News Article | May 15, 2017
— While many states are dealing with sky rocketing workers’ compensation premiums, this is not the case in Pennsylvania. Effective April 1st 2017 employers can expect to pay approximately 6.2% less in workers’ compensation insurance premiums. The 6.2% decrease is an average savings overall. Some industries may not see much of a decrease in premiums at all, while other industries enjoy a considerable decrease. Companies in PA are estimated to save over $150 million this year in insurance premiums. Gov. Wolf was quoted as saying “This significant rate cut comes on top of reductions during my administration’s first two years, which improved our state’s standing across the nation for this cost of doing business,” Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement. “[This] reduction will further help business owners create jobs that pay in Pennsylvania and at the same time, maintain fair benefits for workers injured on the job, something that is vital for families’ financial well-being and peace of mind.” This most recent cut in workers’ compensation insurance premiums falls on the heels of consecutive cuts in the past 5 years. Cumulatively employers in PA have saved over $720 million over the past 5 years due to these cuts. “Certified workplace safety committees help employers and workers keep safety top-of-mind at all times,” Secretary Manderino said in a statement. “And those companies with a committee receive a five percent discount on their workers’ comp insurance premiums.” Manderino also stated that more than 11,220 state-certified workplace safety committees have been established since March 1994, providing safer workplace for more than 1,463,000 workers. He went on to say that, employers with certified workplace safety committees also saved nearly $604.2 million in workers’ compensation premiums due to the improved workplace safety measures. Ray Gross, organizer of the Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group said “we operate in other states across the country and to see what a terrific job the Governor and his staff are doing to lower rates, while ensuring injured workers still receive top notch medical care is to be lauded” Gross went on to say, “injured workers in Pennsylvania are among the luckiest in the United States, States like California are cutting injured worker’s benefits and quality of care, even in light of increased insurance premiums for many employers.” The Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group, which is comprised of several workers’ compensation attorney across the United States offers free initial consultations to the public and has a no win, no fee guarantee, which means if they do not win the client’s case, the client pays nothing. For more information, please visit http://www.workerscompensationlawyer-philadelphia.com/
News Article | May 15, 2017
— The Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group applauds amended legislation to SB863, a controversial bill passed in 2012, which eradicated primary treating physicians (PTP’s) to be compensated for time spent reviewing new patients’ medical records. Now that PTP’s are being compensated for medical records reviews, the quality of injured workers’ medical care is expected to increase. SB8663 was considered to be a sweeping piece of legislation intended to improve the workers’ compensation system in California. Legislators claimed the bill would prevent waste, improve medical care and of course, save money. SB863 was hotly contented piece of legislation, for many reasons. One of which was it took away the ability for PTP’s to be compensation for reviewing incoming patients’ medical records. The problem it created was PTP’s were expected to do hours of work with no compensation. PTP’s refused to do the work as a result of not being compensated. The net result of this change in legislation was simple. Applicant attorneys were not able to attain vital medical reports from the PTP‘s treating their clients. This resulted in PTP’s being unable to establish medical evidence of injuries, treatment recommendations and declaration of vital work restrictions that are necessary to prevent further injury to already inured workers. A representative from the Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group said “this is win for injured workers across California, SB863 was a controversial piece of legislation that denied injured workers and their lawyers the ability to recover the medical and financial benefits owed to them under the California workers comp system.” The representative from the Workers’ Compensation Attorney GroRup went on to say “SB863 has been a disaster for injured workers in the state of California, this is a small victory for the injured workers’ in California to getting many of the rights they were stripped of in 2012” Prior to the passage of SB863 in 2012 PTP’s and any secondary treating physicians were compensated for reviewing all medical records and time producing much needed medical reports applicant lawyers used to help injured workers get essential medical treatment. The Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group is hopeful that many other unfair pieces of SB863 will be overturned, especially the eradication of injured workers being able to be compensated for permanent disability caused by psychological stress claims in the workplace. Prior to SB863 California workers who had suffered any psychological injuries at work were able to recover permanent disability benefits for their injury. SB863 took this away from 90% or more of these claims by denying injured workers the right to permanent disability compensation for their injury. While SB863 still allows for medical treatment for such injuries, it is considered to be discriminatory to people who suffer such injuries. A spokesperson from the Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group said “we hope this recent change on policy will spill over and cause a domino effect in the broken system and allow for injured workers to be compensated for psychological injuries suffered in the workplace.” SB863 has been the center of a firestorm of criticism since it passed in 2012, but inured workers, PTP’s and Applicant Attorneys see this as a pivot in the right direction. The Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group, which is comprised of several workers’ compensation attorney across Los Angeles offers free initial consultations to the public and has a no win, no fee guarantee, which means if they do not win the client’s case, the client pays nothing. For more information, please visit http://workerscompensationattorneylosangeles.net/
News Article | June 1, 2017
