Political Action

Who Has Your Back in Chile? First-Annual Report Seeks to Find Out Which Chilean ISPs Stand With Their Users

Deep Links - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 12:50

EFF and Derechos Digitales, the leading digital rights organization in Chile, have teamed up to launch a new report evaluating the privacy practices of Chilean Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This project is part of a series across Latin America, adapted from EFF’s annual Who Has Your Back? report. The reports are intended to evaluate mobile and fixed ISPs to see which stand with their users when responding to government requests for personal information. While there’s definitely room for improvement, the first edition of our Chilean ¿Quién Defiende Tus Datos? (Who Defends Your Data?) report has some hopeful indicators.

Chileans go online more than any other nationality in Latin America. When Chileans use the Internet, they put their most private data, including their online relationships, political, artistic and personal discussions, and even their minute-by-minute movements online. And all of that data necessarily has to go through one of a handful of ISPs. That means that Chileans are more likely to be putting their trust in their providers to defend their data than anyone else in Central or South America.

Derechos Digitales’ report set out to examine which Chilean ISPs and telephone companies best defend their customers. Which are transparent about their policies regarding requests for data? Which require a judicial warrant before handing over personal information? Do any challenge surveillance laws or individual demands for their users’ data? Do any of the companies notify their users when complying with judicial requests? Derechos Digitales examined publicly posted information, including the privacy policies and codes of practice, from five of the biggest Chilean telecommunications access providers: Movistar, VTR, Claro, Entel, and GTD Manquehue. Between them, these providers cover the vast majority of mobile, fixed line and broadband markets.

Each company was given the opportunity to answer a questionnaire, to take part in a private interview and to send any additional information they felt appropriate, all of which was incorporated into the final report. This approach is based on EFF’s earlier work with Who Has Your Back? in the United States, although the specific questions in Derechos Digitales’ study were adapted to match Chile’s legal environment. Customized investigations using similar methodologies are being worked on by digital rights groups across Latin America. The Karisma Foundation in Colombia is about to publish their second-annual, ¿Dónde Están Mis Datos? report. ADC in ArgentinaHiperderecho in PeruInternetLab in Brazil, R3D in Mexico, and TEDIC in Paraguay are all also working on similar studies.

Derechos Digitales’ rankings for Chilean ISPs and phone companies are below; the full report, which includes details about each company, is available at: https://www.derechosdigitales.org/qdtd/

Evaluation Criteria for ¿Quién Defiende tus Datos?
    1. Data Protection: An ISP earned a complete star in this category if they published their Internet service agreement—for all types of plans—and their data protection policies on their website in a clear and accessible way to users. The data protection policies must be aligned with national regulations. Partial compliance was rewarded with half a star.
    2. Transparency: To earn a star, ISPs must have published a transparency report on how they manage their users’ data and handle government requests for data. The transparency report must have included useful information about the specific number of data requests the ISP has approved and rejected; a summary of the requests by investigation authority, type, and purpose; the specific number of individuals over the last year who have been affected by each request; and whether third-parties managing user data do so in a privacy-protective manner. A half star was awarded to ISPs that published transparency reports, but did not specifically refer to data protection and the monitoring of communications. If the provider has not published a transparency report, no star was awarded.
    3. User Notification: To earn a star in this category, ISPs must, if legally permitted, notify their users in a timely manner when authorities request access to their personal information so users may seek remedy or appeal as necessary. A half star was awarded to ISPs that notify their customers when authorities make a request for user data, but do not do so in a timely manner, making it difficult for the users to seek remedy. If there was no evidence that an ISP notifies its users when an authority requests user data, the company was not awarded a star.
    4. Data Privacy Guidelines: An ISP earned a star in this category if, on their website, it explains how it handles user data—and specifically outlines the requirements and legal obligations requesting authorities must comply with when requesting user data from the company. The explanation must be easy to understand; it must specify the procedures the company uses to respond to data requests from authorities; and it must indicate how long it retains user data. An ISP earned a half star if it published information about how it handles user data, but did not specify the obligations and procedures it requires of authorities who request user data.
    5. Commitment to Privacy: To earn a star, an ISP must have actively defended the privacy of their users in the courts, or in front of Congress to challenge broad legislation that is detrimental to the privacy of their users. An ISP could earn a half star if it has defended its users in one of the two areas listed above (in the courts, or in front of Congress).
    Results Conclusion

    Companies in Chile are off to a good start but still have a ways to go to fully protect their customers’ personal data and be transparent about who has access to it. Derechos Digitales and EFF expect to release this report annually to incentivize companies to improve transparency and protect user data. This way, all Chileans will have access to information about how their personal data is used and how it is controlled by ISPs so they can make smarter consumer decisions. We hope the report will shine with more stars next year.

    Share this: Join EFF
    Categories: Political Action

    Who Pays Donald Trump?

    Move On - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 11:58


    … well, beyond the American tax payer, currently …

    Because Donald Trump refuses to release his Tax Returns.

    Despite being investigated by the FBI

    and the Senate Intelligence Committee

    for possible collusion with foreign powers.

    And that every president for 40 years has released theirs.

    As did other candidates for the Republican nomination. 

    But mostly: despite saying he would. 



    Senator Elizabeth Warren just released this video challenge to “the man in the Oval Office” right ahead of Tax Day 2017.

    In this new video, Senator Warren lays out why it’s so important to find out what Trump may be hiding in his taxes and calls on Congress to take action, force the release of his taxes, and conduct a full investigation into his foreign and financial ties.


    SO … WHAT DO WE DO?! On April 15, more than 100,000 people across nearly 200 events joined the Tax March to demand se see Trump’s taxes. The next day, he tweeted a response — not that he would release his returns, but that an investigation was needed into who paid for the Tax Marches. Sounds like Donald isn’t going to have a sudden change of heart.

    The good news is we don’t have to wait for Donald Trump to voluntarily release his taxes—because Congress can get them for us.
    The House Republicans have already voted at least seven times against compelling Trump to release his taxes.
    Trump’s Department of Justice could announce an investigation with a special prosecutor, like it did for Bill Clinton; but the DOJ is led by Trump’s friend Jeff Sessions. We’re not holding our breath.

    And remember when Congress got together and decided they really needed to look into something, like the 9/11 Commission? They could do that, too. We’re still waiting.

    Getting Trump’s taxes isn’t a question of legality or morality; it’s a question of political pressure.

    That’s where we come in.


    1- Sign the petition for Congress to get Trump’s Taxes


    2- Join a Resistance Recess Event

    Right now, Congress is in recess, meaning that in theory they’re in their home-states to hear from their constituents.

    There are over 500 Resistance Recess events around the country to join!

    Click the map to find one near you.

    Let’s ask our Representatives and Senators:

    Will you vote to find out who pays Donald Trump?


    3- Start a band


    4- Spread the word!

    Share this page so everyone you know is asking: Who Pays Donald Trump?!

    Post to Facebook  |   Tweet on Twitter

    Categories: Political Action

    Imagining together the future of the commons

    Creative Commons - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 11:29


    Remix of the Visions of the Future HD40307 poster courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. Original created by The Studio. Made available by JPL for any purpose without prior permission.
    Remix by Paul Stacey, for Creative Commons Global Summit 2017.

    CC Summits have always been an opportunity for the Creative Commons global movement to take stock of our work and plan next steps. This year, we decided to make this theme even more prominent, and defined “Future of the Commons” as one of the five tracks of the Global Summit.

    This track was formed due to the influential research from the internal “Faces of the Commons” study conducted by a team led by Anna Mazgal. One of the recommendations in her report was that Creative Commons create a platform for engaging people in generating big ideas and insights related to the future of the commons and the potential for Creative Commons to be an agent of exponential social change.

    Why should we care about the future of the commons?

    This interest is due in part to the ongoing strategic process, which will conclude at the Summit with the adoption of a new model for the CC network. As we re-design our global community, we need to ask ourselves: what are our long-term goals, what is the role that CC can play in shaping our societies, and how do we address new challenges?

    Creative Commons builds its activism on the belief that the way in which we manage a variety of resources matters, particularly when it comes to copyright. When properly shared, our intellectual resources will foster collaboration, equity, innovation and engagement. This fundamental assumption is valid as much today, as it was when CC was formed in 2001.

    The “Future of the Commons” track is an opportunity to reflect together on our mission and goals, on the relevance of CC tools, and ways in which we can adapt to better address current challenges. We also want to talk about how we can work collaboratively with others, to build a broader open movement and a shared vision of the commons.

    Future of the Commons graphic by Joanna Tarkowska, CC BY The three strands of the track

    The Future of the Commons track was shaped around three strands, each with their own set of questions.

    Strand One: What is the commons, in particular the digital commons? How has CC contributed to the digital commons in the last 15 years? What part does CC currently play in helping it flourish and what more could CC do? Who else is working on this and how might CC collaborate with them?

    Strand Two: What is the role of the commons in the future economy? How do we develop open business models? What is CC’s role in sharing cities, platform cooperatives, and the sharing economy? How do we apply the concept of sharing to other crucial resources and technologies (like data or the internet of things)?

    Strand Three: What is CC’s role in going beyond licenses? How do we engage in and advance the social community practice of commoning? How is a commons managed? What are social norms for helping a digital commons thrive?

    You can learn more about the track sessions in our Summit schedule.

    If you care about the future of the commons – get in touch!

    We invite Summit participants who are particularly interested in these issues to meet during lunch on Friday for an informal chance to meet peers. Look for the track logo in the lunch area.

    We will also be organizing a Virtually Connecting session on Sunday during the 10.00 am break, to bring together summit participants with online peers, in order to share more broadly the track experience.

    To make the Future of the Commons track interactive we are inviting participants attending each session to write down one big idea or action from the session they think CC should pursue to ensure a flourishing future commons. All ideas will be posted to a Future of the Commons wall poster in the Summit venue hallway. Over the course of the summit, the Future of the Commons wall will gradually have more big ideas on it. to encourage idea browsing and conversation.

    All the ideas from the Future of the Commons wall poster will feed into a culminating session on the last day of the Summit called “A Platform for Big Thinking About the Future of the Commons”. All participants in this final session will be engaged in an activity that selects and prioritizes ideas from the wall poster into a Future of the Commons action plan.

    The “Future of the Commons” track has been shaped by an organizing team including: Alek Tarkowski (Poland), Claudia Cristiani (El Salvador), Alexandros Nousias (Greece), Anna Mazgal (Poland), SooHyun Pae (South Korea), and Paul Stacey (Canada).

    The post Imagining together the future of the commons appeared first on Creative Commons.

    Categories: Political Action

    All out for May Day!

