Political Action

The only guarantee of Polish independence

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

The following leaflet addressed to "Polish workers and soldiers in Russia" appeared in Petrograd 100 years ago on March 17, 1917 (March 4 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia), days after the fall of the Tsarist autocracy with the February Revolution.

After the outbreak of the First World War, the bulk of Poland came under German occupation, after having previously been ruled by the Tsarist government. By 1917, roughly 3 million Poles--many of whom had been evacuated from Poland on the eve of the German invasion--found themselves under Tsarist rule. In response, Polish socialist parties began organizing the large groups of displaced Polish workers in industrial cities like Petrograd and Moscow.

Little is known about the initiators of the following appeal. Given its simultaneous stress on class struggle, internationalism and Polish independence, the authors were likely members of the revolutionary Marxist Polish Socialist Party-Left and/or the far left wing of the Polish Socialist Party (Revolutionary Fraction) (see the "Note on the Polish Socialist Party" below). Whereas most Polish nationalists and the moderate leaders of the Polish Socialist Party (Revolutionary Fraction) had throughout the war sought to promote Polish independence through a pact with German or Austrian imperialism, the following appeal makes the case for why national liberation could only be won through the struggle and solidarity of the international working class.

This leaflet was translated and the above annotation written by Eric Blanc. It is part of the an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

Thousands march through Petrograd to celebrate the fall of the Tsar and mourn the dead (Wikimedia Commons)

COMRADE WORKERS and Soldiers!

The Russian proletariat took the lead in the fight for the overthrow of the Tsarist government and the establishment of a People's Republic in Russia.

It toppled the despotic colossus, which for decades oppressed its own people and subordinated foreign nations, which headed the reaction in all of Europe by readily helping all the oppressors of Europe suppress the peoples' liberation movements. For decades, the Tsarist regime has been fought by Polish workers, who marked the road toward freedom with their warm blood and the suffering and tears of mothers, sisters and wives.

You comrades, both male and female, pressed forward, always constantly forward. This path led to the Tsarist gallows, which sacrificed as victims our brothers Ossowskich, Kunickich, Kasprzaków and Okrzejów.

In your fight you were alone in the country; the propertied classes because of the nature of their interests could muster only collusion with the minions of the Tsarist government. And your only allies in the arduous work of creating a brighter tomorrow were the Russian workers, who struggled hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder with you, next to the proletarians of the other nations oppressed by the Tsarist government.

Comrades! Today already we hope that our country will gain freedom and independence. Remember that we will not receive an independent Polish Republic from the governments and the bourgeoisie of Europe; remember that the oppressors of the peoples cannot be liberators; remember that the political independence of our country can be built only on the power and cooperation of the peoples; remember that the only real guarantee of the independence of the Polish people is not diplomatic acts and congress decisions, but the international solidarity of the peoples.

Comrades! Today you must fulfill your proletarian duty, your class and national interests. You must fulfill your duty to the Russian democracy, you must offer all your power and strength to help the Russian proletariat lead the so-bravely begun struggle to a victorious end and thus contribute to the victory of the proletariat of all nations. Since the fall of Tsarist rule in Russia undermines the existence of all bourgeois governments, it is a harbinger of the victory of democracy internationally.

Long live the Russian People's Republic!

Long live the Polish People's Republic!

Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat!

Long live socialism!

Polish socialist workers in Petrograd

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Source: Published in Archiwum Ruchu Robotniczego, volume 5, Warsaw 1977, pg. 273-74. Translated by Eric Blanc.

Note on the Polish Socialist Party: In 1906, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) split. The majority of the party sided with the left wing, which stressed mass action, the need for empire-wide revolution and an alliance with Russian workers in particular; this organization henceforth called itself the Polish Socialist Party-Left. The minority was more hesitant about this orientation toward Russian socialism, stressing instead the struggle for national independence and armed struggle; this organization became the Polish Socialist Party (Revolutionary Fraction).

In 1917, the far left of the PPS (Revolutionary Fraction), unlike the rest of the party, was based out of central Russia and upheld a mostly internationalist orientation. The PPS-Left was consistently committed to internationalism and revolutionary Marxism and went on to co-found the Polish Communist party in 1918 together with Rosa Luxemburg's party.

A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.

Categories: Political Action

Border Agents Need A Warrant to Search Travelers’ Phones, EFF Tells Court

Deep Links - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 14:56
The Border Isn’t a Constitution-Free Zone

Richmond, Virginia—Border agents must obtain a warrant to search travelers’ phones, tablets, and laptops, which contain a vast trove of sensitive, highly personal information that is protected by the Fourth Amendment, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a federal appeals court today.

Searches of devices at the border have more than doubled since the inauguration of President Trump—from nearly 25,000 in all of 2016, to 5,000 in February alone. This increase, along with the increasing number of people who carry these devices when they travel, has heightened awareness of the need for stronger privacy rights while crossing the U.S. border. 

While the Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires law enforcement officials to get a warrant supported by probable cause before searching our property, in cases that predate the rise of digital devices, courts granted border agents the power to search our luggage without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing.

But portable digital devices differ wildly from luggage or other physical items we carry with us to the airport because they provide access to the entirety of our private lives, EFF said in an amicus brief filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the border search case U.S. v. Kolsuz. In 2014 the Supreme Court noted that cellphones now hold “the privacies of life” for people, including highly personal, private information such as photos, texts, contact lists, email messages, and videos. Many digital devices can access personal records stored in the “cloud,” such as financial or medical information. Before smartphones were invented, that kind of information would be kept in our home offices, desk drawers, or basement storage. If law enforcement officers wanted to enter your home or lock box as part of a search, they’d need to go before a judge, prove probable cause that you’re involved in a crime, and get a warrant. 

“The border isn’t a constitution-free zone,” said Adam Schwartz, EFF senior staff attorney. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that mobile phones are a window into our private lives and police need to show there’s probable cause that the people they arrest have committed crimes and obtain a warrant to search their phones. There should be no less protection for individuals who have not been arrested or shown to have committed any crime, but who instead simply want to enter the United States.”

It’s never been more important for courts to follow the standard set by the Supreme Court about cell phone searches and apply it to borders searches. Reports have surfaced of border agents searching the devices of innocent U.S. citizens, green card holders, and foreign visitors. While all kinds of travelers have suffered this intrusion, many reports involve journalists, Muslim-Americans, and Americans with Middle Eastern-sounding names. Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, Brennan Center for Justice, Council on American-Islamic Relations and six of its chapters, and The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined EFF in filing the brief.

“Law enforcement officials should be required to meet the same standards for searching our cell phones wherever we are—in our cities, on the highway, at vehicle checkpoints, and at the border. Regardless of the location, when officials want to crack open the private information in someone’s phone, they must first obtain a warrant,” said Schwartz.

For the brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/us-v-kolsuz-eff-amicus-brief

For EFF’s new border guide:
https://www.eff.org/wp/digital-privacy-us-border-2017

For EFF’s new border pocket guide:
https://www.eff.org/document/eff-border-search-pocket-guide

Contact:  AdamSchwartzSenior Staff Attorneyadam@eff.org
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Categories: Political Action

3/23, Why We Need to Fight for Trans Liberation NOW!

The Boston Branch - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 13:10
Public Forum:
Why We Need to Fight for Trans Liberation NOW!
Thursday, March 23, 7pm 358 Washington Street, Dorchester 23 Bus from Ruggles or short walk from the Fields Corner T station contact@bostonsocialism.org

The average life expectancy for black trans women in the United States is 36 years old. 86% of transgender teens report feeling unsafe in school. This is the social context for Trump and his legion of bigot's removal of federal guidelines protecting transgender students. While they try to hide behind the mantle of "state's rights", make no mistake this is a direct assault against the most vulnerable and oppressed people in society. It's an authorization of murder and we can't let them get away with it.
Come to the Boston ISO's public forum this Thursday and join a discussion about how we can fight for and win full equality and liberation for queer and transgender people.
Categories: Political Action

Hearing Wednesday: National Security Letters Violate the First Amendment

Deep Links - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 12:52
EFF to Argue NSL Gag Orders Are Unconstitutional in San Francisco Appeals Court

San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will urge an appeals court Wednesday to find that the FBI violates the First Amendment when it unilaterally gags recipients of national security letters (NSLs), and the law should therefore be found unconstitutional. The hearing is set for Wednesday, March 22, at 1:30pm in San Francisco.

EFF represents two communications service providers—CREDO Mobile and Cloudflare—that were restrained for years from speaking about the NSLs they received, including even acknowledging that they had received any NSLs. Early Monday, just days before the hearing, the FBI finally conceded that EFF could reveal that these two companies were fighting a total of five NSLs.

CREDO and Cloudflare have fought for years to publicly disclose their roles in battling NSL gag orders. Both companies won the ability to talk about some of the NSLs they had received several months ago, but Monday’s decision by the FBI allows them to acknowledge all the NSLs at issue in this case.

On Wednesday, EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker will tell the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that these gags are unconstitutional restrictions on CREDO and Cloudflare’s free speech and that the FBI’s belated decision to lift some of the gags only underscores why judicial oversight is needed in every case. The gag orders barred these companies from participating in discussion and debate about government use of NSLs—even as Congress was debating changes to the NSL statute in 2015.

What:
In re National Security Letters

Who:
EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker

Date:
March 22
1:30 pm

Where:
Courtroom 3, 3rd Floor Room 307
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse
95 Seventh Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

For the FBI notice allowing the companies to identify themselves:
https://www.eff.org/document/notice-regarding-public-identification-nsl-recipients

For more on this case:
https://www.eff.org/issues/national-security-letters

Contact:  AndrewCrockerStaff Attorneyandrew@eff.org
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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn statement in response to FBI investigation into Trump/Russia

Move On - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 11:46

In response to confirmation of an FBI investigation into Trump campaign collusion with Russia, MoveOn.org is calling for a full, independent investigation and a complete shutdown of all Trump-related business before Congress.

Today, in his opening remarks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the President of the United States and his associates are under active criminal investigation by the Department of Justice.

In response, MoveOn.org Civic Action Campaign Director Jo Comerford said:

“With news that the President of the United States and his associates are under an active criminal investigation by the Department of Justice, it is absolutely imperative that an independent commission be established immediately to ensure there are sufficient non-partisan and independent resources to fully investigate Donald Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia.

