Political Action

Three Myths the Telecom Industry is Using to Convince Congress to Repeal the FCC’s Privacy Rules, Busted

Deep Links - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 12:52

Back in October of 2016, the FCC passed some pretty awesome rules that would bar your internet service provider (ISP) from invading your privacy. The rules would keep ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner Cable from doing things like selling your personal information to marketers, inserting undetectable tracking headers into your traffic, or recording your browsing history to build up a behavioral advertising profile on you—unless they can get your consent. They were a huge victory for everyday Internet users in the U.S. who value their privacy.

But since the restrictions also limit the ability of ISPs and advertisers alike to profit from the treasure trove of data ISPs have about their subscribers, powerful interests have come out in force to strip those protections away. Lobbyists in DC are pulling out all the stops trying to convince Congress that these straightforward, no-nonsense privacy rules are unnecessary, unfair, overly burdensome, or all of the above. EFF wrote a memo for congressional staffers that busts these myths.

And we’re sharing the content of that memo with you, Team Internet, so you can see the type of FUD  ISPs and their allies are pushing in order to take away your privacy.

(Fair warning: some of these are fairly wonky, so if you’re not the type that gets excited by telecom law, you can always skip to the part where you call your senators and representative and tell them not to repeal the FCC’s ISP privacy rules—because if we raise our voices together, we can stop Congress before it’s too late.)

Call Congress now and tell them not to repeal the FCC's privacy rules!

Myth 1: If the FCC’s privacy rules are repealed, state officials and the Federal Trade Commission will fill the gap—so customers’ privacy will still be protected.

Fact: Unfortunately, recent court decisions have limited the FTC’s ability to enforce privacy rules on ISPs. Plus, relying on each state to enforce its own laws to protect privacy would create a terrible patchwork of mismatched regulations. You’d think with all the uncertainty and bureaucracy that would create, the ISPs would actually prefer clear, bright-line rules at the national level. But you’d be wrong: at this point, they’ll say anything to block the FCC’s privacy-protective rules.

Extended Version:
The 2016 FTC v AT&T Mobility decision at the 9th Circuit eliminated the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to enforce privacy rules on ISPs in Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Other courts may do the same. And while some states’ Attorney Generals have brought actions against ISPs that mislead or deceive consumers about how the companies collect, share, and sell customer data, many other states have scaled back their enforcement on the premise that federal enforcement was sufficient and preferable.

What’s more, a state-by-state patchwork of consumer protection enforcement is bad for customers and telecoms. It leaves customers in states with weaker consumer protection statutes or less assertive Attorneys General without crucial safeguards from their ISPs. And it leaves ISPs subject to a bewildering array of regulations depending on where they operate.  That regulatory thicket will impede competition and innovation by discouraging service providers from entering new markets.

Myth 2: Even if Congress repeals the FCC’s recent privacy rules, the FCC still has authority to enforce consumer privacy protections more generally under Section 222 of the Communications Act.

Fact: Due to the way Congress plans to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules, there’s going to be a lot of legal uncertainty about whether or not the FCC will be allowed to do anything related to ISPs and privacy in the future. In other words, it’s not clear if you’ll be at the mercy of your ISP or not, and by the time the courts figure it out, your ISP will have already had the chance to do some pretty creepy things.

Extended Version:
Section 222 of the Communications Act is the underlying authorization for the rules the FCC has already adopted, but if Congress passes a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to repeal the rules, whether or not the FCC can pass new rules using that authority will be an open question.

That’s because a CRA resolution would prohibit the FCC from issuing rules that are “substantially the same” in the future. If the FCC brings an action against an ISP under Section 222 for mishandling customer data, the ISP would likely try to challenge the action in court on the grounds that Congress preempted the agency with the CRA, creating uncertainty around ISP obligations and consumer privacy protections. 

Myth 3: The FCC’s privacy rules put Internet service providers at an unfair disadvantage when compared to Internet companies like Google who can profit off of consumers’ data.

Fact: Google doesn’t see everything you do on the Internet (neither does Facebook, for that matter, or any other online platform)—they only see the traffic you send to them. And you can always choose to use a different website if you want to avoid Google’s tracking. None of that is true about your ISP. You probably only have one, maybe two options when it comes to ISPs offering high-speed Internet, and your ISP sees everything—they have to, in order to send your traffic to the right place. That’s why we need the FCC’s privacy rules: ISPs are in a position of power, and they’ve shown they’re willing to abuse that power.

Plus, if you’re worried about creepy third-party tracking online, you can use free tools to protect yourself; the only way to protect your privacy from your ISP is to pay for a VPN.

Extended Version:
To begin with, it’s worth remembering that ISPs and companies like Google or Facebook see entirely different parts of your Internet activity; namely that Google or Facebook only see the traffic you send to their servers, while ISPs see all your traffic. Even when you take into account the fact that Google and Facebook have creepy third-party trackers spread across the web, they still only see a fraction of what your ISP sees. Being able to see all of your traffic gives your ISP an unprecedented view into your life (everything from what you’re shopping for, to who you talk to, to what your politics are, to what you read), which not even Google or Facebook can achieve.

There’s also another big difference between Comcast and Google: choice. While Internet users can choose between numerous online services for search, email, and more—including services that feature built-in privacy protections as a selling point—most consumers have few if any options when it comes to choosing an ISP. According to the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 51 percent of households have access to only one high-speed broadband provider. If that provider decides to sell their data, they can’t vote with their wallets and choose another ISP.

There’s one last difference: Internet users can prevent companies like Google from spying on them as they surf the web. If you want to do something online without being tracked, you can use a variety of free tools that even powerful companies like Google cannot overcome. But nothing short of paying to use a virtual private network—essentially having to pay a fee to protect your online privacy—will protect you from your ISP.

Now that you’ve heard the FUD ISPs and the advertising industry are spreading, take a moment and help us protect your privacy from data-hungry ISPs: call Congress today and tell your senators and representative not to repeal the FCC’s ISP privacy rules!

Call Congress now and tell them not to repeal the FCC's privacy rules!

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Categories: Political Action

Trump prescribes poison for a failing system

Socialist Worker - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 01:00

Dennis Kosuth, a nurse in the Chicago Public Schools and member of the Chicago Teachers Union, and SocialistWorker.org's Alan Maass explain the nightmare that Donald Trump and the Republicans want to inflict on us as a replacement for Obamacare--and the wider context of a health care system that was already in crisis and a "reform" law that didn't deliver reform.

Donald Trump and his new best friend Paul Ryan (Caleb Smith | Office of the Speaker of the House)

A 7-YEAR-OLD student is brought into the office of the school nurse, his jacket covered in blood. The flow from his nose has slowed, and he amazingly keeps up a brave face despite the obvious pain of such an injury. The nurse calls his mother and explains the unfortunate collision with some playground equipment, and she arrives to retrieve him.

The bridge of the student's nose is slightly deformed by the accident, and the nurse assumes the parent will bring the child to a doctor. Problem: While his mother has insurance, for which she pays a high premium, there is a $3,000 deductible--so the cost of any care would all come out of her pocket.

Clearly ashamed, the parent explains that she can't afford an emergency room visit and will simply take the child home.

Probably every health care worker in this country has witnessed a similar situation, likely worse than this. Statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation bear out the anecdotes in sterile numbers: Four out of ten insured adults report difficulty affording their deductible, and one out of three have trouble paying the premiums. Three in ten report problems paying medical bills, and of that group, seven in ten say they cut back on spending on food, clothing or other basic items to compensate.

Putting off or postponing care is common, including for people with insurance, because of high deductibles and co-pays. According to Kaiser, one in three people report they or a family member skipped dental care in the past 12 months because of high costs, one in four skipped a recommended test or treatment, and one in five cut pills in half or skipped doses of medication.

Access to health care has always been unequal and tragedy-filled in the U.S., the only major industrial country in the world without a universal health care system. But things got worse, not better, in a number of ways under Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare.

The ACA included some important reforms, such as forcing insurance companies to provide coverage to people with so-called "pre-existing conditions"--that is, recognizing that they were sick and needed health care--and it expanded the government Medicaid program for the poor to cover more people.

But by far the biggest beneficiary of the law that was supposed to fix a system in crisis was the health care industry. At the center of the law was the requirement that everyone not covered by employer-provided insurance or a government program buy coverage from a private insurer or pay a substantial tax penalty.

The problem, of course, is that being insured doesn't equal having access to health care. Millions of people have been forced to purchase coverage that is barely affordable with high monthly premiums--that becomes unaffordable when people get sick and need it, because of high deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. Plus, the ACA accelerated the same trends--co-pays and co-premiums, deductibles, more restrictions in coverage--in employer-provided insurance.

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THUS, DONALD Trump and the Republicans were able to exploit very real frustrations and anger among people disappointed by Obamacare to win votes last November.

But their drive to repeal Obamacare will push the American health care system out of the smoking frying pan and into the fire.

Essentially, Trump and his new best friend, House Speaker Paul Ryan, want to gut as many of the few positive elements of the ACA as possible; restructure other provisions in ways that will make the health care system even more chaotic and irrational; and generally use the "repeal and (probably) replace" process to accelerate the transfer of wealth from the rest of us to the very richest people in U.S. society.

They may not get away with it. The unveiling of Trumpcare has been such a mess that the administration and Republican leaders in Congress are facing opposition from both directions inside their own party, not to mention the complaints of Democrats who insist that Obama's ACA was working fine.

On the right, the cuts proposed in the confusingly named Trump-Ryan American Health Care Act (AHCA) aren't aggressive enough for some Republicans, who criticized the proposal as "Obamacare Lite."

A National Review writer went so far as to claim that any bill maintaining the ACA regulation barring insurance companies for excluding people with pre-existing conditions--one provision that Republicans generally haven't had the guts to oppose--was a betrayal of the promise to repeal Obamacare.

On the other side of the GOP--it's hard to call this bunch of reactionaries "moderate," though they are less fanatical than the Tea Partiers--there is fear that passing the Trump-Ryan plan will make the Republicans responsible in the eyes of ordinary people, including voters in 2018 and 2020, for the looming catastrophe to come, including the number of uninsured Americans skyrocketing to pre-ACA levels.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who is far from a liberal admirer of Obamacare, nevertheless warned fellow Republicans: "Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote."

This week, Ryan admitted that the legislation would have to be changed in the face of criticism from fellow Republicans, but it will be no easier than before to come up with something that isn't a mess.

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NEVERTHELESS, TRUMP and the Republicans won't stop pushing, and they have a lot of different ways to do damage.

The main elements of "repeal and (probably) replace" will come through the budget legislation that is now being furiously debated in the House. Because "reconciliation bills" that deal with taxes and spending can't be filibustered, the GOP can gut significant portions of the ACA with just a 50-percent-plus one majority, rather than the 60 percent of votes needed to stop a filibuster in the Senate.

The sections of the ACA that regulate insurance companies, such as extending coverage for children up to age 26 and guaranteeing coverage despite pre-existing conditions, can only be altered through regular legislation, so the Republicans are unlikely to go after these provisions, even if they wanted to, because they would need 60 votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster.

But Trump can do a lot of damage by administrative action, without the trouble of even going to Congress.

According to reports, the administration is planning to order a regulatory change to reverse the requirement that policies sold through the ACA-mandated "exchanges" must cover the cost of contraceptives.

In the same way, Trump could also substantially alter the ACA's cost-sharing subsidy system for out-of-pocket costs, which lowers the maximums for lower-income enrollees in an exchange policy through a direct federal government payment to insurers.

The main focus right now is on the Trump-Ryan AHCA, which would reverse, repeal or restructure the ACA's expansion of Medicaid, the mandate on individuals to purchase insurance, and subsidies for buying coverage for people below a certain income level.

Analysts are still discovering the ticking time bombs in various aspects of the legislation, but it's obvious that Trump and Co. want to honor their promise to repeal Obamacare--which had a certain amount of support among working people frustrated with the ACA's failures--by screwing over working people and extracting as much of their money as possible to deliver into the pockets of the rich.

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AMONG THE many provisions of the AHCA, it's worth looking in detail at how the Republicans want to counter Obamacare's expansion of the Medicaid program. Though there was some money in it for medical corporations, this benefited poor people most of all--so it's naturally at the top of the Republican hit list, as it has been since Obamacare was passed into law in 2010.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a lawsuit filed by Republican governors and officeholders in 26 states who wanted to get Obamacare scrapped altogether. A majority of justices voted to uphold the parts of the ACA that benefit the health care industry the most.

But by a 7-2 vote, the Court ruled that the federal government couldn't threaten states with losing existing Medicaid funding if they refused to go along the expansion. Effectively, this was a green light for states to opt out--only 31 states and the District of Columbia are signed on.

The ACA's expansion of Medicaid already suffered from the fact that it was sending millions of people into a system that had been damaged by decades of cutbacks and restrictions imposed by the state governments that administer the program (usually with the approval of the federal government that oversees it).

But the Supreme Court's opt-out ruling was a huge blow to the poor in the 19 states that denied them access to Medicaid.

One consequence is that there are 2.5 million adults in these states who fall into a coverage gap. They are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid under the pre-ACA rules, but they fall below the lower income limit to get financial assistance for insurance bought through the ACA "exchanges," as they must because of the individual mandate.