    The Boston Branch - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 11:26

    Categories: Political Action

    EFF to California Supreme Court: Website Owners Have a First Amendment Right to Defend Content on Their Platform

    Deep Links - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 10:40

    A bad review on Yelp is an anathema to a business. No one wants to get trashed online. But the First Amendment protects both the reviewer’s opinion and Yelp’s right to publish it. A California appeals court ran roughshod over the First Amendment when it ordered Yelp to comply with an injunction to take down speech without giving the website any opportunity to challenge the injunction’s factual basis. The case is on appeal to the California Supreme Court, and EFF filed an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the lower court’s dangerous holding.

    The case, Hassell v. Bird, is procedurally complicated. A lawyer, Dawn Hassell, sued a former client, Ava Bird, for defamation in California state court over a negative Yelp review. Bird never responded to the lawsuit, so the trial court entered a default judgment against her. The court—at Hassell’s request—not only ordered Bird to remove her own reviews, but also ordered Yelp to remove them—even though Yelp was never named as a party to the suit. (If this kind of abuse of a default judgment sounds familiar, that’s not a coincidence; it seems to be increasingly common—and it’s a real threat to online speech.)

    Yelp challenged the order, asserting that Hassell failed to prove that the post at issue was actually defamatory, that Yelp could not be held liable for the speech pursuant to the Communication Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230 (“Section 230”), and that Yelp could not be compelled to take down the post as a non-party to the suit. The trial court rejected Yelp’s arguments and refused to recognize Yelp’s free speech rights as a content provider. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that Yelp could be forced to remove the supposedly defamatory speech from its website without any opportunity to argue that the reviews were accurate or otherwise constitutionally protected.

    This decision is frankly just wrong—and for multiple reasons. Neither court seemed to understand that the First Amendment protects not only authors and speakers, but also those who publish or distribute their words. Both courts completely precluded Yelp, a publisher of online content, from challenging whether the speech it was being ordered to take down was defamatory—i.e., whether the injunction to take down the speech could be justified. And the court of appeals ignored its special obligation, pursuant to California law, to conduct an “independent examination of the record” in First Amendment cases.

    Both courts also seemed to completely ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s clear holding that issuing an injunction against a non-party is a constitutionally-prohibited violation of due process.

    EFF—along with the ACLU of Northern California and the Public Participation Project—urged the California Supreme Court to accept the case for review back in August 2016. The court agreed to review the case in September, and we just joined an amicus brief urging the court to overrule the problematic holding below. 

    Our brief—drafted by Jeremy Rosen of Horvitz & Levy and joined by a host of other organizations dedicated to free speech—explains to the California Supreme Court that the First Amendment places a very high bar on speech-restricting injunctions. A default judgment simply cannot provide a sufficient factual basis for meeting that bar, and the injunction issued against Yelp in this case was improper. We also explained that the injunction violated clear Supreme Court case law and Yelp’s due process rights, and that the injunction violates Section 230, which prohibits courts from holding websites liable for the speech of third parties.

    As Santa Clara University law school professor Eric Goldman noted in a blog post about the case, the appeals court’s decision opens up a host of opportunities for misuse and threatens to rip a “hole” in Section 230’s protections for online speech—protections that already seem to be weakening. If not overturned, as the already pervasive misuse of default judgments teaches, this case will surely lead to similar injunctions that infringe on publishers’ free speech rights without giving them any notice or opportunity to be heard. The California Supreme Court cannot allow this.

    Share this: Join EFF
    Categories: Political Action

    March for Science on Earth Day

    Creative Commons - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 10:00

    On April 22, 2017 (Earth Day) tens of thousands of people will join the March for Science and stand together “to acknowledge and voice the critical role that science plays in each of our lives.” Marches will take place in Washington, D.C. and over 500 other cities.

    The mission of the March for Science is to champion the robust funding and public communication of science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. It aims to promote science that serves the public interest, fuels evidence-based policymaking, and advocates for cutting-edge research and education.

    A particularly important aspect of science is communicating openly about the results of scholarly research. Practicing science in such a way that promotes collaboration can accelerate and improve research discoveries. From the website:

    Restricting the free exchange of scientific research within local and global communities threatens to stall the scientific progress that benefits people all over the world. Gag rules on scientists in government and environmental organizations impede access to information that is a public right. Our tax dollars support this scientific research, and withholding their findings limits the public’s ability to learn from the important developments and discoveries that we have come to expect from our scientists. In addition, scientists often rely on the public to help identify new questions that need to be answered.

    Check out the satellite events and join a march to promote and protect science for the good of all.

    The post March for Science on Earth Day appeared first on Creative Commons.

    Categories: Political Action

    Sessions' green light to police violence

    Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 01:00

    Brian Bean reports on Attorney General Jeff Sessions' order to review federal oversight of local cops--a gift from the Trump administration to the Fraternal Order of Police.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Gage Skidmore | flickr)

    DONALD TRUMP'S attorney general is sending a clear message: The new administration wants to be at the head of the pro-cop backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement.

    On April 3, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo ordering a review of all Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations and reform agreements of local police departments across the country.

    "Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective policing,'' the memo stated. "It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.'' The new DOJ policy is widely expected to lead to a reversal of federal oversight of many of the country's most corrupt and violent police forces.

    Over the past two years, a series of high-profile DOJ investigations--carried out because of the pressure exerted by massive protests after the police murders of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Laquan McDonald in Chicago--brought into the national spotlight some of the entrenched racism, unchecked violence, willful negligence and unaccountability in U.S. police forces.

    The federal investigations didn't punish any of the killer cops, but their exposure of police wrongdoing enraged the Fraternal Order of Police, which has been a Trump ally since the start of his campaign.

    The likelihood that Sessions is going to end DOJ oversight poses a challenge to activists fighting police terror, who have often utilized the civil rights-era strategy of appealing to the federal government to curtail local abuses.

    There were always contradictions in a strategy that looked to racist and violent national institutions to oversee racist and violent local ones. Now it's going to be especially important for organizers to connect a strategy for reforms to a call for the reduction and dismantling of the police, based on an understanding of the destructive role they play for working-class people.

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

    THE DOJ investigation of Ferguson cited a litany of police abuse and concluded that disparities in arrest, tickets and use of force "stemmed from unlawful bias against and stereotypes against African Americans."

    It described a department that sought to increase revenue by carrying out a dizzying number of stops and tickets by an almost entirely white police force against the majority Black population of the St. Louis suburb. Additionally, a trove of internal e-mails between police and municipal officials revealed common racist invectives aimed at the Black community.

    The Baltimore report concluded that the Baltimore Police Department "routinely violated" the constitutional rights of and used excessive force against Baltimoreans that "overwhelmingly" affected Black residents.

    The report stated that police practices "perpetuate and fuel a multitude of issues rooted in poverty and race" and have "unnecessary adversarial interactions" with community members. Racist comments and slurs were found to be commonplace in the department.

    The Chicago report was the most recent of the three and perhaps the most damning, outlining how the second-largest police force in the country routinely harasses and intimidates Chicago's Black and Brown residents with impunity.

    Chicago cops are depicted as though they believe they are in a B-grade movie, chasing suspects through alleyways, shooting out of moving cars, using torture to extract confessions, making dirty deals for guns and dropping off kids in rival gang territories to scare them, all the while dropping racist slurs and taunts.

    These DOJ reports are a step forward in that they brought criminal conduct by the police to light, but they also seriously limited in that none of them have delivered the most basic demands for justice coming from those protesting killer cops.

    In Ferguson, the feds backed up Officer Darren Wilson's version of the events that led him to murder Mike Brown, even while its report painted a picture of a police department so duplicitous that none of its members should be believed even about a parking ticket.

    In every instance, the proposed reforms, from body cameras to more training, fall woefully short of the urgency of the level of brutality and racism recited in page after page of the reports. The stern rebukes of racist practices are followed up with meek shuffling of Titanic deck chairs.

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

    EVEN CONSIDERING these severe limitations, however, Sessions' decision to disavow these reports is a grotesque affront to those victimized by the police and all their loved ones and supporters.

    With a one-and-a-half-page memorandum, Trump's attorney general negated over 500 pages of evidence gathered over years by his own Justice Department. Amazingly, Sessions even admitted to a reporter at the end of February that he hadn't read the reports on Ferguson and Chicago.

    The message being sent to police in those two cities and across the country is chillingly clear: you have complete impunity.

    Sessions has a long documented of racism, including his infamous claim when he was a U.S. attorney to be "okay" with the Ku Klux Klan while his office was investigating a case of lynching committed by that very organization.

    Sessions is also another example--like Scott Pruitt in the Environmental Protection Agency and Betsy DeVos in the Department of Education--of Trump's strategy of naming cabinet officials who have made clear their intention to destroy the very departments they are charged with.

    Sessions' position against the use of consent decrees, which the federal government has long used to change the practice of local bodies, sets a dangerous standard of denying admission of any systemic problem with the country's police departments. "The misdeeds of individual bad actors," declares the new DOJ memo, "should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement and agencies perform in keeping Americans safe."

    After years of protests against police atrocities and a national conversation about why U.S. police commit so many more murders than most of their international counterparts, Trump and Sessions are bringing back the tired "a few bad apples" excuse for police misconduct--and then pledging to look the other way and stay out of it.

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

    ACROSS THE country, police departments and their cartel organization--the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)--are driving a counteroffensive against the blows they sustained from the visibility of their crimes because of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    The FOP gave Trump a prominent endorsement during his presidential campaign, and after his victory, it released a "wish list" of demands for his first 100 days.

    Trump has had a series of meetings with the FOP since taking office--most recently at the end of March, less than a week before the issuance of Sessions memorandum--during which Trump assured the cops that any federal money cut off from "sanctuary cities" wouldn't affect police department budgets.

    Chicago has been a focal point for Trump's pro-cop agenda. He's used the city's murder rate, which should be seen as an indictment of American racism and poverty, as the latest version of "Willie Horton": Republican racial code to criminalize Black poverty and justify the removal of oversight and fetters from police powers.

    Dean Angelo, the former head of the Chicago FOP, hasn't seemed to mind Trump using his city as a poster child for ineffective policing. Instead, Angelo came out of the Trump meeting gushing about how the president "was truly supportive of us."

    The Trump-FOP love affair has already having real ramifications in Chicago.

    Last fall, the city's police chief Eddie Johnson--in anticipation of the release of the DOJ report regarding Chicago and under community pressure from the massive protests against the killing of Laquan McDonald--adopted a slightly more restrictive "use of force policy" for the department.

    But last month, Johnson issued a revised draft that walks back the meager reforms from the previous document. Among other changes, the new "use of force" policy removes language requiring cops to use the "least amount" of force with suspects; states that police can use force even if an alternative to such force exists; and expressly says that police are not obligated to provide medical aid.

