrastructure projects under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

    The delusion promoted by CCP leaders that China could, through a “peaceful rise,” become a world power on a parity with the US has been shattered. China’s expansion has brought it into conflict with the global imperialist order dominated by the United States. Under Obama and now Trump, the US has begun using all means at its disposal to ensure its continued global hegemony. Trump’s economic war goes hand-in-hand with a military build-up in the Indo-Pacific, escalating naval provocations in the South China Sea, under the guise of “freedom of navigation operations, and more open preparations for a war between the two nuclear-armed powers.

    The CCP leadership has no answer to the mounting danger of war, other than desperately seeking an accommodation with imperialism, while engaging in a frenetic arms race that can only end in catastrophe for the working class in China and internationally. Capitalist restoration, far from strengthening China’s capacity to counter the US, has greatly weakened it. The regime is organically incapable of making any appeal to the international working class, as that would inevitably lead to social struggles by the working class at home.

    Having abandoned even its previous nominal commitment to socialism and internationalism, the CCP has increasing relied on whipping up Chinese nationalism to try to create a social base in layers of the middle class. There is nothing progressive about Chinese chauvinism and patriotism, which divides Chinese workers from their class brothers and sisters internationally, and within China from non-Han Chinese minorities. Its repressive measures against Uighurs, Tibetans and other ethnic groups have provided an opening that the US is seeking to exploit. Under the bogus banner of “human rights,” Washington is promoting separatist groups as part of its ambition to fracture and subordinate China to its interests.

    Thirty years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the CCP leadership is terrified of a renewal of working-class opposition, the first stirrings of which have been seen in the more numerous reports of workers’ strikes and protests, and, significantly over the past year, in a turn by a layer of university students to assist workers in their struggles. Since 1989, the working class in China has vastly expanded to an estimated 400 million and as a proportion of the population. One indicator is the growth of the country’s urban population from just 26.4 percent of the total in 1990, to 58.5 percent in 2017.

    The CCP leadership boasts of having lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, using the UN’s very austere measures of poverty. Such benchmarks ignore the many factors that are fueling discontent among workers, including the common practice of late or unpaid wages, unhealthy and dangerous factory conditions, harsh corporate disciplinary practices, and the lack of basic social rights for tens of millions of internal migrants in the cities. All of these oppressive conditions are monitored and policed by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which functions as an arm of the CCP bureaucracy in workplaces.

    Capitalist restoration has produced a dramatic rise in social inequality: from one of the most equal societies in the world, China has become one of the most unequal countries. It is home to more dollar billionaires than any other country except the United States. While Chinese workers struggle to survive on the minimum wage of $370 a month, the wealthiest individual, Tencent chairman Pony Ma, has a personal fortune of almost $40 billion. These super-rich oligarchs, who in many cases have built their fortunes through naked corruption and the looting of state-owned property, are represented in the Chinese Communist Party and sit on powerful advisory bodies.

    The gulf between the super-rich and the vast majority of the workers and the poor is generating huge social tensions that, sooner rather than later, will explode on a scale that will eclipse the rebellion by workers and students 30 years ago. The lesson drawn by the Stalinist leadership from the 1989 events was that it had to suppress, through all available means, any expression of opposition that could become the focus of a broader movement against the regime. Incapable of meeting the pressing social needs of the majority of the population, the CCP has vastly expanded its police-state apparatus, now spending more each year on its internal security forces than it does on external defence.

    The working class must also draw the necessary political lessons from the defeat of that movement in 1989, which was rapidly assuming revolutionary dimensions. What was lacking was not determination, audacity and courage, nor numbers, which were rapidly swelling across China, but the essential problem facing the international working class in the 20th century—the absence of revolutionary leadership.

    James Cogan summed up the issue in his analysis “Ten years since the Tiananmen Square massacre,” stating:

    Inexperienced politically and lacking a political perspective outside of opposition to the existing regime, the workers’ leaders advanced no alternative to, and deferred to, the student bodies. The workers of China knew in their life experience what they were against—Stalinism and capitalism—but they were not able to articulate any perspective for an alternative social order.

    Decades of domination by Stalinism and the active suppression of genuine Marxism in China meant there was no revolutionary socialist, that is, Trotskyist, tendency in the working class. No organisation within the country could spontaneously advance the program that was implicit in the actions and sentiments of the Chinese working class—a political revolution to overthrow the Stalinist regime and introduce major reforms into the economy for the benefit of the working class. [8]

    The essential political task of building a Trotskyist leadership in the Chinese working class as a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International remains. None of the oppositional tendencies that emerged out of the 1989 protests offer a viable political perspective for the working class. Advocates of independent trade unions such as Han Dongfang, who was prominent in the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation in 1989, have underscored the political bankruptcy of syndicalism by lurching to the right and into the arms of US trade union apparatus, in other words of US imperialism.

    A layer of youth, intellectuals and workers have turned to Maoism, and its banal “revolutionary” slogans, for answers. Capitalist restoration in China, however, was not a break from Maoism. It flowed organically out of the dead-end of “socialism in one country.” Maoism could aptly be termed Stalinism with Chinese characteristics, with its hostility to the working class, its emphasis on subjective will, and above all its putrid nationalism. It is diametrically opposed to genuine Marxism, that is the perspective of socialist internationalism, which alone was upheld by the Trotskyist movement, including the Chinese Trotskyists.

    The establishment of a genuinely revolutionary party in China, as part of the ICFI, requires the assimilation of the essential strategic experiences of the international working class, of which the Chinese revolutions of the 20th century are a critical component. The CCP leaders are petrified that workers and youth will begin to work over the lessons of history. They attempt to censor and black out any knowledge and discussion of the events of 1989, and continue to perpetrate the lies of Stalinism about the course of the 20th century.

    The crucial political lessons of the protracted struggle of Trotskyism against Stalinism are embedded in the program, perspective and documents of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Workers and youth should make a serious study of the political issues involved, beginning with the documents of the ICFI on the Tiananmen Square massacre, republished this week on the World Socialist Web Site. We urge you to contact the International Committee of the Fourth International, which is the first step toward forging a Trotskyist leadership in the Chinese working class.

    Footnotes:

    [1] Cited in “Workers in the Tiananmen protests: The politics of the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation,” by Andrew G. Walder and Gong Xiaoxia, first published in the Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No 29, January 1993.

    [2] The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International: Perspectives Resolution of the International Committee of the Fourth International, August 1988, Labor Publications, pp.30–31.

    [3] Maurice Meisner, Mao’s China and After: A History of the People’s Republic, The Free Press, Third edition, 1999, p.508.

    [4] ibid, p.389.

    [5] Michael Marti, China and the Legacy of Deng Xiaoping: From Communist Revolution to Capitalist Evolution, Brassey’s Inc, 2002, pp.47–48.

    [6] Cited in John Chan, “Twenty years since Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Southern tour’—Part 1”, 26 November 2012.

    [7] Cited in John Chan, “Twenty years since Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Southern tour’—Part 2”, 27 November 2012.

    [8] James Cogan, “Ten years since the Tiananmen Square massacre: Political lessons for the working class,” 4 June 1999.

    #Chine #4689

  • The Museum of the Palestinian People: ’We want our story told not just once, not as an event, but over and over again’
    Bridey Heing - June 24, 2019

    https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/art/the-museum-of-the-palestinian-people-we-want-our-story-told-not-just-onc

    The Museum of the Palestinian People opened its doors in Washington, DC, earlier this month. The museum is a first in the city and is dedicated to telling the stories of the people of Palestine, fostering a conversation about what it means to be Palestinian and nurturing a better understanding of an identity that remains highly politicised and largely obscured in the West.

    “It’s a museum where people get introduced to the Palestinian story and Palestinians as a people, not as a news item,” says Nizar Farsakh, chairman of the museum. Farsakh, who has advised Palestinian leaders, became involved with the project after meeting with founder and director Bshara Nassar. (...)

  • Unesco chair blasts ’discriminatory’ UK visitor visa system | UK news | The Guardian
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jun/24/unesco-chair-blasts-discriminatory-uk-visitor-visa-system

    Temitayo Olofinlua, an academic, applied for a visa to come to Edinburgh from Nigeria for an European Conference on African Studies conference on 4 April. Despite submitting evidence of full sponsorship for her trip – as well as evidence of ties to her home, namely that she is married with children and a job – her application was refused.

    Her case worker told her she had been refused because “I am not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor … or that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit.”

    Olofinlua’s refusal was eventually overturned and she is in Edinburgh, attending the conference. But, she said: “It’s time to abandon the UK as host for international African Studies conferences. The organisers did everything to make this an inclusive event. But hostile Home Office policy has dampened this. Other countries require you to declare if you have ever been denied an entry visa .”

    “Going through the experience has been tortuous,” added Olofinlua, who frequently travels and always kept to #visa conditions. “I lost money. I lost valuable time, thanks to the tedious process of applying and re-applying, making the overnight visit to Lagos then standing hours in line.”

    #royaume_uni #racisme #air_du_temps

  • ’Shame and pain’: Vietnam starts to grapple with child abuse epidemic | World news | The Guardian
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/19/shame-and-pain-vietnam-child-abuse

    It was morning at a Hanoi school when a teenage student stumbled into class. As she sat at her desk, blood began to pool under her chair; just that morning she had been sexually abused. When her teacher’s response was that she should sit on some tissues until the bleeding stopped, the young girl began to cry.

    The incident, recounted by a Huynh Mai, a school psychologist, made headlines in Vietnam last month. Yet it was reflective of a culture of ignorance, indifference and stigma that has surrounded child sex abuse in the country for generations, according to teachers, victims and NGOs.

    However, after several high-profile abuse cases, many involving the abuse of pupils by their teachers, the government has launched several initiatives to finally bring the issue out into the open.

    #viol #pédophilie #vietnam

  • The woman fighting back against India’s rape culture

    When a man tried to rape #Usha_Vishwakarma she decided to fight back by setting up self-defence classes for women and girls.

    At first, people accused her of being a sex worker. But now she runs an award-winning organisation and has won the community’s respect.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-48474708/the-woman-fighting-back-against-india-s-rape-culture
    #Inde #résistance #femmes #culture_du_viol

    • In China, a Viral Video Sets Off a Challenge to Rape Culture

      The images were meant to exonerate #Richard_Liu, the e-commerce mogul. They have also helped fuel a nascent #NoPerfectVictim movement.

      Richard Liu, the Chinese e-commerce billionaire, walked into an apartment building around 10 p.m., a young woman on his arm and his assistant in tow. Leaving the assistant behind, the young woman took Mr. Liu to an elevator. Then, she showed him into her apartment.

      His entrance was captured by the apartment building’s surveillance cameras and wound up on the Chinese internet. Titled “Proof of a Gold Digger Trap?,” the heavily edited video aimed to show that the young woman was inviting him up for sex — and that he was therefore innocent of her rape allegations against him.

      For many people in China, it worked. Online public opinion quickly dismissed her allegations. In a country where discussion of rape has been muted and the #MeToo movement has been held back by cultural mores and government censorship, that could have been the end of the story.

      But some in China have pushed back. Using hashtags like #NoPerfectVictim, they are questioning widely held ideas about rape culture and consent.

      The video has become part of that debate, which some feminism scholars believe is a first for the country. The government has clamped down on discussion of gender issues like the #MeToo movement because of its distrust of independent social movements. Officials banned the #MeToo hashtag last year. In 2015, they seized gender rights activists known as the Feminist Five. Some online petitions supporting Mr. Liu’s accuser were deleted.

      But on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media service, the #NoPerfectVictim hashtag has drawn more than 17 million page views, with over 22,000 posts and comments. Dozens at least have shared their stories of sexual assault.

      “Nobody should ask an individual to be perfect,” wrote Zhou Xiaoxuan, who has become the face of China’s #MeToo movement after she sued a famous TV anchor on allegations that he sexually assaulted her in 2014 when she was an intern. “But the public is asking this of the victims of sexual assault, who happen to be in the least favorable position to prove their tragedies.” Her lawsuit is pending.

      The allegations against Mr. Liu, the founder and chairman of the online retailer JD.com, riveted China. He was arrested last year in Minneapolis after the young woman accused him of raping her after a business dinner. The prosecutors in Minnesota declined to charge Mr. Liu. The woman, Liu Jingyao, a 21-year-old student at the University of Minnesota, sued Mr. Liu and is seeking damages of more than $50,000. (Liu is a common surname in China.)

      Debate about the incident has raged online in China. When the “Gold Digger” video emerged, it shifted sentiment toward Mr. Liu.
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      Mr. Liu’s attorney in Beijing, who shared the video on Weibo under her verified account, said that according to her client the video was authentic.

      “The surveillance video speaks for itself, as does the prosecutor’s decision not to bring charges against our client,” Jill Brisbois, Mr. Liu’s attorney in the United States, said in a statement. “We believe in his innocence, which is firmly supported by all of the evidence, and we will continue to vigorously defend his reputation in court.”

      The video is silent, but subtitles make the point so nobody will miss it. “The woman showed Richard Liu into the elevator,” says one. “The woman pushed the floor button voluntarily,” says another. “Once again,” says a third, “the woman gestured an invitation.”

      Still, the video does not show the most crucial moment, which is what happened between Mr. Liu and Ms. Liu after the apartment door closed.

      “The full video depicts a young woman unable to locate her own apartment and a billionaire instructing her to take his arm to steady her gait,” said Wil Florin, Ms. Liu’s attorney, who accused Mr. Liu’s representatives of releasing the video. “The release of an incomplete video and the forceful silencing of Jingyao’s many social media supporters will not stop a Minnesota civil jury from hearing the truth.”

      JD.com declined to comment on the origin of the video.

      In the eyes of many, it contradicted the narrative in Ms. Liu’s lawsuit of an innocent, helpless victim. In my WeChat groups, men and women alike said the video confirmed their suspicions that Ms. Liu was asking for sex and was only after Mr. Liu’s money. A young woman from a good family would never socialize on a business occasion like that, some men said. A businesswoman asked why Ms. Liu didn’t say no to drinks.

      At first, I saw the video as a setback for China’s #MeToo movement, which was already facing insurmountable obstacles from a deeply misogynistic society, internet censors and a patriarchal government. Already, my “no means no” arguments with acquaintances had been met with groans.
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      The rare people of prominence who spoke in support of Ms. Liu were getting vicious criticism. Zhao Hejuan, chief executive of the technology media company TMTPost, had to disable comments on her Weibo account after she received death threats. She had criticized Mr. Liu, a married man with a young daughter, for not living up to the expectations of a public figure.

      Then I came across a seven-minute video titled “I’m also a victim of sexual assault,” in which four women and a man spoke to the camera about their stories. The video, produced by organizers of the hashtag #HereForUs, tried to clearly define sexual assault to viewers, explaining that it can take place between people who know each other and under complex circumstances.

      The man was molested by an older boy in his childhood. One of the women was raped by a classmate when she was sick in bed. One was assaulted by a powerful man at work but did not dare speak out because she thought nobody would believe her. One was raped after consuming too much alcohol on a date.

      “Slut-shaming doesn’t come from others,” she said in the video. “I’ll be the first one to slut-shame myself.”

      One woman with a red cross tattooed on her throat said an older boy in her neighborhood had assaulted her when she was 10. When she ran home, her parents scolded her for being late after school.

      “My childhood ended then and there,” she said in the video. “I haven’t died because I toughed it out all these years.”

      The video has been viewed nearly 700,000 times on Weibo. But creators of the video still have a hard time speaking out further, reflecting the obstacles faced by feminists in China.

      It was produced by a group of people who started the #HereForUs hashtag in China as a way to support victims of sexual harassment and assault. They were excited when I reached out to interview them. One of them postponed her visit to her parents for the interview.

      Then the day before our meeting, they messaged me that they no longer wanted to be interviewed. They worried that their appearance in The New York Times could anger the Chinese government and get their hashtag censored. I got a similar response from the organizer of the #NoPerfectVictim hashtag. Another woman begged me not to connect her name to the Chinese government for fear of losing her job.

      Their reluctance is understandable. They believe their hashtags have brought women together and given them the courage to share their stories. Some victims say that simply telling someone about their experiences is therapeutic, making the hashtags too valuable to be lost, the organizers said.

      “The world is full of things that hurt women,” said Liang Xiaowen, a 27-year-old lawyer now living in New York City. She wrote online that she had been molested by a family acquaintance when she was 11 and had lived with shame and guilt ever since. “I want to expand the boundaries of safe space by sharing my story.”

      A decentralized, behind-the-scenes approach is essential if the #MeToo movement is to grow in China, said Lü Pin, founding editor of Feminist Voices, an advocacy platform for women’s rights in China.

      “It’s amazing that they created such a phenomenon under such difficult circumstances,” Ms. Lü said.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/05/business/china-richard-liu-rape-video-metoo.html
      #Chine #vidéo

  • U.S. is using unreliable dental exams to hold teen migrants in adult detention

    The young Bangladeshi sitting in the dentist’s chair last October thought he was getting checked for diseases.

    Dental staff examined his teeth, gave him a cleaning and sent him back to the juvenile facility where he had been held for months since illegally crossing the border in July.

    But a checkup wasn’t the real purpose of the dental work. The government wanted to figure out if “I.J.,” as the young migrant has been identified, really was 16, as he said, or an adult.

    The use of dental exams to help determine the age of migrants increased sharply in the last year, one aspect of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration and illegal border crossings.

    The accuracy of forensic testing to help determine the age of migrants is very much a subject of the debate. And with the stakes so high, the exams are becoming another legal battleground for the government.

    Federal law prohibits the government from relying exclusively on forensic testing of bones and teeth to determine age. But a review of court records shows that in at least three cases – including I.J.’s – the government did just that, causing federal judges to later order the minors released from adult detention.

    In a case last year, a Guatemalan migrant was held in adult detention for nearly a year after a dental exam showed he was likely 18, until his attorneys fought to get his birth certificate, which proved he was 17.

    For I.J., the results had serious ramifications. Based on the development of his teeth, the analysis showed an 87.70% probability that he had turned 18.

    An immigration official reported that it was apparent to the case manager that I.J. “appeared physically older than 17 years of age,” and that he and his mother had not been able to provide a second type of identification that might prove his age.

    The next month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took him away in shackles and placed him in a medium-security prison that houses immigrant detainees.

    He spent about five months in adult detention and 24 of those days in segregated custody. Whenever he spoke with an officer, he would say he was a minor — unaware for more than a month that his teeth had landed him there.

    “I came to the United States with a big dream,” I.J. said. “My dream was finished.”

    But when the Arizona-based Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project took I.J.’s case to federal court, a district judge found that the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s age re-determination violated federal law and the agency’s own guidelines.

    In April, the judge ordered I.J. released back into Office of Refugee Resettlement custody, a program responsible for unaccompanied migrant children. He has since reunited with his family in New York. The Florence Project also filed another case in federal court that resulted in the government voluntarily returning a Bangladeshi minor to ORR custody and rescinding his age re-determination.

    As the government grappled with an influx of the number of families and children arriving at the border in fiscal year 2018, approvals of ORR age determination exams more than doubled.

    These handful of cases where a minor was released from adult detention is almost certainly an undercount, as most migrants held in adult detention do not have legal representation and are unlikely to fight their cases.