The Republicans' proposed AHCA is a declaration of war on Medicaid programs of every state.

The legislation would cap funding for Medicaid without regard to increases in health care costs or more people enrolling in the program. Funds to cover the more than 11 million people newly eligible for Medicaid under the ACA would be phased out. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 14 million fewer people would be covered under Medicaid than expected by 2026. That's two-thirds of the CBO's projection of an additional 21 million people without insurance in the U.S.

Perhaps the most grotesque fact about the AHCA is that the Republicans explicitly plan to transfer the Medicaid spending reductions into the pockets of the already obscenely rich.

The House version of the legislation would reduce Medicaid spending by $880 billion over a 10-year period from 2016 to 2017, accounting for three-quarters of the $1.2 trillion in reduced spending by demolishing the ACA. But the lion's share of the "savings" would be transferred to the rich through tax credits or the repeal of ACA's new taxes to pay for provisions like expanding Medicaid.

For example, if Republicans succeed in eliminating two additional Medicare taxes created under the ACA--an additional Hospital Insurance tax on high earners and the Medicare tax on unearned income--households with an annual income of $1 million or more would get tax cuts of $49,370 a piece. The richest 0.1 percent of households, with incomes above $3.8 million, would get tax cuts of more than $195,000 on average.

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THERE ARE many more disasters lurking in the AHCA that will need to be untangled and exposed in the weeks to come.

Republicans are determined to remove the tax penalty that adults not covered by employer insurance or a government program must pay--the individual mandate, un-ironically known as the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment. The also plan to get rid of the employer mandate requiring companies with 50 or more employees to provide affordable insurance.

This might benefit younger, healthier adults willing to run the risk of going without insurance, but older adults will be penalized by a provision that allows insurers to charge them five times more for policies. This adds insult and injury to the lingering injustice of the ACA: that a health care "reform" law allowed the insurance thieves to charger older customers three times more than younger ones.

The Republicans also want to get rid of another important part of the ACA--subsidies that helped people with lower incomes buy insurance or pay for out-of-pocket costs. Instead, the AHCA would replace the subsidies, paid directly by the government to insurance companies, with age- and income-based tax credits. The CBO report analyzing the Trump-Ryan bill concludes that this will result in far less money being used to make insurance more affordable, and that lower-income people will suffer disproportionately.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," Trump said back in January, promising that he and the Republicans would give people "great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better."

Not quite, according to the CBO report that ends with an estimate which sobered even some Republicans: The number of people without insurance would increase by 24 million compared to under the ACA.

Some of the opposition among Republicans is no doubt due to the fear of being held responsible for pushing the number of uninsured above where it was before Obamacare.

Plus, the health care industry itself is concerned that the AHCA could be a debilitating shock to the system. The massive Medicaid cuts and loss of insurance coverage would have a huge impact on corporations organized around income from government health programs. Both the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association have opposed the Trump-Ryan bill.

But if the Republicans can get away with this mess, a few people will be dancing. According to the Tax Policy Center, "Forty percent of the benefits of [tax cuts associated with Obamacare repeal] would go to the highest-income 1 percent--those making more than $772,000 in 2022."

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IN THE next days and weeks, the spotlight will be on the Republican reverse-Robin-Hoods and their plot to rob the poor of their health care to pad the pockets of the rich.

And rightly so. But as the outcry grows, we shouldn't forget that the Obama administration set the stage for this new extortion scheme by pushing through a health care "reform" law that failed to deliver reform.

After his landslide election in 2008, Obama and the Democrats had a mandate to take real action to restructure the failing health care system--and they had control of the White House and both houses of Congress needed to do it.

But the new administration declared from the start that it wouldn't even consider a single-payer system that could guarantee access and control spiraling costs by cutting out the insurance company parasites. Instead, Democrats made sure that the ACA was tailored to keep the health care giants at the table. When push came to shove, Obama was prepared to bargain away even the inadequate "public option" of maintaining one alternative to private insurance in order to appease the industry.

The health care industry conceded on measures that were bound to pass even a Republican-controlled Congress--like barring insurance companies from using pre-exiting conditions as an excuse to reject people--in return for legislation that guaranteed them millions of new customers through the individual mandate.

Ever since, the corporations have been lobbying to keep the ACA's regulations as toothless as possible, while using their position of advantage to offer ever-more-expensive insurance policies that provide less coverage at greater cost.

If the Republicans are in a position to whip up support for repealing Obamacare, it's because the Democrats championed a health care law that mainly made the corporations richer--and far too many ordinary people poorer after paying inflated health care bills.

Meanwhile, the crisis of the U.S. health care system is getting worse. In 2012, average life expectancy in the U.S. stopped rising after two decades of steady increases, and it has now started falling--the opposite direction of almost every other industrialized country on the planet.

A 2015 study by Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case defies common sense--it found that the death rate for white men and women aged 45 to 54 with less than a college education increased dramatically between 1999 and 2013, largely due to legal and illegal drug addiction, alcohol abuse and suicide.

An increase in the mortality rate for any large demographic group in an advanced country was virtually unheard of in recent decades, with the exception of Russian men after the collapse of the ex-USSR.

It's painfully clear that the existing system doesn't work for the majority of people. Yet Trump, Ryan and the Republicans want to make matters even worse.

They have a long way to go before they can get away with their grand theft health care scheme. Opposition has grown steadily since Trump's election and especially since he took office, and that will make it hard for the Republicans to succeed in their main aims.

But even if the worst is avoided in the latest health care wars in Washington, it won't address the underlying sickness of the health care system--which will only be cured by a movement that can win a single-payer system that guarantees health care for everyone as a human right.

Categories: Political Action

South Koreans topple their corrupt president

Socialist Worker - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 01:00

The high court confirmed the impeachment of Park Guen-hye on corruption charges last week, but SooKyung Nam shows how it was mass protest that drove her from office.

Masses of people flood the streets of Seoul days before the ouster of South Korean President Park Geun-hye

THE PEOPLE did it. After a series of mass demonstrations over the past five months, President Park Guen-hye was officially removed from office on March 10, when the Constitutional Court unanimously upheld parliament's vote to impeach her.

The major protests against Park started last October when a political scandal over her corruption and cronyism came to light. The initial allegations were made mainly against Park's longtime friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil, who was believed to have used her presidential connection to extort about $70 million from the country's "chaebols" (conglomerates) and meddle in state policies behind the scenes.

Further investigation soon revealed that the president not a naïve victim as she claimed but the main culprit. Park abused her power to take in millions of dollars in bribes from chaebols--including such global names as Hyundai, LG and Samsung--in a scheme worked out with Choi.

In the midst of public anger and outcry, Park's approval rating dropped to a record low of 4 percent--and her approval rating among people under the age of 30 actually sank to 0 percent.

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PARK'S DOWNFALL represents a huge victory for the power of ordinary South Koreans, who took to the streets week after week to protest against the corruption and cronyism of the president.

The anti-Park protests brought together families with young children, middle and high school students, college students, unionists and feminists, along with the loved ones of the Sewol ferry disaster. In November, a convoy of farmers from the countryside, many of them driving tractors, joined a demonstration of at least 500,000 people that paralyzed streets in the capital of Seoul.

For many, this was their first ever protest. After a lull in recent decades, the movement to impeach Park sparked a revival of the huge demonstrations that marked the pro-democracy movement of the late 1980s, when South Korean students and workers took to the streets and occupied factories in a successful effort to end a military dictatorship.

As in the 1980s, the removal of Park was driven by mass pressure. The National Assembly voted to impeach Park on December 9 of last year, by a vote of 234 to 56--less than a week after 2.3 million people had participated in a largest single-day protest in the country's history.

On the day of the vote, protesters gathered to chant "Impeachment!" in front of the National Assembly. "Can you hear the roar of the people?" asked a member of the parliament just before the vote. "We need to overcome the old establishment and create a new Republic of Korea by passing [the impeachment motion]."

Even Park's ruling Saenuri Party gave a surprising level of support to the vote in order to avoid its own collapse. Last month, Saenuri changed its name to the Liberal Korea Party in an effort to distance itself from its disgraced former leader.

After the impeachment vote, Park's executive power was suspended and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, a Park loyalist, became acting president until the court ruled on the parliament's vote.

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BUT PROTESTERS didn't just passively wait for the Constitutional Court to make a decision for them. Demonstrations continued every weekend, calling for impeachment and a full investigation of Park's corruption and abuse of power.

Just like U.S. Supreme Court, South Korea's Constitutional Court is not "above politics." Its main role is to uphold the status quo of society. But when that status quo is challenged by powerful social protest, courts can be forced to pay attention.

The Constitutional Court's entire bench was appointed by Park and her conservative predecessor, and it had delivered numerous conservative and controversial decisions--most notably its 2014 decision to disband the left-wing Unified Progressive Party (UPP), based on the Park administration's claim that the UPP supported North Korea.

The Constitutional Court voted 8 to 1 for the disbanding of the UPP, setting a dangerous and undemocratic precedent for state repression of opponents. Amnesty International criticized the UPP ban, which it said followed "a number of cases in recent years in which South Korea's vague National Security Law (NSL) and other laws have been used to suppress dissent and alleged support for North Korea."

But in the face of months of protests that involved a cumulative total of 16 million people, and polls showing 80 percent in favor of impeachment, the Court clearly felt the democratic pressure of popular opinion.

When the ruling finally came on March 10, it was broadcast live on national TV, and thousands of people gathered outside of the courthouse. As the verdict was announced that the impeachment was upheld because, people cheered with joy and held up signs that said "Victory for the people" and "New Republic of Korea."

As a result of the court's decision, Park has lost executive immunity as president and can now face criminal charges. Protesters are calling for Park's immediate arrest and a criminal investigation.

By law, a presidential election must take place in 60 days--by May 9 at the latest. With the conservatives discredited by the downfall of Park, the liberal Democratic Party led by Moon Jae-in has a very good chance to take power.

It is questionable, however, whether the Democratic Party will bring in the real changes people want. When protesters were demanding Park's immediate resignation last year, opposition parties and liberal politicians were hesitant--and more interested in figuring out how to channel the anger and energy into electoral politics for their own benefit.

Meanwhile, the South Korean mainstream media is preaching that now is the time to restore to "normalcy" and to avoid "division and conflicts."

But the popular discontent won't easily dissipate simply because Park is out. Many say this is not the end, but just the beginning of the struggle to get rid of the more general corruption among the elites, and to create a more fair and just society.

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THERE ARE a number of important reforms that need to be won.

Firstly, South Koreans have long demanded policies to curtail the economic monopoly and political influence of chaebols that have dominated the nation's economy.

Lee Jae-yong, the acting head of Samsung, gave Park $20 million in return for government favors. He was finally arrested and jailed for bribery, corruption and other related charges, and is now facing trial.

Lee's arrest was another victory that was only possible due to the pressure from the people--Samsung had long been considered too important to the national economy to allow for its leaders to be put behind bars. There are now mounting demands for other business tycoons involved in the scandal, including executives of Hyundai and Lotte, to face legal action.

Secondly, South Koreans must demand fundamental democratic rights and the release of all jailed unionists and activists, including Han Sang-gyun and Lee Jin-young.

Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to five years for organizing protests against the government.

Lee Jin-young, a militant unionist and the coordinator of the book-sharing web site Labor Book, was arrested in January 2017 for violating the notorious National Security Law and faces charges of benefiting the enemy by sharing publications that "agitate violent revolution and revolt against the state."

Families of the Sewol Ferry victims have also been demanding justice ever since April 2014, when the passenger ferry sank off the southwest coast of South Korea, costing the lives of more than 300 passengers--most of them high school students on a field trip to the island of Jeju.

An investigation revealed that Park was absent from her office while the ferry was sinking and did not order any actions that might have saved the passengers. While happy with Park's downfall, the victims' families are dissatisfied with the court's ruling that Park's handling of the disaster wasn't grounds for her impeachment.

Then there is the ongoing struggle to overturn Park's agreement to deploy the U.S. missile defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), on the pretext of countering North Korea's military threat.

China sees the deployment of THAAD as a grave threat to its own security and has taken steps to punish South Korea economically for accepting it.

In sum, there are many tasks ahead of South Koreans, and nothing is automatic. The transformative potential unleashed by mass protests could be lasting or fleeting, depending on whether people put their energy into electing a new president who is little better than Park, or whether they use this great opportunity to build political organizations that are independent from the ruling class.

However, the South Korean people have already shown us the way to oust an arrogant and corrupt president. We in the U.S. have much to learn from their struggles.

Categories: Political Action

Just make music and share it: Podington Bear’s music for storytelling and podcasts

Creative Commons - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 13:23
Chad Crouch AKA Podington Bear via the Free Music Archive

In 2007, the artist Chad Crouch began releasing three instrumental songs per week under the pseudonym Podington Bear. Crouch revealed his identity in July 2008 upon the release of a box set of his work, ending a speculative mystery covered in NPR, KEXP, Wired, and the Globe and Mail. According to his bio on Free Music Archive, “The experiment inspired countless new works of art, and translated into commercial success.”

