Political Action

Senate Puts ISP Profits Over Your Privacy

Deep Links - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 11:30

The Senate just voted to roll back your online privacy protections. Speak up now to keep the House from doing the same thing.

ISPs have been lobbying for weeks to get lawmakers to repeal the FCC’s rules that stand between them and using even creepier ways to track and profit off of your every move online. Republicans in the Senate just voted 50-48 (with two absent votes) to approve a Congressional Review Action resolution from Sen. Jeff Flake which—if it makes it through the House—would not only roll back the FCC’s rules but also prevent the FCC from writing similar rules in the future.

That would be a crushing loss for online privacy. ISPs act as gatekeepers to the Internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online. They shouldn’t be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase, and more without your consent.

We can still kill this in the House: call your lawmakers today and tell them to protect your privacy from your ISP.

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Categories: Political Action

Balancing the budget: How a commons-based project is revolutionizing budget reporting in India

Creative Commons - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 09:20

Publicly tracking how a government spends its money is more than just posting documents online – making sense of budgets is crucial to providing oversight and interpretation of government spending. Working to demystify this process is at the root of the Open Budgets India project, which is fighting for a more free and open approach to budgets in India.

A beta project with 5,300 datasets from 333 sources, the portal provides access to budgets at every level of government in India, providing APIs and visualizations for previously obscure data. The project also created a useful FAQ to help people understand how government budget data works, how it differs from other kinds of data, and why it matters. Funded by a number of institutional partners, the portal has served more than 3,000 users looking for visualizations and information on open budgets at local and federal levels.

Why open budgets? Why are open budgets important to open government?

Government budgets are a comprehensive statement of government finances for a financial year, translating government’s promises and priorities as expenditures and its receipts to meet such demand. Open Budgets Data is government budget data that is publicly accessible (uploaded online on a timely basis) in a machine-readable and reusable format covering all data points (not just analysis), freely available and legally open to use for everyone without any restriction. Over the years, open budgets data has become vital to build trust in government’s financial activities and sustaining transparency in its policy decisions. It also enables citizens, policy makers, civil societies, journalists, and other key players to engage in budgetary processes and strengthen participation and insight into budgetary policies in the country.

In order to have open and effective governance, governments need to invest and commit on complete budget transparency, i.e. full disclosure of open budgets data on revenues, allocations and expenditures across the public sector. Unfortunately, in India public access to budgets diminishes as we go deeper from the level of the Union Government (Central Government) to the subnational level. As a result, the use and analysis of budget data has been restricted, and the scope for citizen’s engagement with government budgets has been limited. In such a backdrop, Open Budgets India (OBI), a comprehensive and user-friendly open data portal, facilitates free, easy and timely access to relevant data on government budgets in India.

Data visualization: Outstanding External Debt from Open Budgets India

What are the greatest successes and obstacles you’ve faced with this project? How have you seen it used so far?

From the very inception of the project, we have collaborated with a diverse team of researchers, technologists, data scientists, policy hackers and groups of volunteers to co-create this portal. We have embraced open-source technology, design, visualizations and documentation to go several steps ahead and become an open-source initiative, facilitating transparent and accessible co-development. We have automated conversion of budget PDFs into clean CSVs, created time-series data and developed scalable visualizations. This has helped us to scale our data mining techniques across various tiers of governments. Also, we forked CKAN, an open-source data portal platform and customized it as per our needs. Use of open-source softwares has reduced our development time manifolds thus we have kept all our work in open too, so that other organizations can freely reuse it and may help us to make better systems. Also, with the help of our automated data pipeline, we were able to publish machine readable budget data from Union Budget 2017-18 in less than 24 hours, enabling timely and informed budget analysis.

One of the major obstacles towards budget transparency in India is a lack of consistency and standardization in budget data formats across years and government bodies. Few states still avoid publishing their budget documents online and other have fonts and character encoding issues, making it difficult for us to parse those. When it comes to disaggregated detailed data for State Expenditure and Receipts, format varies drastically as no two states follow a similar format for publishing their documents. Some of the budget documents are available only in local languages, thus requiring efforts in translation for interoperability. These issues make it difficult for us to produce crucial machine readable data for state budgets. However, we have developed a technique to generate CSVs for Karnataka and Sikkim, which we plan to scale up for other states in near future.

Unavailability of budget documents online and heterogeneity of the formats further increases as we move down to districts and municipalities. We even need to file RTIs (Right to Information) to several government bodies to acquire these important budget documents. Publishing of such information in a timely and accessible manner can strengthen monitoring of public expenditure as well as engagement of people with budgetary processes. That, in turn, can lead to significant improvements in the manner in which such allocations are spent.

In last two months, more than 3K unique users have visited the portal, with highest traffic on data visualizations followed by state and union budget documents. Users are finding CSVs and time-series datasets useful for doing their own budget analysis. It is also encouraging for us to know that other data portals and communities are using Open Budgets India as a source for budget data. For example, the urban data portal, OpenCity.in has credited OBI as a data source for couple of municipal corporation budgets.

Data sectors on Open Budgets India

How have governments reacted to having their budgets online and open? What kinds of responses how you seen from various departments?

On 27th January 2017, we conducted a public consultation on ‘Opening Up Access to Budget Data in India’ in New Delhi. The consultation included a panel discussion with experts on what should government authorities and civil society organisations pursue, in the coming years, so as to ensure that people get free, easy and timely access to relevant budget data at various levels of government. Sumit Bose, member, Expenditure Management Commission and former Finance Secretary, advised the project, saying, “A lot of hard work must have gone into developing this project, as budget preparation itself is a humongous exercise. Besides, experts, the volunteers need to be recognized, as they must have contributed in a big way in developing this excellent portal. I’m optimistic about this project… However, I feel that there’s no deliberate attempt by state governments, barring exceptions, not to put machine readable documents online. Probably, they never felt the need or it simply didn’t occur. In the next stage, the CBGA needs to tell state governments about their requirement.”

Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, K Ganga suggested a few guidelines to strengthen the demand for making budget data available in public domain as well. She said, “Transparency can only be achieved once the common man outside of academics and governance understands budget data and use it. Things are done by keeping only the experts in mind. Besides, communication channels with every stakeholder be kept open even through vernacular medium, ensure that people can access data in various kinds of devices, create an environment by encouraging people to provide data, and pester the government to share data and information.”

Your project aims for accessibility and ease of use within government data. How are you working to make that data accessible despite a variety of file types and standards across organizations?

One of the major additions is a comprehensive metadata for budget datasets, which drastically increases searchability of documents. We have also classified datasets by tiers of government, developmental sectors(like Agriculture and Allied Activities, Health, Education, etc.) and data formats. Apart from adding machine readable files(CSVs), we have also created a number of time-series datasets enabling users to comprehend various trends in budgetary allocations across fiscal years. For Municipal Corporations, we have developed an unified format called as Budget Summary Statement to produce aggregated figures comparable across the municipalities. For each dataset, we have clubbed all the available file formats i.e. CSV, XLS and PDF as multiple resources in a single package so that users can preview and download the format of their choice. We also provide an API to programmatically access all 5.1K+ datasets from our portal, this enables developers to automate their search and download processes.

Are you accepting contributors? If so, how could people get involved?

Open Budgets India has resulted from collective efforts by many organisations and individuals, led by Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA). Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), DataMeet, DataKind – Bangalore Chapter and Omdiyar Network (ON) have helped significantly in the conceptualisation of the project. A team of pro-bono data scientists led by DataKind Bangalore has helped us develop few key components of the portal. Macromoney Research Initiatives has helped us in making available budget data of a large number of Municipal Corporations. Our partner organisations across the country focusing on governments budgets, viz. Budget Analysis Rajasthan Centre (BARC), Jaipur; National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS), Pune; and Pathey, Ahmedabad, have contributed their efforts in collecting, collating and translating budget data of a number of Municipal Corporations.

Thus, the spirit of commons is at the core of our initiative, we are happy to seek more support from various diverse communities. Budget researchers, policy makers, civil societies, journalists and data contributors can reach out to us at info@openbudgetsindia.org. While technologists, data scientists, visualizations experts and designers can directly collaborate with us in our design and development cycle via Github. Together we aim to continue our efforts in making India’s budgets open, usable and easy to comprehend.

The post Balancing the budget: How a commons-based project is revolutionizing budget reporting in India appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

In defense of protesting racists

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Charles Murray, whose speech at Middlebury College earlier this month was disrupted by hundreds of student protesters, is back on campus with a speaking engagement at Columbia University on Thursday. Here, Monique Dols and Alan Maass question the outcry against protesters, coming from conservatives and liberals, since the Middlebury demonstration--and consider the stakes for the left in the struggles to come.

Students at Middlebury College stand up against racism during a lecture by Charles Murray

A BACKLASH against protest is in full swing after the controversial demonstration against racist author Charles Murray at Middlebury College this month--and it isn't only the right wing that's raising complaints.

The latest case in point: A statement titled "Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression" is circulating on the Internet, with hundreds of signatures from academics, alumni and others. The statement begins:

The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one's willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one's beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.

The statement goes on to appeal to students to "listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one's beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share."

Language like this is familiar when it comes from university administrators trying to quest dissent--and, of course, from conservatives like Robert George, one of its two authors. But George's co-author is Cornel West, the radical scholar and activist, with a long history of protest and speaking truth to power, even when it isn't popular and comes at a personal cost.

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THIS SHOWS how far the backlash has gone since the protest at Middlebury, where hundreds of students confronted Murray during a speech hosted by a conservative student group, but given campus-wide prominence by the college administration.

When he came to the podium, almost all the students in the room turned their back on Murray and collectively read out their own statement. Murray was unable to go on and was ushered to another room, where he gave his speech via Internet live stream. Events took a turn for the worst afterward when Murray was confronted by a smaller group of protesters as he left campus--the confrontation left one professor accompany Murray injured.

The conservative media predictably depicted the whole event as students "rioting" and acting like "thugs." But liberals added their voices to the chorus of criticism. Washington Post columnist Danielle Allen actually compared Murray to the nine Black students who defied "the shouting, shoving mob" to desegregate Little Rock Central High in 1957.

Allen should know better, but Murray is no civil rights hero. If George and West's statement urges students today to respect "intellectual humility, openness of mind and love of truth," Charles Murray possesses none of those things.

Murray is most notorious for The Bell Curve, the 1994 book he co-authored that claimed to prove the intellectual inferiority of African Americans. Two decades later, he's still at it with a recent book that blames hereditary and individual factors for the unequal status of white workers and the poor. As historian Kevin Gannon wrote at his blog:

Murray is a peddler in racist pseudoscience, the likes of which we saw in forced sterilization programs and Nazi medicine. He slaps a thin veneer of misapplied scientific language and thumb-on-the-scale statistical "analysis" onto [racist arguments]...Murray's ideas are the literal equivalent of inviting a flat-earther to lecture on geography or an alchemist to teach your Physical Chemistry lab, or...inviting [Holocaust denier] David Irving to keynote a Holocaust conference.

This is who angry Middlebury students organized to protest against, using a variety of tactics: some focused on a demonstration before the event, others worked on a pamphlet exposing Murray as not "controversial," but a fraud whose claims have been disproven and discredited.

When the Middlebury administration rejected students' criticisms and endorsed an event whose format allowed no opportunity for genuine debate, the protesters used their right to free speech inside the lecture hall. "Without a platform for legitimate discussion," said one Middlebury senior, "it seems that students had few non-disruptive tools to get their voices heard."

The statement by George and West doesn't directly refer to the Middlebury protest, but that's the obvious subject. Cornel West's part in it is deeply disappointing. In putting his respected name to a statement like this, he gives the right wing cover to redirect discussion away from Murray's racism and toward the false claim that "free speech" is under assault by the left, especially on campus--when the right is clearly the main threat to free speech.

