position:spokesman

  • Revolt of the gig workers: How delivery rage reached a tipping point - SFChronicle.com
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Revolt-of-the-gig-workers-How-delivery-rage-13605726.php

    Gig workers are fighting back.

    By their name, you might think independent contractors are a motley crew — geographically scattered, with erratic paychecks and tattered safety nets. They report to faceless software subroutines rather than human bosses. Most gig workers toil alone as they ferry passengers, deliver food and perform errands.

    But in recent weeks, some of these app-wielding workers have joined forces to effect changes by the multibillion-dollar companies and powerful algorithms that control their working conditions.

    Last week, Instacart shoppers wrung payment concessions from the grocery delivery company, which had been using customer tips to subsidize what it paid them. After outcries by workers on social media, in news reports and through online petitions, San Francisco’s Instacart said it had been “misguided.” It now adds tips on top of its base pay — as most customers and shoppers thought they should be — and will retroactively compensate workers who were stiffed on tips.

    New York this year became the first U.S. city to implement a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft, which now must pay drivers at least $17.22 an hour after expenses ($26.51 before expenses). Lyft, which sued over the requirement, last week gave in to driver pressure to implement it.

    For two years, drivers held rallies, released research, sent thousands of letters and calls to city officials, and gathered 16,000 petition signature among themselves. The Independent Drivers Guild, a union-affiliated group that represents New York ride-hail drivers and spearheaded the campaign, predicted per-driver pay boosts of up to $9,600 a year.

    That follows some other hard-fought worker crusades, such as when they persuaded Uber to finally add tipping to its app in 2017, a move triggered by several phenomena: a string of corporate scandals, the fact that rival Lyft had offered tipping from the get-go, and a class-action lawsuit seeking employment status for workers.

    “We’ll probably start to see more gig workers organizing as they realize that enough negative publicity for the companies can make something change,” said Alexandrea Ravenelle, an assistant sociology professor at New York’s Mercy College and author of “Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy.” “But companies will keep trying to push the envelope to pay workers as little as possible.”

    The current political climate, with tech giants such as Facebook and Google on hot seats over privacy, abuse of customer data and other issues, has helped the workers’ quests.

    “We’re at a moment of reckoning for tech companies,” said Alex Rosenblat, a technology ethnographer at New York’s Data & Society Research Institute and author of “Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work.” “There’s a techlash, a broader understanding that tech companies have to be held accountable as political institutions rather than neutral forces for good.”

    The climate also includes more consumer awareness of labor issues in the on-demand economy. “People are realizing that you don’t just jump in an Uber and don’t have to think about who’s driving you and what they make,” Ravenelle said. “There’s a lot more attention to gig workers’ plight.”

    Instacart customers were dismayed to discover that their tips were not going to workers on top of their pay as a reward for good service.

    Sage Wilson, a spokesman for Working Washington, a labor-backed group that helped with the Instacart shoppers’ campaign, said many more gig workers have emerged with stories of similar experiences on other apps.

    “Pay transparency really seems to be an issue across many of these platforms,” he said. “I almost wonder if it’s part of the reason why these companies are building black box algorithmic pay models in the first place (so) you might not even know right away if you got a pay cut until you start seeing the weekly totals trending down.”

    Cases in point: DoorDash and Amazon also rifle the tip jar to subsidize contractors’ base pay, as Instacart did. DoorDash defended this, saying its pay model “provides transparency, consistency, and predictability” and has increased both satisfaction and retention of its “Dashers.”

    But Kristen Anderson of Concord, a social worker who works part-time for DoorDash to help with student loans, said that was not her experience. Her pay dropped dramatically after DoorDash started appropriating tips in 2017, she said. “Originally it was worth my time and now it’s not,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”

    Debi LaBell of San Carlos, who does weekend work for Instacart on top of a full-time job, has organized with others online over the tips issue.

    “This has been a maddening, frustrating and, at times, incredibly disheartening experience,” said Debi LaBell of San Carlos, who does weekend work for Instacart on top of a full-time job. “When I first started doing Instacart, I loved getting in my car to head to my first shop. These past few months, it has taken everything that I have to get motivated enough to do my shift.”

    Before each shopping trip, she hand-wrote notes to all her customers explaining the tips issue. She and other shoppers congregated online both to vent and to organize.

    Her hope now is that Instacart will invite shoppers like her to hear their experiences and ideas.

    There’s poetic justice in the fact that the same internet that allows gig companies to create widely dispersed marketplaces provided gig workers space to find solidarity with one another.

    “It’s like the internet taketh and giveth,” said Eric Lloyd, an attorney at the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which represents management, including some gig companies he wouldn’t name, in labor cases. “The internet gave rise to this whole new economy, giving businesses a way to build really innovative models, and it’s given workers new ways to advance their rights.”

    For California gig workers, even more changes are on the horizon in the wake of a ground-breaking California Supreme Court decision last April that redefined when to classify workers as employees versus independent contractors.

    Gig companies, labor leaders and lawmakers are holding meetings in Sacramento to thrash out legislative responses to the Dynamex decision. Options could range from more workers getting employment status to gig companies offering flexible benefits. Whatever happens, it’s sure to upend the status quo.

    Rather than piecemeal enforcement through litigation, arbitration and various government agencies such as unemployment agencies, it makes sense to come up with overall standards, Rosenblat said.

    “There’s a big need for comprehensive standards with an understanding of all the trade-offs,” she said. “We’re at a tipping point for change.”

    Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid

    #USA #Kalifornien #Gig-Economy #Ausbeutung

  • Connecticut legislators to consider minimum pay for Uber and Lyft drivers - Connecticut Post
    https://www.ctpost.com/politics/article/Connecticut-legislators-to-consider-minimum-pay-13608071.php

    By Emilie Munson, February 11, 2019 - Prompted by growing numbers of frustrated Uber and Lyft drivers, lawmakers will hold a hearing on establishing minimum pay for app-based drivers.

    After three separate legislative proposals regarding pay for drivers flooded the Labor and Public Employees Committee, the committee will raise the concept of driver earnings as a bill, said state Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who chairs the committee, on Friday night.

    A coalition of Uber and Lyft drivers from New Haven has been pressuring lawmakers to pass a pay standard, following New York City’s landmark minimum pay ordinance for app-based drivers approved in December. The legislation, which set an earnings floor of $17.22 an hour for the independent contractors, took effect on Feb. 1.

    Connecticut drivers have no minimum pay guarantees.

    Guillermo Estrella, who drives for Uber, worked about 60 hours per week last year and received $25,422.65 in gross pay. His pay stub doesn’t reflect how much Estrella paid for insurance, gas, oil changes and wear-and-tear on his car. Factor those expenses in, and the Branford resident said his yearly take-home earnings were about $18,000 last year.

    Estrella and other New Haven drivers have suggested bill language to cap the portion of riders’ fares that Uber and Lyft can take at 25 percent, with the remaining 75 percent heading to drivers’ pockets. The idea has already received pushback from Uber, which said it was unrealistic given their current pay structure.

    Connecticut legislators have suggested two other models for regulating driver pay. State Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, filed a bill to set a minimum pay rate per mile and per minute for drivers. His bill has not assigned numbers to those minimums yet.

    “What (drivers) were making when Uber started and got its name, they are not making that anymore,” said Cassano. “The company is taking advantage of the success of the company. I understand that to a point, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the drivers.”

    State Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, proposed legislation that says if drivers’ earnings do not amount to hourly minimum wage payments, Uber or Lyft should have to kick in the difference. Connecticut’s minimum wage is now $10.10, although Democrats are making a strong push this year to raise it.

    As lawmakers consider these proposals, they will confront issues raised by the growing “gig economy”: a clash between companies seeking thousands of flexible, independent contractors and a workforce that wants the benefits and rights of traditional, paid employment.

    Some Democrats at the Capitol support the changes that favor drivers.

    “I thought it was important to make sure our labor laws are keeping up with the changes we are seeing in this emerging gig economy, that we have sufficient safeguards to make sure that drivers are not being exploited,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown.

    But the proposals also raise broad, difficult questions like what protections does a large independent contractor workforce need? And how would constraining the business model of Uber and Lyft impact service availability around the state?

    Sen. Craig Miner, a Republican of Litchfield who sits on the Labor committee, wondered why Uber and Lyft drivers should have guaranteed pay, when other independent contractors do not. How would this impact the tax benefits realized by independent contractors, he asked.

    Uber and Lyft declined to provide data on how many drivers they have in the state, and the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles does not keep count. In Connecticut, 82 percent of Lyft drivers drive fewer than 20 hours per week, said Kaelan Richards, a Lyft spokesperson.

    Last week, Hearst Connecticut Media spoke to 20 Uber and Lyft drivers in New Haven who are demanding lawmakers protect their pay. All drove full-time for Uber or Lyft or both.

    An immigrant from Ecuador, Estrella, the Branford driver, struggles to pay for rent and groceries for his pregnant wife and seven-year-old son using his Uber wages.

    “A cup of coffee at the local Starbucks cost $3 or $4,” said Estrella. “How can a trip can cost $3 when you have to drive to them five minutes away and drop them off after seven or eight minutes?”

    In December, 50 Uber and Lyft drivers held a strike in New Haven demanding better pay. The New Haven drivers last week said they are planning more strikes soon.

    “Why is Uber lowering the rates and why do we have to say yes to keep working?” asked Carlos Gomez, a Guilford Uber driver, last week.

    The drivers believe Uber and Lyft are decreasing driver pay and taking a larger chunk of rider fares for company profits. Many New Haven drivers said pay per mile has been decreasing. They liked Sen. Cassano’s idea of setting minimum pay per mile and per minute.

    “The payment by mile, it went down by 10 cents,” said Rosanna Olan, a driver from West Haven. “Before it was more than one dollar and now when you have a big truck SUV, working long distance especially is not worth it anymore.”

    Uber and Lyft both declined to provide pay rates per mile and per minute for drivers. Drivers are not paid for time spent driving to pick up a passenger, nor for time spent idling waiting for a ride, although the companies’ model depends on having drivers ready to pick up passengers at any moment.

    Lyft said nationally drivers earn an average of $18.83 an hour, but did not provide Connecticut specific earnings.

    “Our goal has always been to empower drivers to get the most out of Lyft, and we look forward to continBy Emilie Munson Updated 4:49 pm EST, Monday, February 11, 2019uing to do so in Connecticut, and across the country," said Rich Power, public policy manager at Lyft.

    Uber discouraged lawmakers from considering the drivers’ proposal of capping the transportation companies’ cut of rider fares. Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield said the idea wouldn’t work because Uber no longer uses the “commission model” — that stopped about two years ago.

    “In order to make sure we can provide customers with an up-front price, driver fares are not tied to what the rider pays,” said Hartfield. “In fact, on many trips drivers actually make more money than the rider pays.”

    What the rider is pays to Uber is an estimated price, calculated before the ride starts, Hartfield explained, while the driver receives from Uber a fare that is calculated based on actual drive time and distance. Changing the model could make it hard to give customers up-front pricing and “lead to reduced price transparency,” Hartfield said. New York’s changes raised rates for riders.

    James Bhandary-Alexander, a New Haven Legal Assistance attorney who is working with the drivers, said Uber’s current pay model is “irrelevant to how drivers want to be paid for the work.”

    “The reason that drivers care is it seems fundamentally unfair that the rider is willing to pay or has paid $100 for the ride and the driver has only gotten $30 or $40 of that,” he said.

    Pursuing any of the three driver-pay proposals would bring Uber and Lyft lobbyists back to the Capitol, where they negotiated legislation spearheaded by Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, from 2015 to 2017.

    Scanlon said the companies eventually favored the bill passed in 2017, which, after some compromise, required drivers have insurance, limited “surge pricing,” mandated background checks for drivers, imposed a 25 cent tax collected by the state and stated passengers must be picked up and delivered anywhere without discrimination.

    “One of my biggest regrets about that bill, which I think is really good for consumers in Connecticut, is that we didn’t do anything to try to help the driver,” said Scanlon, who briefly drove for Uber.
    By Emilie Munson Updated 4:49 pm EST, Monday, February 11, 2019
    emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

    #USA #Uber #Connecticut #Mindestlohn #Klassenkampf

  • Ethiopia: Regime says coup attempt thwarted, military chief killed ...
    https://diasp.eu/p/9254926

    Ethiopia: Regime says coup attempt thwarted, military chief killed

    Source: Associated Press

    “Ethiopia’s government foiled a coup attempt in a region north of the capital, Addis Ababa, and the country’s military chief was shot dead, the prime minister said Sunday. The failed coup in the Amhara region was led by a high-ranking military officer and others within the military, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, wearing military fatigues, announced on the state broadcaster. In a related development, the head of Ethiopia’s military was shot dead in the capital not long after the attack in Amhara, during which soldiers attacked a building in which a meeting of regional officials was taking place, Nigussu Tilahun, spokesman for the prime minister, told a news conference Sunday. The regional president and (...)

  • U.S. and Russia trade blame over near collision in East Asian waters - Reuters
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-navy-incident-idUSKCN1T80LR
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QeNcKRkvDY

    Russia and the United States blamed each other for a near collision between their warships in East Asian waters on Friday with both countries accusing one another of dangerous and unprofessional behavior.

    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Washington would lodge a formal diplomatic protest to Russia, while a senior Russian parliamentarian said such episodes could easily escalate tensions, which he said were already balanced “on a razor’s edge”.

    Russia’s Pacific Fleet said that the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, had come within just 50 meters (165 feet) of the Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov which was forced to take emergency action to avoid a collision, Russian news agencies reported.