An early podcast innovator, the Podington Bear project was licensed completely under CC before being posted to the Free Music Archive, where Crouch has featured many of his subsequent releases as well.

In addition to his work as Podington Bear, Crouch runs the influential Portland, OR based label HUSH Records and posts his new work on the Sound of Picture Library, a large collection of his instrumental music for creators. By running his own platform, Crouch is able to share his music on his own terms, providing makers the licenses that they need for specific projects.

You can hear Crouch’s music on a large variety of podcasts, documentaries, advertisements, and more. Much of his oeuvre can be found at Sound of Picture Library or at his website.

Why did you decide to stay anonymous for so long despite your prolific output? Why did you just ultimately disclose your identity?
Anonymity at that time was attractive because I was just wanting to try something new and at that time when I started making music, I was releasing it as a podcast, so each podcast was just a song. That’s when podcasting was whatever you wanted it to be. Today it’s either scripted or unscripted, there’s people talking, or there’s music or not, but generally speaking it’s more a story-driven podcasting than simply just the music. At any rate, it was something new that I wanted to try and I wanted to not have any baggage related to any prior output. It was attractive to me for that reason. Plus, I run a record label, and have done so for the last almost 20 years now. Podcasting, giving away music in those days, in 2007, it was still … the verdict wasn’t in. Is it good business to be giving away your music? I don’t know if people even know now, but given that I was essentially giving away downloads of music, and that’s how I was releasing it, I didn’t want it attached to me and my record label, just as an experiment.
I think the second part of your question was why did I reveal my identity? It started with a mistake, and so the mistake was, with every mp3, you have a metadata tag which has the song name and the album name, so forth and so on, just some added data. Well, the program I was using also put my real name in there somehow, and so I figured, well if anyone found that, that would be obvious. Plus I thought it was about time. That’s why. No big. It’s not like hundreds of thousands of people wanted to know, it’s just that I was ready to not keep it a secret anymore, is all.

At a recent event I attended, a number of public radio producers were saying that they felt like your work was kind of like the gold standard for free music online. How have you used your music to maximize for impact as an artist?
Wow, that’s a nice compliment. The gold standard for free music online. Well, given that I started creating music and it has always been instrumental, that alone makes it more useful for storytelling because it doesn’t get in the way of the story with words that say something else that the story isn’t saying. If I was a singer, or I wanted to make vocal music, it wouldn’t work very well for other people’s means. I realize more, as the years pass, that people have an interest in using my music. Initially, my involvement with the Free Music Archive in particular was minimal. I only had a few tracks available. Then I realized, this is what … A lot of these people are using this music. I should just open the flood gates and let it all pour out and see what happens. That’s what I did.

How did opening the floodgates up maximize for impact? Did you find that you found that your music was more widely used or more widely discoverable? What did you find when you did that?

Like anything that’s word of mouth, if it’s good, it helps get the word out. Certainly, as far as internet presence, you really can’t compete with the Free Music Archive. It’s a hub with so much traffic. I could get praise from all kinds of bloggers, and they could post my songs, but still not as many people would hear it as just naturally do through coming to the Free Music Archive. Almost solely, based on their search engine optimization, they just rise to the top of just so many Google searches. They built it, and people came. Being a part of that project, I would say is the single biggest driver.
Then, as part of the NPR set. I think a few years ago, a lot of my repertoire was being played on This American Life in some of their shows that have a lot of influence. Usually they originally heard about me on there and other types of podcasters, and which podcasts are influential.

Why did you decide to use Creative Commons in particular to license your first project?
That’s a good question. I think I embraced it in the same way I embraced experimenting with the vehicle of the podcast. I forget the exact origin of Creative Commons, but I do remember picking up … I think it was a copy of Wired Magazine, and it came with a CD and it had Beastie Boys on the cover or something like that, and there was a big, huge, center article about this new thing called Creative Commons. The CD contained songs from artists that so many people have heard of, like Beastie Boys, and it encouraged you to remix material that was on this CD, or do things with it that were less copyright, or less copyright restricted.
That appealed to me, and then I kind of kept that in the back of my head. It probably was eight years … I don’t know how many years later, but that I decided to embrace that fully with my music, because I was putting it out there anyway. Putting it out with Creative Commons seemed like a good fit for me.

Have you found that putting the license on has changed things for you, changed things in terms of how it’s recognized, how it’s found, how it’s distributed across the web?
It’s a prerequisite of involvement with the Free Music Archive, but I had adopted it before the Free Music Archive. It’s changed the way it’s distributed, most definitely. Yes, completely. To be honest, the way I compose, too. Originally, I was much more concerned with my musical output, with creating a song that had a beginning, middle, and end. Now as long as the piece of music has a mood, and I usually include the beginning and end, just because I’m a completist, but it doesn’t have to be a first chorus, first song type of construction. A lot of my music is quite short, now. CC has informed both the way I distribute my music and the way I make my music, honestly. I make things that have musical voices in them. Like just solo piano, for example, because I know that that’s something that people find useful for their storytelling in either video, podcast, whatever. It’s completely changed my output over these years.

Speaking of your output, you’re a pretty prolific songwriter and artist. What’s your process? How do you write so much music so quickly?
Well it started ten years ago, and there were years where I did very little. A benefit of having done it for so long and having so much material is that there is an income stream of people who find the music, but they also need it for commercial use and they’re perfectly happy to pay me some money to use it. As far as my process, it’s pretty simple. I use the MIDI controller. I use a piece of software, and there honestly aren’t a lot of acoustic instruments that I’m using to do my recordings, and so now I can kind of just make it all on a desktop and making it digitally is pretty easy to do. I think there are people who are far more prolific than I am.

Your project, Sound of Picture Library, is an extensive library of your music with a variety of licenses for different types of media. Can you tell me more about that? What’s worked, and what have you had to tweak, and how does it feel to be an independent artist who’s in control of your media output?
I’m not a programmer, so that part of it is difficult. Having a database of songs that people can search and that is fairly responsive so people don’t say, “This is taking too long” that’s useful enough that they can find their way to something hopefully that will work for them. That has been difficult and a learning process – there’s no site template for exactly that kind of thing. I have enough facility with computers and stuff that I’ve kind of felt my way along. As far as keeping control of my music, I was just used to that already with running a label, so I kind of know how the sausage is made with regard to the leasing music.
As far as selling licenses online, I’m certainly not the only one who has a library of music solely created by them who sells licenses, but it seemed a good fit for me, just because I was doing it anyway, but it was taking a lot of my time to deal with emails and negotiate a price and that kind of thing. I would say one of the hardest things about it is coming up with pricing that works for everyone, because there’s so many different needs that people have for different projects. It’s amazing. I wanted to meet people at the very low end while not leaving too much on the table for people who have huge budgets to complete advertisements or something online. I try to keep it competitive and fair and just trust people that use them.
Ultimately, sometimes it works out that their project is complicated or it doesn’t fit with the prescribed licenses that I do offer, so I still am dealing with people through email and doing some negotiation. All in all, it’s been a really interesting development for me as a musician and entrepreneur. It’s been growing every year to the point where I’m quitting other jobs, recently, to give more of my energy and time to making the library and administrating it.

What advice would you give to an independent artist who wants to do a similar project and license their own music?
The advice I would give is try not to be too precious with it. Don’t try and control. Don’t be worried about people stealing things. I feel like a lot of musicians try and limit, but I think limiting access to music in a way where you’re trying to always sell it and get the most money out of it is detrimental to exposure. I would say, have fun. Make music that interests you. Make music that sounds good to you, and share it. In the beginning, do not try and make money. Just share it. Share it as much as possible, and if the Free Music Archive feels like a fit, great. If Creative Commons feels like a fit, great. This will help you along with people discovering you.

The post Just make music and share it: Podington Bear’s music for storytelling and podcasts appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Gaza Unlocked

American Friends Service Committee - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 12:52
Categories: Political Action

California Youth in Detention and Foster Care Deserve Internet Access

Deep Links - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 11:46

It’s 2017, and climbers can tweet from Mount Everest, astronauts can post YouTube videos from the International Space Station, and ocean explorers can live stream from the Mariana Trench.  Considering the ability for technology to overcome those harsh environments, we see no reason that California can’t develop a way to ensure that youth in our state have secure and supervised access to the internet in juvenile detention and foster care programs.

EFF is throwing its support behind A.B. 811, a California bill sponsored by Assemblymember Mike Gipson, that would establish that youth in custody have a right to “reasonable access to computer technology and the internet for the purposes of education and maintaining contact with family and supportive adults.” The bill would also establish the right of youth in foster care to have access to computers and the internet.

As EFF writes in its letter:

When youth are incarcerated, it is the government’s duty to ensure that they receive the necessary services for rehabilitation and successful integration back into the free world. Computer literacy and computer skills are crucial to development in the modern era, particularly when it comes to finding jobs. In addition, since many facilities are located in remote areas, placing youth far from their homes, accommodations should be made using modern technology to allow detainees to maintain meaningful relationships with their families to enhance the support structure for successful rehabilitation.

Similarly, youth in foster care must also have access to the same resources that most children receive through their schools, libraries, and homes.

Nearly 56,000 youth were in foster care in 2015, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In addition, the California Department of Justice data [.pdf] reports that more than 23,000 youth were detained in secure facilities in 2014, with Hispanic youth representing more than half and Black youth representing roughly a quarter of youth in secure custody. We applaud Assemblymember Gipson for his efforts to ensure this significant at-risk population is provided with the tools they need to succeed. 

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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn Statement on Federal Judge Blocking Trump's Muslim Ban

Move On - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 10:54

Last night, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland halted Donald Trump’s second attempt at a Muslim ban–hours before Trump’s Executive Order would have taken effect. In reaction to the court’s’ temporary restraining orders, MoveOn.org Political Action Executive Director Ilya Sheyman issued the following statement:

“This temporary suspension of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban is another significant step in ensuring this unconstitutional religious test is struck down wholly and permanently. Despite disparagement and attacks, once again our nation’s legal system has done its job and thwarted an executive action based solely on prejudice. Trump’s efforts to push through this nearly-identical order after multiple federal courts blocked it from taking effect previously lays bare his rampant xenophobia and yet again shows his administration’s unwillingness to abide by our Constitution.

“Make no mistake: This continued push by Trump is an all-out effort to advance Islamophobic policy and betray the values of our nation. The intention and impact of this Muslim Ban remains fundamentally unchanged from the moment Trump called for it during the campaign.

“MoveOn members will continue to fight this cruel proposal. As the courts continue to reject these orders, every American has a moral obligation to defend our Constitution and prevent this cruel and bigoted proposal from ever taking effect.”


Categories: Political Action

Victory 2.0 against Trump's Muslim ban?

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 01:00

The Trump administration has been stopped once again from imposing its racist travel ban, but the danger is far from over, report Brian Sullivan and Nicole Colson.

Update: After this article was published, a second federal judge in Maryland echoed the Hawaiian court's ruling, issuing a preliminary injunction against the suspension of the refugee program for the six Muslim-majority countries. Judge Theodore D. Chuang found that the likely purpose of the executive order was the discriminatory "effectuation of the proposed Muslim ban" that Trump had promised to implement as a presidential candidate.

Protesters mobilize at the airports against Trump's Muslim ban (Joe Piette | flickr)

"THE ILLOGIC of the government's contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed."

With these words, federal judge Derrick Kahala Watson in Hawaii blocked implementation of the Trump administration's revised Muslim travel ban on March 15, less than six hours before it was set to go into effect.

Watson's ruling was the outcome of one of three hearings in federal court on March 15, as opponents of the bigoted ban challenged its legality. The rulings of the other two judges weren't known as this article was being written, and the Trump administration hadn't yet tried to get Watson's temporary restraining order lifted or otherwise appeal his decision, though it certainly will.

Predictably, Trump was full of bluster in response. "This ruling makes us look weak," he snarled to a rally of supporters in Nashville. "We're going to take our case as far as it needs to go."

Opponents of Trump's racism and xenophobia were preparing to protest the ban on Thursday, when it was to be implemented--and they know this struggle is far from over. The Trump administration will press on, and there are plenty of federal judges--including some of the nine who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court--who can be relied on to be a legal rubber stamp.

The same determination we saw in the uprising of the airports two months ago will be needed as the Trump White House continues its war on refugees and immigrants.

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IN HIS ruling blocking the travel ban, Watson raked the Trump administration over the coals for its racism, though using polite judicial-speak to do so.

After noting that a ban targeting six countries whose populations are all over 90 percent Muslim, Watson specifically singled out a press release from then-candidate Trump's campaign in December 2015 called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

Watson wrote in his decision that "a reasonable, objective observer...would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion."

This isn't a radical conclusion. The only people who would claim the travel ban isn't a ban on Muslims are shills for the Trump administration.

Under the new version, if it ever goes into effect, travel would be restricted for people coming from six Muslim-majority countries--Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. (Unlike the first ban, Iraq was left off of the list.)

The new version would, like the first, sharply cut the number of refugees who could be granted asylum in the U.S this year, from 110,000 to 50,000, and it would likewise suspend the U.S. government's refugee program bringing people into the country for 120 days.