“How can Congress, with good conscience, agree to further Trump’s agenda amid such serious allegations regarding possible illegal activity? The answer is simple: It can’t.

“That’s why, given today’s news, Congress must shut down all Trump-related appointments and legislation until the American people learn the full truth about Trump and Russia.”

Categories: Political Action

Five Creepy Things Your ISP Could Do if Congress Repeals the FCC’s Privacy Protections

Deep Links - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 02:05

Why are we so worried about Congress repealing the FCC’s privacy rules for ISPs? Because we’ve seen ISPs do some disturbing things in the past to invade their users’ privacy. Here are five examples of creepy practices that could make a resurgence if we don’t stop Congress now.

Call Congress and help keep creepy ISP practices a thing of the past!

5. Selling your data to marketers

Which ISPs did it before? We don’t know—but they’re doing it as you read this!

It’s no secret that many ISPs think they’re sitting on a gold mine of user data that they want to sell to marketers. What some people don’t realize is that some are already doing it. (Unfortunately they’re getting away with this for now because the FCC’s rules haven’t gone into effect yet.)

According to Ad Age, SAP sells a service called Consumer Insights 365, which “ingests regularly updated data representing as many as 300 cellphone events per day for each of the 20 million to 25 million mobile subscribers.” What type of data does Consumer Insights 365 “ingest?” Again, according to Ad Age, “The service also combines data from telcos with other information, telling businesses whether shoppers are checking out competitor prices… It can tell them the age ranges and genders of people who visited a store location between 10 a.m. and noon, and link location and demographic data with shoppers' web browsing history.” And who is selling SAP their customers’ data? Ad Age says “SAP won't disclose the carriers providing this data.”

In other words, mobile broadband providers are too afraid to tell you, their customers, that they’re selling data about your location, demographics, and browsing history. Maybe that’s because it’s an incredibly creepy thing to do, and these ISPs don’t want to get caught red-handed.

And speaking of getting caught red-handed, that brings us to…

4. Hijacking your searches

Which ISPs did it before? Charter, Cogent, DirecPC, Frontier, Wide Open West (to name a few)

Back in 2011, several ISPs were caught red-handed working with a company called Paxfire to hijack  their customers’ search queries to Bing, Yahoo!, and Google. Here’s how it worked.

When you entered a search term in your browser’s search box or URL bar, your ISP directed that query to Paxfire instead of to an actual search engine. Paxfire then checked what you were searching for to see if it matched a list of companies that had paid them for more traffic. If your query matched one of these brands (e.g. you had typed in “apple”, “dell”, or “wsj”, to name a few) then Paxfire would send you directly to that company’s website instead of sending you to a search engine and showing you all the search results (which is what you’d normally expect). The company would then presumably give Paxfire some money, and Paxfire would presumably give your ISP some money.

In other words, ISPs were hijacking their customers’ search queries and redirecting them to a place customers hadn’t asked for, all while pocketing a little cash on the side. Oh, and the ISPs in question hadn’t bothered to tell their customers they’d be sending their search traffic to a third party that might record some of it.

It’s hard to believe we’re still on the subtle end of the creepy spectrum. But things are about to get a whole lot more in-your-face creepy, with…

3. Snooping through your traffic and inserting ads

Which ISPs did it before? AT&T, Charter, CMA

This is the biggest one people are worried about, and with good reason—ISPs have every incentive to snoop through your traffic, record what you’re browsing, and then inject ads into your traffic based on your browsing history.

Plenty of ISPs have done it before—AT&T did it on some of their paid wifi hotspots; Charter did it with its broadband customers; and a smaller ISP called CMA did the same.

We don’t think this one requires much explaining for folks to understand just how privacy invasive this is. But if you need a reminder, we’re talking about the company that carries all your Internet traffic examining each packet in detail1 to build up a profile on you, which they can then use to inject even more ads into your browsing experience. (Or, even worse—they could hire a third-party company like NebuAd or Phorm to do all this for them.) That’s your ISP straight up spying on you to sell ads—and turning the creepiness factor up to eleven.2 And speaking of spying, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention…

2. Pre-installing software on your phone and recording every URL you visit

Which ISPs did it before? AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile

When you buy a new Android phone, you probably expect it to come with some bloatware—apps installed by the manufacturer or carrier that you’re never going to use. You don’t expect it to come preinstalled with software that logs which apps you use and what websites you visit and sends data back to your ISP. But that’s exactly what was uncovered when security researcher and EFF client Trevor Eckhart did some digging into Carrier IQ, an application that came preinstalled on phones sold by AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

This is even creepier than number three on our list (watching your traffic and injecting ads), because at least with number three, your ISP can only see your unencrypted traffic. With Carrier IQ, your ISP could also see what encrypted (HTTPS) URLs you visit and record what apps you use.

Simply put, preinstalled software like Carrier IQ gives your ISP a window into everything you do on your phone. While mobile ISPs may have backed down on using Carrier IQ in the past (and the situation led to a class action lawsuit), you can bet that if the FCC’s privacy rules are rolled back there’ll be ISPs be eager to start something similar.

But none of these creepy practices holds a candle to the ultimate, creepiest thing ISPs want to do with your traffic, which is…

1. Injecting undetectable, undeletable tracking cookies in all of your HTTP traffic

Which ISPs did it before? AT&T, Verizon

The number one creepiest thing on our list of privacy-invasive practices comes courtesy of Verizon (and AT&T, which quickly killed a similar program after Verizon started getting blowback).

Back in 2014 Verizon Wireless decided that it was a good idea to insert supercookies into all of its mobile customers’ traffic. Yes, you read that right—it’s as if some Verizon exec thought “inserting tracking headers into all our customers’ traffic can’t have a down side, can it?” Oh, and, for far too long, they didn’t bother to explicitly tell their customers ahead of time.

But it gets worse. Initially, there was no way for customers to turn this “feature” off. It didn’t matter if you were browsing in Incognito or Private Browsing mode, using a tracker-blocker, or had enabled Do-Not-Track: Verizon ignored all this and inserted a unique identifier into all your unencrypted outbound traffic anyway. According to the FCC, it wasn’t until “two years after Verizon Wireless first began inserting UIDH, that the company updated its privacy policy to disclose its use of UIDH and began to offer consumers the opportunity to opt-out of the insertion of unique identifier headers into their Internet traffic.”

As a result, anyone—not just advertisers—could track you as you browsed the web. Even if you cleared your cookies, advertisers could use Verizon’s tracking header to resurrect them, which led to something called “zombie cookies.” If that doesn’t sound creepy, we don’t know what does.

As you can see, there’s a lot at stake in this fight. The FCC privacy rules congress is trying to kill would limit all of these creepy practices (and even ban some of them outright). So don’t forget to call your senators and representative right now—because if we don’t stop Congress from killing the FCC’s ISP privacy rules now, we may end up with a lot more than five creepy ISP practices in the future.

Call Congress and help keep creepy ISP practices a thing of the past!

  • 1. To be absolutely precise, your ISP could track and record all your HTTP traffic, and the domain name you visit for HTTPS websites.
  • 2. We’ve heard some arguments that is just what Google or Facebook do, but there’s a big difference. You can choose not to use Google or Facebook, and it’s easy to install free tools that block their tracking on other parts of the web. EFF even makes such a tool, called Privacy Badger! But changing ISPs or paying for a VPN is hard (and some people don’t have more than one choice of ISP). For more, see our post on busting three ISP privacy rollback myths.

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Categories: Political Action

How did the Dutch far right get so far?

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Pepijn Brandon, an assistant professor of history at the Free University Amsterdam, writes from Europe on the meaning of last week's elections in the Netherlands.

Geert Wilders

THE NETHERLANDS woke up the day after its elections to exceptionally warm weather, announcing the start of spring. But the high-strung commentaries from the international media and assorted heads of state made it seem like the country had jumped straight from winter to summer.

For months, opinion polls projected that the Netherlands would be the next country to experience a far-right victory. The fact that Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) finished second then could be spun as a win for politically moderate forces. But the left cannot be so complacent.

The election results, hailed by liberal commentators as a success for the center, in fact mark a dual victory for the far right.

First of all, the PVV won in purely numerical terms. Wilders managed to increase his vote to 13 percent, giving him 20 of 150 parliamentary seats. Meanwhile, the two government parties--the free-market conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the center-left Labour Party (PvDA) lost significantly.

The VVD went from 41 to 33 seats. Despite the loss, it remains the biggest party in a thoroughly fragmented parliament that is split between 13 parties. The Labour Party suffered a historic humiliation. It lost 29 seats, bringing its current total at just nine.

To the PVV's five seats, we should add the two seats claimed by the new Forum for Democracy -- the Netherlands' answer to the United States' alt-right. During the campaign, party leader Thierry Baudet called for ending the "homeopathic dilution of the Dutch people" by foreigners. He has also claimed in his writings that all women secretly long to be raped.

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APART FROM these numerical gains, the far right managed to set the agenda for the entire campaign season. Both the VVD and the Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA, which ended at 19 seats) waged a more explicitly racist and Islamophobic campaign than ever before.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte suggested that migrants (or their children, or their grandchildren) should "piss off" to their countries of origin if they refused to follow Dutch values--or, as he put it, "act normal." A VVD billboard described the hijab as a "head rag," a phrase Wilders coined.

Meanwhile, the CDA's leader, now in a position to enter a coalition government with the VVD, made the astounding claim that Islam contradicted the "thousands-years-old Christian-Jewish tradition of equality between men and women." Leaving aside the question of Christianity's historical track record, it is safe to say that the CDA and its predecessors have not exactly been in the forefront of the struggle for women's liberation over the past century.

These alleged moderates' willingness to turn Wilders' rhetoric into actual policy was underlined in the days before the election, when the Dutch and Turkish governments stoked a serious diplomatic riot for their own nationalist interests.

In this context, perhaps the most revealing remark on election night came from Rutte, who repeatedly insisted that the electorate had rejected "the wrong kind of populism." His implicit endorsement of "the right kind of populism" is by no means an accident: He and Halbe Zijlstra, the leader of the VVD's parliamentary faction, have systematically steered their party closer and closer to the PVV's racist line.