On 14 January 2015, police agent Newton Ishii was waiting in Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão airport to meet the midnight flight from London. His mission was simple. A former executive of Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, was on the plane. Ishii was to arrest him as soon as he set foot in Brazil and take him for questioning by detectives. No big deal, the veteran cop thought as he ticked off the hours in the shabby Terminal One lounge. This was just one of many anti-bribery operations he had worked on. Usually they made a few headlines, then faded away, leaving the perpetrators to carry on as if nothing had happened. There was a popular expression for this: acabou em pizza (to end up with pizza), which suggested that there was no political row that could not be settled over a meal and a few beers. When the plane finally landed, Ishii’s target was easy to identify among the passengers in the arrivals hall. Nestor Cerveró has a strikingly asymmetrical face, with his left eye set lower than the right. “He couldn’t believe it. He said I had made a mistake,” Ishii recalled later. “I told him I was just doing my job and that he could take up his complaints with the judge.” Cerveró called his brother and a lawyer. He expected to be free before morning. Ishii, too, had few illusions that his suspect would be locked up for long. Decades on the force had taught him how quickly the rich and powerful could wriggle off the hook. There was little reason to think this case would be any different. As it turned out, both men were wrong. The investigation that led to Cerveró’s arrest – codenamed Lava Jato (Car Wash) – was about to uncover an unprecedented web of corruption. At first, the press described it as the biggest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil; then, as other countries and foreign firms were dragged in, the world. The case would go on to discover illegal payments of more than $5bn to company executives and political parties, put billionaires in jail, drag a president into court and cause irreparable damage to the finances and reputations of some of the world’s biggest companies. It would also expose a culture of systemic graft in Brazilian politics, and provoke a backlash from the establishment fierce enough to bring down one government and leave another on the brink of collapse. Launched in March 2014, the operation had initially focused on agents known as doleiros (black market money dealers), who used small businesses, such as petrol stations and car washes, to launder the profits of crime. But police soon realised they were on to something bigger when they discovered that the doleiros were working on behalf of an executive at Petrobras, Paulo Roberto Costa, the director of refining and supply. This link led prosecutors to uncover a vast and extraordinarily intricate web of corruption. Under questioning, Costa described how he, Cerveró and other Petrobras directors had been deliberately overpaying on contracts with various companies for office construction, drilling rigs, refineries and exploration vessels. The contractors they were paying had formed an agreement to ensure they were guaranteed business on excessively lucrative terms if they agreed to channel a share of between 1% and 5% of every deal into secret slush funds. After diverting millions of dollars into those funds, Petrobras directors then used them to funnel money to the politicians who had appointed them in the first place, and to the political parties they represented. The main objective of the racket – which fleeced taxpayers and shareholders out of billions of dollars – was to fund election campaigns to keep the governing coalition in power. But it wasn’t just politicians who benefited. Everyone connected to the deals received a bribe, in cash, or sometimes in the form of luxury cars, expensive art works, Rolex watches, $3,000 bottles of wine, yachts and helicopters. Huge sums were deposited in Swiss bank accounts, or laundered via overseas property deals or smaller companies. The means of transfer were deliberately complicated, in order to hide the money’s origins, or low-tech, to keep it off the books. Prosecutors discovered that elderly mules were flying from city to city with shrink-wrapped bricks of cash strapped to their bodies. Petrobras was no ordinary company. As well as having the highest market valuation (and the largest debts) of any corporation in Latin America, it was a flagship for an emerging economy that was trying to tap the biggest oil discovery of the 21st century – huge new oil fields in deep waters off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Petrobras accounted for more than an eighth of all investments in Brazil, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in construction firms, shipyards and refineries, and forming business ties with international suppliers including Rolls-Royce and Samsung Heavy Industries. Petrobras was also at the centre of Brazil’s politics. During the 2003-2010 presidency of the Workers’ Party leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula), executive posts in Petrobras were offered to Lula’s political allies, to help build support in Congress. Petrobras’s commercial and strategic importance was such that the US National Security Agency made it a target for surveillance. As the Car Wash investigation was to prove, if you could unravel the secrets of this company, you would unravel the secrets of the state. First, though, investigators had to get executives to talk. Until very recently, that would have been unthinkable. A culture of impunity had long reigned in Brazil. But times were changing, as Petrobras executive Nestor Cerverò was about to find out. When he saw the state of the mattress in the airport detention centre, he threw a tantrum. “How am I going to lie on this?” he said. “It’s either that or sleep standing up,” Ishii replied. Within an hour, Cerverò had dozed off, only to be shaken out of his slumber at 6am. “You’re not getting one,” Ishii answered. “I’m taking you to Curitiba.” Curitiba, the heart of the Car Wash investigation, is the capital of the southern state of Paraná. By Brazilian standards, at 845km it is not far from Rio, but culturally, they are worlds apart. Curitiba is known as the “London of Brazil” because its people are considered more inclined to be sticklers for the rules than residents of the bigger cities in the north. In recent years, it has won international praise for its pioneering public transport system, environmental policies and hipster scene. Thanks to Operation Car Wash, however, it is now best known for its judges, prosecutors and police. Without one simple reform, however, the investigation might never have taken off. Dilma Rousseff took over from Lula as leader of the Workers’ Party and became president of a coalition government after the 2010 election. In the wake of nationwide anti-corruption demonstrations in 2013, Rousseff had tried to placate an angry public by fast-tracking laws aimed at rooting out systemic fraud. New measures included, for the first time in Brazil, plea bargaining: prosecutors could now make deals with suspects, reducing their sentences in return for information that could lead to the arrest of more important figures. Overseeing the case in Curitiba was Sérgio Moro, an ambitious young judge who helped prosecutors put pressure on suspects by approving lengthy “preventive detentions”. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Brazilian prisoners remanded in custody before trial are poor. Moro took the unusual step of also denying bail to the rich. Ostensibly, he did so to stop them using economic or political influence to escape any charges against them. However, the pressure was on them: make a deal or stay in jail. Cerveró was not the first to face this choice. He joined a parade of VIP Car Wash suspects – corporate executives, wealthy entrepreneurs and, later, even one or two powerful politicians – who spent months inside the Curitiba detention centre. They had to be kept separate from other inmates for their own safety, which meant their side of the jail quickly became overcrowded. Having lived in luxury, these super-rich prisoners were squeezed three to a one-man cell. Their new circumstances came as a shock. “One guy did not know how to shave because he had always had it done for him,” said a guard, who asked to remain anonymous. Cerveró apparently had serious problems adapting. His cellmates complained that he urinated on them in the night and washed his backside in the sink. If inmates refused to cooperate with the prosecution, privileges such as TV and exercise were withdrawn. “Many suspects made deals after a visit from their loved ones,” said the guard. “I think it was because they smelled the perfume and soap of the lives they had left behind.” Some resisted for months, others just days. But almost all of them broke in the end. Defence lawyers complained, with some justification, that these tactics were legally dubious and unethical, because defendants would say or do anything to get out of jail. But polls indicated the public was delighted that the age-old problem of corruption was finally being exposed in a major nationwide operation. Almost every day, details of a dawn raid by police or another shocking allegation were splashed across the front pages: more than $2bn siphoned off Petrobras in bribes and secret payments for contract work, $3.3bn paid in bribes by the construction firm Odebrecht, more than 1,000 politicians on the take from the meat-packing firm JBS, 16 companies implicated, at least 50 congressmen accused, four former presidents under investigation. As the staggering scale of the skulduggery emerged, many Brazilians focused their fury on politicians – initially Lula, Rousseff and others in the Workers’ Party. The newspapers trumpeted the message that the dirty socialists in Brasilia were wholly responsible for the problem. The reality was considerably less clear-cut. Just about every major party was involved in multiple, interconnected trails of corruption going back to earlier governments. And it was the Workers’ Party that had put in place the judicial reforms that allowed the investigation to go ahead. There would have been no Car Wash if the government had not appointed, in September 2013, an independent attorney general. Newspaper columnists contrasted the dirty world of politics with the high-minded work of the judiciary in the “Republic of Curitiba”. When Judge Moro walked into a restaurant, people would stand up and applaud. Graffiti on walls and banners draped from apartment balconies declared “God save Moro”. Protesters in the streets held up placards declaring “Moro for president”. The federal police also won praise. Ishii became the public face of the investigation: as the officer charged with taking suspects from the airport to the detention centre and the courthouse, he was in almost every picture and video related to the case. On social networks and in headlines, he was nicknamed Japones Bonzinho (the Good Japanese). At carnival, he was honoured with a six-metre-high doll and a samba tribute song, with lyrics imagining a suspect who wakes to find he is the latest target of Operation Car Wash: “Oh my God, I am politically dead! Knocking at my door is the Japanese fed.” In person, Ishii is circumspect and austere. When I visited him at his modest apartment in Curitiba, he was careful to downplay his role. He explained that his celebrity had reached the point where he felt trapped. At one public event, he was mobbed by adoring members of the public and had to be escorted out by security guards. A traffic cop pulled him over to ask for his autograph. Bizarrely, even the relatives of the Car Wash prisoners would ask him to share selfies and say how much they admired his work. Ishii said he realised Car Wash was something special when he saw wealthy businessmen not just go to jail, but stay there. “That’s when the penny dropped. I began to think, hey, I’m in a country where there is an expression, ‘Only the poor get arrested’ – but here are these millionaires getting thrown in prison.” More was to come. From corporate executives, Car Wash investigators turned their attention to politicians. Dishonest and venal senators and congressmen had long been protected by the immunity of office. But a window for prosecution was opening. The judiciary was in the ascendant, the electorate was mad as hell, and old loyalties were starting to crack. All the prosecutors needed was a little leverage. To lure one of Brazil’s most powerful politicians out into the open, prosecutors planned a sting operation, using Petrobras’s Nestor Cerveró as bait. Senator Delcídio do Amaral, the Workers’ Party leader in the upper house, was an old associate of Cerveró. They had worked together at Petrobras between 2000 and 2001. After that, Cerveró had become Amaral’s faithful servant, raising illegal contributions for whichever party the fickle senator was aligned with. After Cerveró’s arrest, Amaral knew he was at risk of exposure. Desperate to find a way to discourage him from talking, Amaral arranged to meet Cerveró’s son, Bernardo, in Brasilia. On 4 November 2015, Amaral met with Bernardo Cerveró at the Royal Tulip Hotel. Unaware that Bernardo was secretly recording the conversation, the senator made a number of incriminating statements, which were later leaked to the press. Amaral offered to pay $1m upfront, plus a further $13,000 a month, in exchange for Nestor Cerveró’s silence. When this was rebuffed, he said he could arrange Bernardo’s father’s escape from prison. First, Amaral explained, he would use his influence on a particular judge to arrange for Cerveró to be moved from his prison cell and placed under house arrest. Then, he described in detail how the prisoner’s electronic tag could be deactivated, so he could flee undetected. Cerveró could then charter a private plane to neighbouring Paraguay. Amaral would arrange the whole thing. As soon as the judges heard the recording, they ordered the senator to be detained on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice. It was a momentous decision. No sitting senator had been arrested in 30 years. Amaral was taken into custody on the morning of 26 November 2015. He immediately agreed to co-operate with investigators and tell them everything he knew about the illegal activities of his fellow politicians, including the then