    It is unclear how often migrants pretend to be minors and turn out to be adults. In a call with reporters earlier this year, a Customs and Border Protection official said that from April 2018 to March 25 of this year, his agents had identified more than 3,100 individuals in family units making fraudulent claims, including those who misrepresented themselves as minors.

    Unaccompanied minors are given greater protections than adults after being apprehended. The government’s standard refers migrants to adult custody if a dental exam analysis shows at least a 75% probability that they are 18 or older. But other evidence is supposed to be considered.

    Dr. David Senn, the director of the Center for Education and Research in Forensics at UT Health San Antonio, has handled more than 2,000 age cases since 1998.

    A program that Senn helped develop estimates the mean age of a person and the probability that he or she is at least 18. In addition to looking at dental X-rays, he has also looked at skeletal X-rays and analyzed bone development in the hand and wrist area.

    He handled a larger number of cases in the early 2000s, but last year he saw his caseload triple — rising to 168. There appears to be a slowdown this calendar year for Senn, one of a few dentists the government uses for these analyses.

    He said making an exact age determination is not possible.

    “We can only tell you what the statistics say,” Senn said. “I think the really important thing to note is that most people who do this work are not trying to be policemen or to be Border Patrol agents or immigration …. what we’re trying to do is help. What we’re trying to do is protect children.”

    In 2007 and again in 2008, the House Appropriations Committee called on the Department of Homeland Security to stop relying on forensic testing of bones and teeth. But it was the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 that declared age determinations should take into account “multiple forms of evidence, including the non-exclusive use of radiographs.”

    In a Washington state case, an X-ray analysis by Senn showed a 92.55% probability that Bilal, a Somali migrant, already had reached 18 years of age. ICE removed him from his foster home and held him in an adult detention center.

    “Not only were they trying to save themselves money, which they paid to the foster family, but they were wrecking this kid’s life,” said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which represented Bilal. “They were just rolling the dice.”

    In 2016, a federal judge found that the Office of Refugee Resettlement relied exclusively on the dental exam and overturned the age determination for the young Somali.

    Last year, in the case of an Eritrean migrant who said he was 17, Senn’s analysis of dental X-rays showed a 92.55% probability that he had turned 18, and provided a range of possible ages between 17.10 and 23.70.

    It was enough to prompt his removal from a juvenile facility and placement into an adult one.

    Again, a district judge found that the government had relied exclusively on the dental exam to determine his age and ordered the migrant released back into ORR custody.

    Danielle Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency “does not track” information on such reversals.

    “We should never be used as the only method to determine age,” Senn said. “If those agencies are not following their own rules, they should have their feet held to the fire.”

    Similar concerns over medical age assessments have sprung up in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Sweden.

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ guidance about how adolescent migrants’ ages should be analyzed says that if countries use scientific procedures to determine age, that they should allow for margins of error. Michael Bochenek, an attorney specializing in children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, said that for adolescents, the margin of error in scientific tests is “so big that it doesn’t tell you anything.”

    An influx of Bangladeshi migrants claiming to be minors has contributed to the government’s recent use of dental exams. From October through March 8, more than 150 Bangladeshis who claimed to be minors and were determined to be adults were transferred from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to ICE custody, according to the agency.

    In fiscal year 2018, Border Patrol apprehensions of Bangladeshi migrants went up 109% over the year before, rising to 1,203. Similarly, the number of Bangladeshi minors in ORR custody increased about 221% between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018, reaching 392.

    Ali Riaz, a professor at Illinois State University, said Bangladeshis are leaving the country for reasons including high population density, high unemployment among the young, a deteriorating political environment and the “quest for a better life.”

    In October, Myriam Hillin, an ORR federal field specialist, was told that ICE had information showing that a number of Bangladeshi migrants in their custody claiming to be underage had passports with different birth dates than on their birth certificates.

    Bochenek said it’s common for migrant children to travel with fake passports that make them appear older, because in some countries minors are more likely to be intercepted or questioned by immigration agents.

    While I.J. was able to regain status as a minor, three Bangladeshi migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in the San Diego area in October 2018 are still trying to convince the government they are underage.

    Their passports didn’t match their birth certificates. Dental exams ordered by immigration officials found that each of them had about an 89% likelihood of being adults.

    “Both subjects were adamant that the passports were given to them by the ‘agent’ (smuggler), however, there is little reason to lie to any of the countries they flew into,” wrote one Border Patrol agent, describing the arrest of two of the migrants. “Also, it is extremely difficult to fake a passport, especially for no reason. I have seen [unaccompanied children] fly into each of the countries (except for Panama and Costa Rica) and pass through with no problem. This is a recent trend with Bangladeshis. They do it in order to be released from DHS custody faster.”

    During interviews, the young migrants, Shahadat, Shahriar and Tareq, told asylum officers that smugglers had given them the passports, according to records from the interviews.

    When asked why they had been given those birth dates, they said it had something to do with smugglers’ plans for their travel.

    “I don’t have that much idea,” Shahadat told an asylum officer, according to the officer’s notes in a summary-style transcript. “When I asked why, they told me that if I don’t give this [date of birth] there will be problems with travel.”

    Shahriar told the officer that the smuggler became aggressive when questioned.

    The migrants have submitted copies of birth certificates, school documents and signed statements from their parents attesting to their claimed birth dates. An online database of birth records maintained by the government of Bangladesh appears to confirm their date of birth claims.

    Shahriar also provided his parents’ birth certificates. If he were as old as immigration officials believe him to be, his mother would have been 12 years old when she had him.

    In each case, immigration officials stood by the passport dates.

    Shahadat and Shahriar are being held in Otay Mesa Detention Center. Tareq was held at the facility for months before being released on a $7,500 bond. All three are moving through the immigration system as adults, with asylum proceedings their only option to stay in the U.S..

    At least one of the migrants, Shahadat, was placed in administrative segregation, a version of solitary confinement in immigration detention, when his age came into question, according to documents provided by their attorney.

    A judge ordered him deported.

    https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-immigrant-age-migrants-ice-dental-teeth-bangladesh-20190602-story.
    #tests_osseux #os #âge #USA #Etats-Unis #mineurs #enfants #enfance #rétention #détention_administrative #dents #migrations #asile #réfugiés #USA #Etats-Unis

  • How New York could respond to the taxi medallion lending crisis | CSNY
    https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/infrastructure/how-new-york-could-respond-to-taxi-medallion-lending-crisis.html

    Experts and lawmakers weigh in on easing the pain of burdened medallion owners and preventing predatory lending in the future.
    By ANNIE MCDONOUGH
    MAY 22, 2019

    After a two-part New York Times investigation into predatory lending practices for taxi medallions delineated how industry leaders and government agencies participated in, encouraged or ignored risky lending, calls for action sprang forth – sometimes from the very same officials or agencies that had been asleep at the switch.

    Various deceptive or exploitative lending practices contributed to the rise and precipitous fall of taxi medallions in New York City. Medallions worth $200,000 in 2002 rose to more than $1 million in 2014, before crashing to less than $200,000. The bubble was inflated by loans made without down payments, requirements that loans had to be paid back in three years or extended with inflated interest rates, and interest-only loans that required borrowers to forfeit legal rights and give up much of their income. Borrowers – typically low-income, immigrant drivers – were left in the lurch when the bubble burst, an event that the taxi industry has long blamed primarily on the rise of app-based ride hail services like Uber and Lyft. While the rise of app-based ride hail did contribute to the now-ailing taxi industry, the revelations in the Times show government officials – including the Taxi and Limousine Commission which acted as a “cheerleader” for medallion sales – ignored the warning signs.

    Since Sunday, when the first Times story was published, New York Attorney General Letitia James has announced an inquiry into the business and lending practices that “may have created” the crisis, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a joint probe by the TLC, Department of Finance and Department of Consumer Affairs into the brokers who helped arrange the loans, Sen. Chuck Schumer called for an investigation into the credit unions involved in the lending, and members of the New York City Council and state Legislature, and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, have called for hearings and legislation to resolve the issue.

    The various proposals raised thus far are unlikely to fully address the damage caused to many medallion owners, some experts say. The Times investigation found that since 2016, more than 950 taxi drivers have filed for bankruptcy, with thousands more still suffering under the crippling loans. This is combined with a string of taxi and other professional drivers who have committed suicide in the past year and a half.

    Some of the solutions offered have focused on preventing the kind of reckless lending practices exhibited for taxi medallions. Stringer called on state lawmakers to close a loophole that allows lenders to classify their loans as business deals – as opposed to consumer loans, which have more protections for borrowers. A bill introduced last week by state Sen. Jessica Ramos would also establish a program to assist medallion owners who are unable to obtain financing, refinancing or restructuring of an existing loan through a loan loss reserve. State Sen. James Sanders and Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, who chair the state Legislature’s committees on banks, declined to comment.

    But classifying loans for medallions as consumer loans might not be appropriate, said Bruce Schaller, a transportation expert and former deputy commissioner at the New York City Department of Transportation. “I think the difficult question with the individual drivers is that they are in business, they are planning to make money off of their increase in medallion prices. Should they have the same protections as someone who is taking out a mortgage on a house, who is presumed to be very vulnerable?” he asked. “That may well be the case, but (drivers) are also in a business in a way that the prospective homeowner isn’t.”

    The TLC told the Times that it is the responsibility of bank examiners to control lending practices, while the state Department of Financial Services said that it supervised some of the banks involved, but often deferred to federal inspectors. “The TLC is gravely concerned that unsound lending practices have hurt taxi drivers and has raised these concerns publicly,” Acting Commissioner Bill Heinzen said in an emailed statement. “Banks and credit unions are regulated by federal agencies that have substantial oversight powers that the TLC does not have. The TLC has taken steps within our regulatory power to help owners and drivers by easing regulatory burdens and working with City Council to limit the number of for-hire vehicles on the road. We have pushed banks to restructure loan balances and payment amounts to reflect actual trip revenue.”

    Seth Stein, a spokesman for de Blasio, also mentioned interest in preventing risky lending practices. “We are deeply concerned about predatory lending in the medallion business,” Stein wrote in an email. “While TLC has no direct regulatory oversight over lenders – that is squarely under the purview of federal regulators – we continue to look for every means of helping owners and drivers make ends meet. We’ve discontinued medallion sales, secured a cap on app-based for-hire-vehicles, and we strongly urge federal regulators to do more as well.”

    But remedies at the federal level may not be realistic, according to David King, a professor of urban planning at Arizona State University, with a speciality in transportation and land use planning. “There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for what would be reasonable lending standards. Reasonable standards that would include verifiable collateral or values that were based on something other than made-up dollar amounts,” King said, adding that he doesn’t see those changes being made under the current administration. “The housing bubble of 11 years ago, I think that was a sufficiently national concern that has inspired some movement from Washington. Whereas I think something like an asset bubble in New York, just like an asset bubble in one region, isn’t going to be enough to spur federal legislation.”

    Schaller said that while lending regulation fixes could be beneficial for preventing this kind of crisis in other industries, there’s action that can be taken now by the city to alleviate some pain. “The real question is, if the city now decides that they were part of the fraud, then they should refund the money,” he said. “It’s one thing to close a loophole, it’s another thing to decide that you need to make restitution.”

    City Councilman Mark Levine, who has been working on legislation along those lines for nearly a year, agreed that the city needs to take responsibility. “There has been a lot of attention to the whole industry of lenders and brokers who push these loans on the drivers in ways that were not transparent and really deceived them, and may very well constitute some sort of legal fraud,” he said. “But the city itself also bears responsibility for this, because we were selling medallions with the goal of bringing in revenue to the city and we were promoting them and pumping them up in ways that I think masks the true risks that drivers were taking on. And, most egregiously, we had a round of sales in 2014 when it was abundantly clear that we were headed for a price drop, because by that point app-based competitors had emerged and there were other challenges.”

    Levine’s vision for immediately helping those drivers still suffering under unsustainable loans would involve the city acquiring the loans from lenders who either cannot or will not be flexible with borrowers, and then forgiving the debts. Though the bill hasn’t been introduced yet, the idea is to partially finance the buy-back by placing a surcharge on app-based ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft. Levine’s office is still working on confirming that the City Council would have the authority to levy that kind of surcharge. If it doesn’t, they would encourage that action be taken in Albany.

    But, as the Times’ investigation into the issue has revealed, much of the damage to drivers and medallion owners has already been done – including to the hundreds of medallion owners who have declared bankruptcy. “If someone paid $800,000 for a medallion loan and paid part of that off, and has had their house repossessed, now Mark Levine is saying, ‘well, we’ll just refund whatever’s left dangling out there,’” Schaller said. “If I were on the losing end of that bargain, I’d say I want my $800,000 back.”

    The idea of a buy-back, Levine admitted, is not a perfect solution, but it’s one he said can help the thousands of medallion owners stuck right now. “It would not address that kind of horrible, horrible hardship,” he said, referring to those owners who have forfeited assets and sustained other losses.

    If there’s any upside to the stories relayed in the Times about medallion owners financially devastated by bad loans and the failing taxi industry, it may be that it’s a call to action – even if it’s coming too late for some. “It’s had a dramatic impact on the interest in the Council about finding solutions,” Levine said of the heavy punch packed by the Times’ investigation. “It gives new impetus to this effort, which is good, because it’s complicated, and it’s going to require a political push to make it happen. The revelations in this article made that more likely.”

    Annie McDonough is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/20/nyregion/nyc-taxi-medallion-loans-attorney-general.html

    May 20, 2019 - The investigations come after The New York Times found that thousands of drivers were crushed under debt they could not repay.

    The New York attorney general’s office said Monday it had opened an inquiry into more than a decade of lending practices that left thousands of immigrant taxi drivers in crushing debt, while Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a separate investigation into the brokers who helped arrange the loans.

    The efforts marked the government’s first steps toward addressing a crisis that has engulfed the city’s yellow cab industry. They came a day after The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

    The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

    The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

    The findings also drew a quick response from other elected officials. The chairman of the Assembly’s banking committee, Kenneth Zebrowski, a Democrat, said his committee would hold a hearing on the issue; the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, said he was drafting legislation; and several other officials in New York and Albany called for the government to pressure lenders to soften loan terms.

    The biggest threat to the industry leaders appeared to be the inquiry by the attorney general, Letitia James, which will aim to determine if the lenders engaged in any illegal activity.

    “Our office is beginning an inquiry into the disturbing reports regarding the lending and business practices that may have created the taxi medallion crisis,” an office spokeswoman said in a statement. “These allegations are serious and must be thoroughly scrutinized.”

    Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said through a spokesman that he supported the inquiry. “If any of these businesses or lenders did something wrong, they deserve to be held fully accountable,” the spokesman said in a statement.

    Lenders did not respond to requests for comment. Previously, they denied wrongdoing, saying regulators had approved all of their practices and some borrowers had made poor decisions and assumed too much debt. Lenders blamed the crisis on the city for allowing ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to enter without regulation, which they said led medallion values to plummet.

    Mr. de Blasio said the city’s investigation will focus on the brokers who arranged the loans for drivers and sometimes lent money themselves.

    “The 45-day review will identify and penalize brokers who have taken advantage of buyers and misled city authorities,” the mayor said in a statement. “The review will set down strict new rules that prevent broker practices that hurt hard-working drivers.”

    Four of the city’s biggest taxi brokers did not respond to requests for comment.

    Bhairavi Desai, founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers and independent owners, said the city should not get to investigate the business practices because it was complicit in many of them.

    The government has already closed or merged all of the nonprofit credit unions that were involved in the industry, saying they participated in “unsafe and unsound banking practices.” At least one credit union leader, Alan Kaufman, the former chief executive of Melrose Credit Union, a major medallion lender, is facing civil charges.

    The other lenders in the industry include Medallion Financial, a specialty finance company; some major banks, including Capital One and Signature Bank; and several loosely regulated taxi fleet owners and brokers who entered the lending business.

    At City Hall, officials said Monday they were focused on how to help the roughly 4,000 drivers who bought medallions during the bubble, as well as thousands of longtime owners who were encouraged to refinance their loans to take out more money during that period.

    One city councilman, Mark Levine, said he was drafting a bill that would allow the city to buy medallion loans from lenders and then forgive much of the debt owed by the borrowers. He said lenders likely would agree because they are eager to exit the business. But he added that his bill would force lenders to sell at discounted prices.

    “The city made hundreds of millions by pumping up sales of wildly overpriced medallions — as late as 2014 when it was clear that these assets were poised to decline,” said Mr. Levine, a Democrat. “We have an obligation now to find some way to offer relief to the driver-owners whose lives have been ruined.”

    Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, proposed a similar solution in a letter to the mayor. He said the city should convene the lenders and pressure them to partially forgive loans.

    “These lenders too often dealt in bad faith with a group of hard-working, unsuspecting workers who deserved much better and have yet to receive any measure of justice,” wrote Mr. Stringer, who added that the state should close a loophole that allowed the lenders to classify their loans as business deals, which have looser regulations.

    Last November, amid a spate of suicides by taxi drivers, including three medallion owners with overwhelming debt, the Council created a task force to study the taxi industry.

    On Monday, a spokesman for the speaker, Mr. Johnson, said that members of the task force would be appointed very soon. He also criticized the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that sold the medallions.

    “We will explore every tool we have to ensure that moving forward, the T.L.C. protects medallion owners and drivers from predatory actors including lenders, medallion brokers, and fleet managers,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement.

    Another councilman, Ritchie Torres, who heads the Council’s oversight committee, disclosed Monday for the first time that he had been trying to launch his own probe since last year, but had been stymied by the taxi commission. “The T.L.C. hasn’t just been asleep at the wheel, they have been actively stonewalling,” he said.

    A T.L.C. spokesman declined to comment.

    In Albany, several lawmakers also said they were researching potential bills.

    One of them, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou of Manhattan, a member of the committee on banks, said she hoped to pass legislation before the end of the year. She said the state agencies involved in the crisis, including the Department of Financial Services, should be examined.

    “My world has been shaken right now, to be honest,” Ms. Niou said.

    Brian M. Rosenthal is an investigative reporter on the Metro Desk. Previously, he covered state government for the Houston Chronicle and for The Seattle Times. @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Bad loans were killing the taxi industry long before Uber and Lyft: report
    https://nypost.com/2019/05/19/bad-loans-were-killing-the-taxi-industry-long-before-uber-and-lyft-report

    The financial woes of the city taxi market may not be entirely the fault of ride-hailing companies — the industry was a house of cards waiting to collapse, a report says.

    An investigation by the New York Times Sunday put the blame on industry leaders who artificially inflated taxi medallions costs fivefold over 12 years and created a massively profitable loan market built on questionable lending practices similar to those at the center of the housing crash.

    In 2013, a taxi medallion fetched $1.3 million, but by last year, the market had plunged and medallions were selling for less than $250,000.

    While much of the decline in value can be attributed to the flood of Uber and Lyft drivers, the report says exploitative loans, hundreds of which were interest-only, strapped drivers, often immigrants and unclear on the terms, with hefty monthly costs.

    The report says some loan costs became so steep, there weren’t enough hours in a week to drive to make a profit and eventually, all of their monthly fares went to pay the loans.