Thus, Wilders gained both numbers and political influence. He lost only in comparison to the even larger gains granted to him in the virtual reality the polling agencies created. This demands an important aside, for in recent years, such opinion polls themselves have become a major force in politics.

Suppose the worst polls had come true, and the PVV had indeed beaten the VVD to first place. As horrific as it would have been, Wilders' party would probably not have reached the 20 percent that Rutte's party did.

But the rhetoric matters more than the numbers. Describing those who vote for the far right as the "true voice of the people" has political merits even for the establishment. It justifies moving further to the right and delegitimizes even the most moderate left-wing agendas. But this is a double-edged sword, as it also boosts the far right's credentials.

Fifteen years ago, when the Dutch Islamophobe politician Pim Fortuyn was shot, many shrugged off his movement's electoral success as an anomaly. Today, the PVV represents a steady political force, often setting the tone for the national political debate.

Street organizations on its fringes, like the Dutch branch of PEGIDA, organize protests with burning torches outside refugee centers. Wilders' party's successes have left a rise in violent attacks on mosques and migrants in their wake. The PVV did not have to become the largest party to present a danger: it has been one for a decade already.

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IF THE PVV's steady growth does not represent a sharp political rupture, the Dutch Labour Party's complete collapse certainly does. The last 15 years have taken a toll on what was once, for better or worse, the political center of gravity for the entire working class movement.

Since 2002, the PvdA has risen and fallen again. It went from a historically low 23 seats in 2002--the year of Fortuyn's murder--to 42 seats a year later. After several electoral defeats, it bounced back to 30 seats in 2010 and picked up eight more in 2012. Its drop to nine seats--reflecting a mere 5.7 percent of the vote--is unprecedented in Dutch parliamentary history.

The rot goes deeper: The PvdA did not come in first in a single municipality, ranking fourth in Amsterdam and fifth in places like Zaanstad and Groningen, once cradles of the Dutch socialist movement. In working-class Rotterdam, still Europe's largest harbor and a city where social democracy once was completely hegemonic, the PvdA came in seventh.

The PvdA might regain its lost electoral ground at some point. Examples from around Europe show that, like the Dybbuk of ancient Yiddish legend, the dead soul of traditional social democracy finds ever-new vehicles to walk among the living. But the Labour Party will never recover its solid working-class base.

It's not hard to figure out why, but election strategists continue to believe they can sell large-scale attacks on social welfare and rising inequality as socialist programs, as long as they can demonstrate those policies' "fiscal responsibility."

Since the mid-1980s, the PvdA--like its counterparts across Europe--has been instrumental in introducing neoliberal policies. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, it helped reign in social provisions and allowed for the privatization of the railways, the postal services and health insurance, among others.

Under the current government, the PvdA's rightward shift took on a whole new meaning. The party gained significant ground during the 2012 elections by arguing that a vote for Labour was the only way to avoid a VVD-led austerity government. Immediately after the elections, the party turned around and started negotiating the formation of a coalition with those very opponents.

This government launched a massive austerity program, entailing almost 50 billion euros in cutbacks. PvdA ministers prided themselves on taking some of the most difficult posts, including social affairs and employment (PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher) and finance (Jeroen Dijsselbloem). A PvdA minister of the interior loyally executed the VVD's anti-refugee policies. And Dijsselbloem not only enthusiastically applied the European Union's fiscal stringency on the Netherlands, but, as chairman of the Eurogroup, became its main enforcer against the SYRIZA government in Greece.

Nothing could more fully demonstrate the PvdA's neoliberal drift than the fact that Alexander Pechtold, leader of the centrist Democrats 66, repeatedly suggested Dijsselbloem could continue to represent the Netherlands in Brussels "so that he can finish the job."

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DOES THIS mean that the center cannot hold, as so many have said in response to the current political cycle? The Dutch election's results do not bear this out, and the international left should pay attention.

The same anger and anxieties that created violent shocks to the political system--of which the PvdA's collapse is only the latest example--also continues to drive large numbers to vote for allegedly safe parties that they wrongly believe will at least not make things worse.

In fact, the VVD's and PvdA's losses were at least partly compensated by the CDA's and Democrats 66's gains (from 13 to 19 seats and 12 to 19 seats, respectively). These parties are as fully committed to neoliberal policies as the VVD and the PvdA.

And the big surprise winner of the elections, Jesse Klaver of GreenLeft (GL) not only campaigned on the basis of "the need for change," but also on being a 'responsible and trustworthy' political partner in a future coalition government, explicitly presenting himself as a reliable center-left candidate.

Compared to politics during the half century after the Second World War, the political center has become much more fragmented. But it has not collapsed and is not at the brink of doing so.

What the elections do show is that staying in the center no longer guarantees stability: Centrist parties bounce up and down violently from election to election. But parties on the two political flanks don't necessarily benefit from this unstable center.

Without social explosions that fundamentally reshuffle the existing structures of party politics, the parties that gain the most from this crisis of the center are, as often as not, other centrist formations.

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ONE OF the main reasons why the political center has been able to maintain itself has been the structural inability of the Dutch left to build a viable alternative. The Labour Party and GL do not even see it as their mission to provide such a challenge. The Socialist Party does, but has not managed to gain out of the historic collapse of the PvdA. Combined, the three big parties of the left lost 20 seats, winning only 37 total.

For the first time, the PvdA came in third among these three. The Socialist Party more or less stood its ground (14 seats, down from 15), while Justin Trudeau look-alike Jesse Klaver managed to bring GL from four to 14 seats.

Although Klaver's success has been met with considerable enthusiasm both inside and outside the Netherlands, his claim to lead the left rings hollow.

In the mid 1980s, GL formed through a merger of a number of smaller left-wing parties, including the Dutch Communist Party. Then, it was connected to the emerging antiwar and ecological movements, but the party made a historic right turn in the late 1990s, embracing social liberalism and supporting military intervention in both Serbia and Afghanistan.

Klaver became a party leader amid the debate over higher education cutbacks, during which GL actively campaigned for abolishing student stipends.

The party's decision to run a campaign for change came out of discussions with spin doctors from the U.S. Democratic Party. They advised Klaver to roll up his sleeves Trudeau-style and talk like Obama. In one case, Klaver took them literally and plagiarized entire sections of an Obama speech.

Of course, redemption is possible even on the left. But GL's turn came without any substantial discussion, moment of reckoning or break with the past. Klaver launched his campaign surrounded by the applauding party leaders of the last 15 years. When asked directly, he consistently refused to rule out joining a coalition government with the VVD.

Still, many voted for GL out of a sincere desire for change. The party's ability to project an image of youthful opposition to the right was mainly made possible by the absence of the real thing. Here, the Socialist Party bears great responsibility.

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IN CONTRAST to GL, the SP has consistently opposed neoliberal policies on the national level and enjoys considerable support from the labor left. It demonstrated against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and built a large street campaign last year against privatized health insurance. However, its overall visibility in protests has decreased significantly in the last decade.

The party's obsession with replacing the PvdA and becoming fit for government has weakened its activist wing. In Amsterdam, it joined a local government with the VVD, a pattern it has repeated in other cities. Nationally, this outlook was translated into the preposterous slogan "Take Power." When it became clear that the Socialists would once again perform below their own expectations, they silently ditched the tagline.

But the SP campaign had another crucial shortcoming. Due to its primarily workerist perspective, the party has combined its commitment to a traditional social-democratic platform with many concessions to racism and nationalism. For example, its campaigns against the European Union have always concentrated on the "loss of national sovereignty for the Dutch," rather than decrying the EU's neoliberalism and militarism.

Even more problematic has been the party's continuous refusal to directly challenge the far right. During a campaign that largely revolved around the attacks Wilders launched on immigrants and Muslims, the SP adopted one of three responses: remaining silent, making vague claims about the need to "live together," or, most damningly, going along with the attacks.

For many, the absolute low point came when the party's number three leader Lilian Marijnissen called Trump's victory "refreshing." While later excused as a slip of the tongue, remarks like this from leading SP members became too common to ignore.

And they cost the party dearly. For years, the party's electoral strategy focused on winning over the PvdA's base. With this base finally up for grabs, the SP couldn't gain a single seat.

In contrast to the global pattern, the Socialists are less popular among young voters than among the old. According to a post-election opinion poll, over a third of GL voters were under 36five, while less than 16 percent of this demographic support the SP. Of the major parties, only the PvdA found less support among young people.

All these points show that the Dutch left is in crisis. But just as complacency over the PVV's second-place finish is leading some to seriously underestimate the far right's danger, so could the left be lulled to sleep by Klaver's superficial success and the SP's ability to mitigate its losses.

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THE ELECTIONS revealed a level of fragmentation in the radical left that will be hard for people outside the Netherlands to understand.

The ecologist Party of Animals gained three seats and now holds five. Thinking Netherlands, a migrant party that split from the PvdA, won three seats as well. This party has a strong antiracist platform, but is thoroughly neoliberal, and its leaders have dubious ties to the Erdoğan regime in Turkey.

A split within this split, called Artikel 1, provided a glimmer of hope for those who want real renewal on the left. It combined a strong antiracist platform with street activism on a range of emancipatory issues. The party won 2.7 percent of the vote in Amsterdam, but, having been established only months before the election, it did not win a single parliamentary seat.

Still, there is spirit for a fight. The Saturday before the elections, Amsterdam was the scene of a Women's March against Trump and Wilders. Although none of the official left organizations called it, 20,000 people showed up, making it one of the biggest leftist demonstrations in the last few years.

Young women, people of color and LGBT activists dominated the protest. A large delegation of the trade union of domestic workers also attended. The slogans were militant, feminist, anticapitalist and political.

Many went home planning to vote for GL or to give the Socialist Party the benefit of the doubt one last time. Others cheered the large group of Artikel 1 candidates who marched with them. Still others have veered from one position to the other and back again.

If the radical left wants to overcome this fragmentation and provide a real basis to galvanize Dutch politics, it must combine the SP's anti-neoliberalism with the vibrancy, militancy and antiracism present at that march. Given the mainstream left parties' strength and conservatism, the road to such a recombination will surely be difficult. But the election results do not grant the Dutch left the luxury to let this crisis continue to simmer.

Previously published at Jacobin.

