Political Action

Consumers Press the USTR Nominee on Trade Transparency

Deep Links - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 16:37

Even before U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) nominee Robert Lighthizer takes office, he’s already feeling the heat from Congress and from public interest representatives about improving transparency and public access to trade negotiations.

In written answers given as part of Lighthizer’s confirmation hearing last week, Senator Ron Wyden asked him, “What specific steps will you take to improve transparency and consultations with the public?”. Lighthizer’s reply (which he repeated in similar form in response to similar questions from other Senators) was as follows:

If confirmed, I will ensure that USTR follows the TPA [Trade Promotion Authority, aka. Fast Track] requirements related to transparency in any potential trade agreement negotiation. I will also look forward to discussing with you ways to ensure that USTR fully understands and takes into account the views of a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including labor, environmental organizations, and public health groups, during the course of any trade negotiation. My view is that we can do more in this area to ensure that as we formulate and execute our trade policy, we receive fulsome input and have a broad and vigorous dialogue with the full range of stakeholders in our country.

Senator Maria Cantwell sought to drill down into more specifics, by having Lighthizer address the skewed Trade Advisory Committees that currently advise the USTR. In response to her question:

Do you agree that it is problematic for a select group of primarily corporate elites to have special access to shape US trade proposals that are not generally available to American workers and those impacted by our flawed trade deals?

Lighthizer replied:

It is important that USTR’s Trade Advisory Committees represent all types of stakeholders to ensure that USTR benefits fully from a diverse set of viewpoints in considering the positions it takes in negotiations. If confirmed, I will work to ensure that USTR’s Trade Advisory Committees are appropriately constituted in order to achieve this goal.

Cantwell also invited Lighthizer to commit to replacing the advisory system with a new process that invites the American public to help shape U.S. proposals for trade agreements and give input on negotiated texts, as well as to having all proposals and negotiated texts published online in a timely fashion so the workers and the broader public that will be impacted by these agreements have a full understanding of what is being negotiated.

He declined to do so, going only so far as to say that he would look forward to discussing “additional means for ensuring public input into U.S. trade negotiations”, as well as “ways to ensure that USTR fully understands and takes into account the views of all stakeholders during the course of a trade negotiation”.

This rather vague commitment certainly doesn’t close the door on the administration adopting the kind of reforms that EFF has demanded, but it also suggests that we will have to continue fighting hard for them to avoid yet another cop-out by the agency.

Trans-Atlantic Consumer Groups Speak Out

Thankfully, we’re not alone in that fight. EFF has just returned from the annual public forum of the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a forum of U.S. and European consumer groups, of which we are a member. This diverse group released a Positive Consumer Agenda for trade which includes the following demands:

Any regulatory cooperation dialogue and trade negotiation must be transparent. Agendas of the meetings and rounds must be made publicly available well in advance as well as negotiating documents and minutes of meetings and rounds. For trade negotiations, negotiations should not begin until all parties agree to publish their textual proposals as well as consolidated negotiating texts after each round on publicly available websites. …

US positions on trade deals can be formulated the way other US federal regulations are: through an on-the-record public process established under the Administrative Procedure Act to formulate positions, obtain comments on draft texts throughout negotiations, and seek comments on proposed final texts. In the European Union, the Commission should open a public consultation when drafting negotiating mandates to mirror the legislative process.

Trade Isn’t the Right Tool For Every Internet Problem

A third front in our battle to reform the USTR’s closed and opaque trade negotiation practices is in a submission to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) that we submitted this week. The ITC was seeking public submissions in an enquiry on digital trade, to gather input into a report that it is writing to advise the USTR on the topic.

The submission reiterates our demands that the USTR publish its proposals, publish draft texts, have an independent transparency officer, open up proposals to notice and comments and a public hearing process, and open up Trade Advisory Committees to be more inclusive. But it also points out that the USTR shouldn’t consider trade negotiations as the right tool to regulate every aspect of the Internet that touches on trade:

Whereas the Commission aims to describe regulatory and policy measures currently in force in important markets abroad that may significantly impede digital trade, our bottom line is that not all such measures that impede digital trade are necessarily protectionist. … [They may] also have important non-trade justifications that serve broader social and economic needs such as freedom of expression and access to information, consumer safety and privacy, and preservation of the stability and security of Internet networks.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail—and the USTR has been hammering away like mad at topics as diverse as net neutrality, domain names, encryption standards, and intermediary liability. But because there are many other dimensions of these issues besides the trade dimension, trade negotiations aren’t necessarily the best venue to address them; and certainly not while those negotiations remain as closed and opaque as they are at present.

As the renegotiation of NAFTA is around the corner, the need for USTR to reform its outdated practices is becoming increasingly urgent. With Congress, consumer groups, and international trade experts all demanding similar reforms from the next Trade Representative, we certainly hope that Robert Lighthizer is feeling the heat, and that he will rise to the challenge once he takes office.


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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn statement on Rep. Nunes’ comments

Move On - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 16:34

MoveOn.org statement in response to Rep. Nunes’ comments that he would brief Donald Trump on potential new developments into the criminal investigation into Trump & Russia

In response to Nunes’ comments, MoveOn.org Civic Action Campaign Director Jo Comerford had the following statement:

“It is absurd and unprecedented that the chair of a Congressional committee investigating the White House would brief the White House on the investigation.

“Devin Nunes’ reckless and clearly partisan actions today prove he lacks the judgment and independence to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump and his associates with the government of Russia—and underscore why an independent commission and special prosecutor are so desperately needed.

“Congress must stop all business and focus on the creation of an independent commission and the appointment of a special prosecutor or the American people will never be able to trust that the Trump campaign did not in engage illegal collusion with a foreign government to sabotage a U.S. election.”

Categories: Political Action

U.S. State Department Reports Grave Violations Against Palestinian Kids

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 16:32
IMEMC logo Photo: AFSC/ News Source: International Middle East Media Center
Categories: Political Action

The New Laptop Ban Adds to Travelers' Lack of Privacy and Security

Deep Links - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 13:26

It can be difficult to understand the intent behind anti-terrorist security rules on travel and at the border. As our board member Bruce Schneier has vividly described, much of it can appear to be merely "security theater"—steps intended to increase the feeling of security, while doing much less to actually achieve it.

This week the U.S. government, without warning or public explanation, introduced a sweeping new device restriction on travelers flying non-stop to the United States from ten airports in eight Muslim-majority countries, and nine airlines from those countries. Passengers on these flights must now pack large electronics (including tablets, cameras, and laptops) into their checked luggage.

Information is still emerging regarding the rationale behind the ban, which went into effect at 3:00 Eastern Time Tuesday morning. The United Kingdom on Monday joined the United States with a similar regulation aimed at a differing set of flights.

These new restrictions on the transport of digital devices that have provoked a growing sense of insecurity among personal and business travelers flying between America, the Middle East and Turkey, and rightly so. Travelers to and within the United States were already concerned over reports of increasing levels of warrantless inspection of their devices at the border of the United States. Earlier this month, U.S.  Customs and Border Protection revealed that there were more device searches in February alone than were conducted in the whole of the 2015 fiscal year.

One of the few consolations is that these invasive searches take place with your knowledge, during security searches of your body and personal items. As we recently described in our guide to digital searches at the border, and in our brief to the Fourth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, the U.S. border is not a rights-free zone: searches should be noted, and if known about, can be challenged as unlawful. There is also the small compensation that, if officials do not demand access to your laptop, tablet or phone, you can at least be confident that your digital possessions have not been invasively searched.

Requiring digital devices to be checked as luggage removes those reassurances, and adds new concerns. If someone else has physical access to your device almost all information security guarantees are off the table. Data can be cloned for later examination. If you encrypt your stored data, you might limit how much direct data can be extracted—but even so, you cannot stop the examiner from installing new spyware or hardware. New software can be installed for later logging or remote control; protections can be disabled or manipulated.

Under these conditions, it's very hard to make any assurances about how safe your personal data can be in transit. Some security researchers have devised exotic ways to reveal physical tampering; others spend their time defeating those systems. But if your device is out of your possession, all bets are off.

This is not to assert that the new regulations are intended to enable these widespread, unaccountable searches. But given the content of the new regulation and the manner in which it was introduced, it's not surprising that rather than improving the confidence of travelers that their life and possessions remain safe and secure, it's led to even more doubt and uncertainty.

Because the United States authorities has provided little transparency into or notice of their decision, we have no idea what protection this regulation is attempting to provide. It is particularly unclear what the security benefit of limiting the ban to a few airlines and airports achieves. (Even if you believe, as officials within the Trump administration have stated, that some nationalities pose a particular threat, potential terrorists are surely smart enough to fly to an intervening nation which has not imposed the same controls, and take one of the multi-stop flights on which the United States still permits laptops as a carry-on.) At best, it seems like the real threat is so limited that the United States feels it not worth the cost to inconvenience other travelers. At worst, it adds to the sense that some crossing the border—for instance, citizens of these nations and American visitors to them—should have fewer protections and practical opportunities for legal defense against invasive searches at the border than others.

Security theater, or not, improving security at the border includes as a goal ensuring the sense of security and confidence that travelers have that their personal data and devices are safe from unlawful interference. To do that, the United States authorities needs to be more transparent in its reasoning, more protective of the highly personal information held on digital devices, and far less arbitrary in its search and treatment of different groups of travelers. A strong set of legal safeguards consistent governing digital device searches of every traveller—whether they are U.S. citizens, residents, or visitors—would be more secure, and safer for all.

For practical advice for protecting your data at the border, see our detailed new guide and printable border search pocket guide.


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Categories: Political Action

Open Education Global 2017: Principle, Strategy, and Commitment to Growth

Creative Commons - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 09:28

Last week the open education community convened in Cape Town South Africa for OEGlobal 17. Convening in Cape Town had historical significance as it commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which is a statement of principle, strategy, and commitment put forward in 2007 to help the open education movement grow. OEGlobal 17 provided a forum to celebrate and reflect on open education advancements over the past 10 years and consider new ways to broaden and deepen open education efforts going forward.