    When the market bottomed out in 2014, the head of the Progressive Credit Union, Robert Familan, made nearly $35 million from his medallion loan non-profit company.

    Employees were encouraged to give out shaky loans with bonuses and trips, the report says.

    The lenders denied any wrongdoing and the former chairwoman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission said it wasn’t the commission’s job to regulate the lending, the report says.

    But Meera Joshi did tell the paper “lots of people just watched it happen.”

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/taxi-medallions.html

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    At a cramped desk on the 22nd floor of a downtown Manhattan office building, Gary Roth spotted a looming disaster.

    An urban planner with two master’s degrees, Mr. Roth had a new job in 2010 analyzing taxi policy for the New York City government. But almost immediately, he noticed something disturbing: The price of a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a cab — had soared to nearly $700,000 from $200,000. In order to buy medallions, drivers were taking out loans they could not afford.

    Mr. Roth compiled his concerns in a report, and he and several colleagues warned that if the city did not take action, the loans would become unsustainable and the market could collapse.

    They were not the only ones worried about taxi medallions. In Albany, state inspectors gave a presentation to top officials showing that medallion owners were not making enough money to support their loans. And in Washington, D.C., federal examiners repeatedly noted that banks were increasing profits by steering cabbies into risky loans.

    They were all ignored.

    Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

    Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

    For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

    Their actions turned one of the best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

    Remember the ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule for Success? Forget About It
    “Nobody wanted to upset the industry,” said David Klahr, who from 2007 to 2016 held several management posts at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that oversees cabs. “Nobody wanted to kill the golden goose.”

    New York City in particular failed the taxi industry, The Times found. Two former mayors, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the policies.

    Under Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. de Blasio, the city made more than $855 million by selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales, according to the city.

    But during that period, much like in the mortgage lending crisis, a group of industry leaders enriched themselves by artificially inflating medallion prices. They encouraged medallion buyers to borrow as much as possible and ensnared them in interest-only loans and other one-sided deals that often required them to pay hefty fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up most of their monthly incomes.

    When the medallion market collapsed, the government largely abandoned the drivers who bore the brunt of the crisis. Officials did not bail out borrowers or persuade banks to soften loan terms.

    “They sell us medallions, and they knew it wasn’t worth price. They knew,” said Wael Ghobrayal, 42, an Egyptian immigrant who bought a medallion at a city auction for $890,000 and now cannot make his loan payments and support his three children.

    “They lost nothing. I lost everything,” he said.

    The Times conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed thousands of records and built several databases to unravel the story of the downfall of the taxi industry in New York and across the United States. The investigation unearthed a collapse that was years in the making, aided almost as much by regulators as by taxi tycoons.

    Publicly, government officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing firms such as Uber and Lyft.

    In interviews with The Times, they blamed each other.

    The officials who ran the city Taxi and Limousine Commission in the run-up to the crash said it was the job of bank examiners, not the commission, to control lending practices.

    The New York Department of Financial Services said that while it supervised some of the banks involved in the taxi industry, it deferred to federal inspectors in many cases.

    The federal agency that oversaw many of the largest lenders in the industry, the National Credit Union Administration, said those lenders were meeting the needs of borrowers.

    The N.C.U.A. released a March 2019 internal audit that scolded its regulators for not aggressively enforcing rules in medallion lending. But even that audit partially absolved the government. The lenders, it said, all had boards of directors that were supposed to prevent reckless practices.

    And several officials criticized Congress, which two decades ago excepted credit unions in the taxi industry from some rules that applied to other credit unions. After that, the officials said, government agencies had to treat those lenders differently.

    Ultimately, former employees said, the regulatory system was set up to ensure that lenders were financially stable, and medallions were sold. But almost nothing protected the drivers.

    Matthew W. Daus, far right, at a hearing of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2004. CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
    Matthew W. Daus was an unconventional choice to regulate New York’s taxi industry. He was a lawyer from Brooklyn and a leader of a political club that backed Mr. Giuliani for mayor.

    The Giuliani administration hired him as a lawyer for the Taxi and Limousine Commission before appointing him chairman in 2001, a leadership post he kept after Mr. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002.

    The commission oversaw the drivers and fleets that owned the medallions for the city’s 12,000 cabs. It licensed all participants and decided what cabs could charge, where they could go and which type of vehicle they could use.

    And under Mr. Bloomberg, it also began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    At the time, the mayor said the growing city needed more yellow cabs. But he also was eager for revenue. He had a $3.8 billion hole in his budget.

    The sales put the taxi commission in an unusual position.

    It had a long history of being entangled with the industry. Its first chairman, appointed in 1971, was convicted of a bribery scheme involving an industry lobbyist. Four other leaders since then had worked in the business.

    It often sent staffers to conferences where companies involved in the taxi business paid for liquor, meals and tickets to shows, and at least one past member of its board had run for office in a campaign financed by the industry.

    Still, the agency had never been asked to generate so much money from the business it was supposed to be regulating.

    Former staffers said officials chose to sell medallions with the method they thought would bring in the most revenue: a series of limited auctions that required participants to submit sealed bids above ever-increasing minimums.

    Ahead of the sales, the city placed ads on television and radio, and in newspapers and newsletters, and held seminars promoting the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

    “Medallions have a long history as a solid investment with steady growth,” Mr. Daus wrote in one newsletter. In addition to guaranteed employment, he wrote, “a medallion is collateral that can assist in home financing, college tuition or even ‘worry-free’ retirement.”

    At the first auctions under Mr. Bloomberg in 2004, bids topped $300,000, surprising experts.

    Some former staffers said in interviews they believed the ad campaign inappropriately inflated prices by implying medallions would make buyers rich, no matter the cost. Seven said they complained.

    The city eventually added a disclaimer to ads, saying past performance did not guarantee future results. But it kept advertising.

    During the same period, the city also posted information on its website that said that medallion prices were, on average, 13 percent higher than they really were, according to a Times data analysis.

    In several interviews, Mr. Daus defended the ad campaigns, saying they reached people who had been unable to break into the tight market. The ads were true at the time, he said. He added he had never heard internal complaints about the ads.

    In all, the city held 16 auctions between 2004 and 2014.

    “People don’t realize how organized it is,” Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial, a lender to medallion buyers, said in a 2011 interview with Tearsheet Podcast. “The City of New York, more or less, is our partner because they want to see prices go as high as possible.”

    Help from a federal agency

    New York City made more than $855 million from taxi medallion sales under Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

    For decades, a niche banking system had grown up around the taxi industry, and at its center were about half a dozen nonprofit credit unions that specialized in medallion loans. But as the auctions continued, the families that ran the credit unions began to grow frustrated.

    Around them, they saw other lenders making money by issuing loans that they could not because of the rules governing credit unions. They recognized a business opportunity, and they wanted in.

    They found a receptive audience at the National Credit Union Administration.

    The N.C.U.A. was the small federal agency that regulated the nation’s credit unions. It set the rules, examined their books and insured their accounts.

    Like the city taxi commission, the N.C.U.A. had long had ties to the industry that it regulated. One judge had called it a “rogue federal agency” focused on promoting the industry.

    In 2004, its chairman was Dennis Dollar, a former Mississippi state representative who had previously worked as the chief executive of a credit union. He had just been inducted into the Mississippi Credit Union Hall of Fame, and he had said one of his top priorities was streamlining regulation.

    Dennis Dollar, the former chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, is now a consultant in the industry. 

    Under Mr. Dollar and others, the N.C.U.A. issued waivers that exempted medallion loans from longstanding rules, including a regulation requiring each loan to have a down payment of at least 20 percent. The waivers allowed the lenders to keep up with competitors and to write more profitable loans.

    Mr. Dollar, who left government to become a consultant for credit unions, said the agency was following the lead of Congress, which passed a law in 1998 exempting credit unions specializing in medallion loans from some regulations. The law signaled that those lenders needed leeway, such as the waivers, he said.

    “If we did not do so, the average cabdriver couldn’t get a medallion loan,” Mr. Dollar said.

    The federal law and the N.C.U.A. waivers were not the only benefits the industry received. The federal government also provided many medallion lenders with financial assistance and guaranteed a portion of their taxi loans, assuring that if those loans failed, they would still be partially paid, according to records and interviews.

    As lenders wrote increasingly risky loans, medallion prices neared $500,000 in 2006.

    ‘Snoozing and napping’

    Under Mr. Bloomberg, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    Another agency was also supposed to be keeping an eye on lending practices. New York State banking regulators are required to inspect all financial institutions chartered in the state. But after 2008, they were forced to focus their attention on the banks most affected by the global economic meltdown, according to former employees.

    As a result, some industry veterans said, the state stopped examining medallion loans closely.

    “The state banking department would come in, and they’d be doing the exam in one room, and the N.C.U.A. would be in another room,” said Larry Fisher, who was then the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders. “And you could catch the state banking department snoozing and napping and going on the internet and not doing much at all.”

    The state banking department, which is now called the New York Department of Financial Services, disputed that characterization and said it had acted consistently and appropriately.

    Former federal regulators described a similar trend at their agencies after the recession.

    Some former employees of the N.C.U.A., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said that as medallion prices climbed, they tried to raise issues with loans and were told not to worry. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve Board also oversaw some lenders and did not intervene.

    A spokesman for the Federal Reserve said the agency was not a primary regulator of the taxi lending industry. The rest of the agencies declined to comment.

    “It was obvious that the loans were unusual and risky,” said Patrick Collins, a former N.C.U.A. examiner. But, he said, there was a belief inside his agency that the loans would be fine because the industry had been stable for decades.

    Meanwhile, in New York City, the taxi commission reduced oversight.

    For years, it had made medallion purchasers file forms describing how they came up with the money, including details on all loans. It also had required industry participants to submit annual disclosures on their finances, loans and conflicts of interest.

    But officials never analyzed the forms filed by buyers, and in the 2000s, they stopped requiring the annual disclosures altogether.

    “Reviewing these disclosures was an onerous lift for us,” the commission’s communications office said in a recent email.

    By 2008, the price of a medallion rose to $600,000.

    At around the same time, the commission began focusing on new priorities. It started developing the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” a model for future cabs.

    The agency’s main enforcement activities targeted drivers who cheated passengers or discriminated against people of color. “Nobody really scrutinized medallion transfers,” said Charles Tortorici, a former commission lawyer.

    A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement that during the mayor’s tenure, the city improved the industry by installing credit card machines and GPS devices, making fleets more environmentally efficient and creating green taxis for boroughs outside Manhattan.

    “The industry was always its own worst enemy, fighting every reform tooth and nail,” said the spokesman, Marc La Vorgna. “We put our energy and political capital into the reforms that most directly and immediately impacted the riding public.”

    Records show that since 2008, the taxi commission has not taken a single enforcement action against brokers, the powerful players who arrange medallion sales and loans.

    Alex Korenkov, a broker, suggested in an interview that he and other brokers took notice of the city’s hands-off approach.

    “Let’s put it this way,” he said. “If governing body does not care, then free-for-all.”

    By the time that Mr. Roth wrote his report at the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2010, it was clear that something strange was happening in the medallion market.

    Mr. Daus gave a speech that year that mentioned the unusual lending practices. During the speech, he said banks were letting medallion buyers obtain loans without any down payment. Experts have since said that should have raised red flags. But at the time, Mr. Daus seemed pleased.

    “Some of these folks were offering zero percent down,” he said. “You tell me what bank walks around asking for zero percent down on a loan? It’s just really amazing.”

    In interviews, Mr. Daus acknowledged that the practice was unusual but said the taxi commission had no authority over lending.

    Inside the commission, at least four employees raised concerns about the medallion prices and lending practices, according to the employees, who described their own unease as well as Mr. Roth’s report.

    David S. Yassky, a former city councilman who succeeded Mr. Daus as commission chairman in 2010, said in an interview that he never saw Mr. Roth’s report.

    Mr. Yassky said the medallion prices puzzled him, but he could not determine if they were inflated, in part because people were still eager to buy. Medallions may have been undervalued for decades, and the price spike could have been the market recognizing the true value, he suggested.

    Meera Joshi, who became chairwoman in 2014, said in an interview that she was worried about medallion costs and lending practices but was pushed to prioritize other responsibilities. Dominic Williams, Mr. de Blasio’s chief policy adviser, said the city focused on initiatives such as improving accessibility because no one was complaining about loans.

    Worries about the taxi industry also emerged at the National Credit Union Administration. In late 2011, as the price of some medallions reached $800,000, a group of agency examiners wrote a paper on the risks in the industry, according to a recent report by the agency’s inspector general.

    In 2012, 2013 and 2014, inspectors routinely documented instances of credit unions violating lending rules, the inspector general’s report said.

    David S. Yassky, the former chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

    The N.C.U.A. chose not to penalize medallion lenders or impose extra oversight. It did not take any wide industry action until April 2014, when it sent a letter reminding the credit unions in the taxi market to act responsibly.

    Former staffers said the agency was still focused on the fallout from the recession.

    A spokesman for the N.C.U.A. disputed that characterization and said the agency conducted appropriate enforcement.

    He added the agency took actions to ensure the credit unions remained solvent, which was its mission. He said Congress allowed the lenders to concentrate heavily on medallion loans, which left them vulnerable when Uber and Lyft arrived.

    At the New York Department of Financial Services, bank examiners noticed risky practices and interest-only loans and repeatedly wrote warnings starting in 2010, according to the state. At least one report expressed concern of a potential market bubble, the state said.

    Eventually, examiners became so concerned that they made a PowerPoint presentation and called a meeting in 2014 to show it to a dozen top officials.

    “Since 2001, individual medallion has risen 455%,” the presentation warned, according to a copy obtained by The Times. The presentation suggested state action, such as sending a letter to the industry or revoking charters from some lenders.

    The state did neither. The department had recently merged with the insurance department, and former employees said it was finding its footing.

    The department superintendent at the time, Benjamin M. Lawsky, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said he did not, as a rule, discuss his tenure at the department.

    In an emailed statement, the department denied it struggled after the merger and said it took action to stop the collapse of the medallion market. A department spokesman provided a long list of warnings, suggestions and guidelines that it said examiners had issued to lenders. He said that starting in 2012, the department downgraded some of its own internal ratings of the lenders.

    The list did not include any instances of the department formally penalizing a medallion lender, or making any public statement about the industry before it collapsed.

    Between 2010 and 2014, as officials at every level of government failed to rein in the risky lending practices, records show that roughly 1,500 people bought taxi medallions. Over all, including refinancings of old loans and extensions required by banks, medallion owners signed at least 10,000 loans in that time.

    Several regulators who tried to raise alarms said they believed the government stood aside because of the industry’s connections.

    Many pointed to one company — Medallion Financial, run by the Murstein family. Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, was a paid member of its board from 1996 until he died in 2015.

    Others noted that Mr. de Blasio has long been close to the industry. When he ran for mayor in 2013, an industry lobbyist, Michael Woloz, was a top fund-raiser, records show. And Evgeny Freidman, a major fleet owner who has admitted to artificially inflating medallion prices, has said he is close to the mayor.

    Some people, including Mr. Dollar, the former N.C.U.A. chairman, said Congress excepted the taxi trade from rules because the industry was supported by former United States Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York, who was then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

    “The taxi industry is one of the most politically connected industries in the city,” said Fidel Del Valle, who was the chairman of the taxi commission from 1991 to 1994. He later worked as a lawyer for drivers and a consultant to an owner association run by Mr. Freidman. “It’s been that way for decades, and they’ve used that influence to push back on regulation, with a lot of success.”

    A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said Medallion Financial was not regulated by the state, so the elder Mr. Cuomo’s position on the board was irrelevant. A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio said the industry’s connections did not influence the city.

    Mr. Murstein, Mr. Woloz, Mr. Freidman and Mr. D’Amato all declined to comment.

    The aftermath
    “I think city will help me,” Mohammad Hossain, who is in deep debt from a taxi medallion loan, said at his family’s home in the Bronx.

    New York held its final independent medallion auction in February 2014. By then, concerns about medallion prices were common in the news media and government offices, and Uber had established itself. Still, the city sold medallions to more than 150 bidders. (“It’s better than the stock market,” one ad said.)

    Forty percent of the people who bought medallions at that auction have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records.

    Mohammad Hossain, 47, from Bangladesh, who purchased a medallion for $853,000 at the auction, said he could barely make his monthly payments and was getting squeezed by his lender. “I bought medallion from the city,” he said through tears. “I think city will help me, you know. I assume that.”

    The de Blasio administration’s only major response to the crisis has been to push for a cap on ride-hail cars. The City Council at first rejected a cap in 2015 before approving it last year.

    Taxi industry veterans said the cap did not address the cause of the crisis: the lending practices.

    Richard Weinberg, a taxi commission hearing officer from 1988 to 2002 and a lawyer for drivers since then, said that when the medallion bubble began to burst, the city should have frozen prices, adjusted fares and fees and convinced banks to be flexible with drivers. That could have allowed prices to fall slowly. “That could’ve saved a lot of people,” he said.

    In an interview, Dean Fuleihan, the first deputy mayor, said the city did help taxi owners, including by reducing some fees, taxes and inspection mandates, and by talking to banks about loans. He said that if the City Council had passed the cap in 2015, it would have helped.

    “We do care about those drivers, we care about those families. We attempted throughout this period to take actions,” he said.

    Federal regulators also have not significantly helped medallion owners.

    In 2017 and 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed or merged several credit unions for “unsafe business practices” in medallion lending. It took over many of the loans, but did not soften terms, according to borrowers. Instead, it tried to get money out as quickly as possible.

    The failure of the credit unions has cost the national credit union insurance fund more than $750 million, which will hurt all credit union members.

    In August 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed Melrose in what it said was the biggest credit union liquidation in United States history. The agency barred Melrose’s general counsel from working for credit unions and brought civil charges against its former C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, saying he used company funds to help industry partners in exchange for gifts.

    The general counsel, Mitchell Reiver, declined to answer questions but said he did nothing wrong. Mr. Kaufman said in an interview that the N.C.U.A. made up the charges to distract from its role in the crisis.

    “I’m definitely a scapegoat,” Mr. Kaufman said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

    Glamour, then poverty
    After he struggled to repay his taxi medallion loan, Abel Vela left his family in New York and moved back to Peru, where living costs were cheaper. 

    During the medallion bubble, the city produced a television commercial to promote the permits. In the ad, which aired in 2004, four cabbies stood around a taxi discussing the perks of the job. One said buying a medallion was the best decision he had ever made. They all smiled. Then Mr. Daus appeared on screen to announce an auction.

    Fifteen years later, the cabbies remember the ad with scorn. Three of the four were eventually enticed to refinance their original loans under far riskier terms that left them in heavy debt.

    One of the cabbies, Abel Vela, had to leave his wife and children and return to his home country, Peru, because living costs were lower there. He is now 74 and still working to survive.

    The city aired a commercial in 2004 to promote an upcoming auction of taxi medallions. The ad featured real cab drivers, but three of them eventually took on risky loans and suffered financial blows.
    The only woman in the ad, Marie Applyrs, a Haitian immigrant, fell behind on her loan payments and filed for bankruptcy in November 2017. She lost her cab, and her home. She now lives with her children, switching from home to home every few months.