Categories: Political Action

The West and "African corruption"

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Lee Wengraf, author of the forthcoming book Extracting Profit: Neoliberalism, Imperialism and the New Scramble for Africa, exposes some of the myths about corruption in Africa, in an article published at the Review of African Political Economy.

"The corruption and cronyism and tribalism that sometimes confront young nations--that's recent history."
-- President Barack Obama, address in Kenya, 2015

Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund (left) speaks alongside Senegalese President Macky Sall (Stephen Jaffe | flickr)

ON FEBRUARY 13, newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump signed a legislative order repealing a section of the Dodd-Frank Act that required disclosure of any funds received from foreign governments for deals in the extractive sector. Widely condemned as undermining transparency and anti-corruption efforts, Trump's move facilitates corporate accumulation in oil, gas and mining; as the Economist notes, "[t]he major beneficiaries of the rollback" are oil majors like Exxon and Mobil. At the same time, however, the Dodd-Frank disclosure rules assume "African corruption" is the source of the problem, a phenomenon, as Obama implies, peculiar to these "young nations."

The U.S. and other Western countries readily condemn the supposed "lack of transparency" of African regimes. In reality, multinational corporations operating in Africa benefit from the weak regulatory infrastructure inherited from colonialism and reinforced by neoliberalism alike. Corruption on the part of local elites rationalizes international policies and regulations imposed on African states but camouflage ongoing exploitation and the legacy of those weak states.

"African corruption" rooted in siphoned oil wealth, for instance, has generated incessant handwringing by Western public officials and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Human Rights Watch, for example, launched a campaign in 2011 demanding the Angolan government provide an explanation for $32 billion suspected "missing" from the state oil company, Sonangol. Certainly Angolan government spending priorities have been dismal: its 2013 budget allocated 1.4 times more to defense than to health and schools combined. And undoubtedly African rulers and officials in oil-rich countries have accumulated vast amounts of wealth.

Yet the emphasis of international campaigns on "African corruption" and "transparency" initiatives have distorted possibilities for social change for ordinary Africans. Development economist Paul Collier, for example, offers a host of organizational and policy "solutions" such as reforming the tax system and building institutional capacity to manage the process.[1] However, the narrow focus of such policy approaches paper over the impact of historical forces such as the ability of African states to build that "capacity" and how that past has produced the conditions of "corruption."

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INHERITED LAWS and policies have facilitated the theft of tax revenues and outward capital flows, illicit and otherwise. Grieve Chelwa, a contributing editor at Africa Is a Country, for example, describes how Malawi:

has a 60-year old Colonial-era Tax Treaty with the U.K. that makes it easy for U.K. companies to limit their tax obligations in Malawi. The treaty was "negotiated" in 1955 when Malawi was not even Malawi yet. Malawi (or Nyasaland, as it was known then) was represented in the negotiations, not by a Malawian, but by Geoffrey Francis Taylor Colby, a U.K.-appointed Governor of Nyasaland.[2]

Other historical examples include the longstanding case of U.S. oil companies in Nigeria whose "anti-tax campaign contributed to the regional and ethnic tensions that led to the outbreak of [civil] war."[3] And African states--with a legacy of colonial-era development patterns--tend to have weak infrastructure to enforce compliance.

Nicholas Shaxson argues that the year 1996 marked a "turning point" inside the World Bank, when its president, James Wolfensohn, put the issue of corruption on the "development agenda."[4] Major organizations such as Global Witness established a transparency framework with early reports on human rights and blood diamonds, as well as the oil industry, and in 2002, they joined with George Soros to launch Publish What You Pay, a program to introduce legislation in Western nations compelling oil companies to disclose payments to host governments.

More recently, official circles have offered a broader understanding of "corruption" and its roots. A U.N. report from 2016 on governance and corruption in Africa argues:

Accounting for the external and transnational dimension of corruption in Africa facilitates strategic decision-making that is holistic and helps to tackle the problem of corruption at its root. Foreign multinational corporations often capitalize on weak institutional mechanisms in order to bribe State officials and gain unwarranted advantage to pay little or no taxes, exploit unfair sharing of rents, and to secure political privileges in State policies.[5]

They continue:

[A]nti-corruption projects and initiatives all focus on cleaning up corruption in the public sector, which is often regarded as incompetent, inefficient and corrupt, while the private sector is portrayed as efficient, reliable and less corrupt. This view has been influenced by neo-liberal economic perspectives, which argue that the private sector is the main engine of economic growth and perceive Governments as being obtrusive.[6]

This narrative shift is likely a response to the staggeringly high levels of corruption and criminality by Western and other non-African firms. In a high-profile example, the oil-services company Halliburton was convicted by a Nigerian court for corruption carried out while none other than former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was at the helm.[7] In a report on "cross-border corruption in Africa" between 1995 and 2014, virtually all cases (99.5 percent) involved non-African firms.[8]

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THE ECONOMIC and historical weight of the "weak institutional mechanisms"--from privatization and the disinvestment of state power--is extraordinarily high. For one, budget cuts undermine the ability of states to collect taxes and enforce compliance. As the Tax Justice Network-Africa writes:

[T]he Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) employs approximately 3,000 tax and customs officers to serve a population of 32 million. Meanwhile Nigeria, with its 5,000 tax officials, cannot engage in a meaningful tax dialogue with its 140 million citizens. The Netherlands, as an example of an [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] OECD country, employs 30,000 tax and customs officials for a population of 10 million...This extraordinary lack of personnel is a product of decades of failed tax policy in Africa, where the role of tax administrations was squeezed as part of austerity programs prescribed by the international finance institutions including the [International Monetary Fund].[9]

Khadija Sharife's investigative reporting describes the range of tactics built into extraction contracts as incentives to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), from tax dodges to "trade mispricing," that is, the manipulation of prices to avoid payment of taxes. In Africa's largest copper producer, Zambia,

[the] copper industry is largely privatized, previously hosting one of the world's lowest royalty rates (0.6 per cent) with a corporate tax rate of "effectively zero," according to the World Bank...Despite Zambia since increasing copper royalty rates to 3 per cent, after missing out on the five-year commodity boom, [former] Zambian President Rupiah Banda has ruled out windfall taxes and generally opposed measures designed to prevent mispricing and other forms of revenue leakages.[10]

In 2012 Charles Abugre writes in Pambazuka News that approximately 65 to 70 percent of the upwards of $1 trillion that have exited the continent in illicit capital flows are due to trade mispricing and other "commercial activities."[11] The Tax Justice Network-Africa has also noted that structural adjustment-dictated changes to African tax codes have facilitated corporate accumulation, eased tax rates for the export of primary commodities and set favorable tax rates for African elites.[12] As a result, the average tax revenues in African states, at approximately 15 percent of GDP, are significantly lower than in the world's wealthiest nations (OECD; average 35 percent) and the European Union in particular (39 percent of GDP).[13]

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SOME MULTINATIONALS adopt "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) measures enabling them to secure what Padraig Carmody has called a "social license to operate": a minimum level of consensus to pursue the extraction of profits.[14] "Today most western institutions are preaching the values of good governance and democracy," the Financial Times describes. "Turning a blind eye to corruption and the abuse of political power is a recipe for political instability."[15] Yet despite such "best practices," corporations routinely ignore any obligations, often without repercussions.

The distortions and hypocrisy of Western leaders is stunning with regards to the issue of "corruption." As Sharife and her co-authors describe in Tax Us If You Can:

Business concerns tend to dominate thinking about corruption. For example, Transparency international's Corruption Perceptions index (CPI) draws heavily on opinion within the international business community, who first raised the alarm about the perils of corruption. While the CPI provides an invaluable ranking for investors trying to assess country risk, it is of little use to the citizens of oil-rich states such as Chad, Equatorial Guinea or Angola, to know their country ranks low.[16]

Meanwhile, as Tom Burgis' account of Africa's "looting machine" shows, "blue-chip multinationals" such as KBR, Shell and Willbros are blatantly corrupt, for example, attempting to leverage the Nigerian oil industry through multimillion-dollar bribes.[17]

"Good governance" regulations are notoriously weak in their enforcement capabilities and may in fact smooth over any reputational problems for multinational corporations. For example, in 2008, the Ugandan government approved the National Oil and Gas Policy outlining objectives on environmental regulation and investment of revenue derived from extraction. Yet as Jason Hickel points out in 2011 in Foreign Policy in Focus:

[T]he National Oil and Gas Policy is dangerously vague and absolutely toothless. The framework does not bear the authority of law, and includes no mechanisms that would make its proposed regulations mandatory. Even if the framework's proposals were to end up as actual legislation, it includes nothing that oil companies would not ordinarily promote in their attempts to erect a façade of legitimacy and burnish the image of an industry beleaguered by PR nightmares. In fact, the framework pays far more attention to creating a favorable investment climate for foreign companies than it does to ensuring the welfare of Ugandans...[18]

African neoliberal leaders have also embraced this emphasis. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)--the African Union's "development" arm--focuses on "governance" for the implementation of "NEPAD priorities," to include, among other practices, "handling of misuse of resources" and for "public officials to commit themselves to codes of conduct that negates corruption."[19] Ironically, some studies have found an inverse relationship between governance measures and FDI.[20] Others have pointed out that there is no consistent relationship between such measures and actual growth. Yet the notion of "African corruption" persists despite the reality of widespread and established practices of illicit activity in the West, and, crucially, the contribution and culpability of Western corporations and governments to "African" corruption. Understanding this reality begins the process of challenging the "corruption" narrative...and its hypocrisy.