president Rousseff, who he accused of conspiring to obstruct justice. He singled out former president Lula as the mastermind of the Petrobras corruption scheme. The senator claimed it was Lula who had organised the payoffs and urged him to get Cerveró out of the country, because he wanted to protect a close friend who had been involved in negotiations between politicians and oil company officials. Lula and Rousseff denied the allegations and accused Amaral of lying to save himself. “I never imagined he was such a scrotum,” Jaques Wagner, Rousseff’s former chief of staff, told Lula in a phone call recorded by police. But while his critics accused him of spectacular betrayal, Amaral painted his testimony in a heroic light, saying he was doing the nation a favour by exposing the powerful to justice. “Because I was someone who was talking to the government, talking to parliament, talking with leading Brazilian businessmen, talking to Petrobras, with Eletrobras, with all the state, I had no doubt that my collaboration would be a watershed in the investigation,” Amaral told me in an interview last summer. Thanks to his cooperation, Amaral was living under house arrest in his brother’s luxurious mansion in one of São Paulo’s swankiest neighbourhoods. When I arrived to meet him, a maid answered the door and led me past a pool and an outdoor jacuzzi to a private bar decorated with neon signs for Coors and Miller beer, a Wurlitzer jukebox and celebrity memorabilia: Ayrton Senna’s F1 racing helmet, Mike Tyson’s boxing glove, Buzz Aldrin’s framed autograph and Eric Clapton’s guitar. Amaral left open the possibility that he would make a return to politics. The system needed to change, he argued, because corruption had become ingrained from long before the Workers’ Party took power. Brazil’s political scene is highly vulnerable to corruption. With dozens of parties and elections at three levels (federal, state and city) across one of the world’s largest countries, campaigns are extremely expensive and it is almost impossible for any single political group to secure a majority. Gaining power involves winning elections and paying other parties to form coalitions, both of which require huge sums of money. As a result, one of the greatest prizes in Brazilian politics has long been the power to appoint senior executives at state-run companies, because each executive could expect to receive millions in kickbacks from contractors, much of which could be siphoned off into campaign coffers. The Workers’ Party was supposed to be different. It had been elected on a promise to clean up corruption, but it soon got sucked in. After winning the presidency on his fourth attempt, in 2002, Lula had been stuck with a minority in Congress. His chief of staff bought the support of minor parties by arranging monthly payments, known as mensalão, mostly paid by construction firms in exchange for building contracts. Although illegal, this allowed the Workers’ Party to get things done. Lula’s first term delivered impressive progress on alleviating poverty, social spending and environmental controls. None of the subsequent three Workers’ Party administrations came close to achieving as much. Unfortunately, because Lula’s reforms had only got through parliament with the aid of bribery, those achievements were built on ethical quicksand. When the mensalão scandal was revealed in 2004, the Workers’ Party had no choice but to stop paying its coalition partners, and Lula was again stuck with a minority in Congress. Worse, he now faced the danger of being impeached. To prevent this, he reached out to one of his party’s biggest rivals: the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), led by Michel Temer. This marriage of convenience was doomed from the start. The PMDB is Brazil’s biggest political party, but has never taken an ideological stance or a leadership role, preferring to do deals to shore up governments. It is a mishmash of factions, ranging from conservative rural landowners and urban social democrats to evangelical nationalists and former guerrillas, whose only common ground is a desire to secure the patronage, prestige and bribes that come with government posts. The party has been involved in every corruption scandal in modern Brazilian history. But Lula was desperate, so he struck a deal. In return for support in Congress, the Workers’ Party gave Temer’s PMDB control of the international division of Petrobras and the funds that flowed from it. Cerveró, then the director of that division, was required to deliver payoffs to different masters. It was a gruelling task. In 2008, Cerveró failed to deliver sufficient funds and he was forced to stand down. Temer has been named countless times in Car Wash testimonies. Julio Camargo, a consultant for the Toyo Setal construction and engineering company, said money was channelled from Petrobras to a lobbyist representing senior PMDB figures, including Temer. One industrialist testified that Temer had arranged illicit payments into the party’s campaign coffers, and had taken leadership of the PMDB in order to control who got the millions of dollars that were being siphoned off from Petrobras, Odebrecht and their suppliers. A former Odebrecht vice president, Cláudio Melo Filho, testified that in 2014, he secretly donated 10m reais (£2.3m) to Temer’s political campaign. “This bomb could end in his lap in a more serious way than for Rousseff. He’s more involved than her,” a source said. Temer – a constitutional lawyer – publicly denied the allegations, saying suggestions of illegality were “frivolous” and “untruthful”. Despite the long list of accusations, almost none stuck. Other testimonies against him were withdrawn. No charges were filed. Prosecutors said there was not enough evidence. Temer seemed untouchable. By the start of 2016, the economy had plunged into recession. The main cause was a collapse in global commodity prices, but the Car Wash investigation made a bad problem worse. Prosecutors had ordered Petrobras to suspend business with many of its contractors, including Odebrecht, the biggest building firm in Latin America. Projects were paralysed, workers were laid off and the unemployment rate almost doubled in the space of two years. Political activity was also paralysed. The arrest of Amaral had shaken congressmen out of the assumption that they could rely on their positions to avoid prosecution, and relations between parties became more hostile. Senator Amaral told me he had warned President Rousseff repeatedly of the dangers of pushing too far with the Car Wash investigation, but she would not listen. “She always underestimated Car Wash, because she thought it would reach everyone but her,” he recalled. “She thought it would make her stronger.” A majority of the public blamed the economic misery and political gridlock on the Workers’ Party, which had been in power for 13 years. Rousseff’s approval ratings slipped into single digits. She was even more unpopular in Congress, owing to her woeful communication skills, secretiveness and stubbornness. Several