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IN THE context of the new Trump regime's authoritarianism, a defense of free speech is certainly in order. In fact, historically, it was the left that stood up for this basic democratic right. The right to speak without being shut down was won by generations of people who the right commonly refers to derogatorily as "social justice warriors": abolitionists, antiwar socialists, soapboxing anarcho-syndicalists, civil rights fighters.

Free speech should be vigorously defended on campuses, and university administrations shouldn't be able to ban or shut down speakers--experience teaches that they turn this power against the left.

But we must also stand squarely on the side of the right to protest. The statement by West and George clearly fails to do this. Instead, it paints students who seek to protest deplorable ideas as trying to "immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities."

This line of argument echoes the rhetoric of the right dating back to at least the 1980s, especially its "snowflake" claim: that young people in general and students in particular are self-indulgent brats who have been coddled and given too many participation trophies, and, as a result, can't handle having their ideas challenged my someone that makes them feel "uncomfortable."

The Middlebury students who protested Murray prepared carefully and debated intently in the lead-up to the protest. Whatever shortcomings they identify in retrospect, particularly regarding the confrontation after the event, they did their homework--which is much more than can be said about administrators and faculty members who defended Murray as no more than "controversial," and even disputed the Southern Poverty Law Center's characterization of him as a "white nationalist."

Any discussion about free speech must also be about the right of people like the Middlebury students to voice their disagreement with others' speech--and to expose those in positions of power who legitimize these ideas.

This is particularly important at a time when right-wingers--backed, unsurprisingly, by funding from the billionaire Koch brothers--are introducing cynically named "campus free speech legislation" that, if passed, would seriously curb students' right to protest.

Meanwhile, at Middlebury, the administration that sanctioned Murray's prestigious speaking event is threatening disciplinary action against students who protested him. We stand with the students against this threat to curb and silence their speech.

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NO ONE would suggest that Jewish students should be made to "listen respectfully" to a Holocaust denier. But for some reason, it is okay to state that Black students should "listen respectfully" to Murray, a peddler of racist eugenics and pseudoscience.

The same was said, by the way, when Jim Gilchrist, the spokesperson for the armed anti-immigrant vigilantes known as the Minutemen, came to spout his racist bile at Columbia University back in 2006.

While the statement by George and West makes a nod toward the right of students to protest speakers they disagree with, it nevertheless asks students to consider: "Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?"

The problem with this formulation is that it assumes a level of civility that isn't present among a right wing that is openly seeking to eviscerate the remaining hard-won gains of oppressed people. Murray's racist claims have been comprehensively debunked for many years, yet he continues to get a stage because his ideas can be used to justify reactionary policies.

Should we be prepared to debate someone like Murray and the reinvigorated right wing that is inviting him to college campuses? Absolutely. The left can't rely on authorities to ban hateful speech or rescind their invitations, nor will it do for a small group of activists to use force or property damage to shut down their events.

We want to expose the reactionaries and racists, and win the debate, in order to persuade those who might be pulled by their ideas. But in cases like Middlebury, college officials frustrated any attempt to challenge Murray on these terms.

Free speech guarantees the right to speak without intervention by the state. But it doesn't guarantee the right to speak unopposed or uncontested. It is our right--one we must organize to defend--to turn our backs on a racist, to stage a walkout, and to raise our voices in protest.

There are many ways for the left to engage with the aim of winning politically. We can try to democratize the spaces where these speeches take place. We can expose the staged nature of right-wing speaking tours and call for groups sponsoring speakers like Murray to make the events into debates. We can push for longer discussion sessions, where students have an opportunity to speak uninterrupted and ask a question, make a point or read a statement, if they so choose.

We should show how much racist ideologues like Murray are getting paid and compare this with the budgets of left-wing student organizations that put out an alternative point of view. We can make fact sheets addressing the real issues at stake and draw attention to the impact of hateful and derogatory speech. We can put our ideas onto signs and banners, and we can use every effective opportunity--before, during and after such speeches--to raise our own voices.

Our movement faces important challenges. We must be in the forefront of defending the right to free speech. Without it, the left would be nowhere. But we must also challenge both the words and the deeds of repugnant racists, Islamophobes, xenophobes, misogynists and other reactionaries.

That requires building a movement with strength in numbers and politics, which can defend our own rights from escalating attacks in the era of Trump--and push back against the advances of the right wing.

Categories: Political Action

The one undemocratic state solution

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Publications like Socialist Worker stand for a "one-state solution" in Palestine--but the version advocated by Israeli leaders would continue apartheid, writes Daphna Thier.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (left) talks with a group of military commanders near the Gaza border

DONALD TRUMP doesn't care, and he's made that perfectly clear. One state? Two states? It's whatever the Israelis and Palestinians want.

At his first press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said, "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like...I can live with either one."

This sounds like a comically open-minded approach, but scratch beneath the surface, and the options he and Netanyahu are discussing are alarmingly different than the widely understood definitions of two states or one. And as reported in the Guardian, both heads of state were vague at the time about what "the alternative to a two-state solution would look like."

Trump's abandonment of the longstanding commitment of the U.S. government to separate Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side in Palestine--what is commonly known as "the two-state solution" in diplomatic circles--came days after Israeli President Reuven "Rubi" Rivlin announced his support for the full annexation of the West Bank in exchange for Israeli citizenship and "equal rights" for Palestinians living there.

"It must be clear," said Rivlin, "if we extend sovereignty, the law must apply equally to all. Applying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there."

But what Rivlin envisions is strikingly different from what those who stand for Palestinian solidarity have historically meant when they call for "one democratic state."

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THE PALESTINE liberation movement has long argued for a secular, democratic state in all of Palestine that is a state of all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or creed. We have criticized the two-state solution for failing to address the demands of Palestinians whose homes, land and villages have been erased and replaced by the state of Israel.