The most significant change to the revised ban is that it exempts lawful permanent residents and people who currently have visas from being denied entry to the U.S.--a response by the Trump administration to the multiple court orders in the previous round confirming that visa holders and lawful permanent residents have legal rights which the administration can't summarily disregard.

Trump's administration claims the removal of Iraq from the list of banned countries was the result of some unspecified steps taken by the Iraqi government to "provide additional information about its citizens for purposes of our immigration decisions."

But the more likely reason is intense pressure from the Pentagon, Iraqi government and forces within the administration. Like the Saudi monarchy, the Iraqi government is an important partner in maintaining regional control, and the administration needs to be careful about alienating its leaders.

The exclusion of Iraq from the list of banned countries may also be the result of lessons learned from the first legal battle. Iraqi nationals who had assisted the U.S. military were prohibited from entering the country and were key plaintiffs in the cases challenging the first ban.

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OTHER CHANGES to the travel ban were highly formalistic, altering the wording of the original executive order, but not its content. For example, the new ban would authorize certain government officials to grant waivers for people seeking entry to the U.S., potentially allowing people from one of the six banned countries to travel here.

These waivers would be a grotesque charade if the new ban ever goes into effect. The U.S. "war on terror" has caused profound destruction in each of the six banned countries, and people escaping that destruction should not have to seek a waiver--a lengthy and nearly impossible process for those fleeing war and often profound poverty as well--from American officials who caused the damage.

There is no reason to think this waiver power would be exercised sympathetically. The power is given to the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, positions currently held by Rex Tillerson and John Kelly. Tillerson is a billionaire oil executive, and Kelly recently championed separating children from their parents at the border in deportation proceedings.

Border agents could also exercise this waiver power, but are unlikely to do so humanely. In January, Canadian women traveling to participate in the Women's March on Washington were turned away from entering the U.S. when border agents learned where they would be going. A month later, a Muslim woman from Montreal was denied entry after being fingerprinted, and asked about her religion and her views on Trump.

Incredibly, at the March 15 hearing in a Maryland federal court, the Justice Department argued that the plaintiffs should wait to challenge the order until they see whether individual immigrants are able to receive waivers that allow them to get visas, despite the six-country ban.

Justin Cox, a lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center, pointed out the absurdity of this: "If there were a special process for Black folks to live in a certain neighborhood, you wouldn't say their claims are not ripe until they're denied."

The revised ban even attempts to add some new Islamophobic tools to the Trump administration's repertoire.

In the name of "transparency," for example, Trump's latest executive order directs the U.S. government to create a database on the number of foreign nationals who have been charged with "terrorism-related" offenses, who have been "radicalized" after entry into the U.S., or who have committed "gender-based violence against women, including so-called 'honor killings' in the United States."

But the fact--inconvenient though it may be for xenophobes like Trump--remains that most terrorist attacks in the U.S. are committed by people who are citizens. Moreover, violence carried out by white, right-wing reactionaries is far more common.

With this portion of the executive order, Trump hopes to direct government resources toward obscuring that fact.

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EVEN IF the latest block on the revised ban remains in place, the uncertainty and suffering for immigrants and refugees caused by U.S. policies can't be undone.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, for example, says that many of its members are scared to travel outside the U.S. for fear that they will not be allowed to return home.

This fear is well founded. Khaled Almilaji, a Syrian doctor who was working in Rhode Island, has been stranded in Turkey since the first travel ban was announced. As the latest ban was being rolled out, it appeared unlikely that he would be able to return to the U.S.--despite the fact that his pregnant wife was about to give birth to their daughter.

In Boston, Mohammed Al-Bardan, who is originally from Syria, also reported significant disruption to his family's life. Still waiting for his green card to be approved, Al-Bardan is not able to visit his family because he might not be let back in to the U.S.

There are many more stories like this--and others are sure to follow if Trump gets his way.

Trump's claim that his administration isn't seeking to target Muslims needs to be recognized for the transparent lie that it is. With the revised ban, Trump sought to deepen the spurious connection between Islam and terrorism--and he will undoubtedly continue to do so in other ways.

Every Islamophobic and racist policy on the part of the Trump administration must be challenged with the determination that people showed with the first travel ban--drawing thousands out for protests to defend the rights of immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

Activists and emergency response networks had planned rallies in several cities for March 16, when the revised ban was due to go into effect. Trump's order is now on hold--but the racism and Islamophobia of the Trump administration is rolling ahead at full steam.

Now, anti-racists can look ahead to May Day as an opportunity to link the struggles in defense of immigrants and refugees with those in support of working people and against the policies of the Trump administration.

We need to be ready to take on Trump and his bigotry every chance we get.

Categories: Political Action

Running the EPA...into the ground

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 01:00

Donald Trump has appointed a darling of the energy industry to run the Environmental Protection Agency that is supposed to police the polluters, writes Michael Ware.

Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt (Gage Skidmore | Wikimedia Commons)

A YEAR ago, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was the focus of national outrage when it was revealed that residents of Flint, Michigan, were being poisoned by their own drinking water, thanks in significant part to the actions of Snyder's pro-business, do-nothing-for-the-poor administration.

Today, with Donald Trump's appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it's as if Flint never happened.

Bought and paid for by the Oklahoma energy industry, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times as that state's attorney general. Today, he's in charge of running the agency...into the ground.

With Pruitt's appointment, the Trump administration hopes to repeal any meaningful regulation and enforcement of the energy and farming industries, as well as wage an ideological attack on the environmental movement, which the right views as an existential threat.

"Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace," said Trump after the election, claiming that the EPA has an "anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs." The irony is that Pruitt's draft budget for the agency calls for 3,000 layoffs and a 25 percent funding cut in order to free up money for the military.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Pruitt said that he doesn't think carbon dioxide is "a primary contributor to the global warming that we see." This is science that not even Shell or ExxonMobil dispute. He has called himself a "leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda"--but hasn't had anything to say about the $300,000 in donations that the energy companies gave to his Oklahoma campaigns.

Pruitt was also caught letting Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma's largest oil and gas companies, write an official complaint to the EPA using his official attorney general letterhead. And it wasn't until his confirmation hearings this year that some 3,000 e-mails Pruitt wrote to oil and gas companies as attorney general were finally released, after he refused previous requests to release them for several years.

As 350.org Executive Director May Boeve noted, "You couldn't pick a better fossil fuel industry puppet."

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THE OPENING act for Pruitt was Myron Ebell, Trump's pick to head the EPA transition team. This "libertarian gadfly" is the director of global warming and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and is known for his hostility to the EPA, science and the reality of global warming.

Ebell suggested firing 10,000 of the EPA's 15,000 current employments, half of whom are scientists. James Delingpole of Breitbart "News" relished Ebell's appointment, writing, "The left just lost the war on climate change...Yup, greenies. That climate change gravy train you've been riding these last four decades looks like it's headed for a major, Atlas-Shrugged-style tunnel incident."

In addition to staff and budget cuts, the White House draft plan for cuts at the EPA includes the elimination of 38 programs as well as many grants to clean up contaminated industrial sites, climate change initiatives and aid to Alaskan villages.

Research and development funding would be cut 42 percent, and the overall reduction of funds and staff would make an already weak enforcement division even weaker. As for the Office of Environmental Justice, Trump plans to shut it down.

"The point here will be, more than in any prior administration, to reduce the agency's effectiveness so much that it can't recover even when the political winds change," wrote the Natural Resources Defense Council's David Doniger.

However much the administration would like eliminate any fetter on profits, they won't be able to rip up existing protections without lengthy legal battles. But we shouldn't expect the courts to win these battles without a loud movement countering Trump and Pruitt.

The first victims are the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is targeting because they're part of Obama's climate legacy, as meager as it is.

The Clean Water Rule involves defining what bodies of water are federally protected. Trump's executive order in February to roll back the rule is more about following through on a campaign promise he used to whip up resentment against the EPA with rural voters.

But the EPA is already too weak and pro-business to enforce regulatory compliance. The lack of enforcement on drinking water partially explains why Flint happened and why we have a national crisis of clean drinking water. The EPA estimates that the nation's failing water infrastructure will take 20 years and anywhere from $384 billion to $1 trillion to repair.

If Trump does address the water crisis in some way, you can bet it will involve privatization and profit.

Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP) aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which the market, not regulation, will accomplish through the glut of fracked natural gas and cheaper renewables at the expense of coal.

Keith Gaby of the Environmental Defense Fund noted, "The crazy thing is, [Obama's CPP] is a really flexible plan, very business-friendly." Eliminating it won't revive the fortunes of coal if current natural gas production continues. So Trump's attack is largely ideological.

Trump and Pruitt have also opened a review of new rules requiring automakers to meet fleet fuel efficiency target of 54.4 miles per gallon by 2025, which in reality is about 40 miles per gallon.

Not only will this prevent a reduction in carbon emissions, it will save automakers money while costing consumers and average of $8,000 more in gas per new vehicle.

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams raised concerns about emissions, but was told by Trump that, "We all agree with you 100 percent. One hundred percent. We want you to make great cars, but if it takes an extra thimble of fuel, we want you to do it."

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THE STORY of how Republican President Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon created the EPA in 1970, shortly after the first Earth Day, can help us to see how we can defend the EPA today.

The radicalization of the 1960s included rising demands that government must protect land, air and water from industrial pollution. Nixon, a paranoid, power-hungry conservative, felt compelled to create a unified regulatory agency to improve water and air quality, lower vehicle emissions, stop dumping the Great Lakes and guard against oil spills.

Multiple protest movements and a stronger left put the Nixon administration on the defensive. The key to beating back Trump lies in deepening the current radicalization, building the left and eventually making business as usual impossible.

The March for Science and the People's Climate March, both in late April, will be excellent opportunities for progressives and radicals to unite in a show of force against Trump.

Scientists fed up with the Trump administration's mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue and the threats to defund or silence research and scientific advocacy spurred a group of them to organize the march on Earth Day. The main science rally will be in Washington, D.C., but over 295 satellite marches are registered on the event's website, with 395 events taking place globally.

The following weekend will see a similar mobilization in D.C. for the People's Climate March, backed by many of the coalition members who organized the massive 2014 People's Climate March in New York City.

We know that Trump, like Nixon, hates these mobilizations--and this is just one of many reasons to organize and resist.

Categories: Political Action

Meeting the needs of students with disabilities

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 01:00

The drive to privatize public education, which is certain to accelerate under Trump, is compounding the challenges facing students with disabilities, explains Lauren Nickell.

A walkout by Boston high school students included demands for expanded services for people with disabilities

THE CONFIRMATION of Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education has provoked questions among faculty at schools across the nation about how to organize to protect public education. For many special education teachers in particular, the threat of widespread cuts to public schools feels particularly urgent.

Betsy DeVos is a champion of school privatization and advocate of dismantling public education, and she confidently and aggressively plans to pursue these goals even though she never attended or worked in a public school.

"It has always been our students who lose out the most--it is always kids with disabilities who are thrown under the bus first," said one Boston-area special educator in response to the prospect of further losses to already under-resourced programs for children with disabilities.

This observation is a concrete assessment of the state of public special education in the U.S. Special education departments have suffered from ableist policy and funding practices, which are part and parcel of the neoliberal assault on public schools.

DeVos, who openly opposes a federal guarantee of free and appropriate education to students with disabilities, appears poised to further ravage these services.

But it's not only teachers who are hungry to find the means to effectively fight back and defend students most victimized by ongoing attacks on special education. During the 2016 walkout by Boston Public School students, thousands of young activists and working-class families raised the demand for full funding for disability programing, among other issues.

The current resistance to Trump has demonstrated the readiness of ordinary people to stage effective opposition to systemic injustice of all kinds. From the massive demonstrations for women's rights to the pro-immigrant, anti-Islamophobia protests staged at airports across the nation, these mobilizations have shown that hundreds of thousands of people are invested in actively opposing oppression and fighting for a more just society.

We are presented now with the opportunity to tap into this momentum and harness the energy of this resistance to oppose the DeVos agenda and simultaneously bring the struggle against disability oppression to the forefront of the movement for education justice.

In order to achieve this, it is necessary to examine the nature of disability oppression and how the disenfranchisement of students with disabilities in the U.S. education system is wedded to a broad assault on public services for working-class people.

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A SOCIALIST approach to fighting disability oppression starts with the "social model of disability," which identifies disability oppression--like all other forms of oppression-- as rooted in the way our society is organized. Exclusion and discrimination toward people with physical or mental differences are not a natural consequence of human nature; impairments exist in a context where exclusion and discrimination based on impairment are permitted.

Under capitalism, it is very much the case that the labor market and the organization of work are fundamental components in the construction of disability as a social category. Inherent in the ideology and practice of capitalism is the idea that a person's well-being is dependent on their ability to sell their labor for a wage.

Thus, physical and mental differences that preclude or interfere with performing wage labor are considered central to very condition of "disability." The Social Security Administration of the United States plainly states on its website, "You cannot do work...This is a strict definition of disability."

Although the state does provide benefits for some people with disabilities, the defining ideology of capitalism is kept intact by limiting disability welfare in accordance to the "principle of less eligibility"--the idea that any assistance to the unemployed must be limited to an amount less than the wages of the poorest workers. (It should be noted that socialists do not accept the state's definition of disability. We recognize a definition of disability that includes all persons who experience oppression as a consequence of impairment.)