powerful senators and deputies – the Brazilian Congress has two houses, the upper Federal Senate and the lower Chamber of Deputies – were also furious that the president refused to halt the corruption investigation, or to protect senior members of her ruling coalition. The bid to oust Rousseff as head of state was initiated in November 2015 by one of the most corrupt politicians in the country, Eduardo Cunha, in an attempt to stop or divert Car Wash. Cunha, the speaker of Brazil’s lower house, was an ally of Temer in the PMDB, with a reputation for scheming and underhand tactics. He was also a chief target of the Car Wash prosecutors. As evidence piled up through 2015, they accused him of corruption and perjury after uncovering his secret Swiss bank accounts, which contained more than $5m dollars and credit card bills bearing witness to a lavish lifestyle far beyond his declared income of $120,000. The Workers’ Party refused to protect Cunha against charges brought by the lower house ethics committee. Cunha hit back by granting one of the many impeachment requests against Rousseff. It accused Rousseff of false accounting – shifting significant funds between accounts to make government finances look better than they were. Many previous administrations had done the same thing with impunity, albeit not on such a great scale. But that was not the point. The targets of Car Wash needed a pretext on which to strike back. On 4 March 2016, prosecutors briefly detained Lula for questioning about the Petrobras kickback scheme. There were additional allegations of influence peddling, including deals secured for Odebrecht in return for generous payments to companies owned by Lula’s relatives. Millions of anti-government protesters took to the streets a week later, on 13 March, bearing inflatable dolls of Lula in prison clothing, chanting “Fora Dilma” (Rousseff Out!), carrying banners and shaking brooms to symbolise the need for a clean sweep. Lula and Rousseff had undoubtedly benefited from the corruption politically, but it is less clear – particularly in Rousseff’s case – that they had gained personally. By contrast, the hypocrisy of many of their accusers was staggering. At a parliamentary impeachment session in April, many of those who voted to eject Rousseff from office had themselves either been charged or were under investigation for far more serious crimes. In May, as impeachment proceedings against Rousseff continued, Michel Temer became interim president, even though he was mentioned multiple times in the Car Wash investigation, along with seven members of his cabinet. Critics speculated that Temer was being protected to ensure a degree of stability during a period of turbulence. Even when Temer was found guilty in June 2016 of election violations and disqualified from running for office for eight years by a lower court judge in São Paulo, it made no difference. As interim president, he was shielded by the immunity of office. Car Wash, which had been launched to clean up corruption in the system, had ended up helping the leader of Brazil’s most notoriously self-serving party to reach the pinnacle of power. Rousseff’s supporters called it a coup, though the impeachment had been approved by the largely Workers’ Party-appointed supreme court, as well as large majorities in both houses. Temer insisted the letter of the law had been followed. “Brazil has gone through a difficult period of political disputes, but the Constitution has been honoured,” the new president insisted. Soon after, however, it became clear that many of his supporters had been motivated by self-preservation rather than national salvation. In Temer’s first month as president, three more of his ministers were forced to resign as a result of secretly recorded phone conversations, which confirmed Rousseff had been ousted because she would not call off the Car Wash investigation. “We have to stop this shit … We have to change the government to be able to stop this bleeding,” one of the chief plotters, Romero Jucá – the PMDB leader in the upper house – told Sérgio Machado, the former president of Transpetro, Brazil’s largest oil and gas transportation company. Unknown to Jucá, the conversation was being recorded. In that call, in March 2016, Jucá revealed that he had discussed the plan with supreme court justices and military commanders: the aim was to usurp Rousseff and replace her with Temer. Jucá maintains that his words were taken out of context. But getting the Workers’ Party out of government was only the first step in stopping Car Wash. The conspirators had another problem: Teori Zavascki, the supreme court justice overseeing the investigation, who had proved to be incorruptible. “One way (to halt the operation) is to find someone who has access to Teori, but it seems there is no one,” says Machado in the recording. This obstacle did not stay in place for long. During a thunderstorm on 19 January 2017, a Hawker Beechcraft twin-prop aircraft crashed into the ocean near Paraty, 150 miles west of Rio de Janeiro, killing all four people on board. The plane was on its way from São Paulo to Rio. It might have been seen as just another aviation accident, were it not for the fact that one of the victims was judge Teori Zavascki. The timing and nature of the crash inevitably raised suspicions. Zavascki was in the process of reviewing numerous Car Wash testimonies that were expected to further implicate politicians in Brazil and other countries in Latin America. His family said he had received threats the previous year. Initial findings from the plane’s wreckage and the cockpit voice recorder suggested there was no mechanical failure. The pilot was experienced and had given lessons to other aircrews on how to land on the small airstrip at Paraty. But small planes have a terrible safety record in Brazil. Speculation in the media suggested that either the pilot had made a fatal misjudgment of altitude or the plane and its passengers were victims of foul play. Whatever its causes, the consequences of the crash were far-reaching. Zavascki had maintained the investigation’s credibility in the face of fierce political opposition, and he had ruled on some of its most contentious cases. On hearing news of the judge’s death, Moro said: “Without him, there would be no Operation Car Wash.” Zavascki exemplified the idealistic and ultimately self-sabotaging stance of the Workers’ Party in its relationship to the justice system. After the party took power, judges, prosecutors and police were given far more scope to act. Under the previous conservative administration, the attorney general had filed away so many incomplete investigations that he was nicknamed the engavetador general (shelver-in-chief). Lula, by contrast, let prosecutors elect a new attorney general – Rodrigo Janot – who was so independent that he approved the charges against Lula, the Workers’ Party founder. “Before Lula took power, we were toothless,” said Luis Humberto, of the Federal Police union. “The Workers’ Party increased our budget, upgraded