Since becoming president in 2014, Rivlin has made several calls for "morality" and "civility" in managing Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. But while Rivlin's verbal commitment to Palestinian rights has ruffled some feathers among Israel's right wing, the fact is that Rivlin has spent his political career advocating for a Jewish state encompassing all of Palestine, known as Eretz Yisrael HaShlema (Greater Israel).

This can only be described as a thoroughly right-wing aspiration. Though he calls for "democracy," he is as committed as ever to the Jewish character of that state and opposes the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Rivlin's rhetoric aside, the annexation he advocates will result in the same kind of citizenship that Palestinians living within Israel proper presently "enjoy"--namely, the de facto denial of equal rights and social benefits. More than 35 laws discriminate against Palestinians, despite their "full" Israeli citizenship.

Ninety-three percent of agricultural, residential and commercial land is only leasable to Jews. More than 70 Palestinian villages, some that pre-date the establishment of Israel, are unrecognized by the government. Even recognized towns lack basic services and provisions.

And while Jews are encouraged to build and develop, Palestinians fail time and again to obtain the necessary permits for construction. Social services and public school funding are unequally distributed between Jewish and Palestinian communities.

Finally, countless families have been broken up through the denial of the right of return and the prevention of residency or citizenship status to spouses of Palestinian citizens.

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ALL OF these laws create apartheid even within the 1948 borders of Israel for the 20 percent of the Israeli population who are Palestinian.

And while Rivlin condemned the Settlement Regulation Law passed in early February, retroactively granting ownership of some 3,000 illegal Jewish homes built on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank, he also gloated about a 40-year-old deed that he said granted him ownership of a parcel of West Bank land.

When the Palestinian he supposedly bought the land from challenged his right to the land, Rivlin prevailed in court. Afterwards, he asserted his victory in racial terms, saying, "This Ashkenazi [a term for European Jews] is registered in Ramallah."

Rivlin's position is consistent with a far-right tendency within the Zionist movement. "I, Rubi Rivlin, believe that Zion is entirely ours," he said. "I believe the sovereignty of the State of Israel must be in all the blocs [of the West Bank]." This is the legacy of Vladimir Jabotinsky's right-wing current of Zionism dating from the pre-state Yishuv period, which covered the years 1920 to 1949.

This right wing of the Zionist movement argues that the two-state solution falls short of the ultimate Zionist goal--one Jewish homeland from the river to the sea. During the Yishuv period, the Jewish bourgeoisie initially sought to build the Jewish state on the model used by the French to colonize Algeria--cultivating cash crops with hyper-exploited Palestinian labor for the purpose of export to Europe.

In other words, the far right didn't seek separation at all, but rather the drawing in of Palestinians as a source of cheap labor. It was actually the Jewish labor current in the early settler colonial movement that fought for the exclusion of Palestinian workers and issued calls for hiring only Jewish workers.

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THE OSLO Accords of 1993 and the subsequent "road map to peace" of the early 2000s, which promised the erection of a Bantustan-style Palestinian state, underpinned the successful efforts of the Israeli political establishment to normalize business relations in the international market.

Even the right wing governments of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu have tacitly accepted the two-state premise. However, the disillusionment of Israeli society with this so-called peace process and the rightward lurch of Israeli politics have given credence to the long-standing position of that section of the Israeli bourgeoisie calling for full annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Noam Sheizaf, founding editor of +972 Magazine who interviewed various right-wing figureheads such as Rivlin and Elitzur, explained their vision for a Jewish one-state:

Gradually and unilaterally, Israel would annex the West Bank (different time frames were given for this process--from five to 25 years); beginning with Area C [currently under Israeli military rule] and then moving to B and A [governed by the Palestinian Authority]. Barring security clearances (and according to some--loyalty oaths), all Palestinians will end up having blue Israeli identity cards with full rights. The army will return to dealing mostly with national defense, and the police will take over civilian policing duties in the annexed territory. Constitutional measures that will define Israel as a Jewish State would take place in advance [these are currently being discussed in the Knesset]...Palestinian refugees will not be allowed back.

Gaza will not be annexed and will turn [in] to a fully independent region, separated from the State of Israel. Separating Gaza from their model is necessary for right-wing one staters in order to maintain a Jewish majority in the unified state.

There is also a slightly revised version of annexation--advocated by Naftali Bennett, who is the leader of the racist pro-settlement Jewish Home Party--in which areas A and B would be given a "degree of autonomy short of statehood."

But Bennett also calls for the immediate annexation of Maale Adumim as a first step in a staged annexing of all of Area C, which is 61 percent of the West Bank territories. Bennett's more limited proposal likewise offers Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians in Area C.

Like other pro-settlement advocates, Bennett is also a proponent of dismantling Israel's separation wall, which divides "the West Bank from Israel proper." Couching this in what sounds like liberal terms, Bennett says this will allow freedom of movement for Palestinians and the promotion of their economic development, development which Israel should actively encourage.

But Bennett, who gleefully declared after Trump's election that "the era of the Palestinian state is over," is using progressive-sounding talking points to paper over the injustice he is advocating.

Bennett and others of his ilk see the wall as establishing a barrier to the colonization of all land between the river and the sea. Thus, dismantling the wall is an essential part of advancing the project of annexing the Occupied Territories and legally establishing West Bank Jewish settlements as part of Israel.

The differing solutions--whether two-state or one-state with full or partial annexation of the Occupied Territories--reflect the varying interests of the Israeli bourgeoisie. Certain sections of the capitalist class benefit primarily from ongoing occupation, whereas other sectors would benefit from incorporating more Palestinian labor and/or normalizing relations with the Palestinian capitalist class.

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FOR THE Palestinian ruling class, the ideal resolution has long been two states. Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, and his allies would like to strengthen their authority over Palestinian society and economy, even as they help entrench a system of dependency on the Israeli economy.

For the majority of Palestinians, the two-state solution is not a path to liberation. This does not resolve the plight facing the 6.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide--fully a third of the world's refugee population is Palestinian.