In the realm of education, there are parallels to the federal definition of disability and how it is used to regulate labor markets and access to social services. One aspect of the criteria for diagnosing a student with a learning disability (and thus qualifying them for special education services) is the determination that a student "does not make adequate progress to meet age or grade-level standards."

Within the U.S. education system--the primary function of which is to reproduce the American workforce--students with disabilities are defined as those whose performance is not in line with state standards for college and career-readiness or those who require additional and/or individualized educational resources to meet those standards.

When teachers ask, "Why is it always kids with disabilities who are first to be thrown under the bus?" the dismaying answer is that the character of schooling in the U.S. has always reflected the needs of capitalism rather than any kind of humanistic value in bettering people's lives.

When advances to special education services have been won in the past, it has not been due to the benevolence of those who manage the state deciding to hand down reforms for the benefit of students with special needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), for example, was won thanks to the struggle waged from below by civil rights activists and advocates of the Independent Living movement who put forward a radical perspective on the politics of disablement and exposed masses of ordinary to a critique of ableism for the first time.

Unfortunately, protections won under IDEA legislation have not been enough to defend the interests of students with disabilities in public education. Students with severe disabilities have, in fact, become increasingly vulnerable as public education at large and special education policy in particular have been refashioned to reflect a neoliberal economic model.

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NEOLIBERALISM IS driven by the belief that the "free market" should coordinate all aspects of social life. So neoliberal measures include privatization of public institutions, the cutting of social services (because they led to "market distortions"), and attacks on labor unions (which frustrate "market efficiency").

One obvious consequence of privatization is the conversion of resources used to provide public goods into private profits for corporations and their investors. This creates an incentive for advocates of neoliberal policy to set up public schools to fail, thus creating a justification for privatization. This, in turn, gives political leaders the opportunity to reward their friends and supporters in the private sector with contracts to run various aspects of the public school system.

The effective use of discrimination against special education students as a weapon against public education is particularly clear in the legacy of the No Child Left Behind Act, passed during the George W. Bush administration.

In 2004, the IDEA Act--originally established to ensure the full inclusion of children with disabilities in public education--was revised to reflect alignment with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its practice of placing sanctions on districts with low academic performance.

Under NCLB, the standardized exams scores of students diagnosed with severe cognitive disabilities were for the first time held against districts in determining school ratings, which in turn affected schools' access to funding. It wasn't an oversight of NCLB that students with disabilities were unfairly assessed by standards that made no accommodation for their abilities. On the contrary, this was part of a carefully devised strategy that set up public schools to fail.

Obama's 2009 Race to the Top (RTTT) program pushed the polices of NCLB into overdrive, much to the continued detriment of special education students. RTTT used the offer of additional grant money to incentivize states to adopt a set of common national standards and assessments, with test scores enshrined as the arbiter of student progress.

Once again, one glaring omission of the program was any adapted standards and assessments to account for the cognitive diversity of students. RTTT deliberately set up special education students to fail, all under the guise of delivering them an "equal education."

Schools whose special education departments cannot demonstrate proficiency on state-mandated standardized testing are now punished through low ratings that result in defunding and the implementation of "school-choice" programs. In a worst-case scenario, low-scoring schools can be taken into state receivership.

This is where education "reformers," who represent the interests of neoliberal restructuring, step in and recommend that schools be converted to business-managed charter schools. Although charter schools promote themselves as open to all, in actuality, their admissions processes often include screening students based on academic records, disciplinary history and special needs.

Screening of this nature serve two purposes: first, to limit admission to students who require the fewest resources and therefore are less costly to teach (i.e., neurotypical, able-bodied students); and second, to filter out students who are most likely to receive low scores on state testing (i.e., students with learning differences or cognitive disabilities).

In the absence of free public schools that serve all children, educating students with special needs is considered a financial burden.

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IT'S TRUE that there never was a "golden age" of special education in American public schools. The exclusion and mistreatment of students with disabilities long predates the dismantling of public school districts or the rise of discriminatory charter schools.

However, it is a mistake to believe we can win better conditions for special needs students by setting higher goals for their performance on standardized exams or by abandoning the project of building public schools that are more inclusive.

We cannot fight for a vision of education justice that includes disability justice within the framework of the neoliberal model of education, because that model was explicitly built to exclude special needs students and to silence voices that demand free, accessible, community-controlled schools that can genuinely serve children of all abilities.

As a result, we should focus our demand not on "equality" as defined by the proponents of the one-test-fits-all position, but on equity. Our side must put forward a vision of education that acknowledges diversity in learners and strives to give each child an education that is responsive to their unique needs.

This is not a vision of education that places lower expectations on special education students because of the misconception that they are inherently low achievers. It is a vision that upholds the reality that there are a multitude of ways to acquire knowledge and express intelligence.

Refusal to acknowledge this reality harms students with learning differences in particular. Just ask an educator--the research is on our side with regard to this issue. Today at graduate programs for prospective teachers, pupils study the principles of universal design, Howard Gardener's theory of multiple intelligences and Lev Vygotsky's zone of proximal development.

All the foundations of progressive pedagogy tell us that human learning is a social and creative process that different students will access through diverse modes of knowledge development. This fact clearly refutes the notion that schooling should be built around rigid inculcation with standardized content.

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BUILDING A movement for education justice that acknowledges diversity in the way children learn means demanding the freedom for educators to design and teach curricula responsive to the needs of their students. As it stands now, the teachers who are best trained to develop curriculum for students with special needs are rarely able to draw on this expertise because standardized testing creates significant pressure to "teach to the test."

This is why it is critical to link demands for disability justice to demands raised by teachers unions: a stronger voice for educators in policy-making, education spending and academic design are vital components of winning equitable education for students with disabilities.

One example of how the fight for disability justice can be waged in tandem with the education justice struggle is the "opt-out movement"--a collaborative effort in which teachers unions, parents, and students rally together under the slogan, "Less testing, more learning!"

The goal of this movement is to give parents and children both the right and the confidence to opt out of state standardized tests, and thus shift the education system away from a system designed to punish teachers, students and schools that don't perform well on high-stakes tests, which test how well students take high-stakes tests, but little else.

In 2016, more than 640,000 students across the U.S. refused participation in these exams and simultaneously raised public consciousness about the harm that testing inflicts, particularly in communities of color. Advocates for disability justice should similarly see opt-out campaigns as platforms to voice demands that will advance the cause for equitable special education.

Likewise, the recent success of the "Save Our Public Schools" campaign in Massachusetts saw thousands of parents, students and social-justice activists of all kinds stand with teachers unions in their call to vote against a ballot proposal that would drain billions of dollars from public schools to fund the expansion of charter schools.

"Save Our Public Schools" became the most widely publicized ballot question campaign in the history of the state, won tremendous public support and successfully secured funding for public schools--all while educating voters about the role charter schools play in promoting a two-track system that discriminates against students with disabilities.

Beyond concrete protections for public special ed, the "Save Our Public Schools" campaign is crucial for showing what can be achieved through fusing broad calls for social justice with the demands of teachers as well as the particular demands of students with disabilities.

Solidarity across social movements and between various struggles for justice will be required to win in the era of Trump as we battle an administration that is intent on setting back all efforts for the liberation for people with disabilities, women, people of color, immigrants, queer and trans people, Muslims, and working-class people generally.

The fact that the Trump agenda will pose a threat for all of these movements should signal to activists that fighting alone is neither preferable nor possible. One way we can build the fight for disability rights is to combat the ableism inherent in the project of privatizing education, a threat that is certain to grow more severe with DeVos as Education Secretary.

Our rallying cry should be unequivocal: education must be a human right for people of all mental and physical abilities. Education should no longer be a means for generating private gain for massive corporations. Building a movement for schools that reflect this vision is one step toward the project of building a society that refuses the idea that our worth is dependent on our ability to produce profit--a society that renders obsolete the very basis for disability oppression.

Categories: Political Action

We stand for the politics of solidarity

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 01:00

The Portland, Maine, branch of the International Socialist Organization responds to a controversy surrounding an International Women's Day public forum held at the University of Southern Maine.

ON MARCH 8, in honor of International Working Women's Day and in solidarity with the International Women's Strike, the Maine branch of the International Socialist Organization hosted a panel discussion titled "Women's Strikes and Women's Liberation." The panel included a politically, racially and gender diverse group of speakers from the ISO, as well as other campus and community organizations who presented on a variety of topics related to women's liberation. These topics included the International Women's Strike USA platform, building trans-inclusive feminism, the dynamic between liberal and radical approaches to the women's suffrage movement, the women's textile workers strike that sparked the Russian Revolution in 1917, and a case for building an anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism rooted in the politics of solidarity.

The International Women's Day discussion was a small effort the Portland ISO was proud to help organize as part of a growing resistance in the U.S. and around the world. This will to resist has been rising for some time, but we have seen it sharpen and escalate in the months since Donald Trump's election. We saw it in the wave of protests erupting in cities across the country the night after Trump's election; in the outpouring of support for the struggle at Standing Rock; on January 21, when a call for a women's march resulted in the largest day of protest in United States history; in the airport occupations, the taxi drivers' and Yemeni bodega strikes against the Muslim ban; in the fight to defend Planned Parenthood and abortion rights.

We would rather spend our time building solidarity with all these actions. However, since March 8, individuals have taken to online platforms to characterize the International Women's Day event, the ISO at large and individual members as violent, transphobic, and white supremacist. Additionally, these individuals have stated that the facilitation process of "taking stack," the speakers and their presentations erased, silenced and perpetuated violence against women of color and other marginalized voices in the room.

We entirely reject these allegations as well as the ongoing smear campaign by our critics, none of whom attended the event in its entirety, and some of whom did not attend at all. Given the seriousness of the allegations against us, as well as the stakes for building a political moment capable of challenging the Trump administration and a vicious far right emboldened by it, we have decided to we have no choice but to respond directly.

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FIRST, WE reject the claim that the March 8 event erased, silenced, ignored or otherwise disregarded the voices and experiences of oppressed people, particularly women of color and transgender people. In fact, this claim in and of itself discounts the voices and experiences of oppressed people, particularly women of color and transgender people--both those who played a key role in organizing this event, spoke on the panel and participated in the discussion, and the historic struggles upon which the panelists presented.

It seems to us that our critics had made up their minds before they walked into the room. After arriving late--missing welcoming remarks by the chairperson, greetings on behalf of café workers who had shut down for the day, the entire first presentation, and the first half of the second presentation--a member of the group in question raised her hand to begin the discussion by reproaching the panel for not speaking about Standing Rock. As it happened, the panel's first speaker had made Standing Rock a central component of her presentation. She quoted at length from a Native organizer (who the Portland ISO branch had hosted via Skype at a public meeting on December 16, 2016) about an assembly she took part in while at Standing Rock calling for resistance against the escalation of sexual violence against Native women in the wake of the implementation of profit-driven colonialist projects like DAPL. Even after the panelist repeated this part of her presentation in order to dispel the accusation, our critics denounced the speaker for having mentioned Standing Rock in the first place because the panelist is a Black woman and is not herself Indigenous. Later in the evening, one of our critics accused the ISO of erasing women of color and claimed that the multiracial panel "failed to uplift marginalized voices and instead uplifted whiteness."

Second, we strongly object to our critics' violation of basic social movement security norms. During the discussion section of the meeting, they filmed and/or photographed participants without their consent or knowledge. Further, some of our critics took to social media to publish a list of ISO members publicly without their consent. Our critics' intentions may have been to "merely" to initiate a campaign of public "shaming"--truth be told, this doesn't bother us as we have nothing to be ashamed about. However, their actions betray a reckless disregard for activists' safety in the face of an increasingly aggressive state that aims to repress our movements by denying basic democratic rights, especially those who are particularly vulnerable because of legal circumstances, nature of employment, citizenship status, etc. If nothing else, we hope they will reconsider and take immediate steps to correct these irresponsible actions.

Third, one critic contends the International Women's Day panel employed a "white supremacist" structure because our chairperson used "stack" to organize the discussion portion of the meeting. We affirm our commitment to democratic meeting structures and facilitation process, including stack, which was developed within movements for the express purpose of amplifying marginalized voices. Stack is an alternative to a q-and-a style of facilitation, which often relegates attendees to passive participants. Stack facilitation aims to empower attendees to build upon or challenge the ideas under discussion or to share their own knowledge and experience. We use time limits on speakers in order to allow as many people the chance to speak as possible, to prevent one person/topic from monopolizing limited discussion time, and to enable speakers from the floor to present ideas in a concise and accessible manner. We don't insist that everyone operates exactly as we do, and at times we change up our formats, but it should go without saying that none of this has anything to do with white supremacy.

Finally, we specifically challenge the implication that violence of any kind, either explicit or implicit, was threatened against anyone attending the meeting. These claims simply have no basis in reality. Where does such an absurd charge come from? The facts are very simple. Our critics repeatedly interrupted speakers throughout the discussion and during one such interruption, after the individuals speaking out of turn refused the chair's offer to add them to the speaking list, the chair asked them and the speaker with whom they were arguing to take their conversation outside. The ISO member who had the floor offered to go outside with them to continue the discussion informally with those heckling him so that others in the meeting might have a turn to speak up. The hecklers declined to leave and, incredibly, have twisted this exchange into the bizarre idea that they were being challenged to a street fight.