    Another reflection of the new mood in Chicago is Kevin Graham's election last week as the city's new FOP president.

    Graham and his "Blue Voice" slate ran on an anti-reform message, and Graham refuses to speak to the media because of its "anti-police ideology," a charge that bears a striking resemblance to Trumps pressroom grudges and temper tantrums.

    The fact that Chicago cops saw Dean Angelo--who ensured that the union hired Laquan McDonald's murderer and repeatedly lambasted any criticism of police while most of the city gasped at seeing the execution of the 17-year-old youth--as a sellout reflects the dangerous belligerence among cops that is being stoked by Trump, and now being given a green light by Sessions.

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

    THE DISGUSTING encouragement of police violence by Republicans like Trump and Sessions shouldn't blind us to the fact that Democrats haven't offered any meaningful alternative, and continues not to offer any.

    In Chicago, whatever meager reforms being pushed by Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel only came after Emanuel faced widespread calls to resign for his role in covering up the McDonald murder for 400 days.

    The mayor's chief reform is to replace the ineffectual Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) with a Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) that still won't have the authority to issue its own subpoenas or do anything other than make recommendations. Meanwhile, Rahm is hiring 1,000 more cops and increasing police presence in schools to combat gun violence while offering no solutions to the poverty and hopelessness at the root of the violence

    After Trump's late night Twitter threat to "send in the Feds" if Chicago's crime rate doesn't fall, Emanuel's response was "just send them."

    Now Trump's apocalyptic vision of a crime-ridden Chicago is being used by Sessions to allow police departments around the country to be even more violent and criminal themselves.

    The "hands-off" position of the Sessions DOJ will undermine any strategy of appealing for reforms from a Democratic administration, which yielded some needed exposure under Barack Obama, but no substantial change.

    None of the Obama recommendations presented any alternative to the police monitoring themselves. None put forward a goal of citizens having less contact with the police, or acknowledged that the solution to crime lies not in more police but in addressing the widespread poverty, racism and hopelessness in so many communities.

    Building an opposition to the police in Trump's America will be a challenge, but we have no choice. If police murders happened at a rate of over 1,000 per year under the supposedly "anti-police" Obama administration, they will certainly continue in the reactionary climate of today's official politics.

    Just as they did under Obama, cops under Trump won't reduce violence but increase it, by putting more young people in jail and destroying more lives, especially Black and Brown ones. We have to connect the struggle against Trump with the movement against racism and police violence--and build greater understanding that cops have the same regressive social function regardless of which party is in power.

    Categories: Political Action

    The future of our university is at stake

    Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 01:00

    Students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) are on an indefinite strike against proposed cuts demanded by an unaccountable Fiscal Control Board that would eliminate a full one-third of the 11-campus system's budget by 2021. The strike is the latest stage of a decades-old student resistance to repression and austerity, but the issue has come to a head as Puerto Rico suffered a Greece-style debt crisis that has left the island at the mercy of bankers and bureaucrats appointed by the U.S. Congress, where Puerto Rico has a single representative. The students not only oppose the cuts for their schools, but are demanding that repayments be halted until Puerto Rico's debt is audited by an independent commission.

    In May 2016, Barack Obama and the Republican-led Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act--with the cynical acronym "PROMESA," meaning "promise" in Spanish--which established a seven-person Fiscal Control Board with unprecedented powers to carve up Puerto Rico's budget and finance the debt. Puerto Rico, already suffering from multiple crises of unemployment and public health, is now being devastated by a clique of financiers accountable only to the island's colonial overlord. Against this backdrop, students are gaining mass support for their strike.

    Gabriel Casal Nazario is a student at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico and an activist with the student group Colectiva Independista Radical. He talked to Dorian Bon to discuss the issues in this action and how the strike was organized.

    Students delegates vote to strike at a mass meeting in San Juan (Centro de Comunicación Estudiantil | Facebook)

    CAN YOU describe the context surrounding the student strike?

    IT'S REALLY important to understand that Puerto Rico has been in an economic crisis for the last 10 years and has been facing austerity for the past 20. What that has meant for Puerto Rico and especially for young people is that there are no longer prospects of living and working here, and because of this, hundreds of thousands of people are literally abandoning the country. More people have left than any other time in Puerto Rico's history during this period.

    It's gotten to the point where there are more Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico living in the U.S. than there are here. To put that in context, we've lost 10 percent of our population in the past five years. It's really incredible.

    I think we have to attribute this to the fact that the U.S.'s interests in Puerto are shifting. For a long time, Puerto Rico served as a place where U.S. businesses could manufacture pharmaceuticals.

    But since then, U.S. business has taken advantage of the island as a Wall Street sanctuary, with tax-exempt investment opportunities for financial speculators, and also as a beautiful island for luxury tourists. In a sense, they're trying to force people out of here and keep the island for themselves and their businesses.

    The University of Puerto Rico is just one example of this. The government's plan is precisely to motivate young people to leave the island. This is part of the U.S. Congress' plan when it passed the so-called PROMESA bill, which essentially installs a dictatorship of seven people who rule over all of Puerto Rico.

    There's this shroud around the fiscal control board established by the U.S. Congress, as if it's this magical, untouchable creature. Many of the arguments that we face when we go out and do political work on campus or on the street is that we Puerto Ricans don't have the power to stop the fiscal control board. But we're out there saying that we actually can stop them.

    HOW WERE you able to mobilize the whole student body to go on strike?

    THERE HAVE been many cycles in the student movement here at UPR.

    We had a student strike in 2005 in response to another proposed budget cut. Then there was a period of retreat as our organizers were exhausted, and many graduated. Then in 2010, when they tried to double the cost of our tuition, students struck again. Finally, there has been a gradual development of the student resistance over the last four years. In 2014, we had a two-day strike; in 2015, a three-day strike; and last year, a five-day strike. And now, we are on an indefinite national strike.

    This is a result of a combination of years of organizational work and the dramatic moment that we're currently in as a country. We've been dreaming of a moment like this for years.

    Let me tell you, though, that being on strike is immense work. Hundreds us of us are essentially living together on our campus, and we're trying to organize thousands. It's exhausting. It really takes a toll, emotionally and physically.

    But it's also rewarding. Because you can feel the drive that people have for a new kind of existence, and you see that people are willing to risk their studies and their lives for this. And we understand that this is also for the next generation, for the elementary and high school students. Right now, they don't know if there will be a public university for them to go to when they are of age.

    WHAT ARE the different forces and organizations that worked together to organize the student strike?

    THERE ARE different political organizations that have been involved in this work historically, all of them of the left--socialists, anti-imperialists and feminists. But between 2005 and 2010, many of those fell apart.

    The last few years have produced a whole new layer of activists and taught them how to organize and how to strike. So the campus left has been rebuilt in the process.

    There isn't actually one organizing body that united the whole university, but different organizations and groups on all of the campuses, as well as non-organized students, who combine to form a kind of network of people who are willing to do this work and know how to carry it out.

    There is an official student body called the General Council of Students. But it was created by the university administration and often responds to it, adopting a posture of neutrality. So the political work done in the university is primarily through mass movements and campus political organizations.

    The decision this year first to go on a one-week strike and then on an indefinite strike was made in stages.

    First, we invited known student organizers to a meeting at the main Río Piedras campus in San Juan. The Colectiva Independentista Radical, of which I'm a member, proposed the idea of going on strike at a 300-person meeting on our campus.

    After some changes to the proposal at that meeting, the 300 people present there organized a campus-wide assembly at the Río Piedras campus, attended by 5,000 students, where the decision to strike was voted on and approved. To put this into perspective, the Río Piedras campus, which is the largest of 11 University of Puerto Rico campuses, has 16,000 students. So we had almost a third of the student body at Río Piedras present at this meeting.

    From March 28 to April 5, our campus went out on strike. We were very successful. We were able to get a meeting with the governor and even with the Fiscal Control Board. Of course, no concrete victories came from this, but we got their attention and scared them. This also inspired the other 10 campuses to join us.

    We then organized a national student assembly on April 5, which brought out 11,000 students. We filled an entire stadium. There, we decided that all 11 campuses and all 58,000 students in the University of Puerto Rico system should strike. So we struck indefinitely, beginning on that day.

    Committees have been set up on all of the campuses to coordinate the work, and are comprised of many of the organizers who carried out the strikes of the previous years.

    One of our main claims in the mass assembly was that we need a national audit of the debt, because we understand that our problems stem from that fundamental crisis. The government in Puerto Rico thinks that it can pay off this debt rather than providing education for its people.

    Our argument for an audit of the national public debt flows from our interests as students. We're literally selling our lives to pay this debt, created by corrupt officials in the government and the banks, both here and in the U.S. So we need to know the truth about this debt.

    We know the vast majority of Puerto Ricans agree with us on this. There was a survey circulating that asked Puerto Ricans if they thought there should be an audit of the debt, and 86 percent responded yes. But the governor has done nothing.

    WHAT KIND of reaction to the strike have you seen from the governor and the Fiscal Control Board on the one hand, and from ordinary Puerto Ricans on the other?

    TODAY, WE went into the subway and handed out flyers to explain our demands and what we're doing. The response was very positive. I spoke with an elderly woman who had just seen her pension cut by hundreds of dollars, and who is now at risk of losing her home.

    People see that the demand to audit the debt is in all of our interests. Everyone is fed up.

    Governor Rosselló and the Fiscal Control Board have tried to delegitimize our claims. They say they're willing to negotiate but they're actually not. Rosselló is behaving like a puppet of the Fiscal Control Board. He's doing what they want him to do: destroy our public education system, our health care, our pensions. We know that won't solve our crisis. Austerity is not a solution to any social crisis.

    But Governor Rosselló isn't the only opposition. We're aware of the fact that we're up against the U.S. empire, the most powerful empire in the world, which is intent on seeing this austerity package through to the end. We recognize that, and people are afraid.

    We know that the U.S. has the most powerful military in the world. That's part of the fear many Puerto Ricans have. But I think that the youth is ready to leave those fears behind and take action.

    DO YOU expect the government to move in to repress the strike?

    MANY STUDENTS are worried about the threat of police brutality. The police were very violent when students struck against tuition hikes in 2010. That experience affected a lot of students. We understand the need to defend ourselves and our campuses.

    We actually expected a more rapid police backlash than we've seen so far. We barricaded the campuses, and we don't allow any police officers in at all. We know that the more pressure we apply and the longer the strike goes on, the more risk there is of government repression.

    We set up our barricades on the second day of the strike. We have seven gates on the Río Piedras campus, all barricaded. There are a few points of entry where people can come and participate. We had a family day last Sunday, where we played sports, painted, told stories and organized. The university is open to everyone who wants to participate in this fight.

