From the L.A. Times
Brazil workers exploited as modern-day Amazon slaves
Brazil's slavery victims are promised work and find themselves toiling in brutal conditions for little or no pay in the Amazon. A culture of impunity persists.
ACAILANDIA, Brazil — After months of chopping down trees in the forest without pay and living on rice, beans and dirty water, Gil Dasio Meirelles decided he had to escape from the remote clearing in the middle of the vast Brazilian Amazon.
But he would have to make his way alone through dense foliage, a place where a man can lose his bearings and find himself lost amid a constant, menacing buzz of jungle creatures.
"Three other workers helped me come up with the plan," he said. "But they got scared and backed out. They thought that if the armed guards didn't shoot us in the back, we'd be lost and starve in the jungle."
He knew he had to take his chances, or die trying.
Meirelles was one of tens of thousands of Brazilians living in what critics call modern-day slavery, mostly in the Amazon jungle, where ranch owners are the law of the land.
Promised work, the victims are usually taken to remote, unfamiliar areas, where they face harsh conditions they would never have agreed to and have little chance of escape.
Some receive little or no pay. Others are told they must work to pay off "debts" for room and board. Some are threatened with violence or abused. Others simply cannot afford the journey home.
Brutal conditions and a culture of impunity across the 1.5-million-square-mile Amazon region persist in the background of Brazil's stunning economic growth.
Although conditions and wages for most Brazilian workers have improved over the last decade, exploitation persists in the vast Amazon forest, far from the government's reach.
In 2003, the International Labor Organization estimated that 25,000 Brazilians were working in conditions it described as slavery.
Luis Machado, head of the ILO's unit to combat forced labor, says the number is probably larger now.
"Over 40,000 workers have been rescued since 1995," he said. "But not one single person in the history of Brazil has been jailed for this crime. These men feel untouchable. They feel they are risking nothing by doing this."
Meirelles waited until his supervisors were out of sight, then disappeared into the hot foliage.
He wandered aimlessly for hours before he got lucky and found a dirt road. As he waited hours for a car to pass, his fear slowly mixed with hunger. What if he flagged down a truck from the operation he had just fled?
He got lucky again when a "safe" truck stopped and gave him a lift to a nearby city, Acailandia, where Meirelles had heard there was a center that would help people like him.
The problem was, he wasn't quite sure that the Carmen Bascaran Center for the Defense of Life and Human Rights of Acailandia actually existed.
Much of the work that Meirelles and others like him do reflects the illegality that reigns in the jungle. They are put to work cutting down the forest or at illegal cattle farms on protected parts of the Amazon. Others shovel illegally harvested wood into hot pits to make charcoal, often without protective gear.
The government of President Dilma Rousseff
has said it is committed to fighting abuse of workers as well as illegal deforestation. Rousseff has been facing pressure from environmental and civil society groups over a new Forest Code bill that would roll back legal protections for the world's largest rain forest.
Enforcing government rule across the Brazilian Amazon is no easy task. To find out where deforestation is occurring or illegal charcoal camps are operating, workers for nongovernmental organizations fly for hours over the jungle, circling what from a distance look like illegal activities. Then a professional navigator tries to pin down the location and later find a way to reach the site.
This kind of approach has little effect, Machado said.
"The government simply can't be going to every farm to check. The resources don't exist," he said. "So we rely on trying to pressure the government to punish proven offenders and educating potential victims about the risks of taking distant jobs they know little about."
Meirelles is rare among liberated workers in that he is comfortable telling his story in depth. He escaped in 2008 and has since had a kind of a happy ending: The Carmen Bascaran center, named for its cofounder, a Roman Catholic missionary from Spain, did exist, after all.
Eventually, he was able to bring in the police and rescue his friends and cousin, collect damages from the landowner and settle down into a new life. He speaks calmly, even proudly, about his ordeal.
But when seven men who had been rescued more recently gathered at the center this month to discuss their experiences at various charcoal plants, they spoke quickly and quietly, either timid, embarrassed or emotional.
"It was dangerous. We drank dirty water. They didn't care for our health at all. We worked in front of blazing fire, wearing just sandals," said Pedro Augusto Soares da Silva, 31. "I know the same owner is still using slaves right now. He's just moved a bit."
Antonio Perreira dos Santos, 35, said he passed out from the heat at one of the pits and was given no medical attention for three days.
"They seemed unconcerned if we died. It was only through the threat of violence against them that we got them to send a sick and dying colleague out of the camp. 'If he dies, he won't be the only one,' we said, and that eventually worked."
