Political Action

“Publish and Prosper” with a new model for academic publishing

Creative Commons - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 15:55

Glasstree is a new platform built on “healing academic publishing” to provide a range of Open Access options that allow academics to quickly and inexpensively self-publish their monographs, returning 70% of the royalties to the author. The company was launched in November by a number of publishing veterans with the goal of directly addressing the needs of academics. Glasstree offers Creative Commons licensing options to authors in order to facilitate the wider dissemination of knowledge via Gold Open Access. In the words of SVP Daniel Berze, “[Glasstree] is designed to put academics firmly back in the driving seat when it comes to ownership of their work. [T]he model empowers academics to share their knowledge and make their work more accessible to their respective communities.”

The site was built by Lulu.com, the pioneering self-publishing company that has been a longtime user of CC licensing. Drawing from the great strides being made by the open access community, Glasstree’s embrace of CC licensing is exciting and innovative. They are running a free trial period through Spring 2017 for authors to try out the service, so be sure to sign up soon and give it a try.

The post “Publish and Prosper” with a new model for academic publishing appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

The Foilies 2017

Deep Links - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 12:30
Recognizing the Year’s Worst in Government Transparency

A thick fog is rolling in over Sunshine Week (March 12-18), the annual event when government transparency advocates raise awareness about the importance of access to public records.  We are entering an age when officials at the highest levels seek to discredit critical reporting with “alternative facts,” “fake news” slurs, and selective access to press conferences—while making their own claims without providing much in the way to substantiate them.

But no matter how much the pundits claim we’re entering a “post-truth” era, it is crucial we defend the idea of proof.  Proof is in the bureaucratic paper trails. Proof is in the accounting ledgers, the legal memos, the audits, and the police reports. Proof is in the data. When it comes to government actions, that proof is often obtained by leveraging laws like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state-level public records laws—except when government officials seek to ignore the rules to suppress evidence.

At the same time, this is also par for the course. As award-winning investigative reporter Shane Bauer recently posted on Twitter: “I’ve been stonewalled by the government throughout my journalistic career. I’m seriously baffled by people acting like this is brand new.”

For the third year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation presents “The Foilies,” our anti-awards identifying the times when access to information has been stymied or when government agencies have responded in the most absurd ways to records requests. Think of it as the Golden Raspberries but for government transparency, where the bad actors are actually going off script to deny the public the right to understand what business is being conducted on their behalf.

To compile these awards, EFF solicited nominations from around the country and scoured through news stories and the #FOIAFriday Twitter threads to find the worst, the silliest, and the most ridiculous responses to request for public information.

Quick Links:

The Make America Opaque Again Award President Donald Trump

A commitment to public transparency should start at the top.

But from the beginning of his campaign, President Trump has instead committed to opacity by refusing to release his tax returns, citing concerns about an ongoing IRS audit. Now that he's been elected, Trump's critics, ethics experts, and even some allies have called on him to release his tax returns and prove that he has eliminated potential conflicts of interest and sufficiently distanced himself from the businesses in his name that stand to make more money now that he's in office. But the Trump administration has not changed its stance. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, the American public should be outraged that we now have the first sitting president since the 1970s to avoid such a baseline transparency tradition. 

The Hypocrisy Award Former Indiana Governor—and current Vice President—Mike Pence

Vice President Mike Pence cared a lot about transparency and accountability in 2016, especially when it came to email. A campaign appearance couldn't go by without Pence or his running mate criticizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for using a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State.  In fact, the Foilies honored Clinton last year for her homebrewed email approach.

But Pence seemed much less bothered by those transparency and accountability concerns when he used a private AOL email address to conduct official business as Indiana's governor. The Indianapolis Star reported in February that Pence used the account to communicate "with top advisors on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe." That means that critical homeland security information was kept in an account likely less secure than government accounts (his account was reportedly hacked too), and Pence's communications were shielded from government records requirements.

The Frogmarch Award Town of White Castle, Louisiana

The only thing that could’ve made reporter Chris Nakamoto’s public records request in the small town of White Castle, Louisiana a more absurd misadventure is if he’d brought Harold and Kumar along with him.

As Chief Investigator for WBRZ in Baton Rouge, Nakamoto filed records requests regarding the White Castle mayor’s salary. But when he turned up with a camera crew at city hall in March 2016 to demand missing documents, he was escorted out in handcuffs, locked in a holding cell for an hour, and charged with a misdemeanor for “remaining after being forbidden.” What’s worse is that Nakamoto was summoned to appear before the “Mayor’s Court,” a judicial proceeding conducted by the very same mayor Nakamoto was investigating.  Nakamoto lawyered up and the charges were dropped two months later.

“If anything, my arrest showed that if they’ll do that to me, and I have the medium to broadcast and let people know what’s happening to me, think about how they’re treating any citizen in that town,” Nakamoto says. 

