Political Action

Is Re-negotiating NAFTA Opening Pandora’s Box?

Creative Commons - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 16:56
Without a refocus on user rights, transparency, and meaningful public input, the agreement will become a bonanza for copyright maximalists

This week Creative Commons submitted comments to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) regarding negotiating objectives for the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

NAFTA is the controversial trade pact between Canada, Mexico, and the United States that went into effect in 1994. It aims to eliminate barriers to trade and investment in a variety of sectors including goods and textiles, agricultural products, and petrochemicals. NAFTA also attempts to protect intellectual property by including provisions to enforce copyrights, trademarks, patents, and similar rights. The Trump administration has officially notified Congress of its intent to negotiate changes to the agreement. Last month USTR opened a formal request for comments regarding the objectives for updating NAFTA.

Copyright is global, and held by nearly every single person in the world, enabled by today’s online services and the ubiquity of technology to create new works. With that in mind, copyright laws rightly belong in international agreements, negotiated and debated in public fora, and should consider everyday citizens’ needs and uses along with those of industry and professional creators. Still, governments never seem to miss an opportunity to add additional terms to individual side agreements, ratcheting up restrictions and making a confusing, secretive mess for users.

We urged USTR to ensure that the copyright provisions in NAFTA should not be expanded to create new (and likely more onerous) rules than those that already exist in the agreement. If the copyright provisions must be reconsidered, a negotiating objective should at a minimum be to advocate for stronger protections for copyright limitations and exceptions; user rights should be granted a mandatory and enforceable standing alongside the rights of authors. In addition, the negotiations should be made through procedures that are transparent to the public and which include all stakeholders, especially the public.


NAFTA uses as its baseline existing and widely agreed upon international copyright treaties, which already contain extensive requirements that ensure the protection and enforcement of copyright and related rights. Therefore, the NAFTA copyright provisions should not be expanded to create new rules than those that already exist in the agreement. The recent negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) showed that when intellectual property is put on the table, there’s a significant push to drastically increase enforcement measures for rights holders, lengthen copyright terms, and demand harsh infringement penalties. Despite the various international agreements that aim to harmonize copyright, individual nations continue to use multilateral trade pacts as an opportunity to add increasingly onerous requirements and further lock up copyrighted works. This kind of venue shopping harms the commons and users by creating a “ladder effect”: increased IP protections are negotiated between a few countries, and then used to pressure other nations to adopt, rather than conducting a fair, public, and international discussion. While the demands of rights holders are addressed, there’s little consideration given to the rights of the public. Limitations and exceptions to copyright are downplayed, or not present at all.

It’s crucial that these rights be recognized and protected, as digital technology and the web has turned everyone with a digital footprint into a copyright user (and content creator) on a daily basis. Protecting and promoting these user rights support not only freedom of speech and access to information, but also educational activities, creative remix, and innovation. Re-negotiating the NAFTA provisions having to do with copyright would do more harm than good if there’s not a significant shift in the balance in favor of the rights for users and the public to reflect the reality of today’s digital users. If the copyright provisions will be reconsidered, a negotiating objective should be to advocate for stronger protections for copyright limitations and exceptions, and to endorse the expansion of a flexible exception such as fair use. User rights should be recognized as a legitimate and productive aspect of the copyright environment, and granted a mandatory and enforceable standing alongside the rights of authors.

Transparency and public participation in negotiations

It’s imperative that NAFTA negotiations be transparent and participatory. The secrecy demonstrated in the recent negotiation of the TPP left civil society organizations like Creative Commons and the broader public at an extreme disadvantage, as only a privileged few stakeholders invited into the closed negotiation circle have had their interests fully considered.

The NAFTA negotiations should be made through procedures that are transparent to the public and which include all stakeholders. Increased transparency and meaningful public participation will lead to better outcomes. We agree with the specific and actionable recommendations put forward by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and OpenTheGovernment.org to improve the transparency of U.S. trade negotiations and their accessibility to a diverse range of stakeholders. These recommendations urge USTR to:

  1. Publish U.S. textual proposals on rules in ongoing international trade negotiations
  2. Publish consolidated texts after each round of ongoing negotiations
  3. Appoint a “transparency officer” who does not have structural conflicts of interest in promoting transparency at the agency
  4. Open up textual proposals to a notice and comment and public hearing process
  5. Make Trade Advisory Committees more broadly inclusive

Now USTR will evaluate the extensive feedback on NAFTA negotiating objectives (over 12,000 comments have been submitted). Canada has already opened a similar public consultation, and it’s expected that Mexico will do the same. It’s a fair question whether these sweeping agreements can actually promote trade and economic activity that is beneficial to a majority of citizens as opposed to a few powerful multinational corporations. But assuming we’re going down this path again, it’s important that negotiators rethink the copyright provisions to protect users and the public good. And it’s absolutely crucial that negotiators lift the un-democratic and counterproductive secrecy that has pervaded most of the recent discussions.

The post Is Re-negotiating NAFTA Opening Pandora’s Box? appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

In response to EFF lawsuit, DOJ releases 18 new opinions of the FISC concerning Section 702

Deep Links - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 14:34

Last night, the Department of Justice produced eighteen previously secret opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The opinions all relate to Section 702, the warrantless surveillance authority scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. The opinions were disclosed as a result of a FOIA lawsuit EFF filed last year.