    “When the ad happened, the taxi was in vogue. I think I still have the tape somewhere. It was glamorous,” she said. “Now, I’m in the poorhouse.”

    Today, the only person from the television commercial still active in the industry is Mr. Daus. He works as a lawyer for lenders.

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    Madeline Rosenberg contributed reporting. Doris Burke contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • ‘They Were Conned’: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/nyc-taxis-medallions-suicides.html


    Mohammed Hoque with his three children in their studio apartment in Jamaica, Queens.

    May 19, 2019 - The phone call that ruined Mohammed Hoque’s life came in April 2014 as he began another long day driving a New York City taxi, a job he had held since emigrating from Bangladesh nine years earlier.

    The call came from a prominent businessman who was selling a medallion, the coveted city permit that allows a driver to own a yellow cab instead of working for someone else. If Mr. Hoque gave him $50,000 that day, he promised to arrange a loan for the purchase.

    After years chafing under bosses he hated, Mr. Hoque thought his dreams of wealth and independence were coming true. He emptied his bank account, borrowed from friends and hurried to the man’s office in Astoria, Queens. Mr. Hoque handed over a check and received a stack of papers. He signed his name and left, eager to tell his wife.

    Mr. Hoque made about $30,000 that year. He had no idea, he said later, that he had just signed a contract that required him to pay $1.7 million.

    Over the past year, a spate of suicides by taxi drivers in New York City has highlighted in brutal terms the overwhelming debt and financial plight of medallion owners. All along, officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

    But a New York Times investigation found much of the devastation can be traced to a handful of powerful industry leaders who steadily and artificially drove up the price of taxi medallions, creating a bubble that eventually burst. Over more than a decade, they channeled thousands of drivers into reckless loans and extracted hundreds of millions of dollars before the market collapsed.

    These business practices generated huge profits for bankers, brokers, lawyers, investors, fleet owners and debt collectors. The leaders of nonprofit credit unions became multimillionaires. Medallion brokers grew rich enough to buy yachts and waterfront properties. One of the most successful bankers hired the rap star Nicki Minaj to perform at a family party.

    But the methods stripped immigrant families of their life savings, crushed drivers under debt they could not repay and engulfed an industry that has long defined New York. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records. Thousands more are barely hanging on.

    The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown: Banks and loosely regulated private lenders wrote risky loans and encouraged frequent refinancing; drivers took on debt they could not afford, under terms they often did not understand.

    Some big banks even entered the taxi industry in the aftermath of the housing crash, seeking a new market, with new borrowers.

    The combination of easy money, eager borrowers and the lure of a rare asset helped prices soar far above what medallions were really worth. Some industry leaders fed the frenzy by purposefully overpaying for medallions in order to inflate prices, The Times found.

    Between 2002 and 2014, the price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million from $200,000, even though city records showed that driver incomes barely changed.

    About 4,000 drivers bought medallions in that period, records show. They were excited to buy, but they were enticed by a dubious premise.

    What Actually Happened to New York’s Taxi DriversMay 28, 2019

    After the medallion market collapsed, Mayor Bill de Blasio opted not to fund a bailout, and earlier this year, the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, shut down the committee overseeing the taxi industry, saying it had completed most of its work.

    Over 10 months, The Times interviewed 450 people, built a database of every medallion sale since 1995 and reviewed thousands of individual loans and other documents, including internal bank records and confidential profit-sharing agreements.

    The investigation found example after example of drivers trapped in exploitative loans, including hundreds who signed interest-only loans that required them to pay exorbitant fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up almost all their monthly income, indefinitely.

    A Pakistani immigrant who thought he was just buying a car ended up with a $780,000 medallion loan that left him unable to pay rent. A Bangladeshi immigrant said he was told to lie about his income on his loan application; he eventually lost his medallion. A Haitian immigrant who worked to exhaustion to make his monthly payments discovered he had been paying only interest and went bankrupt.

    Abdur Rahim, who is from Bangladesh, is one of several cab drivers who allege they were duped into signing exploitative loans. 
    It is unclear if the practices violated any laws. But after reviewing The Times’s findings, experts said the methods were among the worst that have been used since the housing crash.

    “I don’t think I could concoct a more predatory scheme if I tried,” said Roger Bertling, the senior instructor at Harvard Law School’s clinic on predatory lending and consumer protection. “This was modern-day indentured servitude.”

    Lenders developed their techniques in New York but spread them to Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere, transforming taxi industries across the United States.

    In interviews, lenders denied wrongdoing. They noted that regulators approved their practices, and said some borrowers made poor decisions and assumed too much debt. They said some drivers were happy to use climbing medallion values as collateral to take out cash, and that those who sold their medallions at the height of the market made money.

    The lenders said they believed medallion values would keep increasing, as they almost always had. No one, they said, could have predicted Uber and Lyft would emerge to undercut the business.

    “People love to blame banks for things that happen because they’re big bad banks,” said Robert Familant, the former head of Progressive Credit Union, a small nonprofit that specialized in medallion loans. “We didn’t do anything, in my opinion, other than try to help small businesspeople become successful.”

    Mr. Familant made about $30 million in salary and deferred payouts during the bubble, including $4.8 million in bonuses and incentives in 2014, the year it burst, according to disclosure forms.

    Meera Joshi, who joined the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2011 and became chairwoman in 2014, said it was not the city’s job to regulate lending. But she acknowledged that officials saw red flags and could have done something.

    “There were lots of players, and lots of people just watched it happen. So the T.L.C. watched it happen. The lenders watched it happen. The borrowers watched it happen as their investment went up, and it wasn’t until it started falling apart that people started taking action and pointing fingers,” said Ms. Joshi, who left the commission in March. “It was a party. Why stop it?”

    Every day, about 250,000 people hail a New York City yellow taxi. Most probably do not know they are participating in an unconventional economic system about as old as the Empire State Building.

    The city created taxi medallions in 1937. Unlicensed cabs crowded city streets, so officials designed about 12,000 specialized tin plates and made it illegal to operate a taxi without one bolted to the hood of the car. The city sold each medallion for $10.

    People who bought medallions could sell them, just like any other asset. The only restriction: Officials designated roughly half as “independent medallions” and eventually required that those always be owned by whoever was driving that cab.

    Over time, as yellow taxis became symbols of New York, a cutthroat industry grew around them. A few entrepreneurs obtained most of the nonindependent medallions and built fleets that controlled the market. They were family operations largely based in the industrial neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens.

    Allegations of corruption, racism and exploitation dogged the industry. Some fleet bosses were accused of cheating drivers. Some drivers refused to go outside Manhattan or pick up black and Latino passengers. Fleet drivers typically worked 60 hours a week, made less than minimum wage and received no benefits, according to city studies.

    Still, driving could serve as a path to the middle class. Drivers could save to buy an independent medallion, which would increase their earnings and give them an asset they could someday sell for a retirement nest egg.

    Those who borrowed money to buy a medallion typically had to submit a large down payment and repay within five to 10 years.

    The conservative lending strategy produced modest returns. The city did not release new medallions for almost 60 years, and values slowly climbed, hitting $100,000 in 1985 and $200,000 in 1997.

    “It was a safe and stable asset, and it provided a good life for those of us who were lucky enough to buy them,” said Guy Roberts, who began driving in 1979 and eventually bought medallions and formed a fleet. “Not an easy life, but a good life.”

    “And then,” he said, “everything changed.”

    – Before coming to America, Mohammed Hoque lived comfortably in Chittagong, a city on Bangladesh’s southern coast. He was a serious student and a gifted runner, despite a small and stocky frame. His father and grandfather were teachers; he said he surpassed them, becoming an education official with a master’s degree in management. He supervised dozens of schools and traveled on a government-issued motorcycle. In 2004, when he was 33, he married Fouzia Mahabub. -

    That same year, several of his friends signed up for the green card lottery, and their thirst for opportunity was contagious. He applied, and won.

    His wife had an uncle in Jamaica, Queens, so they went there. They found a studio apartment. Mr. Hoque wanted to work in education, but he did not speak enough English. A friend recommended the taxi industry.

    It was an increasingly common move for South Asian immigrants. In 2005, about 40 percent of New York cabbies were born in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, according to the United States Census Bureau. Over all, just 9 percent were born in the United States.

    Mr. Hoque and his wife emigrated from Bangladesh, and have rented the same apartment in Queens since 2005.

    Mr. Hoque joined Taxifleet Management, a large fleet run by the Weingartens, a Russian immigrant family whose patriarchs called themselves the “Three Wise Men.”

    He worked 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week. On a good day, he said, he brought home $100. He often felt lonely on the road, and he developed back pain from sitting all day and diabetes, medical records show.

    He could have worked fewer shifts. He also could have moved out of the studio. But he drove as much as feasible and spent as little as possible. He had heard the city would soon be auctioning off new medallions. He was saving to buy one.

    Andrew Murstein, left, with his father, Alvin.CreditChester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
    In the early 2000s, a new generation took power in New York’s cab industry. They were the sons of longtime industry leaders, and they had new ideas for making money.

    Few people represented the shift better than Andrew Murstein.

    Mr. Murstein was the grandson of a Polish immigrant who bought one of the first medallions, built one of the city’s biggest fleets and began informally lending to other buyers in the 1970s. Mr. Murstein attended business school and started his career at Bear Stearns and Salomon Brothers, the investment banks.

    When he joined the taxi business, he has said, he pushed his family to sell off many medallions and to establish a bank to focus on lending. Medallion Financial went public in 1996. Its motto was, “In niches, there are riches.”

    Dozens of industry veterans said Mr. Murstein and his father, Alvin, were among those who helped to move the industry to less conservative lending practices. The industry veterans said the Mursteins, as well as others, started saying medallion values would always rise and used that idea to focus on lending to lower-income drivers, which was riskier but more profitable.

    The strategy began to be used by the industry’s other major lenders — Progressive Credit Union, Melrose Credit Union and Lomto Credit Union, all family-run nonprofits that made essentially all their money from medallion loans, according to financial disclosures.

    “We didn’t want to be the one left behind,” said Monte Silberger, Lomto’s controller and then chief financial officer from 1999 to 2017.

    The lenders began accepting smaller down payments. By 2013, many medallion buyers were not handing over any down payment at all, according to an analysis of buyer applications submitted to the city.

    “It got to a point where we didn’t even check their income or credit score,” Mr. Silberger said. “It didn’t matter.”

    Lenders also encouraged existing borrowers to refinance and take out more money when medallion prices rose, according to interviews with dozens of borrowers and loan officers. There is no comprehensive data, but bank disclosures suggest that thousands of owners refinanced.

    Industry veterans said it became common for owners to refinance to buy a house or to put children through college. “You’d walk into the bank and walk out 30 minutes later with an extra $200,000,” said Lou Bakalar, a broker who arranged loans.

    Yvon Augustin has been living with help from his children ever since he declared bankruptcy and lost his taxi medallion.

    Some pointed to the refinancing to argue that irresponsible borrowers fueled the crisis. “Medallion owners were misusing it,” said Aleksey Medvedovskiy, a fleet owner who also worked as a broker. “They used it as an A.T.M.”

    As lenders loosened standards, they increased returns. Rather than raising interest rates, they made borrowers pay a mix of costs — origination fees, legal fees, financing fees, refinancing fees, filing fees, fees for paying too late and fees for paying too early, according to a Times review of more than 500 loans included in legal cases. Many lenders also made borrowers split their loan and pay a much higher rate on the second loan, documents show.

    Lenders also extended loan lengths. Instead of requiring repayment in five or 10 years, they developed deals that lasted as long as 50 years, locking in decades of interest payments. And some wrote interest-only loans that could continue forever.

    “We couldn’t figure out why the company was doing so many interest-only loans,” said Michelle Pirritano, a Medallion Financial loan analyst from 2007 to 2011. “It was a good revenue stream, but it didn’t really make sense as a loan. I mean, it wasn’t really a loan, because it wasn’t being repaid.”

    Almost every loan reviewed by The Times included a clause that spiked the interest rate to as high as 24 percent if it was not repaid in three years. Lenders included the clause — called a “balloon” — so that borrowers almost always had to extend the loan, possibly at a higher rate than in the original terms, and with additional fees.

    Yvon Augustin was caught in one of those loans. He bought a medallion in 2006, a decade after emigrating from Haiti. He said he paid $2,275 every month — more than half his income, he said — and thought he was paying off the loan. But last year, his bank used the balloon to demand that he repay everything. That is when he learned he had been paying only the interest, he said.

    Mr. Augustin, 69, declared bankruptcy and lost his medallion. He lives off assistance from his children.

    During the global financial crisis, Eugene Haber, a lawyer for the taxi industry, started getting calls from bankers he had never met.

    Mr. Haber had written a template for medallion loans in the 1970s. By 2008, his thick mustache had turned white, and he thought he knew everybody in the industry. Suddenly, new bankers began calling his suite in a Long Island office park. Capital One, Signature Bank, New York Commercial Bank and others wanted to issue medallion loans, he said.

    Some of the banks were looking for new borrowers after the housing market collapsed, Mr. Haber said. “They needed somewhere else to invest,” he said. He said he represented some banks at loan signings but eventually became embittered because he believed banks were knowingly lending to people who could not repay.

    Instead of lending directly, the big banks worked through powerful industry players. They enlisted large fleet owners and brokers — especially Neil Greenbaum, Richard Chipman, Savas Konstantinides, Roman Sapino and Basil Messados — to use the banks’ money to lend to medallion buyers. In return, the owners and brokers received a cut of the monthly payments and sometimes an additional fee.

    The fleet owners and brokers, who technically issued the loans, did not face the same scrutiny as banks.

    “They did loans that were frankly insane,” said Larry Fisher, who from 2003 to 2016 oversaw medallion lending at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry. “It contributed to the price increases and put a lot of pressure on the rest of us to keep up.”

    Evgeny Freidman, a fleet owner, has said he purposely overbid for taxi medallions in order to drive up their value.CreditSasha Maslov
    Still, Mr. Fisher said, Melrose followed lending rules. “A lot of people tend to blame others for their own misfortune,” he said. “If they want to blame the lender for the medallion going down the tubes the way it has, I think they’re misplaced.”

    Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner and the broker and lender who arranged Mr. Hoque’s loans, said every loan issued by his company abided by federal and state banking guidelines. “I am very sympathetic to the plight of immigrant families who are seeking a better life in this country and in this city,” said Mr. Konstantinides, who added that he was also an immigrant.

    Walter Rabin, who led Capital One’s medallion lending division between 2007 and 2012 and has led Signature Bank’s medallion lending division since, said he was one of the industry’s most conservative lenders. He said he could not speak for the brokers and fleet owners with whom he worked.

    Mr. Rabin and other Signature executives denied fault for the market collapse and blamed the city for allowing ride-hail companies to enter with little regulation. “It’s the City of New York that took the biggest advantage of the drivers,” said Joseph J. DePaolo, the president and chief executive of Signature. “It’s not the banks.”

    New York Commercial Bank said in a statement that it began issuing medallion loans before the housing crisis and that they were a very small part of its business. The bank did not engage in risky lending practices, a spokesman said.

    Mr. Messados said in an interview that he disagreed with interest-only loans and other one-sided terms. But he said he was caught between banks developing the loans and drivers clamoring for them. “They were insisting on this,” he said. “What are you supposed to do? Say, ‘I’m not doing the sale?’”

    Several lenders challenged the idea that borrowers were unsophisticated. They said that some got better deals by negotiating with multiple lenders at once.

    Mr. Greenbaum, Mr. Chipman and Mr. Sapino declined to comment, as did Capital One.

    Some fleet owners worked to manipulate prices. In the most prominent example, Evgeny Freidman, a brash Russian immigrant who owned so many medallions that some called him “The Taxi King,” said he purposefully overpaid for medallions sold at city auctions. He reasoned that the higher prices would become the industry standard, making the medallions he already owned worth more. Mr. Freidman, who was partners with Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, disclosed the plan in a 2012 speech at Yeshiva University. He recently pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud. He declined to comment.

    As medallion prices kept increasing, the industry became strained. Drivers had to work longer hours to make monthly payments. Eventually, loan records show, many drivers had to use almost all their income on payments.

    “The prices got to be ridiculous,” said Vincent Sapone, the retired manager of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners, an owner association. “When it got close to $1 million, nobody was going to pay that amount of money, unless they came from another country. Nobody from Brooklyn was going to pay that.”

    Some drivers have alleged in court that lenders tricked them into signing loans.

    Muhammad Ashraf, who is not fluent in English, said he thought he was getting a loan to purchase a car but ended up in debt to buy a taxi medallion instead.

    Muhammad Ashraf, a Pakistani immigrant, alleged that a broker, Heath Candero, duped him into a $780,000 interest-only loan. He said in an interview in Urdu that he could not speak English fluently and thought he was just signing a loan to buy a car. He said he found out about the loan when his bank sued him for not fully repaying. The bank eventually decided not to pursue a case against Mr. Ashraf. He also filed a lawsuit against Mr. Candero. That case was dismissed. A lawyer for Mr. Candero declined to comment.

    Abdur Rahim, a Bangladeshi immigrant, alleged that his lender, Bay Ridge Credit Union, inserted hidden fees. In an interview, he added he was told to lie on his loan application. The application, reviewed by The Times, said he made $128,389, but he said his tax return showed he made about $25,000. In court, Bay Ridge has denied there were hidden fees and said Mr. Rahim was “confusing the predatory-lending statute with a mere bad investment.” The credit union declined to comment.

    Several employees of lenders said they were pushed to write loans, encouraged by bonuses and perks such as tickets to sporting events and free trips to the Bahamas.

    They also said drivers almost never had lawyers at loan closings. Borrowers instead trusted their broker to represent them, even though, unbeknown to them, the broker was often getting paid by the bank.

    Stan Zurbin, who between 2009 and 2012 did consulting work for a lender that issued medallion loans, said that as prices rose, lenders in the industry increasingly lent to immigrants.

    “They didn’t have 750 credit scores, let’s just say,” he said. “A lot of them had just come into the country. A lot of them just had no idea what they were signing.”

    The $1 million medallion
    Video
    Mrs. Hoque did not want her husband to buy a medallion. She wanted to use their savings to buy a house. They had their first child in 2008, and they planned to have more. They needed to leave the studio apartment, and she thought a home would be a safer investment.

    But Mr. Hoque could not shake the idea, especially after several friends bought medallions at the city’s February 2014 auction.

    One friend introduced him to a man called “Big Savas.” It was Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner who also had a brokerage and a lending company, Mega Funding.

    The call came a few weeks later. A medallion owner had died, and the family was selling for $1 million.

    Mr. Hoque said he later learned the $50,000 he paid up front was just for taxes. Mega eventually requested twice that amount for fees and a down payment, records show. Mr. Hoque said he maxed out credit cards and borrowed from a dozen friends and relatives.

    Fees and interest would bring the total repayment to more than $1.7 million, documents show. It was split into two loans, both issued by Mega with New York Commercial Bank. The loans made him pay $5,000 a month — most of the $6,400 he could earn as a medallion owner.