our equipment and gave us more authority. It is ironic. They lost power because they did the right thing.” Temer chose one of his close allies to replace Zavascki. Alexandre de Moraes, who was justice minister, went straight from the cabinet to the highest court. It was a clear violation of the constitutional principle of a separation of powers. Several of the senators who confirmed his appointment were ministerial colleagues – including Jucá, and the head of the upper house, Renan Calheiros – who have been charged in the Car Wash case. When a supreme court judge ordered Calheiros to step down while he was awaiting trial, Calheiros simply ignored him. Moraes, who lacked any experience as a judge, is now one of 11 supreme court justices who will hear his case. In Congress, meanwhile, the PMDB-led ruling bloc have repeatedly attempted – so far unsuccessfully – to change the law so that testimonies resulting from plea bargains are no longer admissible in court. This would enable dozens of politicians to escape possible conviction. So far, Car Wash investigators have resisted political pressure and expanded their list of targets. After shifting focus from Petrobras to Odebrecht, in April 2017 prosecutors opened new probes into dozens more politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, including eight members of Temer’s cabinet. They then widened their net to include JBS, one of the world’s biggest meat-packing firms. A plea bargain made on 18 May by the two brothers who own the company – Joesley and Wesley Batista – includes secret recordings allegedly made in March, in which Temer allegedly discusses hush-money payments to Cunha, and details of bribery by one of the president’s aides. The attorney general has now formally accused Temer of conspiring to obstruct Car Wash, setting the stage for a constitutional battle between the judiciary and the government and prompting calls in Congress for the impeachment of a second president in a year. Temer denies the charges. The web of corruption has been traced far beyond Brazil’s borders. Odebrecht had a department dedicated to bribes, known as the Division of Structured Operations, which laid out close to $800m in illicit pay-offs for more than 100 contracts in a dozen countries over 15 years. Dozens of foreign corporate suppliers (of engineering equipment, power lines, drilling rigs and so forth) also face regulatory and shareholder inquiries about the bribes they paid to secure contracts with Petrobras. Among them was Rolls-Royce, which posted hefty losses as a result of penalties imposed in January this year by Brazilian, UK and US authorities. The World Cup and Olympics have also been sucked into the mire with fraud investigations now focused on six out of the 12 stadiums used in 2014 and 2016. The investigation has shaken political and economic life and raised hopes that, for once, justice will be applied to the rich and powerful. There was a genius in the way Ishii’s arrest of Cerveró paved the way for trials of politicians. Several previously untouchable senators, congressmen and governors are now in jail, including Cunha. Powerful businessmen have also been put behind bars, including Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of the vast construction firm. Even the celebrity cop Ishii was suspended from the Car Wash investigation after he lost an appeal against an old bribery charge. More than at any time in Brazil’s recent history, there is a genuine sense that nobody is above the law, that scandals do not always have to “end in pizza”. The story is by no means over. Attorney general Rodrigo Janot, who is due to leave office in September, is under pressure. Mainstream parties from the left and right are lined up against the investigation. The government is trying to hamper Operation Car Wash by slashing the federal police budget by 44% and reducing the number of agents working on it. Moro must keep the public on his side as he begins a series of trials of Lula, who plans to run for president again in 2018 if he is not jailed. Brazil certainly needed to tackle corruption, which has exacerbated inequality and held back economic growth. But was Operation Car Wash worth the pain? It helped to lever the Workers’ Party out of office, and ushered in an administration that appears just as tainted, but far less willing to promote transparency and judicial independence. So many allegations are now stacked up against Temer and his allies that he will struggle to hold on to his presidency until the end of his term in 2018. Petrobras – the national champion of the Lula era – has been brought to its knees, with foreign companies allowed to control production from the new oil fields. Major companies and mainstream politicians have been utterly discredited. Voters struggle to find anyone to believe in. It is not just the establishment that is reeling, but the entire republic. In the long term, many still hope Car Wash will ultimately make Brazil a fairer, more efficient nation, run by cleaner, law-abiding politicians. But there is also a risk that the operation will shake the country’s fragile democracy to the ground and clear the way for a rightwing evangelical theocracy or a return to rule by dictators. Whether or not this purge proves a cure for Brazil will depend not just on who falls, but on who follows. Additional research by Shanna Hanbury and Gareth Chetwynd. Main illustration by Suzanne Lemon. • Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.
Fabrizi G.,The Workers Lab |
Fioretti M.,The Workers Lab |
Rocca L.M.,The Workers Lab |
Curini R.,The Workers Lab
Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry | Year: 2012
With the aim of establishing exposure levels for hospital personnel preparing and administering cytostatic drugs (CDs), here, we present an innovative screening method based on the use of the desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) interface coupled with a hybrid quadrupole linear ion trap mass spectrometer. A rapid, simple, and sensitive procedure was developed for the simultaneous surface monitoring of cyclophosphamide, dacarbazine, methotrexate, vincristine, gemcitabine, and cytarabine. Since analytes were in the solid state, a novel approach based on the use of passive samplers was combined with the direct analysis of wipes. A PTFE-printed glass slide was used as a passive sampler, while hydrophobic centers of Swiffer ® cloths were judged extremely efficient as wipe samplers. After the sampling period, the CD collectors were directly processed with the DESI-MS system without any further treatment. MS/MS confirmatory analysis was conducted using selected reaction monitoring in the positive ion mode and detection limits were evaluated. Values were at the picograms per square millimeter levels on the passive collector and at the picograms per square centimeter levels for the wipe ones. Direct determination on solid-state samples combined with mass spectrometry selectivity provided a powerful tool so far unapplied to occupational hygiene. © Springer-Verlag 2011.