There are other accusations and insults being thrown around as well, but we feel the few refutations listed above are sufficient to point to baselessness of the whole campaign. We stand ready and willing to work with any and all who want to fight for a better world, but we will not be silent in the face of slander.

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ORGANIZERS ON the left are faced with the task of cohering the huge energy for resistance into a sustained, confident mass movement of millions of people. The scope of this challenge forces us to confront the question of how to unify a broad, multi-tendency movement. We are up against powerful and dangerous enemies. Donald Trump has issued 34 executive orders in the last two months, including his first and second Muslim ban, a call to restrict funding for sanctuary cities, funding to build the border wall, approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline, promotion of the voucher program, a call to revise the Clean Water Rule, and directives to ICE to terrorize immigrant communities through a program of mass deportations.

The seriousness of this project means we have an obligation to take a stand against the politics and practices that undermine its goals. Building a unified left does not mean burying political disagreements that will inevitably arise among organizations in the struggle. It does mean building a political culture and democratic practices that create room for sharp but comradely debate. The foundations of this force cannot be built on shame and manipulation. We must develop a political culture capable of taking on oppression within organizing circles without tearing them apart.

We stand for the politics of solidarity. We assert that an injury to one is an injury to all, that working class people have a shared interest in fighting all forms of oppression, whether or not they experience that particular oppression directly. We argue that capitalist exploitation--and the state that has always protected the 1 percent against the 99 percent--has played a pivotal role in the creation and continuation of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other forms of oppression, and therefore must be dismantled.

We acknowledge that many organizations do not share this perspective or aim, but we seek to work in collaboration with all groups and individuals interested in building united fronts in the struggle for against the rising far right and for reforms that improve the material conditions of oppressed and exploited people's lives. We also remain committed to fighting beyond reforms, for a world free from oppression and exploitation. We will continue to assert ourselves in struggle as an independent organization fighting for a revolutionary conclusion: a socialist society achieved by a self-emancipated working class.

Categories: Political Action

When the alt-right was the alt-Reich

Socialist Worker - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 01:00

Scott McLemee reviews a book that documents how the immigration policy of the U.S. government inspired Nazi theory and practice, in his column for Inside Higher Ed.

U.S. Border Patrol agents detain a group of men in Southern Texas

FINDING HIMSELF in prison following the beer-hall fiasco in Munich in 1923, Adolf Hitler had time to put his thoughts about politics and destiny into order, at least as much as that was possible. The United States was part of his grand vision, and not as someplace to conquer.

"The racially pure and still unmixed German has risen to become master of the American continent," he wrote in Mein Kampf, "and he will remain the master, as long as he does not fall victim to racial pollution." Hitler was encouraged on the latter score by what he had learned of American immigration policy. With its stated preference for Northern Europeans, its restrictions on those from Southern and Eastern Europe, and its outright exclusion of everyone else, the Immigration Act of 1924 impressed Hitler as exemplary. It manifested, "at least in tentative first steps," what he and his associates saw as "the characteristic völkisch conception of the state," as defined in some detail by the Nazi Party Program of 1920.

Revulsion is an understandable response to this little traipse through the ideological sewer, but it is wholly inadequate for assessing the full measure of the facts or their implications. The admiration for American immigration policy expressed in Mein Kampf was not a passing thought on the day's news (Hitler had been in prison for about two months when Calvin Coolidge signed the act into law) nor a one-off remark. Its place in the full context of Nazi theory and practice comes into view in Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton University Press) by James Q. Whitman, a professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale Law School.

Review: Books

James Q. Whitman, Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. Princeton University Press, 2017, 224 pages, $24.95.

Many people will take the very title as an affront. But it's the historical reality the book discloses that proves much harder to digest. The author does not seem prone to sensationalism. The argument is made in two succinct, cogent and copiously documented chapters, prefaced and followed with remarks that remain within the cooler temperatures of expressed opinion (for example: "American contract law, for example, is, in my opinion, exemplary in its innovativeness").

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HITLER'S AMERICAN Model is scholarship and not an editorial traveling incognito. Its pages contain many really offensive statements about American history and its social legacy. But those statements are all from primary sources--statements about America, made by Nazis, usually in the form of compliments.

"The most important event in the history of the states of the Second Millennium--up until the [First World] War--was the founding of the United States of America," wrote a Nazi historian in 1934. "The struggle of the Aryans for world domination thereby received its strongest prop." Another German author developed the point two years later, saying that "a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged" without American leadership on the global stage following the war.

Examples could be multiplied. The idea of the United States as a sort of alt-Reich was a Nazi commonplace, at least in the regime's early years. But it was not just a matter of following Hitler's lead. The white supremacist and eugenicist writings of Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard--among the best-selling American authors of a hundred years ago--circulated in translation in the milieu that spawned Hitler. (I don't recall Hannah Arendt mentioning Grant or Stoddard in Origins of Totalitarianism, oddly enough.) A popular Nazi magazine praised lynching as "the natural resistance of the Volk to an alien race that is attempting to gain the upper hand." European visitors noted the similarity between the Ku Klux Klan and fascist paramilitary groups like the Brownshirts, and they compared the post-Reconstruction order in the South to the Nazi system.

But the journalistic analogies and propaganda talking points of the day, while blatant enough, don't convey the depth of American influence on Nazi race law. The claim of influence runs against the current of much recent scholarship arguing that Nazi references to the Jim Crow system were "few and fleeting" and that American segregation laws had little or no impact on the Nuremberg Laws. (At the Nuremberg rally of 1935, the Nazis proclaimed citizenship limited to those "of German blood, or racially related blood" and outlawed marriage or sexual relations between Jews and German citizens.)

While the Nazis did call attention to segregation in the United States--so the argument goes--it was to deflect criticism of German policy. The error here, as Whitman sees it, comes from treating the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson as the primary or quintessential legal component of racial oppression in the United States, and presumably the one Nazi jurists would have looked to in reshaping German policy. But according to Whitman, "American race law" in the 19th and much of the 20th century:

sprawled over a wide range of technically distinct legal areas...[including] Indian law, anti-Chinese and -Japanese legislation, and disabilities in civil procedure and election law....Anti-miscegenation laws on the state level featured especially prominently...[as] did immigration and naturalization law on the federal level....

Even before the outbreak of World War I, German scholars were fascinated by this teeming mass of American racist law--with a particular interest in what one of them identified as a new category of "subjects without citizenship rights" (or second-class citizens, to put it another way) defined by race or country of ancestry. By the 1930s, the anti-miscegenation laws in most American states were another topic of great concern. While many countries regarded interracial marriage as undesirable, Nazi jurists "had a hard time uncovering non-American examples" of statutes prohibiting it.

A stenographic transcript from 1934 provides Whitman's most impressive evidence of how closely Nazi lawyers and functionaries had studied American racial jurisprudence. A meeting of the Commission on Criminal Law Reform "involved repeated and detailed discussion of the American example, from its very opening moments," Whitman writes, including debate between Nazi radicals and what we'd have to call, by default, Nazi moderates.

The moderates argued that legal tradition required consistency. Any new statute forbidding mixed-race marriages had to be constructed in accord with the one existing precedent for treating a marriage as criminal: the law against bigamy. This would have been a bit of a stretch, and the moderates preferred letting the propaganda experts discourage interracial romance rather than making it a police matter.

The radicals were working from a different conceptual tool kit. Juristic tradition counted for less than what Hitler had called the "völkisch conception of the state," which demanded Aryan supremacy and racial purity. It made more sense to them to follow an example that had been tried and tested. One of the hard-core Nazis on the commission knew where to turn:

Now as far as the delineation of the race concept goes, it is interesting to take a look at the list of American states. Thirty of the states of the union have race legislation, which, it seems clear to me, is crafted from the point of view of race protection....I believe that apart from the desire to exclude if possible a foreign political influence that is becoming too powerful, which I can imagine is the case with regard to the Japanese, this is all from the point of race protection.

The lawyers, whom Whitman identifies as Nazi radicals, seemed to appreciate how indifferent the American states were to German standards of rigor. True, the U.S. laws showed a lamentable indifference to Jews and Gentiles marrying. But otherwise, they were as racist as anything the führer could want. "The image of America as seen through Nazi eyes in the early 1930s is not the image we cherish," Whitman writes, "but it is hardly unrecognizable."

First published at Inside Higher Ed.

Categories: Political Action

Five years, five days of actions for #freebassel5years

Creative Commons - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 15:09
Photo of Bassel Khartabil in Seoul, 2010. CC BY 2.0 Joi Ito

Five years ago today, CC Syria lead, free culture advocate, and human rights activist Bassel Khartabil was imprisoned by the Syrian government in Damascus. As a commoner, his work on the New Palmyra project, the CC Arabic Translation, and his pivotal influence on information access in the Middle East is a beacon for all who devote their lives to free culture. In the words of Joi Ito, “The last time that many of us saw Bassel was at the Creative Commons Global Summit in Warsaw in 2011, where he was continuing his work of expanding information and opportunity in his home country and across the Middle East and the world.”

In honor of Khartabil’s influence on the free culture and open source movement, the Free Bassel campaign is encouraging five actions in public support of the movement to #freebassel in protest of his five years of unjust imprisonment.

This week, the campaign released a secret letter Khartabil sent Free Bassel coordinator Jon Phillips in 2014. If you have received a letter from Bassel, the campaign encourages you to share his words publicly and collaborate on the project via Git.

Other contributions include a Soundcloud playlist of nearly fifty songs in support of Bassel and various social media actions.

The full list of campaign actions from Freebassel.org is below. Share #freebassel5years and spread the message:

  • Retweet or reshare #freebassel5years posts on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.
  • If you’ve received a handwritten message from Bassel, contact letters@freebassel.org. We’ll coordinate social media and other sharing with you.
  • Find and share your favorite #freebassel media on all social media channels, using the tag #freebassel5years. Places to find media include Openclipart, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, Internet Archive, YouTube, and Soundcloud.
  • Hold a #freebassel5years vigil, picnic, hackathon, protest, or other physical space event, and share digital representations of the event or artifacts created there on #freebassel5years social media.
  • Remix or create your own #freebassel media, upload to your favorite sites, and share links on social media, using the tag #freebassel5years everywhere.
  • Share projects honoring Bassel such as the Cost of Freedom book, again on social media under the tag #freebassel5years.
  • Share ongoing projects founded by Bassel, such as the #NEWPALMYRA project…on social media, tagged #freebassel5years.
  • State on social media that you’re participating in #freebassel5years, e.g.: I pledge to make 5 public acts to demand a #freebassel for #freebassel5years, join me http://freebassel.org/campaign/events/freebasselday/2017/03/09/freebassel5years/
  • Free Bassel. It’s OK if you forget to mention it on social media using the tag #freebassel5years.

The post Five years, five days of actions for #freebassel5years appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Payment Processors are Still Policing Your Sex Life, and the Latest Victim is FetLife

Deep Links - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 12:06

Eighteenth century writer and philosopher the Marquis de Sade spent the last 13 years of his life in prison for his crimes of writing pornographic novels such as Justine and Juliette.

Today those who explore and write about similar sexual fantasies online—now known as BDSM and grounded in the consent of all participants—are suffering similar acts of censorship as the eponymous literary sadist who preceded them by two centuries. The biggest difference is that the church and state have been supplanted as chief censors by private companies such as payment service providers Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal.

Five years ago EFF defended the right of publishers such as Smashwords to publish written descriptions of transgressive sexual conduct, against PayPal's threat to cancel payment services unless they withdrew such works from sale. (Following our campaign, in which we were joined by more than two dozen other free speech groups, PayPal relented.) In the same year the Nifty Archives Alliance, which publishes erotic stories, had its donation page temporarily suspended by its payment processor for fear of violating Visa and Mastercard rules. Two years ago, Backpage.com had its payment services suspended by Visa and Mastercard for providing a platform to advertise sexual services.

This year it's the turn of adult social network FetLife, which just lost its ability to process credit card payments because it offers a platform for members to discuss and to post depictions of consensual BDSM practices. In this instance the ban appears to have come down from one of the credit card networks, which shut down both of the merchant accounts that FetLife used to process payments, justifying this to one merchant with complaints about "blood, needles, and vampirism" on the website, and to the other with the vague explanation of "illegal or immoral reasons".

If any illegal content were on the website that would indeed be cause for concern, but there is no evidence of this. The last time FetLife lost payment processing services in 2013, it was on the basis of complaints of illegal child pornography on the site. Yet on closer investigation, this turned out to amount to sexualized cartoon drawings of the Simpsons, which even if they may have been in poor taste, were constitutionally protected speech under U.S. law. Even so, the site clamped down on fantasy depictions or descriptions of underage sex and incest going forward, and its payment processing services were restored.