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Notes

1. Magnus Taylor, "Paul Collier: Can Africa harness its resources for development?" African Arguments, November 1, 2011
2. Grieve Chelwa, "It's the economy stupid, N°2," Africa Is a Country, February 21, 2016
3. Kairn A. Klieman, "U.S. Oil Companies, The Nigerian Civil War, and the Origins of Opacity in the Nigerian Oil Industry, 1964-1971," Journal of American History, vol. 99, no. 1, June 2012, pp. 155-165.
4. Nicholas Shaxson. 2008. Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
5. United Nations Economic Commission on Africa. 2016. African Governance Report IV. Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, p. ix
6. Ibid, p. 20
7. Jeffrey D. Sachs, "Nigeria Hurtles into a Tense Crossroad," The New York Times, January 10, 2012
8. United Nations Economic Commission on Africa. 2016. African Governance Report IV. Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, p. 69
9. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, p. 25
10. Khadija Sharife, "All Roads Lead Back to China," Pambazuka News, June 7, 2011
11. Charles Abugre, "Could abolishing tax havens solve Africa's financing needs?" Pambazuka News, Issue 579, March 29, 2012
12. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, p. 41
13. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, pp. 16-17
14. Padraig Carmody. 2011. The New Scramble for Africa. Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity, p. 79
15. "Chinese model is no panacea for Africa," Financial Times, February 6, 2007
16. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, p. 8
17. Tom Burgis. 2015. The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth. New York: PubicAffairs, p. 190
18. Jason Hickel, "Saving Uganda from Its Oil," Foreign Policy in Focus, June 16, 2011
19. United Nations Economic Commission on Africa. 2016. African Governance Report IV. Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, p. 14
20. Roger Southall and Henning Melber, "Conclusion: Towards a Response," in Roger Southall and Henning Melber, eds. 2009. A New Scramble for Africa?: Imperialism, Investment and Development. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, p. 411

First published at Review of African Political Economy.

Categories: Political Action

Don't spill Texas seed

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Cindy Beringer explains why a satirical bill in Texas may not be so satirical.

Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar

TEXAS LAWMAKERS who propose legislation restricting women's right to abortion could see their right to masturbate taken away--with a new bill that uses their own language against them.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar from Houston recently filed House Bill (HB) 4260, which would institute a $100 fine each time a man engages in masturbation, an act which extreme abortion opponents consider to be a crime against an unborn child and a failure to preserve the sanctity of life.

The bill also establishes a 24-hour waiting period for elective vasectomy or colonoscopy procedures or for Viagra prescriptions. A rectal exam must be performed before administering either procedure or prescribing Viagra--an exam that the bill acknowledges is medically unnecessary.

The other name for HB 4260 is "A Man's Right to Know," a title inspired by "A Woman's Right to Know," a booklet that Texas doctors are required by law to provide a patient seeking an abortion. In one section, the booklet for women lists "Breast Cancer Risk" as a potential danger of abortion, something that actual scientific research has debunked.

Farrar's bill requires a booklet for men similar to the women's booklet, and it "must contain artistic illustrations of each procedure."

According to the bill, the Texas Health Department must provide abstinence counseling, and doctors must champion "fully abstinent sexual relations or occasional masturbatory emissions inside health care and medial facilities, as a means of the healthiest way to ensure men's health."

As is the case with the anti-abortion regulations, according to the anti-masturbation bill, doctors have the right "to invoke their moralistic or religious beliefs in refusing to perform any elective procedures."

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ALTHOUGH MEMBERS of the media and Farrar refer to HB 4260 as satire intended to point out the insulting nature of Texas' abortion restrictions, there's much in the bill that's in line with the agenda of the rabid theocracy that has ruled over the state of Texas for many generations.

Students of theology have spent centuries pondering whether early Christian pundit Thomas Aquinas considered masturbation worse than rape or incest. The verdict is still out.

The crime of masturbation is codified in the book of Genesis. Onan had been ordered by Judah, the founder of the Israelite tribe of the same name, to impregnate Onan's brother's wife so his brother could have offspring. Knowing it wouldn't be his kid, Onan "wasted his seed on the ground."

This seed spilling was displeasing to God, so he zapped Onan, thus proving centuries before the appearance of Christ that masturbation was a deadly sin. Apparently extra-marital sex in the interest of child swapping is okay.

The Texas theocratic reign of terror has twisted ancient Biblical scriptures to stick their fingers into human sexual activity in many bizarre ways.

Before having an abortion, women in Texas must have a trans-vaginal ultrasound while they listen to the fetal heartbeat. A Texas judge recently blocked a rule that would require abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages. Both procedures are expensive, not to mention insulting.

An anti-abortion priority for the current session of the Texas legislature was removing "wrongful birth" as a justification for medical malpractice lawsuits. Wrongful birth refers to cases where doctors could be sued for malpractice if they fail to warn parents of a genetic disability before birth or fail to advise parents that abortion is an option in such cases.

Opponents of the bill say it gives doctors the right to lie to their patients and prevents them from making informed decisions.

The anti-abortion groups argue that the bill would prevent doctors' lying to their patients to avoid litigation The bill's author, Texas State Sen. Brandon Creighton, doesn't believe that any births are "wrongful."

The Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously passed the bill and sent it on for consideration by the full Senate.

Seven states have passed "wrongful birth" lawsuits. In Texas such lawsuits are extremely rare, "almost non-existent" according to one source.

Texas Senate Bill 415 targets second-trimester abortion procedures that anti-abortion forces call "dismemberment abortions." Lubbock Sen. Charles Perry argues that his bill doesn't ban the procedure, it just requires the fetus to be dead first. According to abortion rights advocates, the current procedure is the safest for the woman.

Meanwhile, with many issues including school funding and crumbling infrastructure facing the Texas legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick consume time on local media ranting and raving against abortion rights, transgender bathrooms and sanctuary cities.

Come to think of it, in light of the Texas legislature's current shenanigans, $100 fines for masturbation and mandatory rectal exams are beginning to sound quite reasonable.

Categories: Political Action

The "alternative facts" that led to war on Iraq

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Australian socialist Tom Bramble shows how the U.S. government and its allies used deliberate misinformation to make the case for war, in an article written for Red Flag.

George W. Bush speaks at the Pentagon flanked by Dick Cheney and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mike Mullen (left) (Marion Doss | flickr)

PRESIDENT TRUMP and his cronies are masters of "alternative facts." But they're not the first. Fifteen years ago, the offices of President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard ran a sustained propaganda campaign to justify the pending invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. They were assisted by compliant media that reported outright lies as unvarnished fact.

Now, thanks to the release of a highly redacted report written by a senior analyst in the Australian army, it's been confirmed that the case for war was a pack of lies from start to finish.

There were three components of the pro-war propaganda in the months leading up to the attack. One was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, and was ready to use them; it was only a matter of time, furthermore, before Iraq developed a nuclear capability. The second was that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was funneling assistance to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The third was that Iraq was flouting UN resolutions.

Originating mainly from the White House and 10 Downing Street, these arguments were eagerly picked up and run by Prime Minister Howard's government, the Murdoch press and large swathes of electronic media.

Even Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers, which gave more space to the antiwar case, did their bit. A Herald page-one headline in September 2002 read: "Saddam ready and able to strike. British PM claims Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes."

Despite this sustained propaganda offensive, most people were never won to the case for war. In January 2003, only 6 percent of Australians supported joining the invasion without UN backing. More impressive were the enormous antiwar rallies over the weekend of February 14-15, 2003, with 800,000 Australians turning out against the looming invasion, along with millions more in the rest of the world.

"No war for oil!" was our chant. For some, this meant that the war was solely about the U.S. stealing Iraq's oil and handing out "reconstruction" contracts to well-connected firms like Halliburton. Socialists argued that there was more to it than just outright theft; the attack on Iraq was driven by the United States' attempt to reinforce its hegemony not just in the Middle East but around the world.

By controlling the supply of oil from Iraq, one of the world's largest producers, the U.S. could gain leverage over established imperialist rivals in Europe as well as up-and-coming powers such as China, whose economies depended on Middle Eastern oil. It was about the U.S. using the one tool, military firepower, in which it had a distinct advantage over all its rivals, to show who was boss.

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WE DIDN'T stop the war. The result was perhaps even worse than we had anticipated. The attack on Iraq destroyed the lives of millions of people and fostered the regional chaos that has resulted in the growth of ISIS and the spread of sectarian warfare. And now, 14 years later, U.S., British and Australian armed forces are back in Iraq, while the occupation of Afghanistan grinds on.

But if we couldn't stop the war, our case against it has been proven in spades. It was a war justified by lies. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. No links with bin Laden were ever established. Hussein posed no threat to any of his neighbors, as U.S.-sponsored UN resolutions pretended. This has now been confirmed by countless inquiries, most recently the Chilcot Inquiry in Britain.

The recent release to the Fairfax press of a 572-page report by the Defence Directorate of Army Research and Analysis, written in 2011 and based on dozens of interviews with senior personnel in the military and with the benefit of full access to confidential documents, drives another nail into the coffin of the war propagandists. The author, Dr. Albert Palazzo, writes that the stated rationale for the war was nothing more than "mandatory rhetoric."

According to Palazzo, the main reason that Australia joined the U.S.'s "coalition of the willing" was to remind the U.S. of its value as a partner.

Palazzo argues that Australia's military contribution to the conduct of the war was negligible, a conscious decision by the Howard government and chief of the defense force, general Peter Cosgrove, who were acutely sensitive to the political unpopularity of Australia's involvement and anxious to minimize Australian casualties.

From the government's perspective, the deployment of Special Air Service Regiment and commandos, navy and air force was a political gesture aimed at reinforcing the U.S. alliance. Any military contribution these could make, Palazzo wrote, was "secondary to the vital requirement of just being there."

This report confirms that, far from the U.S. alliance "protecting Australia," it is the basis for Australia's involvement alongside the U.S. in bloody military conflicts all around the world. The main purpose of these interventions, invasions and occupations is to reinforce the power of the U.S. and its junior partners, both in the regions directly affected and on a world scale. The interests of Australian and U.S. civilians are irrelevant when the decision is taken to go to war.

But that fundamental truth can never be openly admitted. It must be covered up by a mountain of lies and obfuscation. That is the only way the system can work, based as it is on the rule of a tiny minority, the capitalist class, over the large majority, the working class.

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

One hundred years ago on March 14, 1917 (March 1 according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia), the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), supported by the Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries, issued an appeal to soldiers.

At that time, the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies were striving to bring order to the revolutionary events on the streets and to prevent the Tsarist autocracy from restoring its control over the city. Dominated by moderate socialists, the soviet pursued a policy of cooperation with liberals in the Duma.

Nonetheless, the Soviet's "Order No. 1," issued on March 14 (March 1) in response to soldiers' pressure and published on March 15 (March 2), called for soldiers to elect representative committees all along the chain of command, stipulated that officers treat soldiers respectfully, and asserted the soviet's primary influence over soldiers by stating that they should obey only Duma commands that did not contradict soviet resolutions.