Recently, workers at the Bascaran center have been canvassing the region and distributing cartoon booklets titled, "Keep Your Eyes Open to Avoid Becoming a Slave."
"There are about 500 cases of workers each year who manage to be rescued and file specific complaints," said Antonio Ferreira Lima, the group's director. "Most come to nothing. The government simply has little control over powerful landowners in this part of Brazil."
Meirelles said it took the authorities months to finally get out to the farm where Meirelles had left his cousin and friends behind. He refused to leave the Bascaran center until they did, and slept in the back room.
"The response times are faster now, which is good," he said. "And more people know about the risks of taking this kind of work, and thankfully, there are more jobs now here in the city so people don't have to fling themselves into the middle of nowhere for the promise of some pay."
Many of the liberated workers now do similar jobs but earn the official minimum wage of 600 reals, or about $300, a month, have safe working conditions and can visit home.
Meirelles has bought a small piece of land with the money he won in court and is building a house with his girlfriend.
"I think slavery is the right word to use for what we went through," Meirelles said. "They are conditions we did not choose."
From the Washington Times
N.J. Muslims file federal suit to stop NYPD spying
by Eileen Sullivan
WASHINGTON — Eight Muslims filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in New Jersey to force the New York Police Department to end its surveillance and other intelligence-gathering practices targeting Muslims in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The lawsuit alleged that the police activities were unconstitutional because they focused on people's religion, national origin and race.
It is the first lawsuit to directly challenge the NYPD's surveillance programs, which were the subject of an investigative series by The Associated Press since last year. Based on internal NYPD reports and interviews with officials involved in the programs, the AP reported that the NYPD conducted wholesale surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people ate, prayed and got their hair cut. Police infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds more.
Syed Farhaj Hassan , one of the plaintiffs, stopped attending one mosque as often after he learned it was one of four where he worships that were included in NYPD files. Those mosques were located along the East Coast from central Connecticut to the Philadelphia suburbs, but none was linked to terrorism, either publicly or in the confidential NYPD documents.
Hassan, an Army reservist from a small town outside of New Brunswick, N.J., said he was concerned that anything linking his life to potential terrorism would hurt his military security clearance.
“Guilt by association was forced on me,” Hassan said.
The NYPD did not respond to questions about the lawsuit but noted the New Jersey attorney general determined last month that NYPD activities in New Jersey were legal.
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said his department is obligated to do this type of surveillance in order to protect New York from another 9/11. Kelly has said the 2001 attacks proved that New Yorkers could not rely solely on the federal government for protection, and the NYPD needed to enhance its efforts.
Hassan said he served in Iraq in 2003 to stop the atrocities of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's secret police.
“I didn't know they had one across the Hudson,” he said, referring to the NYPD intelligence division.
California-based Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization that meets regularly with representatives of the Obama administration, is representing the plaintiffs in the case for free.
“The NYPD program is founded upon a false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law-enforcement surveillance targets,” the lawsuit said.
New Jersey lawmakers were outraged earlier this year when they learned of the surveillance. But after a three-month review, the state's attorney general found that the NYPD did not violate any state laws when it spied on Muslim neighborhoods and organizations. The attorney general found no recourse for the state of New Jersey to stop the NYPD from infiltrating Muslim student groups, video-taping mosque-goers or collecting their license plate numbers as they prayed.
No court has ruled that the NYPD programs were illegal. But the division operates without significant oversight: The New York City Council does not believe it has the expertise to oversee the intelligence division, and Congress believes the NYPD is not part of its jurisdiction even though the police department receives billions in federal funding each year.
Members of Congress and civil rights groups have urged the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD's practices. A Justice Department spokeswoman said they are still reviewing the requests. Federal investigations into police departments typically focus on police abuse or racial profiling in arrests. Since 9/11, the Justice Department has never publicly investigated a police department for its surveillance in national security investigations.
Because of widespread civil rights abuses during the 1950s and 1960s, the NYPD has been limited by a court order in what intelligence it can gather on innocent people. Lawyers in that case have questioned whether the post-9/11 spying violates that order. The lawsuit filed Wednesday is a separate legal challenge.
Nearly 6.5 million LinkedIn passwords are published by hackers
by Shaun Waterman
Almost 6.5 million encrypted passwords for the professional networking site LinkedIn were published on a Russian hackers' forum, the company said Wednesday.
“We can confirm that some of the passwords that were compromised correspond to LinkedIn accounts,” Director Vicente Silveira wrote in a blog post. “We are continuing to investigate.”