We're still working through the documents, but from our review, we know that two opinions relate to a provider challenge to a 702 directive in 2014. The provider challenged the legality of Section 702 surveillance, as well as the government's refusal to provide it access to other FISC opinions cited in the government's legal briefs. Although the primary ground for the provider challenge is redacted, the FISC ultimately upheld Section 702, and ordered the provider to comply.

These opinions also provide important context about the operation of Section 702 and the FISC's oversight. And they show that 702 is a law in need of reform. The opinions show that, almost from the outset of the law in 2008, the intelligence community has overstepped the court-imposed legal restrictions on the operation of the surveillance. Most of the documents tell a story of the IC overstepping boundaries, getting reprimanded by the FISC, but nevertheless being allowed to continue and even expand surveillance under the law. 

We expect to have more to say about the documents in the days to follow. 

The opinions have been published on DocumentCloud. We have also made a .zip file of the PDFs available for download. 

Categories: Political Action

How our protests won marriage equality

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 01:00

Keegan O'Brien explains how an upsurge of activism led to a sea change in public opinion--and a victory for civil rights that had seemed distant just a few years earlier.

More than 200,000 people raised their voices for LGBT equality (Kit Lyons)

GAY MARRIAGE leads to "the deterioration of marriage and the family" and "societal collapse." Keeping same-sex couples from marrying isn't discrimination, but simply enforcing "God's idea." These are just a few of the ugly statements by Vice President and religious bigot Mike Pence about marriage equality.

And it doesn't stop there. In 2015, Trump's second-hand man signed a "religious freedom" law as governor of Indiana that gave permission to businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

During his short time in office, Trump came close to implementing a similar executive order, but he was forced to back down after a series of humiliating defeats on other issues and pressure from LGBTQ organizations.

With Trump and Pence controlling the White House and a Republican majority in Congress, it's understandable that millions of LGBTQ people, their family, friends and supporters are fearful that rights won in recent years will be rolled back.

There's no predicting what will happen in the next four years, but with LGBTQ rights under threat in the Trump era, it's important to look back at how marriage equality was won--and generalize the lessons for the struggles ahead.

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IT'S HARD to overstate how profoundly social attitudes and legal rights for LGBTQ people in the U.S. have advanced in the past 20 years. In order to understand where we've come from and how we've gotten here, some history is in order.

In 1992, in response to pressure from the gay and lesbian movement and AIDS activists, Democratic President Bill Clinton ran on a platform of supporting gay rights. But on February 1994, only a year into his first term, Clinton turned his back on the LGBT community and caved to the religious right, instituting the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from coming out in the country's largest employer.

Then, in September 1996, in response to a ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court opening the door to legalizing same-sex marriage, Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and women. DOMA also allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage granted in other states. It passed the House and Senate by veto-proof, bipartisan majorities.

The LGBTQ movement encountered major setbacks in the 1990s with these policies and laws that were supported by a supposed Democratic "ally."

But important social and cultural shifts were underway during the late 1990s and early 2000s that couldn't be reversed: More people, especially millennials, were coming out. As time went on and more and more Americans now knew someone who was LGBT, the future of discriminatory laws became more and more untenable.

On November 18, 2003, history was made when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage.

In the case of Goodridge v. Health Department, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry. The court's ruling stated in unambiguous terms that separate was not equal:

The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens...We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.

Despite attempts to delay implementation of the ruling by anti-gay Republican Gov. Mitt Romney--later the Republican candidate for president--and homophobic state legislators of both parties, the movement beat the bigots. On May 17, 2004 the first marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Massachusetts.

Over time, more people realized that far from leading to "societal collapse," marriage equality was a guarantee of basic civil rights.

The victory in Massachusetts inspired a wave of protests for marriage equality in towns and cities across the country.

In San Francisco, thousands of couples lined up for marriage licenses when Mayor Gavin Newsom defied California's discriminatory state law banning gay marriage and ordered the county clerk's office to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples. This continued until the state Supreme Court stepped in.

But beyond exceptions like Newsom, the Democratic Party worked to shut down the new movement for same-sex marriage. Marriage equality activists were accused of being divisive and told to get behind John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2004, despite the fact that Kerry opposed marriage equality.

The best known openly gay member of Congress, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, told couples in San Francisco that the "timing wasn't right." "When you're in a real struggle, San Francisco making a symbolic point becomes a diversion," he lectured.

Not only did Kerry lose to Bush in the 2004 election, but 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in that vote, taking the total number of states with anti-gay marriage laws to 38. Once again, the strategy of relying on the Democratic Party proved to be an enormous failure.

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FOUR YEARS later, the fight for marriage equality entered a new phase.

In June 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling and legalized same-sex marriage. Thousands of couples began receiving marriage licenses.

But the victory was short-lived. On Election Night in November, as the country was celebrating the election of the first African American president, Californians learned that Proposition 8, a ballot measure funded by the Religious Right and Mormon Church, had passed, overturning the state Supreme Court ruling and once again banning same-sex marriage.