The West Bank and Gaza together constitute only a fifth of what was once Palestine, and the conversion of even the entirety of those territories into a Palestinian mini-state would do little for the 1.3 million refugees in Gaza and 775,000 in the West Bank, many of whom have been separated from their families or live a few miles away from homes and land inside Israel proper that they have been denied the right to return to.

The two-state solution also does nothing to address the needs of Palestinians living as second-class citizens in the state of Israel.

Finally, if Oslo has proven anything, it is that the call by U.S politicians and liberal Zionists, who are the historic proponents of the two-state solution, for Palestinians to "compromise" and exercise "patience" has failed to stop the expansion of settlements on stolen land, with three times as many settlers living in the West Bank today compared to when the Oslo "peace process" began.

Apartheid--in a single undemocratic state or in two--is not an answer to injustice or ethnic cleansing, because all citizens must enjoy basic freedoms, such as the freedom of movement, the right to own property, and freedom of expression. And all must benefit from social provisions and civil rights equally, regardless of religion or ethnicity. The rights of refugees to their property, to return to their homeland or to receive reparations would likewise be granted in a truly free country.

The call for Palestinian liberation should be one that includes not just all of Palestine, but also all Palestinians. This is the only real democratic solution.

Categories: Political Action

Charles Murray's ideas should be challenged

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Right-wing author and promoter of racist pseudoscience Charles Murray is taking his message to Columbia University in New York City on March 23. This follows several other campus speaking events for Murray. Earlier this month, antiracist protesters turned out to counter him at Middlebury College in Vermont, sparking a firestorm of controversy.

International Socialist Organization members at the Columbia University wrote this statement, published in the Columbia Spectator before Murray's scheduled appearance.

Charles Murray speaks at the annual "Freedom Fest" conference in Las Vegas (Gage Skidmore | flickr)

ON MARCH 23, the Columbia University College Republicans (CUCR) and the Columbia Political Union (CPU) are hosting the widely discredited right-wing ideologue Charles Murray to speak at Columbia University. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Charles Murray is a white supremacist who, as "a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most influential social scientists in America, using racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the Black and Latino communities, women and the poor."

We believe that it is a grave disservice to the Columbia University community and beyond that these student groups have opted to invite Murray to spew his racist and discredited ideas in an uncontested and staged format. Instead, we demand that the Columbia Political Union--whose stated mission is to provide a "nonpartisan space for open debate and political engagement" on campus--and the Columbia University College Republicans turn the event into a debate format in which Murray could have his ideas challenged and dissected. The event should provide an open discussion period during which students and other members of the community can not only ask questions, but also make their own arguments about the impact of Murray's ideas.

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IN 1994, Murray argued in The Bell Curve that non-whites are genetically inferior to whites. His racist theory claims there is scientific proof that Blacks and Latinos have lower IQs. Murray's research was funded by a handful of right-wing organizations and individuals, including the neo-Nazi Pioneer Fund, which generously funded Richard Lynn, a man who Murray heavily references in his book and who has claimed, "Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent (non-whites). To think otherwise is mere sentimentality." Murray's work poses as scholarship; but when placed under peer-reviewed scrutiny his assertions crumble. Through the intentional manipulation of data, he attempts to lend a (pseudo) scientific veneer to his bigotry.

In 2012, Murray extended his bigotry to poor whites in Coming Apart, arguing that poor and working-class white people's increasing impoverishment is a consequence of cultural and genetic degradation. He has argued that most young people lack the "linguistic and logical/mathematical" ability to perform in four-year B.A. granting programs. Murray has even gone so far as to argue that there is a genetic basis of laziness in poorer people. He has said that many Black students on college campuses are there because of affirmative action and "don't belong there" academically. Murray has also argued that women are significantly inferior to men, claiming that their contributions to such fields as philosophy and mathematics have been negligible. These abhorrent arguments for racial, class and gender superiority are a serious affront to a large portion of Columbia students, and are demonstrably false.

In spite of his bankruptcy as a scholar, Murray's work has been widely influential for ruling-class politicians looking for a justification to cut aid and support for programs that serve working-class people, and has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, particularly Black communities.

Murray, as a right-wing ideologue with a false image of scholarly respectability, is a deeply pernicious character. Although we do not believe the university should be asked to arbitrate what hate speech is and isn't--since such power could just as easily be used against progressive speakers--Murray's critical influence on the continued disenfranchisement of many vulnerable communities means his ideas cannot go unchallenged. This is a moment that calls for us to use our right to free speech to challenge the widely discredited, racist and profoundly elitist ideas of Charles Murray.

First published in the Columbia Spectator.

Categories: Political Action

Tom Cat does Trump's dirty work

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Danny Katch reports on the struggle of immigrant workers at Tom Cat Bakery to defend their jobs in the face of company demands to prove their legal status.

Workers at Tom Cat Bakery in Queens protest management's threat to fire undocumented employees (Danny Katch | SW)

WHEN PEOPLE talk about Donald Trump's anti-immigrant base, they usually aren't thinking of artisanal bakeries in New York City.

But when Tom Cat Bakery in Queens handed out letters to 30 employees on March 15 demanding that they show proof of legal status, it showed that the people who have the most to gain from Trump's crackdown aren't white factory workers in the Rustbelt, but bosses everywhere who want to keep their workers divided and afraid.

At a Wednesday rally organized by Brandworkers, an advocacy organization for workers in New York City's food and retail industry, Héctor, a 13-year Tom Cat worker, addressed the crowd:

I pay taxes, I work hard, I have a family. Last week, we received a letter asking us for documentation. We were only given 10 days [to submit the paperwork]. I think it's very unfair the way we're being treated. We've given so much to this company. The reason why the company is successful today is because of our hard work.

We are asking for everybody to stand up with us today in solidarity. We are not criminals like we've been identified as. We're calling on Tom Cat and the American government not to treat us as criminals. We are hard workers, and we're taking this country upward.