    They cited a Russian Pacific Fleet statement as saying the incident took place in the early hours of Friday morning in the eastern part of the East China Sea at a time when a group of Russian warships was on a parallel course with a U.S. naval strike group.

    The U.S guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed course and cut across the path of the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov coming within 50 meters of the ship,” the statement said.

    A protest over the international radio frequency was made to the commanders of the American ship who were warned about the unacceptable nature of such actions,” it said.

    The U.S. Navy rejected that version of events, saying the behavior of the Russian ship had been “unsafe and unprofessional”.

    While operating in the Philippine Sea, a Russian Destroyer ... made an unsafe maneuver against USS Chancellorsville,” U.S. Seventh Fleet spokesman Commander Clayton Doss said.

    This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision.

    He described a Russian assertion that the U.S. ship had acted dangerously as “propaganda”. The Russian destroyer came within 50 to 100 feet of the Chancellorsville, he said, putting the safety of its crew and the ship at risk.

    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Shanahan said Washington would formally protest.

    We’ll have military-to-military conversations with the Russians, and of course we’ll demarche them, but to me safety at the end of the day is the most important (part),” he told reporters outside the Pentagon.

    It will not deter us from conducting our operations.

    The incident comes days after Washington and Moscow sparred over an allegedly unsafe spy plane intercept by a Russian fighter jet near Syria.

    Alexei Pushkov, a senior Russian parliamentarian, said the near naval miss and other incidents like it were dangerous.

    We’re balancing on a razor’s edge,” he wrote on social media.

    Pour les Russes, ça s’est passé à l’est de la #Mer_de_Chine_orientale, pour les États-Uniens en #mer_des_Philippines


    WP


    WP

    • Vues de l’hélicoptère de l’USS Chancellorsville :


      et

      sur le site de la Marine états-unienne, ainsi que le communiqué.
      7th Fleet Statement on Unsafe Maneuver by Russian Destroyer
      /submit/display.asp ?story_id=109833

      PHILIPPINE SEA (NNS) — At approximately 11:45 am on June 7, 2019 while operating in the Philippine Sea, a Russian Destroyer (UDALOY I DD 572) made an unsafe maneuver against guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), closing to approximately 50-100 feet putting the safety of her crew and ship at risk. 

      While USS Chancellorsville was recovering its helicopter on a steady course and speed when the Russian ship DD572 maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance of approximately 50-100 feet. This unsafe action forced USS Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision. 
      We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional and not in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), “Rules of the Road,” and internationally recognized maritime customs.

    • Les images aériennes sont impressionnantes et montrent bien qu’on est passé tout près d’une collision. Ce dont ne rendent absolument pas compte les vidéos tournées de la passerelle du Chancellorsville où l’on ne voit que les deux navires en route parallèle. On jurerait presque qu’ils sont en manœuvre de ravitaillement à la mer…

      Les sillages montrent sans ambiguïté que c’est le navire russe qui a manœuvré in extremis. Tout le reste est difficile à interpréter.

      • d’après les É.-U., le Chancellorsville récupère son hélicoptère. Or d’après les images celui-ci est déjà à une distance certaine sur l’avant du navire. On pourrait imaginer qu’il a interrompu son approche (forcément par l’arrière) au vu de l’incertitude de la situation tactique, en ce cas je ne connais pas la procédure de dégagement, certainement une reprise d’altitude, mais dans quelle direction relative au navire ? Ça me paraît étonnant que l’hélico puisse se retrouver aussi loin sur l’avant aussi rapidement.

      Quant à l’application des règles de route du #RIPAM, elle ne me paraît pas aussi évidente que certains commentateurs l’affirment.
      • certes le russe est sur le tribord de l’états-unien, ce qui normalement oblige ce dernier à laisser le passage, mais,…
      • s’il est en route aviation pour l’appontement de son hélico (cf. premier point, douteux) il est alors en manœuvrabilité restreinte et il doit en arborer à son mat la marque (1 boule, 1 icône, 1 boule superposées .
      • on peut aussi se poser la question de l’angle entre les deux sillages. S’il fait moins de 67,5° (de nuit, le russe ne verrait que le feu de poupe, pas le feu de tribord), alors le navire russe est en situation de dépassement et c’est à lui de manœuvrer. Dans le cas contraire, c’est à l’américain. _A priori
      , on est autour des 45°, mais la projection de l’angle due à la perspective vue de l’hélico rend l’évaluation malaisée.
      • enfin, il est aussi difficile de juger si le Chancellorsville bat effectivement en arrière toute. L’absence de sillage sur la deuxième image, alors que sur la première on en perçoit un léger, ainsi que l’écume sur l’arrière du bateau vont dans ce sens, mais des nuages commencent à s’interposer. Par ailleurs, sur les vidéos on ne perçoit pas vraiment de changement de la vitesse relative entre les deux bateaux.

      Au vu de tout ça, il me semble bien que l’Admiral Vinogradov est effectivement navire rattrapant et que la manœuvre qu’il effectue est extrêmement tardive…

  • 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

  • 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

  • Citrus Farmers Facing Deadly Bacteria Turn to Antibiotics, Alarming Health Officials - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/17/health/antibiotics-oranges-florida.html

    Since 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed Florida citrus farmers to use the drugs, streptomycin and oxytetracycline, on an emergency basis, but the agency is now significantly expanding their permitted use across 764,000 acres in California, Texas and other citrus-producing states. The agency approved the expanded use despite strenuous objections from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warn that the heavy use of antimicrobial drugs in agriculture could spur germs to mutate so they become resistant to the drugs, threatening the lives of millions of people.

    The E.P.A. has proposed allowing as much as 650,000 pounds of streptomycin to be sprayed on citrus crops each year. By comparison, Americans annually use 14,000 pounds of aminoglycosides, the class of antibiotics that includes streptomycin.

    The European Union has banned the agricultural use of both streptomycin and oxytetracycline. So, too, has Brazil, where orange growers are battling the same bacterial scourge, called huanglongbing, also commonly known as citrus greening disease.

    “To allow such a massive increase of these drugs in agriculture is a recipe for disaster,” said Steven Roach, a senior analyst for the advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working. “It’s putting the needs of the citrus industry ahead of human health.”

    But for Florida’s struggling orange and grapefruit growers, the approvals could not come soon enough. The desperation is palpable across the state’s sandy midsection, a flat expanse once lushly blanketed with citrus trees, most of them the juice oranges that underpin a $7.2 billion industry employing 50,000 people, about 40,000 fewer than it did two decades ago. These days, the landscape is flecked with abandoned groves and scraggly trees whose elongated yellow leaves are a telltale sign of the disease.

    The decision paves the way for the largest use of medically important antibiotics in cash crops, and it runs counter to other efforts by the federal government to reduce the use of lifesaving antimicrobial drugs. Since 2017, the F.D.A. has banned the use of antibiotics to promote growth in farm animals, a shift that has led to a 33 percent drop in sales of antibiotics for livestock.

    The use of antibiotics on citrus adds a wrinkle to an intensifying debate about whether the heavy use of antimicrobials in agriculture endangers human health by neutering the drugs’ germ-slaying abilities. Much of that debate has focused on livestock farmers, who use 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States.

    Although the research on antibiotic use in crops is not as extensive, scientists say the same dynamic is already playing out with the fungicides that are liberally sprayed on vegetables and flowers across the world. Researchers believe the surge in a drug-resistant lung infection called aspergillosis is associated with agricultural fungicides, and many suspect the drugs are behind the rise of Candida auris, a deadly fungal infection.

    Créer du doute là où il n’y en a pas, au nom de la science évidemment... une science « complète » qui est impossible avec le vivant, donc un argument qui pourra toujours servir.

    In its evaluation for the expanded use of streptomycin, the E.P.A., which largely relied on data from pesticide makers, said the drug quickly dissipated in the environment. Still, the agency noted that there was a “medium” risk from extending the use of such drugs to citrus crops, and it acknowledged the lack of research on whether a massive increase in spraying would affect the bacteria that infect humans.

    “The science of resistance is evolving and there is a high level of uncertainty in how and when resistance occurs,” the agency wrote.

    Since its arrival in Florida was first confirmed in 2005, citrus greening has infected more than 90 percent of the state’s grapefruit and orange trees. The pathogen is spread by a tiny insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, that infects trees as it feeds on young leaves and stems, but the evidence of disease can take months to emerge. Infected trees prematurely drop their fruit, most of it too bitter for commercial use.

    Taw Richardson, the chief executive of ArgoSource, which makes the antibiotics used by farmers, said the company has yet to see any resistance in the 14 years since it began selling bactericides. “We don’t take antibiotic resistance lightly,” he said. “The key is to target the things that contribute to resistance and not get distracted by things that don’t.”

    Many scientists disagree with such assessments, noting the mounting resistance to both drugs in humans. They also cite studies suggesting that low concentrations of antibiotics that slowly seep into the environment over an extended period of time can significantly accelerate resistance.

    Scientists at the C.D.C. were especially concerned about streptomycin, which can remain in the soil for weeks and is allowed to be sprayed several times a season. As part of its consultation with the F.D.A., the C.D.C. conducted experiments with the two drugs and found widespread resistance to them.

    Although the Trump administration has been pressing the E.P.A. to loosen regulations, Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the agency’s pesticides office had a long track record of favoring the interests of chemical and pesticide companies. “What’s in the industry’s best interest will win out over public safety nine times out of 10,” he said.

    A spokesman for the E.P.A. said the agency had sought to address the C.D.C.’s and F.D.A.’s concerns about antibiotic resistance by ordering additional monitoring and by limiting its approvals to seven years.

    #Antibiotiques #Citrons #Agrumes #Pesticides #Conflits_intérêt #Pseudo-science

  • Comment Israël arme les dictatures à travers le monde

    Arming dictators, equipping pariahs: Alarming picture of Israel’s arms sales - Israel News - Haaretz.com

    Extensive Amnesty report cites Israeli sales to eight countries who violate human rights, including South Sudan, Myanmar, Mexico and the UAE ■ Amnesty calls on Israel to adopt oversight model adopted by many Western countries ■ Senior Israeli defense official: Export license is only granted after lengthy process
    Amos Harel
    May 17, 2019 5:59 AM

    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-arming-dictators-equipping-pariahs-an-alarming-picture-of-israel-s

    A thorough report by Amnesty International is harshly critical of Israel’s policies on arms exports. According to the report written in Hebrew by the organization’s Israeli branch, Israeli companies continue to export weapons to countries that systematically violate human rights. Israeli-made weapons are also found in the hands of armies and organizations committing war crimes. The report points to eight such countries that have received arms from Israel in recent years.

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    Often these weapons reach their destination after a series of transactions, thereby skirting international monitoring and the rules of Israel itself. Amnesty calls on the government, the Knesset and the Defense Ministry to more tightly monitor arms exports and enforce transparency guidelines adopted by other Western countries that engage in large-scale weapons exports.

    In the report, Amnesty notes that the supervision of the arms trade is “a global, not a local issue. The desire and need for better monitoring of global arms sales derives from tragic historical events such as genocide, bloody civil wars and the violent repression of citizens by their governments …. There is a new realization that selling arms to governments and armies that employ violence only fuels violent conflicts and leads to their escalation. Hence, international agreements have been reached with the aim of preventing leaks of military equipment to dictatorial or repressive regimes.”

    >> Read more: Revealed: Israel’s cyber-spy industry helps world dictators hunt dissidents and gays

    The 2014 Arms Trade Treaty established standards for trade in conventional weapons. Israel signed the treaty but the cabinet never ratified it. According to Amnesty, Israel has never acted in the spirit of this treaty, neither by legislation nor its policies.

    “There are functioning models of correct and moral-based monitoring of weapons exports, including the management of public and transparent reporting mechanisms that do not endanger a state’s security or foreign relations,” Amnesty says. “Such models were established by large arms exporters such as members of the European Union and the United States. There is no justification for the fact that Israel continues to belong to a dishonorable club of exporters such as China and Russia.”

    In 2007, the Knesset passed a law regulating the monitoring of weapons exports. The law authorizes the Defense Ministry to oversee such exports, manage their registration and decide on the granting of export licenses. The law defines defense-related exports very broadly, including equipment for information-gathering, and forbids trade in such items without a license.
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    The law does not include a clause limiting exports when there is a high probability that these items will be used in violation of international or humanitarian laws. But the law does prohibit “commerce with foreign agencies that are not in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit or limit a transfer of such weapons or missiles to such recipients.”

    According to Amnesty, “the absence of monitoring and transparency have for decades let Israel supply equipment and defense-related knowledge to questionable states and dictatorial or unstable regimes that have been shunned by the international community.”

    The report quotes a 2007 article by Brig. Gen. (res.) Uzi Eilam. “A thick layer of fog has always shrouded the export of military equipment. Destinations considered pariah states by the international community, such as Chile in the days of Pinochet or South Africa during the apartheid years, were on Israel’s list of trade partners,” Eilam wrote.

    “The shroud of secrecy helped avoid pressure by the international community, but also prevented any transparency regarding decisions to sell arms to problematic countries, leaving the judgment and decision in the hands of a small number of people, mainly in the defense establishment.”

    The report presents concrete evidence on Israel’s exports over the last two decades, with arms going to eight countries accused by international institutions of serious human rights violations: South Sudan, Myanmar, the Philippines, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. In some of these cases, Israel denied that it exported arms to these countries at specifically mentioned times. In other case it refused to give details.
    Israeli security-related exports

    In its report, Amnesty relies on the research of other human rights groups, on documentation published in the media in those eight countries, and on information gathered by attorney Eitay Mack, who in recent years has battled to expose Israel’s arms deals with shady regimes. Amnesty cross-checks descriptions of exported weapons with human rights violations and war crimes by those countries. In its report, Amnesty says that some of these countries were under sanctions and a weapons-sales embargo, but Israel continued selling them arms.