One of the best things about OEGlobal is the diversity of its international participants providing an incredible range of perspectives from open education initiatives around the world. I enjoyed hearing about open credentials and radical openness in the Czech Republic, Norway’s digital learning arena and sustainable large-scale model for Open Educational Resources (OER), and the pragmatism and insights from South Africa’s own Siyavula initiative. Europe, Asia, Latin America, the global south, North America, open education is truly a global movement.

Creative Commons was very active at OEGlobal 17. Ryan Merkley, Kelsey Wiens, Cable Green, Paul Stacey, Alek Tarkowski, and Delia Browne collectively demonstrated CC’s commitment to open education through a range of sessions including:

While the early days of open education were largely about OER, things have evolved a lot over the last 10 years. Now we’re talking about open educational practices, open pedagogy, open education policy, MOOC’s, entire OER degrees, and open education research. Despite this clear evolution, open education is still not considered mainstream. In the closing session a panel and the audience engaged in putting forward ideas for advancing the movement further – the new Cape Town Open Education Declaration +10 ideas will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead. My own personal contribution was to suggest that the various open education movements, including OER, Open Access research publishing, open data, and open science are all currently operating as independent silos and may be more impactful if efforts were put into unifying them into a more synergistic whole.

In the near term, March 27-31, 2017 is Open Education Week and in September UNESCO will be hosting the 2nd World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress in Slovenia, Ljubljana.

The vision of the 2007 Cape Town Open Education Declaration is alive and well. From the statement:

“We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.” I’m proud that Creative Commons helps make this possible. Congrats to open educators everywhere.

Willem van Valkenburg licensed CC BY

The post Open Education Global 2017: Principle, Strategy, and Commitment to Growth appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

ICE's war on immigrant organizers in Vermont

Socialist Worker - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

Steve Ramey reports from Vermont on a campaign by immigration agents to detain some of the state’s leading labor activists--and the grassroots struggle to stop the Feds.

Immigrant rights activist Victor Diaz speaks to a protest against the arrests in Burlington (Migrant Justice)

DONALD TRUMP claims that deporting immigrants will lower crime, but now we know what he thinks is a "crime": organizing to defend workers' rights.

In a series of raids reminiscent of the mass deportation of immigrant workers in the Industrial Workers of the World a century ago, the Vermont field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has launched a war on organizers with one of the state's most prominent labor justice organizations: Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante.

In the past week, ICE agents have abducted three members of Migrant Justice: Enrique "Kike" Balcazar, Zully Palacios and Alex Carrillo.

Balcazar is one of the main leaders of the organization's campaign to win access to driver's licenses for all Vermonters, as well as the Milk with Dignity campaign, which in 2015 forced Ben & Jerry's agree to a new code of conduct with migrant workers in its dairy supply chain--though the code has still not been implemented.

Palacios joined Migrant Justice last year, helped start a women's working group and was a prominent leader in the successful campaign that year to free Victor Diaz, a dairy farmworker who was likewise detained by ICE--under the Obama administration, it should be noted--in retaliation for his leading role in the Milk with Dignity campaign.

Carrillo, a dairy worker, was detained by ICE on March 15 outside the Chittenden County courthouse, where we was scheduled to have charges dropped for an erroneous DUI charge. DUI checkpoints are a notorious police tactic to entrap undocumented immigrants who are forced to drive without proper licenses and registrations.

Carrillo was abducted in front of his wife Lymarie Deida, an American citizen with whom he has a four-year-old daughter. "When they arrested Alex," Deida said at a rally organized by Migrant Justice, "they took away a father, a husband, a human being." Prosecutors continued with the DUI dismissal even in Carrillo's absence.

Two days after Carillo's arrest, Balcazar and Palacios were leaving the Burlington offices of Migrant Justice when they were "surrounded by four undercover ICE vehicles" and taken away, according to the organization's press release.

"Neither has a criminal record," the group noted in an online petition. "Their targeting appears to be political retaliation for their effective work in defending the human rights of workers and immigrants in this country."

Will Lambek, another Migrant Justice organizer, told Democracy Now! that when another of the organization's members was detained last year, he was told by arresting ICE agents, "'Tell your friend Kike that he's going to be next."

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THESE ARRESTS are a clear effort to disrupt human rights organizations and instill fear into the immigrant community of Vermont, but they have also been met with immediate resistance.

Migrant Justice swiftly mobilized the night that Enrique and Zully were arrested, organizing rallies of 80 people outside an ICE field office in St. Albans and, later that night, 30 people outside the ICE hub in Williston, where organizers saw the vehicles that had abducted Enrique and Zully.

Twelve hours later, on Saturday, around 500 people marched in Burlington, chanting "Not one more," "Vermont will fight for immigrant rights," "¡Si se puede!" and "ICE escucha, Estamos en la lucha."

Victor Diaz, who was himself freed from ICE detention by a large grassroots campaign last year, told the crowd, "I'm so amazed to see the support of all of you out today, united, to confront this storm that the Trump administration has brought down upon us."

Migrant Justice organizer Abel Luna said: "We are facing difficult times with the change of government. But we have been facing very difficult times since early 2008, when this deportation machine began with Obama. Now Trump is inheriting this machine, so it's not new. We know how to fight back, and we're going to continue to do so."

Migrant Justice coordinating committee member Miguel Alcudia talked about Zully Palacios:

She went along with me and Kike and others to the Cosecha Movement National Assembly in Boston and talked about the immigrant community. She has been spreading the word and bringing the struggle forward. And when Zully got involved with this struggle, she knew the risk that she was taking on, but she didn't let that stop her. She went ahead and fought for the rights of the more than 1,500 migrant farmworkers who are living and working in this state.

Because when Zully learned about the abuses that are happening in our state's dairy industry, she said, "I need to put a stop to this. I'm going to get involved in the struggle, I'm going to raise my voice to be in solidarity because this cannot continue!" Now she needs you to stand with her, to fight for her freedom. And not only for her freedom, but for the freedom of all immigrants unjustly detained in this state and around the country.

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IN ADDITION to being a key leading organizer of Migrant Justice, Enrique Balcazar is a member of Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan's Task Force on Immigration, and he helped write pending state legislation on fair and impartial policing. His detention has spurred an outcry among many elected officials in the state.

Kesha Ram, a Democratic state representative and co-chair of the Task Force on Immigration, spoke at the Saturday rally and named a long list of state government officials against to the ICE abductions. Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson tweeted, "The attack against members of our community is not the Vermont way. We must stand w/our fellow VTers. Our state is welcome to all." Even Republican state legislators have voiced their opposition.

This support is important, but we should be clear that our politicians' resistance to the Trump administration will last only as long as we are in the streets demanding it. We need to organize more rallies, marches and occupations to win the release of Carillo, Balcazar and Palacios--and start taking back the ground that the last eight years of harassment, raids and abductions have taken from our communities.

In 2006, when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, they tried to pass a bill to classify undocumented immigrants as "aggravated felons" and criminalize anyone who helped them enter or remain in the U.S.

This outrageous attack was beat when millions of immigrants and their supporters struck and took to the streets on May 1, and a movement for immigrant rights was born. That movement helped give the presidency to Barack Obama, but he betrayed us with unprecedented raids and deportations.

This year promises to see the biggest May Day actions across the country since 2006. In Vermont, Migrant Justice and other organizations are in the early planning stages of rallies and actions. The shape of what these actions take will be a key factor in building our resistance and showing that, as Victor Diaz says: "Together, we can melt ICE."

Categories: Political Action

Despair in Europe's camps

Socialist Worker - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

A deal between Turkey and the EU has had disastrous consequences for refugees--but thousands across Europe are demanding that they be let in, reports Nicole Colson.

Refugees and solidarity activists rally for migrant justice on the Greek island of Lesbos (Legal Centre Lesbos | Facebook)

ONE YEAR after European Union leaders signed a deal with the Turkish government to cut off the wave of desperate refugees seeking to reach Europe's shores, the policy has caused even more death and suffering.

As of March 14, nearly 20,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe this year after making the desperate trip across the Mediterranean Sea, according to the latest figures from the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrants Project. That's a sharp drop compared to the same period last year, when more than 152,700 people entered Europe.

Yet the number of migrant and refugee deaths has actually risen--as a direct consequence of EU governments clamping down on their borders, forcing refugees into ever-more-dangerous crossings. As of March 14, some 525 had been killed or gone missing this year, while 482 were reported killed or missing in the first 73 days of 2016.

Under last year's deal, the repressive regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was given billions in aid, ostensibly for the refugees, and promised faster progress in Turkey's negotiations to join the EU. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take in undocumented refugees arriving in Greece. For each refugee sent to Turkey, the EU promised to take in a refugee directly from Turkey's camps at some point in the future.

As a result, just under a thousand refugees have been deported to Turkey from Greece. But thousands more already in Greece have been stranded in a kind of legal limbo resulting from EU leaders' unwillingness to let them in--stuck in abysmal conditions in what amounts to little more than prison camps.

"Many of the camps are overcrowded and there are frequent clashes, with those inside tired of the long wait for asylum papers and fearful of being returned to Turkey," Agence France-Presse reported in a recent feature. "On Lesbos, there are nearly 5,000 people in camps nominally built to hold 3,500, according to government figures." Those in the camps also face reports of repeated police brutality.

But that didn't stop European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos from hailing the EU-Turkey deal as a success because it has reduced the number of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from about 10,000 per day to less than 100 per day.

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OVER THE winter, images from the camps in Greece showed refugees living in tents amid heavy snow. In January, three people detained in the badly overcrowded Moria camp on Lesbos died within the span of six days--possibly from carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from the fact that some in the camps have been forced to use wood-burning stoves to keep warm.

"During the four months I have been here, I have not been interviewed once, and they [authorities] keep postponing [my interview]," Arash, an asylum seeker from Iran, told Human Rights Watch last month, as he described conditions in the camp including "[e]xtreme cold temperature, lack of heating, adequate food and clothing, and humiliating treatment."

Driven to despair by the detention, and suffering from nightmares he says resulted from torture while imprisoned in Iran, Arash attempted to visit the camp psychologist, but was told there was a long waiting list. Arash later attempted suicide.