This time, though, the response was immediate and overwhelming. Starting on Election Night itself, hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands poured into the streets in cities across California and around the country for the largest protests for marriage equality yet.

Young LGBTQ activists new to took the lead, and the movement spread largely through the Internet. Generation Stonewall 2.0 took matters into their own hands, motivated by the gap between increasing social acceptance of LGBTQ people on the one hand and the persistence of legal discrimination on the other.

In the face of spreading protests, Barack Obama came out against Prop 8, but maintained his shameful opposition to gay marriage. Obama, the son of an interracial couple, hypocritically declared that marriage was a "state's rights" issue, using the same rhetoric once spouted by segregationists to oppose civil rights for African Americans.

The established LGBT organizations were ill-equipped to respond to the task at hand--and caught completely caught off guard by the outpouring of protests against Prop 8. To fill the vacuum, new activist groups emerged, like Join the Impact, and became centers of grassroots organizing where new people could plug into the movement and participate in democratic debates and discussions about its direction.

The wave of protests built and built, culminating in the call by veteran LGBT activist and union organizer Cleve Jones and others for the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., on October 11, 2009.

Organized by the new generation of activists and on a shoestring budget, the march drew over 250,000 people to the first national demonstration for LGBT rights in over 15 years. Organizers intentionally broke from Gay Inc.'s myopic politics and emphasized the importance of solidarity, incorporating a wide spectrum of LGBT issues, including transgender rights, into the March's platform.

That platform came down to a simple demand: fully LGBT equality now!

Speakers were a diverse group, including the parents of murder victim Matthew Shepard, same-sex couples, undocumented immigrants, union militants, queer and trans activists of color, youth organizers, open socialists, Broadway performers, poets and artists, and, yes, even Lady Gaga.

The call for the repeal of Prop 8 was in the spotlight, but marchers challenged "don't ask, don't tell and DOMA as well and called for federal protections in employment and housing and full equality for trans people.

Only at the last minute, when it became clear that the march was gaining momentum, did mainstream LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force sign on to endorse the march, after initially opposing it.

But Barney Frank showed his disdain for grassroots activism yet again, lecturing that the National Equality March would be a "waste of time at best" that would little to make change. "The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," Frank smirked. History proved him wrong.

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THE LEVEL of protests as well as grassroots organizations ebbed in the following years. The movement became dominated by a legalistic strategy that emphasized court battles over bottom-up organizing. But the eruption of anger after Prop 8 leading to the National Equality March marked a turning point in the battle for marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Over the next six years, the victories rolled in as laws codifying discrimination and second-class citizenship were torn down.

In September 2011, Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell." In June 2013, in the landmark United States v. Windsor case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled DOMA was unconstitutional.

Between 2008 and 2012, seven states legalized gay marriage; in 2013, eight more were added their names to the list; and in 2014, 19 joined the ranks. By 2015, there were 37 states--three quarters of the total, accounting the vast majority of the U.S. population--where same-sex marriage was legal. In October 2012, responding to the accumulated pressure, Obama reversed himself to become the first sitting president to come out for marriage equality.

Then, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the 14th Amendment. Gay marriage became law of the land in all 50 states.

In the matter of ten years, same-sex marriage went from being a "wedge issue" that the right wing could count on to mobilize their base and win referendum victories to a widely supported civil right--because an ascending movement flipped public opinion, secured legal victories and forced Republican and Democratic politicians alike to change their tune.

The demonstrations after Prop 8, leading to the National Equality March, were central to breaking the debate about marriage equality out of the confines of a narrow state-by-state issue and into the national arena. Protest gave confidence and momentum to legal battles by challenging and changing public opinion until marriage equality was the majority opinion.

This sea change in popular consciousness put pressure on politicians and judges, altering altered the landscape in which legal campaigns were taking place.

Court battles were important to winning marriage equality, but it was the pressure from below, created by masses of ordinary people participating in a grassroots movement, that drove the struggle forward to victory.

That's the lesson to take with us in the struggles ahead as we tell Trump and his legion of bigots and reactionaries that we won't go back.

Categories: Political Action

How free is "free" labor?

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 01:00

In the latest installment of our User's Guide to Marxism series, Leela Yellesetty explains why exploitation is the secret behind the inequality built into capitalism.

RECENT ARTICLES in the New York Times and elsewhere have highlighted the spread of so-called "noncompete clauses" in employment contracts.

While such clauses have long been commonplace for executives or highly paid professionals-- and justified by companies as a means of protecting trade secrets or market share--they are increasingly being demanded of even low-wage, blue-collar workers.

According to a recent University of Maryland study, about one in five workers are bound by noncompete clauses, and 42 percent of workers have signed one at some point in their working lives.

These clauses have rightfully come under fire for essentially trapping workers in their current jobs--and leaving them with little leverage to demand better wages and working conditions, since they couldn't find another job if they left. For employees with a skill set for, or experience in, a certain field or industry, this could be crippling to their career trajectory. For low-wage workers, it could mean a lack of any job opportunities at all.

Take, for instance, the agreement that Amazon makes their warehouse employees sign: "During employment and for 18 months after the separation date, employee will not...engage in or support the development, manufacture, marketing or sale of any product or service that competes or is intended to compete with any product or service sold, offered or otherwise provided by Amazon."