    According to the organization, “the law on monitoring in its current format is insufficient and has not managed to halt the export of weapons to Sri Lanka, which massacred many of its own citizens; to South Sudan, where the regime and army committed ethnic cleansing and aggravated crimes against humanity such as the mass rape of hundreds of women, men and girls; to Myanmar, where the army committed genocide and the chief of staff, who carried out the arms deal with Israel, is accused of these massacres and other crimes against humanity; and to the Philippines, where the regime and police executed 15,000 civilians without any charges or trials.”

    Amnesty says that this part of the report “is not based on any report by the Defense Ministry relating to military equipment exports, for the simple reason that the ministry refuses to release any information. The total lack of transparency by Israel regarding weapons exports prevents any public discussion of the topic and limits any research or public action intended to improve oversight.”

    One example is the presence of Israeli-made Galil Ace rifles in the South Sudanese army. “With no documentation of sales, one cannot know when they were sold, by which company, how many, and so on,” the report says.

    “All we can say with certainty is that the South Sudanese army currently has Israeli Galil rifles, at a time when there is an international arms embargo on South Sudan, imposed by the UN Security Council, due to ethnic cleansing, as well as crimes against humanity, using rape as a method of war, and due to war crimes the army is perpetrating against the country’s citizens.”

    According to Amnesty, the defense export control agency at the Defense Ministry approved the licenses awarded Israeli companies for selling weapons to these countries, even though it knew about the bad human rights situation there. It did this despite the risk that Israeli exports would be used to violate human rights and despite the embargo on arms sales imposed on some of these countries by the United States and the European Union, as well as other sanctions that were imposed by these countries or the United Nations.

    In response to letters written to the export control agency, its head, Rachel Chen, said: “We can’t divulge whether we’re exporting to one of these countries, but we carefully examine the state of human rights in each country before approving export licenses for selling them weapons.” According to Amnesty, this claim is false, as shown by the example of the eight countries mentioned in the report.

    Amnesty recommends steps for improving the monitoring of defense exports. It says Israel lags American legislation by 20 years, and European legislation by 10 years. “The lack of transparency has further negative implications, such as hiding information from the public,” Amnesty says.
    File photo: Personnel of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF), assigned as South Sundan’s presidential guard, take part in a drill at their barracks in Rejaf, South Sudan, April 26, 2019.
    File photo: Personnel of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF), assigned as South Sundan’s presidential guard, take part in a drill at their barracks in Rejaf, South Sudan, April 26, 2019.Alex McBride/AFP

    “The concept by which the Defense Ministry operates is that it is not in the public interest to know which countries buy weapons here, how much and under what conditions. This is an erroneous conception that stems from the wish to conceal, using the well-worn cloak of ‘issues of state security and foreign relations’ as an excuse,” it adds.

    “The veil of secrecy makes it hard to obtain data. In our humble opinion, the information we have gathered and presented in this report is the tip of the iceberg. Most of the evidence is based on official reports issued by the recipient states, such as the Facebook page of the chief of staff in Myanmar, or the site of the Philippine government’s spokesman.”

    The authors say attempts to maintain secrecy in an era of social media and global media coverage are absurd and doomed to fail.

    “Let the reasonable reader ask himself if the powers that sell weapons are concerned about harm to state security resulting from making the information accessible, or whether this is just an excuse, with the veil of secrecy protecting the interests of certain agencies in Israel.”

    Amnesty says Israel ranks eighth among the exporters of heavy weapons around the world. Between 2014 and 2018, Israel’s defense exports comprised 3.1 percent of global sales. Compared with the previous four years, this was a 60 percent increase. The three largest customers of heavy weapons sold by Israel are India, Azerbaijan and Vietnam.

    But the report says defense industries are not the largest or most lucrative contributors to Israeli exports. According to the Defense Ministry, defense exports comprise 10 percent of Israel’s industrial exports. “Defense-related companies in Israel export to 130 countries around the world,” the report says. “Of these, only a minority are countries designated by the UN and the international community as violators of human rights.”

    These are mostly poor countries and the scope of defense exports to them is small compared to the rest of Israel’s exports. According to Amnesty, banning exports to the eight countries would not sting Israel’s defense contractors or their profits, and would certainly not have a public impact. “There is no justification – economic, diplomatic, security-related or strategic – to export weapons to these countries,” the report says.

    Amnesty believes that “the situation is correctable. Israel’s government and the Defense Ministry must increase their monitoring and transparency, similar to what the vast majority of large weapons exporters around the world do except for Russia and China.”

    According to Amnesty, this should be done by amending the law regulating these exports, adding two main clauses. The first would prohibit the awarding of licenses to export to a country with a risk of serious human rights violations, based on international humanitarian law.

    The second would set up a committee to examine the human rights situation in any target state. The committee would include people from outside the defense establishment and the Foreign Ministry such as academics and human rights activists, as is customary in other countries.

    “Monitoring must not only be done, it must be seen, and the Israeli public has every right to know what is done in its name and with its resources, which belong to everyone,” the report says.

    A policy of obscurity

    A senior defense official who read the Amnesty report told Haaretz that many of its claims have been discussed in recent years in petitions to the High Court of Justice. The justices have heard petitions relating to South Sudan, Cameroon and Mexico. However, in all cases, the court accepted the state’s position that deliberations would be held with only one side present – the state, and that its rulings would remain classified.
    File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a military commander along the Gaza border, southern Israel, March 28, 2019.
    File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a military commander along the Gaza border, southern Israel, March 28, 2019.Itay Beit On/GPO

    Monitoring of exports has substantially increased since the law was passed, the official said. The authority endowed to the Defense Ministry by this law, including imposing economic sanctions, prohibition of exports and taking legal action against companies, are more far-reaching than in other countries.

    “The process of obtaining an export license in Israel is lengthy, difficult and imposes onerous regulations on exporters," he added. “When there is evidence of human rights violations in a country buying arms from Israel, we treat this with utmost seriousness in our considerations. The fact is that enlightened states respect the laws we have and are interested in the ways we conduct our monitoring.”

    He admitted that Israel does adopt a policy of obscurity with regard to its arms deals. “We don’t share information on whether or to which country we’ve sold arms,” he said. “We’ve provided all the information to the High Court. The plaintiffs do receive fixed laconic responses, but there are diplomatic and security-related circumstances that justify this.”

    “Other countries can be more transparent but we’re in a different place,” he argued. "We don’t dismiss out of hand discussion of these issues. The questions are legitimate but the decisions and polices are made after all the relevant considerations are taken into account.”

    The intense pace of events in recent months – rounds of violence along the Gaza border, Israel’s election, renewed tension between the U.S. and Iran – have left little time to deal with other issues that make the headlines less frequently.

    Israel is currently in the throes of an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis, the outcome of which will seriously impact its standing as a law-abiding state. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds in his plan to halt all legal proceedings against him, legislating an immunity law and restricting the jurisdiction of the High Court, all other issues would pale in comparison.

    There is some logic to the claim that Israel cannot be holier than thou when it comes to arms sales in the global market, and yet, the Amnesty report depicts a horrific image, backed by reliable data, but also makes suggestions for improvement that seem reasonable.

    Numerous reports over the last year show that the problem is not restricted to the sale of light weapons, but might be exacerbated by the spread of cyberwarfare tools developed by Israel and what dark regimes can do with these. Even if it happens through a twisted chain of sub-contractors, the state can’t play innocent. Therefore, it’s worthwhile listening to Amnesty’s criticism and suggestions for improvement.
    Amos Harel

  • Le problème de la contamination des pétroles de l’Oural exportés via l’oléoduc Droujba (Druzhba) n’est toujours pas réglé.

    Russia Dirty Oil Crisis Drags On as Port Loads Tainted Cargo – gCaptain
    https://gcaptain.com/russia-dirty-oil-crisis-drags-on-as-port-loads-tainted-cargo

    Russia’s efforts to resolve an unprecedented oil-contamination crisis suffered a setback as the nation loaded another tainted cargo from a port in the Baltic Sea, days after the government had said the port was clear.

    Traders receiving Urals crude at the Ust-Luga terminal said some oil continues to exceed acceptable levels of organic chloride, the contaminant blamed for major disruption to the nation’s exports since last month. At least one tainted cargo has been loaded onto a tanker since Monday, when Russia’s Energy Ministry said all shipments there were clean, according to the traders, who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential.

    A spokesman for Transneft, which operates the country’s pipeline network, declined to comment. Russia’s Energy Ministry didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

  • China working on data privacy law but enforcement is a stumbling block | South China Morning Post
    https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3008844/china-working-data-privacy-law-enforcement-stumbling-block

    En Chine des scientifiques s’inquiètent de la collection de données sans limites et des abus possibles par le gouvernment et des acteurs privés. Au niveau politique on essaye d’introduire des lois protégeant les données et la vie privée. D’après l’article les véritables problèmes se poseront lors de l’implémentation d’une nouvelle législation en la matière.

    Echo Xie 5 May, 2019 - Biometric data in particular needs to be protected from abuse from the state and businesses, analysts say
    Country is expected to have 626 million surveillance cameras fitted with facial recognition software by 2020

    In what is seen as a major step to protect citizens’ personal information, especially their biometric data, from abuse, China’s legislators are drafting a new law to safeguard data privacy, according to industry observers – but enforcement remains a major concern.

    “China’s private data protection law will be released and implemented soon, because of the fast development of technology, and the huge demand in society,” Zeng Liaoyuan, associate professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, said in an interview .

    Technology is rapidly changing life in China but relevant regulations had yet to catch up, Zeng said.

    Artificial intelligence and its many applications constitute a major component of China’s national plan. In 2017, the “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” called for the country to become the world leader in AI innovation by 2030.

    Biometrics authentication is used in computer science as an identification or access control. It includes fingerprinting, face recognition, DNA, iris recognition, palm prints and other methods.

    In particular, the use of biometric data has grown exponentially in key areas: scanning users’ fingerprints or face to pay bills, to apply for social security qualification and even to repay loans. But the lack of an overarching law lets companies gain access to vast quantities of an individual’s personal data, a practice that has raised privacy concerns.

    During the “two sessions” last month, National People’s Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui said the authorities had hastened the drafting of a law to protect personal data, but did not say when it would be completed or enacted.

    One important focus, analysts say, is ensuring that the state does not abuse its power when collecting and using private data, considering the mass surveillance systems installed in China.

    “This is a big problem in China,” said Liu Deliang, a law professor at Beijing Normal University. “Because it’s about regulating the government’s abuse of power, so it’s not only a law issue but a constitutional issue.”

    The Chinese government is a major collector and user of privacy data. According to IHS Markit, a London-based market research firm, China had 176 million surveillance cameras in operation in 2016 and the number was set to reach 626 million by 2020.

    In any proposed law, the misuse of data should be clearly defined and even the government should bear legal responsibility for its misuse, Liu said.

    “We can have legislation to prevent the government from misusing private data but the hard thing is how to enforce it.”

    Especially crucial, legal experts say, is privacy protection for biometric data.

    “Compared with other private data, biometrics has its uniqueness. It could post long-term risk and seriousness of consequence,” said Wu Shenkuo, an associate law professor at Beijing Normal University.

    “Therefore, we need to pay more attention to the scope and limitations of collecting and using biometrics.”

    Yi Tong, a lawmaker from Beijing, filed a proposal concerning biometrics legislation at the National People’s Congress session last month.

    “Once private biometric data is leaked, it’s a lifetime leak and it will put the users’ private data security into greater uncertainty, which might lead to a series of risks,” the proposal said.

    Yi suggested clarifying the boundary between state power and private rights, and strengthening the management of companies.

    In terms of governance, Wu said China should specify the qualifications entities must have before they can collect, use and process private biometric data. He also said the law should identify which regulatory agencies would certify companies’ information.

    There was a need to restrict government behaviour when collecting private data, he said, and suggested some form of compensation for those whose data was misused.

    “Private data collection at the government level might involve the need for the public interest,” he said. “In this case, in addition to ensuring the legal procedure, the damage to personal interests should be compensated.”

    Still, data leaks, or overcollecting, is common in China.

    A survey released by the China Consumers Association in August showed that more than 85 per cent of respondents had suffered some sort of data leak, such as their cellphone numbers being sold to spammers or their bank accounts being stolen.

    Another report by the association in November found that of the 100 apps it investigated, 91 had problems with overcollecting private data.

    One of them, MeituPic, an image editing software program, was criticised for collecting too much biometric data.

    The report also cited Ant Financial Services, the operator of the Alipay online payments service, for the way it collects private data, which it said was incompatible with the national standard. Ant Financial is an affiliate of Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post.

    In January last year, Ant Financial had to apologise publicly for automatically signing up users for a social credit programme without obtaining their consent.

    “When a company asks for a user’s private data, it’s unscrupulous, because we don’t have a law to limit their behaviour,” Zeng said.

    “Also it’s about business competition. Every company wants to hold its customers, and one way is to collect their information as much as possible.”

    Tencent and Alibaba, China’s two largest internet companies, did not respond to requests for comment about the pending legislation.

    #Chine #droit #vie_privée #surveillance #politique

  • Upgraded Russian SPY PLANE makes maiden flight over US nuclear & military sites – report — RT World News
    https://www.rt.com/news/457679-russian-spy-plane-us


    A Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-214ON at Ramenskoye Airport in Moscow region.
    © Wikipedia / Oleg Belyakov

    A Russian Tu-214ON spy plane has reportedly made a reconnaissance tour over the southwestern US, taking a glimpse at an array of military bases as well as nuclear and chemical weapons depots as part of the #Open_Skies treaty.