    Mohammed Hoque’s Medallion Loans Consumed Most of His Taxi Revenue
    After paying his two medallion loans and business costs, Mr. Hoque had about $1,400 left over each month to pay the rent on his studio apartment in Queens and cover his living expenses.

    Estimated monthly revenue $11,845

    Gas $1,500

    Income after expenses $1,400

    Vehicle maintenance $1,300

    Medallion loan 1 $4,114

    Insurance $1,200

    Car loan $650

    Credit card fees $400

    Medallion loan 2 $881

    Other work-related expenses $400

    By the time the deal closed in July 2014, Mr. Hoque had heard of a new company called Uber. He wondered if it would hurt the business, but nobody seemed to be worried.

    As Mr. Hoque drove to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s downtown office for final approval of the purchase, he fantasized about becoming rich, buying a big house and bringing his siblings to America. After a commission official reviewed his application and loan records, he said he was ushered into the elegant “Taxi of Tomorrow” room. An official pointed a camera. Mr. Hoque smiled.

    “These are little cash cows running around the city spitting out money,” Mr. Murstein said, beaming in a navy suit and pink tie.

    He did not mention he was quietly leaving the business, a move that would benefit him when the market collapsed.

    By the time of the appearance, Medallion Financial had been cutting the number of medallion loans on its books for years, according to disclosures it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Murstein later said the company started exiting the business and focusing on other ventures before 2010.

    Mr. Murstein declined numerous interview requests. He also declined to answer some written questions, including why he promoted medallions while exiting the business. In emails and through a spokesman, he acknowledged that Medallion Financial reduced down payments but said it rarely issued interest-only loans or charged borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    “Many times, we did not match what our competitors were willing to do and in retrospect, thankfully, we lost the business,” he wrote to The Times.

    Interviews with three former staffers, and a Times review of loan documents that were filed as part of lawsuits brought by Medallion Financial against borrowers, indicate the company issued many interest-only loans and routinely included a provision allowing it to charge borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    Other lenders also left the taxi industry or took precautions long before the market collapsed.

    The credit unions specializing in the industry kept making new loans. But between 2010 and 2014, they sold the loans to other financial institutions more often than in the previous five years, disclosure forms show. Progressive Credit Union, run by Mr. Familant, sold loans off almost twice as often, the forms show. By 2012, that credit union was selling the majority of the loans it issued.

    In a statement, Mr. Familant said the selling of loans was a standard banking practice that did not indicate a lack of confidence in the market.

    Several banks used something called a confession of judgment. It was an obscure document in which the borrower admitted defaulting on the loan — even before taking out any money at all — and authorized the bank to do whatever it wanted to collect.

    Larry Fisher was the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry, from 2003 to 2016.
    Congress has banned that practice in consumer loans, but not in business loans, which is how lenders classified medallion deals. Many states have barred it in business loans, too, but New York is not among them.

    Even as some lenders quietly braced for the market to fall, prices kept rising, and profits kept growing.

    By 2014, many of the people who helped create the bubble had made millions of dollars and invested it elsewhere.

    Medallion Financial started focusing on lending to R.V. buyers and bought a professional lacrosse team and a Nascar team, painting the car to look like a taxi. Mr. Murstein and his father made more than $42 million between 2002 and 2014, disclosures show. In 2015, Ms. Minaj, the rap star, performed at his son’s bar mitzvah.

    The Melrose C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, had the highest base salary of any large state-chartered credit union leader in America in 2013 and 2015, records show. His medallion lending supervisor, Mr. Fisher, also made millions.

    It is harder to tell how much fleet owners and brokers made, but in recent years news articles have featured some of them with new boats and houses.

    Mr. Messados’s bank records, filed in a legal case, show that by 2013, he had more than $50 million in non-taxi assets, including three homes and a yacht.

    The bubble bursts

    At least eight drivers have committed suicide, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans.
    The medallion bubble burst in late 2014. Uber and Lyft may have hastened the crisis, but virtually all of the hundreds of industry veterans interviewed for this article, including many lenders, said inflated prices and risky lending practices would have caused a collapse even if ride-hailing had never been invented.

    At the market’s height, medallion buyers were typically earning about $5,000 a month and paying about $4,500 to their loans, according to an analysis by The Times of city data and loan documents. Many owners could make their payments only by refinancing when medallion values increased, which was unsustainable, some loan officers said.

    City data shows that since Uber entered New York in 2011, yellow cab revenue has decreased by about 10 percent per cab, a significant bite for low-earning drivers but a small drop compared with medallion values, which initially rose and then fell by 90 percent.

    As values fell, borrowers asked for breaks. But many lenders went the opposite direction. They decided to leave the business and called in their loans.

    They used the confessions to get hundreds of judgments that would allow them to take money from bank accounts, court records show. Some tried to get borrowers to give up homes or a relative’s assets. Others seized medallions and quickly resold them for profit, while still charging the original borrowers fees and extra interest. Several drivers have alleged in court that their lenders ordered them to buy life insurance.

    Many lenders hired a debt collector, Anthony Medina, to seize medallions from borrowers who missed payments.

    The scars left on cabs after medallions were removed.

    Mr. Medina left notes telling borrowers they had to give the lender “relief” to get their medallions back. The notes, which were reviewed by The Times, said the seizure was “authorized by vehicle apprehension unit.” Some drivers said Mr. Medina suggested he was a police officer and made them meet him at a park at night and pay $550 extra in cash.

    One man, Jean Demosthenes, a 64-year-old Haitian immigrant who could not speak English, said in an interview in Haitian Creole that Mr. Medina cornered him in Midtown, displayed a gun and took his car.

    In an interview, Mr. Medina denied threatening anyone with a gun. He said he requested cash because drivers who had defaulted could not be trusted to write good checks. He said he met drivers at parks and referred to himself as the vehicle apprehension unit because he wanted to hide his identity out of fear he could be targeted by borrowers.

    “You’re taking words from people that are deadbeats and delinquent people. Of course, they don’t want to see me,” he said. “I’m not the bad guy. I’m just the messenger from the bank.”

    Some lenders, especially Signature Bank, have let borrowers out of their loans for one-time payments of about $250,000. But to get that money, drivers have had to find new loans. Mr. Greenbaum, a fleet owner, has provided many of those loans, sometimes at interest rates of up to 15 percent, loan documents and interviews showed.

    New York Commercial Bank said in its statement it also had modified some loans.

    Other drivers lost everything. Most of the more than 950 owners who declared bankruptcy had to forfeit their medallions. Records indicate many were bought by hedge funds hoping for prices to rise. For now, cabs sit unused.

    Jean Demosthenes said his medallion was repossessed by a man with a gun. The man denied that he was armed.

    Bhairavi Desai, founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers and independent owners, has asked the city to bail out owners or refund auction purchasers. Others have urged the city to pressure banks to forgive loans or soften terms.

    After reviewing The Times’s findings, Deepak Gupta, a former top official at the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the New York Attorney General’s Office should investigate lenders.

    Mr. Gupta also said the state should close the loophole that let lenders classify medallion deals as business loans, even though borrowers had to guarantee them with everything they owned. Consumer loans have far more disclosure rules and protections.

    “These practices were indisputably predatory and would be illegal if they were considered consumer loans, rather than business loans,” he said.

    Last year, amid eight known suicides of drivers, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans, the city passed a temporary cap on ride-hailing cars, created a task force to study the industry and directed the city taxi commission to do its own analysis of the debt crisis.

    Earlier this year, the Council eliminated the committee overseeing the industry after its chairman, Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, said the Council was “controlled by the homosexual community.” The speaker, Mr. Johnson, said, “The vast majority of the legislative work that we have been looking at has already been completed.”

    In a statement, a council spokesman said the committee’s duties had been transferred to the Committee on Transportation. “The Council is working to do as much as it can legislatively to help all drivers,” the spokesman said.

    As of last week, no one had been appointed to the task force.

    On the last day of 2018, Mr. and Mrs. Hoque brought their third child home from the hospital.

    Mr. Hoque cleared space for the boy’s crib, pushing aside his plastic bags of T-shirts and the fan that cooled the studio. He looked around. He could not believe he was still living in the same room.

    His loan had quickly faltered. He could not make the payments and afford rent, and his medallion was seized. Records show he paid more than $12,000 to Mega, and he said he paid another $550 to Mr. Medina to get it back. He borrowed from friends, promising it would not happen again. Then it happened four more times, he said.

    Mr. Konstantinides, the broker, said in his statement that he met with Mr. Hoque many times and twice modified one of his loans in order to lower his monthly payments. He also said he gave Mr. Hoque extra time to make some payments.

    In all, between the initial fees, monthly payments and penalties after the seizures, Mr. Hoque had paid about $400,000 into the medallion by the beginning of this year.

    But he still owed $915,000 more, plus interest, and he did not know what to do. Bankruptcy would cost money, ruin his credit and remove his only income source. And it would mean a shameful end to years of hard work. He believed his only choice was to keep working and to keep paying.

    His cab was supposed to be his ticket to money and freedom, but instead it seemed like a prison cell. Every day, he got in before the sun rose and stayed until the sky began to darken. Mr. Hoque, now 48, tried not to think about home, about what he had given up and what he had dreamed about.

    “It’s an unhuman life,” he said. “I drive and drive and drive. But I don’t know what my destination is.”

    [Read Part 2 of The Times’s investigation: As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money]

    Reporting was contributed by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Suzanne Hillinger, Derek M. Norman, Elisha Brown, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Pierre-Antoine Louis and Sameen Amin. Doris Burke and Susan Beachy contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    Follow Brian M. Rosenthal on Twitter at @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Bij hoogleraar B. moesten de vrouwen hakken dragen

    Onderzoek machtsmisbruik en wangedrag Een hoogleraar werd een half jaar geleden gedwongen te vertrekken bij de UvA. Wat speelde er de afgelopen jaren bij de sectie arbeidsrecht? Zijn bijnaam was ‘Een acht voor een nacht’.

    https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2019/05/14/bij-hoogleraar-b-moesten-de-vrouwen-hakken-dragen-a3960238

    #harcèlement_sexuel #violences_sexuelles #université #Pays-Bas #Amsterdam #Université_d'Amsterdam #UvA #impunité #sexisme #Prof_B

    Avec ce commentaire reçu par email :

    NRC est le quotidien du soir (plutôt de droite) qui a fait une enquête. Le type a dû démissionner mais pas de procédure formelle.
    Il a fait un procès pour que le journal ne publie pas son nom et le juge lui a donné raison (la presse ici ne publie que les initiales dans les affaires juridiques). Ils ont mis le titre d’un de ses articles donc l’est facile à retrouver.

    Et aussi reçu par email :

    Everybody, and I mean absolutely everbody, must read it!!!!

    I knew that much was wrong at the UvA, but this goes beyond what even I could imagine. If you read this story, you can label as pure cynicism everything the CvB has said in recent years about the importance of diversity, and taking discrimination and abuse of power seriously. With this article, the hypocrisy of the whole system blows up in our face, including how the top-down hierarchy feeds abuse of power and contributes to a culture in which the powerful are always protected, regardless of their behavior.

    It is UvA’s Weinstein case, and we should all treat it as such.

    Our current CvB has done NOTHING in reaction to this case. They did not properly inform the academic community. WE STILL DON’T KNOW HOW MANY WOMEN WERE HARMED AND EXACTLY IN WHAT WAY! WE STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPEND TO THESE WOMEN AFTERWARDS. They did not demand further investigation into how it was possible that such things could happen for more than 15 years (see last quote).

    They reacted to the recent reports about abuse of power at Dutch universties by simply pointing to our “Vertrouwenspersonen”.

    They did not include anything about complaint procedures in the latest policy papers on diversity.

    The conclusion of this piece about the UvA can only be: Nobody who is abused, humiliated, discriminated against or sexually or otherwise harassed can count on the University of Amsterdam for any kind of protection.

    It is all so utterly ridiculous and depressing.

    Edgar du Perron, who was our hope in 2015, who had the trust of the whole academic community, also contributed to keeping these things under the carpet. Edgar du Perron. If he is part of a system of abuse, we need much more then committees and demonstrations to end it.

    What do people of colour have to endure, if this is normalized behavior towards white women?

    Here are some quotes from the piece that I have translated into English. Enjoy!

    "Women must wear high heels, have long and painted fingernails, B. thinks. To colleagues without make-up he says: “Are you sick?” or “Don’t be so boring. Or are you pregnant?”

    To female colleagues he has said:

    “You should do position 69 some time” (Dutch: “Je zou het eens op z’n Frans doen.”

    “I jerked off above you.”

    “Among students B. had the nickname ’An eight for a night’”

    “A number of colleagues receive porn images and films from him. It leads to unease and tense relationships with some female colleagues who don’t know what to do any more. A complaint about indesirable behaviour toward a male superior leads nowhere.”

    "A female colleague who reports that B. had groped beneath her clothes in her pubic area is not taken seriously by the executives among whom Verhulp. The university physician (bedrijfsarts) and the UvA head of HR are not impressed, either. “It’s your word against his”, they tell her."

    "There is a low willingness to file a complaint among other female colleagues. The fear of B. is simply too big. “I rather quit myself than file a complaint against him”, one of them says."

    “Even the knowledge that B. sends porn pictures to men and women does not incite the superiors who do know about it to take action. This is why they don’t discover that he also spreads audiovisual material of him in an aroused state. The individuals receiving the material sometimes suspect that they are not the only ones, but don’t talk about it. Fear and shame prevail, sometimes because they have fallen for his advances (in the past).”

    “His behavior at the UvA but also at conferences inside and outside the Netherlands leads to a continuous stream of rumors, reaching also the receptions (borrels) of the board of directors of the UvA. But only extremely rarely does anybody call B. to order, not even if somebody has complained. Regardless if the dean or the head of department is called Paul van der Heijden, Jit Peters or Edgar du Perron; no executive calls B. into his office to talk to him about his behavior. Let alone start an investigation.”

    “On wednesday, October 31, the UvA receives the final report. The conclusion: B. is guilty of transgressive behavior en because of him there was a unsafe working climate for a long time. But an army of lawyers of the UvA and of the external partners Boontje Advocaten don’t see the ultimate proof to fire B. immediately.”

    “The university and B. quickly agree that the name of the professor will not appear in the communication of the UvA about his departure. This causes a lot of irritation among many concerned persons. This irritation increases in the following months when it becomes clear that the university does not try to get in touch with former executives or other persons involved in order to learn from the past.”

    • Témoignage d’une enseignante-chercheuse à l’Université d’Amsterdam...
      Elle raconte son expérience. C’était 2013. Elle ne parle que maintenant.
      Et elle accuse l’institution, l’UvA de ne l’avoir pas mise en condition d’en parler, de dénoncer :

      So there’s been a lot of talk at my institution recently about harassment and the lack of response from the institution

      Le thread, que je copie-colle, on ne sait jamais :

      There is now much collective hand ringing, promises of more robust complaints procedures, and we are being urged to report incidents.
      They will be taken seriously. We are told.
      I have never spoken about what happened to me, I am embarrassed about it. Ashamed. It isn’t really that bad I tell myself. It is part of the job I tell myself. I should be able to handle it.
      This is what happened to me and why I am not convinced about the promises of my institution for change. This is my story. My story involves a student.
      It is the end of my first year on a tenure-track job. It is July 2013. We have moved countries and I am happy to finally have a permanent tenure-track job that pays enough to live.
      I am succeeding in academia.
      The only training I have ever received was at my previous UK university where we were always told to never close the door of your office.
      However people seem to do things differently here. There seems to be more of a culture that the students and faculty are equals. We are all adults and can you know sort stuff out. Have a coffee, a chat, reach a compromise.
      It is the end of my first year of my new job. My fourth year of supervising MA dissertations. This is not my first rodeo, I know what I am doing.
      I have one student who has struggled throughout. I have done more than I should. I have given him a question, an outline, a literature review. I have refined his project.
      I think this is what I am supposed to do, rather than say this student is not good enough I feel it is my responsibility to carry him over the line.
      Throughout the process the student has sought my attention for the smallest thing, sending email after email with irrelevant and often intimate information.
      I tell myself this is normal. How things are done here. People are open. They share. This is part of my pastoral role. My colleagues seem very involved with their students too.
      The student hands in his thesis. It is not good enough to pass. I am not surprised by this. The student has the chance to re-write over the summer.
      I invite the student to my office to explain that he has not passed and that he has the possibility to re-write. I am handing him a lifeline. I am saving him and his MA. I think.
      I carefully go through what he has to do to make the thesis passable.
      But I have to tell the student that he cannot have the same amount of input from me.
      The re-write is supposed to be unsupervised and anyway we are going on the first holiday we have had in three years. It is the summer.
      The student gets angry. He blames me. He says it is my fault. He says I haven’t supervised him properly.
      My immediate desire is to do what women are conditioned to do and to make myself small. Make the raised angry voice stop. To please.
      However my sense of professional respect kicks in and I try to calmly explain to the student what the role of a supervisor is.
      I tell him an MA thesis is an independent piece of work. That I have already done more than I should to get him this far.
      The student pushes back, getting angrier and angrier, growing larger and larger, redder and redder, sitting across my desk from me.
      I then say something that I have for years berated myself for saying although I also now know this is what I am conditioned to do, blame myself.
      To try and get my point across about the role of a supervisor I tell this student my job is not to be his mother.
      At this he leaps from his chair and starts screaming down at me that I am his mother. “You are my mother! That is your job! Your job is to be my mother!”
      Over and over again. “You are my mother! That is your job! Your job is to be my mother!”
      “You are my mother! That is your job! Your job is to be my mother!”
      He stands there bellowing down at me sat in my chair. 1.90m tall and 100kg. I ask him to leave.
      “If you are going to behave like this and shout at me I would ask you to leave” I manage to say.

      https://twitter.com/PollyWilkins/status/1134043467863265280?s=19

  • Un prix important pour l’écrivaine égyptienne Ahdaf Soueif, défenseure inlassable de la démocratie attribué par la fondation pour la culture européenne

    ECF Princess Margriet Award 2019 - European Cultural Foundation
    https://www.culturalfoundation.eu/pma-2019

    Ahdaf Soueif (1950) is a writer and cultural activist working in London and Cairo.

    In the last 20 years she has courageously merged literature and activism, building a body of fiction and committed journalism that responds to the legacies of European intervention in conflicts outside of the continent’s immediate territorial boundaries.

    The Palestine Festival of Literature (2008–present), of which she is founding chair, created a new form of international cultural cooperation.

    Soueif’’s consistent opposition to both authoritarianism and colonialism has marked her as a cultural figure of international importance inspiring new generations of critical voices throughout Europe and its neighbouring regions.

    Throughout her career, Soueif has been a tireless mediator between the supposed opposition of east and west, working to find common ground for a more democratic future.
    Visit Ahdaf Soueif’s website
    Follow Soueif on Twitter
    Visit the PalFest Website

  • Refugee, volunteer, prisoner: #Sarah_Mardini and Europe’s hardening line on migration

    Early last August, Sarah Mardini sat on a balcony on the Greek island of Lesvos. As the sun started to fade, a summer breeze rose off the Aegean Sea. She leaned back in her chair and relaxed, while the Turkish coastline, only 16 kilometres away, formed a silhouette behind her.