    The administration, of course, says that our occupation is illegal. But the students recognize only the authority of the mass assembly that met on April 5, which approved going on strike. So if we break our occupation, we break our democratic commitment to that assembly. All of the other campuses, except one, are also barricaded and occupied. On one campus, nearby high school students have also gone on strike.

    We have to think about ways to involve people outside of the university. A lot of people are saying that this needs to be a national strike. There's so much at stake. And what we do here as students will affect what happens in the rest of the country.

    WHAT MESSAGE do you have for students in the U.S.?

    WE ASK for your solidarity. Half of our nation is there in the United States. There has been organizing in Puerto Rican communities--in Boston, New York, Chicago and Orlando--by people displaced during this crisis. American students need to see that we're fighting the same fight: for accessible, universal education.

    Of course, we need you to fight against imperialism from inside the U.S. Get informed about Puerto Rico's status and history.

    The reality is that you have more power to pressure the government there than we do here. You can do a lot there to support us.

    The student movement on the main campus here at Río Piedras has a communications forum called Centro de Comunicación Estudiantil, which Spanish speakers can follow. Fight for us, organize for us, pass resolutions--everything you can think of--and speak to as many people as possible about this strike and what is going on in Puerto Rico.

    Categories: Political Action

    A new face on the old SPD?

    Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 01:00

    Martin Schulz, the new leader of Germany's center-left party, is rising in the polls, but he doesn't have much more to offer, writes Loren Balhorn, in an article for Jacobin.

    SPD leader Martin Schulz

    GIVEN THE more volatile political battles raging in neighboring Holland and France, many aren't paying attention to Martin Schulz, former European Union bureaucrat, now the savior of Germany's Social Democracy Party (SPD).

    This local soccer hero from the Dutch-German border served as the SPD's strongman in the European Parliament for the last 20 years. Now, after an unprecedented 100 percent vote elected him leader and frontrunner for the federal elections at the party conference last month, he has transformed into a social media-savvy messiah and darling of the mainstream press. His ascension also ended Social Democracy's six-year polling drought--the party has overtaken the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and broken the 2017 election wide open.

    Schulz's sudden arrival as a major national figure reflects an important change in SPD electoral strategy, as it attempts to replicate the personality-cult politics found in the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. Clearly looking for the meme magic they've watched galvanize the youth vote abroad, Schulz and company have imported North American campaign strategies in what can only be described as a case of combined and uneven development in the field of communications.

    This scheme is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Schulz himself is not particularly remarkable. Unlike the Obamas or Trudeaus he's trying to imitate, Schulz has neither youth nor charm. His impromptu remarks and impassioned yet vague paeans to social justice often come across as scripted. For the most part, he is a regular Third Way Social Democrat who perfectly illustrates modern German political culture's "moratorium on charisma."

    And yet his campaign is portraying Schulz as a breath of fresh air. His presentation as someone who "gets" young and frustrated voters seems to be working: the SPD has shot up in the polls and swelled it ranks by over 10,000 new members--a major achievement for an organization that shed over half a million in the last four decades.

    While the Social Democrats' disappointing performance in the Saarland state elections last month suggests the "Schulz effect" may be superficial, it nevertheless helps us understand the state of German politics in the context of the ongoing European political crisis.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Germany's Enforcer Comes Home

    Not only does Schulz lack the charm of insurgent reformers like Bernie Sanders, he's also in no position to criticize neoliberal reforms: he's deeply implicated in the last 20 years of German establishment politics.

    Elected to the European Parliament for the first time in 1994, Schulz quickly climbed the ranks to lead the SPD delegation from 2000 until 2004, when he became head of the Party of European Socialists' parliamentary group. In 2012, he was elected parliamentary president.

    In 2003, he came to international attention in an incident that touched the highest levels of European Union politics: Schulz heckled then-Italian President Silvio Berlusconi during a speech in Strasbourg, raising potential conflicts of interest related to the Italian's vast media empire. Visibly offended, Berlusconi retorted that Schulz would play a good Kapo (a concentration camp guard) in a Holocaust movie. The ensuing spat between the two governments ultimately prompted Berlusconi to personally apologize to then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Although little more than a historical footnote, the incident has come in handy for Schulz a decade later, deployed as evidence of his tough, yet decidedly liberal pro-European stance.

    Schulz launched his candidacy for president of the European Commission in late 2013. Although he would ultimately cede the position to Merkel's nominee, he made his views on the relationship between Germany and the rest of Europe clear with an advertisement in the right-leaning tabloid Bild, informing voters that only a vote for the SPD would ensure that the commission had a German president.

    Schulz's rhetorical tap-dance to the left has forced him to criticize some aspects of the SPD's past and address economic inequality in his own country, but he has yet to express any substantial regret about how German policy has exacerbated economic inequality across the European periphery, nor do his robust defenses of European integration include calls to democratize the union's institutions.

    Schulz has expressed opposition to the European Union's policy toward Greece on television, but he presided over the European Parliament while institutions of the troika enacted one disastrous austerity package after another against the country. Of course, parliament has little actual say over these policies, but one might have expected the Social Democrat to express some degree of solidarity with Europe's new beacon for progressive change. Instead, he maintained a skeptical public face, urging Alexis Tsipras to be "realistic," and telling Der Spiegel:

    Tsipras promised the Greeks he would improve the situation in which they find themselves by negotiating changes with the European Union. He would be well-advised to tell the Greeks: "I can try, but I can't guarantee you anything." That would be the truth.

    In sum, Schulz is no "left-wing Europhile" returning from the wilderness to inject his country's staid political culture with a jolt of social-justice enthusiasm. Rather, he's a classic SPD machine politician reinventing himself in light of his party's crumbling appeal among wide swathes of the electorate. He may truly regret what his government did to the Greek people, but his role within the establishment ultimately determines his public position.

    In policy terms, Schulz and the SPD adhere to the German export model, believed by many to be one of the leading causes of economic dysfunction and imbalance in the wider European Union. He has no plans to fundamentally reconfigure political priorities in Germany or the European Union. At best, he'll soften a few of the sharper edges and give the German-led political center a friendlier face.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Social Democracy's Long Decline

    The exhaustion of the European political center has manifested in different ways and at different speeds across the European Union, in line with the crisis's centrifugal nature and its various effects on national economies and regimes.

    Some of its most dramatic expressions can be observed in the European south, where Italy's parliamentary left self-immolated and Greece's once-dominant social-democratic party PASOK fell apart. In countries whose economies collapsed virtually overnight, the traditional, centrist parties lost massive segments of their base very quickly, while insurgent voters and social movements propelled new formations, like Syriza, to the fore.

    Developments in the northern countries, where the crisis remains more controlled, have proceeded at a different pace: there, the political center hasn't crashed so much as slowly and painfully declined.

    In Germany, this appears in the historic drop in both CDU and SPD membership, albeit more dramatically for the Social Democrats. For eight of the past 12 years, the two parties have governed together, with the SPD serving as junior partner. It's hard to discern much difference between these CDU-led governments and Germany under Schröder, who served as chancellor for seven years before Merkel took power.

    The grand SPD-CDU coalition illustrates Tariq Ali's notion of the "extreme center," characterized by interchangeable neoliberal regimes, stagnating or declining living standards, and a growing sense among the electorate that all establishment politicians are corrupt and self-interested.

    The German economy, however, has performed relatively well--or at least remained stable--during this period. Workers in Germany see the terrifying reality facing their Greek or Spanish colleagues and cling tighter to the shrinking center, accepting temporary wage freezes and reduced hours in return for job retention and the promise of long-term economic stability. This situation has benefited the Christian Democrats much more than their junior partners.

    The persistence of Germany's extreme center, with Angela Merkel as its public face, has meant that she and her CDU can lay claim to the coalition's positive aspects, while negative developments further discredit the political mainstream as a whole and have particularly damaging effects for the SPD. Traditionally regarded as a moderately left-wing party that represents the common people and their interests, serving as Merkel's right hand has eroded its public profile and relegated it to historically low returns in many recent elections.

    In this context, Schulz appears as the latest step in the long, gut-wrenching decline of what was once the largest and most powerful socialist party in the world. Even after its historical apex before the First World War, the West German SPD--personified by Willy Brandt, former Resistance fighter and party leader from 1964 to 1987--remained a powerful social force and advocate for effective reforms in German politics.

    Although it formally dropped Marxism and embraced its place in the political establishment, the SPD nevertheless organized over 1 million members well into the 1970s, when every sixtieth West German citizen was a card-carrying member. The party successfully united its loyal bases in heavy industry with left-leaning academics and white-collar professionals who were leaving the working class thanks to the university boom. Although it no longer posed a threat to capital, the SPD still promoted a compelling platform of social reform and material improvements for working people--a far cry from today's empty, technocratic shell.

    Its youth wing, the Young Socialists or "Jusos," became home to hundreds of thousands of young West Germans. Often leaning far to the left of its mother party, Jusos built connections between the party and social movements regardless of any reformist treachery occurring at the top. Moreover, the organization made space for sophisticated political debates unimaginable in German student politics today, let alone among the technocratic careerists who belong to the youth wing's modern iteration. Well into the 1980s, SPD members regularly participated in demonstrations and activist organizations. Given the veritable funeral dirge that is SPD internal life today, many of today's young left-wing activists would likely find this state of affairs impossible to imagine.

    The SPD's blend of reformism with a weakened--but nevertheless real--mass social base became increasingly tenuous as the economic golden years drew to a close. Helmut Kohl's 1982 chancellorship began 16 years of CDU hegemony until Gerhard Schröder broke the conservatives' reign in 1998. By then, the lifeworld of Willy Brandt's SPD had receded considerably: globalization produced massive job losses in many of Germany's industrial heartlands, and some 20 million new citizens from the former East fundamentally altered the country's political map.

    In line with similar intellectual developments in other parts of the world, Schröder and figures like Franz Müntefering began transforming the SPD into a modern neoliberal party. This process accelerated considerably after Hans Eichel replaced the old-school Social Democrat Oskar Lafontaine as minister of finance in 1999.

    Eichel swiftly enacted cutbacks and budget consolidation policies in direct contrast to the SPD's traditional taxation models. The SPD-Green coalition liberalized financial regulations and launched the infamous "Agenda2010," which implemented far-reaching, neoliberal changes to the welfare system that no Christian Democrat had ever dared to attempt. Although analysts credit Agenda2010 with resuscitating the German economy in the 2000s, it also lowered living standards and heightened social alienation among the country's most marginalized populations.