    The Drive reported, citing FlightRadar 24 tracking service data, that the newest version of the Tu-214 observation aircraft graced US skies after taking off from Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph, Missouri on Thursday.

    The flight reportedly lasted six hours and saw the surveillance aircraft fly over a series of US defense and storage facilities scattered over the territory of West Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. The plane is reported to have flown over the Kirtland Air Force Base, which hosts the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and functions as a nuclear storage site. In Colorado, the plane passed over the Pueblo Chemical Depot, one of the last two sites in the US with chemical munitions and materials.

    The flight itself had been authorized by the US under the Treaty on Open Skies, which allows its signatories to conduct short inspections of each other’s territory. The treaty was signed in 1992, but did not come into force until 2002. The US and Russia are among its 34 members.

    The Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on the details of the mission. Earlier, Sergey Ryzhkov, head of the Russian Center for Reduction of Nuclear Threat, announced that the Tu-214ON would be conducting surveillance from Missouri Airport between 22 April and April 27. Under the treaty, the flight has to be monitored by US specialists on board the plane.

    Washington eventually greenlighted the Tu-214ON flyover after initially refusing to certify the Russian “spy eye,” claiming that its digital surveillance equipment was more advanced than Moscow had declared and might manipulate digital data. After some back-and-forth, the US approved the plane for the flights over its territory in September last year.

    Tu-214ON is an updated version of the regular Tu-214. Its cockpit can fit two more people, which allowed the manufacturer to install more modern electronics. Its range has increased to a reported 6,500km (4,040 miles). The aircraft boasts three sensor arrays that include a digital photo camera, an infrared camera, and a TV camera complete with a sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar.

    • Il y a 2 mois, c’était en sens inverse.

      ‘Sign of good will’: US spy plane carries out 1st observation flights over Russia in 2 years — RT Russia News
      https://www.rt.com/russia/452169-us-open-skies-russia


      An American OC-135B taxiing to the runway
      © AFP / US AIR FORCE / CHARLES J. HAYMOND

      On Thursday and Friday, a US spy plane performs observation flights over Russia as part of the Open Skies pact, the first action of the kind in months. It can be also considered a sign of “good will” from Moscow, RT was told.
      The Pentagon has confirmed that an OC-135B plane, fitted with high-resolution cameras and infrared sensors, is indeed performing the flyovers, and that Moscow is fully aware of the action. The flights are the first since November 2017, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.

      He said Russia is aware of the flight and the American spy plane has six of the country’s military observers on board to ensure the mission goes according to the treaty. The Pentagon did not expand on this, nor did the Russian military comment on it.

      Moscow “is demonstrating goodwill” quite apart from treaty obligations by allowing an American plane in its airspace despite major strains in relations, Konstantin Sivkov, a military expert and retired navy officer, told RT. The US is unlikely to stick to the treaty for very long, as accords like this are seen as unnecessary restraints in Washington, he believes.

      The Open Skies Treaty, a crucial multinational accord that allows signatories to perform mutual surveillance flights, has recently been placed in jeopardy by US lawmakers. In August of last year, Congress suspended US-Russia ties under the pact, citing alleged violations by Moscow. The latter denied all of the claims.

      Separately, Washington also curbed funding for any modifications to America’s own surveillance planes. Technical glitches on the ageing US Open Skies aircraft have left the country unable to carry out its missions over Russia. In 2017, only 13 of the 16 missions were actually flown.

      The OC-135B, specifically built for Open Skies missions in 1993, is based up the OC-135 Stratolifter cargo plane. It seats 35, including cockpit crew, aircraft maintenance staff, and foreign observers.

      Russia uses the Tu-214 ON and the Tu-154 ON derived from civilian versions of Tupolev airliners. The former was finally cleared for Open Skies flights over the US last year after months of political flip-flops and media frenzy, with numerous publications claiming Russia benefits too much from the Open Skies initiative.

    • L’article original de The Drive cité par RT

      Russia’s New Surveillance Plane Just Flew Over Two Of America’s Top Nuclear Labs - The Drive
      https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/27678/russias-new-surveillance-plane-just-flew-over-two-of-americas-top-nuclear-


      The route across Los Alamos National Laboratory.
      FLIGHTRADAR24

      One Russia’s two Tu-214ON aircraft has conducted what appears to be its first-ever flight over the United States under the Open Skies Treaty. This agreement allows member states to conduct aerial surveillance missions, with certain limitations in hardware and in the presence of monitors from the surveilled country, over each other’s territory. Today’s sortie took the Russian plane over parts of West Texas, through New Mexico, and into Colorado, including overflights of Fort Bliss, White Sands Missile Range, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, and finally hitting up the Pueblo Chemical Depot.

      et photos aériennes des différentes bases et sites avec trajectoire de l’avion de reconnaissance.

    • RF-64525 is set to depart Rosecrans at around 12:30 PM on Apr. 26, 2019 for another mission over areas of Colorado and Nebraska. This could take it over a number of other strategic sites, such as Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha and the Cheyenne Mountain Complex bunker outside Colorado Springs.

      The plane is then scheduled to head back to Russia on Apr. 27, 2019, but with Open Skies back in full swing, we could easily be seeing one of the Kremlin’s surveillance planes come back later in the year for another visit.

  • Bolivia’s new Mother Earth Law to sideline indigenous rights – Carwil without Borders
    https://woborders.blog/2012/08/24/new-mother-earth-law-sidelines-indigenous

    Bolivia, the country that became synonymous with indigenous and environmental rights on the global diplomatic stage, is about to approve a Mother Earth Law that lacks the blessing of the country’s leading indigenous organizations and undermines indigenous communities’ rights to prior consultation. Thursday (August 23), the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qollasuyu (CONAMAQ) publicly walked out of the Chamber of Deputies’ drafting session on the “Framework Law on Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well” (Ley Marco de la Madre Tierra y Desarrollo Integral para Vivir Bien). CONAMAQ Spokesman David Crispin explained the walk out: “We in CONAMAQ dave decided to withdraw from the drafting because we do not want to be complicit, alongside the Plurinational Assembly, in building a Law of Integral Development that will damage the Pachamama/Mother Earth. nosotros del CONAMAQ hemos decidido retirarnos del tratamiento porque no queremos ser cómplices, juntamente con la Asamblea Plurinacional, en construir una Ley de Desarrollo Integral que va dañar a la Pachamama” The government had already broken off contact with the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) and the government-backed alternate leadership of the organization does not appear to be involved in the drafting process.

    #écologie #bolivie #droits_de_la_nature #peuple_autochtone #contradiction #extractivisme #2012

  • Saudi-led coalition reportedly shoots down its own drone
    https://defence-blog.com/news/saudi-led-coalition-reportedly-shoots-down-its-own-drone.html

    The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said that coalition air defense forces shot down a drone over Seiyun city.

    Colonel Turki al-Maliki, Arab Coalition spokesman, said that at 10:50 p.m. local time on Sunday, the Saudi Royal Air Defense System spotted the drone moving in the direction of a populated area in the Asir region.

    The drone was shot down before reaching its target and so far nobody had been reported injured by falling debris from the unmanned aerial vehicle, he said.

    According to a news report of the Saudi Press Agency, an Arab coalition air defense forces intercepted a Houthi drone aimed toward Saudi Arabia’s southern region of Asir.

    Some source reported that drone was shot down from the Patriot air defense system, that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed in the controlled territories in Yemen as early as 2015.

    However, when was released the first images from the crash site, it turned out that the coalition air defense shot down one of the Saudi Arabian CH-4B armed reconnaissance medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle.

  • Quand l’essence européenne alimente l’Australie en fin d’hiver. Plus de 20000 km de voyage, les pays exportateurs étant l’Estonie et la Lettonie…
    Au cœur de ce business, le trader #Trafigura.

    The 16,000-Mile Gasoline Cargoes Revealing Dysfunctional Trade - Bloomberg
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-04/the-16-000-mile-gasoline-cargoes-revealing-dysfunctional-trade


    Australia is increasingly taking Europe’s end-of-season gasoline.
    Bloomberg LP, Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

    • Traders sending more and more European gasoline to Australia
    • Shipments show challenge for country to cover own fuel needs

    Summer is coming to Europe and that can only mean one thing. It must be time to send the continent’s excess gasoline halfway across the planet.

    At least 400,000 metric tons of gasoline have been shipped or booked for delivery to Australia from northwest Europe since the start of this year, according to shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. Over 10,000 tons of marine fuel will probably be consumed to transport these cargoes just on one leg of the journey, more than some refineries produce in a day.

    While the precise motives for the trades are unlikely to become known, such cargoes could make sense because of the onset of Europe’s summer, which means switching to gasoline that’s more suited to warmer temperatures. That requires any excess stockpiles of winter-grade product to be cleared. Nonetheless, the cargoes also highlight the challenges Australia faces to supply itself or source alternative inventories more locally.
    […]
    European flows to Australia accelerated last year, having halted since 2012. Estonia and Latvia — two Baltic states — delivered cargoes for the first time in at least seven years in 2018, according to data from ITC Trade Map, a venture between the WTO and the United Nations.

    Commodities trader Trafigura Group Ltd. was the main charterer for the 400,000 tons sailing or booked for delivery so far in 2019. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

  • Tate Galleries Will Refuse Sackler Money Because of Opioid Links - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/21/arts/design/tate-modern-sackler-britain-opioid-art.html

    “The Sackler family has given generously to Tate in the past, as they have to a large number of U.K. arts institutions,” a Tate statement said.

    "We do not intend to remove references to this historic philanthropy. However, in the present circumstances we do not think it right to seek or accept further donations from the Sacklers.”

    Si je comprends bien, cela veut dire qu’ils ne retireront pas le nom des Sackler des lieux déjà sponsorisés... futilités.

    Tate’s statement came two days after Britain’s National Portrait Gallery said it would not accept a long-discussed $1.3 million donation from the London-based Sackler Trust, one of the family’s charitable foundations. It said the decision was taken jointly by the gallery and Trust.

    But the Thursday announcement, affecting Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, as well as Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives in Cornwall, could have a bigger impact in the art world. All these galleries are major tourist attractions as well as home to large, high-profile exhibitions.

    In an email, a spokesman for the Mortimer and Raymond Sackler family said, “We deeply sympathise with all the communities, families and individuals affected by the addiction crisis in America. The allegations made against family members in relation to this are strongly denied and will be vigorously defended in court.” He did not comment on Tate’s decision.

    Ne parlons pas du Valium, qui fut la première cause des richesse de la famille Sackler. Surtout pas. Une drogue à la fois, isn’t it ? Quinze ans plus tôt.

    “The Sackler family has been connected with the Met for more than a half century,” Mr. Weiss’s statement said. “The family is a large extended group and their support of The Met began decades before the opioid crisis.”

    #Opioides #Sackler #Philanthropie #Musées

  • Border Patrol arrests on the rise in #Detroit sector of northern US border

    Arrests of undocumented immigrants have jumped over the last two years in the Detroit sector of the northern U.S. border.

    According to U.S. Border Patrol statistics, there were 1,930 arrests in FY 2018 (October 1st through September 30). That’s more than two and one half times the number from two years earlier and the three years before that. About two thirds of those arrested in FY 2018 were from Mexico.

    “The Detroit sector encompasses 863 miles of international border with Canada,” said Kristoffer Grogan, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Michigan. “So our area of responsibility starts on the northern side of Lake Superior and goes all the way down to just outside of Cleveland.”

    According to Grogan, Detroit sector Border Patrol has arrested 633 undocumented immigrants so far in FY 2019, from October 1, 2018 through February 28, 2019.

    “Over the past few years we’ve enhanced our border security operations through better information-sharing, whether that be with our local law enforcement partners or even our Canadian partners to the North,” said Grogan.

    Grogan said other reasons for the more recent increase in arrests are more border patrol agents and technologies like remote surveillance cameras.

    Grogan said the number of arrests in the Detroit sector have fluctuated significantly over the last two decades, with arrests in the early 2000’s slightly higher than last year’s.

    Border patrol arrests of undocumented immigrants in the Detroit sector are a tiny fraction of such arrests nationwide. In FY 2018, there were almost 4 million arrests made at the Southwest border. That compares to 4,316 at the Northern border, of which 1,930 were from the Detroit sector.

    https://www.michiganradio.org/post/border-patrol-arrests-rise-detroit-sector-northern-us-border
    #Canada #frontières #USA #Etats-Unis #réfugiés #asile #migrations #statistiques #chiffres #Michigan

  • ’Endless trip to hell’: Israel jails hundreds of Palestinian boys a year. These are their testimonies - Israel News - Haaretz.com

    (C’est sous paywall)

    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE--1.7021978

    They’re seized in the dead of night, blindfolded and cuffed, abused and manipulated to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. Every year Israel arrests almost 1,000 Palestinian youngsters, some of them not yet 13

    #palestine #israel #enfants #violence

    • ’Endless trip to hell’: Israel jails hundreds of Palestinian boys a year. These are their testimonies
      They’re seized in the dead of night, blindfolded and cuffed, abused and manipulated to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. Every year Israel arrests almost 1,000 Palestinian youngsters, some of them not yet 13
      Netta Ahituv | Mar. 14, 2019 | 9:14 PM | 2

      It was a gloomy, typically chilly late-February afternoon in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar, between Bethlehem and Hebron. The weather didn’t deter the children of the Abu-Ayyash family from playing and frolicking outside. One of them, in a Spiderman costume, acted the part by jumping lithely from place to place. Suddenly they noticed a group of Israeli soldiers trudging along the dirt trail across the way. Instantly their expressions turned from joy to dread, and they rushed into the house. It’s not the first time they reacted like that, says their father. In fact, it’s become a pattern ever since 10-year-old Omar was arrested by troops this past December.