    Three years before, Mardini had arrived on this island from Syria – a dramatic journey that made international headlines. Now she was volunteering her time helping other refugees. She didn’t know it yet, but in a few weeks that work would land her in prison.

    Mardini had crossed the narrow stretch of water from Turkey in August 2015, landing on Lesvos after fleeing her home in Damascus to escape the Syrian civil war. On the way, she almost drowned when the engine of the inflatable dinghy she was travelling in broke down.

    More than 800,000 people followed a similar route from the Turkish coast to the Greek Islands that year. Almost 800 of them are now dead or missing.

    As the boat Mardini was in pitched and spun, she slipped overboard and struggled to hold it steady in the violent waves. Her sister, Yusra, three years younger, soon joined. Both girls were swimmers, and their act of heroism likely saved the 18 other people on board. They eventually made it to Germany and received asylum. Yusra went on to compete in the 2016 Olympics for the first ever Refugee Olympic Team. Sarah, held back from swimming by an injury, returned to Lesvos to help other refugees.

    On the balcony, Mardini, 23, was enjoying a rare moment of respite from long days spent working in the squalid Moria refugee camp. For the first time in a long time, she was looking forward to the future. After years spent between Lesvos and Berlin, she had decided to return to her university studies in Germany.

    But when she went to the airport to leave, shortly after The New Humanitarian visited her, Mardini was arrested. Along with several other volunteers from Emergency Response Centre International, or ERCI, the Greek non-profit where she volunteered, Mardini was charged with belonging to a criminal organisation, people smuggling, money laundering, and espionage.

    According to watchdog groups, the case against Mardini is not an isolated incident. Amnesty International says it is part of a broader trend of European governments taking a harder line on immigration and using anti-smuggling laws to de-legitimise humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants.

    Far-right Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini recently pushed through legislation that ends humanitarian protection for migrants and asylum seekers, while Italy and Greece have ramped up pressure on maritime search and rescue NGOs, forcing them to shutter operations. At the end of March, the EU ended naval patrols in the Mediterranean that had saved the lives of thousands of migrants.

    In 2016, five other international volunteers were arrested on Lesvos on similar charges to Mardini. They were eventually acquitted, but dozens of other cases across Europe fit a similar pattern: from Denmark to France, people have been arrested, charged, and sometimes successfully prosecuted under anti-smuggling regulations based on actions they took to assist migrants.

    Late last month, Salam Kamal-Aldeen, a Danish national who founded the rescue non-governmental organisation Team Humanity, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, challenging what he says is a Greek crackdown on lifesaving activities.

    According to Maria Serrano, senior campaigner on migration at Amnesty International, collectively the cases have done tremendous damage in terms of public perception of humanitarian work in Europe. “The atmosphere… is very hostile for anyone that is trying to help, and this [has a] chilling effect on other people that want to help,” she said.

    As for the case against Mardini and the other ERCI volunteers, Human Rights Watch concluded that the accusations are baseless. “It seems like a bad joke, and a scary one as well because of what the implications are for humanitarian activists and NGOs just trying to save people’s lives,” said Bill Van Esveld, who researched the case for HRW.

    While the Lesvos prosecutor could not be reached for comment, the Greek police said in a statement after Mardini’s arrest that she and other aid workers were “active in the systematic facilitation of illegal entrance of foreigners” – a violation of the country’s Migration Code.

    Mardini spent 108 days in pre-trial detention before being released on bail at the beginning of December. The case against her is still open. Her lawyer expects news on what will happen next in June or July. If convicted, Mardini could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

    “It seems like a bad joke, and a scary one as well because of what the implications are for humanitarian activists and NGOs just trying to save people’s lives.”

    Return to Lesvos

    The arrest and pending trial are the latest in a series of events, starting with the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, that have disrupted any sense of normalcy in Mardini’s life.

    Even after making it to Germany in 2015, Mardini never really settled in. She was 20 years old and in an unfamiliar city. The secure world she grew up in had been destroyed, and the future felt like a blank and confusing canvas. “I missed Syria and Damascus and just this warmness in everything,” she said.

    While wading through these emotions, Mardini received a Facebook message in 2016 from an ERCI volunteer. The swimming sisters from Syria who saved a boat full of refugees were an inspiration. Volunteers on Lesvos told their story to children on the island to give them hope for the future, the volunteer said, inviting Mardini to visit. “It totally touched my heart,” Mardini recalled. “Somebody saw me as a hope… and there is somebody asking for my help.”

    So Mardini flew back to Lesvos in August 2016. Just one year earlier she had nearly died trying to reach the island, before enduring a journey across the Balkans that involved hiding from police officers in forests, narrowly escaping being kidnapped, sneaking across tightly controlled borders, and spending a night in police custody in a barn. Now, all it took was a flight to retrace the route.

    Her first day on the island, Mardini was trained to help refugees disembark safely when their boats reached the shores. By nighttime, she was sitting on the beach watching for approaching vessels. It was past midnight, and the sea was calm. Lights from the Turkish coastline twinkled serenely across the water. After about half an hour, a walkie talkie crackled. The Greek Coast Guard had spotted a boat.

    Volunteers switched on the headlights of their cars, giving the refugees something to aim for. Thin lines of silver from the reflective strips on the refugees’ life jackets glinted in the darkness, and the rumble of a motor and chatter of voices drifted across the water. As the boat came into view, volunteers yelled: “You are in Greece. You are safe. Turn the engine off.”

    Mardini was in the water again, holding the boat steady, helping people disembark. When the rush of activity ended, a feeling of guilt washed over her. “I felt it was unfair that they were on a refugee boat and I’m a rescuer,” she said.

    But Mardini was hooked. She spent the next two weeks assisting with boat landings and teaching swimming lessons to the kids who idolised her and her sister. Even after returning to Germany, she couldn’t stop thinking about Lesvos. “I decided to come back for one month,” she said, “and I never left.”
    Moria camp

    The island became the centre of Mardini’s life. She put her studies at Bard College Berlin on hold to spend more time in Greece. “I found what I love,” she explained.

    Meanwhile, the situation on the Greek islands was changing. In 2017, just under 30,000 people crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece, compared to some 850,000 in 2015. There were fewer arrivals, but those who did come were spending more time in camps with dismal conditions.

    “You have people who are dying and living in a four-metre tent with seven relatives. They have limited access to water. Hygiene is zero. Privacy is zero. Security: zero. Children’s rights: zero. Human rights: zero… You feel useless. You feel very useless.”

    The volunteer response shifted accordingly, towards the camps, and when TNH visited Mardini she moved around the island with a sense of purpose and familiarity, joking with other volunteers and greeting refugees she knew from her work in the streets.

    Much of her time was spent as a translator for ERCI’s medical team in Moria. The camp, the main one on Lesvos, was built to accommodate around 3,000 people, but by 2018 housed close to 9,000. Streams of sewage ran between tents. People were forced to stand in line for hours for food. The wait to see a doctor could take months, and conditions were causing intense psychological strain. Self-harm and suicide attempts were increasing, especially among children, and sexual and gender-based violence were commonplace.

    Mardini was on the front lines. “What we do in Moria is fighting the fire,” she said. “You have people who are dying and living in a four-metre tent with seven relatives. They have limited access to water. Hygiene is zero. Privacy is zero. Security: zero. Children’s rights: zero. Human rights: zero… You feel useless. You feel very useless.”

    By then, Mardini had been on Lesvos almost continuously for nine months, and it was taking a toll. She seemed to be weighed down, slipping into long moments of silence. “I’m taking in. I’m taking in. I’m taking in. But it’s going to come out at some point,” she said.

    It was time for a break. Mardini had decided to return to Berlin at the end of the month to resume her studies and make an effort to invest in her life there. But she planned to remain connected to Lesvos. “I love this island… the sad thing is that it’s not nice for everybody. Others see it as just a jail.”
    Investigation and Arrest

    The airport on Lesvos is on the shoreline close to where Mardini helped with the boat landing her first night as a volunteer. On 21 August, when she went to check in for her flight to Berlin, she was surrounded by five Greek police officers. “They kind of circled around me, and they said that I should come with [them],” Mardini recalled.

    Mardini knew that the police on Lesvos had been investigating her and some of the other volunteers from ERCI, but at first she still didn’t realise what was happening. Seven months earlier, in February 2018, she was briefly detained with a volunteer named Sean Binder, a German national. They had been driving one of ERCI’s 4X4s when police stopped them, searched the vehicle, and found Greek military license plates hidden under the civilian plates.

    When Mardini was arrested at the airport, Binder turned himself in too, and the police released a statement saying they were investigating 30 people – six Greeks and 24 foreigners – for involvement in “organised migrant trafficking rings”. Two Greek nationals, including ERCI’s founder, were also arrested at the time.

    While it is still not clear what the plates were doing on the vehicle, according Van Esveld from HRW, “it does seem clear… neither Sarah or Sean had any idea that these plates were [there]”.

    The felony charges against Mardini and Binder were ultimately unconnected to the plates, and HRW’s Van Esveld said the police work appears to either have been appallingly shoddy or done in bad faith. HRW took the unusual step of commenting on the ongoing case because it appeared authorities were “literally just [taking] a humanitarian activity and labelling it as a crime”, he added.
    Detention

    After two weeks in a cell on Lesvos, Mardini was sent to a prison in Athens. On the ferry ride to the mainland, her hands were shackled. That’s when it sank in: “Ok, it’s official,” she thought. “They’re transferring me to jail.”

    In prison, Mardini was locked in a cell with eight other women from 8pm to 8am. During the day, she would go to Greek classes and art classes, drink coffee with other prisoners, and watch the news.

    She was able to make phone calls, and her mother, who was also granted asylum in Germany, came to visit a number of times. “The first time we saw each other we just broke down in tears,” Mardini recalled. It had been months since they’d seen each other, and now they could only speak for 20 minutes, separated by a plastic barrier.

    Most of the time, Mardini just read, finishing more than 40 books, including Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, which helped her come to terms with her situation. “I decided this is my life right now, and I need to get something out of it,” she explained. “I just accepted what’s going on.”

    People can be held in pre-trial detention for up to 18 months in Greece. But at the beginning of December, a judge accepted Mardini’s lawyer’s request for bail. Binder was released the same day.
    Lingering fear

    On Lesvos, where everyone in the volunteer community knows each other, the case came as a shock. “People started to be... scared,” said Claudia Drost, a 23-year-old from the Netherlands and close friend of Mardini’s who started volunteering on the island in 2016. “There was a feeling of fear that if the police… put [Mardini] in prison, they can put anyone in prison.”

    “We are standing [up] for what we are doing because we are saving people and we are helping people.”

    That feeling was heightened by the knowledge that humanitarians across Europe were being charged with crimes for helping refugees and migrants.

    During the height of the migration crisis in Europe, between the fall of 2015 and winter 2016, some 300 people were arrested in Denmark on charges related to helping refugees. In August 2016, French farmer Cédric Herrou was arrested for helping migrants and asylum seekers cross the French-Italian border. In October 2017, 12 people were charged with facilitating illegal migration in Belgium for letting asylum seekers stay in their homes and use their cellphones. And last June, the captain of a search and rescue boat belonging to the German NGO Mission Lifeline was arrested in Malta and charged with operating the vessel without proper registration or license.

    Drost said that after Mardini was released the fear faded a bit, but still lingers. There is also a sense of defiance. “We are standing [up] for what we are doing because we are saving people and we are helping people,” Drost said.

    As for Mardini, the charges have forced her to disengage from humanitarian work on Lesvos, at least until the case is over. She is back in Berlin and has started university again. “I think because I’m not in Lesvos anymore I’m just finding it very good to be here,” she said. “I’m kind of in a stable moment just to reflect about my life and what I want to do.”

    But she also knows the stability could very well be fleeting. With the prospect of more time in prison hanging over her, the future is still a blank canvas. People often ask if she is optimistic about the case. “No,” she said. “In the first place, they put me in… jail.”

    https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/feature/2019/05/02/refugee-volunteer-prisoner-sarah-mardini-and-europe-s-hardening-
    #criminalisation #délit_de_solidarité #asile #migrations #solidarité #réfugiés #Grèce #Lesbos #Moria #camps_de_réfugiés #Europe

    Avec une frise chronologique:

    ping @reka

  • #Elite gathering reveals anxiety over ‘class war’ and ‘#revolution’
    Financial Times 2 mai 2019

    The Milken Institute’s annual gathering of the investment, business and political elites this week featured big names from US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin to David Solomon, chief executive of Goldman Sachs.

    [..,]

    Despite widespread optimism about the outlook for the US economy and financial markets, some of the biggest names on Wall Street and in corporate America revealed their anxiety about the health of the economic model that made them millionaires and billionaires.

    Mr Milken himself, whose conference was known as the predators’ ball when he ruled over the booming junk bond market of the 1980s, was among those fretfully revisiting a debate that has not loomed so large since before the fall of the Berlin Wall: whether capitalism’s supremacy is threatened by creeping socialism.

    Mr Milken played a video of Thatcher from two years before she became UK prime minister. “Capitalism has a moral basis,” she declared, and “to be free, you have to be capitalist”. Applause rippled through the ballroom.

    In the run-up to the conference, essays by Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase about the case for reforming capitalism to sustain it have been widely shared. Executives are paying close attention to what one investment company CEO called “the shift left of the Democratic party”, personified by 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and the social media success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist elected to Congress last year.

    Former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt issued his own rallying cry as he sat beside Ivanka Trump to discuss the conference theme of “driving shared prosperity”.

    “I’m concerned with this notion that somehow socialism’s going to creep back in, because capitalism is the source of our collective wealth as a country,” Mr Schmidt said, urging his fellow capitalists to get the message out that “it’s working”.

    Mr Milken asked Ken Griffin, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Citadel, why young Americans seemed to have lost faith in the free market, flashing up a poll on the screen behind them which showed 44 per cent of millennials saying they would prefer to live in a socialist country.

    “You and I grew up in a different era, where the cold war was waking up and there was a great debate in America about the strengths and weaknesses of socialism as compared to the economic freedom that we enjoy in our country,” Mr Griffin replied, saying that they had “seen that question answered” with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The younger generation that support socialism are “people who don’t know history”, he said.

    Guggenheim Partners’ Alan Schwartz put the risks of rising income inequality more starkly. “You take the average person . . . they’re just basically saying something that used to be 50:50 is now 60:40; it’s not working for me,” he told another conference session, pointing to the gap between wage growth and the growth of corporate profits.

    “If you look at the rightwing and the leftwing, what’s really coming is class warfare,” he warned. “Throughout centuries what we’ve seen when the masses think the elites have too much, one of two things happens: legislation to redistribute the wealth . . . or revolution to redistribute poverty. Those are the two choices historically and debating it back and forth, saying ‘no, it’s capitalism; no, it’s socialism’ is what creates revolution.”

    There was less discussion of the prospect of higher taxes on America’s wealthiest, which some Democrats have proposed to finance an agenda many executives support, such as investing in education, infrastructure and retraining a workforce threatened by technological disruption and globalisation.

    One top investment company executive echoed the common view among the conference’s wealthy speakers: “ Punitive #redistribution won’t work.”

    But another financial services executive, who donated to Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign in 2016, told the Financial Times: “ I’d pay 5 per cent more in tax to make the world a slightly less scary place .”

    #capitalisme #anxiété #capitalistes

  • The Terrifying Potential of the 5G Network | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-communications/the-terrifying-potential-of-the-5g-network

    Two words explain the difference between our current wireless networks and 5G: speed and latency. 5G—if you believe the hype—is expected to be up to a hundred times faster. (A two-hour movie could be downloaded in less than four seconds.) That speed will reduce, and possibly eliminate, the delay—the latency—between instructing a computer to perform a command and its execution. This, again, if you believe the hype, will lead to a whole new Internet of Things, where everything from toasters to dog collars to dialysis pumps to running shoes will be connected. Remote robotic surgery will be routine, the military will develop hypersonic weapons, and autonomous vehicles will cruise safely along smart highways. The claims are extravagant, and the stakes are high. One estimate projects that 5G will pump twelve trillion dollars into the global economy by 2035, and add twenty-two million new jobs in the United States alone. This 5G world, we are told, will usher in a fourth industrial revolution.

    A totally connected world will also be especially susceptible to cyberattacks. Even before the introduction of 5G networks, hackers have breached the control center of a municipal dam system, stopped an Internet-connected car as it travelled down an interstate, and sabotaged home appliances. Ransomware, malware, crypto-jacking, identity theft, and data breaches have become so common that more Americans are afraid of cybercrime than they are of becoming a victim of violent crime. Adding more devices to the online universe is destined to create more opportunities for disruption. “5G is not just for refrigerators,” Spalding said. “It’s farm implements, it’s airplanes, it’s all kinds of different things that can actually kill people or that allow someone to reach into the network and direct those things to do what they want them to do. It’s a completely different threat that we’ve never experienced before.”

    Spalding’s solution, he told me, was to build the 5G network from scratch, incorporating cyber defenses into its design.

    There are very good reasons to keep a company that appears to be beholden to a government with a documented history of industrial cyber espionage, international data theft, and domestic spying out of global digital networks. But banning Huawei hardware will not secure those networks. Even in the absence of Huawei equipment, systems still may rely on software developed in China, and software can be reprogrammed remotely by malicious actors. And every device connected to the fifth-generation Internet will likely remain susceptible to hacking. According to James Baker, the former F.B.I. general counsel who runs the national-security program at the R Street Institute, “There’s a concern that those devices that are connected to the 5G network are not going to be very secure from a cyber perspective. That presents a huge vulnerability for the system, because those devices can be turned into bots, for example, and you can have a massive botnet that can be used to attack different parts of the network.”

    This past January, Tom Wheeler, who was the F.C.C. chairman during the Obama Administration, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times titled “If 5G Is So Important, Why Isn’t It Secure?” The Trump Administration had walked away from security efforts begun during Wheeler’s tenure at the F.C.C.; most notably, in recent negotiations over international standards, the U.S. eliminated a requirement that the technical specifications of 5G include cyber defense. “For the first time in history,” Wheeler wrote, “cybersecurity was being required as a forethought in the design of a new network standard—until the Trump F.C.C. repealed it.” The agency also rejected the notion that companies building and running American digital networks were responsible for overseeing their security. This might have been expected, but the current F.C.C. does not consider cybersecurity to be a part of its domain, either. “I certainly did when we were in office,” Wheeler told me. “But the Republicans who were on the commission at that point in time, and are still there, one being the chairman, opposed those activities as being overly regulatory.”

    Opening up new spectrum is crucial to achieving the super-fast speeds promised by 5G. Most American carriers are planning to migrate their services to a higher part of the spectrum, where the bands are big and broad and allow for colossal rivers of data to flow through them. (Some carriers are also working with lower-spectrum frequencies, where the speeds will not be as fast but likely more reliable.) Until recently, these high-frequency bands, which are called millimetre waves, were not available for Internet transmission, but advances in antenna technology have made it possible, at least in theory. In practice, millimetre waves are finicky: they can only travel short distances—about a thousand feet—and are impeded by walls, foliage, human bodies, and, apparently, rain.