    The party's ideological orientation kept up with these new policies, as attested by the 1998 position paper Schröder wrote with Tony Blair. Their bold new path allegedly emphasized "economic dynamism and the unleashing of creativity and innovation," while admonishing readers that past social democrats had "sometimes confused [social justice] with the imposition of equality of outcome." The Third Way governments enacted the policy implications drawn from these observations: welfare reform, financialization, and neoliberalization more generally. Some of them would later support the illegal American war in Iraq, and none them retain much political credibility today.

    As Schröder and his comrades "modernized" the SPD and brought it in line with German capital's interests--and thus into conflict with its traditional social bases--membership began to unravel. Between 1990 and 2002, 3 percent of members left the party every year, and over 5 percent resigned annually in the years after Agenda2010.

    This process culminated in the founding of Die Linke in 2007 after several currents and prominent individuals, including the aforementioned Oskar Lafontaine, abandoned the party. Not soon after, the SPD would lose its status as the country's largest political party to the CDU for the first time in history.

    The SPD leadership fundamentally changed in this period. Buoyed first by the wave of educated workers joining the party in the '70s and '80s, membership became fairly equally distributed throughout society, with growing white-collar and middle-class concentrations and a declining working-class base. Nevertheless, the party leaders still came from the ranks of Brandt's SPD--Schröder had led the Jusos in the 1970s--and were socialized in the party's traditions. Although often perceived as brash and arrogant, many members of Schröder's team nevertheless possessed a degree of political charisma gained through decades of party work.

    As the SPD shifted to the center, it began to attract a different kind of member. The generation of politicians now running the party are not the local peace activists, union militants, or leftist students that once characterized it, but political opportunists who began their careers precisely when large chunks of the SPD's left wing were abandoning the party for Die Linke. These new leaders were not trained in Brandt's SPD or in the social movements but learned politics in student parliaments and party factions. Their strategy amounts to electoral logics and tactical alliances; unfortunately, Schulz shares this orientation.

    What remains of the SPD's left wing is now marginalized, restricted to public figureheads like Hesse's Andrea Ypsilanti, who cofounded the left-reformist think tank Institut Solidarische Moderne in 2010 with politicians from Die Linke and the Greens. Although several loosely organized left-wing currents still exist, their strategic perspective doesn't go beyond imagining an SPD-Linke-Green coalition in the federal government, and they have little influence over the power politics that dominate today's Social Democratic Party.

    As the SPD's position among voters has declined, so has its ability to intervene beyond the parliamentary stage. Remnants of the old party of course persist, but without any young recruits calling for a different political approach, real organizational renewal in the future seems unlikely.

    The Schulz effect has found its footing in this party and this political context. The Third Way's brash confidence faded when its promises were revealed as empty, and today's SPD limps from defeat to defeat under a rotating cast of half-hearted leaders. Because the party's transformation into a shadow of its former self with a declining base cannot be reversed, the team around Schulz is trying to pivot their messaging and orientation.

    Die Linke's tepid but more or less permanent presence on the political landscape necessarily prevents the Social Democrats from moving too explicitly to the left, so now it wants to gain ground among students and young professionals as well as any voter uneasy about the rise of the right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) looking for a dependable centrist alternative to Merkel.

    The party's current state and the damage done by its neoliberal turn limit it to superficial, purely tactical options. As German cities boom with the latest iterations of the "new economy," Schulz is trying to reposition the SPD as a hip party that believes in some cloudy notion of social justice and progress. This means rebuking the dog-whistle politics of the AfD and some parts of the CDU while supporting multiculturalism and, to a limited extent, the rights of refugees. Indeed, Schulz's rise has contributed to a surge of public interest in topics like social justice and income inequality, to the detriment of anti-Muslim fearmongering and refugee hysteria. For this, at least, we should be thankful.

    We can interpret his vague yet militant pro-EU stance from a similar perspective. Schulz has held a tough line against Brexit and praised European integration to the skies, but he remains almost silent on Greece and EU policy specific more generally. This corresponds to the views held by wide swathes of moderate German voters, who combine a real sense of commitment to the European community with ignorance at best and national chauvinism at worst when it comes to the European South's economic realities. Germany's undisputed role as EU hegemon adds a potentially sinister undertone to this rhetoric, as championing the European status quo means championing German dominance.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    A Gradual Drift

    The German media calls 2017 a "super election year," in which a series of regional votes help predict the outcome of this fall's parliamentary election. The SPD lost a percentage point in the aforementioned vote in Saarland while the CDU gained five points and will continue to rule the state in a grand coalition.

    To what extent this vote reflects any nationwide trends remains to be seen, as Saarland is quite small and has a unique political makeup--Oskar Lafontaine hails from there, but Die Linke, which campaigned largely on the promise of an SPD-Linke coalition, did relatively poorly. The results suggest that German political trends remain largely unchanged, as the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Greens missed the 5 percent hurdle and the AfD slid in with slightly over 6 percent, making Saarland the 11th state parliament in which the right-populist party has gained seats.

    It would thus appear that the "Schulz effect" remains largely superficial for now. That a section of the electorate seems genuinely excited by him says more about the drab state of German politics than it does about Martin Schulz or the party as a whole. Young voters in particular are understandably alienated, coming of age as neoliberalization and the consolidation of the extreme center were already well underway and thus having little memory of a livelier political culture with a greater range of options. Die Linke, unfortunately, has been chasing the specter of a left-wing coalition government on the national level for months, despite the SPD hoping to marginalize them with Schulz's newfound popularity.

    The limited extent of the crisis in Germany has prevented the drastic shifts in the political landscape that we have seen in Greece or Spain, but the country's politics faces the same long-term affliction. As the parties of the extreme center chain themselves ever tighter to the sinking ship of neoliberalism and austerity, the range of policy shifts they can make shrinks, narrowing the political landscape to shallow media stunts.

    Schulz represents such a stunt. However competent an establishment politician he may be--one could certainly do much worse, as the recent American election shows--Martin Schulz will not make the Social Democrats a powerful force for social change. We won't learn about his proposals until he releases his official campaign platform this summer, but we can safely assume that it will be more of the same, albeit with a modernized social media presence and more prefabricated enthusiasm.

    First published in Jacobin.

    Categories: Political Action

    Stashing the loot from the taxman

    Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 01:00

    With the deadline for filing income taxes arriving today, Inside Higher Ed columnist Scott McLemee reviews a book that explains how the methods for the super-rich to hide their wealth away from the prying oversight of the tax collector are feeding an alternative global economy hiding in plain sight.

    Monaco: a major tax haven for the ultra-rich (Matthew Peoples | flickr)

    A MARCH in Washington calling for the release of Donald Trump's income tax returns took place on April 15--putting turnout somewhat at the mercy of potential participants' diligence about getting their own returns filed early. The demand is reasonable and has been called for by, at last report, 53 percent of voters, though that is no reason to expect the demonstration will have much effect. Whatever Trump needed to hide as a candidate obviously remains a vulnerability now that he is president.

    His returns might yet enter the public record in the course of congressional (and other) investigations. But there is little chance of full disclosure even then, as Richard Murphy's ">Dirty Secrets: How Tax Havens Destroy the Economy has the indirect effect of reminding us. The available means for concealing assets--whether from tax agents, creditors or the lawyers of former spouses--are highly developed and amount to an alternative global economy in their own right.

    Review: Books

    Richard Murphy, Dirty Secrets: How Tax Havens Destroy the Economy. Verso, 2017, 224 pages. 17.95.

    Murphy, a professor of practice in International political economy at City, University of London, is both a chartered accountant and a co-founder of the Tax Justice Network, an international research and advocacy group. Of the five books he has published, this is the fourth on taxation; he mentions in passing that he wrote it in three months, almost certainly meaning last summer. (The endnotes tend to confirm this hunch: the latest articles and reports they cite are from August.) No discussion of taxation can be too short for the lay public, but Dirty Secrets puts muckraking and pedagogy in tandem to good effect.

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

    THE EXPRESSION "tax haven" is still in general use, understood, Murphy writes, as "a place whose tax system provides an advantage to a person who is not resident in that place." It calls to mind the discreet, friendly, uninquisitive accountants of Switzerland or the Bahamas, hiding cash in your name in a vault somewhere far from the authorities back home. But the somewhat broader term "secrecy jurisdiction" proves much more suitable for conveying both the range and the mechanics of the offshore economy.

    "All the tax haven does," Murphy explains, "is record the ownership of assets that are located in one place (which is not the tax haven) by a person who is themselves resident anywhere but the tax haven." The ownership may be by a company or fund rather than an individual; the assets may be "title to lands and buildings" or such tangible wealth as "art, yachts and the like," not just currency. "Nor," the author explains, "are these investments usually managed from the tax haven in which their ownership is recorded. The decisions on where, and in what, the funds are 'invested' will, in all likelihood, be made by fund managers or share owners who are themselves almost certainly located 'elsewhere.'"

    For that matter, "very few banks [are] based in tax havens," which instead host branches of international institutions (Deutsche Bank, Lloyds Bank, the Bank of Cyprus, etc.). Murphy's own research into "the 60 secrecy jurisdictions studied as the basis of the first Tax Justice Network's Financial Secrecy Index" in 2010 found that more than two-thirds of them had local offices of at least two of the world's four leading accounting firms. (All four firms had offices in 33 of the countries studied.)

    Determining how much wealth is involved--or the economic impact of the loss of tax revenue, especially in the poorest countries--requires great effort as well as considerable tolerance for wide margins in the final estimates. In 2011, Murphy's analysis of World Bank data "estimated the total cost of tax evasion in the world as a whole at $3.1 trillion, or about 5 percent of world GDP at the time."

    A report released the following year by his colleagues in the Tax Justice Network used a number of methods to handle data from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and numerous other sources to make an estimate of between $21 trillion and $32 trillion "for global offshore financial assets as of 2010," with "estimated annual loss of revenue at between $190 billion and $280 billion." While not satisfied with the methodology of some researchers he cites, Murphy notes that they seem to converge on the figure of at least $200 billion a year of tax revenue lost to offshore concealment alone.

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

    VERY LARGE numbers are easier to cite than to wrap the mind around, and they at best convey only a very general sense of the scale of the problem. The cumulative effect on public budgets around the world is obvious: Murphy treats the rise of secrecy jurisdictions as integral to the neoliberal agenda, with its ultimate ambition of ensuring that tax revenue is directed to funding police, prisons and the military while not a dime is spent for any other public purpose.