      The 10-year-old is one of many hundreds of Palestinian children whom Israel arrests every year: The estimates range between 800 and 1,000. Some are under the age of 15; some are even preteens. A mapping of the locales where these detentions take place reveals a certain pattern: The closer a Palestinian village is to a settlement, the more likely it is that the minors residing there will find themselves in Israeli custody. For example, in the town of Azzun, west of the Karnei Shomron settlement, there’s hardly a household that hasn’t experienced an arrest. Residents say that in the past five years, more than 150 pupils from the town’s only high school have been arrested.

      At any given moment, there are about 270 Palestinian teens in Israeli prisons. The most widespread reason for their arrest – throwing stones – does not tell the full story. Conversations with many of the youths, as well as with lawyers and human rights activists, including those from the B’Tselem human-rights organization, reveal a certain pattern, even as they leave many questions open: For example, why does the occupation require that arrests be violent and why is it necessary to threaten young people.

      A number of Israelis, whose sensibilities are offended by the arrests of Palestinian children, have decided to mobilize and fight the phenomenon. Within the framework of an organization called Parents Against Child Detention, its approximately 100 members are active in the social networks and hold public events “in order to heighten awareness about the scale of the phenomenon and the violation of the rights of Palestinian minors, and in order to create a pressure group that will work for its cessation,” as they explain. Their target audience is other parents, whom they hope will respond with empathy to the stories of these children.

      In general, there seems to be no lack of criticism of the phenomenon. In addition to B’Tselem, which monitors the subject on a regular basis, there’s been a protest from overseas, too. In 2013, UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, assailed “the ill treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system, [which] appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” A report a year earlier from British legal experts concluded that the conditions the Palestinian children are subjected to amount to torture, and just five months ago the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deplored Israel’s policy of arresting underage children, declaring, “An end must be put to all forms of physical or psychological abuse of children during arrest, transit and waiting periods, and during interrogations.”

      Arrest

      About half of the arrests of Palestinian adolescents are made in their homes. According to the testimonies, Israel Defense Forces soldiers typically burst into the house in the middle of the night, seize the wanted youth and whisk him away (very few girls are detained), leaving the family with a document stating where he’s being taken and on what charge. The printed document is in Arabic and Hebrew, but the commander of the force typically fills out the details in Hebrew only, then hands it to parents who may not be able to read it and don’t know why their son was taken.

      Attorney Farah Bayadsi asks why it’s necessary to arrest children in this manner, instead of summoning them for questioning in an orderly way. (The data show that only 12 percent of the youths receive a summons to be interrogated.)

      “I know from experience that whenever someone is asked to come in for questioning, he goes,” Bayadsi notes. She’s active in the Israeli branch of Defense for Children International, a global NGO that deals with the detention of minors and promotion of their rights.

      “The answer we generally get,” she says, “is that, ‘It’s done this way for security reasons.’ That means it’s a deliberate method, which isn’t intended to meet the underage youth halfway, but to cause him a lifelong trauma.”

      Indeed, as the IDF Spokesman’s Unit stated to Haaretz, in response, “The majority of the arrests, of both adults and minors, are carried out at night for operational reasons and due to the desire to preserve an orderly fabric of life and execute point-specific actions wherever possible.”

      About 40 percent of the minors are detained in the public sphere – usually in the area of incidents involving throwing stones at soldiers. That was the case with Adham Ahsoun, from Azzun. At the time, he was 15 and on his way home from a local grocery store. Not far away, a group of children had started throwing stones at soldiers, before running off. Ahsoun, who didn’t flee, was detained and taken to a military vehicle; once inside, he was hit by a soldier. A few children who saw what happened ran to his house to tell his mother. Grabbing her son’s birth certificate, she rushed to the entrance to the town to prove to the soldiers that he was only a child. But it was too late; the vehicle had already departed, headed to an army base nearby, where he would wait to be interrogated.

      By law, soldiers are supposed to handcuff children with their hands in front, but in many cases it’s done with their hands behind them. Additionally, sometimes the minor’s hands are too small for handcuffing, as a soldier from the Nahal infantry brigade told the NGO Breaking the Silence. On one occasion, he related, his unit arrested a boy “of about 11,” but the handcuffs were too big to bind his small hands.

      The next stage is the journey: The youths are taken to an army base or a police station in a nearby settlement, their eyes covered with flannelette. “When your eyes are covered, your imagination takes you to the most frightening places,” says a lawyer who represents young Palestinians. Many of those arrested don’t understand Hebrew, so that once pushed into the army vehicle they are completely cut off from what’s going on around them.

      In most cases, the handcuffed, blindfolded youth will be moved from place to place before actually being interrogated. Sometimes he’s left outside, in the open, for a time. In addition to the discomfort and the bewilderment, the frequent moving around presents another problem: In the meantime many acts of violence, in which soldiers beat the detainees, take place and go undocumented.

      Once at the army base or police station, the minor is placed, still handcuffed and blindfolded, on a chair or on the floor for a few hours, generally without being given anything to eat. The “endless trip to hell” is how Bayadsi describes this process. Memory of the incident, she adds, “is still there even years after the boy’s release. It implants in him an ongoing feeling of a lack of security, which will stay with him for his whole life.”

      Testimony provided to Breaking the Silence by an IDF staff sergeant about one incident in the West Bank illustrates the situation from the other side: “It was the first night of Hanukkah in 2017. Two children were throwing stones on Highway 60, on the road. So we grabbed them and took them to the base. Their eyes were covered with flannelette, and they were handcuffed in front with plastic cuffs. They looked young, between 12 and 16 years old.”

      When the soldiers gathered to light the first candle of the Hanukkah holiday, the detainees remained outside. “We’re shouting and making noise and using drums, which is a kind of company thing,” the soldier recalled, noting that he assumed the kids didn’t know Hebrew, although maybe they did understand the curses they heard. “Let’s say sharmuta [slut] and other words they might know from Arabic. How could they know we aren’t talking about them? They’ll probably thought that in another minute we were going to cook them.”

      Interrogation

      The nightmare can be of differing duration, the former detainees relate. Three to eight hours after the arrest, by which time the youth is tired and hungry – and sometimes in pain after being hit, frightened by threats and not even knowing why he’s there – he’s taken in for interrogation. This may be the first time the blindfold is removed and his hands freed. The process usually starts with a general question, such as, “Why do you throw stones at soldiers?” The rest is more intense – a barrage of questions and threats, aimed at getting the teen to sign a confession. In some cases, he’s promised that if he signs he’ll be given something to eat.

      According to the testimonies, the interrogators’ threats are directed squarely at the boy (“You’ll spend your whole life in jail”), or at his family (“I’ll bring your mother here and kill her before your eyes”), or at the family’s livelihood (“If you don’t confess, we’ll take away your father’s permit to work in Israel – because of you, he’ll be out of work and the whole family will go hungry”).

      “The system shows that the intention here is more to demonstrate control than to engage in enforcement,” suggests Bayadsi. “If the boy confesses, there’s a file; if he doesn’t confess, he enters the criminal circle anyway and is seriously intimidated.”

      Imprisonment

      Whether the young detainee has signed a confession or not, the next stop is prison. Either Megiddo, in Lower Galilee, or Ofer, north of Jerusalem. Khaled Mahmoud Selvi was 15 when he was brought to prison in October 2017 and was told to disrobe for a body search (as in 55 percent of the cases). For 10 minutes he was made to stand naked, along with another boy, and in winter.

      The months in detention, waiting for trial, and later, if they are sentenced, are spent in the youth wing of the facilities for security prisoners. “They don’t speak with their families for months and are allowed one visit a month, through glass,” Bayadsi relates.

      Far fewer Palestinian girls are arrested than boys. But there is no facility specially for them, so they are held in the Sharon prison for women, together with the adults.

      The trial

      The courtroom is usually the place where parents have their first sight of their child, sometimes several weeks after the arrest. Tears are the most common reaction to the sight of the young detainee, who will be wearing a prison uniform and handcuffs, and with a cloud of uncertainty hovering over everything. Israel Prisons Service guards don’t allow the parents to approach the youth, and direct them to sit on the visitors’ bench. Defense counsel is paid for either by the family or by the Palestinian Authority.

      At a recent remand hearing for several detainees, one boy didn’t stop smiling at the sight of his mother, while another lowered his eyes, perhaps to conceal tears. Another detainee whispered to his grandmother, who had come to visit him, “Don’t worry, tell everyone I’m fine.” The next boy remained silent and watched as his mother mouthed to him, “Omari, I love you.”

      While the children and their family try to exchange a few words and looks, the proceedings move along. As though in a parallel universe.

      The deal

      The vast majority of trials for juveniles ends in a plea bargain – safka in Arabic, a word Palestinian children know well. Even if there is no hard evidence to implicate the boy in stone-throwing, a plea is often the preferred option. If the detainee doesn’t agree to it, the trial could last a long time and he will be held in custody until the proceedings end.

      Conviction depends almost entirely on evidence from a confession, says lawyer Gerard Horton, from the British-Palestinian Military Court Watch, whose brief, according to its website, involves “monitoring the treatment of children in Israeli military detention.” According to Horton, who is based in Jerusalem, the minors will be more prone to confess if they don’t know their rights, are frightened and get no support or relief until they confess. Sometimes a detainee who does not confess will be told that he can expect to face a series of court appearances. At some stage, even the toughest youth will despair, the lawyer explains.

      The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stated in response: “The minors are entitled to be represented by an attorney, like any other accused, and they have the right to conduct their defense in any way they choose. Sometimes they choose to admit to guilt within the framework of a plea bargain but if they plead not guilty, a procedure involving hearing evidence is conducted, like the proceedings conducted in [civilian courts in] Israel, at the conclusion of which a legal decision will be handed down on the basis of the evidence presented to the court. The deliberations are set within a short time and are conducted efficiently and with the rights of the accused upheld.”

      Managing the community

      According to data of collected by the British-Palestinian NGO, 97 percent of the youths arrested by the IDF live in relatively small locales that are no more than two kilometers away from a settlement. There are a number of reasons for this. One involves the constant friction – physical and geographical – between Palestinians, on the one hand, and soldiers and settlers. However, according to Horton, there is another, no less interesting way to interpret this figure: namely, from the perspective of an IDF commander, whose mission is to protect the settlers.

      In the case of reported stone-throwing incidents, he says, the commander’s assumption is that the Palestinians involved are young, between the ages of 12 and 30, and that they come from the nearest village. Often the officer will turn to the resident collaborator in the village, who provides him with the names of a few boys.

      The next move is “to enter the village at night and arrest them,” Horton continues. “And whether these youths are the ones who threw the stones or not, you have already put a scare into the whole village” – which he says is an “effective tool” for managing a community.

      “When so many minors are being arrested like this, it’s clear that some of them will be innocent,” he observes. “The point is that this has to be happening all the time, because the boys grow up and new children appear on the scene. Each generation must feel the strong arm of the IDF.”

      According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit: “In recent years, many minors, some of them very young, have been involved in violent incidents, incitement and even terrorism. In these cases, there is no alternative but to institute measures, including interrogation, detention and trial, within the limits of and according to what is stipulated by law. As part of these procedures, the IDF operates to uphold and preserve the rights of the minors. In enforcing the law against them, their age is taken into account.

      “Thus, since 2014, among other measures, in certain instances, the minors are invited to the police station and are not arrested at home. In addition, proceedings relating to minors take place in the military court for juveniles, which examines the seriousness of the offense that’s attributed to the minor and the danger it poses, while taking into consideration his young age and his particular circumstances. Every allegation of violence on the part of IDF soldiers is examined, and cases in which the soldiers’ actions are found to be flawed are treated sternly.”

      The Shin Bet security service stated in response: “The Shin Bet, together with the IDF and the Israel Police, operates against every element that threatens to harm Israel’s security and the country’s citizenry. The terrorist organizations make extensive use of minors and recruit them to carry out terrorist activity, and there is a general tendency to involve minors in terrorist activity as part of local initiatives.

      “Interrogations of suspected terrorists are conducted by the Shin Bet under the law, and are subject to supervision and to internal and external review, including by all levels of the court system. The interrogations of minors are carried out with extra sensitivity and with consideration of their young age.”

      Khaled Mahmoud Selvi, arrested at 14 (October 2017)

      “I was arrested when I was 14, all the boys in the family were arrested that night. A year later, I was arrested again, with my cousin. They said I burned tires. It happened when I was sleeping. My mother woke me up. I thought it was time for school, but when I opened my eyes I saw soldiers above me. They told me to get dressed, handcuffed me and took me outside. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and it was cold that night. My mother begged them to let me put on a jacket, but they didn’t agree. Finally, she threw the jacket on me, but they didn’t let me put my arms in the sleeves.

      “They took me to the Karmei Tzur settlement with my eyes covered, and I had the feeling that they were just driving in circles. When I walked, there was a pit in the road and they pushed me into it, and I fell. From there they took me to Etzion [police station]. There they put me in a room, and soldiers kept coming in all the time and kicking me. Someone passed by and said that if I didn’t confess, they would leave me in jail for the rest of my life.

      “At 7 A.M., they told me the interrogation was starting. I asked to go to the toilet before. My eyes were covered and a soldier put a chair in front of me. I tripped. The interrogation went on for an hour. They told me that they saw me burning tires and that it interfered with air traffic. I told them it wasn’t me. I didn’t see a lawyer until the afternoon, and he asked the soldiers to bring us food. It was the first time I had eaten since being arrested the night before.