Given that Amazon sells practically everything, this would seem to effectively bar any employment for 18 months.

Often, these provisions don't stand up to legal challenge--the sandwich chain Jimmy John's, for instance, was forced to remove clauses barring workers from taking jobs at any other sandwich shop for two years after a lawsuit. In other cases, employers have successfully sued to prevent workers from leaving to go to a competitor.

As there are no federal regulations about noncompete clauses, enforcement varies from state to state.

Enforced or not, in the context of an economy in which the majority of workers are struggling to get by, many feel they have no choice but to sign whatever terms an employer demands--out of fear of losing their livelihoods if they challenge these provisions.

Connecting this issue to trends in health care coverage--which, since it is tied to employment for many workers, is also a means of keeping workers stuck in their jobs--New York Times columnist Paul Krugman observed:

You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters' land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry "freedom" the loudest.

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FOR CRITICS like Krugman, the solution lies in enacting progressive policies and reining in the worst excesses of employers, to the extent that they infringe on the free workings of the market. But for socialists, the problem--and the solution--goes much deeper.

Proponents of capitalism often claim that this is the ultimate expression of freedom: Workers and employers are free to enter into contracts for their mutual benefit. Yet even Adam Smith, one of capitalism's early theoriests, acknowledged that employers have a built-in interest in limiting that freedom:

What are the common wages of labor depends everywhere upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little, as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower, the wages of labor.

It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of these two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms...A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without employment. In the long run, the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.

Karl Marx--who studied the work of Smith far more closely than many modern-day libertarians seem to have--argued that the apparently "free" market masked a hidden coercion.

In the first place, capitalism depends on one group of people that owns the means of production--factories, offices, machinery, raw materials, etc.--and another, much larger group that owns none of these, and must go to work for the smaller group to survive.

In this way, Marx argued that workers are free in a "double sense"--free to work or free to starve. As he wrote in Wage Labor and Capital:

The worker leaves the capitalist, to whom he has sold himself, as often as he chooses, and the capitalist discharges him as often as he sees fit, as soon as he no longer gets any use, or not the required use, out of him. But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labor-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers, i.e., the capitalist class, unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist, but to the capitalist class; and it is for him to find his man--i.e., to find a buyer in this capitalist class.

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THERE IS nothing natural about how this state of affairs came about. It was the result of a long and violent campaign of forced expulsions of peasants from the land in Europe and the conquest and enslavement of millions in the colonized world. As Marx put it, "[C]apital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt."

Marx further observed that even the minimal freedom granted to workers to choose their particular employer evaporates once they set foot on the job. At work, the bosses exert complete control.

That this is a given is illustrated in a line in the New York Times article on noncompete clauses, which notes in passing: "Companies have always owned their employees' labor, but today's employment contracts often cover general knowledge as well."

For Marxists, this goes to the heart of how the capitalist system works. Employers purchase not a given amount of work, but a certain number of hours of labor power--and their profits derive from the value of the goods produced for them beyond the cost they pay out in wages.

Employers therefore have every incentive to squeeze as much labor out of workers as possible at the lowest cost. Noncompete agreements are just one of many methods of intimidation and compulsion used to achieve this purpose--to get employees to work harder for less.

This exploitation is the secret behind the tendency toward inequality built into capitalism. What masquerades as a free and equal exchange--a certain amount of work for a certain amount of pay--is actually a system of organized theft.

That such theft is taking place can be verified simply by observing the tremendous rise of worker productivity in the past few decades, even as wages continue to stagnate. As a result, we have the highest levels of inequality in human history--and the ruling class uses its wealth and power to further control and subordinate the rest of us.

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THIS LACK of freedom for workers has both a material and a spiritual cost. The vast majority of people are stuck in jobs we don't find intrinsically meaningful or fulfilling, but are simply a means to survive.

This state of affairs leads to widespread alienation, not just from our work, but from ourselves and each other--which manifests itself in skyrocketing rates of depression, suicide and substance abuse, to name just a few of the bitter fruits of our so-called "free" society.

As British Marxist John Molyneux wrote in a pamphlet about the future socialist society:

The ultimate goal of Marxism, of socialism, and of the struggle of the working class is freedom. The bourgeoisie are, of course, keen to proclaim their commitment to freedom: freedom of speech, of the press, of the individual to do what they please with their money and so on. They know full well that as long as they control the means of production and therefore the wealth, the media, and the state, these freedoms remain enormously restricted and almost meaningless for the vast majority. They know also that they have the power to limit or indeed trample on such freedoms whenever they find it necessary.

In contrast, Marxists recognize that in a society divided into antagonistic classes, founded on exploitation and ruled by capital, there are and can be no "absolute" freedoms. We expose the sham abstract freedom offered by the bourgeoisie because what we want is real concrete freedom.

Freedom from hunger and poverty (without which all other freedoms mean nothing), freedom from war, from endless toil, from exploitation, from racial and sexual oppressions--these are the real freedoms we fight for. They can be made a reality only by establishing the positive freedom of the working class to run society.

Categories: Political Action

We need free speech to fight the right

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 01:00

Nikki Williams looks at recent events in Portland to argue that mass counter-protests are more effective than government suppression at taking on the racist right.