Democratic City Council member Mark Levine told the crowd, "We reject the racist policies of Donald Trump's ICE which have targeted decent hardworking New Yorkers who have done nothing but contribute to this community contribute to this economy and made our city a better place."

"We demand that Tom Cat defend their workers in their time of need," he continued, "and that they offer the sponsorship that they need to remain here without this horrible threat standing over their heads."

But at this point workers don't even know whether the company is being forced to hand out these letters or if their employer is taking advantage of the national climate to advance its own agenda.

"The company has unilaterally done this," Brandworkers Executive Director Daniel Gross said in an interview. "We don't have any confirmation except for a letter on company letterhead about what's happening here."

Gross added that workers are demanding transparency "and immediate cooperation, in terms of challenging whatever is or isn't happening. They're demanding to stay in their jobs. And they're going to fight for that."

The New York Daily News reported in 2014 that there were 14,000 workers in New York City's $5 billion food manufacturing industry, and that 70 percent of them were recent immigrants, mostly from Latin America and Asia.

According to a study conducted that year by Brandworkers and the Urban Justice Center's Community Development Project, over 40 percent of those workers reported suffering from a workplace injury.

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MANY OF the Tom Cat workers under threat of termination have been at the company for at least 10 years. "We've given so many years to this company and made so many sacrifices," said one employee. "We built this company from the ground up."

"Last week, I was called into the office, and I was only given 10 days' notice to submit my working papers," said another. "They have given us only until the 28th of this month. After that we're fired. After hearing that news we've been devastated since we've given so many years of our lives to the rise of this company."

Worker after worker at the rally talked through Spanish translation of the shock at being given only a few days notice after giving the company so many years, without even word of severance pay. It was, of course, the same feelings of betrayal often heard from native-born workers going through factory closures or mass layoffs.

But Tom Cat workers are determined to fight. This is a group that first contacted Brandworkers five years ago for help in taking on abusive management from the bakery's new private equity owners, and that spirit of an organized workplace was evident at the rally.

Dozens of workers marched from a nearby park to the factory, chanting "¡Tom Cat, escucha! ¡Estamos in la lucha!" and "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vendico!" and joined by fifty supporters from various unions and labor solidarity groups.

"Their fight is our fight, our fight is their fight," said Julian, an organizer with Teamsters Local 814. "No matter their status, if they're working here, they deserve respect and they deserve rights."

Henry, a packing worker for 11 years at Tom Cat, echoed the sentiment of solidarity at the end of the rally. "Thank you all for being united with us fighting for justice," he said. "We'll continue fighting until victory, not only for the workers at Tom Cat, but for the workers of New York and all the workers in the nation--because many workers are going through exploitative conditions."

"What I know is that Trump picked the wrong group of workers and the wrong organization," says Gross. "They concluded that there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Trump is coming for all marginalized people, and this is the moment to draw the line and fight back. They're committed to fight in the end."

Categories: Political Action

When the scientists march

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Liz Ross uncovers a history of resistance to the status quo among scientists that is being revived during the Trump era, in an article written for Australia's Red Flag.

Science for the People magazine covers from 1970 and 1974

BRANDISHING PIECES of coal during parliamentary sessions passes for evidence these days, according to climate change skeptics. In this age of alternative facts, filing lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the denial of human agency in global warming are key qualifications to head the agency.

During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to reduce the EPA to "tidbits," and since the election, climate change information has been wiped from the agency's website. Orders have been issued that all agency research be vetted.

With the president's edicts and policies posing a threat not just to environmental research, but to the whole world of science, those who work in the discipline are taking to the streets, joined by international protests, on Earth Day, April 22.

This activism by scientists is often greeted with amazement. While acknowledging it's a mark of the widespread nature of Trump's attacks, there's incredulity--after all, who's seen scientists on the streets?

We shouldn't be so surprised. Scientists have quite a history of protest, particularly during times of upheaval.

On the campuses and in the public sector, there have been decades of strikes and protests involving scientists. Most recently in Australia, during the torrid times of Tony Abbott's government and its anti-science agenda, savage cuts to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization prompted scientists around the country to strike.

In the world of work, science is a relative newcomer, but one intimately tied to the development of capitalism. Karl Marx explained that "modern industry...makes science a productive force distinct from labor and presses it into the service of capital." In the process, it created its own workforce, whose class consciousness has waxed and waned. In the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, there was a trebling in the science workforce along with a radicalization.

During the 1930s, British scientists formed a National Union of Scientific Workers, while some, looking for political expression, joined the Labour Party or the Communist Party. With fascism on the rise, scientists were called to decide which side they were on: face either a grim future under fascism or a grand, science-informed "complete Socialism."

Through their publications, membership in left-wing parties, union organizing and antiwar protests, these left-wing scientists had an impact for more than 20 years.

French physicist and communist Paul Langevin, though seeing his scientific work as important, argued, "Unless the political work is done, there will be no science at all."

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RADICALISM EBBED during the Cold War, then rose again in the late 1960s with the mass opposition to the Vietnam War, student activism and rising working class combativity. U.S. science workers formed antiwar groups and joined forces with unions and other groups in March 1969 to strike at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many other workplaces, opposing the military applications of science. Similar protests by scientists against the war also happened in England.

Activists formed the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Many in the group had New Left politics and a strong commitment to Third World struggles, and also took a strong stand against British intervention in Northern Ireland. As well, in their Radical Science journal, they took on the pseudoscience supporting racism and sexism in the mainstream media.

Scientist Marianne Craig remembers, "We were going to change the world, we were going to work together...We never went shopping on the weekend. We went to demos."

In the U.S., Science for the People was more openly left wing. "We were basically a load of shit-kicking folks, and we made sure our voices were heard," Al Weinrub recalls. The group argued that science was not neutral, but part of the "ideological and practical weapons used by the existing power structure both here and abroad, to justify racist and sexist oppression."