      “At 7 P.M., I was sent to Ofer Prison, and I remained there for six months. In that period, I was in court more than 10 times. And there was also another interrogation, because a friend of mine was told while being questioned that if he didn’t confess and inform on me, they would bring his mother and shoot her before his eyes. So he confessed and informed. I’m not angry at him. It was his first arrest, he was scared.”

      Khaled Shtaiwi, arrested at 13 (November 2018)

      Khaled’s story is told by his father, Murad Shatawi: “On the night he was arrested, a phone call from my nephew woke me up. He said the house was surrounded by soldiers. I got up and got dressed, because I expected them to arrest me, on account of the nonviolent demonstrations I organize on Fridays. I never imagined they’d take Khaled. They asked me for the names of my sons. I told them Mumen and Khaled. When I said Khaled, they said, ‘Yes, him. We’re here to take him.’ I was in shock, so many soldiers showed up to arrest a boy of 13.

      “They handcuffed and blindfolded him and led him east on foot, toward the settlement of Kedumim, all the while cursing and hitting him a little. I saw it all from the window. They gave me a document showing that it was a legal arrest and I could come to the police station. When I got there, I saw him through a small hole in the door. He was handcuffed and blindfolded.

      “He stayed like that from the moment they arrested him until 3 P.M. the next day. That’s a picture that doesn’t leave me; I don’t know how I’ll go on living with that picture in my head. He was accused of throwing stones, but after four days they released him, because he didn’t confess and there was no other evidence against him. During the trial, when the judge wanted to speak to Khaled, he had to lean forward in order to see him, because Khaled was so small.

      “What was it like to see him like that? I am the father. That says it all. He hasn’t talked about it since getting out, three months ago. That’s a problem. I’m now organizing a ‘psychology day’ in the village, to help all the children here who have been arrested. Out of 4,500 people in the village, 11 children under the age of 18 have been arrested; five were under the age of 15.”

      Omar Rabua Abu Ayyash, arrested at age 10 (December 2018)

      Omar looks small for his age. He’s shy and quiet, and it’s hard to talk to him about the arrest, so members of his family recount the events in his place.

      Omar’s mother: “It happened at 10 A.M. on Friday, when there is no school. Omar was playing in the area in front of the house, he threw pebbles at birds that were chirping in the tree. The soldiers, who were in the watchtower across the way here, picked up on what he was doing and ran toward him. He ran, but they caught him and knocked him down. He started to cry, and he wet his pants. They kicked him a few times.

      “His grandmother, who lives here below, immediately went out and tried to take him from the soldiers, which caused a struggle and shouts. In the end, they left him alone and he went home and changed into dry pants. A quarter of an hour later, the soldiers came back, this time with their commander, who said he had to arrest the boy for throwing stones. When the other children in the family saw the soldiers in the house, they also wet their pants.”

      Omar’s father takes up the story: “I told the commander that he was under 12 and that I had to accompany him, so I rode with him in the jeep to the Karmei Tzur settlement. There the soldiers told him not to throw stones anymore, and that if he saw other children doing it, he should tell them. From there they took him the offices of the Palestinian Authority in Hebron. The whole story took about 12 hours. They gave him a few bananas to eat during those hours. Now, whenever the children see a military jeep or soldiers, they go inside. They’ve stopped playing outside since then. Before the incident, soldiers used to come here to play soccer with the children. Now they’ve stopped coming, too.”

      Tareq Shtaiwi, arrested at 14 (January 2019)

      “It was around 2 P.M. I had a fever that day, so Dad sent me to my cousin next door, because that’s almost the only place in the village with a heating unit. Suddenly soldiers showed up. They saw me watching them from the window, so they fired shots at the door of the building, knocked it down and started to come upstairs. I got scared, so I ran from the second floor to the third, but they stopped me on the way and took me outside. The soldiers wouldn’t let me take my coat, even though it was cold and I was sick. They took me on foot to Kedumim, handcuffed and blindfolded. They sat me on a chair. I heard doors and windows being slammed hard, I think they were trying to scare me.

      “After a while, they took me from Kedumim to Ariel, and I was there for five-six hours. They accused me of throwing stones a few days earlier with my friend. I told them I hadn’t thrown any stones. In the evening they moved me to the Hawara detention building; one of the soldiers told me I would never leave there. In the morning I was moved to Megiddo Prison. They didn’t have prisoners uniforms in my size, so they gave me clothes of Palestinian children who had been there before and left them for the next in line. I was the youngest person in the prison.

      “I had three court hearings, and after 12 days, at the last hearing, they told me that it was enough, that my father would pay a fine of 2,000 shekels [$525] and I was getting a three-year suspended sentence. The judge asked me what I intended to do after getting out, I told him I would go back to school and I wouldn’t go up to the third floor again. Since my arrest, my younger brother, who’s 7, has been afraid to sleep in the kids’ room and goes to sleep with our parents.”

      Adham Ahsoun, arrested in October 2018, on his 15th birthday

      “On my 15th birthday, I went to the store in the village center to buy a few things. Around 7:30 in the evening, soldiers entered the village and children started to throw stones at them. On the way home with my bag, they caught me. They took me to the entrance of the village and put me in a jeep. One of the soldiers started to hit me. Then they put plastic handcuffs on me and covered my eyes and took me like that to the military base in Karnei Shomron. I was there for about an hour. I couldn’t see a thing, but I had the feeling that a dog was sniffing me. I was afraid. From there they took me to another military base and left me there for the night. They didn’t give me anything to eat or drink.

      “In the morning, they moved me to the interrogation facility in Ariel. The interrogator told me that the soldiers caught me throwing stones. I told him that I hadn’t thrown stones, that I was on my way home from the store. So he called the soldiers into the interrogation room. They said, ‘He’s lying, we saw him, he was throwing stones.’ I told him that I really hadn’t thrown stones, but he threatened to arrest my mother and father. I panicked. I asked him, ‘What do you want from me?’ He said he wanted me to sign that I threw stones at soldiers, so I signed. The whole time I didn’t see or talk to a lawyer.

      “My plea bargain was that I would confess and get a five-month jail sentence. Afterward, they gave me one-third off for good behavior. I got out after three months and a fine of 2,000 shekels. In jail I tried to catch up with the material I missed in school. The teachers told me they would only take into account the grades of the second semester, so it wouldn’t hurt my chances of being accepted for engineering studies in university.”

      Muhmen Teet, arrested at 13 (November 2017)

      “At 3 A.M., I heard knocking on the door. Dad came into the room and said there were soldiers in the living room and wanted us to show ID cards. The commanding officer told my father that they were taking me to Etzion for questioning. Outside, they handcuffed and blindfolded me and put me in a military vehicle. We went to my cousin’s house; they also arrested him. From there we went to Karmei Tzur and waited, handcuffed and blindfolded, until the morning.

      “In the morning, they only took my cousin for interrogation, not me. After his interrogation, they took us to Ofer Prison. After a day there, they took us back to Etzion and said they were going to interrogate me. Before the interrogation, they took me into a room, where there was a soldier who slapped me. After he hit me in one room, he took me to the interrogation room. The interrogator said I was responsible for burning tires, and because of that the grove near the house caught fire. I said it wasn’t me, and I signed a document that the interrogator gave me. The document was also printed in Arabic, but the interrogator filled it out in Hebrew. I was taken back to Ofer Prison.

      “I had seven hearings in court, because at the first hearing I said I hadn’t intended to confess, I just didn’t understand what I signed and it wasn’t true. So they sent me back for another interrogation. Again I didn’t confess. Then they sent me to interrogation another time and again I didn’t confess. That’s what it was like in three interrogations. In the end, my lawyer did a deal with the prosecutor that if I confessed in court – which I did – and my family would pay 4,000 shekels, they would release me.

      “I’m a good student, I like soccer, both playing and watching it. Since the arrest I hardly wander around outside.”

      Khalil Zaakiq, arrested at age 13 (January 2019)

      “Around 2 A.M. someone knocked on the door. I woke up and saw a lot of soldiers in the house. They said we should all sit in the living room sofa and not move. The commander called Uday, my big brother, told him to get dressed and informed him that he was under arrest. It was the third time they arrested him. My father was also once under arrest. Suddenly they told me to put my shoes on too and go with them.

      “They took us out of the house and tied our hands and covered our eyes. We went like that on foot to the base in Karmei Tzur. There they sat me on the floor with hands tied and eyes covered for around three hours. At about 5 A.M., they moved us to Etzion. On the way there in the jeep they hit us, they slapped me. In Etzion, I was sent to be checked by a doctor. He asked if I had been beaten and I said yes. He didn’t do anything, only checked my blood pressure and said I could stand up to an interrogation.

      “My interrogation started at 8 A.M.. They asked me to tell them which children throw stones. I said I didn’t know, so the interrogator gave me a slap. The interrogation went on for four hours. Afterward, they put me into a dark room for 10 minutes and then took me back to the interrogation room, but now they only fingerprinted me and put me into a detention cell for an hour. After an hour, Uday and I were moved to Ofer Prison. I didn’t sign a confession, neither about myself nor about others.

      “I got out after nine days, because I wasn’t guilty of anything. My parents had to pay 1,000 shekels for bail. My little brother, who is 10, has been really afraid ever since. Whenever someone knocks at the door, he wets his pants.”

  • Is Your Ship Safe? Help Us Find Out Whether Navy Reforms… — ProPublica
    https://www.propublica.org/getinvolved/is-your-ship-safe-navy-fleet-reforms

    The Navy promised to implement reforms in the wake of two deadly 2017 crashes. We’re trying to find out how it’s doing — and we need to hear from sailors in all six of the numbered fleets that patrol the world’s oceans.

    @simplicissimus

    • #merci !
      intéressant de voir combien #ProPublica obtiendra de réponses et lesquelles. Le rapport de l’Amiral Fort, sorti la semaine dernière, laisse voir (au moins) certaines des unités dans un état véritablement désastreux…

      Et, dans la série : TVB vs rien ne bouge, cet article d’hier sur ProPublica :

      An Admiral Told a Senator Most Navy Reforms Were… — ProPublica
      https://www.propublica.org/article/admiral-bill-moran-navy-reforms


      The USS Fitzgerald heads toward its Yokosuka Base in Japan after a collision with a cargo ship.
      The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

      Adm. Bill Moran told ProPublica this week that none of the promised reforms had been completed, but that work had started on the pledges.

      Sen. Angus King wanted some straight answers. At a Feb. 12 hearing of a panel of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he expressed alarm over recent revelations concerning two deadly collisions of Navy ships in the Pacific in 2017. King, a Maine independent, declared the accidents avoidable and questioned the Navy’s commitment to fixing the problems that had helped cause them. Frustrated, King challenged a top Navy leader to come clean.

      I want real numbers. I don’t want general ‘We’re working on staffing’ or ‘We’re working on more training,’ because these were avoidable tragedies,” King told Adm. Philip Davidson, the top military commander in the Pacific. “I would like to see specific responses from the Navy. Not promises and not good feelings.

      Nine days later, Davidson sought to reassure King, who while an independent caucuses with Democrats, that his worry and frustration were unwarranted. In a letter dated Feb. 21, Davidson told King the Navy counted as “complete” 91 of the more than 100 reforms it had promised to make in the months after 17 sailors died in back-to-back crashes with civilian ships in the summer of 2017.

      It is a claim directly contradicted by Adm. Bill Moran, the No. 2 man in charge of the Navy. Moran told ProPublica this week that, in fact, none of the promised reforms had been completed. Moran said work had started on 91 of what he said were 103 pledges to, among other things, provide more sailors to under-manned ships in Japan and stop ships from sailing without complete certifications regarding their navigation and war-fighting abilities — both issues in the two 2017 deadly collisions.

      It doesn’t happen overnight,” Moran said of the reforms.

      ProPublica contacted both the Navy and King’s office to inquire about the discrepancy. A spokesman for the Navy said it had “implemented” 91 of its many reforms, pledges that included more sailors for its ships, fixes for its equipment and ending the practice of forcing ships out to sea before they were ready. The spokesman said “implemented” meant “corrective actions, plans or policies are in place.” But they are not yet completed, the spokesman said, correcting Davidson’s claim.

      Many of these recommendations will take time to fully assess their completeness. So even though they may be fully implemented, they won’t be considered complete … until measurable outcomes are achieved,” the spokesman said. “We are not concerned with actions taken but rather on outcomes achieved, and while significant improvements have been made, we are urgently focused on how we can do things better.

      The spokesman said the Navy planned to update its response to King and the Armed Services Committee.

      The Navy released a breakdown of the status of every reform Wednesday evening. ProPublica has asked sailors to weigh in on the changes they have seen.

      Davidson’s letter to King was first reported on the U.S. Naval Institute’s news website, which posted a copy.

    • les déclarations de l’amiral Moran à ProPublica, reprises sur gCaptain. Et autres,…

      Top US Navy Admiral Says « None Of The Promised Reforms Are Complete » – gCaptain
      https://gcaptain.com/top-us-navy-admiral-says-none-of-the-promised-reforms-are-complete

      Nine days later, Davidson sought to reassure [Sen. Angus] King [Maine, independent], who while an independent caucuses with Democrats, that his worry and frustration were unwarranted. In a letter dated Feb. 21, Davidson told King the Navy counted as “complete” 91 of the more than 100 reforms it had promised to make in the months after 17 sailors died in back-to-back crashes with civilian ships in the summer of 2017.