Counterdemonstrating against the alt-right in Portland (Leighta Lehto)

"FREE SPEECH or die, Portland. You got no safe space. This is America. Get out if you don't like free speech."

Those were the chilling words of anti-Muslim terrorist Jeremy Christian at his arraignment for stabbing three people who tried to stand up to his harassment of two women of color, one of them wearing a hijab, on a light rail train in Portland, Oregon.

Christian was responding to the far right's current cynical campaign in defense of what it calls "free speech"--which to the bigots means the freedom to harass, intimidate and assault oppressed people with no opposition.

In a Facebook event in support of Christian that was quickly deleted, white nationalists claimed that in killing two people and seriously injuring a third, Christian was defending his right to free speech from the men who tried to stop him from verbally assaulting two high school girls with his bigoted rant.

In a less overt call to violently protect hate speech at the alt-right's June 4 "Trump Free Speech" rally, Kyle Chapman--also known as "Based Stickman"--encouraged members of the crowd to "protect people with conservative ideology from being systematically oppressed."

And, of course, these right-wingers also unapologetically support the many First Amendment violations committed by police. There were a multitude of "Blue Lives Matter" flags at the right's June 4 rally--and the right-wingers cheered when police used excessive force to shut down the Antifa counterprotest. When the rights of 300 counterprotesters were violated by police who kettled them on a city block and took pictures of their IDs, these so-called champions of "freedom" had nothing to say.

But attempts by newly forming fascist organizations to warp the concept of freedom of speech shouldn't lead our side to abandon this important principle, which is vital to building a strong movement that can take on the racist right.

Calls from politicians to put limitations on speech, like the attempt made by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to get the federal government to revoke the alt-right's permit for the June 4 rally, only serve to further embolden the right and plant the seeds for future crackdowns on the left.

Fortunately, a much more effective response to the right took place when more than 2,000 Portlanders attended various counterprotests, the largest one being the Portland Stands United Against Hate rally.

The counterprotesters refused to be intimidated and used their free speech to show the far right that the vast majority of Portland won't allow hate to go unchallenged. Mobilizations like this are the only effective option for confronting the emboldened right and their efforts to recruit larger numbers.

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WHEELER'S REQUEST may have struck many progressives as a logical response, particularly after the experience of a previous right-wing rally that Christian showed up to with a baseball bat a few weeks before his double homicide that traumatized the city.

In reality, however, the mayor's action played into the hands of the far right, which is actively recruiting by positioning itself as defenders of free speech.

The federal government declined to revoke the permit, but the right was still able to use Wheeler's request to its advantage. Portland organizers of a June 10 anti-Muslim rally announced that they would move their efforts out of Portland to Seattle "due to Mayor Wheeler's inflammatory comments and what we feel is an incitement of violence, he has shamefully endangered every scheduled participant."

The decision to not have another hate rally in Portland might, in reality, have been a response to the quick organization of a second Portland Stands United Against Hate event and the large numbers of people who promised to attend another counterprotest. But the bigots will use any opportunity to portray themselves as victims of perceived oppression to win new supporters.

The left should also be clear that we don't want our blatantly undemocratic government--which gave Donald Trump the presidency despite his losing the popular vote--to have the power to dictate the terms of free speech.

Restrictions on speech have historically been used to suppress oppressed minorities, workers and the left. This is clearly the intention of the new president, who during his campaign lamented over the "good old days" when protesters were treated "very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily."

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HIGH-PROFILE incidents of right-wing violence and intimidation are undoubtedly on the rise, from the Portland murders to the killing of Black army veteran Richard Collins III at the University of Maryland, to the death threats against Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. The right claims to be the protectors of freedom, yet they are terrorizing people who want to use those freedoms in their lives.

But we have to be clear that the government blocking right-wing rallies won't stop the right's hateful message from taking root--not as long as the underlying conditions fueling hatred and bigotry goes unaddressed.

Since the economic crisis of 2007-08, a political polarization has taken place in the U.S., pushing people to the left and to the right at the same time. The right's answer to the crisis has been to step up scapegoating, while Donald Trump escalates the war on workers and the oppressed. The far right and Republicans are drawing closer together, as each looks to take advantage of the other's successes to recruit.

Government crackdowns on free speech and small bands of left-wing street fighters won't stop the right--on the contrary, they might, in fact, help the right to recruit.

Instead, we need large numbers to confront the right, expose their fraudulent claims to be an oppressed "silent majority," and demoralize potential new supporters.

We must also focus on organizing our side to pose an alternative to the right's scapegoating and hate as polarization continues to deepen. We're going to need to use our right to free speech to expose the hypocrisy of the bigots--and argue for a radical alternative to the dehumanizing conditions of capitalism that created the conditions for the right to grow.

Categories: Political Action

The future of Cuba after Fidel

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 01:00

In recent months, Andrea Gutmann Fuentes and Coco Smyth each spent at least a week in Havana, Cuba. Here, they offer their observations about conditions in Cuba today and what the future may hold in the era after Fidel Castro's death last year.

Graffiti on a wall in Cuba (Coco Smyth)

FIDEL CASTRO, the leader of the Cuban Revolution and longtime Cuban president, died on November 26 of last year.