The group openly backed the Black Panther Party, while the New York branch helped the radical Puerto Rican group Young Lords organize a campaign against lead poisoning. Earlier, they campaigned against IBM and Polaroid, which were integral to apartheid South Africa's passbook system. They exposed the effects of Agent Orange, a project that extended to Australia, where one activist scientist's research informed testimony for Vietnam veterans.

Science activists Steven and Hilary Rose, in The Political Economy of Science, write that, like any other workers who sell their labor to the capitalist class, science workers become alienated from their creations, from the products of their labor.

But as their history has shown, they can also form part of the potential revolutionary forces within society when they organize and fight.

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

How capitalism frames disability

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Jenny Rellick contributes to the discussion on how disability is conceived of under capitalism--and how all that would be different in a socialist society.

I APPLAUD Lauren Nickell's explanation of the social model of disability and how it underlies the oppression of disabled schoolchildren ("Meeting the needs of students with disabilities").

The politics of education imposes disabilities on children who would otherwise simply have physical and cognitive impairments. As a disabled adult with a public school education, I would like to give examples for comrades who may not know how disablement can occur.

In many school systems, one elementary school, one middle school and one high school are designated for the children with certain impairments, causing hour-long bus rides each day for many children with impairments. Some states have separate schools for blind, deaf, intellectually impaired and other students with impairments.

This economizing policy enables school systems to have one teacher or assistant to accommodate several students, but it is segregation, and it is inherently alienating and disabling. The disabled students from other neighborhoods are often regarded as outsiders. In the cafeteria, a common scene is that disabled students sit at one table.

Some wealthy school systems provide accommodations at all schools so that students go to school with their neighbors. Students with different abilities have friendships in school that continue in the evenings and on weekends. The cafeteria is not as segregated in these schools, and students of all abilities learn how to learn, play and work together. That outcome is the exception, not the rule.

Readers' Views

SocialistWorker.org welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

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ANOTHER EXAMPLE is that many children with a wide range of impairments need accommodations to do homework, but rarely are they provided.

A friend with cerebral palsy did not have the physical ability to write or type, and her mother had to be her scribe every night after a hard day's work. My friend knew she was a huge inconvenience to her mother and siblings. Technology today may have helped my friend partially, but a homework scribe is still the most time-efficient way to accommodate students with her type of impairment.

The school system not only disables students by failing to provide homework accommodations, but students begin to believe that their impairment is the cause of the disability, and there's nothing to change it. The students internalize the disability as burdensome to others, and they think it will, in adulthood, limit their value to employers.

To liberate students with disabilities, students need to become aware that they are not responsible for their social disability. Parents must not despair for their disabled child's future. Reframing the internalized model of disability with the social model is important in helping disabled people seek liberation. To create a society free of disablement, however, socialism is absolutely necessary.

The neoliberal answer to disablement is "reasonable accommodation" and nondiscrimination, two terms which sum up the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disabled people are responsible for reporting violations to the Department of Justice or taking violators to federal court themselves. This policy places the responsibility for ending society's disablement back on the disabled person!

Reasonable accommodation is always a matter of expense and the alleged offender's ability to pay, but nobody knows the actual threshold for reasonableness. The prohibitions of discrimination are similarly vague and difficult to enforce. If a competitive private school rejects a student who is disabled, parents don't know whether their child was objectively better qualified than at least one admitted student. The same problem renders it extremely difficult to enforce laws banning discrimination in hiring.

Under a socialist society, reasonable accommodation would be based on the needs of people with impairments and the ability of labor to provide it. Access to school would be a high-priority need, and labor would provide accommodations based on the availability of labor after higher priority needs like food, medicine and shelter, are satisfied.

Without capitalism, discrimination would serve no purpose. Workers would welcome people of differing abilities to join them as they work to address the needs of society.

Categories: Political Action

MoveOn Statement on Reports that Democrats are Weighing Deal to Approve Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

Move On - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 21:52

This evening, POLITICO reported that a group of Senate Democrats were exploring a potential deal with Republicans that would allow Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed to the Supreme Court in exchange for a promise from Republicans not to kill the filibuster for any subsequent vacancy on the Court during President Trump’s term.

In reaction, Jo Comerford, national campaign director for MoveOn.org issued the following statement:

“With new reports out tonight that the FBI has evidence Trump associates coordinated directly with Russian officials to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, there can be no excuse for Senate Democrats to hand the administration a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee should be focused on nothing else but a full investigation into the ties between Donald Trump, his associates, and Russian officials. The American people deserve to know whether their Commander in Chief coordinated with a foreign government to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Categories: Political Action

The Bill of Rights at The Border: The First Amendment and the Right to Anonymous Speech

Deep Links - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 19:48

The U.S. border has been thrown into the spotlight these last few months, with border agents detaining travelers for hours, demanding travelers unlock devices, and even demanding passwords and social media handles as a prerequisite for certain travelers entering the country. As the U.S. government issues a dizzying array of new rules and regulations, people in the U.S. and abroad are asking: are there meaningful constitutional limits on the ability of border agents to seize and search the data on your electronic devices and in the cloud?

The answer is: Yes. As we’ll explain in a series of posts on the Bill of Rights at the border and discuss in detail in our border search guide, border agents and their activities are not exempt from constitutional scrutiny.

In this first post, we’ll focus on the First Amendment.

The First Amendment is meant to safeguard five fundamental rights: speech, assembly, religion, press, and petition to the government for redress of grievances. The First Amendment also protects the right to exercise these basic rights anonymously because, as Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

But when border agents scrutinize the massive volume of sensitive information in our digital devices or in the cloud, they infringe on First Amendment rights in at least four distinct ways.