The Duma Committee announced the formation of the Provisional Government on March 15 (March 2), and Nicholas II abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. By March 16 (March 3), the autocracy had collapsed. Thus, the ground had been prepared for the period of "dual power" in Petrograd--between the rival Duma and Provisional Government and the Petrograd soviet--that prevailed between the February and October Revolutions.

The Interdistrict Committee, co-authors of the appeal below, wanted to rally all the factions of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDLP), but later in 1917 fused with the Bolshevik current. Their leaflet here presented a militant alternative to the Duma Committee's course. According to historian Michael Melancon, it circulated on March 14 (March 1), 1917, probably before Order No. 1 was issued, and may have influenced the wording of Order No. 1. Alexander Shlyapnikov, who published the leaflet in 1923, states that the cxecutive committee of the Petersburg Soviet confiscated it on the morning of March 15 (March 2).

This leaflet was translated and the above annotation written by Barbara Allen, author of the biography Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. It is part of the an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

Russian soldiers celebrate the end of Tsarist rule following the February Revolution (Wikimedia Commons)

COMRADE SOLDIERS!

It has come to pass! You enslaved peasants and workers arose, and with a crash the autocratic government collapsed in disgrace.

Soldiers! The people were patient for a long time. The peasants long suffered under the power of the gentry landowners, the land captains, the district police officers and the whole gang of servants of the tsarist autocracy. Millions of peasants became swollen from hunger while the State Treasury, the monasteries and the landowners seized all the land, and while the nobles got fat from sucking the people's blood. Without land, the peasant cannot even put his chickens out to feed!

Brother soldiers!

As peasants, as workers, what do you need? All the land and full freedom--that is what you need! You did not shed your blood in vain. For two days Petrograd has been under the power of soldiers and workers. It has been two days since the dissolved State Duma elected a Provisional Committee, which it calls a Provisional Government. Still, you have not heard a word from [M.V.] Rodzianko [chair of the Duma] or [P.N.] Miliukov [Kadet Party leader and Provisional Committee spokesman] about whether the land will be taken from the gentry landowners and given to the people. The prospects are poor!

Soldiers! Be on your guard to prevent the nobles from deceiving the people!

What else to read

Read other leaflets, statements and documents from the Russian Revolution in this series titled "1917: The View from the Streets" edited by John Riddell.

Bolshevik leaflet
To the revolutionary students of Russia

Mezhraionka leaflet
The day of the people's wrath is near

Menshevik leaflet
Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace

Bolshevik leaflet
For a provisional revolutionary government

Mezhraionka leaflet
A day to prepare for conquering the enemy

Mezhraionka leaflet
For a general strike against autocracy

Mezhraionka leaflet
Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

Go ask the Duma: Will the people will have land, freedom, and peace?

Soldiers! Why does the Duma say nothing about this? Autocratic arbitrariness needs to be completely uprooted. The people's cause will perish unless we conclude the business by convening the Constituent Assembly, to which all peasants and all workers would send their deputies--not like in the current Duma, composed of the wealthy and highest ranks of society, which dooms the people's cause!

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TAKE POWER into your hands, so that this Romanov gang of nobles and officers does not deceive you. Elect your own platoon, company and regiment commanders. Elect company committees for managing food supplies. All officers should be under the supervision of these company committees.

Accept only those officers whom you know to be friends of the people.

Obey only delegates sent from the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!

Soldiers! Now, when you have arisen and achieved victory, those coming to join you include not only friends but also officers, who are former enemies and who only pretend to be your friends.

Soldiers! We are more afraid of the fox's tail [intrigues] than the wolf's tooth [outright aggression]. Only the workers and peasants are your true friends and brothers. Strengthen your unity with them! Send your delegate-representatives to the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, already supported by 250,000 workers in Petrograd alone. Your representatives and worker deputies should become the people's Provisional Revolutionary Government. It will give you both land and freedom!

Soldiers, listen to us! Demand an answer from the Duma right now. Will it take land from the gentry landowners, state treasury and monasteries? Will it transfer land to the peasants? Will it give the people complete freedom? Will it convene the Constituent Assembly? Don't waste time!

Soldiers! Talk about this in your companies and battalions! Hold meetings! Elect from among you commanders and representatives to the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

All land to the peasants!

All freedom to the people!

Long live the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!

Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP
Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries

March 1917

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Source: Published in Russian in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 306-308. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Michael Melancon, "From the Head of Zeus: The Petrograd Soviet's Rise and First Days, 27 February-2 March 1917," The Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies, The Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, November 2009, pp. 37-39. Melancon translates long excerpts from the leaflet.

-- Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 45-52, 101-102.

Historical Sources on the Mezhrayonka:
Here are some English-language articles on the Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), originator of this and several other leaflets in the "View from the Streets" series.

-- Melancon, Michael. "Who Wrote What and When: Proclamations of the February Revolution in Petrograd, 23 February-1 March 1917," Soviet Studies, volume 40 (1988), pp. 479-500.

-- White, James D. "The February Revolution and the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee (In Response to Michael Melancon)," Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 602-624.

-- Longley, D.A. "The Mezhraionka, the Bolsheviks, and International Women's Day: In Response to Michael Melancon," Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 625-645.

-- Thatcher, Ian D. "The St. Petersburg/Petrograd Mezhraionka, 1913-1917: The Rise and Fall of a Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party Unity Faction," The Slavonic and East European Review, volume 87, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 284-321.

A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.

Categories: Political Action

“Deep State” Paranoia

Democratic Convention Watch - Sun, 03/19/2017 - 17:24

In the past several weeks, we have heard ranting out of the White House about a “deep state” conspiracy to frustrate Donald Trump’s objectives.  It is only this current fact-free administration which could turn a well-understand aspect of the American government — mentioned in political science courses for over half a century — into a sinister conspiracy aimed at President Trump.  It’s no secret that bureaucracies across the world (not just in the U.S.) function in their own peculiar ways to keep the government functioning — even when elected officials would rather destroy the government.  There are, of course, some features that are driving the Trumpistas crazy.

  1.  The United States is not a dictatorship.  The jobs and duties of the various departments and agencies are defined by statutes and existing regulations.  Because there are grey areas in these statutes and regulations, the executive branch does have some discretion in interpreting them (as discussed regularly in the posts about legal issues).  However, the President can’t on his own enact new laws or repeal existing laws.  Thus, however, much a President might see a need for new revenues to balance the budget, he can’t simply order the Treasury Department to start collecting a new $1 per day tax on every hotel room in the country.  Similarly, the President can’t simply order the permanent resident status of a legal immigrant simply because that permanent resident posts a tweet criticizing the President.

2.  At the federal level, most individuals working for the federal government are careerists who have civil service protection.  Even for agencies that are exempt from civil service protection (which includes many state and city governments), there are First Amendment protections against discharge for political reasons.  Barring gross insubordination, these individuals can keep on doing their jobs as they understand their responsibilities.

3.  Most career civil servants identify with the mission of their department or agency.  It was not a shock that the organizations representing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol employees were sympathetic to Trump’s proposals to beef up border security and to step up deportation activity.   Similarly, you would expect that career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division believe in enforcing civil rights laws and that those working in the foreign service believe in diplomacy and the traditional foreign policy objectives of the U.S. government.  You may have some temporary influx of “rookies” when government changes hands that agree with the goals of the new administration.  In the long term, however, it is hard to stay in a job when you disagree with the basic goal of the job.  Additionally, many jobs in the federal government (e.g. EPA and the FDA) require a certain educational background.  Most rational persons do not choose their college majors or graduate/professional schools for the purpose of one day undermining a government department.

The combination of these three factors lead to the fact that most employees in most departments are going to keep plugging away under standard operating procedures.  Attorneys in the various parts of the Justice Department (and in the U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country) will keep on with their current investigations.  The new higher-ups may give specific directions of new matters that they want investigated or a shift in emphasis.  The new bosses may also compromise or settle pending cases on better terms for the other party than the careerists would like.   But an FDA person reviewing an application is not going to recommend approval of a new drug that does not meet the established standards for approval just because President Trump thinks those standards are too tough.  Similarly, an EPA analyst is not going to recommend that a toxic level of pollution be allowed just because Scott Price wants the EPA to look the other way.  This built in behavior is not a formal conspiracy.  It’s just the nature of the bureaucracy.   Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada almost certainly has similar problems with bureaucrats who resist new progressive policies in certain areas.

There are some additional factors that are probably causing Trump unending headaches.  First, as has been discussed multiple times over the years, the U.S. system of government is different from the way that parliamentary democracies work.  In a place like Canada or the United Kingdom, the “political spots” in the government are filled within the first week after the new government takes power (and any vacancies that arise are quickly filled).  In the U.S., the nomination and confirmation process takes an eternity and there is almost always a significant number of vacancies waiting to be filled.  If you haven’t appointed an Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, it is rather hard to implement changes to workplace safety.   When the low levels on the chain of command are empty, more issues rise to higher levels.   When you have an Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water in the EPA, that person can make sure that the senior careerists within that office are following the new policies.  (There will always be things happening at lower levels that may not float up to the Assistant Administrator, but it is much easier for the Assistant Administrator to get that part of the EPA in line than for the Administrator of the EPA to keep all of the units within the EPA following the preferred policies of the White House.)

Second, as noted above and previously, statutes establish programs and set standards for those programs.  As the Obama Administration learned repeatedly (and the Trump Administration is beginning to learn), parties that do not like how the Administration decides a certain issue can challenge those decisions in court.  In some areas, the law has enough give that the Administration has substantial discretion.  In other areas, the key question is one of fact and — once the facts are established — the Administration has very little discretion.   When any administration starts puts its own policy preferences over the facts and the law, the courts will side with those challenging those policies.

In short, whether through its own paranoia or unwillingness to admits its own flaws, the Trump Administration is seeing a conspiracy where none exists.  Instead, the judicial branch and the civil service is acting like they do with every administration.  But it’s much easier claiming that you are the victim of a conspiracy than admitting that the Trump White House is simply incompetent and “Not Ready for Prime Time.”