After a fire inside the Moria camp in September burned many refugee families' meager belongings and tents, Fahim--who had travelled with his wife and two small children rom Afghanistan--explained how dire the situation was to the aid organization Save the Children:

People here are so sick of the situation. Every single person is suffocating. Because we've been here so long our minds are decaying, they become rotten from within. And people are pushed to do things that they wouldn't normally do...This whole place is a ticking time bomb and I don't think anyone is paying attention.

Such despair is the norm, especially for the youngest refugees.

According to Save the Children, the appalling conditions in the camps are psychologically devastating for the estimated 5,000 children who remain in them. Its report "A Tide of Self-Harm and Depression" documents a spike in children in the camps harming themselves and displaying other signs of psychological trauma:

Incidents of self-harm in children as young as nine are growing, with mothers finding self-inflicted scars on their children's hands while bathing them. Some children as young as 12 have even attempted suicide--and in one case claiming to have filmed the event--in response to seeing others do so.

There has also been a spike in drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers in the camps who are trying to escape their painful realities, a vulnerability which dealers are exploiting.

Children have been caught up in violent protests, have seen dead bodies in the camps, have spent winter in flimsy tents or even slept in car parks, have been denied an education, and have lost all of their belongings in fires.

"The EU-Turkey deal was meant to end the flow of 'irregular migrants' to Greece, but at what cost?" asked Andreas Ring, humanitarian representative for Save the Children in Greece. "Many of these children have escaped war and conflict, only to end up in camps many of them call 'hell,' and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans. If conditions remain unchanged, we could end up with a generation of numb children who think violence is normal."

Some children have found ways to leave the island with smugglers in the hope of reaching the EU--only to find themselves victimized again. According to a recent report from the EU's criminal agency Europol, an estimated 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe--many of them thought to be victims of human trafficking.

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REFUGEES ARE caught in an impossible situation. For many, the choice is a stark: risking life and limb in the increasingly slim hope of making it to Europe or staying at home, where the threat of war, repression and other catastrophes in countries like Syria may be an even bigger threat.

As Warsan Shire wrote in her poem "Home"--which has become a rallying cry for the plight of refugees:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well...

you have to understand
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

But obscenely, lack of decent treatment for refugees is by design. "It sends a message to migrants: Do not come," Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, told the New York Times.

Now, refugees are being cynically exploited yet again by international leaders. Leading the way is Donald Trump, who has demonized Muslim immigrants and refugees in particular as a terrorist threat. But it should be remembered that the stage was set by Barack Obama--whose administration took in a pitiful number of refugees, despite the fact that U.S. imperial policies have been a major driver of the refugee crises.

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LAST WEEK, when the governments of the Netherlands and Germany blocked attempts by Turkey's government to whip up support among immigrants for a new constitution that would grant Erdoğan even more restrictive powers, the Turkish regime threatened to ditch its agreement with the EU.

Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the government would scrap its EU deal and allow 15,000 migrants a month to flee to Europe.

While this is widely believed to be a bluff on the part of Erdoğan's regime, such inflammatory statements only succeed in whipping up the anti-refugee sentiment that far-right parties across the EU--like Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen's National Front in France--have been capitalizing on in recent months.

In response to the threat from Turkey, Jane Collins, spokeswoman for the far-right UK Independence Party, sneered: "There needs to be a strong message sent out that we will be turning back boats from whence they came."

The response from centrist politicians has been predictably craven as well. Fearing a surge of the far right at the polls, political leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel have not only failed to defend the rights of migrants and refugees, but have capitulated to racist scapegoating in an effort to shore up their own political base.

In Italy, where more than 500,000 refugees and migrants have landed over the past three years, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of the center-left Democratic Party has pledged to crack down, reportedly sending out a directive to police stations across Italy to increase deportation. The government also has announced plans to open 16 new migrant detention centers.

And while Angela Merkel has been hailed as a "hero" for maintaining her composure when Trump refused to shake her hand last week, the woman being hailed as the new "leader of the free world" engaged in textbook immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia as she launched her bid for a fourth term as chancellor.

At the annual conference of the center-right Christian Democrat Party (CDU), Merkel "pledged that not all of the more than 1 million migrants who flooded into the country last year would be allowed to stay, and that those who are will have to integrate into German society," reported Britain's Telegraph.

Reportedly, Merkel's call for a ban on the burqa won the loudest applause from delegates. "Showing your face is part of our way of life," Merkel said, adding, "Our laws take precedence over honor codes, tribal customs and sharia."

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BUT IF the politics on offer from Europe's political leaders are centered on racism and scapegoating, others are fighting for a different vision--exemplified by the call to smash Fortress Europe by opening the borders and letting the migrants and refugees in.

That was on display on March 18-19, as marches and rallies took place in several cities across Europe to coincide with UN Anti-Racism Day. In London, Glasgow, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Athens, Paris and others, thousands marched and embraced refugee and migrant rights as central demands--as well broader opposition to the nationalism of right-wing politicians like Trump and the vicious racism of far-right forces.

In Lesbos, refugees themselves took the lead in a protest of 2,000 people, marching against racist persecution and specifically opposing the deal between Turkey and the EU that has amplified the suffering for so many. "Shut down Moria" was one of the main calls. In Athens, an estimated 15,000 took to the streets, including Syrian and Afghan refugees.

In the UK, some 30,000 turned out in London for a march against racism, war and poverty and in defense of refugee rights. Anti-racist supporters carried signs that read "Migrants make our [National Health Service]" and "Blame austerity, not migrants."

Zakariya Cochrane of Stand Up to Racism, the group that called the march, told Press TV that the rally was about "anti-racists uniting and going on the defensive on all the issues: child refugees, defending migrants and refugees, the divisive policies of Donald Trump and Theresa May."

These protests came on the heels of a February demonstration in Barcelona, which drew over 160,000 calling on the government to allow refugees in. On banners and signs, marchers proclaimed: "Enough excuses; Let them in now."

That kind of solidarity has to be our guiding principle. Defend the refugees and end their suffering. Open the borders and let them in now.

Categories: Political Action

A poison pill we shouldn't swallow

Socialist Worker - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

Sean Petty, a nurse and member of the New York State Nurses Association, looks at what's lurking in Trump's health care plan, in an article written for Jacobin.

IF ENACTED, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) will be the most devastating attack on New Deal/Great Society programs that the United States has seen in the last 40 years. It will shape the experience of working-class life, as well as the political, ideological, and economic terrain of class struggle more than perhaps any other single piece of legislation in the post-financial crisis era.

To fully capture the bill's implications, we must recognize how we got to this moment and how this history can shape our resistance efforts. The AHCA's predecessor, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, better known as Obamacare), midwifed the current legislation in ways that unions, health-care justice organizations, and the left must understand. The far right capitalized on Obamacare's failures, convincing significant sections of U.S. society to support more extreme forms of austerity.

Paradoxically, the rightward trend in mainstream American politics offers the U.S. left a historic opportunity to build mass resistance to neoliberalism.

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HOUSE SPEAKER Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump would like us to believe the AHCA "repeals and replaces" Obamacare. It doesn't. Much of the ACA's framework would stay in place: Most importantly, Trumpcare maintains the provisions that subsidize private insurance costs, though through tax credits.

To get the bill passed, Trump and Ryan are squeezing it through the budget reconciliation process, a filibuster-proof system that only requires a simple majority vote. This strategy restricts the AHCA to funding provisions, leaving important regulations on the health-insurance industry intact. This represents the bill's only virtue; these regulations, along with Medicaid expansion, were pretty much the ACA's only progressive elements.

What the AHCA does, however, is drastically modify the procurement and allocation of roughly $500 billion in annual health-care spending. While it doesn't alter the programs this money funds--Medicaid and Medicare, insurance subsidies and a vast network of health-care institutions--it does qualitatively change where that money comes from, how much is available, and where it goes.

Put simply, Trumpcare takes funding away from the poorest Americans and transfers it to the richest.

As with the ACA, the media has largely focused on how the AHCA will affect coverage. Its changes are, indeed, profound. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has predicted that 26 million people will lose health coverage over the next 10 years, returning the overall number of uninsured people in the United States to more than 50 million.

Most of these people will be working and non-working poor people cut from Medicaid's rolls. But a sizeable chunk will be those who can no longer afford their premiums because of the AHCA's subsidy changes.

Under the proposed bill, tax credits are pegged to age, not income. Further, Trumpcare drastically reduces these discounts, so most beneficiaries will pay significantly more for their health insurance.

People in their 20s will receive a $2,000 annual subsidy. Their insurance will be fairly cheap, but the available plans will belong to the "low premium, high deductible and co-pay" category that already plagued the ACA exchanges. The AHCA also allows insurance companies to charge older people five times more than younger folks, and the tax credit for Americans aged 60 and above will total just under $5,000.

Precisely the people who need coverage the most won't be able to afford it. And that's on purpose. The AHCA aims to stabilize the insurance markets in the absence of the individual mandate by getting older patients with higher costs to drop out. Once you lose coverage, you have to pay a 30 percent surcharge to your insurance company to sign back up.

These 50 million uninsured Americans will undoubtedly delay necessary medical treatments and flood emergency rooms for care. There, they'll be joined by people who do have insurance, but, thanks to high deductibles and overcrowded facilities, now rely on urgent care for many of their health-care needs. Public health providers, already severely weakened by the Affordable Care Act, will become extremely overburdened.

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BEYOND THIS wholesale reduction in coverage, the changes to funding streams and what they will do to the viability of entire sections of American health care is even more catastrophic.

Disemboweling Medicaid is the economic and ideological axis on which this legislation turns. Currently, the federal government allocates Medicaid funding to states based on utilization. Each state determines the scope of benefits and pays about 25-50 percent of the total, with the federal government covering the rest. Essentially, how much health care is used determines the amount of federal funding.

The AHCA would instead give states a fixed amount based on the number of enrollees, an amount that the government will intentionally set very low. States with higher per-capita health-care expenditures--because they have sicker populations, because their property values are higher and for a host of other reasons--will have to figure out how to make up the difference.