    But Murphy also, surprisingly, regards tax havens as an affront to the power of the marketplace and their defeat as essential to saving capitalism from itself. I admit that this argument caught me off guard. Here is the author making it in brief:

    If markets are to be efficient in the way that economists have described--and as those who suggest they provide optimal solutions profess to believe they operate--then there must be the highest-quality information available to all market participants so that they can act rationally, allocating resources to the person who is best able to use them to maximize return, and who exposes the provider of capital to the lowest risk in that process. Very obviously, tax havens undermine these principles. They are in fact designed to deny market participants the information they need to act rationally, allocate resources efficiently and minimize risk...If risk is increased, then the required rate of return within marketplaces also increases. This means that the number of projects that can be invested in is reduced, so that the amount of capital committed is diminished. As a consequence, productivity declines, and along with it growth, output, wages and profits.

    The suite of reforms Murphy proposes amount to a program of robust data collection by the European Union and other international actors combined with legislation that would, bit by bit, make access to secrecy jurisdictions more difficult and less profitable. The alternative is even more staggering levels of inequality than have already become the norm. Murphy's trust in the possibility for reform would be easier to credit if the shadow economy were some kind of lamprey that had attached itself to an otherwise healthy organism; then it could be removed. But his book is too persuasive in its depiction of tax havens as tightly connected to banks, accounting firms and other established institutions. They seem to exist in a kind of symbiosis--which can't end well.

    First published at Inside Higher Ed.

    Categories: Political Action

    Make May Day a day of resistance

    Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 01:00

    Amad Ross writes from Seattle with a proposal for students to consider for May 1.

    HERE IN Seattle, the favored topic of small talk has shifted from the clouds and rain to the president and his incompetence. Students at my high school have formed relationships with teachers on that basis alone, and it seems there is no longer any political division between instructor and student. This general agreement is important for its own sake, but especially for the potential it creates.

    As high school students and teachers find common ground in their opposition to Donald Trump, the two will see new opportunities to stand up for one another politically. The first such opportunity is less than a month away.

    Seattle teachers recently voted on whether to strike for the day on May Day, but failed to get the endorsement of the union, leaving an opening for high school students to carry on their struggle. On May Day, Seattle students should walk out of their schools and show support for their teachers' efforts.

    Last month, members of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) voted on whether to strike on May 1. The strike would have been a platform for teachers to demand better funding of public schools--an increasingly important issue in the age of Trump's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos-- and to voice support for the rights of immigrant and Muslim students. If a strike had been approved, the teachers would have joined a mass rally at Judkins Park beginning at 11 a.m. and culminating in a march at 1 p.m.

    The union leadership did all that it could to prevent this vote from passing. They shortened the voting period and required that the decision be made a whole month in advance, voting on the proposal just nine days after it was made.

    Despite this, 45 percent of SEA voters supported the strike. This means that roughly 1,500 educators voted "yes" to a strike--an extremely high number considering the difficult circumstances.

    Readers' Views

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

    Worth noting, too, is that many SEA members work in elementary and middle schools, institutions more hesitant to enter the political arena. The proposal was far less controversial in many high schools, with many of the "yes" votes coming from schools with 60-90 percent of teachers in support. At my own high school, for example, I have failed to locate a single teacher that voted against the strike.

    Here is where the students come in. As the subjects of these schools, we can give these teachers the strike they voted for by walking out on May 1 and going to the Judkins rally in their place.

    This walkout would build new relationships between students and their teachers and show that we are all in this struggle together. These relationships are extremely important in the times we're in. With Betsy DeVos as education secretary, the fate of our public schools hangs by a thread. As students, we need to organize to fight for our schools and their funding, just as our teachers have.

    This action would also build solidarity among students. Seattle high schools have a large number of immigrant and Muslim students, individuals who are constantly under fire from Donald Trump's rhetoric. A politically charged walkout would show these students that in the face of oppression, we all stand together.

    For these reasons, high schools students across Seattle should organize and walk out on May 1. Through shared support of immigrant and Muslim rights, and militant defense of public school funding, teachers and students can work together to make May Day a day of resistance.

    Categories: Political Action

    The Democratic Party: Where do we go from here?

    Democratic Convention Watch - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 17:29

    In the past week, I had three conversations that all intersect on the issue of the future of the Democratic Party. Three quite different people, and varying subject matters. I have not yet reached a conclusion, but the questions raised fascinate me.

    Conversation 1

    I belong to a political action group and we had a meeting. While the topic doesn’t matter, this comment still rings in my ears: “I work in a factory, and we make decisions immediately. I hope the rest of you won’t take this wrong, but you are pencil pushers.”

    Prior to this conversation, I’d recently read this article which talks about who and what the Democratic Party has left behind over the past 30 years. And here was someone, a man I know, who could have made the same arguments made by the Ohio Democrats in the article.

    It stung. I have spent my life as a liberal Democrat: fighting for inclusion, with no true understanding that I knew people who were unheard by a party dedicated to inclusion of all who shared the ideals of the platform.

    Conversation 2

    A woman, new to politics, is running for a row office this year. I’d heard good things about her from people we know in common, and this conversation was to see if she wanted, and if I would provide, support for her nascent campaign.

    When I interview candidates for DCW or other publications, my questions relate to why someone is running, what their background includes, and issue questions to provide the readership with the answers they need to make an independent choice for whom to vote. When I interview candidates to provide support, my first question is always “What’s your number?” It doesn’t matter what the number is, only whether or not the candidate knows it. Candidates who know are able to plan effectively, develop teams that can reach the goal, and have a shot at winning. She knew her number right off.

    Part of our ensuing conversation related to her initial interactions with the local party apparatus.

    Conversation 3

    The third conversation was with an elected member of the party hierarchy. This woman is well-intentioned, conscientious, and committed to the party. She believes that the only way to change the party is from within.

    She told me flat out, and early on in the conversation, that the group to which I belonged could never get a Democratic candidate elected, only the party could do that. Huh. It’s been working so well for them…

    Putting it all Together

    Back in 2009, we spent a lot of “ink” here at DCW discussing what would happen to the GOP. And pretty much, we were correct: they’re completely splintered, the Teabaggers hold the jokers that prevent the moderate and business wings of the party from accomplishing much of anything, and their leader is a no-nothing who has basically invaded two countries and is considering military action against a third, and he STILL can’t fill positions in his government. There’s even a loyalty oath.

    We should have done better. What could we, the Democrats, have done to prevent this lunacy? Let’s start with the man representing one wing of the party that cost us the election. Not the only wing, but a big one. The white working class. Back in 1999, with the repeal of Glass-Steagall, both parties signaled their allegiance to Wall Street over Main Street, and laid out a commitment to an overall economy that was corporatist in lieu of capitalist.

    While manufacturing had been in decline for a while by 1999, the new formal relationship with Wall Street led to an escalation of globalization to the end of increased profits for shareholders. To be fair, part of the decrease in American manufacturing is due to mechanization. Take semi-conductors, which were invented and grown in America (yes, really, go back to the early 50’s and the history of Texas Instruments). The operations of division of TI employees several hundred thousand people, but the physical manufacturing is subcontracted, and those companies use more robots than humans. The employees tend to have Master’s degrees and work with large scale computer systems. A far cry from twisting tops onto tubes for hand cream, nailing together frames for furniture or any of the other tasks accomplished decades ago in manufacturing plants.

    What has the Democratic Party done for these people who used to do this kind of labour? Frankly, nothing. They don’t even talk in terms of kinds of training that might help them transition to other types of employment since those manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Not to America, not anywhere. But it’s not just manufacturing, nor mining (also not coming back) – it’s also the service industries, which as Paul Krugman points out, are also never coming back.  But Krugman also has the answer for this situation, which is something the Democratic Party CAN work towards:

    While we can’t stop job losses from happening, however, we can limit the human damage when they do happen. We can guarantee health care and adequate retirement income for all. We can provide aid to the newly unemployed. And we can act to keep the overall economy strong — which means doing things like investing in infrastructure and education, not cutting taxes on rich people and hoping the benefits trickle down.

    Which brings me to the Party, and the crop of candidates. What tangible support will the party provide for candidates running this year? Or for Congress next year. Sadly, not much, especially as compared to what other groups offer. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are either running for office this year, or considering a run next year. Some are running for row positions for which they have experience they could bring to bear: for example, lawyers running for judge. Others don’t even understand what’s involved with the positions if they do get elected.

    To win, candidates need a number of things: money, infrastructure, strategy, paid teams, kitchen cabinets, and the time and commitment needed to undertake a campaign. They also need training. Being a successful elected official doesn’t just happen. Historically, people started with local offices, built their understanding of governance, worked their way up, and I have to say it — I cannot BELIEVE that President of the United States has become an entry level position….sorry, I digress.

    For most situations, however, candidates need training so that they can effectively raise money, spend it wisely, hire the right people for their staffs, assemble a kitchen cabinet of non-beholden advisers, develop their speeches, receive help with messaging, etc. etc. etc. Does the Party provide training? Nope. However, a lot of progressive organizations like Bold Progressives and Move On do. Netroots Nation has classes every year.

    Does the party provide tangible support for candidates? That means canvassers and phone bankers tied to an individual candidate? Again, no, that’s on the campaigns. Do they look for ways to integrate campaign events with Voter Drives? Do they hold rallies and invite candidates to attend? You get the idea, and you know the answer.

    And let’s talk money. Does the party provide direct funding for candidates? Nope. The local parties will often provide literature mentioning all the candidates in a township or boro and drop them on doorknobs. But it’s rare that the Party makes direct contributions to candidates that the campaigns can spend on what they need.

    Even at the Congressional level, the DCCC will sometimes provide some indirect funding, but rarely direct to coffers. Nor does the party raise money on behalf of candidates. Tomorrow is the Jungle Primary for the Georgia 6th. Did the Party provide any tangible support at all? Nope. Nor did they last week in Kansas, when so doing would actually have made the difference in the outcome. They couldn’t be bothered. Jon Ossoff raised more than $8 million dollars for the Georgia race: the vast majority of it via Daily Kos campaigns and Act Blue. The DCCC? Not a buck.

    So that brings me back to the question about the future of the Democratic Party. Do I believe it should be disbanded? Not at all: the infrastructure is solid, and there are a lot of people who have put in a lot of work over the years. Does it need an attitude adjustment? You betcha’ as Spunky Palin would say. Can that come from within their ranks? Unlikely. They’re all too entrenched.

    The likelihood is that there will be a lot of pain within the Party. They will watch as outside groups actually do elect candidates. Running candidates on the Democratic line who get their training, support, money and volunteers overseen by the groups mostly formed since the last election. Groups that hold rallies, vigils, voter drives and help send people to canvass and phone bank. And those groups will provide data back showing what they did in terms of voter engagement and voting turnout, and the difference will become clear. And then, finally, will come the maintenance of the infrastructure, platforms that harken back to when Democrats were Democrats.

    I leave you with an article of mine published 10 years ago.  I’ve posted it before, so many of you may have seen it already. It’s what the party was, and may well be once again. Personally, I’m committed to working for that party, but from the outside.