    Deploying millions of wireless relays so close to one another and, therefore, to our bodies has elicited its own concerns. Two years ago, a hundred and eighty scientists and doctors from thirty-six countries appealed to the European Union for a moratorium on 5G adoption until the effects of the expected increase in low-level radiation were studied. In February, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, took both the F.C.C. and F.D.A. to task for pushing ahead with 5G without assessing its health risks. “We’re kind of flying blind here,” he concluded. A system built on millions of cell relays, antennas, and sensors also offers previously unthinkable surveillance potential. Telecom companies already sell location data to marketers, and law enforcement has used similar data to track protesters. 5G will catalogue exactly where someone has come from, where they are going, and what they are doing. “To give one made-up example,” Steve Bellovin, a computer-science professor at Columbia University, told the Wall Street Journal, “might a pollution sensor detect cigarette smoke or vaping, while a Bluetooth receiver picks up the identities of nearby phones? Insurance companies might be interested.” Paired with facial recognition and artificial intelligence, the data streams and location capabilities of 5G will make anonymity a historical artifact.

    To accommodate these limitations, 5G cellular relays will have to be installed inside buildings and on every city block, at least. Cell relays mounted on thirteen million utility poles, for example, will deliver 5G speeds to just over half of the American population, and cost around four hundred billion dollars to install. Rural communities will be out of luck—too many trees, too few people—despite the F.C.C.’s recently announced Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

    Deploying millions of wireless relays so close to one another and, therefore, to our bodies has elicited its own concerns. Two years ago, a hundred and eighty scientists and doctors from thirty-six countries appealed to the European Union for a moratorium on 5G adoption until the effects of the expected increase in low-level radiation were studied. In February, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, took both the F.C.C. and F.D.A. to task for pushing ahead with 5G without assessing its health risks. “We’re kind of flying blind here,” he concluded. A system built on millions of cell relays, antennas, and sensors also offers previously unthinkable surveillance potential. Telecom companies already sell location data to marketers, and law enforcement has used similar data to track protesters. 5G will catalogue exactly where someone has come from, where they are going, and what they are doing. “To give one made-up example,” Steve Bellovin, a computer-science professor at Columbia University, told the Wall Street Journal, “might a pollution sensor detect cigarette smoke or vaping, while a Bluetooth receiver picks up the identities of nearby phones? Insurance companies might be interested.” Paired with facial recognition and artificial intelligence, the data streams and location capabilities of 5G will make anonymity a historical artifact.

    #Surveillance #Santé #5G #Cybersécurité

  • Examples of Toxic Femininity in the Workplace | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/examples-of-toxic-femininity-in-the-workplace

    Sharon leads a meeting. She books the conference room for thirty minutes. Participants speak only when they have something relevant to say, so the meeting is over in twenty minutes. The room sits empty for ten minutes, giving a family of rats time to move in.

    Jessica begins speaking, and no one speaks over her. She didn’t actually have an ending to her presentation prepared, because she expected to be interrupted. She is mortified.

    Christine wears a skirt. No one stares at her legs. She worries that she no longer has good legs, so she blows three hundred dollars on an Equinox membership.

    Kathy sends a polite e-mail asking Mark for a report. Because the e-mail is calmly worded and lacking in profanity, Mark does not feel stressed, and he finishes the report and submits it without typos. Kathy does not have to edit it, so uses her free time to play with her hair, and her hair begins to fall out.

    Everyone pushes his or her chair in at the end of the day. The cleaning crew is flummoxed.

    Jane writes “do not eat” on her salad, and no one eats it. Then, because the salad remains in the fridge for too long, it goes bad, and an ant colony forms around it, destroying the fridge.

    Lisa comes in for an interview. All the interviewers judge her objectively, based on her qualifications and the candor of her responses. This leaves her so confused that, on the way out of the office, she accidentally walks into traffic and dies.

    Clara comes back from maternity leave and finds that she has not been replaced. Having planned on needing to fight for her job, she had started taking boxing classes. With no one to fight at work, she punches her bathroom wall instead and breaks her hand. The doctor gives her the wrong medication, and she dies.

    Paul takes a two-month paternity leave. He becomes a loving, caring father, and his son Baxter grows up unscarred by his parents. At the age of twenty-seven, Baxter begins performing standup comedy but realizes that he doesn’t have enough angst and fails at it.

    All the women who are qualified for promotions receive promotions. The company gives them all raises, runs out of money, and goes bankrupt.

  • Calling a coup a coup? Egypt’s African Union bid to make inroads in Sudan | MadaMasr
    https://madamasr.com/en/2019/04/22/feature/politics/calling-a-coup-a-coup-egypts-african-union-bid-to-make-inroads-in-sudan

    While the head of the transitional military council that has ruled Sudan since ousting former President Omar al-Bashir announced a “readiness” to hand over power to a civilian government last night, negotiations to usher in the transition to civilian rule in Sudan are at a “deadlock,” sources in the opposition tell Mada Masr.

    Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who sits atop the transitional council, took to television late on Sunday night to announce the military’s willingness to hand over the “reins of government” as early as tomorrow, provided that political forces reached a consensus among themselves and put forth a government they could agree upon.

    Burhan’s speech was roundly rejected by leading member of the opposition Freedom and Change Coalition Wagdi Salih, who spoke at a rally in front of the military headquarters shortly after the lieutenant general’s address, announcing that the opposition would suspend talks with the military council.

    “We were supposed to have a meeting with the military council yesterday to inform them of the choices for the civilian sovereign council, but the council, which is a continuation of the ruling regime, revealed its dark side. The council told us they want to discuss our proposal among another 100 proposals from political parties,” Salih told protesters.

    Sunday’s televised exchange played out against the backdrop of a flurry of meetings held on Saturday, when the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki met with the military and opposition in Khartoum.

  • ‘Siding with Big Pharma’ : Republicans warn CEOs not to cooperate with Democrats’ drug price probe – Alternet.org
    https://www.alternet.org/2019/04/siding-with-big-pharma-republicans-warn-ceos-not-to-cooperate-with-democra

    Jusqu’où iront les Républicains US en tordant les déclarations et en absolvant d’avance les Big Pharma. La bataille politique ne porte plus sur les projets, mais sur les détournements du langage. Ce ne sont plus les « petites phrases », mais les « extraits de phrases utilisés pour faire dire l’inverse ». Ce phénomène est grave. Il est un symptôme de la fin des Lumières... du mauvais côté (il y a des critiques à faire aux Lumières, mais pas celles portant sur le Tribunal de la raison et le développement d’une connaissance appuyées sur les faits).

    As Democrats on the House Oversight Committee attempt to investigate soaring drug prices in the U.S., Republicans are warning the CEOs of some of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies against cooperating with the probe.

    Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), leaders of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, sent letters (pdf) to a dozen drug company CEOs “warning that information they provide to the committee could be leaked to the public by Democratic chair Elijah Cummings in an effort to tank their stock prices,” Buzzfeed reported Monday.

    Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, launched his investigation in January with a request for “information and communications on price increases, investments in research and development, and corporate strategies to preserve market share and pricing power” from pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and others.

    In their letters to the same pharmaceutical companies, Jordan and Meadows suggested that Cummings is attempting to obtain information that “would likely harm the competitiveness of your company if disclosed publicly.”

    “While we cannot speculate about Chairman Cummings’s motives, we believe the committee should not pursue an investigation to ‘impact… stock prices with regard to drugs’—especially when there is bipartisan interest in real oversight of rising prescription drug prices,” the Republicans wrote in their letters, dated April 5.

    As Buzzfeed notes, Jordan and Meadows’ claims rest on an out-of-context quote from Cummings:

    The [Republicans’] letter quotes Cummings as saying of his drug team: “If you follow the headlines, we have already seen the impact they have had… on stock prices with regard to drugs. I mean, it has been astronomical.” The letter omits the rest of the sentence: “saving the taxpayers money.”

    In the edited quote, Cummings seems to be bragging about an “astronomical” impact on drug company stocks. In the context of his statements before and after, he seems to be saying the “astronomical” impact is on taxpayer savings, which justify giving his committee more resources. A minute later he says: “Whatever you all give us, we will give it back in savings by rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse.”

    In a statement to Buzzfeed, Cummings said Jordan—the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee—”is on the absolute wrong side here.”

    “He would rather protect drug company ‘stock prices’ than the interests of the American people,” Cummings added.

    Economist and University of California, Berkeley professor Robert Reich expressed agreement with Cummings, tweeting of the two Republicans, “Once again, they’re siding with Big Pharma at the expense of the American people.”

    #Big_pharma #Politique_USA #Langage

  • #CBP terminates controversial $297 million #Accenture contract amid continued staffing struggles

    #Customs_and_Border_Protection on Thursday ended its controversial $297 million hiring contract with Accenture, according to two senior DHS officials and an Accenture representative.
    As of December, when CBP terminated part of its contract, the company had only completed processing 58 applicants and only 22 had made it onto the payroll about a year after the company was hired.
    At the time, the 3,500 applicants that remained in the Accenture hiring pipeline were transferred to CBP’s own hiring center to complete the process.

    CBP cut ties with Accenture on processing applicants a few months ago, it retained some services, including marketing, advertising and applicant support.
    This week, the entire contract was terminated for “convenience,” government speak for agreeing to part ways without placing blame on Accenture.
    While government hiring is “slow and onerous, it’s also part of being in the government” and that’s “something we have to accept and deal with as we go forward,” said one of the officials.
    For its efforts, CBP paid Accenture around $19 million in start-up costs, and around $2 million for 58 people who got job offers, according to the officials.
    Over the last couple of months, CBP explored how to modify the contract, but ultimately decided to completely stop work and return any remaining funds to taxpayers.
    But it’s unclear how much money, if any, that will be.

    In addition, to the funds already paid to Accenture, CBP has around $39 million left to “settle and close the books” with the company, an amount which has yet to be determined.
    In November 2017, CBP awarded Accenture the contract to help meet the hiring demands of an executive order on border security that President Donald Trump signed during his first week in office. The administration directed CBP to hire an additional 7,500 agents and officers on top of its current hiring goals.
    “We were in a situation where we needed to try something new” and “break the cycle of going backwards,” said a DHS official about why the agency started the contract.

    Meanwhile, hiring remains difficult for the agency amid a surge of migrants at the southern border that is stretching CBP resources thin.
    It “continues to be a very challenging environment,” said one official about hiring efforts this year.

    In fact, one of the reasons that CBP didn’t need Accenture to process applicants, is because the agency didn’t receive as many applications as it initially planned for.
    The agency has been focused on beating attrition and has been able to recently “beat it by a modest amount,” said the official. “Ultimately we would like to beat it by a heck of a lot, but we’re not there yet.”

    https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/05/politics/cbp-terminate-hiring-contract-accenture/index.html
    #frontières #contrôles_frontaliers #USA #Ests-Unis #complexe_militaro-industriel #business

    • Border Profiteers

      On a recent sunny spring afternoon in Texas, a couple hundred Border Patrol agents, Homeland Security officials, and salespeople from a wide array of defense and security contractors gathered at the Bandera Gun Club about an hour northwest of San Antonio to eat barbecue and shoot each other’s guns. The techies wore flip-flops; the veterans wore combat boots. Everyone had a good time. They were letting loose, having spent the last forty-eight hours cooped up in suits and ties back at San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez convention center, mingling and schmoozing, hawking their wares, and listening to immigration officials rail about how those serving in enforcement agencies are not, under any circumstances, Nazis.

      These profiteers and bureaucrats of the immigration-industrial complex were fresh from the 2019 #Border_Security_Expo —essentially a trade show for state violence, where law enforcement officers and weapons manufacturers gather, per the Expo’s marketing materials, to “identify and address new and emerging border challenges and opportunities through technology, partnership, and innovation.” The previous two days of panels, speeches, and presentations had been informative, a major in the Argentine Special Forces told me at the gun range, but boring. He was glad to be outside, where handguns popped and automatic rifles spat around us. I emptied a pistol into a target while a man in a Three Percenter militia baseball hat told me that I was a “natural-born killer.” A drone buzzed overhead until, in a demonstration of a company’s new anti-drone technology, a device that looked like a rocket launcher and fired a sort of exploding net took it down. “This is music to me,” the Argentine major said.

      Perhaps it’s not surprising the Border Security Expo attendees were so eager to blow off steam. This year’s event found many of them in a defensive posture, given the waves of bad press they’d endured since President Trump’s inauguration, and especially since the disastrous implementation of his family separation policy, officially announced by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April of 2018, before being rescinded by Trump two-and-a-half months later. Throughout the Expo, in public events and in background roundtable conversations with reporters, officials from the various component parts of the Department of Homeland Security rolled out a series of carefully rehearsed talking points: Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) need more money, personnel, and technology; taking migrants to hospitals distracts CBP officers from their real mission; and the 1997 Flores court settlement, which prohibits immigration enforcement agencies from detaining migrant families with children for more than twenty days, is undermining the very sovereignty of the United States. “We want a secure border, we want an immigration system that has integrity,” Ronald Vitiello, then–acting head of ICE, said in a keynote address to the hundreds of people gathered in San Antonio. “We have a generous immigration system in this country, but it has to have integrity in order for us to continue to be so generous.”

      More of a technocrat than his thuggish predecessor Thomas Homan, Vitiello also spoke at length about using the “dark web” to take down smugglers and the importance of having the most up-to-date data-management technology. But he spoke most adamantly about needing “a fix” for the Flores settlement. “If you prosecute crimes and you give people consequences, you get less of it,” he said. “With Flores, there’s no consequence, and everybody knows that,” a senior ICE official echoed to reporters during a background conversation immediately following Vitiello’s keynote remarks. “That’s why you’re seeing so many family units. We cannot apply a consequence to a family unit, because we have to release them.”

      Meanwhile, around 550 miles to the west, in El Paso, hundreds of migrants, including children and families, were being held by CBP under a bridge, reportedly forced to sleep on the ground, with inadequate medical attention. “They treated us like we are animals,” one Honduran man told Texas Monthly. “I felt what they were trying to do was to hurt us psychologically, so we would understand that this is a lesson we were being taught, that we shouldn’t have crossed.” Less than a week after the holding pen beneath the bridge closed, Vitiello’s nomination to run ICE would be pulled amid a spate of firings across DHS; President Trump wanted to go “in a tougher direction.”

      Family Values

      On the second day of the Border Security Expo, in a speech over catered lunch, Scott Luck, deputy chief of Customs and Border Protection and a career Border Patrol agent, lamented that the influx of children and families at the border meant that resources were being diverted from traditional enforcement practices. “Every day, about 150 agents spend their shifts at hospitals and medical facilities with illegal aliens receiving treatment,” he said. “The annual salary cost for agents on hospital watch is more than $11.5 million. Budget analysts estimate that 13 percent of our operational budget—the budget that we use to buy equipment, to buy vehicles for our men and women—is now used for transportation, medical expenses, diapers, food, and other necessities to care for illegal aliens in Border Patrol custody.”

      As far as Luck was concerned, every dollar spent on food and diapers is one not spent on drones and weapons, and every hour an agent spends guarding a migrant in a hospital is an hour they don’t spend on the border. “It’s not what they signed up for. The mission they signed up for is to protect the United States border, to protect the communities in which they live and serve,” he told reporters after his speech. “The influx, the volume, the clutter that this creates is frustrating.” Vitiello applied an Orwellian inversion: “We’re not helping them as fast as we want to,” he said of migrant families apprehended at the border.

      Even when discussing the intimate needs of detained migrant families, the language border officials used to describe their remit throughout the Expo was explicitly militaristic: achieving “operational control,” Luck said, requires “impedance and denial” and “situational awareness.” He referred to technology as a “vital force multiplier.” He at least stopped short of endorsing the president’s framing that what is happening on the border constitutes an invasion, instead describing it as a “deluge.”

      According to the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, the U.S. immigrant population has continued to grow—although at a slower rate than it did before the 2007 recession, and undocumented people appear to make up a smaller proportion of the overall population. Regardless, in fiscal year 2018, both ICE and CBP stepped up their enforcement activities, arresting, apprehending, and deporting people at significantly higher rates than the previous year. More than three times as many family members were apprehended at the border last year than in 2017, the Pew Research Center reports, and in the first six months of FY 2019 alone there were 189,584 apprehensions of “family units”: more than half of all apprehensions at the border during that time, and more than the full-year total of apprehended families for any other year on record. While the overall numbers have not yet begun to approach those of the 1980s and 1990s, when apprehensions regularly exceeded one million per year, the demographics of who is arriving at the United States southern border are changing: fewer single men from Mexico and more children and families from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—in other words, an ever-wider range of desperate victims of drug gangs and American policies that have long supported corrupt regimes.

      This change has presented people like Luck with problems they insist are merely logistical: aging Border Patrol stations, he told us at the Expo, “are not luxurious in any way, and they were never intended to handle families and children.” The solution, according to Vitiello, is “continued capital investment” in those facilities, as well as the cars and trucks necessary to patrol the border region and transport those apprehended from CBP custody to ICE detention centers, the IT necessary to sift through vast amounts of data accumulated through untold surveillance methods, and all of “the systems by which we do our work.”

      Neither Vitiello nor Luck would consider whether those systems—wherein thousands of children, ostensibly under the federal government’s care, have been sexually abused and five, from December through May of this year, have died—ought to be questioned. Both laughed off calls from migrant justice organizers, activists, and politicians to abolish ICE. “The concept of the Department of Homeland Security—and ICE as an agency within it—was designed for us to learn the lessons from 9/11,” Vitiello said. “Those needs still exist in this society. We’re gonna do our part.” DHS officials have even considered holding migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, according to the New York Times, where a new $23 million “contingency mass migration complex” is being built. The complex, which is to be completed by the end of the year, will have a capacity of thirteen thousand.

      Violence is the Point

      The existence of ICE may be a consequence of 9/11, but the first sections of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border—originally to contain livestock—went up in 1909 through 1911. In 1945, in response to a shift in border crossings from Texas to California, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service recycled fencing wire and posts from internment camps in Crystal City, Texas, where more than a hundred thousand Japanese Americans had been imprisoned during World War II. “Although the INS could not erect a continuous line of fence along the border, they hoped that strategic placement of the fence would ‘compel persons seeking to enter the United States illegally to attempt to go around the ends of the fence,’” historian Kelly Lytle Hernández, quoting from government documents, writes in Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol. “What lay at the end of the fences and canals were desert lands and mountains extremely dangerous to cross without guidance or sufficient water. The fences, therefore, discouraged illegal immigration by exposing undocumented border crossers to the dangers of daytime dehydration and nighttime hypothermia.”

      Apprehension and deportation tactics continued to escalate in the years following World War II—including Operation Wetback, the infamous (and heavily propagandized) mass-deportation campaign of 1954—but the modern, militarized border era was greatly boosted by Bill Clinton. It was during Clinton’s first administration that Border Patrol released its “Strategic Plan: 1994 and Beyond,” which introduced the idea of “prevention through deterrence,” a theory of border policing that built on the logic of the original wall and hinges upon increasing the “cost” of migration “to the point that many will consider it futile to continue to attempt illegal entry.” With the Strategic Plan, the agency was requesting more money, officers, and equipment in order to “enhance national security and safeguard our immigration heritage.”