Trumpcare also freezes all federal matching funds for new Medicaid enrollees after 2020. The CBO report estimates that this will reduce federal Medicaid expenditures by a staggering $880 billion over 10 years. This guts a key element of the U.S. social safety net to an unprecedented degree.

The resulting fiscal crisis will turn every state budget fight into an all-out war. Politicians will have to choose between enacting huge tax increases or approving equally huge cuts to Medicaid and other state-funded programs. Without a serious movement for taxing the rich, the latter will prevail.

The New York State Department of Health, for instance, estimates that the AHCA will cost the state $4.5 billion over the next four years. That figure includes reducing Medicaid enrollees ($1.6 billion), eliminating funding for undocumented immigrants ($1.5 billion), and cutting direct funding to other programs ($1.4 billion); these figures are probably low estimates, as they do not incorporate the impact of per-capita funding, which will significantly increase the state's expenditures.

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THE AHCA would eliminate almost every tax-based funding mechanism the ACA created. For the most part, Obamacare's funding had a progressive structure, meaning that higher-income people paid higher tax rates. Trumpcare does away with these provisions, turning it into a massive tax cut for the wealthy. Eliminating the Medicare tax surcharge alone will cost the program $117 billion by 2026. (This after the ACA already slashed federal Medicare expenditures by an average of $60 billion per year.)

It's a sobering fact that a bill that includes the largest tax cuts for the wealthy since the Bush era will end up reducing the federal budget deficit. This net gain comes from deep cuts to federal health-care funding.

The giant vacuum of wealth extraction from the bottom to the top will create a new epidemic of hospital and clinic closures and more consolidations and mergers, leaving private equity firms and the relatively more solvent academic medical centers to pick at now-bankrupt facilities' carcasses. In other words, like everything about Trump's first one hundred days, this is not a drill.

Just as they did when introducing the barrage of executive orders, the GOP and Trump have tried to justify this Robin-Hood-in-reverse barbarism by using racialized, gendered, and anti-poor scapegoating. This bill is premised on the belief that health care is not a right, and that it you want state benefits, you should be forced to work for them.

This argument will likely take shape in state legislation that ties Medicaid to work requirements. Indeed, Arkansas is already trying to apply Clinton-era welfare-to-work strategies to Medicaid.

The AHCA will also defund Planned Parenthood, immediately crippling the institution that performs over a third of all abortions in the United States as well as providing other critical reproductive and women's health services. This move not only reduces federal spending for health care, but also shores up anti-abortion support for health-care austerity, returns some favors to the Christian right, and scapegoats women.

Overall, the AHCA belongs with the rest of Trump's proposals so far: it massively favors the wealthy over the working class; it mines public goods for private profit; and it scapegoats historically marginalized groups to get the job done.

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AS HORRIFIC as the AHCA is, it's important to understand that it stands on Obamacare's shoulders.

The ACA fundamentally restructured health-care funding, reducing Medicare reimbursements and eliminating federal funding for the uninsured (known as Disproportionate Share Hospital funding). This helped stratify hospital care, buoying large academic medical centers that treat people with good insurance while undermining safety-net hospitals that rely on Medicaid and Medicare funds to care for the uninsured. For instance, the largest public hospital system in the country, New York City Health and Hospitals, now faces a $2 billion per year structural deficit.

Moreover, Obamacare advanced the neoliberal method of public-private partnerships in health care, funneling hundreds of billions of federal tax revenue into the health insurance industry.

The ACA promised to reduce health-care costs, but many participants found their plans unaffordable and their out-of-pocket costs rising. Because costs didn't decline, the bill gave health insurance companies license to raise premiums and limit benefits.

The best part of Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion, provided increased health care coverage, but it couldn't guarantee genuine access because funding cuts sent the doctors and hospitals that accept Medicaid reeling. This allowed Republicans to portray the ACA as the failure of socialized medicine, even though it was anything but.

Consequently, we are now in the midst of a worldwide political dynamic in which far-right-wing forces capitalize on genuine working-class resentment of neoliberal economic restructuring that, more often than not, was implemented by liberals and social democrats.

The political lesson is clear: you can't fight the right from the center. This is not only true electorally--although the abject failure of the Clinton campaign serves as remarkably convincing evidence. It's also true in terms of the kinds of reforms we fight for and the political vehicles we use in these struggles.

The corporate-controlled Democratic Party is not offering a political alternative to Trump and Trumpism. Obama wouldn't back a single-payer, Medicare-for-all plan that would have actually controlled costs and provided improved and universal access. This failure directly resulted in Trumpcare.

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IN THE face of the largest reduction to federal health-care spending since Medicaid and Medicare were introduced, it may seem ridiculous to call for a single-payer system, which would represent the most expansive increase in federal funding. But especially at the state level, the opening is larger now than at any point since the ACA was passed.

New York and California offer significant opportunities to build a real movement. Both of these states have a relatively wealthy tax base, active single-payer legislation moving through their legislatures, and strong nurses' unions throwing their full weight behind the effort. Both state governors are neoliberal Democrats who will soon be saddled with the serious political burden of massive federal funding cuts. Both should be looking for drastic solutions. In New York at least, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is eyeing the 2020 presidential race and, in the wake of the Sanders campaign, could be looking to shore up some progressive credentials.

But as everything after 2008 has clearly shown, crisis won't be enough to convince corporate-owned politicians to change course. Only massive pressure from below can make that happen. Even though the nurses' unions, with organizations like Physicians for a National Health Program, Health Care for All, and the Labor Campaign for Single Payer have done impressive work, the fight for universal Medicare hasn't reached the necessary level of a social movement.

For one, the rest of the labor movement needs to join the fight. The connection between the single-payer movement and large health-care unions like SEIU and AFSCME should be obvious, as these unions will be severely impacted by the changes in health-care funding. But this is true for the rest of the labor movement as well, given that most unions find themselves mired in protracted contract battles over who should cover rising health-care costs.

The AFL-CIO stridently opposes Trumpcare, but supported the Affordable Care Act. Its interest in single-payer has been half-hearted at best, thanks to its political allegiances to the Democratic Party establishment. This can change, but an organized, rank-and-file effort needs to be made.

Trumpcare faces unprecedented opposition from AARP, the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association as well as from dozens of other medical organizations. While this will help weaken its support, these forces are unlikely to join the single-payer movement anytime soon.

But new possibilities have recently opened up, as palpable, hyper-politicized, mass resistance to Trump's overall agenda is beginning to take shape.

The Women's March on January 21 was the largest day of action in American history and helped spawn a nationwide defense of Planned Parenthood. Organized actions took place in over 150 cities, with marches of 5,000-6,000 in San Jose and Minneapolis. Given that the AHCA will take away Planned Parenthood's public funding, the single-payer movement can directly connect with these activists. The Women's Strike on International Women's Day helped buttress the idea that women's liberation and economic power are intimately connected.

Similarly, a significant movement in defense of immigrants has emerged. Starting with the airport protests against the first Muslim ban, continuing with the Yemeni-owned bodega strike, and flowing into A Day Without An Immigrant protests, these actions have given the consequences of Trump's ruthless policies a human face and highlighted immigrant communities' agency and economic power. This movement should include the fight for immigrant health care, which Obamacare threw under the bus and the AHCA further threatens.

Bringing these movements together will have profound organizational effects and will help shore up the ideological resistance to neoliberalism. Scapegoating has always played a central role in neoliberal transfers of wealth. The single-payer movement should explicitly take up the racialized and gendered scapegoating embedded in Trumpcare to further underline who does and who does not benefit from Trump's agenda.

The AHCA's effects will reach deep into the lives of working-class people and produce additional anger and disillusionment. The left's ability to provide a viable political alternative will help determine where this frustration gets channeled. We must consider this dynamic both in choosing the reforms we demand and in building the organizations to fight for them. Luckily, there hasn't been a better opportunity to develop a real left alternative.

First published at Jacobin.

Categories: Political Action

The human face of the drug war

Socialist Worker - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

On January 24, 1985, Anthony Papa, a young radio and auto repair worker, was entrapped in a bust planned by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Papa, in his late 20s, was living in the Bronx with his wife and young daughter, and struggling to provide for his family. Down on his luck, he took a chance to make some quick cash by delivering a package of cocaine to nearby Westchester County. When Papa handed over the package to two undercover narcotics officers, he was arrested. Papa was found guilty and sentenced to two 15-years-to-life sentences under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, with their mandated minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes.

Although his time in prison would estrange him from his family and alter the course of his life, Papa didn't let his life go without a fight. During his 12-year stint at the notorious Sing Sing prison, Papa pursued multiple academic degrees, worked as a jailhouse lawyer and taught himself to paint. When his self-portrait was chosen for an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, it got the attention of then-New York Gov. George Pataki.

A growing chorus of criticism against the Rockefeller Drug Laws in general and Papa's own unceasing efforts on his own behalf won him clemency after 12 years behind bars. But instead of quietly disappearing into the long and difficult struggle to reintegrate back into society, Papa became an outspoken critic of the racist "war on drugs" and the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Over the next 15 years, Papa released a memoir, 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom, about his time in prison.

Papa continues his efforts to end the drug war as a part of the Drug Policy Alliance, including soliciting letters from prisoners about their experiences for the "Drug War Stories" project. His recently released second memoir This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency details his experiences attempting to reconnect with a family that sees him as a stranger and his struggle to settle back into the pace of daily work life while haunted by the experiences of prison. It also gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of efforts by reformers and organizers to fight the Rockefeller laws in the 1990s and the tireless energy spent trying to project the story of thousands of people caught up in the system of mass incarceration.

Julian Guerrero spoke with Anthony Papa right before he became the only person to have received clemency and a pardon in New York state about his new book, the ongoing fight against mass incarceration and what's ahead with Donald Trump in power.

Protesters demand repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws in New York (Families Against Mandatory Minimums)

AS PART of your Drug War Stories project, you humanize the people who have been incarcerated through the personal stories prisoners send you. Many people who leave prison want to forget that experience and distance themselves from it. In your book, you talk about the constant conflict between trying to overcome the habits and perceptions you developed in order to survive at Sing Sing and your advocacy for those who are still in prison. What led you to go back and fight for those who have been left behind?