Categories: Political Action

Looking at Fractions within the Working Class

By Allison L. Hurst
Professor, Oregon State University
From the USW Blog

March 18, 2017 – This has been a rough year.  After the election, I reposted a few articles on my Facebook wall, as did so many of my friends, about the “working-class vote.”  Did the white working-class just elect Trump?  I didn’t think so, but I also understood that the world can look very different to a working-class person than it does to a middle-class one.  I knew this because I grew up poor, and it is a constant struggle speaking to both sides of my life, my past and my present, my mother and my colleagues.  My mother, let me point out, did not vote for Trump.  She thinks he’s a jackass.  Two of her sisters did, however.  I don’t know anyone else in my extended family who voted for him.  There were lots of Bernie supporters, not many Clinton supporters, and a whole bunch of abstainers.

A friend of mine from college, someone raised on the less wealthy spectrum of the educated middle class, took issue with even the idea of the “working class.” What was this really?  He knew a lot of blue-collar workers, plumbers, builders, who made a lot more money than he or his mother ever did.  I gave him the quick sociological explanations — it’s about power, not money, but his question remained with me.  Based on power at work, two-thirds of Americans can be classified as “working class” (see Michael Zweig’s excellent The Working-Class Majority).  That is a hell of a lot of people.  They don’t all think alike.  It struck me that sociologists, myself included, have spent untold ink arguing over the distinctions within the middle class (lower-middle, upper-middle, professional-managerial, those with economic capital vs. those with cultural capital, etc.) and where the line is between wherever this middle is and the top, and yet we have spent hardly any time  looking within the largest class of them all.

So, I pulled out the General Social Survey (GSS), which has been asking thousands of Americans every year or so all about their lives, political identifications, and voting patterns. I decided to see if there were differences within the working class based on type of working-class job, and not on education, race or  income level.  Working-class jobs are those with little autonomy and often involving the use of one’s body – to wield a hammer, carry a baby, deliver a package from Amazon, stand all day greeting customers.  These jobs are held by a very diverse group of people; there are more people of color in the working class than in the middle or upper class.  When I refer to “the working class,” I mean this whole diverse group, not only white male workers.

Let me give you a snapshot of five fractions of the working class: the Builders, the Makers, the Movers, the Clerks, and those who Serve (I call this category “CookCleanCare” to remind myself of the range of work within this fraction).  Builders most fit the stereotype of “the working class” (three-quarters are men, most are white, and many of them do wear hard hats at work), but it is only one fraction.  A more diverse lot are Makers, including assembly-line workers, tool-and-die makers, sewers, and cabinetmakers.  This is the fraction that has seen the largest influx of women in the past few decades, although still mostly male.  Movers include a wide array of transport jobs, from UPS drivers to ambulance drivers to long-haul truckers, also mostly men.  Most of those in the other two fractions are female. The CookCleanCare group includes those who prepare our food, clean our messes, and care for our children.  The Clerks are our growing retail worker category.  Back in the day being a clerk was seen as a move up, but today’s clerks are generally poorly paid and even less likely to hold a college degree than CookCleanCare workers (the most educated fraction).

Here are some other interesting differences between the fractions.  Builders are the most likely to be living in the same place where they grew up, Makers the least likely.  Movers are the most likely to identify themselves as “working class.”  Twice as many Builders as Makers think of themselves as “middle class.”  Makers, in contrast, are more likely than the others to think of themselves as “lower class.”  In terms of income, Builders make the most money, Movers the least.   If we looked only at white men in each of the fractions, we would find the most instances of sexism, nativism, and racism among the Makers, perhaps reflecting the fact that this group has seen the biggest changes over the past few decades.  But it is important to note that a greater proportion of rich white men and white male managers express racist views than any working-class fraction does.

During the past decade or two, ever since Reagan really, we have been hearing a lot about how “the working class” has turned its back on the Democratic Party.   But this is only true if we limit “the working class” to white men without college degrees.  If we include the whole of the working class, this claim is simply wrong.  According to my analysis of GSS data, there has never been a presidential election in which the majority of the working class voted for the Republican candidate.

If we look at the working class based on broad occupational categories rather than race or education, we get a very different picture from “the working class” that political pundits have been talking about.  We don’t yet have GSS data for the 2016 election, but figures from 2012 suggest the value of analyzing working-class voters based on their jobs rather than income or education.

This graph of voting patterns in the 2012 Presidential Election, arrayed by largest supporters of Obama from left to right, shows that while all occupational groups gave Obama a majority, two working-class fractions were at the polar ends of the spectrum. The Professional-Managerial Class fell near the middle.

Organizing the data by job categories also helps us understand that white working-class men don’t vote as a unified bloc. If we look only at white men, Obama’s lead lessens, with Romney winning slight majorities with Makers, Movers, and Clerks (not to mention lots of PMC support).  Why were white male Movers, Makers, and Clerks swayed by Romney while white male Builders and CookCleanCare were not?  For one thing, the Democratic Party may have forgotten Movers and Makers.  Women and people of color in these fractions may find other aspects of the Democratic party compelling, but white males less so.  All five fractions took an economic hit during the Recession and, unlike the PMC, none of them have recovered, as you can see from the chart below.  Makers even saw their wages decline before the recession hit.

This points to the second problem with the “working class voting against their class interests” narrative.  Neoliberalism has clearly not been working for many working-class people.  The outrageous vote for Trump may be less an appreciation of his qualities or a heeled response to his dog-whistles and more a giant “Fuck You!” to the establishment.  If we don’t figure out a way to provide security and prosperity for all, we might just get neither for any of us.

Class is a complicated construct.  Each fraction includes millions of workers, living in different parts of America, with different pasts, different futures, different understandings of how the world works. One way to gain deeper insight into the working class is to consider how major fractions within the working class respond to political appeals.  A call for massive infrastructure building, for example, is more likely to resonate with Builders, while a threat to cut the Department of Education may worry CookCleanCare members most.  It is also true that the nature of work changes, sometimes rapidly, as has been the case for many Makers and Clerks.  We owe the working class the respect of paying attention to which fractions are being mowed down on the front lines of neoliberalism.  It doesn’t seem like either major party has been doing a good job of this lately.

***

Reposted from Working-Class Perspectives.

Categories: Political Action

Brazil Proposes New Digital Copyright Rules for the WTO

Deep Links - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 20:29

Copyright rules don't belong in trade agreements—so where do they belong? For the most part, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is probably the right place; it's a fully multilateral body that devotes its entire attention to copyright, patent, and other so-called intellectual property (IP) rules, rather than including them as an afterthought in agreements that also deal with things like dairy products and rules of origin for yarn. Although we don't always like the rules that come out of WIPO, at least we can be heard there—and sometimes our participation makes a tangible difference. The landmark Marrakesh Treaty for blind, visually impaired and print disabled users provides a good example.

But there's another multilateral international body that can also lay claim to authority over international intellectual property rules—the World Trade Organization (WTO). When the WTO first covered copyright and patent rules in a dedicated agreement called TRIPS, it was decried by activists as being far too strict. Today, ironically, those same activists (even EFF) often tout TRIPS as a more appropriate baseline standard for global IP rules, in contrast to the stricter (or "TRIPS-plus") rules demanded for inclusion in preferential trade agreements such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

For those who believe in linking copyright and trade, the WTO is an obvious candidate to fill the vacuum left by the TPP's recent demise. At the most recent session of the WTO's TRIPS Council on March 1 and 2, Brazil circulated a paper [PDF] titled "Electronic Commerce and Copyright" to address issues around trade in copyright works in the digital age. This document didn't come out of the blue; it draws strongly upon an earlier discussion paper, also addressing the challenges of copyright in the digital environment, that Brazil and others in its GRULAC (Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries) group introduced at WIPO in 2015.

Brazil's latest paper highlights three issues around electronic commerce and copyright that it believes belong on the WTO's agenda; not as the basis for a binding treaty, but for discussion and informal coordinated action by member states. These are:

  1. Transparency While copyright holder groups complain that Internet platforms don't pay enough for streaming copyright content (a so-called "value gap"), a big part of the perceived problem is that it's difficult for the creators of that content to know where the money is going. The music industry, in particular, is notorious for the opacity of the payment arrangements between intermediaries and creators such as songwriters and performers. Brazil identifies the need to improve the transparency of these payments, although it doesn't go into detail about how this should be accomplished. When EFF brought musician and entrepreneur Imogen Heap to WIPO, she explained the potential for blockchain technology to provide this much-needed transparency. But rather than invest in exploring this or other transparency initiatives, big media has continued to devote most of its attention to a failing war on piracy.
  2. Balance of rights and obligations The paper correctly identifies the need to maintain balance between the interests of copyright holders and those of users of copyright works, as technologies change and new ways of using such works emerge. But the paper goes off the rails when it suggests that it may be unlawful under the WTO's three-step test for countries to allow users to bypass DRM on copyright works, on the grounds that DRM is "essential for the normal exploitation of works in e-trade." Although we support the paper's bottom-line conclusion that "WTO Members should unequivocally assert the principle that exceptions and limitations available in physical formats should also be made available in the digital environment," we don't think this precludes rolling back penalties for the circumvention of DRM. On the contrary, circumvention is often the only way for users to gain access to content on the devices of their choice, and is imperative for preservation, archival, and reuse of such content.
  3. Territoriality of copyright The final issue addressed in Brazil's paper is the most fundamental one: the disconnect between the global nature of the Internet, and the territorial status of national copyright systems. The problem that Brazil identifies is that by using international credit cards, users can gain access to content through overseas content platforms, and thereby circumvent services based in their own home countries, which are subject to that country's copyright rules. It proposes that "Member states should make their best efforts to make their national copyright legislation applicable to trade relations where content is accessed from within their national borders." But if this means blocking or banning users from accessing overseas content services, we have serious concerns. Such measures are entirely unnecessary anyway, as the world already has a common set of copyright rules as standards for global trade—that's exactly what the WTO TRIPS agreement provides. Brazil hasn't made out a case for more.

So far, other WTO members have shown little appetite for the WTO to undertake new work on copyright rules, with the knowledge that such negotiations would be highly contentious. (This is also why Brazil has chosen to describe it as an "electronic commerce" proposal rather than as an "intellectual property" proposal.) However, the promulgation of "soft law" standards on copyright protection under the aegis of the WTO is a more tenable proposition, and Brazil's aim with this paper is to seed that process. That's why it's important to keep a watchful eye even on non-normative documents such as these, to ensure that if the WTO does take any new measures on global copyright rules, users' rights are preserved.