The company, which boasts 161 million users in 200 countries, said it has no immediate indication that hackers had compromised its systems, but advised its users to change their passwords immediately.
Although the e-mails and user names associated with the passwords were not included in the posting, “it is reasonable to assume that such information may be in the hands of the criminals,” said Graham Cluley of United Kingdom-based Sophos Security.
“Russian hackers are about to pillage and plunder,” wrote one worried user on the site in response to news of the disclosure.
Access to the passwords would give hackers control of the compromised accounts, which could be used in identity theft or other online scams, warned Thomas Ryan , a New York-based security consultant.
Mr. Ryan said a particular concern are “daisy chain” attacks because many people unwisely use the same password for multiple online accounts.
“If someone has used the same password for a bank or e-mail account, they are vulnerable to daisy-chain attacks,” he said.
The passwords are encrypted, but more than 200,000 already have been deciphered and almost all of them would be crackable in time, warned Mr. Cluley and others monitoring the Russian hacker site Yandex.ru.
Some security professionals suggested that the hackers who posted the passwords are seeking help from other site users in decrypting them - a process known as crowdsourcing.
Encryption transforms passwords and user names into meaningless strings of characters. But because the encryption process is standardized, it is possible to guess a password, encrypt it, and then search for that character string in a set of encrypted passwords.
Given enough computing power to make thousands of guesses a second, and enough time, hackers can crack almost any password that uses words from the dictionary or other common character combinations like “123456” or “qwerty.”
Generally experts recommend that passwords be more than eight characters long, contain special characters like an exclamation mark and contain at least one one capital letter. Because an upper-case character is encrypted differently than the lower-case character, using a combination of them makes a password harder to crack.
LinkedIn acknowledged facing cybersecurity threats in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing stated that the LinkedIn site had experienced disruptions and even been taken temporarily offline at times by cyberattacks. Future disruptions were possible, the SEC filing warned.
From Google News
Stop-and-Frisk Policing Criminalizes Youth
Last year in New York City, police stopped and interrogated black men and boys between the ages 14 and 24 a total of 168,126 times. The total population of black men and boys aged 14 through 24 in New York City is 158,406, which means the total number of stops exceeds the total number of black men and boys living in the city.
On Father's Day, a group of civil rights activists, civil liberty advocates and outraged community members will march silently down the streets of New York City to protest the outrageous abuses of stop-and-frisk policing in our nation's most diverse city.
Such policing is a wholesale violation of civil rights. The program has seemingly given law enforcement carte blanche to stop anyone they please. This has led to hundreds of thousands of innocent people – a majority of whom are people of color – being harassed and humiliated by the police sworn to protect them.
Last year, 87 percent of people stopped under stop-and-frisk were African American or Latino, while those groups represented just 59 percent of the New York City's population.
These stops often result in nothing more than a humiliating experience for the suspect. A full 90% of individuals stopped were found entirely innocent of any legal infraction.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued that the program acts as a deterrent to crime, but other large cities have successfully cut crime without resorting to such methods. The violent crime rate fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, but it also fell 59 percent in Los Angeles over the same time period, 56 percent in New Orleans, and 49 percent in Dallas. In these cities, community policing has proven extremely effective.
What's worse, stop-and-frisk is incredibly counterproductive. The program breaks the valuable bond of trust between police officers and the communities they are supposed to protect. A 2004 Amnesty International study demonstrated that stop-and-frisk victims suffer emotional distress and humiliation. The experience is an invasion of privacy and a stinging reminder of how police resources are being diverted away from solving homicides, rapes and other violent crimes, to an ineffective and racially biased practice.
Now is the time to demand change. The number of street stops has increased more than 600 percent since Mayor Bloomberg's first year in office. Last year the NYPD conducted more than 685,000 street stops. We cannot allow this number to continue to grow. That is why we are marching in silent solidarity on Father's Day to protest this policy.
The tradition of silent marches for civil rights dates back to 1917, when the then 8-year-old NAACP marched through New York City in a deafening chorus of silence to protest lynchings, segregation and race riots in the South. That march was led by NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois.
Silence is a powerful force that, like other forms of non-violent protests, holds a mirror to the brutality of one's opponents. On June 17, we will hold up a mirror to New York City's stop-and-frisk policy. Like thousands of activists before us, we will channel the power of our silence to end the use of racial profiling by the New York Police Department. And the more silent marchers who join us, the louder our collective voice will be.