There is no further evidence of illegal content on FetLife today than there was back then. Nor does it seem obvious the card networks' content rules have been infringed; both networks prohibit imagery of "non-consensual sexual behavior" and "non-consensual mutilation of a person or body part", but consensual BDSM is neither of these. Nonetheless, the credit card ban has had its desired effect of further constricting the range of permissible speech on FetLife, with the site introducing new restrictions on a broad range of edgy sexual practices, including consensual non-consentrace play, drug and alcohol use, and scarification.

Despite all this, their payment services still haven't been reinstated, and it's unclear how they can be. In the meantime FetLife does still accept payments via Bitcoin, which due to its open and decentralized infrastructure, is much more resistant to censorship pressures. While there may one day be a future in which digital currencies like Bitcoin are so widely adopted that it's easy for many websites to thrive on them alone, today we live in a world where credit card oligopolies can effectively shut down digital speech they find annoying or offensive.

In the course of a round of buck-passing between PayPal and the credit card networks during the Smashwords dispute, Visa had written "Visa would take no action regarding lawful material that seeks to explore erotica in a fictional or educational manner. As you note in your letter, Visa is not in the business of censoring cultural product." While we don't know which of the card networks were responsible for the latest FetLife ban, such fine sentiments seem hard to square with it.

It's also difficult to discern what's behind this latest crackdown, but the least likely scenario is that it was a case of proactive self-policing by the credit card network. More likely, this is a case of Shadow Regulation in which the hand of government, or some third party acting as self-appointed morals campaigner, has reached a secret agreement with the payment network behind the scenes. In this context, it may be worth noting that Attorney-General Jeff Sessions recently indicated that he would consider reviving the Justice Department's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force.

Whatever the source of the pressure to which the payment network acceded, EFF remains deeply concerned that payment companies aren't doing enough to consistently push back against demands to privately censor lawful sexual content online. In an age where the 50 Shades movies are playing in mainstream cinemas across the country, society ought to have moved on from the days when pornographers such as de Sade were jailed and his books burned. The best way for payment companies to discern when online content has crossed the line into obscenity is to rely on courts to make that judgment.

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Categories: Political Action

Water protectors take the fight to Trump's door

Socialist Worker - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

Rene Rougeau and Leonard Klein report from Washington, D.C., on the recent Native Nations Rise events--and some of the emerging debates in the movement.

Thousands mobilized for the Native Nations Rise demonstration in Washington (Leonard Klein | SW)

CARRYING "MNI Wiconi" and "Keep it in the soil" signs, and chanting "D-A-P-L, Army Corps can go to hell," thousands of Native and non-Native activists flooded through Washington, D.C., streets on March 10.

The Native Nations Rise rally and march from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters to the White House capped a week of actions in Washington, which included water ceremonies, panels and meetings, an interfaith service at the National Cathedral, and a tipi camp near the Washington Monument.

As a snowy drizzle fell on the gathering march packed into G Street NW, organizers had to move the front of the march up the block a number of times to accommodate the new forces arriving from every bus and metro stop in the area.

Many of the thousands of Native and non-Native protesters had participated in the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota, bringing the signs, slogans and solidarity of the Oceti Sakowin camp to D.C. Banners reading "Defend the sacred" and "We stand with Standing Rock" could be seen throughout the crowd.

It took several protesters to handle the 30-foot-long black snake puppet, with "No pipeline" stenciled on its flank. Water protectors at Standing Rock had referred to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) as the "black snake," a reference to a Lakota prophecy of destruction and desecration.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been the site of a numerous protests in the battle against DAPL because of the Corps' role in ignoring treaties and the law as the project was fast-tracked and rerouted so Energy Transfer Partners could complete its pipeline.

The Corps did nothing to stop construction until December 2016, just as U.S. military veterans were joining the Standing Rock camp, vowing to defend the water protectors from an imminent eviction order.

In order to avoid scenes of militarized North Dakota police and sheriffs fighting military vets, the Corps suddenly demanded an environmental impact study--which it had not ordered earlier, in contradiction to its own standard practices. The announcement about the impact study was seen as an important victory in the fight against DAPL.

However, under pressure from the new Trump administration, in late January, the Corps reversed itself and issued a permit necessary for drilling under the Missouri River to complete a critical section of the pipeline. In February, the Corps and the Standing Rock Tribal Council agreed that protest camps near the reservation would be cleared.

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CHANTS OF "City by city, block by block, we will stand with Standing Rock" echoed through the Washington, D.C., streets as marchers headed for the White House.

The anger at the Corps and Energy Transfer Partners over this turn in the fight against DAPL could be felt in chants such as "You can't drink oil! Keep it in the soil!" and "Black Snake killers!"

FBI agents and D.C. police added their own sour notes along the march route. At several locations, law enforcement had parked K-9 units--an unusual sight for marches of this size in D.C. and a provocation to water protectors following a police-dog attack in North Dakota last year.

There was also a special anger among marchers for Donald Trump. As the demonstration turned up Pennsylvania Avenue, a squad of protestors carrying poles and canvas ran ahead to the Trump International Hotel to erect a tipi in defiance of the obscene display of profits over people.

For the next 30 minutes, marchers chanted, sang and drummed outside the hotel. A contingent led by The Red Nation chanted "Dump Trump," "Fuck white supremacy" and "From Standing Rock to Palestine, occupation is a crime!" among others.

Many of the marchers had traveled hundreds of miles to join the Native Nations Rise events.

"I am here to stand with the people," said Fermin Lopez, of the Pueblo of Pajoaque in northern New Mexico. "I am here for three reasons: one, to fight for Indigenous rights; two, to fight for our right to exist; and, three, to fight for the water."

When asked what was important about protesting at the Trump Hotel, Fermin said: "[Trump] will do anything that makes him a million dollars. People like him will do anything for a buck. Money is what is important, not people. It should be the other way around: People should be important. Life should be important."

Cindy Schunk and her daughter, of the Yankton Sioux, came from just six miles downriver from Standing Rock. Cindy said:

I'm here for my daughter. We fish in that water, we swim in it, we live in it. They don't know when that pipeline with leak or burst, and it will leak, affecting all of us downriver.

This is the greatest rising of Natives in years. Trump signed an executive order to continue DAPL and the Keystone XL. These pipelines run through Native lands and violate treaties: Honor our treaties! Water is life. Mni Wiconi. [Natives] have always been oppressed here, it has been going on for seven generations. It's time we have our voice. Native lives matter.

The tipi was disassembled and the march continued to Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Thousands poured into the area to drum, sing and hear speakers.

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THE RED Nation again gathered many marchers with a chant that seems to encapsulate not only the relentless attacks from the Trump administration, but also the multipronged resistance to these attacks: "The front line is everywhere! Save our water, save our air!"

But a different set of politics came from the rally stage. Not a single water protector from Standing Rock was part of the scheduled lineup of speakers. Instead, the stage was dominated by celebrities, leaders of non-governmental organizations and politicians, including Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, who has been sharply criticized by some water protectors for agreeing to the dismantling of the camps.

A particularly low blow to Indigenous Hawaiians marching in D.C. was the inclusion on the stage of Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard actively repressed the fight against the Thirty Meter Telescope project on the island of Hawaii. Like Standing Rock, thousands of kia'i, or "guardians," have mobilized to protect Mauna a Wakea, a mountain sacred to Indigenous Hawaiians.

Gabbard, an opportunistic self-promoter, used her military veteran status to grab the spotlight during the self-deployment of 3,000 vets to Standing Rock in December 2016. Gabbard is also notorious as an Islamaphobic bigot and Zionist, putting her completely at odds with the sentiment of the chant that many in the march gladly took up: "From Standing Rock to Palestine, poison water is a crime."

The rally and other events of Native Nations Rising were organized by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Indigenous Environmental Network and the Native Organizers Alliance. It was an important symbol of the ongoing struggle for justice that came into the spotlight because of Standing Rock.

While Archambault's and the tribal council's strategy of confining the fight against DAPL to the courts has been rightly criticized, it was important to revive the spirit of solidarity so evident at Standing Rock--and bring it to Trump's doorstep.

But it was deeply disappointing to those who have been devoted themselves to the struggle for this past year to have the voices of water protectors themselves missing at the rally.

After the official speakers had finished, a small group of water protectors forced their way onto the stage and, bullhorn in hand, challenged what was taking place. Marcus Mitchell (Diné) stated that the politicians and NGO leaders prominent at the rally didn't want water protectors to speak because "[t]hey're afraid of us!"

Marcus was severely injured on the front lines at Standing Rock earlier this year.

During a peaceful prayer action at Backwater Bridge on January 19, the night before Trump's inauguration, Marcus was hit in the face with a bean-bag round fired by Morton County Police, which left him partially blind and damaged his sense of smell, taste and hearing.

Marcus was later discovered by fellow water protectors at a hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota, handcuffed to a bed with an armed guard at his side. He had been denied water and any means of communicating with his family. Immediately following his release from the hospital, Morton County put out a warrant for his arrest.

The fact that this story--one among many similar ones--was deemed by organizers to be unimportant or perhaps too divisive to be heard by the thousands who marched in D.C., is an insult to those called by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to protect the water.

There is a burning irony in the fact that Native Nations Rise promoted the march and rally with an iconic photo of water protector Helen Red Feather, right fist in the air--yet excluded the voices of water protectors from the stage. In a video released shortly before she was evicted from the Oceti Sakowin camp, Red Feather was critical of the tribal government's use of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

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A NUMBER of water protectors, members of The Red Nation (TRN) and International Socialist Organization (ISO) members gathered on the evening of March 10 to discuss these issues and how to organize the fight going forward.

Layola Cowboy (Diné) and Sharidynn Denetchiley (Diné), speaking for TRN, and Rene Rougeau (Nuu-Chah-Nulth) of the ISO took the stage for a discussion called "Fight to Win: Native Liberation in the Trump Era."

"Living in Standing Rock taught me something," said Cowboy, a veteran of the protest camps. "We were being forced to start a community at Standing Rock. Organizing means being part of your community...Organizing has changed my life and I am very happy about that."

Denetchiley talked the impacts of environmental and personal racism on her nation. In the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, the number of suicides rose in the 18 months following the August 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill.

In the spill, some 3 million gallons of wastewater--contaminated with heavy metals, including cadmium and lead and poisons like arsenic--blew out of the mine during an Environmental Protection Agency-monitored cleanup activity. The poison slime flowed into Cement Creek, and then into the Animas River in Colorado, a part of the San Juan River watershed, turning the water a sickly orange.

It took the EPA more than a day to warn the Navajo nation of the pollution of the waters used for drinking and irrigating crops. Heavy metal toxicity can cause a number of fatal outcomes, and is often linked to birth defects.

Yet such environmental racism is just one injustice directed at Natives. Others are much more direct. "A 9-year old girl was kidnapped and raped. We see sex trafficking and drug trafficking linked to the mining 'man-camps.' They have a settler mentality," said Denetchiley.

However, Denetchiley noted that more and more Natives are organizing and working against the priorities of profit-grabbing extractive enterprises. "We can change ourselves and change the world."

Rougeau noted that the battle at Standing Rock and the Native Nations Rise march are "transformative" events. "People taking the streets have power--the power to put pressure on Trump and tribal leaders who don't represent us," Rougeau said. "We outnumber them," Rougeau continued, "and we can out-organize them," earning a sustained round of applause.

Rougeau also talked about what Native sovereignty and the decolonization of native lands might look like concretely: "First, the decriminalization of our cultural practices, our languages, our religions. It means opening up the land; stopping privatization of native lands. It means listening to Natives."

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THE NATIVE Nations Rise events in Washington helped energized the movement for Native rights and against poisonous pipelines, but it also highlighted a number of discussions about how to best organize these struggles that need to continue in the months to come as we continue to mobilize and protest.

On the one hand, there is the strategy of depending on elected politicians and on federal laws to take care of the problems for us. But this leaves untouched the earth-killing drive for profits that is at the heart of capitalism. On the other hand, there are the politics of self-organization and solidarity. These politics challenge the belief that the earth and the people who live on it can continue to live with capitalism.

While there are many fights ahead, and the push to complete DAPL is a setback to the struggle, the meeting pointed to the need for continued united action to beat back the pipelines and fight for Native liberation.

"A key lesson from Standing Rock," Rougeau said, tying together the spirit of solidarity and mutual support felt at the anti-DAPL encampment and in the Native Nations Rise march in D.C., "is the liberation of Native peoples makes possible the liberation of all peoples."

Categories: Political Action

Fear and ignorance defeat a mosque

Socialist Worker - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

Christopher Baum reports on how zoning board hearings are now battlegrounds for anti-Muslim forces like those who blocked a proposed mosque in Bayonne, New Jersey.

Opponents of the planned mosque in Bayonne, New Jersey

A PROPOSAL that would have cleared the way for a Muslim community in Bayonne, New Jersey, to begin construction on the first mosque in the city's history was defeated on March 6, after a long and contentious meeting of the Bayonne Zoning Board of Adjustment in which blatant Islamophobic propaganda was shamefully permitted to play a starring role.

A report from WNYC gives examples of the behavior on display that night:

When Muslim men gathered in a corner of the room at Bayonne High School to pray before the meeting began, opponents of the mosque began the Christian Lord's Prayer in response. When a supporter of the mosque said discriminating against Muslims is akin to saying, "Catholics are rapists," he was shouted down.