YOU'RE RIGHT. For most ex-prisoners who do an extraordinary amount of time, they want to forget about the experience. But for me, I choose not to go that route.

I used my experience as a badge of honor, and I use it for my work as an activist. The fact that I did serve time for nonviolent drug offense is totally outrageous, and there's hundreds of thousands of people who go to prison who shouldn't be there because they used drugs.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is an organization that goes hand in hand with my philosophy about advocating for people, and we believe that people shouldn't be put in prison for putting drugs in their bodies.

If I didn't go to prison, I wouldn't think like this, but I've been in their shoes, and I can understand what it's about. You leave prison, but prison doesn't leave you. You're doing time on the other side of the bars, and you drag along all these survival mechanisms that were great in prison, but outside, they're a danger to you because they pop up without warning.

I want people to learn that a dangerous part of coming out of prison is coping with those mechanisms that you created to cope with being imprisoned. You realize that the anger just makes things worse, and you realize that you'll never make up that time that was lost. Once you realize that, your life as a free person is easier.

My life now is dedicated to changing the system and using my experience to help others cope with the same experience.

YOU WRITE in your book about the fear of being sent back to prison. The U.S. Sentencing Commission released a report recently showing that recidivism rates are very high for former federal prisoners (44.7 percent within five years) and higher still for former state prisoners (76.6 percent within five years). What can be done to lower recidivism rates for good?

CHANGE THE drug laws. Educate. The thing I want to do with this book is reduce mass incarceration one life at a time, by education.

The legal roadblocks that exist, difficulties finding housing and jobs--all these things work against former offenders. In the epilogue, I talk about how politicians need to change these laws in order for communities to accept ex-prisoners who try to re-enter society. With those laws against them, they don't stand a chance.

We have to change the way the systems are built. Prisons should be resocialization centers where education is stressed and every level of your incarceration is therapeutic.

SOME OF the most interesting chapters for me were those about the Drop the Rock campaign, which was aimed at reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws and mandatory minimums sentences for drug offenses. Andrew Cuomo collaborated with you in those efforts.

The Rockefeller laws were reformed in 2009, and today, Cuomo is governor, and there are a number of and efforts for further reform, such as the Raise the Age campaign. What are your thoughts on these campaigns and the response by the city and state government to them?

THERE'S BEEN a big change. The whole atmosphere has changed. States are now reducing prison populations to save money. They're letting out nonviolent offenders. Laws are starting to change.

The Brennan Center for Justice just released a report showing that 570,000 individuals are in prison with no good public safety reasons. They could be let out tomorrow, and nothing would happen. The gates of hell won't open.

Releasing these prisoners could save $20 billion a year, but they are in there because of archaic, draconian drug laws. Much of the prison population, some 500,000 people, is in prison or some form of incarceration/parole because of the war on drugs.

You have to look at the connections between the prison-industrial complex and the war on drugs because they fuel each other.

What we try to do at DPA is change the laws. That doesn't happen quickly. Take what's going on with marijuana. Half the states have some form of legalization of marijuana, whether it's recreational or medical usage of marijuana. Five years ago, nobody wanted this. The world is changing.

There are still people now in prison doing time because of marijuana even though it's now legal. I just sent two letters to Obama for this one guy who owned a dispensary, Luke Scarmazzo. If that crime had occurred today, he wouldn't have even gone to prison. He's been there 14 years already. He's got kids, so they wanted me to help out with his clemency.

IN YOUR book, you argue against people who seem too willing to compromise the end goals of criminal justice reform. At one point, you and Randy Credico helped form an organization of mothers whose children are in prison, called the Mothers of the New York Disappeared. The idea originated with the struggles of family members in Latin America whose relatives were disappeared during the military dictatorships supported by the U.S. government. This was a masterful idea as it put those directly affected by the Rock Laws at the center and it also gave them a political vehicle to hold politicians accountable.

What can grassroots activists do to build campaigns locally and nationally to address some of the most damaging laws of the criminal justice system?

WHEN I went to the Albany, I realized that change isn't going to come from the top. It has to be from the bottom up.

On May 25, 1998, we had out first rally in Rockefeller Center. All the press showed up. We had a little 10-year-old girl there whose mother was doing 20-to-life for drugs. We saw that was how we were going to change the drug laws in New York--by putting a human face to it.

It took a while, but seven year later, New Yorkers wanted to change the Rock Laws. We changed public opinion.

Before that, when we met with politicians, they would say that they knew these law didn't work, but they didn't want to look "soft on crime." When we heard that, we decided to make a point to change public opinion, and that changed what politicians did.

When David Soares ran against Paul Clyne--a right-wing, lock-em-up, Rockefeller type of guy--Albany County District Attorney, he beat Clyne. District attorneys started to win on Rock reform platforms.

People are tired of locking people up for enormous amounts of time for nothing. Like the Brennan Center report says, almost 570,000 could be let out tomorrow. They're served enormous amounts of time in prison, and if the states let them out, they'd save $20 billion a year.

The way to get change isn't from the top down but from the bottom up. That's why it's so important for activists to use grassroots means and couple it with the media. The media reports on your issue, and you can battle the powers that be. I did it to get out of prison, writing my own press releases from prison.

Learn how to create news, how to get your issue out there in a new way, and repeat that issue over and over until people get it.

Categories: Political Action

Patents Are A Big Part Of Why We Can’t Own Nice Things: the Supreme Court Should Fix That

Deep Links - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 19:40

Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could allow companies to keep a dead hand of control over their products, even after you buy them.  The case, Impression Products v. Lexmark International, is on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who last year affirmed its own precedent allowing patent holders to restrict how consumers can use the products they buy. That decision, and the precedent it relied on, departs from long established legal rules that safeguard consumers and enable innovation.

When you buy something physical—a toaster, a book, or a printer, for example—you expect to be free to use it as you see fit: to adapt it to suit your needs, fix it when it breaks, re-use it, lend it, sell it, or give it away when you’re done with it. Your freedom to do those things is a necessary aspect of your ownership of those objects. If you can’t do them, because the seller or manufacturer has imposed restrictions or limitations on your use of the product, then you don’t really own them. Traditionally, the law safeguards these freedoms by discouraging sellers from imposing certain conditions or restrictions on the sale of goods and property, and limiting the circumstances in which those restrictions may be imposed by contract.

But some companies are relentless in their quest to circumvent and undermine these protections. They want to control what end users of their products can do with the stuff they ostensibly own, by attaching restrictions and conditions on purchasers, locking down their products, and locking you (along with competitors and researchers) out. If they can do that through patent law, rather than ordinary contract, it would mean they could evade legal limits on contracts, and that any one using a product in violation of those restrictions (whether a consumer or competitor) could face harsh penalties for patent infringement.

Impression Products v. Lexmark International is Lexmark’s latest attempt to prevent purchasers from reusing and refilling its ink cartridges with cheaper ink. If Lexmark can use patent law to accomplish this, it won’t just affect the person or company that buys the cartridge, but also anyone who later acquires or refills it, even if they never agreed to what Lexmark wanted.

The case will turn on how the Supreme Court applies patent law’s “exhaustion doctrine.” As the Court explained in its unanimous Quanta v. LG Electronics decision, the exhaustion doctrine provides that “the initial authorized sale of a patented item terminates all patent rights.” Meaning, a patent holder can’t use patent rights to control what you can do with the product you’ve purchased, because they no longer have patent rights in that particular object. As we explained in a brief submitted along with Public Knowledge, Mozilla, the AARP, and R Street Institute to the Supreme Court, the doctrine protects both purchasers and downstream users of patented products. Without the exhaustion doctrine, patent holders would be free to impose all kinds of limits on what you can do with their products, and can use patent infringement’s severe penalties as the enforcement mechanism. The doctrine also serves patent law’s constitutional purpose—to promote progress and innovation—by ensuring that future innovators have access to, and can research and build on, existing inventions, without seeking permission from the patent holder.

This isn’t Lexmark’s first bite at the apple. The company first tried to argue that copyright law, and section 1201 of the DMCA (which prohibits circumvention of DRM), gave it the right to prevent re-use of its toner cartridges. In 2004, the Sixth Circuit roundly rejected Lexmark’s copyright claims. The court explained that even if Lexmark could claim copyright in the code at issue, and while it might want to protect its market share in cartridges, “that is not the sort of market value that copyright protects.” The Sixth Circuit also shot down Lexmark’s section 1201 claims, stating

[n]owhere in its deliberations over the DMCA did Congress express an interest in creating liability for the circumvention of technological measures designed to prevent consumers from using consumer goods while leaving copyrightable content of a work unprotected. In fact, Congress added the interoperability provision in part to ensure that the DMCA would not diminish the benefit to consumers of interoperable devices "in the consumer electronics environment."

Having lost on its copyright claims, Lexmark found a warmer welcome at the Federal Circuit, who last year held that so long as the company “restricted” the sale of its product (in this case through a notice placed on the side of the cartridge) Lexmark could get around patent exhaustion, and retain the right to control downstream users’ behavior under patent law.

The Federal Circuit’s ruling in Lexmark seriously undermines the exhaustion doctrine, allowing patent holders to control users’ behavior long after the point of purchase merely by including some form of notice of the restriction at the point of sale. As we’ve said before, this is especially troubling because downstream users and purchasers may be entirely unaware of the patent owner’s restrictions.

The Federal Circuit’s the ruling is also significantly out of step with how the majority of the law treats these kinds of restrictions. While sellers can use contract law to bind an original purchaser to mutually agreed-upon terms (with some limits) for hundreds of years, courts have disfavored sellers’ attempts to use other laws to control goods after a transfer of ownership. Courts and legal scholars have long acknowledged that such restrictions impair the purchasers’ personal autonomy, interfere with efficient use of property, create confusion in markets, and increase information costs. The Federal Circuit’s ruling is even out of step with copyright law, whose exhaustion principle is codified in the first sale doctrine.

We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will reverse the Federal Circuit and bring patent law’s exhaustion doctrine back in line.


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Categories: Political Action

Supreme Court: A Patent Owner Can Lie In Wait

Deep Links - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 18:18

In a ruling today that will cheer up patent trolls, the Supreme Court said patent owners can lie in wait for years before suing. This will allow trolls to sit around while others independently develop and build technology. The troll can then jump out from under the bridge and demand payment for work it had nothing to do with.