      It is a claim directly contradicted by Adm. Bill Moran, the No. 2 man in charge of the Navy. Moran told ProPublica this week that, in fact, none of the promised reforms had been completed. Moran said work had started on 91 of what he said were 103 pledges to, among other things, provide more sailors to under-manned ships in Japan and stop ships from sailing without complete certifications regarding their navigation and war-fighting abilities — both issues in the two 2017 deadly collisions.
      […]
      At the hearing, Davidson defended the Navy by noting that the vast majority of ships were not crashing, a remark that drew widespread derision.

      ProPublica also reported that after the crashes, in a talk to ship commanders and other officers, Davidson was asked whether they would be able to push back against orders to sail if they believed their ships were not ready.

      Davidson, according to an admiral inside the theater, responded with anger.

      If you can’t take your ships to sea and accomplish the mission with the resources you have,” he said, “then we’ll find someone who will.

      The remark spread across the Navy, stoking fears among commanders about honestly communicating unsafe conditions for fear of losing their jobs.

      Davidson’s spokesman told ProPublica that he only meant to say that if ships were not fit to sail, they would be replaced by other ships that were.

  • Kremlin says cyber attacks on Russia often launched from U.S. territory | Reuters
    https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-trump-russia-kremlin-idUKKCN1QG187

    The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the U.S. military had disrupted the internet access of a Russian troll farm accused of trying to influence American voters on Nov. 6, 2018, the day of the congressional elections.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters he did not know how much truth there was to that media report.

    “But in general I can say that U.S. territory is constantly being used to organise a huge number of cyber attacks against various Russian organisations. That’s the reality with which we live.”

    #cyberattaques #Russie #Etats-Unis

  • Facebook tracks people who are potential threats to its employees
    https://www.cnet.com/news/facebook-reportedly-keeps-a-list-of-people-who-are-potential-threats-to-its-em

    Nous sommes mercredi 20 février de l’ Anno Orwelli 35 (« apr. G.-O. ») . La technologie de surveillance totale prend forme sous des aspects toujours renouvelés.

    February 14, 2019 by Queenie Wong - The social network sometimes monitors the location of users and ex-employees if the threat appears credible.

    Facebook keeps a list of people, including users and ex-employees, who have made threats against the social media company and its employees.

    The company uses data from those people’s Facebook accounts and sometimes tracks their location through the app if threats appear credible, CNBC reported earlier on Thursday. Some former employees who spoke to CNBC questioned the company’s ethics, but others said the tech giant is keeping its employees safe.

    A Facebook spokesman confirmed the company keeps a list of people who might pose a threat, but said the practice is “standard in terms of corporate security.” He declined to say how many people are on this list, but CNBC reported there are hundreds.

    Revelations about how Facebook tracks the location of security threats comes as the world’s largest social network faces criticism that it isn’t doing enough to protect the privacy of its 2.3 billion users. At the same time, Facebook and other tech giants have also had to deal with real threats against their employees.

    “We have strict processes designed to protect people’s privacy and adhere to all data privacy laws and Facebook’s terms of service,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “In cases where there is a credible threat of physical violence against a Facebook employee, we use a combination of publicly available data and industry-standard practices to assess their physical proximity to an at-risk employee or Facebook location.”

    Facebook’s data policy states the company collects information from the device settings a user turns on, which includes GPS location. The policy also mentions that Facebook uses the data it gathers about its users to promote safety and security on and off the social network.

    In December, police evacuated buildings at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters following an anonymous bomb threat. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad swept the buildings but didn’t find suspicious packages or devices. In April, a suspected female shooter opened fire on employees at YouTube’s San Bruno headquarters, wounding three workers before taking her own life, according to police.

    On Thursday, a Netflix office in Los Angeles was locked down after reports of an armed person at the site. The man was detained and Netflix said there was no immediate threat or danger posed to its employees.

    Facebook created a “be on lookout” list in 2008 and it’s updated every week, according to former employees who spoke to CNBC.

    When a person is added to the list, security professionals receive a report that includes their name, photo, location and why they were added, according to the news outlet. In 2018, Facebook tracked the location of an user who made a public threat against one of Facebook’s Europe office.

    One Facebook user discovered he was on the list after he tried to enter Facebook’s campus for lunch with a friend who worked at the company. Security guards showed up when he tried to register as a guest, and he reportedly was on the list because of messages he sent to Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. The user was removed from the list after his friend complained to the company.

    Sometimes, Facebook will also add former employees to the list if they’ve made threats against the company, CNBC reported.

    Other tech companies also reportedly keep lists. Facebook uses the social network to find threats against its employees, according to CNBC.

    Facebook can track people’s location through its own service. That has included Facebook users and even its own interns if they go missing.

    A former employee told CNBC that the social network only tracks a person’s location when a threat appears credible.

    First published Feb. 14, 12:50 p.m. PT.
    Update, 1:35 p.m. PT: Includes more background. Update, 1:49 p.m. PT: Includes statement from Facebook. Update, 4:40 p.m. PT: Includes additional comment from Facebook and information about its data policy. Update, 5:27 p.m. PT: Adds news of Netflix lockdown.

  • #Shamima_Begum: Isis Briton faces move to revoke citizenship

    The Guardian understands the home secretary thinks section 40(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 gives him the power to strip Begum of her UK citizenship.

    He wrote to her family informing them he had made such an order, believing the fact her parents are of Bangladeshi heritage means she can apply for citizenship of that country – though Begum says she has never visited it.

    This is crucial because, while the law bars him from making a person stateless, it allows him to remove citizenship if he can show Begum has behaved “in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK” and he has “reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the UK, to become a national of such a country or territory”.


    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/19/isis-briton-shamima-begum-to-have-uk-citizenship-revoked?CMP=Share_Andr
    #citoyenneté #UK #Angleterre #apatridie #révocation #terrorisme #ISIS #EI #Etat_islamique #nationalité #déchéance_de_nationalité

    • What do we know about citizenship stripping?

      The Bureau began investigating the Government’s powers to deprive individuals of their British citizenship two years ago.

      The project has involved countless hours spent in court, deep and detailed use of the freedom of information act and the input of respected academics, lawyers and politicians.

      The Counter-Terrorism Bill was presented to Parliament two weeks ago. New powers to remove passports from terror suspects and temporarily exclude suspected jihadists from the UK have focused attention on the Government’s citizenship stripping powers, which have been part of the government’s counter-terrorism tools for nearly a decade.

      A deprivation order can be made where the home secretary believes that it is ‘not conducive’ to the public good for the individual to remain in the country, or where citizenship is believed to have been obtained fraudulently. The Bureau focuses on cases based on ‘not conducive’ grounds, which are related to national security and suspected terrorist activity.

      Until earlier this year, the Government was only able to remove the citizenship of British nationals where doing so wouldn’t leave them stateless. However, in July an amendment to the British Nationality Act (BNA) came into force and powers to deprive a person of their citizenship were expanded. Foreign-born, naturalised individuals can now be stripped of their UK citizenship on national security grounds even if it renders them stateless, a practice described by a former director of public prosecutions as being “beloved of the world’s worst regimes during the 20th century”.

      So what do we know about how these powers are used?
      The numbers

      53 people have been stripped of their British citizenship since 2002 – this includes both people who were considered to have gained their citizenship fraudulently, as well as those who have lost it for national security reasons.
      48 of these were under the Coalition government.
      Since 2006, 27 people have lost their citizenship on national security grounds; 24 of these were under the current Coalition government.
      In 2013, home secretary Theresa May stripped 20 individuals of their British citizenship – more than in all the preceding years of the Coalition put together.
      The Bureau has identified 18 of the 53 cases, 17 of which were deprived of their citizenship on national security grounds.
      15 of the individuals identified by the Bureau who lost their citizenship on national security grounds were abroad at the time of the deprivation order.
      At least five of those who have lost their nationality were born in the UK.
      The previous Labour government used deprivation orders just five times in four years.
      Hilal Al-Jedda was the first individual whose deprivation of citizenship case made it to the Supreme Court. The home secretary lost her appeal as the Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled her deprivation order against Al-Jedda had made him illegally stateless. Instead of returning his passport, just three weeks later the home secretary issued a second deprivation order against him.
      This was one of two deprivation of citizenship cases to have made it to the Supreme Court, Britain’s uppermost court, to date.
      In November 2014 deprivation of citizenship case number two reached the Supreme Court, with the appellant, Minh Pham, also arguing that the deprivation order against him made him unlawfully stateless.
      Two of those stripped of their British citizenship by Theresa May in 2010, London-born Mohamed Sakr and his childhood friend Bilal al Berjawi, were later killed by US drone strikes in Somalia.
      One of the individuals identified by the Bureau, Mahdi Hashi, was the subject of rendition to the US, where he was held in secret for over a month and now faces terror charges.
      Only one individual, Iraqi-born Hilal al-Jedda, is currently known to have been stripped of his British citizenship twice.
      Number of Bureau Q&As on deprivation of citizenship: one.

      https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2014-12-10/what-do-we-know-about-citizenship-stripping
      #statistiques #chiffres

    • ‘My British citizenship was everything to me. Now I am nobody’ – A former British citizen speaks out

      When a British man took a holiday to visit relatives in Pakistan in January 2012 he had every reason to look forward to returning home. He worked full time at the mobile phone shop beneath his flat in southeast London, he had a busy social life and preparations for his family’s visit to the UK were in full flow.

      Two years later, the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is stranded in Pakistan, and claims he is under threat from the Taliban and unable to find work to support his wife and three children.

      He is one of 27 British nationals since 2006 who have had their citizenship removed under secretive government orders on the grounds that their presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’. He is the first to speak publicly about his ordeal.

      ‘My British citizenship was everything to me. I could travel around the world freely,’ he told the Bureau. ‘That was my identity but now I am nobody.’

      Under current legislation, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has the power to strip dual nationals of their British citizenship if she deems their presence in the UK ‘not conducive to the public good’, or if their nationality was gained on fraudulent grounds. May recently won a Commons vote paving the way to allow her to strip the citizenship of foreign-born or naturalised UK nationals even if it rendered them stateless. Amendments to the Immigration Bill – including the controversial Article 60 concerning statelessness – are being tabled this week in the House of Lords.

      A Bureau investigation in December 2013 revealed 20 British nationals were stripped of their citizenship last year – more than in all previous years under the Coalition combined. Twelve of these were later revealed to have been cases where an individual had gained citizenship by fraud; the remaining eight are on ‘conducive’ grounds.

      Since 2006 when the current laws entered force, 27 orders have been made on ‘conducive’ grounds, issued in practice against individuals suspected of involvement in extremist activities. The Home Secretary often makes her decision when the individual concerned is outside the UK, and, in at least one case, deliberately waited for a British national to go on holiday before revoking his citizenship.

      The only legal recourse to these decisions, which are taken without judicial approval, is for the individual affected to submit a formal appeal to the Special Immigration and Asylum Committee (Siac), where evidence can be heard in secret, within 28 days of the order being given. These appeals can take years to conclude, leaving individuals – the vast majority of whom have never been charged with an offence – stranded abroad.

      The process has been compared to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

      The man, who is referred to in court documents as E2, was born in Afghanistan and still holds Afghan citizenship. He claimed asylum in Britain in 1999 after fleeing the Taliban regime in Kabul, and was granted indefinite leave to remain. In 2009 he became a British citizen.

      While his immediate family remained in Pakistan, E2 came to London, where he worked and integrated in the local community. Although this interview was conducted in his native Pashto, E2 can speak some English.

      ‘I worked and I learned English,’ he says. ‘Even now I see myself as a British. If anyone asks me, I tell them that I am British.’

      But, as of March 28 2012, E2 is no longer a British citizen. After E2 boarded a flight to Kabul in January 2012 to visit relatives in Afghanistan and his wife and children in Pakistan, a letter containing May’s signature was sent to his southeast London address from the UK Border Agency, stating he had been deprived of his British nationality. In evidence that remains secret even from him, E2 was accused of involvement in ‘Islamist extremism’ and deemed a national security threat. He denies the allegation and says he has never participated in extremist activity.

      In the letter the Home Secretary wrote: ‘My decision has been taken in part reliance on information which, in my opinion should not be made public in the interest of national security and because disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.’

      E2 says he had no way of knowing his citizenship had been removed and that the first he heard of the decision was when he was met by a British embassy official at Dubai airport on May 25 2012, when he was on his way back to the UK and well after his appeal window shut.

      E2’s lawyer appealed anyway, and submitted to Siac that: ‘Save for written correspondence to the Appellant’s last known address in the UK expressly stating that he has 28 days to appeal, i.e. acknowledging that he was not in the UK, no steps were taken to contact the Appellant by email, telephone or in person until an official from the British Embassy met him at Dubai airport and took his passport from him.’

      The submission noted that ‘it is clear from this [decision] that the [Home Secretary] knew that the Appellant [E2] is out of the country as the deadline referred to is 28 days.’

      The Home Office disputed that E2 was unaware of the order against him, and a judge ruled that he was satisfied ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that E2 did know about the removal of his citizenship. ‘[W]e do not believe his statement,’ the judge added.

      His British passport was confiscated and, after spending 18 hours in an airport cell, E2 was made to board a flight back to Kabul. He has remained in Afghanistan and Pakistan ever since. It is from Pakistan that he agreed to speak to the Bureau last month.

      Daniel Carey, who is representing E2 in a fresh appeal to Siac, says: ‘The practice of waiting until a citizen leaves the UK before depriving them of citizenship, and then opposing them when they appeal out of time, is an intentional attack on citizens’ due process rights.

      ‘By bending an unfair system to its will the government is getting worryingly close to a system of citizenship by executive fiat.’