    When she died last year at the age of 107, my grandmother was a proud Democrat who had never missed an election. I was born into a family that valued not only the Party and its principles, but the political process. In my extended family, if you were old enough to stand on a box and reach a table, you were old enough to stuff envelopes. I worked my first election at the age of 3.

    But “because that’s how I was brought up” is not reason enough to make the choice as an adult as to which party one wishes to belong. I am a proud, liberal, Democrat because of the ideals and principles involved in the Democratic Party platform and its proud history. While I may not always agree with all of the members of the party and what they stand for as individuals, one of the fundamental tenets of the Democratic Party has always been that many voices are better than one.

    The Democratic Party is the oldest continuous political party in the US.  The party was founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the early 1790’s as a congressional caucus to fight for the Bill of Rights, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and a weaker Federal government (relative to States Rights). Jefferson was elected as the third President of the US under the banner of the “party of the common man”, officially named the Democratic-Republican Party. The party split in 1824, emerging as the Democratic Party with the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, Abraham Lincoln later being the first Republican president.

    In the 20th Century, the Democratic Party brought great change to America. Things that we take for granted today were codified by Democratic administrations and Congresses; including, but not limited to: the eight-hour work day, Civil Rights Legislation (integrated schools, voting rights, prohibition of discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex and national origin, and prohibition of housing discrimination), affirmative action, the lowering of the voting age to 18, and the repeal of prohibition.

    But it is not just the elected officials who make a Party, it is the people who work for the party (formally and informally). The first US party platform was put forth by the Democrats in 1840. To this day, any registered Democrat can apply to be a part of the platform committee, and Democrats can also testify to make their feelings known to the whole platform committee. It is truly a big tent. The platform is the framework of goals and aspirations: what the Party views as imperative to make America better.

    The 1840 platform was brief, and was concerned with limiting the powers of the Federal Government, including avoiding chartering a National Bank, and conferring most powers to the individual States, resolving that every citizen had the right to equality of rights and privileges, and to protection from domestic violence and foreign aggression.

    The current platform, from 2004, is much longer then the first, and reflects a world which faces challenges inconceivable to the early Democrats. It is entitled “Strong at Home, Respected in the World” and answers not just to making America stronger in terms of reformed health, education  and jobs programs, but also handling terrorism, nuclear weapons, the world-wide AIDS epidemic, renewable energy, and equality for all.

    The final words of the 2004 Platform are as follow: “Members of our party have deeply held and differing views on some matters of conscience and faith. We view diversity of views as a source of strength, and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who seek to build a stronger America. We are committed to resolving our differences in a spirit of civility, hope and mutual respect.  That’s the America we believe in.”

    That is the America I believe in, and the Party I think has the best chance of getting us to where we need to be in a dangerous and difficult world. Democrats have a long history of being able to set lofty goals and then achieve them: FDR and his Kitchen Cabinet got us out of the Depression, JFK wanted a man on the moon in a decade, and that occurred sooner than expected, Johnson fought for a Great Society, and much was accomplished in those turbulent times. Were these men, and their associates, perfect? No, certainly not. But their intentions were true, and they made great strides.

    I leave you with the words of two great Democrats, who espouse better than I ever could, why I am a Democrat. First, JFK, speaking to the Liberal Party of New York in 1960: “What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” … [I]if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.””

    And finally, his brother Ted, after losing the nomination in 1980: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”


    Categories: Political Action

    An interview with Michael Geist: copyright reform in Canada and beyond

    Creative Commons - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 06:55
    ACTA workshop at the EP by European Parliament, CC BY-NC-ND

    Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He is an authority on intellectual property, telecommunications, and privacy policy, and is a frequent writer and commentator on issues such as international trade negotiations and Canadian copyright reform. Geist will join the CC community at the Creative Commons Global Summit later this month.

    Creative Commons is looking forward to hosting its Global Summit in Toronto at the end of this month. One of the topics to be discussed is how CC allies from around the world can share information and work together around supporting the reform of copyright rules in service of users and the public interest. CC affiliates are already active in copyright reform and commons advocacy in Europe, Australia, Latin America, and other places. Can you describe what’s going on with copyright reform in Canada, and how the Creative Commons network can help mobilize positive changes? What do you think we should push to achieve at the Summit re: copyright reform organising?

    Canada is often held out as a great example of successful copyright advocacy leading to a more balanced law. After more than a decade of debate, the law was overhauled in 2012.  While there are plenty of provisions for rights holders – strong anti-circumvention laws and anti-piracy measures – the law also features some innovative limitations and exceptions such as an exception for non-commercial user generated content.  There is also a cap on statutory damages in non-commercial cases and a privacy-friendly approach to intermediary liability.  Moreover, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that fair dealing is a user’s right that should be interpreted in a broad and liberal manner, leading to results that affirm a balance to copyright.

    The 2012 reforms also included a mandatory review every five years, which means that a new review will start late in 2017.  There is still room for improvement and learning from best practices from around the world would be enormously helpful.  Moreover, there is an expectation that some rights holders will demand that the government roll back fair dealing at the very time that other countries are open to fair use provisions.  The Global Summit offers an exceptional opportunity to develop national and international strategies, learn about reforms around the world, and begin the process of speaking with a consistent voice on positive copyright reform.

    You’ve been a key voice in opposition to international trade agreements that attempt to push through restrictive clauses around intellectual property and e-commerce that enhance corporate protections while downplaying user rights. The most recent version of this was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sprawling agreement signed by 11 Pacific Rim nations, including Canada. Now that the United States, under the Trump administration, has formally withdrawn from the agreement, what is the future for the TPP? And what do you make of the seemingly inevitable reopening of NAFTA, especially with regard to digital rights?

    The TPP in its current form is dead.  The agreement reflects a bargain for countries premised on access to the U.S. market.  Without the U.S., that bargain doesn’t make any sense.

    That said, the U.S. seems intent on reviving many of the IP provisions in future trade talks, including NAFTA.  The renegotiated NAFTA will have enormous implications for copyright and digital rights more generally.  I expect to see pressure for copyright term extension and increased criminalization of copyright. On the digital rights issue, privacy concerns such as data localization and data transfers will be on the agenda.  The U.S. is likely to promote restrictions on both issues, leaving countries between a proverbial rock and a hard place with the U.S. seeking open transfers and the European Union focused on privacy protections from localization and limits on transfers in some circumstances.

    As usual, there’s a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that’s continually sown around claims about copyright’s effect on rightsholders. You’ve written on several of these topics recently, including efforts by rightsholders associations to inflate numbers on piracy rates, fraud in search index takedown notices, and disinformation around the impacts of fair dealing on publishers’ businesses. How can digital rights advocates fight against such tactics?

    There has been a remarkable amount of fake news associated with copyright’s effect on rights holders. The Google data on fake takedown notices from its search index were stunning – more than 99% of requests did not involve an actual page in its search index. Similarly, during a recent trip to Australia and New Zealand I was shocked to see how Canadian law has been badly misrepresented with claims about effects on publishers that were simply false.

    The best way to counter FUD is with facts. In Australia, one representative from a leading publisher approached me after a talk to express embarrassment over the claims that had been in that country’s policy process in light of the real facts. Our community should not hesitate to counter inaccurate claims on piracy and fair use/fair dealing with a clear, objective discussion of the reality online and in the marketplace.

    The issue of supporting and expanding copyright exceptions for education is on the table now within the context of the reassessment of the EU copyright rules, the international agenda at WIPO, and other national level copyright reforms. How do you see this will be addressed within the Canadian copyright reform which will commence this autumn?

    Canada included several new exceptions within the 2012 reforms, including the additional of “education” as one of the fair dealing purposes. The reality is that this change was relatively minor since the existing purposes such as research and private study covered most purposes within education.  Indeed, the Supreme Court’s rulings on fair dealing were far more important than the legislative change.  That said, there will be a concerted lobbying effort to roll back fair dealing for education in Canada that must countered with facts.  Further, there is room for improvement. Canada’s anti-circumvention laws are among the most restrictive in the world and do not include a fair dealing exception.  That should change if Canada wants to ensure that fair dealing is treated equally in the analog and digital worlds.  Moreover, Canada would still benefit from a fair use provision, particularly given the increased emphasis on data and machine learning, which may not neatly fit within our existing purposes in all circumstances.

    The post An interview with Michael Geist: copyright reform in Canada and beyond appeared first on Creative Commons.

    Categories: Political Action

    We'll stand together on May Day

    Socialist Worker - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 01:00

    Immigrant rights, labor, civil rights and many other organizations are preparing to mobilize on May 1, International Workers Day, to protest the Trump agenda. One of the most active organizations, Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera (Voices from the Border), is coordinating a statewide mobilization in Wisconsin that will include a march between Milwaukee and Madison, the state capital.

    Voces formed in Austin, Texas, in 1995 as a newspaper in solidarity with maquiladora workers. It relocated to Wisconsin in 1998, and, in 2000, launched a statewide campaign for legalization of the undocumented. In 2001, it opened a workers' center in Milwaukee.

    Since then, Voces has become a membership-based organization with eight chapters in different parts of the state and has been at the center of several important fights for immigrant rights in Wisconsin, including massive marches in 2006 against the Sensenbrenner Bill--a federal effort to criminalize immigrants that was sponsored by a Wisconsin Republican and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005.

    Voces co-founder and Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz spoke to SocialistWorker.org's Lance Selfa about the organization's work and its plans for May Day.

    Immigrant workers demonstrate for equal rights in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Voces de la Frontera | flickr)

    WHAT CHANGES have you seen for immigrants in Wisconsin since Donald Trump took office? Since 2011, you've also had the reign of right-wing Gov. Scott Walker.

    TRUMP'S ELECTION is definitely a watershed moment without doubt, more so than Walker was. I think the biggest change was that it really sent shockwaves throughout the immigrant community, not just throughout Wisconsin, but nationwide.

    What I feel very good about is that we've been able to quickly address the situation and start organizing aggressively right away. The reason we were able to do that is because we were part of a national network and we planned for a scenario situation if Trump were elected, which we thought highly unlikely, but we did plan for it. And that allowed us to really hit the ground running.

    We organized community forums throughout many parts of Wisconsin, where our chapters are, and rolled out a proposal for how to organize under Trump. This proposal was voted on by all of those chapters, and it's what we've been implementing since.

    The general strategy centers on locally based organizing with a focus on sanctuary policies, whether in schools or in local government, and rapid-response, anti-deportation work. We're doing a lot of training about what people need to have in place when a deportation happens, but not just for a situation like that. Temporary custody rights for minor children, the financial forms and power of attorney are all part of know-your-rights materials so that people don't sign away their rights.