Today’s 7-1 decision arrives in a case called SCA Hygiene v. First Quality Baby Products. This case involves a patent on adult diapers but has a much broader reach. The court considered whether the legal doctrine of “laches” applies in patent cases. Laches is a principle that penalizes a rightsholder who “sleeps on their rights” by waiting a long time to file a lawsuit after learning of a possible infringement. It protects those that would be harmed by the assertion of rights after a lengthy delay. For example, laches would work against a patent owner that saw an infringing product emerge yet waited a decade to sue, after significant investment of time and resources had been put into the product.

The ruling in SCA follows a similar decision in Petrella v. MGM holding that laches is not available as a defense in copyright cases. The Supreme Court has generally rejected “patent exceptionalism” and has often reversed the Federal Circuit for creating special rules for patent law. So today’s decision was not especially surprising. In our view, however, there were compelling historical and policy arguments for retaining a laches defense in patent law.

Together with Public Knowledge, EFF filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court explaining the many ways that companies accused of patent infringement can be harmed if the patent owner sleeps on its rights. For example, evidence relevant to invalidity can disappear. This is especially true for software and Internet-related patents. In his dissent, Justice Breyer cited our brief and explained:

[T]he passage of time may well harm patent defendants who wish to show a patent invalid by raising defenses of anticipation, obviousness, or insufficiency. These kinds of defenses can depend upon contemporaneous evidence that may be lost over time, and they arise far more frequently in patent cases than any of their counterparts do in copyright cases.

The seven justices in the majority suggested that patent defendants might be able to assert “equitable estoppel” instead of laches. But that would likely require showing that the patent owner somehow encouraged the defendant to infringe. In most cases, especially patent troll cases, the defendant has never even heard of the patent or the patent owner before receiving a demand. This means estoppel is unlikely to be much help. Ultimately, today’s ruling is a victory for trolls who would wait in the shadows for years before using an obscure patent to tax those who do the hard work of bringing products and services to market.

Related Cases: SCA Hygiene v. First Quality Baby Products
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Categories: Political Action

Why is fear in Iowa’s immigrant community on the rise?

American Friends Service Committee - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 15:49
Friday, April 21, 2017 - 10:45am Erica Johnson

Beginning January 23, 2017, Erica Johnson will direct AFSC's immigration program in Iowa.

Photo: AFSC/
Categories: Political Action

Hearing Wednesday: EFF Testifying Before House Committee That Use of Facial Recognition by Law Enforcement Poses Critical Threat to Privacy

Deep Links - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 13:46
One Out of Two Americans Already in a Face Recognition Database Accessible to Law Enforcement

Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, March 22, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch will testify at a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the FBI's efforts to build up and link together massive facial recognition databases that may be used to track innocent people as they go about their daily lives.

The FBI has amassed a facial recognition database of more than 30 million photographs and has access to hundreds of millions more. The databases include photos of people who aren’t suspected of any criminal activity that come from driver’s license and passport and visa photos, even as the underlying identification technology becomes ever more powerful. The government has done little to address the privacy implications of this massive collection of biometric information.

Lynch will testify that the use of facial recognition technology will allow the government to track Americans on an unprecedented level. The technology, like other biometric programs, such as fingerprint and DNA collection, poses critical threats to privacy and civil liberties. Lynch will tell the House committee that Congress has an opportunity to develop legislation that would protect Americans from inappropriate and excessive biometrics collection and use.

What: Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing: Law Enforcement’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology

Who: EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch

When: Wednesday, March 22, 9:30 a.m.

Where: 2154 Rayburn House Office Building
           Washington. D.C.

For more information on facial recognition:
https://www.eff.org/foia/fbi-facial-recognition-documents

For more on biometric data collection:
https://www.eff.org/issues/biometrics

 

Contact:  JenniferLynchSenior Staff Attorneyjlynch@eff.org
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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn Members in Montana Endorse Inclusive Populist Rob Quist for U.S. House, Vowing to Take ACA Fight to the Ballot Box

Move On - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 12:40

 

MoveOn: Republicans Will Pay Political Price for Backing Trump’s Agenda, ACA Repeal

MONTANA — Montana members of MoveOn.org Political Action have voted overwhelmingly to endorse Rob Quist in the U.S. House special election in the state with 99% of votes cast in favor of backing Quist, and praising Quist’s progressive policy agenda, including his commitment to protect the Affordable Care Act and fierce opposition to repeal efforts. The special election is to replace Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, who resigned after being appointed Secretary of the Interior.

Quist, a lifelong Montanan and well-known folk and bluegrass musician, has emerged as a strong progressive candidate and a vocal critic of the current Republican plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Quist has also served as a cultural ambassador to Kumamoto, Japan through the state’s commerce department and served for more than a decade on the Montana Arts Council, leading an effort to implement anti-bullying and art programs in the state’s public schools.

MoveOn’s endorsement of Quist builds on an endorsement by MoveOn members in Georgia of Jon Ossoff in showing that, if Republicans advance efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or advance Trump’s dangerous agenda, they’ll pay a political price.

This week, House Republicans are expected to rush through a bill that would be a disaster for Montana. Studies have shown it would raise premiums by up to $12,000 for older Montanans and take away health coverage from an estimated estimated 75,000 Montanans.

“Rob Quist understand Montana better than any other candidate in this race, and he knows what a disaster the current Republican plan would be for Montanans,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn Political Action. “This race is just the latest to show the huge grassroots outpouring of energy we’re seeing across the country resisting the Republican plan to dismantle health care. If Republicans like New Jersey multi-millionaire Greg Gianforte think they can take away health care from 24 million Americans (including over 75,000 Montanans) without facing the consequences, they’re dreaming.”

MoveOn will mobilize its nearly 19,000 members in Montana to volunteer and vote for Quist, and will mobilize progressives across the country to support the campaign through thousands of grassroots donations.Here’s what a few MoveOn members in Montana

Here’s what a few MoveOn members in Montana has to say about Quist:

“Rob is progressive who will represent Montanans with honesty, compassion, and a vision for economic justice. He also brings an outsider’s appeal to those disenchanted with politics as usual.” –Linda B. in Helena

“Rob supports health care for all, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He supports public access to public lands, conservation, and initiatives to mitigate the effects of climate change. He supports public education. He is pro-choice. He supports funding for the arts and arts education. He understands the concerns of Montana’s rural citizens and is running for Congress to represent the people, not corporate interests. Flipping this seat, in a “red” state, would drive the momentum of progressives across the country. Endorse Rob Quist!.” –Shannon H. in Whitefish

“Rob is someone who appeals to, and understands, a wide swath of the complex Montana voter. We have very conservative and very liberal folks who all agree on public lands, caring for the elderly, children, and veterans, and respecting what we think of as the “Code of the West”. He is one of us—which means so much in Montana.” –Marni E. in Billings

Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks each earned less than 1% of votes cast.MoveOn.org Political Action represents the collective will of MoveOn’s members at the ballot box by helping to elect progressive candidates.

MoveOn.org Political Action represents the collective will of MoveOn’s members at the ballot box by helping to elect progressive candidates.

 

Categories: Political Action

Why are there still famines?

Socialist Worker - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

How can hunger persist in a world of enormous wealth and technological advances? Tyler Zimmer explains how Marxists identify the capitalist system as the root cause.

THE UNITED Nations reports that the world is currently facing the most profound humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War in 1945.

At this very moment, more than 20 million people stand on the brink of starvation in regions of the Middle East and Africa. And this is to say nothing of the close to 800 million people in the world who are undernourished due to a lack of access to food.

The specific crisis that the UN is warning about is centered in four countries: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and the northeastern region of Nigeria.

One thread connecting these countries is conflict--all are gripped by civil warfare, but with the U.S. and other imperialist powers contributing to the violence.

In the case of Yemen, the U.S. is participating in a brutal war led by Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebels. According to the UN, in the past two years, more than 16,000 people have died in the conflict, many of them civilians killed by Saudi air strikes.

But hunger threatens to be an even bigger killer--UN officials say the number of Yemenis who don't know where their next meal will come from has increased by 3 million in just the past three months.

A malnourished child in a hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia (AMISOM)

The UN is pleading for $4.4 billion in order to combat the worst of the hunger in the four countries, but this figure is less than one-tenth of the increase in U.S. military spending that Donald Trump just demanded in his first budget as president. Indeed, even before that massive increase, the U.S. government could provide all of the $4.4 billion for three-quarters of 1 percent of the current military budget.

But even this understates the obscenity of what's happening on the ground in Yemen: This misallocated spending on the military is directly implicated in the killing of Yemenis, whether by U.S. drone attacks or support for Saudi Arabia's air war.

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SO WAR and violence are the proximate causes of the worst cases of hunger today, but this doesn't get to the heart of the matter. Undernourishment and hunger are worldwide problems of immense proportions that stubbornly persist, year after year, even in the face of rapid technological and economic growth. What explains this alarming fact?

You might think that the problem is one of physical scarcity: There's simply "too many" people on the planet and not enough food to feed everyone around the globe.

But the truth is that there is actually a surplus of food. Humanity produces far more food every year than everyone on the planet needs to survive. Because of modern technologies and economies of scale in agriculture, food production and storage, more calories per person are produced today than ever before in human history.

And yet millions stand on the brink of starvation or suffer from undernourishment or food insecurity. From a humanitarian or ethical standpoint, the solution to famine couldn't be simpler: Immediately transfer the surplus food that already exists to the people who need it most to save their lives.

Why doesn't this happen? Simply put: Because capitalism.

Profitability is what makes the wheels of the world economic system turn--and in many cases, it's more profitable to withhold or even destroy surplus food than to give it to those in need.

So long as food is treated as a commodity like any other, it will be produced and distributed according to market forces that tether food production and distribution to profit-based criteria and nothing else. What seems irrational at a macro level--destroying food when so many are hungry--in fact makes perfect sense from the perspective of the profit-seeking capitalist, competing in the marketplace.