In both the Western and Cuban media, Castro's death took on a key significance, though in sharply different respects. In the West, many news outlets rejoiced, hoping that Cuba would pursue a new and less combative course. In Cuba, the media eulogized the death of a heroic fighter who secured a free and independent state in the Caribbean.

But during our encounters with Cubans in Havana, we found that most people refrained from such overheated rhetoric.

No Cubans we talked with assumed that the death of Fidel would lead to a sharp rupture with the politics of the past. Rather, while Fidel's death may represent the symbolic closure of a chapter in history, no one, whether supportive or critical of Castro, saw his death as marking a fundamental change in the orientation of the Cuban state.

But even if Fidel's death doesn't signal a break between the politics of the past and the present, many Cubans are wrestling with the real antagonisms and contradictions drawing Cuba in new directions.

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IN REALITY, Cuba had been changing long before the death of Fidel. After the collapse of the USSR, Cuba was plunged into an economic crisis now known euphemistically as "the special period." The Soviet Union had heavily subsidized the Cuban economy since the 1970s, and when it collapsed, Cuba was forced to alter its economic approach.

In 1994, the Cuban state created a dual-currency system, pegging one of the currencies (the CUC) directly to the U.S. dollar. Additionally, Cuba slowly began to open its economy, reorienting towards tourism, allowing remittances, and looking for international investment.

Many of the Cubans we talked with--especially those who remember the revolutionary year of 1959--spoke fondly of the early days of the revolution, before the rise of the bureaucracy stemming from a close relationship with the USSR.

Many of these people approvingly recognized that the Cuban state still prioritizes basic human needs like health care and education for its people. Cuba's relaxation of restrictions on foreign investments over the past couple decades calls into question how these priorities may change over the coming years.

"The key problem is how we both preserve our social institutions while opening up more greatly to foreign investment," said a city planner and Communist Party member in describing what he considered one of the biggest threats to Cuba's future.

Ultimately, he believed--along with other Communist Party members we spoke to--that if planned correctly, the bureaucracy could come to a successful resolution of this contradiction.

However, while Communist Party members were attuned to the significance of these economic contradictions, their answers reflected the limitations of the Cuban Communist Party's (PCC) conception of socialism.

Socialism is understood by the CCP primarily as a set of economic and political programs clustered around public institutions and a strong welfare state, similar to Scandinavian social democracy. These programs include universal health care, public education, funding for the arts and wealth redistribution. Other features of Cuba's political system after the revolution include state direction of the economy, a one-party state, and a large bureaucracy.

It can't be denied that Cuba's revolution brought about a much more just system than what had existed before--and a system which is enviable in many respects, even for citizens of the most developed capitalist countries. But the CCP's vision leaves out the most crucial aspect of socialism: workers' democratic control.

As Karl Marx famously wrote, "The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves." Socialism cannot be handed to the working class by bureaucrats or benevolent guerillas, nor can it be decreed in a speech two years after the revolution, as happened in Cuba.

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MANY OF the Cubans we spoke with shared experiences that highlighted the contradictions inherent in "socialism" without working-class rule.

One man, a retired physics professor at the University of Havana, spoke of wanting to move to Chile in search of a new teaching job. Unlike Cuba, he said, "In Chile, the professors can protest to raise their wages." Indeed, it's a bitter irony that Cuba claims to be a communist country, but workers possess very little collective bargaining power in relation to their employers.

Others spoke of Cuba's reliance on capitalist economies. An artist we spoke to lamented that because of the absence of an art market on the island, contemporary Cuban artists gear their work specifically for export to Western markets, resulting in what he described as a sort of deference to Western tastes.

Ultimately, attempts to build "socialism in one country" both ignore the centrality of internationalism and working-class rule and cannot sustain themselves indefinitely against the weight of the world capitalist system.

Cubans continue to hope for an end to the U.S. embargo, but the recent election of Donald Trump appears to have dimmed the immediate prospects for completing the normalization of relations that Obama initiated.

The embargo has negatively impacted the economy of Cuba for generations. But if the embargo ends, and Cuba opens up significantly to foreign investment to solve its current economic problems, it will not be able to do so on its own terms, as the PCC suggests.

Economic investment never comes without strings attached. The West utilizes investment and aid as a means of domination and control. Thus, opening to the West poses a threat to much of the progressive content of the Cuban system. On the other hand, without more investment from outside Cuba, the necessary funds to continue progressive programs will run dry.

The long-term choice facing the Cuban ruling class is to watch its economic system falter or to respond to the imperatives of economic openness by cutting back on health care and other public spending, at the price of eroding the positive contributions of the revolution.

The only way to preserve and ultimately complete the Cuban Revolution is for the working class to take power into its own hands in Cuba, as part of a worldwide and internationalist struggle against capitalism.

Categories: Political Action

A non-apology for racism

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 01:00

David Bliven comments on the ugly history of racism from a media celebrity.

ON THE June 9 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher "apologized" for his use of the n-word on the previous week's episode.

Maher was interviewing Republican Sen. Ben Sasse on June 2 when Sasse quipped, "We'd love to have you work in the fields with us." To which Maher replied, "Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house n-----." Maher then said, "It's a joke," and when some in his audience groaned, he made a face at them--as if to say, "Aw, come on."