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Categories: Political Action

If the Government Can't Get Domain Seizures Right, Why Would Big Pharma Do Better?

Deep Links - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 19:09

So far we've seen no response from the Domain Name Association (DNA) to our criticisms from earlier this month about its self-styled Registry/Registrar Healthy Practices [PDF]. Part of its plan is that domain registries ought to yank online pharmacy domains from the Internet without due process on Big Pharma's say-so.

But an interesting new data point about the wisdom of such a policy emerged this week. It has been reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the United States Department of Homeland Security, had seized the domain vicodin.com, named after a common prescription pain medication. The problem? That domain actually belongs to the manufacturer and registered trademark holder for Vicodin. In other words, it seems that the domain should never have been seized.

We've never been fans of the ICE's domain name seizures. They have been used to violate free speech rights, without any meaningful opportunity for the owner or users of the domain to be heard before the domain is seized. But at least such seizures are issued under a warrant issued by a United States District Court judge, and there is a mechanism of redress (however slow and inconvenient) when a domain is seized wrongfully. That's what happened to the music blog Dajaz1, whose domain was seized by ICE and kept offline for over a year while the recording industry tried and failed to come up with evidence of copyright infringement. And it's what apparently happened today to vicodin.com

If responsibility for the seizure of domain names passes to domain name registries or registrars, at the direction of Big Pharma—as the DNA proposes—all bets are off. We can well imagine that if the DNA's proposal is accepted as an industry-wide practice the number of mistaken domain name seizures will skyrocket, and that its victims will have even less recourse than they have against an ICE seizure.

It's not just pharmacy domains that are at risk. Under a private policy of the registry operator Donuts, an architect of the Healthy Domains Initiative, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has similar powers as Big Pharma to call for the deletion or transfer of domain names that are alleged to host copyright-infringing material. Although EFF was able to defeat a proposal to make a similar policy into an industry-wide practice, we doubt we'll have heard the last of it. 

Domain Name Regulator ICANN met with its community this week in Copenhagen. Big Pharma and Big Content lobbyists were among those who descended on the gathering, to promote their vision of private Internet content enforcement through the domain name system; a privatized SOPA, if you will. So far, ICANN has resisted accepting any such enforcement role, and rightly so. Today's reminder that even the U.S. government can't get this method of enforcement right should send a further note of caution about this misguided approach.


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Categories: Political Action

Thousands join 'Congressional Stakeouts to Save Health Care' nationwide

Move On - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:07

This week, MoveOn.org members and other constituents staged 12-hour “Stakeouts to Save our Healthcare” outside the offices of 32 GOP Senators and Representatives.

“We are seeing unprecedented public opposition to the GOP’s ‘TrumpCare’ plan. It is an unmitigated disaster that would take health care away from millions of people, cost thousands more for middle-class and low-income Americans, all while giving a major tax break to health care CEO’s and the wealthiest Americans. Every estimate and analysis of the legislation shows it will cost more and cover fewer people.  Across the country, we are seeing people speak out against this potential health care disaster—and it’s having an impact.” –MoveOn.org Washington Director Ben Wikler

Here’s a quick look at some of the Congressional stakeout events:

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Vulnerable California Republicans find themselves at center of health care bill persuasion efforts

Seven California Republicans are among the 23 Republicans nationwide who represent House districts that chose Hillary Clinton for president. Now they find themselves at the center of the debate over the proposed House GOP health care bill.

And MoveOn.org is holding day-long healthcare “stakeouts” outside 23 House offices and nine Senate offices Thursday and Friday. They’ll feature constituents chanting and telling healthcare stories. The seven California Republican-led districts that went for Clinton are all on Moveon.org’s list.

THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER: ‘MoveOn.org and others to demonstrate outside Sen. Rob Portman’s Cleveland office over health care’

MoveOn.org Organizing Director Victoria Kaplan told The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “By holding vigil outside the offices of key Republicans who hold the decisive votes on ‘TrumpCare,’ MoveOn members will ensure that anyone coming in or out of the office – staff, visitors, and the members of Congress themselves – will face their constituents and hear our health care stories, our songs, our hopes, our anger, and our cheer,.

THV11 News (LITTLE ROCK):  Groups stake out in front of Sen. Cotton’s office to oppose new health care plan

Local MoveOn member Margaret Cameron told TH11 that: “This takes time, months years. I mean come on give us a break. Anyway they just started Obamacare, now we know what we can fix, go to that. Don’t just wipe out all the health care, it’s just it’s absurd.”

KTUU News (ANCHORAGE): MoveOn members urge Sen. Murkowski to reject the Republican health care plan

Activist Joni Bruner told KTUU News, “We’re trying to bring attention to Murkowski’s office. She’s one of the senators that can make a difference, and we’re hoping she will do the right thing and stand with the people that voted her in.”

Other notable actions include:

  • In Nevada, MoveOn members and local community leaders held stakeouts outside of Senator Dean Heller’s Las Vegas and Reno district offices. [The Las Vegas Sun, FOX5 News, and KOH Local News]
  • In Colorado, MoveOn members and local community leaders held stakeouts outside of Senator Cory Gardner’s Denver district office. [KMGH News]
  • In Maine, MoveOn members and local community leaders held stakeouts outside of Senator Susan Collins’ Portland district office. [WAGM News and WLBZ News]
  • In Arizona, MoveOn members and local community leaders held stakeouts outside of Senator Jeff Flake’s Phoenix district office. [KNXV News]
  • In Louisiana, MoveOn members and local community leaders held stakeouts outside of Senator Bill Cassidy’s Metairie district office. [BayouBuzz]
Categories: Political Action

EFF, ACLU, and 45 Civil Rights, Immigration, and Health Advocacy Organizations Oppose AB 165, a California Bill Stripping Students and Teachers of Basic Privacy Protections

Deep Links - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 16:42
“Californians cannot afford to go back to the digital dark ages,” groups warn.

EFF and a diverse coalition of advocacy groups sent a letter to the California legislature urging elected officials to oppose A,B, 165. This bill would roll back privacy protections for students and teachers by exempting California public schools from the prohibition on warrantless digital searches lawmakers enacted two years ago. 

The letter calls for the legislature to protect the legal rights of the 6-million Californians who study and work in public schools. Signers included Transgender Law Center, Courage Campaign, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Health Connected, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the American Library Association, and many others. 

This attempt to strip away privacy protections comes during a tumultuous political moment in American history, where many political activists, immigrant families, and LGBTQ Americans are rightly fearful of federal policies that endanger their safety, privacy, and other civil liberties. The coalition letter called out these concerns specifically: 

"Students or staff from Muslim or immigrant communities are rightly concerned that they or their family members and friends would be at risk if their digital information were wrongfully obtained and misused. Half of California students have at least one immigrant parent – and more than half of these parents are not citizens. Members of the school community may fear reprisal for participating in online or real-world social or political activism that their school’s administration may not support. LGBTQ students or staff may have concerns about their personal and professional relationships and even their safety. And youth who live in poverty, for whom their cell phone may be their primary or only means of accessing the Internet and thus seeking information about health, sexuality, or other sensitive topics, are vulnerable to even greater exposure of their personal lives than other students with greater access to technology in the home."

Read the full letter. 

EFF urges concerned Californians to speak out against A.B. 165. If you live in California, please contact your elected officials today. 

And if you are a student or teacher who has witnessed a device search by a school official in California, please tell us about it

Not in California? You can still help by sharing this post on social media.

Speak out.


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Categories: Political Action

One Step Closer to Reclaiming University Innovation From Trolls

Deep Links - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 13:16

Last year, EFF, along with our partner organizations, launched Reclaim Invention, a campaign to encourage universities across the country to commit to adopting patent policies that advance the public good. Reclaim Invention asks universities to focus on by bringing their inventions to the public, rather than selling or licensing them to patent assertion entities whose sole business model is threatening other innovators with patent lawsuits.

Now, thanks to Maryland State Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher, the project is taking a step forward. In February, Delegate Waldstreicher introduced H.B. 1357, a bill modeled on Reclaim Invention’s draft legislation, the Reclaim Invention Act.

Like the Reclaim Invention Act, H.B. 1357 would require Maryland state universities to adopt policies for technology transfer that commit them to managing their patent portfolio in the public interest, and outlines what that policy should include. The bill would also void any agreement by the university to license or transfer a patent to a patent assertion entity (or patent troll).

At a hearing earlier this month, the Maryland Assembly’s House Appropriations Committee heard testimony in support of the bill from Delegate Waldstrecher, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)’s James Love, and data scientist Adam Kreisberg.  As KEI’s James Love explained, the bill would allow universities to continue to license or assign patent rights to companies, but would prohibit them from assigning patents “to organizations who are just suing people for infringement.” According to Love, when it comes to public universities, "you don’t want public sector patents to be used in a way that's a weapon against the public.”

EFF, with Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, and KEI [.pdf], and Yarden Katz, Fellow in Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School [.pdf] also submitted written testimony supporting the bill. Katz, who studies "the impact of commercialization on scientific research,” explains: 

[r]esearch has shown that university patents, including those produced by public universities, can end up in the hands of NPRs. For instance, as of 2016, the notorious NPA ‘Intellectual Ventures’ had nearly 500 patents that originated from American universities in its portfolio…including some from the University of Maryland.

If the Maryland legislature passes the bill, Katz states it would “set an example for other states by adopting a framework for academic research that puts public interests front and center.”

If you’re in Maryland you can urge your lawmakers to defend innovation and pass H.B. 1357.

Tell your state lawmakers: keep university patents away from trolls.

If you’re not in Maryland, you can take action to encourage your university to sign the Public Interest Patent Pledge and urge your state lawmakers to keep university patents out of the hands of trolls.


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Categories: Political Action

NEO AFSC March 17, 2017 Podcast

American Friends Service Committee - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 12:55
March17PodcastFinalForWeb.mp3

We summarize last week’s activities; share next week’s upcoming events; and comment on President Trump's proposed 2018 federal budget and interview Leah Davis, Northeast Ohio AFSC's Program Assistant for the past 9 years. [Length: 47:57]

Categories: Political Action

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