Numerous examples illustrate this point. For instance, last October, the U.S. dairy industry dumped--that is, it destroyed--43 million gallons of "excess" milk.

Now, from a socialist point of view, there is no such thing as "excess" milk--nor any other basic commodity like it--so long as there is at least one person who needs it. But for the profit-seeking dairy industry, dumping milk made good business sense. From the perspective of profitability, there was a "glut" on the market that drove down milk prices and squeezed profits.

Seen in this way--through the lens of capitalism--destroying supply in order to prop up prices made perfect sense. At no time did the people who desperately need milk to survive register as significant, because profitability is what system responds to, not human need.

There are other more disturbing examples to show how run-of-the-mill capitalist economic activity leads to starvation and undernourishment.

Take, for instance, the 2007-08 global food crisis, when food prices soared to their highest levels in more than 150 years. What happened? As Alan Maass wrote for SocialistWorker.org: "Goldman Sachs happened."

The mega-bank encouraged a speculative frenzy in financial markets that gamble on the direction of prices of basic commodities, including food. Thus, Goldman helped drive up food prices to obscene levels in a short period of time--creating spectacular wealth for a few, and misery for millions of people who suddenly couldn't afford to feed themselves.

As food journalist Frederick Kaufman summarized at the time, "Bankers had taken control of the world's food, money chased money, and a billion people went hungry."

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THERE'S SOMETHING tragic about famine under capitalism that wouldn't have been the case in earlier periods of human history.

The tragedy lies not simply in the fact--horrific though it is--that people starve or go undernourished. In most cases in the distant past, if human beings starved, it was probably because of physical scarcity. There simply wasn't enough food to go around.

But that is never true under capitalism, because the productive power of modern technology means that it is possible to produce far more food than all people need to survive without working ourselves to death doing it.

The tragedy peculiar to capitalism consists in this: Modern technology makes it possible, for the first time in human history, to produce more than enough food to feed everyone--yet because of the capitalist system's obsession with profit, that productive power to satisfy unmet needs lies idle and underutilized, resulting in unnecessary misery and death.

To use Karl Marx's terminology, the productive forces--the technologies, tools and techniques human beings use to produce goods and services--have grown at an unprecedented rate during the last several centuries of capitalist development. Physical scarcity is a thing of the past--today, we have the technological and productive power to easily meet the needs of everyone on the planet.

But capitalist social relations--in particular, private ownership of the productive forces by profit-seeking capitalists--prevent humanity from using that productive power for liberatory ends.

The Marxist philosopher G.A. Cohen puts the point like this:

The productive technology of advanced capitalism begets an unparalleled opportunity of lifting the curse of Adam and liberating human beings from toil and want, but the production relations of capitalist economic organization prevent the opportunity from being realized. The economic form most able to relieve toil is least disposed to do so...Capitalism brings humanity to the threshold of abundance and locks the door.

Marx defines social revolution as a way of casting off the fetters of capitalist social relations and allowing humanity to use the productive power of modern technology to improve quality of life and reduce unnecessary toil for all. Such a revolution would therefore, in Leon Trotsky's words, involve the "forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny."

In other words, socialism is about allowing humanity to decide democratically how to make use of the enormous liberatory potential--thus far, largely unrealized--of modern productive technology.

Think of the radical implications that this building block of Marxism would have for problems like famine.

Famine occurs under capitalism because decisions about the production and allocation of food are made by shortsighted capitalists all competing against one another for profit. The people affected by those decisions have no authority to take part in them.

Neither do the interests of those most affected show up as significant in the decision-making of capitalist firms. The discipline imposed by market competition forces each capitalist to focus only on their bottom line. Thus, corporations are more likely to dump "excess" food than to distribute it to those in need.

But imagine how different things would be if the mass of people had the collective authority to decide how to use the tremendous productive powers of modern technology. Imagine if they had a say in how food would be produced and distributed. Imagine that they had the power and standing in the world order to make sure their interests are attended to and their wishes respected.

That, in a nutshell, is the ideal of socialism: ordinary working people democratically controlling the productive power of society and using it for the benefit of all.

Categories: Political Action

Capitalism brought us here

Socialist Worker - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

Luisa G. describes her family's experience of immigration from their native Colombia, and has a strong warning for anyone who says they have a problem with it.

MY NIECE posted the following status update on Facebook the other day: "Ojalá un Domingo cualquiera pudiera simplemente tomar un taxi y poder ir a arruncharme con mi abuela."

She wishes she could simply take a taxi and go visit her grandmother, who she has not seen in person in four years. That's the last time my mother could afford to take off work and pay for a trip to Colombia.

Yes, we are documented, but our story is the same in many ways as for those who are undocumented. I would venture to say that the majority of immigrants in this country, undocumented or not, aren't here because they wanted a change of scenery. They are here as a matter of survival. They are here because of the ravages of capitalism in developing countries.

We got our papers through my mother's brother, who petitioned her before I was born. It took over a decade. Most of my mother's family was here already. My grandmother and uncle left in the 1970s, when my mother was a teenager, and my aunt left in the early 1980s. My mother's family was broken up, and later, her own family would be broken up as well, by an unforgiving, bureaucratic immigration system that has no regard for human suffering.

My mother, my brother and I came to the U.S. in 1998. We came here because my mother wanted to take us away from the violence of poverty and the violence created by a civil war that began when she was a child.

By the age of 10, I had witnessed stabbings on the street, seen a dead body in the dumpster behind my house, and woken up to the sound of a bomb going off in the meeting hall next to my house--twice--all because of the conflicts and desperation created by capitalism.

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MY MOTHER tried. She tried her very best despite so many personal and systemic obstacles, like not being able to graduate high school.

She sang in clubs and parties on the weekends as her main source of income so that she could be home with us during the week. She sold lemonade on the street while I was in school. She scraped money together to buy a hot dog stand. She worked construction, despite the constant harassment of male co-workers. Nothing she did was ever enough.

She never wanted to live in New York. She hates the cold. She hates the number of people. She hates the grinding pace of this city. But she came and she stayed because of me. Because of my brother. Because of my sister and her kids.

She came here to clean wealthy people's homes--a job that has aged her body far beyond her chronological age, a job in which she is verbally abused and exploited by clueless assholes who have never had to clean a fucking toilet in their lives--in order to give her children and grandchildren opportunities and comforts she never had.

Every day, I think about all I've missed. My oldest niece was four when I left. Her sister was a newborn I only got to hold a few times. I have never met my nephew.

So when I hear that we are criminals, that we are monsters who lurk in the shadows to steal from hardworking (white) "Americans," I experience a very special kind of rage. Don't talk to me about stealing when three continents were literally stolen from Indigenous people.

We are here, we deserve to be here, and we will fight tooth and nail for the dignity and respect that we deserve. Trump, his gang of Nazi demons, and this whole inhumane system can go to hell. They commit unspeakable atrocities with the stroke of a pen, but we are the monsters?!?

Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos! Y si nos hechan, nos regresamos!

Categories: Political Action

Politicking without politics

Socialist Worker - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

Democratic elites are missing the obvious fact that you can't subdue the right without an alternative political vision, writes Paul Heideman in an article published at Jacobin.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Wikimedia Commons)

FOR A distillation of the Democratic Party's self-conception today, one could do worse than consult Nancy Pelosi's recent pronouncement: "We don't have a party orthodoxy--they [the Republicans] are ideological."

For some time now, this view of the political divide--Democrats are consummate pragmatists, Republicans are rigid slaves to dogma--has predominated in elite liberal circles. Hillary Clinton, after all, centered her campaign on competence and experience far more than any actual conception of politics.

And despite the resulting disaster, this desire to have a politics without politics--this strategy to build a coalition bereft of any clear values or principles--has continued to animate liberals' opposition to Trump. Democrats really believe, it seems, that they can subdue the reactionary right without articulating any alternative political vision beyond prudent governance.

The irony here is twofold. First, in clinging to an obviously failing strategy, elite liberalism reveals itself to be an ideology every bit as impervious to contradictory evidence as the reactionary Republicans it defines itself against. And second, for all of the Democrats' paeans to pragmatism, they are just as committed to their own version of neoliberal capitalism as the Republicans, and just as unwilling to brook dissent with it. In fact, only a few days before declaring the Democrats free of orthodoxy, Pelosi responded to a student's question about socialism by effusing, "We're capitalists. That's just the way it is."

When attacking the right, the Democrats are non-ideological and pragmatic. As soon as a challenge from the left is sighted, however, the party suddenly stops being coy and declares itself forthrightly in favor of capitalism. The result is an ever-rightward-moving political landscape that ends up abetting the very forces and figures that Democrats oppose--including Trump.

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EVEN BEFORE Trump's election, the Democrats' affinity for politicking without politics had landed them in unsavory territory.

Throughout the campaign, the Clinton camp would drag up whatever blood-drenched warmonger from the Bush administration they could find, exclaiming, "See? Even [John Yoo, Robert Kagan, Max Boot] thinks Trump has gone too far!" The short-termism should have been evident to all, as yesterday's disgraced imperial adjuncts were dusted off and presented as today's statesmen of reason.

Of course, this could hardly have been of concern to Clinton herself, who agreed with the neoconservatives on most of the fundamentals of American foreign policy. Those opposed to yet another discursive lurch to the right had more reason for distress. The Democrats were, quite literally, more comfortable opposing Trump with Republican figureheads than articulating any identifiable ideas of their own.

Since Trump's accession to power, Democratic elites have taken their ineptitude to new heights. Thus we have the tawdry spectacle of Rep. Ted Lieu tweeting in early February, "Last 24 hrs on Twitter, Donald Trump went on rant about 'death & destruction,' 'FAKE NEWS,' & 'evil.' Should he get mental health exam?" and then introducing a bill requiring a White House psychiatrist. Leaving aside the nasty history of using psychiatry to police politics, Lieu's complaint against Trump centered on the man's comportment, rather than any aspect of his policy agenda.

Frequently, Democrats have tried to fell Trump simply by catching him in some act of hypocrisy. This reached a fever pitch immediately after Trump announced his initial travel ban, as liberals of all sorts rushed to accuse the president of excluding countries where he had business ties. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan even raised the specter of impeachment over the supposed conflict of interest. Trump's flacks wasted no time exploiting the awkward position Democrats had placed themselves in, snarking, "If people in the media would like to recommend additional countries to be added, you can send us your suggestions."