And when an opponent, Ledia Elraheb, took the podium to loudly read what she described as violent passages from the Koran, the Bayonne zoning board chairman allowed her to continue until she yelled, "How many children have died under this so-called religion?"

Another resident, John White, called for an ideological test, saying the Muslims should be asked about their beliefs before getting a house of worship. "What do they believe?" he asked. [...]

Two men who identified themselves as non-Muslim Egyptians said the mosque should be rejected because Muslims are violent; one said his "uncle got slaughtered in the road because he's Christian."

Board chairman Mark Urban did eventually admonish the audience for bringing religion into the discussion. "We're not going there," he said at one point, according to an Associated Press report. "This is a zoning issue only."

"Some of the comments I heard and some of the actions I've seen, I tell you, as a Bayonne resident my whole life, it embarrasses me," Urban said later, according to WNYC. "And it's on both sides. This issue got out of hand."

The issue certainly did get out of hand. The question is why Urban and his colleagues allowed it to happen--why, for instance, they permitted Ledia Elraheb to bring her hate-filled speech to its vile climax before anyone bothered to intervene. If, as Urban said, "We're not going there," then why were so many people allowed to go precisely there?

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THE MOSQUE was first publicly proposed in August 2015, when Bayonne Muslims, a non-profit community group providing services to roughly 100 Muslim families in the area, announced plans to convert a disused warehouse into the Bayonne Mosque and Community Center, a facility that would include a prayer hall, classrooms, offices, a library and a fitness and game room.

At that time, the Muslim community in Bayonne had been meeting in a rented space in the basement of St Henry's, a local Catholic school, for about six years. The proposed mosque would at last give them a permanent home of their own. But before they could proceed with the project, Bayonne Muslims needed to secure approval from the city's zoning board.

According to the Hudson Reporter, the mosque proposal would have required land use variances with regard to number of parking spaces, curb width and buffer zone (a neutral space that is normally mandated between properties in different zoning categories).

The first public hearing on the mosque proposal was held in January 2016 and lasted almost three hours. Subsequent hearings were scheduled for March, May, and June 2016, but each of these was postponed--the first due to Bayonne Muslims' attorney having fallen ill, the next two due to ongoing disagreements about a traffic analysis.

"The city wasn't happy with our initial traffic study," Bayonne Muslims Secretary Waheed Akbar explained to Socialist Worker. "So we spent months working with their traffic experts and our traffic experts, until finally towards the end of the year we were able to give them the information they wanted, in the form they wanted it in."

With this study finally completed, another hearing was scheduled for January 2017. This one lasted five hours. "The whole meeting was about the traffic study," Akbar said, though he added that many of the questions posed by community members were "off topic." At one point, Akbar noted, "Somebody asked our traffic expert, 'Have you ever been in a mosque?'"

Despite its epic length, this meeting, too, ended without a vote being taken. Finally, on March 6, after an even longer hearing (nearly six hours from start to finish) that was more about prejudice than traffic patterns, the board handed down its decision. The final vote was 4-3 in favor of the mosque proposal--one vote shy of the five needed for approval.

Sadly, the Muslim community in Bayonne is now without even a temporary place of worship. Akbar informed Socialist Worker that in February, Bayonne Muslims lost their lease on the basement space at St. Henry's. Now, not only must the group decide how to move forward with their plans for a permanent home, they must find a new temporary home as well.

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ZONING BOARD meetings are typically rather dry affairs that attract little public attention. But as in many similar cases in recent years, the Bayonne mosque proposal attracted significant opposition from the very beginning. While some opponents were careful to couch their remarks in terms of zoning issues such as parking, noise and traffic congestion, others made no secret of their bigotry.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the proposal organized a Stop the Mosque in Bayonne Facebook page. Not surprisingly, this page has very little to say about zoning issues--apart from a prominently featured photo of a grinning man holding a sign saying, in obvious mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement, "Zoning Laws Matter".

What the page contains a great deal of, instead, is inflammatory anti-Muslim imagery and propaganda, including a sign reading "Democracy, Not Sharia Law," a photograph of the World Trade Center bearing the caption "#NeverForget" and a popular right-wing meme featuring a notorious anti-Muslim quotation from Winston Churchill.

Defeating the mosque proposal for this crowd clearly had nothing to do with zoning and everything to do with Islamophobia.

The organized hatred faced by the Muslim community in Bayonne is by no means unique. In recent years, zoning rules have increasingly been used as cover for bigoted attacks on minority communities seeking to build places of worship and religious schools and community centers.

These attacks tend to follow a well-defined pattern. First, opponents of the proposal do their best to pack public hearings with "concerned" citizens who will speak out, not about the zoning issues under consideration, but about the supposed horrors that the religious group represents.

With the openly xenophobic angle thus covered, board members and more circumspect citizens can limit their discussion to "respectable" concerns such as parking, traffic congestion, noise, and the like, all the while distancing themselves from their fellow citizens' more hateful remarks--but not until after those remarks have been given the fullest possible airing.

In this way, having permitted the debate to be hijacked by xenophobes, the board can still pretend when is it time to vote (perhaps even to themselves) that they are concerned solely with zoning issues.

As we have seen, this is essentially what happened in Bayonne. Whether or not the zoning board members themselves harbored any anti-Muslim bias, they permitted one speaker after another to openly demonstrate their own anti-Muslim biases.

Despite its (belated) insistence that this was "a zoning issue only", the board allowed the discussion to be taken over repeatedly by bigots who wanted to make it about Islam instead, which fatally compromised the integrity of the proceedings.

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SINCE 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has investigated a number of similar situations as part of its enforcement of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which is meant to "protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws."

The evidence suggests that discrimination of this kind is a growing problem, especially for Muslim communities. In a report issued in July 2016, the DOJ noted that "the percentage of Department RLUIPA investigations involving mosques or Islamic schools has risen dramatically... from 15 percent in the 2000 to August 2010 period to 38 percent during the period from September 2010 to the present."

In many RLUIPA cases, once the DOJ gets involved, the dispute ends up being resolved without going to court. But here, too, the report reveals a particularly troubling situation for Muslim communities:

While 84 percent of non-Muslim investigations opened by the Department resulted in a positive resolution without the United States or private parties filing suit, in mosque and Islamic school cases, only 20 percent have resulted in a positive resolution without the filing of an RLUIPA suit. Seven of the last eight RLUIPA land use cases filed by the Department have involved mosques or Islamic schools. While it is encouraging that so many RLUIPA cases are resolved once a local government is informed of its obligations under RLUIPA, the sharp disparity between Muslim and non-Muslim cases in this regard is cause for concern.

These words were written last July. If local governments in the final years of the Obama administration already felt emboldened to discriminate more blatantly against Muslims than against other groups, and to dig in their heels even when challenged by the DOJ, how much worse are things likely to get now that the openly anti-Muslim Donald Trump is in the White House?

Moreover, with the equally Islamophobic Jeff Sessions in charge of the DOJ as Trump's Attorney General, to what extent will the DOJ even continue to take on Muslim-related RLUIPA cases?

A clue may soon be provided by another case involving a New Jersey town that rejected a mosque proposal on the grounds of zoning requirements. On January 3, a federal judge ruled that Bernards Township discriminated against the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge by requiring more parking spots for its proposed mosque than were required for other houses of worship in the community. If the township chooses to appeal that verdict, the DOJ's response may be very revealing.

Or perhaps the Bayonne case itself may shed some light on what the future holds. Akbar informed Socialist Worker that the DOJ has been in touch with Bayonne Muslims' attorney in the days since the zoning board handed down its vote on March 6. "It was a good conversation," he said. "We'll see what happens."

Even if the DOJ comes through in both cases, we can't rely on the executive branch of government to right these wrongs for us. The bigots, clearly, are organizing, so we must organize as well.

Organized protests are required to support and defend our Muslim neighbors, oppose the attempts of the hateful to hijack and poison public hearings and to hold local officials accountable for doing their jobs in a manner that is truly just and free from prejudice.

Categories: Political Action

Rauner versus the people

Socialist Worker - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

Melissa Rakestraw reports on the efforts of Illinois state workers fighting for a fair contract.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (center) holds a press conference on the state budget

ILLINOIS STATE workers voted in late February by an overwhelming 81 percent majority to authorize a strike. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner walked away from negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 more than a year ago. This left workers feeling that they had little choice but to authorize a strike for the first time in Illinois' history.

For more than two years, Rauner has refused to pass a state budget, leaving crucial public services unfunded and in jeopardy. Five unions that represent the overwhelming majority of women and people of color working in state government are currently waiting for Rauner to settle contracts with them, but he has refused to even negotiate with AFSCME during the last year, attempting instead to impose his draconian will upon them.

Rauner, a billionaire and former hedge fund manager, tried to intimidate workers into voting against strike authorization by issuing a memo threatening to permanently replace striking workers--stealing a page from President Ronald Reagan's anti-worker playbook when he fired air traffic controllers after they walked off the job in 1984.

Breaking the state workers' union--and doing away with public-sector bargaining altogether, as Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin--is Rauner's long-term agenda.

But for now, Rauner wants to force workers to accept a contract that would double their out-of-pocket cost for health insurance, adding an average of $10,000 a year to workers' health care expenses. Combined with other slash-and-burn provisions, state workers are facing a four-year wage freeze. Rauner also wants eliminate protections from privatization, which could lead to mass layoffs.

Last year, the Illinois Labor Relations Board, which is chock-full of Rauner appointees, declared that the two sides were at impasse, freeing the Rauner administration to impose its own contract terms on workers.

After the impasse ruling, AFSCME realized that it would not only have to continue to fight the governor in the courts, but also prepare its members to strike. AFSCME also successfully sued to block the impasse ruling, thus winning additional time to get organized.

The union's membership is spread out over a vast geographical and political landscape. Some workers live in heavily Democratic Chicago, while many others live in politically conservative parts of the state. Communities across the state rely heavily on services provided by state workers, and workers know that they are the last line of defense for these valuable public services.

"AFSCME members are public service workers who protect kids, respond to emergencies, care for veterans and more," said AFSCME spokesperson Anders Lindall. "They want to serve their communities, not be forced out on strike, but Bruce Rauner's refusal to negotiate has left no choice but to consider a strike as a last resort."

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IN AN effort to scare workers, Rauner has set up an online registration process for unemployed and under-employed people willing to scab on a strike by state workers. In this failing economy, Rauner is cynically pitting desperate jobseekers against state workers.

Rauner has also suggested using the National Guard as strikebreakers, a move that failed miserably when President Richard Nixon tried to use Guard soldiers to deliver mail during a wildcat strike by postal workers in March 1970.

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch discussed the importance of the skilled workforce Rauner is looking to decimate:

AFSCME members investigate child abuse, care for veterans and the disabled, respond to emergencies and more. These jobs require years of experience and training. It shows just what kind of a person Bruce Rauner really is that he would seek unskilled temporary strikebreakers to do these highly sensitive jobs rather than simply sit down with state employees and work constructively to reach a fair contract settlement.

While Rauner has shown no respect whatsoever for the vital public services AFSCME workers provide, he has shown a willingness to continue giving handouts to political allies.

In early March, the Associated Press uncovered a Rauner administration scheme to pay a political appointee out of a state employee health care account that is $4 billion in arrears due to the state budget crisis. Rauner appointed Leslie Munger in 2015 to fill a vacancy created in the comptroller's office after the unexpected death of Judy Baar Topinka. But after refusing to pay lawmakers and state bills, Munger lost a recent special election to stay on as state comptroller.

Having curried favor with Rauner for attempting to carry out his harsh austerity measures, Munger was appointed by Rauner to be one of his deputy governors. Rauner's plan was to pay half her salary from the state employee health care account with the other half funded by federal money intended for human services, normally used to pay Medicaid providers and prescription drug costs.

The blatant hypocrisy of asking workers and communities to sacrifice while he reward his operatives and empowers fat cats to further slash services has not gone unnoticed by AFSCME workers.

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MARION MURPHY works in Department of Human Services in Chicago's Woodlawn community. She has worked for the state of Illinois for 38 years and is a member of AFSCME Local 2808. During the March 8 celebration of International Women's Day at the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union, she told attendees about the racist impact that Rauner's attacks have on workers and communities:

As a Southside resident and a public-service worker who assists struggling families in getting Medicaid, food stamps and any other help that's needed, I know from personal experience that Bruce Rauner's refusal to settle a contract with our union, just like his refusal to develop a budget with our legislators, is disproportionately harming communities of color.

Of the AFSCME-represented state employees who live in Cook County, two-thirds are African American or Latino, two-thirds are women, more than half, like me, are women of color. By trying to slash standards of living, Governor Rauner weakens our ladder to the middle class. Public-service jobs have provided a path for millions of African Americans and Latinos to make a fair wage, buy a home, provide for our children and give back to our communities.

Murphy ended her impassioned statement by imploring audience members and allies to join AFSCME workers on Thursday, March 30, outside a Rauner fundraiser. The rally at the Chicago Hilton is to tell the governor, "Do Your Job."

State workers and the communities they serve will need as much support as possible if they decide to walkout. This rally will be one step towards showing Rauner their seriousness and their support.

Categories: Political Action