Gentili A.,University of Rome La Sapienza |
Caretti F.,University of Rome La Sapienza |
Bellante S.,University of Rome La Sapienza |
Mainero Rocca L.,The Workers Lab |
And 2 more authors.
Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry | Year: 2012
The main difficulties in analysing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in food and biological samples are due to the tight non-covalent interactions established with matrix proteins and the amount of occurring fatty material. The present paper describes an effective extraction procedure able to isolate fifteen NSAIDs (acetaminophen, salicylic acid, ibuprofen, diclofenac, flunixin and its metabolite 5-hydroxy-flunixin, nimesulide, phenylbutazone, meclofenamic acid, tolfenamic acid, meloxicam, carprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen and etodolac) from bovine milk and muscle tissue through two succeeding steps: (a) deproteinisation/extraction with organic solvent, essential to lower the medium dielectric constant and, therefore, to release the analytes from matrix; (b) SPE clean-up on OASIS cartridges. Lipids were easily removed during low-temperature centrifugations. The advantages of the developed procedure pertain to the efficient removal of the fat substances (very low matrix effect and high recovery yields) and its versatility, since it can be applied both to milk and muscle with few adjustments due to the diversity of the two matrices. Ion-pairing reversed-phase chromatography combined with the negative electrospray detection was able to achieve low detection capabilities (CCβs) for all analytes and, in particular, for diclofenac whose Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) in milk is 0.1 μg kg-1. The methods were validated according to the guidelines of the Commission Decision 2002/657/EC and then applied for a small monitoring study. A number of samples showed traces of salicylic acid (SA), but its occurrence was not ascribed to a misuse of drugs (aspirin, salicylic acid) since SA, accumulating in plants in response to a pathogen attack, may be introduced into the food chain. © 2012 Springer-Verlag.
Fabrizi G.,The Workers Lab |
Fioretti M.,The Workers Lab |
Mainero Rocca L.,The Workers Lab
Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry | Year: 2013
A desorption study of 57 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) has been conducted by use of accelerated solvent extraction (ASE) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Different solvents were tested to extract activated charcoal tubes with the objective of replacing carbon disulfide, used in official methods, because of its highly toxic health and environmental effects. Extraction conditions, for example temperature and number of cycles, were investigated and optimized. The definitive extraction procedure selected was use of acetone at 150 °C and two consecutive extraction cycles at a pressure of 1,500 psi. Considering a sample volume of 0.005 Nm3, corresponding to a sampling time of 8 h at a flow rate of 0.01 L∈min -1, the method was validated over the concentration range 65-26,300 μg∈Nm-3. The lowest limit of quantification was 6 μg∈Nm-3, and recovery for the 93 % of analytes ranged from 65 to 102 %. For most of the compounds, relative standard deviations were less than 15 % for inter and intra-day precision. Uncertainty of measurement was also determined: the relative expanded uncertainty was always below 29.6 %, except for dichlorodifluoromethane. This work shows that use of friendlier solvent, for example acetone, coupled with use of ASE, can replace use of CS2 for chemical removal of VOCs from activated charcoal. ASE has several advantages over traditional solvent-extraction methods, including shorter extraction time, minimum sample manipulation, high reproducibility, and less extraction discrimination. No loss of sensitivity occurs and there is also a salutary effect on bench workers' health and on the smell of laboratory air. [Figure not available: see fulltext.] © 2012 Springer-Verlag.
Castellano P.,The Workers Lab |
Canepari S.,University of Rome La Sapienza |
Ferrante R.,The Workers Lab |
L'Episcopo N.,The Workers Lab
Journal of Environmental Monitoring | Year: 2012
The aim of this work was the study, by a multiparametric approach, of emissions from a laser printer in an experimental box-chamber, with particular attention to nanoparticles release. The experimental design included number concentration measurements by Fast Mobility Particle Sizer (FMPS) and chemical characterizations (elements) of size segregated samples collected by Nanomoudi cascade impactor. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) were also sampled by charcoal sorbent tubes by personal sampling pumps. Monitoring of ozone, total volatile organic compounds concentrations and of temperature and humidity values inside the experimental box during the printing processes were also performed by automatic analyzers. The performed monitoring allowed to evidence different ways for particles emissions by laser printers, in particular showing that nanoparticles, characterised by high concentrations of Ba, Zn, B, K, Sr and Na, are set free at the beginning of the printing process. This emission seems to be directly ascribable to the use of toner powder, as all these elements are present in it. The emission of larger particles (ca. 100-320 nm) was observed in subsequent phases of the print process, probably due to the condensation of vapours released during the progressive heating of the fuser roller. This contribution was proved by both the FMPS measurements and the cascade impactor results. Also, a low emission of particles in higher size ranges was evidenced, mainly due to paper related particles. A very high concentration of VOCs was detected inside the chamber and the chemical speciation shows that the major contribution is associated to toner components, even if some species are released from other printer components. Although the formation of secondary species by reaction of VOCs with ozone cannot be excluded, these species were present inside the chamber at concentrations lower than the detection limit. © 2012 The Royal Society of Chemistry.