      The plan also noted that “a strong interior enforcement posture works well for border control,” and in 1996, amid a flurry of legislation targeting people of color and the poor, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which empowered the federal government to deport more people more quickly and made it nearly impossible for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status. “Before 1996, internal enforcement activities had not played a very significant role in immigration enforcement,” the sociologists Douglas Massey and Karen A. Pren wrote in 2012. “Afterward these activities rose to levels not seen since the deportation campaigns of the Great Depression.” With the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2002, immigration was further securitized and criminalized, paving the way for an explosion in border policing technology that has further aligned the state with the defense and security industry. And at least one of Border Patrol’s “key assumptions,” explicitly stated in the 1994 strategy document, has borne out: “Violence will increase as effects of strategy are felt.”

      What this phrasing obscures, however, is that violence is the border strategy. In practice, what “prevention through deterrence” has meant is forcing migrants to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in the desert, putting already vulnerable people at even greater risk. Closing urban points of entry, for example, or making asylum-seekers wait indefinitely in Mexico while their claims are processed, pushes migrants into remote areas where there is a higher likelihood they will suffer injury and death, as in the case of seven-year-old Jakil Caal Maquin, who died of dehydration and shock after being taken into CBP custody in December. (A spokesperson for CBP, in an email response, deflected questions about whether the agency considers children dying in its custody a deterrent.) Maquin is one of many thousands who have died attempting to cross into the United States: the most conservative estimate comes from CBP itself, which has recovered the remains of 7,505 people from its southwest border sectors between 1998 and 2018. This figure accounts for neither those who die on the Mexican side of the border, nor those whose bodies remain lost to the desert.

      Draconian immigration policing causes migrants to resort to smugglers and traffickers, creating the conditions for their exploitation by cartels and other violent actors and increasing the likelihood that they will be kidnapped, coerced, or extorted. As a result, some migrants have sought the safety of collective action in the form of the “caravan” or “exodus,” which has then led the U.S. media and immigration enforcement agencies to justify further militarization of the border. Indeed, in his keynote address at the Expo, Luck described “the emerging prevalence of large groups of one hundred people or more” as “troubling and especially dangerous.” Later, a sales representative for the gun manufacturer Glock very confidently explained to me that this was because agents of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, were embedded with the caravans.

      Branding the Border

      Unsurprisingly, caravans came up frequently at the Border Security Expo. (An ICE spokesperson would later decline to explain what specific threat they pose to national security, instead citing general statistics about the terrorist watchlist, “special interest aliens,” and “suspicious travel patterns.”) During his own keynote speech, Vitiello described how ICE, and specifically its subcomponent Homeland Security Investigations, had deployed surveillance and intelligence-gathering techniques to monitor the progress of caravans toward the border. “When these caravans have come, we’ve had trained, vetted individuals on the ground in those countries reporting in real time what they were seeing: who the organizers were, how they were being funded,” he said, before going on an astonishing tangent:

      That’s the kind of capability that also does amazing things to protecting brands, property rights, economic security. Think about it. If you start a company, introduce a product that’s innovative, there are people in the world who can take that, deconstruct it, and create their own version of it and sell it as yours. All the sweat that went into whatever that product was, to build your brand, they’ll take it away and slap it on some substandard product. It’s not good for consumers, it’s not good for public safety, and it’s certainly an economic drain on the country. That’s part of the mission.

      That the then–acting director of ICE, the germ-cell of fascism in the bourgeois American state, would admit that an important part of his agency’s mission is the protection of private property is a testament to the Trump administration’s commitment to saying the quiet part out loud.

      In fact, brands and private industry had pride of place at the Border Security Expo. A memorial ceremony for men and women of Border Patrol who have been killed in the line of duty was sponsored by Sava Solutions, an IT firm that has been awarded at least $482 million in federal contracts since 2008. Sava, whose president spent twenty-four years with the DEA and whose director of business development spent twenty with the FBI, was just one of the scores of firms in attendance at the Expo, each hoping to persuade the bureaucrats in charge of acquiring new gear for border security agencies that their drones, their facial recognition technology, their “smart” fences were the best of the bunch. Corporate sponsors included familiar names like Verizon and Motorola, and other less well-known ones, like Elbit Systems of America, a subsidiary of Israel’s largest private defense contractor, as well as a handful of IT firms with aggressive slogans like “Ever Vigilant” (CACI), “Securing the Future” (ManTech), and “Securing Your Tomorrow” (Unisys).

      The presence of these firms—and indeed the very existence of the Expo—underscores an important truth that anyone attempting to understand immigration politics must reckon with: border security is big business. The “homeland security and emergency management market,” driven by “increasing terrorist threats and biohazard attacks and occurrence of unpredictable natural disasters,” is projected to grow to more than $742 billion by 2023 from $557 billion in 2018, one financial analysis has found. In the coming decades, as more people are displaced by climate catastrophe and economic crises—estimates vary between 150 million and 1 billion by 2050—the industry dedicated to policing the vulnerable stands to profit enormously. By 2013, the United States was already spending more on federal immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, including the FBI and DEA; ICE’s budget has doubled since its inception in 2003, while CBP’s has nearly tripled. Between 1993 and 2018, the number of Border Patrol agents grew from 4,139 to 19,555. And year after year, Democrats and Republicans alike have been happy to fuel an ever more high-tech deportation machine. “Congress has given us a lot of money in technology,” Luck told reporters after his keynote speech. “They’ve given us over what we’ve asked for in technology!”

      “As all of this rhetoric around security has increased, so has the impetus to give them more weapons and more tools and more gadgets,” Jacinta Gonzalez, a senior campaign organizer with Mijente, a national network of migrant justice activists, told me. “That’s also where the profiteering comes in.” She continued: “Industries understand what’s good for business and adapt themselves to what they see is happening. If they see an administration coming into power that is pro-militarization, anti-immigrant, pro-police, anti-communities of color, then that’s going to shape where they put their money.”

      By way of example, Gonzalez pointed to Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who spent $1.25 million supporting Trump’s 2016 election campaign and followed that up last year by donating $1 million to the Club for Growth—a far-right libertarian organization founded by Heritage Foundation fellow and one-time Federal Reserve Board prospect Stephen Moore—as well as about $350,000 to the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups. ICE has awarded Palantir, the $20 billion surveillance firm founded by Thiel, several contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to manage its data streams—a partnership the agency considers “mission critical,” according to documents reviewed by The Intercept. Palantir, in turn, runs on Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing service provided by the world’s most valuable public company, which is itself a key contractor in managing the Department of Homeland Security’s $6.8 billion IT portfolio.

      Meanwhile, former DHS secretary John Kelly, who was Trump’s chief of staff when the administration enacted its “zero-tolerance” border policy, has joined the board of Caliburn International—parent organization of the only for-profit company operating shelters for migrant children. “Border enforcement and immigration policy,” Caliburn reported in an SEC filing last year, “is driving significant growth.” As Harsha Walia writes in Undoing Border Imperialism, “the state and capitalism are again in mutual alliance.”

      Triumph of the Techno-Nativists

      At one point during the Expo, between speeches, I stopped by a booth for Network Integrity Systems, a security firm that had set up a demonstration of its Sentinel™ Perimeter Intrusion Detection System. A sales representative stuck out his hand and introduced himself, eager to explain how his employer’s fiber optic motion sensors could be used at the border, or—he paused to correct himself—“any kind of perimeter.” He invited me to step inside the space that his coworkers had built, starting to say “cage” but then correcting himself, again, to say “small enclosure.” (It was literally a cage.) If I could get out, climbing over the fencing, without triggering the alarm, I would win a $500 Amazon gift card. I did not succeed.

      Overwhelmingly, the vendors in attendance at the Expo were there to promote this kind of technology: not concrete and steel, but motion sensors, high-powered cameras, and drones. Customs and Border Patrol’s chief operating officer John Sanders—whose biography on the CBP website describes him as a “seasoned entrepreneur and innovator” who has “served on the Board of Directors for several leading providers of contraband detection, geospatial intelligence, and data analytics solutions”—concluded his address by bestowing on CBP the highest compliment he could muster: declaring the agency comparable “to any start-up.” Rhetoric like Sanders’s, ubiquitous at the Expo, renders the border both bureaucratic and boring: a problem to be solved with some algorithmic mixture of brutality and Big Data. The future of border security, as shaped by the material interests that benefit from border securitization, is not a wall of the sort imagined by President Trump, but a “smart” wall.

      High-ranking Democrats—leaders in the second party of capital—and Republicans from the border region have championed this compromise. During the 2018-2019 government shutdown, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told reporters that Democrats would appropriate $5.7 billion for “border security,” so long as that did not include a wall of Trump’s description. “Walls are primitive. What we need to do is have border security,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said in January. He later expanded to CNN: “I’ve said that we ought to have a smart wall. I defined that as a wall using drones to make it too high to get over, using x-ray equipment to make it too wide to get around, and using scanners to go deep enough not to be able to tunnel under it. To me, that would be a smart thing to do.”

      Even the social democratic vision of Senator Bernie Sanders stops short at the border. “If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world,” he told Iowa voters in early April, “and I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point.” Over a week later, during a Fox News town hall with Pennsylvania voters, he recommitted: “We need border security. Of course we do. Who argues with that? That goes without saying.”

      To the extent that Trump’s rhetoric, his administration’s immigration policies, and the enforcement agencies’ practices have made the “border crisis” more visible than ever before, they’ve done so on terms that most Democrats and liberals fundamentally agree with: immigration must be controlled and policed; the border must be enforced. One need look no further than the high priest of sensible centrism, Thomas Friedman, whose major complaint about Trump’s immigration politics is that he is “wasting” the crisis—an allusion to Rahm Emanuel’s now-clichéd remark that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” (Frequently stripped of context, it is worth remembering that Emanuel made this comment in the throes of the 2008 financial meltdown, at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council, shortly following President Obama’s election.) “Regarding the border, the right place for Democrats to be is for a high wall with a big gate,” Friedman wrote in November of 2018. A few months later, a tour led by Border Patrol agents of the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego left Friedman “more certain than ever that we have a real immigration crisis and that the solution is a high wall with a big gate—but a smart gate.”

      As reasonable as this might sound to anxious New York Times readers looking for what passes as humanitarian thinking in James Bennet’s opinion pages, the horror of Friedman’s logic eventually reveals itself when he considers who might pass through the big, smart gate in the high, high wall: “those who deserve asylum” and “a steady flow of legal, high-energy, and high-I.Q. immigrants.” Friedman’s tortured hypothetical shows us who he considers to be acceptable subjects of deportation and deprivation: the poor, the lazy, and the stupid. This is corporate-sponsored, state-sanctioned eugenics: the nativism of technocrats.

      The vision of a hermetically sealed border being sold, in different ways, by Trump and his allies, by Democrats, and by the Border Security Expo is in reality a selectively permeable one that strictly regulates the movement of migrant labor while allowing for the unimpeded flow of capital. Immigrants in the United States, regardless of their legal status, are caught between two factions of the capitalist class, each of which seek their immiseration: the citrus farmers, construction firms, and meat packing plants that benefit from an underclass of unorganized and impoverished workers, and the defense and security firms that keep them in a state of constant criminality and deportability.

      You could even argue that nobody in a position of power really wants a literal wall. Even before taking office, Trump himself knew he could only go so far. “We’re going to do a wall,” he said on the campaign trail in 2015. However: “We’re going to have a big, fat beautiful door on the wall.” In January 2019, speaking to the American Farm Bureau Association, Trump acknowledged the necessity of a mechanism allowing seasonal farmworkers from Mexico to cross the border, actually promising to loosen regulations on employers who rely on temporary migrant labor. “It’s going to be easier for them to get in than what they have to go through now,” he said, “I know a lot about the farming world.”

      At bottom, there is little material difference between this and what Friedman imagines to be the smarter, more humane approach. While establishment liberals would no doubt prefer that immigration enforcement be undertaken quietly, quickly, and efficiently, they have no categorical objection to the idea that noncitizens should enjoy fewer rights than citizens or be subject to different standards of due process (standards that are already applied in deeply inequitable fashion).

      As the smorgasbord of technologies and services so garishly on display at the Border Security Expo attests, maintaining the contradiction between citizens and noncitizens (or between the imperial core and the colonized periphery) requires an ever-expanding security apparatus, which itself becomes a source of ever-expanding profit. The border, shaped by centuries of bourgeois interests and the genocidal machinations of the settler-colonial nation-state, constantly generates fresh crises on which the immigration-industrial complex feeds. In other words, there is not a crisis at the border; the border is the crisis.

      CBP has recently allowed Anduril, a start-up founded by one of Peter Thiel’s mentees, Palmer Luckey, to begin testing its artificial intelligence-powered surveillance towers and drones in Texas and California. Sam Ecker, an Anduril engineer, expounded on the benefits of such technology at the Expo. “A tower doesn’t get tired. It doesn’t care about being in the middle of the desert or a river around the clock,” he told me. “We just let the computers do what they do best.”

      https://thebaffler.com/outbursts/border-profiteers-oconnor

  • The Challenge of Going Off Psychiatric Drugs | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/08/the-challenge-of-going-off-psychiatric-drugs

    Laura had always assumed that depression was caused by a precisely defined chemical imbalance, which her medications were designed to recalibrate. She began reading about the history of psychiatry and realized that this theory, promoted heavily by pharmaceutical companies, is not clearly supported by evidence. Genetics plays a role in mental disorder, as do environmental influences, but the drugs do not have the specificity to target the causes of an illness. Wayne Goodman, a former chair of the F.D.A.’s Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee, has called the idea that pills fix chemical imbalances a “useful metaphor” that he would never use with his patients. Ronald Pies, a former editor of Psychiatric Times, has said, “My impression is that most psychiatrists who use this expression”—that the pills fix chemical imbalances—“feel uncomfortable and a little embarrassed when they do so. It’s kind of a bumper-sticker phrase that saves time.”

    Dorian Deshauer, a psychiatrist and historian at the University of Toronto, has written that the chemical-imbalance theory, popularized in the eighties and nineties, “created the perception that the long term, even life-long use of psychiatric drugs made sense as a logical step.” But psychiatric drugs are brought to market in clinical trials that typically last less than twelve weeks. Few studies follow patients who take the medications for more than a year. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke, who chaired the task force for the fourth edition of the DSM, in 1994, told me that the field has neglected questions about how to take patients off drugs—a practice known as “de-prescribing.” He said that “de-prescribing requires a great deal more skill, time, commitment, and knowledge of the patient than prescribing does.” He emphasizes what he called a “cruel paradox: there’s a large population on the severe end of the spectrum who really need the medicine” and either don’t have access to treatment or avoid it because it is stigmatized in their community. At the same time, many others are “being overprescribed and then stay on the medications for years.” There are almost no studies on how or when to go off psychiatric medications, a situation that has created what he calls a “national public-health experiment.”

    Roland Kuhn, a Swiss psychiatrist credited with discovering one of the first antidepressants, imipramine, in 1956, later warned that many doctors would be incapable of using antidepressants properly, “because they largely or entirely neglect the patient’s own experiences.” The drugs could only work, he wrote, if a doctor is “fully aware of the fact that he is not dealing with a self-contained, rigid object, but with an individual who is involved in constant movement and change.”

    A decade after the invention of antidepressants, randomized clinical studies emerged as the most trusted form of medical knowledge, supplanting the authority of individual case studies. By necessity, clinical studies cannot capture fluctuations in mood that may be meaningful to the patient but do not fit into the study’s categories. This methodology has led to a far more reliable body of evidence, but it also subtly changed our conception of mental health, which has become synonymous with the absence of symptoms, rather than with a return to a patient’s baseline of functioning, her mood or personality before and between episodes of illness.

    Antidepressants are now taken by roughly one in eight adults and adolescents in the U.S., and a quarter of them have been doing so for more than ten years. Industry money often determines the questions posed by pharmacological studies, and research about stopping drugs has never been a priority.

    Barbiturates, a class of sedatives that helped hundreds of thousands of people to feel calmer, were among the first popular psychiatric drugs. Although leading medical journals asserted that barbiturate addiction was rare, within a few years it was evident that people withdrawing from barbiturates could become more anxious than they were before they began taking the drugs. (They could also hallucinate, have convulsions, and even die.)

    Valium and other benzodiazepines were introduced in the early sixties, as a safer option. By the seventies, one in ten Americans was taking Valium. The chief of clinical pharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital declared, in 1976, “I have never seen a case of benzodiazepine dependence” and described it as “an astonishingly unusual event.” Later, though, the F.D.A. acknowledged that people can become dependent on benzodiazepines, experiencing intense agitation when they stop taking them.

    In the fifth edition of the DSM, published in 2013, the editors added an entry for “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome”—a condition also mentioned on drug labels—but the description is vague and speculative, noting that “longitudinal studies are lacking” and that little is known about the course of the syndrome. “Symptoms appear to abate over time,” the manual explains, while noting that “some individuals may prefer to resume medication indefinitely.”

    Audrey Bahrick, a psychologist at the University of Iowa Counseling Service, who has published papers on the way that S.S.R.I.s affect sexuality, told me that, a decade ago, after someone close to her lost sexual function on S.S.R.I.s, “I became pretty obsessive about researching the issue, but the actual qualitative experience of patients was never documented. There was this assumption that the symptoms would resolve once you stop the medication. I just kept thinking, Where is the data? Where is the data?” In her role as a counsellor, Bahrick sees hundreds of college students each year, many of whom have been taking S.S.R.I.s since adolescence. She told me, “I seem to have the expectation that young people would be quite distressed about the sexual side effects, but my observation clinically is that these young people don’t yet know what sexuality really means, or why it is such a driving force.”

    #Psychiatrie #Big_Pharma #Addiction #Anti_depresseurs #Valium

    • Le problème, c’est que les psychiatres ont surtout le temps pour prescrire, pas pour creuser. Et que le temps de guérison entre frontalement en conflit avec le temps de productivité.

      Le temps de guérir est un luxe pour les gens bien entourés et avec assez de moyens financiers.

      Et il manque toujours la question de base : qu’est-ce qui déclenche ses réponses psychiques violentes ?

      J’aurais tendance à dire : un mode de vie #normatif et étroit qui force certaines personnes à adopter un mode de vie particulièrement éloigné de ce qu’elles sont, de ce qu’elles veulent. Notre société est terriblement irrespectueuse et violente pour tous ceux qui ne se conforme nt pas au #modèle unique de la personne sociale, dynamique et surtout, bien productive !

      #dépression

  • #Bauhaus: 100 years old but still ubiquitous in our homes today | Life and style | The Guardian
    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/mar/30/bauhaus-our-go-to-way-of-living-today

    Spending a night at the hallowed Bauhaus school in Dessau, in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, was my teenage dream come true. The walls of my childhood bedroom were plastered not with posters of pop stars, but with the furniture manufacturer Vitra’s wall chart of iconic 20th-century chairs. As a design geek, growing up in a house bedecked with Laura Ashley, I found the idea of the Bauhaus thrilling: each chair was a mini manifesto, embodying the world of stripped-back modern design that I might one day inhabit (I’m still waiting).