And once again, Democrats had turned an opportunity to assail a noxious, unpopular political figure into a chimeric chase for a "gotcha" moment. Rather than pillory the measure as racist and xenophobic, they pursued an "apolitical" line of attack that looked no less partisan, while evading the real political issues raised by the ban.

Rachel Maddow fell into a similar trap in mid-March. After making breathless promises to reveal Trump's tax returns, the MSNBC host treated viewers to a 20-minute journey through all manner of speculations, from what could be in the tax forms to why Trump could have been hiding them. Over the course of the expedition--during which she sounded more than a little like a Tea Partier circa 2010 explaining Obama's Kenyan birth--Maddow covered such crucial topics as where Trump's financial backers parked their yachts and the connections between Azerbaijani oligarchs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And when she finally disclosed the contents of the tax returns, it was clear the big surprise was even more boring than the buildup. In brief, Trump made an obscene amount of money in 2005 and paid in taxes more or less what the super-rich usually do. Unable to dwell on a "gotcha" revelation, Maddow and her guest were forced to fill the remaining time with conjectures about what Trump would owe if his tax plan passed, or whether he himself had leaked the returns (now who's playing 11-dimensional chess?).

Throughout the program, Maddow insisted that "whether you're a Trump supporter or not," the returns, and Trump's initial refusal to release them, were A Very Big Deal. For liberals like Maddow, issues like these, supposedly above politics, are what will allow Democrats to discredit Trump and return the party to power. By the end of the show, however, it was doubtful whether even all of Maddow's faithful would consider the tax returns a major issue.

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UNDOUBTEDLY THE most insidious element of Democrats' hapless anti-Trump attack, however, has come around the president's relationship to Russia. Liberals appear positively elated at the chance to turn around and target conservatives for once with charges of treason. Democrats, it seems, have rediscovered the virtues of Cold War Russophobia.

Even ostensible progressives like Michael Moore have gotten on board, calling Trump a "Russian traitor." Bernie Sanders hasn't, thankfully, indulged language quite this inflammatory, but he has endorsed the substance of Moore's accusation, asking "whether our president's foreign policy represents the best interests of this country or the best interests of Russia." Both Moore and Sanders are old enough to remember when the slightest hint of dissatisfaction with American capitalism was immediately met with accusations of Russian treason. To see them rehabilitating this kind of rhetoric is nothing short of shameful.

And it will almost inevitably backfire. First, it's never good for the left when liberals start slinging around charges of treason. The McCarthyite purges, after all, began with Democrat Harry Truman's 1947 executive order establishing an investigation force to police "loyalty" among government employees. Truman, too, was concerned about citizens acting in the best interests of the U.S. rather than Russia. It is positively delusional to imagine that the Democratic hacks who view someone like Sanders as disloyal will not brandish charges of Russian collaboration against the left at the first opportunity.

Second, and more frightening, the Democrats appear to have embraced the most bellicose posture toward Russia as a way of playing up Trump's alleged cooperation with Putin. In January, Democratic Sen. Jack Reed ominously warned that "Russia's efforts to undermine democracy at home and abroad and destabilize a country on its border...cannot be ignored or traded away in exchange for the appearance of comity."

One does not have to romanticize Putin's brutal oligarchy at home or imperialist foreign policy abroad to find such declarations chilling. Ironically, the very same Democrats who accuse Trump of destabilizing world politics apparently have no qualms about moving from comity to confrontation with another nuclear-armed power.

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THE LIBERAL attempt to undercut Trump using some mythical higher standard, something "above politics," risks undermining the very resistance that's developed in opposition to his various initiatives.

Most centrally, this kind of strategy simply won't work. Even as liberals like Lieu express horror at Trump's outlandish behavior, it is plain that, for many of his supporters, Trump's refusal to behave like a traditional politician is precisely what they find appealing. The endless articles condemning Trump for his "unpresidential" behavior were no salve for those suffering plant closures and stagnant wages, for whom Trump at least represented the possibility of a break from politics as usual. The status quo, which Clinton vigorously defended, certainly wasn't working.

Over the longer term, the fruits of the Democrats' strategy are even more troubling. In framing their opposition to Trump as non-political, Democrats are perpetuating the crisis in American liberalism.

Obama initially appeared to be liberalism's savior, promising to redeem it from its abject failures during the Bush years. But eight years of managerial centrism left the party hollowed out both institutionally and ideologically. Without any real challenge from the left, Obama never strayed far from the path laid out by the banks and tech companies that funded his campaigns. While his personal gifts allowed him to win very high approval ratings for a two-term president, his policies did little to alleviate the growing misery in many parts of the country. Obama's inability to rewrite the political and economic rules of the game ensured that any candidate who lacked his talents would be unable to stitch together the same coalition.

It is this continued fidelity to American capitalism, this unwavering commitment to keeping things more or less as they are, that stands behind the Democrats' apparent fear of ideas. Any actual attempt to advance the principles that loom large in the American liberal imagination would entail some sort of confrontation with capital, and the Democratic Party, bought and paid for by capital, is unwilling to contemplate such a step.

Pelosi is, in a sense, right: While the Republicans have a clear ideology, a clear vision for society (gruesome as it may be), the Democrats can offer little more than meritocratic nostrums and technocratic tweaks. The social order should basically remain the same, their position seems to be, with an improvement here or there from smart, competent people.

While this social vision wins plaudits from the educated middle class, and the Democrats will always receive some support from the groups that the GOP most directly scapegoats, it is no surprise that they find themselves increasingly unable to mobilize support outside these core constituencies.

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FORTUNATELY, THE alternative to Democratic vapidity is not hard to find. It has reverberated through much of the popular resistance to Trump's presidency. When thousands of people gathered at JFK airport to protest the Muslim ban, they didn't make an hour-long subway trip to stand in the cold because they thought Trump was being hypocritical or unpresidential. They gathered because they felt Trump had infringed on core values of egalitarianism and fairness. They were moved by a basic sense of injustice. They were moved, in other words, by politics.

While the liberal evasion of politics gives the impression that the Democrats have no ideas they are confident enough to defend, mobilizations like the refugee solidarity protests do the exact opposite. When thousands of people assemble with signs declaring, "Refugees are welcome here," they stake out a political ground that directly confronts Trump. They provide a political pole capable of further mobilization.

Ultimately, it is only mobilizations like these that can thwart Trump and the Republican Party. Left to their own devices, the Democrats will continue proffering anemic managerialism, punctuated by the occasional self-pitying snark ("but her emails"), all the while leading us down the road to defeat.

Instead, the anti-Trump movement will have to unabashedly voice the political principles, like equality and solidarity, that motivate it. This will mean both developing our own conceptions about what these principles look like today, and developing our own organizations capable of advancing them. While the Democrats seek to oust Trump and return the country to Obama's status quo, our movement must base itself on a politics capable of confronting both Trump and the rotten elite liberalism that enabled his rise.

First published at Jacobin.

Categories: Political Action

Yes, they can find a way to respect nurses

Socialist Worker - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

The University of Missouri Hospital puts its workers last, explains one employee.

University of Missouri Hospital

AT THE University of Missouri, there's plenty of money to spend on executive pay and expensive advertising campaigns, but nothing but disrespect for the people who work there.

I am writing to you anonymously for fear of reprisals from my employer, the University of Missouri Hospital.

On March 6, ABC News in Columbia, Missouri, reported on findings from an audit of the University of Missouri system revealing $2.3 million in hidden payments and incentives to top administrators, including $1.2 million in incentives awarded to 18 executives and administrators over the past three years.

Luxury car payments, paid travel expenses to nonwork destinations--translation: vacations) and salaries for people who neither work nor have valid job titles is something that is typically associated with dictatorships, not university administrations.

Yet at UM, family members of officials have "positions" that pay salaries for which they aren't required to do anything. If you criticize this practice, the common reply is that we need to "compensate" these talented administrators to retain their services and attract new ones.

Meanwhile, employees of the University of Missouri Hospital are now being forced to "prove" both that our spouses are legal citizens of the U.S. and that our children are "ours" by sending in documents in order to be eligible for benefits, which we have been paying for.

This "proof" audit is being conducted by Conduent Corp., a spinoff of Xerox with annual revenue of some $6.6 billion. Conduent will oversee this audit in the hopes that the hospital can cut benefits for someone who hasn't submitted their proper documentation by March 31, and thereby save "us" money.

We now have a new proprietary employee assessment tool, provided by a small company called Gallup, Inc., which has been implemented to report how each of employee is performing their respective position. The price of this tool, StrengthsFinder, has yet to be determined.

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IF THAT'S not enough, the administration is giving $10,000 sign-on bonuses to new nurses, and while they need it, the hospital ignores the people who will train and develop these new employees to become great nurses. This is absolutely disrespectful to every nurse that is currently employed.

Our nurses don't get cost-of-living increases annually. We have had market-adjusted increases, due mostly to mass exoduses of nurses seeking higher wages, fewer patients and more flexibility.

While nurses clean up every possible fluid that can come out of the human body, care for the grief-stricken and hold the hand of a dying patient with no family, our hospital's reply to any constructive critique is "YES finds a way," the main slogan of an endless MU marketing campaign.

"YES" has certainly found a way--to pour millions of dollars into advertising and marketing campaigns for the kind of care that is provided at our hospital.

"YES" has found a way to make parking for a football game more important than allowing employees to leave their cars at the spot they pay monthly for.

"YES" has found a way to buy Super Bowl commercials in 2016 and 2107, but ignores the fact that Missouri nurses are the 34th worst-paid hospital nurses in the country.

The state auditor who reported the exorbitant bonuses of our administrators merely pointed out what many already know--that when it comes to budgets and "belt tightening," it's a shared goal for everyone, except those administrators at the top.

When will "YES" find a way to respect nurses, housekeepers, patient transporters, nurse techs, lab techs and all the other people who actually make this hospital a place where we would want our families to be cared for?

Categories: Political Action

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