Maher immediately came under well-justified fire for his comments. Among others, Sen. Al Franken, who had been scheduled to appear on the June 9 episode, canceled his appearance in protest.

Maher soon issued a public apology, agreeing that the comment was "offensive," and that he "regretted saying it." On the June 9 show, Maher had Michael Eric Dyson and Ice Cube on as guests--both of whom leveled criticism at Maher, while also admitting they were "good friends" with him.

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It was evident that Maher wanted his viewers to see this as just a "slip of the tongue." When he took the stage on June 9, he got his usual standing ovation. When he began his monologue, he didn't directly address the "elephant in the room." Instead, he thanked his audience for "sharing space with a sinner" and joked that Michael Eric Dyson would be on later to "take him out to the woodshed."

Then, when Dyson was rightfully criticized him, Maher blurted out, "It's not like I've made a career out of this." He made a similar comment to Ice Cube's criticism.

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THE PROBLEM with Maher's defense of himself is that he has made a career out of racism, not to mention sexism and Islamophobia. But even just focusing on the n-word itself, articles have addressed a video that surfaced of a 2001 episode of Politically Incorrect in which Maher specifically defended white people being able to use the n-word.

A recent article at TheRoot.com recounts the episode:

Maher made the assertion that the word "nigga" (or "nigger," as it were) had changed over the last 10-15 years, to which [actress Anne-Marie] Johnson asked him, "According to who?"

"According to culture," Maher replied condescendingly. "According to the fact that it's in every song."

Johnson, visibly upset by this, told Maher to ask every African American in his audience the meaning of that word. But before she could complete her thought, Maher talked over her and told her, "Every African American person uses that word night and day. It's in every song; it's all through culture.

"The word has changed," Maher said. "It has been co-opted as a term of endearment..."
At that point, [activist Guy] Aoki jumped in and told Maher that the word had been co-opted as a term of endearment between Black people, and Johnson told Maher that she was the only person on the panel qualified to talk about the issue.

"First of all," Maher responded to Johnson, "I wouldn't even know you were Black if you hadn't told me."

The conversation continued, with Maher continuing to assert that it was okay for white people to use the word because there was even a group with the word in its name, N.W.A. He then repeated that the word was in every song on the radio.

"Nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga," Maher said. "It's in every song. I have people walking up to me going, 'Hey Bill, you a nigga,' and I can't thank them?"

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WHAT'S EVIDENT to me is that Maher purposefully used the term and doesn't think it's really all that wrong for him to have done so. He's just apologized to keep his "cred" up among Black people--as well as his undeserved status as a liberal.

But Maher's history of racism and sexism on the show is dangerous to true liberals and progressives, as it gives soft-support to ideas conjured up by the far right, as well as making it that much harder for those on the left to fight those ideas. After all, if Maher is to be defended, how can the racism of Trump and his supporters be denounced at the same time?

Maher also has a long history of Islamophobia on his show. Among other lowlights, he had a parade of women dressed in burkas in an "Islamic fashion show"--a spectacle that, had a conservative done it, would have had the liberal media leading calls for denunciations, suspensions and firing.

Maher also suggests constantly that Muslims in general are dangerous and give at least soft support to terrorism. He once claimed millions of Muslims supported the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and he asked a Pakistani-British member of a popular boy band where he was during the Boston Marathon bombing.

The fact is that racism is on the ascendency with the ushering in of the Trump regime. Racist attacks against Muslims and Blacks around the country have been well documented. It is in this context that we on the left should be organizing a fightback against virulent racism. Any support for Maher--just to the extent of brushing his comments aside as a "mere mistake" or an "isolated act"--set back our movements.

Maher is comfortable making the comment he did not only because of the rise of racism, but also the lack of sustained movements fighting back against them. Defeating Trump--and Trumpism--will take a movement of millions, not to mention a movement with the staying power to wage a years-long struggle. While we certainly shouldn't discount the many protests that have transpired, the "new human rights movement" sorely needed has yet to emerge.

When it does, however, it will need to take on not only the far right, but also those politicians and media pundits like Maher who claim to be champions of the "people"--but instead add to mixed consciousness, rather than furthering an unapologetic, unconditional anti-racist consciousness.

Our task on the left is to build such a movement. But along the way, we shouldn't hesitate to denounce the racists--on the right and on the left.

Categories: Political Action

Birth Citizenship — Supreme Court sends issue back to Congress

Democratic Convention Watch - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 19:29

There are two ways that a person can be a natural born U.S. citizen.  First, under the Fourteenth Amendment, they can be born in the U.S.  Second, they can be born to U.S. citizens.  For this second category, Congress has established some conditions that must be met related to how long the U.S. citizen parent has resided in the U.S.

Looking at this second categories, there are eight possible combinations of three crucial factors — is the mother a U.S. citizen; is the father a U.S. citizen; and are the parents married.  (Actually, there are six, if neither parent is a U.S. citizen, the child can’t inherit citizenship from her parents.)  Having six different combinations in which at least one parent is a U.S. citizen, Congress has enacted different rules based on which parent is a U.S. citizen.  In particular, an unwed U.S. citizen mother has to spend less time in the U.S. than an unwed citizen father or married couples in which one member is a U.S. citizen.  Earlier this week, the Supreme Court issued an opinion on the constitutionality of these rules.