Correia F.V.,The Workers Lab |
Moreira J.C.,The Workers Lab
Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology | Year: 2010
Laboratory tests were conducted to compare the effects of various concentrations of glyphosate and 2,4-D on earthworms (Eisenia foetida) cultured in Argissol during 56 days of incubation. The effects on earthworm growth, survival, and reproduction rates were verified for different exposure times. Earthworms kept in glyphosatetreated soil were classified as alive in all evaluations, but showed gradual and significant reduction in mean weight (50%) at all test concentrations. For 2,4-D, 100% mortality was observed in soil treated with 500 and 1,000 mg/kg. At 14 days, 30%-40% mortality levels were observed in all other concentrations. No cocoons or juveniles were found in soil treated with either herbicide. Glyphosate and 2,4-D demonstrated severe effects on the development and reproduction of Eisenia foetida in laboratory tests in the range of test concentrations. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010.
News Article | May 8, 2015
In stories of the tech industry, it’s not uncommon to hear about prodigies who’ve dropped out of college once they have the skills to snag a six-figure salary. Right behind them are high school grads enrolling in hacker schools and alternative programs, and also heading off to hefty salaries. But for many, the reality is a lot starker. The recession brought hard times across economic strata, but as the economy has revived, it has left many more behind. The U.S. leads the world in low-wage work, and those paychecks have declined by 5% over the 1979–2013 period, despite a generation of productivity gains (64.9%), according to the Economic Policy Institute, which also projects that over one in four workers (28%) will be in low-wage jobs in 2020. Carmen Rojas witnessed this firsthand. A first-generation Latina, she was raised by parents who didn’t graduate from high school, and with siblings who had no aspirations to attend college. Friends and other family members were all low-wage workers. Rojas chose a different path, graduating from UC Berkeley with a PhD in city and regional planning, and going on to nonprofit work serving the needs of low-income communities and minorities in the Bay Area before landing at Living Cities, where she worked with 22 of the largest foundations and financial institutions in the world to improve opportunities for low-income people. It would become the springboard to launch The Workers Lab. In less than six months, Rojas and three others developed a strategy for an accelerator that invests in entrepreneurs, community organizers, technologists, economic justice organizations, issue campaigns, and businesses, to create scalable and self-sustaining solutions that improve conditions for low-wage workers. From the beginning, Rojas admits that even with her PhD, she wasn’t an expert on labor policy, entrepreneurship, or investments, but that actually served her well in making connections. She listened, asked questions, even suspended disbelief when it was called for. "I settled into curiosity in order to satisfy my appetite to be of service," she writes. Thus the goal of The Workers Lab to vet ideas, services, and products from a wide range of individuals came into focus. It would attract over 200 applications, the majority of which were nonprofits seeking recoverable grants and 40% of which were startups looking for equity investments to build out ideas like a digital gaming app to retrain fast food workers to get better-paying jobs. It’s a bit too early to tell how these early bids for investment will fare, but this work and much of Rojas’s career have been a carefully choreographed dance between advocating for low-wage workers and moving the big corporate and governmental institutions capable of taking action to make change. For this, she credits her upbringing and being a Latina woman as competitive advantages. "Growing up, I was surrounded by people who looked and talked more like me than any of my academic or professional counterparts ever did," Rojas tells Fast Company. This is still the case, she observes. "Latinas represent nearly 17% of women in the U.S. and only 5% of PhD graduates," Rojas explains. "On the other hand, women of color represent nearly 60% of full-time minimum-wage workers." Rojas views her advanced degree as a gift despite the fact that she had "tens of thousands of dollars in student loans" in addition to having to work throughout the program and take financial aid—in sharp contrast to many of her academic counterparts whose parents could afford to send them to college. "Practically speaking, I spend a lot of time with my family and friends who work in low-wage industries and organize low-wage constituencies, making the reality of low-wage workers ever present in my work," she says. As for dedicating herself to service, Rojas recalls that her parents both came from big families. "My mom has 17 siblings and my dad has 10 siblings," and as conditions in their home countries of Nicaragua and Venezuela deteriorated due to civil war, economic crises, and violence, their siblings and families started to immigrate to the U.S. "Our home represented the first stop for many of those families," Rojas recounts. "My parents never questioned whether they were going to open their home to families of four or five. They just did it." As homeowners, Rojas’s parents were able to give the newly arrived a place of respite before starting a new life, she says. "They showed me that being of service would significantly improve conditions for our entire family, and, in a broader context, to people in need in our greater community," says Rojas, adding that it remains a lesson she brings to work daily. Being a woman has also been an advantage because women represent the vast majority of low-wage earners, she says. "Many of these women have children or are caretakers for older family members, and the vast majority of them are working under impossible conditions to make ends meet." The women in her family were no different, she says. "Many continued to work in childcare, sweatshops, elder care, and food service, all while making sure their kids were fed, dressed, and safe." Rojas says it’s impossible to do what she does without being reminded on a daily basis that women—especially women of color—bear the brunt of unequal pay and uneven protection in the workplace. Latina women in the U.S. earn only 53% of what white men earn for comparable work, according to the AAUW (American Association of University Women). To connect with corporations and other organizations that are profit-driven is a tough but necessary part of advocacy because they have the power to transform working conditions for low-wage earners. For now, Rojas points to current examples of companies such as Costco and Gravity Payments that offer a living wage and benefits such as paid sick time, and the business case for doing the right thing. "When these conditions are met, corporations and revenue-generating ventures experience less employee turnover and have increased customer loyalty," she says. "This is great for their corporations as well as for our economy."