  • First, device searches may reveal your social media profile handles –  inclusive of pseudonymous accounts. This allows border agents to match those handles to your passport identity, which effectively unmasks you and prevents you from being able to speak anonymously online. The same is true if you comply with an agent’s demand that you tell them your social media handles.
  • Second, device searches may also chill your ability to associate with an expressive institution anonymously, like a political group. Border agents can use a device search or knowledge of your social media handles to unearth a variety of private associational ties that can be mapped and harvested for more personal information and connections. What is worse, the investigation may intrude upon your contacts’ privacy as well as your own.
  • Third, requiring you to let CBP review your web-browsing history violates your right to access and receive information anonymously. This intrusion also occurs when CBP scrutinizes your shopping histories to reveal your private decisions to acquire expressive materials, such as books and movies.
  • Finally, requiring journalists to unlock devices that contain confidential journalistic sources and work product inhibits their ability to shield the identity of their sources and undermines the integrity and independence of the newsgathering process.

Border searches of our digital devices and cloud data thus implicate core free speech rights. Therefore, border agents should at least be required to obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before any such search of our private digital information.

Indeed, the First Amendment requires even more. For example, when police officers demand purchasing records from booksellers (implicating the right to access information anonymously), the First Amendment requires not only probable cause, but a compelling need, the exhaustion of less restrictive investigative methods, and a substantial nexus between the information sought and the investigation. Given that a digital device search is far more invasive upon First Amendment rights than disclosure of what books a person buys at a single bookseller, border agents should be required to do the same.

And the government should take special care with respect to journalists. The Privacy Protection Act prohibits the government from searching or seizing a journalist’s materials without probable cause that the journalist has committed a crime. While the statute exempts border searches for the purpose of enforcing the customs laws, it does not exempt border searches for other purposes, such as a criminal investigation.

Unfortunately, so far, courts have refused to recognize the free speech implications of digital border searches. But we hope and expect that will change as courts are forced to weigh the increasing amount of sensitive information easily accessible on our devices and in the cloud, and the increasing frequency and scope of border searches of this information.

Without First Amendment protections at the border, the threat of self-censorship looms large. Travelers faced with the risk of border agent intrusion into such sensitive data are more prone to self-censorship when expressing themselves, when considering private membership in political groups, or when deciding whether to access certain reading or media material. This is especially true for people who belong to unpopular groups, who espouse unpopular opinions, or who read unpopular books or view unpopular movies.

Likewise, confidential sources that provide invaluable information to the public about government or corporate malfeasance may refrain from whistleblowing if they fear journalists cannot protect their identities during border crossings. This is why EFF is calling for stronger Constitutional protection of your digital information and urging people to contact Congress on this issue today.

We’re also collecting stories of border search abuses at: borders@eff.org

The good news is there’s a lot you can do at the border to protect your digital privacy. Take the time to review our pocket guides on Knowing Your Rights and Protecting your Digital Data at the border. And for a deeper dive into these issues, take a look at our Border Search Guide on protecting the data on your devices and in the cloud.

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Categories: Political Action

Call Your Senators Thursday Morning to Save Your Privacy

Deep Links - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 18:35

Congress is getting serious about taking away your online privacy. We have to get serious about stopping them.

The Senate is going to vote on Thursday on a measure from Sen. Jeff Flake that would repeal the broadband privacy rules passed by the FCC last year. According to at least one of the measure’s co-sponsors, it will likely have the votes it needs to pass in the Senate unless we take action right now.

Those rules were a huge win for consumers, and—if Congress doesn’t get in the way—they’ll protect Internet users from creepy tracking by their ISPs when they go into effect later this year.

As we’ve argued, repealing the FCC’s privacy rules is a bad move for consumers. If Congress repeals the rules, your ISP will be able to sell records about what you look at, what you purchase, and who you talk to online. The FCC may not be able to write new privacy rules, and, because of the current legal landscape, it’s not clear that any federal agency would be able to step in and protect consumers when ISPs violate their privacy.

Now is the time to act. Call your lawmakers and tell them to oppose the resolution to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules.

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Categories: Political Action

Know About Digital Devices Searches in California Schools? Send a Report to EFF.

Deep Links - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 18:32

Here in California, we’re in a tough battle over how and when the government can search through the digital devices of teachers and students. A terrible proposal—A.B. 165—seeks to strip over 6-million Californians of privacy safeguards baked into our state laws, giving the government a loophole to rifle through personal digital devices in schools without a warrant issued by a judge.

We’re looking for individuals in California’s public schools who can report on experiences with digital device searches. Are you a student who had a school administrator search your device without your consent? Are you a parent whose son or daughter was punished because of data found on their device? Are you a teacher who has seen or been part of questionable searches in the school context? We want to hear about it.

Types of stories that would be especially useful for us:

  • Examples in which digital device searches may have violated existing California law and resulted in negative consequences (embarrassment, administrative action, criminal investigation) for students or teachers;
  • Examples in which digital device searches in schools exposed sensitive details about students, teachers, or their families, including medical concerns; immigration status, economic status, sexual orientation, or political speech;
  • Other examples of digital devices searches in California schools that you found concerning.

Please report stories using our survey and share this request with your friends.

A.B. 165 is currently scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection on April 18. That means that right now is a very important time to make sure all our California legislators hear us. Please speak out now against A.B. 165

Speak out.

Not in California? You can still make a difference. Please reach out to your friends in California and ask them to speak out, and please share this blog post on social media.

Read more about how A.B. 165 will impact privacy in California and could be the first step toward rolling back privacy protections for other communities.

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Categories: Political Action


American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 17:11
Meet with lawyer

Meeting with your lawyer

Photo: AFSC/

1) What are the possible options for legalization for me? What different ways can we fight my case?
2) What percentage of cases that you work on are like mine?
3) What percentage of cases like mine do you win or what do you think the odds of success are?
4) If I sign for voluntary return what happens? Are there any bars to re-entry? What are the wait times? What are the chances I’d be approved?
6) How much will you charge in my case? When will payments be due? What do the payments cover? What do they not cover?

Categories: Political Action

NJ shouldn’t bow to fed demands on immigration

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 17:00
News Source: Daily Record
Categories: Political Action