      While rules governing hearings at Siac mean some evidence against E2 cannot be disclosed on grounds of national security, the Bureau has been able to corroborate key aspects of E2’s version of events, including his best guess as to why his citizenship was stripped. His story revolves around an incident that occurred thousands of miles away from his London home and several years before he saw it for the last time.

      In November 2008, Afghan national Zia ul-Haq Ahadi was kidnapped as he left the home of his infirmed mother in Peshawar, Pakistan. The event might have gone unnoticed were he not the brother of Afghanistan’s then finance minister and former presidential hopeful Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi. Anwar intervened, and after 13 months of tortuous negotiations with the kidnappers, a ransom was paid and Zia was released. E2 claims to have been the man who drove a key negotiator to Zia’s kidnappers.

      While the Bureau has not yet been able to confirm whether E2 had played the role he claimed in the release, a source with detailed knowledge of the kidnapping told the Bureau he was ‘willing to give [E2] some benefit of the doubt because there are elements of truth [in his version of events].’

      The source confirmed a man matching E2’s description was involved in the negotiations.

      ‘We didn’t know officially who the group was, but they were the kidnappers. I didn’t know whether they were with the Pakistani or Afghan Taliban,’ E2 says. ‘After releasing the abducted person I came back to London.’

      E2 guesses – since not even his lawyers have seen specific evidence against him – that it was this activity that brought him to the attention of British intelligence services. After this point, he was repeatedly stopped as he travelled to and from London and Afghanistan and Pakistan to visit relatives four times between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2012.

      ‘MI5 questioned me for three or four hours each time I came to London at Heathrow airport,’ he says. ‘They said people like me [Pashtun Afghans] go to Waziristan and from there you start fighting with British and US soldiers.

      ‘The very last time [I was questioned] was years after the [kidnapping]. I was asked to a Metropolitan Police station in London. They showed me pictures of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar [former Afghan prime minister and militant with links to the Pakistani Taliban (TTP)] along with other leaders and Taliban commanders. They said: ‘You know these guys.’

      He claims he was shown a photo of his wife – a highly intrusive action in conservative Pashtun culture – as well as one of someone he was told was Sirajuddin Haqqani, commander of the Haqqani Network, one of the most lethal TTP-allied groups.

      ‘They said I met him, that I was talking to him and I have connections with him. I said that’s wrong. I told [my interrogator] that you can call [Anwar al-Ahady] and he will explain that he sent me to Waziristan and that I found and released his brother,’ E2 says.

      ‘I don’t know Sirajuddin Haqqani and I didn’t meet him.’

      The Haqqani Network, which operates in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and across the border in Afghanistan, was designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States in September 2012. It has claimed responsibility for a score of attacks against Afghan, Pakistani and NATO security forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The UN accuses Sirajuddin Haqqani of being ‘actively involved in the planning and execution of attacks targeting International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), Afghan officials and civilians.’

      E2 says he has no idea whether Haqqani was involved in Zia’s kidnapping, but he believes the security services may have started investigating him when he met the imam of a mosque he visited in North Waziristan.

      ‘The imam had lunch with us and he was with me while I was waiting for my father-in-law. I didn’t take his number but I gave him mine. That imam often called me on my shop’s BT telephone line [in London]. These calls put me in trouble,’ he says.

      If E2’s version of events is accurate, it would mean he gained his British citizenship while he was negotiating Zia’s release. He lost it less than three years later.

      The Home Office offered a boilerplate response to the Bureau’s questions: ‘The Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.’

      When challenged specifically on allegations made by E2, the spokesman said the Home Office does not comment on individual cases.

      E2 says he now lives in fear for his safety in Pakistan. Since word has spread that he lost his UK nationality, locals assume he is guilty, which he says puts him at risk of attack from the Pakistani security forces. In addition, he says his family has received threats from the Taliban for his interaction with MI5.

      ‘People back in Afghanistan know that my British passport was revoked because I was accused of working with the Taliban. I can’t visit my relatives and I am an easy target to others,’ he said. ‘Without the British passport here, whether [by] the government or Taliban, we can be executed easily.’

      E2 is not alone in fearing for his life after being exiled from Britain. Two British nationals stripped of their citizenship in 2010 were killed a year later by a US drone strike in Somalia. A third Briton, Mahdi Hashi, disappeared from east Africa after having his citizenship revoked in June 2012 only to appear in a US court after being rendered from Djibouti.

      E2 says if the government was so certain of his involvement in extremism they should allow him to stand trial in a criminal court.

      ‘When somebody’s citizenship is revoked if he is criminal he should be put in jail, otherwise he should be free and should have his passport returned,’ he says.

      ‘My message [to Theresa May] is that my citizenship was revoked illegally. It’s wrong that only by sending a letter that your citizenship is revoked. What kind of democracy is it that?’

      https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2014-03-17/my-british-citizenship-was-everything-to-me-now-i-am-nobody-a

  • Gifts Tied to Opioid Sales Invite a Question : Should Museums Vet Donors ? - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/arts/design/sackler-museum-donations-oxycontin-purdue-pharma.html

    The New York Times surveyed 21 cultural organizations listed on tax forms as having received significant sums from foundations run by two Sackler brothers who led Purdue. Several, including the Guggenheim, declined to comment; others, like the Brooklyn Museum, ignored questions. None indicated that they would return donations or refuse them in the future.

    “We regularly assess our funding activities to ensure best practice,” wrote Zoë Franklin, a spokeswoman for the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was listed as receiving about $13.1 million from the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation in 2012. “The Sackler family continue to be an important and valuable donor to the V & A and we are grateful for their ongoing support.”

    De l’usage de la philanthropie comme écran de fumée

    Robert Josephson, a spokesman for the company, pointed to its efforts to stem the opioid epidemic — distributing prescription guidelines, developing abuse-deterrent painkillers and ensuring access to overdose-reversal medication — and noted that OxyContin has never had a large share of total opioid prescriptions. In an email, he added, “Many leading medical, scientific, cultural and educational institutions throughout the world have been beneficiaries of Sackler family philanthropy.”

    #Sackler #Philanthropie #Opioides #Musées

  • Palestinian teen hiking with friends was killed in Israeli army ambush. He posed no danger
    Gideon Levy, Alex Levac | Feb. 1, 2019
    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-palestinian-teen-hiking-with-friends-was-killed-in-idf-ambush-he-p

    The soldiers hid behind the tallest oak tree in the valley. That’s where the six teenagers were headed, as they descended from their town, Silwad, northeast of Ramallah, into the deep, steep valley to hang out together on that Friday afternoon. On the way, they bought potato chips, sunflower seeds and chocolate, and they planned to boil water for tea over a campfire. Suddenly, without warning, a gunshot rang out. The teens had no idea where it came from. Ayman collapsed, rolling over and landing on his back. A bullet had sliced through his chest from the left, below his neck, and exited from his hip. When Mohammed tried to approach, to pull him out of the line of fire, another shot rang out. Mohammed was hit in the arm and ran for his life.

    Ayman lay on the ground, dying.

    The firing grew more intense. The shooters emerged from the ambush site behind the oak tree. They were joined by two more soldiers who came out of an Isuzu jeep parked on the other side of Highway 60. Bursts of automatic gunfire, aimed at the teens who were fleeing for their lives, echoed through the valley. The group rushed up the hill on which Silwad – meaning “above the wadi” in Arabic – is perched.

    That evening, the Israel Defense Forces returned Ayman Hamad ’s body to his family. He was 17 years old and was buried the next day in the town.

    Not far away, on that same day, last Saturday, January 26, settlers from the outpost of Adei Ad, and/or soldiers who joined them – it is still not clear – killed Hamdi Na’asan , 38, as he was plowing his field next to his village, Al-Mughayyir. Last weekend was particularly lethal for the Palestinians. Four of them were killed by Israelis, in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

    It was raining when we visited Silwad on Monday, and the killing field in the valley that separates the town from Highway 60 was draped in thick fog. Through the fog a stunning view could be made out – of olive trees, the towering oak and the verdant valley. The last house in town, on the wadi’s edge, belongs to Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a former cabinet minister and prisoner. Fares, fluent in Hebrew, is one of the more impressive leaders in the Palestinian Authority, an associate and good friend of the jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti.

    The Silwad community center – above which looms the turret of the local mosque that locals say is the tallest in Palestine – had been turned into a venue of mourning and condolences. The dead teenager was a relative of Fares’, who, in an elegant wool coat, was among those welcoming the guests who had come to comfort the family. Next to him was the bereaved father, Ahmed Hamad, 44, a metalworker who once had four daughters and two sons. Now, he has four daughters and one son.

    According to the dead teen’s history teacher, Aouni Fares, Ayman, a high-school senior, was well-informed and knew a lot about the Nakba, the Palestinians’ suffering and the history of the occupation that began in 1967. Ahmed Hamad says his son promised him that he would always be proud of him. Ayman’s uncle Mohammed Othman was the first fatal casualty in Silwad during the first intifada; two other uncles, Akram Hamad and Rifat Hamad, are serving life sentences in Israeli prisons.

    Last Friday morning, Ayman had coffee with his father and then attended prayers in the mosque. At midday the family drove to its olive grove in the valley for a picnic, not far from the place where their firstborn would be killed a few hours later. The weather was ideal, under the winter sun, and Ayman was in high spirits, the mourners recall. The family ate stuffed vegetables prepared by the mother, Inas; Ayman cleared away the dishes.

    When they got home, around 2:30 P.M., Ayman asked his father, who was driving to the nearby village of Rammun to shop, for money to buy snacks; he was given 20 shekels ($5.60). At the end of the day, two shekels would be found in the teen’s cellphone case.

    Almost every Friday they would head out to the valley, Ayman and his buddies, all of them about the same age. There, amid the olive trees, about a kilometer or two from their homes, is the local gathering place.

    When they arrived, the group split up. Ayman and two friends went on ahead, the other three stayed behind for some reason. Later on some of the eyewitnesses, among them the wounded Mohammed Hamad, would say that the group did not throw any stones, although one authoritative source admitted that they had. Iyad Hadad, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, noted that Ayman was shot at around 4:30 that afternoon – almost Shabbat – so there were certainly no religious settlers’ cars on Highway 60 at the time. Candle-lighting time in the nearby settlements was 4:31 P.M. in Beit El, 4:40 P.M. in Shiloh and 4:49 P.M. in Ofra.

    Many questions remain about what happened this week, and they are very disturbing – even if stones were thrown. The Israel Defense Forces soldiers shot Ayman Hamad from a distance of between 50 and 100 meters, from which he could not have posed any threat. When he was shot, he was also more than 100 meters from the highway, again a distance from which no stone could have hurt anyone traveling on the road. The soldiers fired live ammunition from an ambush with no prior warning, hitting him directly in the chest. They shot to kill, of that there’s no doubt. A teenager, a high-school student, who maybe did throw stones (which hurt no one), or maybe didn’t throw stones, was executed. The soldiers went on shooting even after they had hit him. Fortunately, they didn’t kill anyone else.

    The IDF Spokesman’s Unit made do with a laconic, dry response to Haaretz’s query, one that only raises additional questions: “A Military Police investigation has been launched into the matter, and at its conclusion the findings will be conveyed for further examination to the office of the military advocate general.” We’re unlikely to hear any more about this incident – either about the conclusion of the “investigation” or about a trial of those deemed responsible for the killing of the teen from Silwad.

    After the incident, the wounded Mohammed Hamad made his way into town, where he was taken to the local clinic and from there by ambulance to the Government Hospital in Ramallah. Ayman was still on the ground, with the soldiers gathered around him. A Palestinian ambulance driver who happened to pass by and saw what was going on offered to evacuate Ayman, but the soldiers told him to leave. It’s not clear whether Ayman was still alive at that point. Mohammed said he saw him take a few heavy breaths before he himself fled the scene, as did the third one in their group. The other teens were far off and didn’t see what was going on.

    After almost an hour, after an Israeli ambulance evacuated Ayman, the soldiers left the site. The boy was taken to a military guard tower next to the nearby village of Ein Yabroud, where an intensive care ambulance arrived, lingered for about 10 minutes and then drove off, according to the testimonies. Ayman was apparently already dead.

    In the meantime, one of the friends phoned Ayman’s father to report that his son had been wounded and was with the soldiers. A few minutes later, he called back to say that Ayman had not been wounded, only arrested. Then Qadura Fares phoned to tell Ahmed to drop everything in Rammun and get back to Silwad fast. When Ahmed reached Fares’ house, he saw the crowd that had gathered there, among them his brother, Suheil, who was weeping bitterly, and he realized what had happened.

    Fares meanwhile contacted the District Coordination and Liaison unit in order to get Ayman’s body back; at about 7:30 that evening, the family were instructed to go to the military base at Beit El to retrieve the body. At the Government Hospital in Ramallah, where they brought the body, Ahmed saw the bullet’s entry hole in his son’s chest and the exit wound in the hip.

    While we are visiting, Mohammed Hamad, the survivor of the shooting, enters the community center. His entire arm is bandaged. This is his first encounter with Ahmed since the incident. The teenager had undergone surgery in the Government Hospital shortly after arriving there, but walked out the next day, against his doctors’ instructions, to attend Ayman’s funeral.

    Mohammed is clearly still in a state of shock. Ayman, he relates, walked about 30 meters ahead of the rest of the group toward his family’s olive grove. He denies that they threw stones. After Ayman collapsed on the ground, Mohammed says he saw that he was still moving his fingers, even as blood spilled out of his chest, but doesn’t remember anything else because he was then shot himself. At first, he didn’t feel anything as he was fleeing for his life, with bullets whistling around him. He didn’t feel any pain until a few minutes later. Now he tells us he’ll have to return to the hospital in a few days for additional surgery.

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