The case involved a man facing deportation.  That man’s father was a U.S. citizen but had left the U.S. twenty days before meeting the statutory requirements for conveying citizenship to his children.  As such, even though the father had returned to the U.S. with his family (including the person seeking citizenship in this case), the man was not entitled to automatic citizenship and — because he had not sought naturalization — could be deported.

Finding that the distinction in the statute was based on gender-characteristics and that the justification for relying on gender characteristics depended on stereotypes about the role of men and women in raising their children, the Supreme Court held that the differences contained in immigration law violated the Equal Protection Clause.  However, because, the shorter period of time for unmarried U.S. citizen mothers was an exception to the rule that applied to married couples and unmarried U.S. citizen fathers, the Supreme Court held that the extended period of residence should be applied to both unmarried citizen fathers and unmarried citizen mothers and that Congress would have to act if it wants to change that period of residence.

So the issue now becomes whether Congress will act on this invitation.  In this day and age, there are a lot of U.S. citizens — whether in the military, working for the government, or working for a private company — who live abroad and would like their children to be citizens.  On the other hand, the demagogue-in-chief has done his best to smear immigrants.    It will be interesting to see if Congress will even hold hearings to examine this part of immigration law.

Categories: Political Action

Understanding Public, Closed, and Secret Facebook Groups

Deep Links - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 18:23

There are as many different uses for Facebook groups as there are Facebook users, from sports leagues to alumni groups to community movements. No matter how you use Facebook groups, you may be sharing locations, planning events, and exchanging contact information that you would rather not broadcast to the entire Internet. For activists in particular, Facebook groups are an increasingly important tool. Facebook and Facebook groups played a key role in making the Women’s March in January 2017 one of the largest protests ever. On a smaller scale, activists around the world use Facebook groups to spread the word about their cause and organize around it.

But Facebook groups seem designed more for open sharing and collaboration than for privacy, and securing a Facebook group can be confusing, especially when it comes to choosing your group type and diving into privacy settings.

Public, Closed, or Secret?

When creating a Facebook group, you have three types to choose from: Public, Closed, or Secret. This chart from Facebook shows the differences that we describe below.

Public groups are just what they sound like: public. Anyone can see the group’s name, location, member list, and posts, and the group can show up in anyone’s searches or News Feed. Anyone can add themselves as a member without any invite or approval.

Closed groups are more confusing. A Closed group’s name, description, and member list are not at all “closed,” but are publicly visible. Closed groups may even show up in a search publicly. Overall, they are just as open as Public groups, except for three main differences: (1) new members must ask to join or be invited by a member, rather than just adding themselves; (2) only current members can see the content of group posts; and (3) only current members can see the group in their News Feed.

Secret groups are the most private of the three types. No aspect of a Secret group is publicly visible, new members must be added or invited by current members to join, and only members can see the content of group posts. However, former members who have voluntarily left the group can still find the group in search and see its name, description, tags, and location.

Changing Privacy Settings

If you want to change your group type after reading this, the option is available in your group’s settings under “Privacy.” Note that for groups with 5000 members or more, you can only change to a more private group type—for example, from Public to Closed, or from Closed to Secret. Once you change the setting to be more private, you have 24 hours to change it back. Regardless of size, whenever you change the group’s type, all members will get a notification.

Adding and Removing Users

Depending on your group type and its default settings, new members might be able to add themselves, or they may have to be added or invited by a current member. In every kind of group—even in Secret groups—current members can add new members to the group. But you can use the “Membership Approval” setting to require that all new members get admin approval.

Only admins are able to remove and block members. This is particularly important if you want to make sure former members cannot access your group.

Takedowns, Government Requests, and Other Considerations

No matter what type of group you choose and what settings you take advantage of, there is a hard limit on how private Facebook groups can be. If the company receives a government request to turn over user information or take down content, your group may be vulnerable. In some cases, if Facebook's copyright bot flags content in your group for potential copyright infringement, rights holders may be allowed to see it. And if users report content inside your group—even Secret groups—as violating Facebook’s Community Standards, it can be taken down. Users can even be temporarily banned from the platform for such violations.

Of course, leaving Facebook and Facebook groups altogether may not be practical, especially if your members and audience are unwilling or unable to move away from the platform. Instead, weigh tradeoffs with your threat model in mind and remember that Facebook itself has access to everything posted on its platform, including your group members and content.

Categories: Political Action

MoveOn Statement: Sessions Must Go

Move On - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 11:42

Statement of Anna Galland, Executive Director of MoveOn.org:

“Jeff Sessions must go. The disgraced Attorney General has already lied to Congress under oath during his confirmation hearings. There’s no reason to think he won’t do so again today.

“In addition, Sessions has disregarded his recusal from the Russia investigation.

“Sessions has proven time and again that he has no intention of running an independent Justice Department. Rather, his intent is to use the department to enable Trump and his run away Administration.

“For the good of the nation, Jeff Sessions must go.”

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Categories: Political Action

Alternatives to Detention and the For-Profit Immigration System

American Friends Service Committee - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 10:30
News Source: Center for American Progress
Categories: Political Action