    We're setting up a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline, and we've been asking folks to volunteer to be part of a local rapid response [network], so that if we get a call about something, we can send people out to verify that it's real and connect up with the families so that we can lift up those cases and aggressively resist the kind of mass deportation program that Trump is trying to set up.

    Another part of our organizing has been getting religious institutions to agree to provide physical sanctuary. That's something we've been engaging with churches on for many years.

    The sanctuary movement started in the 1980s under the Reagan administration, when churches of all denominations courageously provided physical sanctuary to people who were fleeing wars in Central America and who were not being recognized as political refugees by the U.S. government.

    The second wave was the new sanctuary movement under the Obama Administration that was inspired by Elvira Arellano, who refused to be deported and took sanctuary in local church in Chicago.

    Now, under the Trump Administration, there is a third wave of the sanctuary movement that is very strong and determined--stronger than the second wave--to send a message to the immigrants and the administration of their commitment to defend immigrant workers and their families.

    There's been a tremendous response. We have a number of churches and entire religious networks, like the Lutherans and the Methodists, in the state of Wisconsin which are close to or have already taken a position of supporting any church that provides physical sanctuary.

    We've put up taskforces focused on education, and workplace- and church-based organizing. An example of that is the February 13 "Day without Latinos, Immigrants and Refugees," where we used our economic power to send a message.

    We're also forming broader alliances. We created a Coalition for Inclusive Wisconsin to work with other groups that are also being targeted by the administration. We've worked very closely with the Muslim community in particular. There are now closer alliances between the immigrants' rights community and the Muslim community, because they're being targeted by Trump's executive orders.

    YOU MENTIONED the February 13 action. What was the background to that?

    FEBRUARY 13 was a community-wide general strike. We put out a call for a statewide response to demonstrate our deep opposition to Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke announcing that he wanted to bring 287(g) to Milwaukee County.

    The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)'s 287(g) is a highly controversial program that says that any law enforcement officer can be deputized to become immigration agents. They give them just one month of training, and they're ready to go.

    This is a program that was highly controversial. Former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio made it infamous by violating people's constitutional rights, their civil rights, with heavy abuse of power. That's been its pattern wherever it's been applied.

    Trump wants to set up local law enforcement agencies to adopt 287(g) in at least 70 localities. And ICE has contacted county jails to subcontract with them. So this means that local government infrastructure is all part of Trump's plan for mass deportations.

    Another important piece of it is that these policies legalize racial profiling. How you're dressed, if you have an accent, the color of your skin--all of that can be cause for law enforcement to stop you. It rolls back social progress and the sacrifices that the civil rights movement made. I think that's often something that doesn't get looked at enough.

    For Voces de la Frontera, February 13 was the fifth time we've used the community-wide general strike--which includes a call for no work, no school and no purchases, including a shutdown of businesses and mass protest. We've actually used that general strike, which we called "A Day without Latinos and Immigrants" in the past. This time we added "Refugees" to the name. We had a mass outpouring of tens of thousands of people from all over the state that came just 10 days from this call to action, and converged in Milwaukee County. It was an incredible show of force.

    In terms of the social movement, it definitely had an impact, in that it inspired national and international support and notoriety in a way it hadn't broken through before. That directly had to do with the fact that it is the Trump administration and that Sheriff Clarke is presenting himself as the next Arpaio. And so, it waved the banner and encouraged others to do likewise.

    It really garnered a lot of attention this time and, through social media, that general call of "stop 287(g) and rescind these executive orders" got picked up, and in multiple cities across the country other workers and small business owners took it upon themselves to do similar actions on February 16. Now there's recognition of the power of the general strike.

    That has been adopted now as part of the May 1 mobilization throughout the country, which has very strong support behind it. [One of Voces' campaigns will be a national call, as part of the May Day mobilization, to put pressure on Walker to fire Clarke. – ed.] So it is a mass protest, but it also embraces the strategy of the general strike as well.

    There's no question it had huge power, and I know that Voces believes that in the current political climate, we have to lean more into more refined, strategic efforts around using our collective economic power as workers, small business owners, to really send that message.

    We just convened a gathering April 1-2 in Wisconsin, bringing together some of the organizations, both union and immigrant, that are doing very good work as it relates to worker organizing or strikes, and really focusing on how we can start a conversation and, in the process, a leadership development space where we can share our experiences and strategies and strengthen this part of the movement.

    I'm very excited about that development. It's an absolute necessity.

    LAST YEAR, a mobilization of immigrant workers was the key factor in defeating an effort in the Wisconsin legislature to criminalize immigrants and government workers who service them. Tell me about that.

    FOR MORE than a decade now we've been pushing back at various levels against the criminalization of immigrants and supporters and entire organizations. In 2006, Milwaukee was the third city where people turned out for massive protests and successfully defeated the Sensenbrenner Bill. It brought back to the table the need to reform our immigration laws and for a path to citizenship. So in terms of the birth of the modern immigrants' rights movement, for me it started in 2006 with that mass protest/mass general strike.

    Of the five times that we've done this, the general strike, two times have really shown the power that it can secure. The first time was in 2006, and the next time was in 2016, when it secured a victory against State Assemblyperson John Spiros, who introduced several bills, one that would ban sanctuary cities.

    We decided that we needed something bold to defeat this. So we put out the call, we put it to a vote by our members, and within 11 days, there was a statewide general strike that converged at the capital.

    Our show of force cut across all kinds of industries, but what I feel ultimately leveraged our defeat of this anti-sanctuary bill was that it had reached into the dairy industry, which is heavily and totally dependent on immigrant workers. And it was immigrant workers, in defense of their families and the lives they've built, who turned out.

    Because of that, it really brought attention from the dairy farmers, who were largely Republican, to this issue. They became part of the fight to defeat it. And we did prevail and that bill was not signed into law. It has been reintroduced this year, and that is part of the reason we're doing a similar call to action on May 1. It's because of the local, state and national fight--what's different this year is that it's also national.

    WHAT INTERACTION did the immigrant rights movement in Wisconsin have with the Wisconsin uprising in 2011 against Act 10, an attack on public-sector workers' collective bargaining rights?

    WE TURNED out heavily in defense of public employees to keep the right to collectively bargain. It's all been very organic. Voces de la Frontera's youth arm started in schools many years before in 2003, so we've had a strong relationship with teachers who are teacher-advisors to student chapters.

    In the past, it's been the teachers and the counselors who have come out in support of immigrant youth and their parents to support education rights issues like the DREAM Act or for tuition equity. In this instance, the tables were turned and the focus of the attack was on the teachers. They were scapegoated for having too many benefits, having too much or making too good of a salary to justify going after their rights, their livelihood and quality of life.

    And so we were able to come out in support of teachers and counselors who, in the past, had supported immigrant youth and their parents, not just around education but on all of it--immigration reform and getting the state to issue immigrants driver's licenses. I think around eight buses turned out every day for the first two weeks of the Act 10 mass protests.

    We were a very strong immigrant rights presence in the whole fight. What's very important about that is that because of the relationship that we had over many years with some of the different union leaders, we were given the platform during these mass protests to lift up a message of solidarity, but also to lift up the issues that we were fighting on as well.

    In the governor's budget, they limited tuition equity for immigrant youth. It had been won two years prior, and it had taken us 10 years to win it. Those issues were really lifted up, and it brought us closer to other unions that we had never worked with before. We had teachers come forward and volunteer to be teacher advisors, so we saw organizational growth and stronger alliances, so again I think in terms of the movement side of it, in spite of defeats, we came out stronger.

    DO YOU think of yourself and Voces de la Frontera as part of the more activist or left-wing of the immigrant rights movement?

    VOCES IS definitely stamped by very progressive principles around economic rights and social rights, so I'd say yes, we've definitely prioritized being part of state-wide tables that bring different groups together that are fighting both for economic rights and civil rights issues.

    We're part of making sure that the Latino and immigrant community is informed on the issues and can have a voice as well in these broader fights. For example, people always talk about the issue of intersectionality. I think one of strengths of Voces is that part of our DNA is that we're always very in tune to that. It's not something new.

    For example, we've always been very supportive of the Fight for $15. Immigrant workers themselves stand strongly on workers' rights issues because they face a lot of discrimination, a lot of wage theft, so that's something that they'll support strongly.

    Issues of economic rights matter deeply to Latinos and immigrants, so we've obviously always connected up on those issues. But there are also other issues. For instance, we recently won a municipal ID for Milwaukee that not only will benefit undocumented immigrants who can't access a state ID, but it's the best transgender rights ID in the country right now.

    Part of that fight was a broader coalition, and it allowed us the opportunity to lift up the voices of our own Voces members who are transgender. So it's really about raising consciousness in solidarity with other civil rights fronts, of which our own communities and our own families are a part of.

    WHAT DO you think of the framework of the comprehensive immigration reform that's been the main focus of immigrants' rights organizations since 2006?

    I THINK part of the reason we don't have immigration reform is that there's been a battle about the kind of immigration reform we want. One of my concerns now is that, under the Trump administration, they're going to use some scare tactics, such as big splashy theatrical workplace raids in several cities, and then try to drive through a guest-worker bill that gives employers even greater control. These programs are so abusive--in some cases, they've been compared to legal trafficking.

    I think that's the kind of stuff we have to inform workers and their families about. We have to keep a high standard around the type of reform we want so that we don't end up in a worst scenario. But I would say that we just haven't had enough power up until now to secure immigration reform.

    I think it was a huge disappointment for many people who were involved in supporting the electoral piece to see in 2006 and 2010 that you couldn't even move past the DREAM Act. So much of the fight under President Obama was the pushback on enforcement, which was at its highest level under any U.S. president.

    On the one hand, I feel like we've been in training, because of the aggressive enforcement under Obama, to meet the times that we're in. So, on the one hand, I feel like we're in the right moment because of our experiences and we're in a stronger position to help lead the fight now. But, on the other hand, I think there's a new opportunity that wasn't there in the past.

    In the past, the powers that be were very good at isolating different groups from one another and being very measured about how much they take from each one. And now everyone's under attack aggressively at the same time! I think there's an absolute necessity for boldness and staying ahead of situations. But at the same time, there's no question that, in terms of the kinds of things that we should be fighting for, it's a much broader horizon.

    There's no question--the right to migrate should be seen as a fundamental right. And that's not to say that we're not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the kinds of policies or systems that need to be changed too, but in terms of the values and the standards and the principles, across the board it's also opened up those horizons. People are saying the right to public education for all should be a fundamental right. I feel like we're in a different moment, there's much more opportunity around the kind of principles and vision that we want, and we should definitely be lifting that up.

    Transcription by Andrea Hecktor

    Categories: Political Action