The Arts and Crafts Award Public Health Agency of Canada

Journalists are used to receiving documents covered with cross-outs and huge black boxes. But in May 2016, Associated Press reporters encountered a unique form of redaction from Public Health Agency of Canada when seeking records related to the Ebola outbreak.

As journalist Raphael Satter wrote in a letter complaining to the agency: “It appears that PHAC staff botched their attempt to redact the documents, using bits of tape and loose pieces of paper to cover information which they tried to withhold. By the time it came into my hands much of the tape had worn off and the taped pieces had been torn."

Even the wryest transparency advocates were amused when Satter wrote about the redaction art project on Twitter, but the incident did have more serious implications. At least three Sierra Leonean medical patients had their personal information exposed. Lifting up the tape also revealed how the agency redacted information that the reporters believed should’ve been public, such as email signatures.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said it would investigate, but Satter says he hasn’t heard anything back for 10 months. 

The Whoa There, Cowboy Award Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke rose to prominence in 2016 as one of then-candidate Donald Trump’s top surrogates, prone to making inflammatory remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement, such as calling them a hate group and linking them to ISIS. But the press has also been a regular target. 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Political Watchdog Columnist Daniel Bice filed a series of records requests with the sheriff’s office, demanding everything from calendars, to details about an NRA-funded trip to Israel, to records related to a series of jail deaths.  So far, Clarke has been extremely slow to release this information, while being extremely quick to smear the reporter on the sheriff’s official Facebook page. Clarke frequently refers to the publication as the “Urinal Sentinel” and has diagnosed Bice with “Sheriff Clarke Derangement Syndrome.”

“I deal with open records requests with local governments and police departments, I do it at the city, county, and state level,” Bice says. “He’s by far the worst for responding to public records.” 

In May 2016 Clarke published a short essay on Facebook titled, “When Journalism Becomes an Obsession.” Clarke claimed that after he rejected Bice’s request for an interview, Bice retaliated with a series of public records requests, ignoring the fact that these requests are both routine and are often reporter’s only recourse when an official refuses to answer questions. 

“This lazy man’s way of putting together newspaper columns uses tax-paid, government employees as pseudo-interns to help him gather information to write stories,” Clarke wrote.

Memo to Clarke: requesting and reviewing public records is tedious and time-consuming, and certainly not the way to score an easy scoop. If anything, ranting on Facebook, then issuing one-sentence news releases about those Facebook posts, are the lazy man’s way of being accountable to your constituents.

The Longhand Award Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz

A local citizen in Portland, Ore. filed a records request to find out everyone that City Commissioner Amanda Fritz had blocked or muted from her Twitter account. This should’ve been easy. However, Fritz decided to go the long way, scribbling down each and every handle on a sheet of paper. She then rescanned that list in, and sent it back to the requester.  The records did show that Fritz had decided to hush accounts that were trying to affect public policy, such as @DoBetterPDX, which focuses on local efforts to help homeless people, and anonymous self-described urban activist @jegjehPDX.  Here’s a tip for officials who receive similar requests: all you need to do is go to your “Settings and Privacy” page, select the “Muted accounts” or “Blocked accounts” tab, and then click “export your list.” 

The Wrong Address Award U.S. Department of Justice

America Rising PAC, a conservative opposition research committee, has been filing FOIA requests on a number of issues, usually targeting Democrats. Following Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing, the PAC sent a FOIA to the Attorney General seeking emails referencing the death. 

But America Rising never received a response acknowledging the DOJ received the request. That’s because the DOJ sent it to a random federal inmate serving time on child pornography charges. The offender, however, was nice enough to forward the message to the PAC with a note railing against the “malicious incompetence” of the Obama administration.

The Redaction of Interest Award General Services Administration

One of the threads that reporters have tried to unravel through the Trump campaign is how the prolific businessman would separate himself from his financial interests, especially regarding his 30-year contract with the federal government to build a Trump International Hotel at the location of the federally owned Old Post Office in D.C., a paper airplane’s flight from the White House.

BuzzFeed filed a FOIA request with the General Services Administration for a copy of the contract. What they received was a highly redacted document that raised more questions than it answered, including what role Trump’s family plays in the project. 

“The American taxpayer would have no clue who was getting the lease to the building,” says reporter Aram Roston, who was investigating how Trump failed to uphold promises made when he put in a proposal for the project. “You wouldn’t know who owned this project.”

After pushing back, BuzzFeed was able to get certain sections unredacted, including evidence that Trump’s three children—Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric—all received a 7.425% stake through their LLCs, seemingly without injecting any money of their own. 

The Fake News Award Santa Maria Police Department

In 2015, the Santa Maria Police Department in California joined many other agencies in using the online service Nixle to distribute public information in lieu of press releases. The agency told citizens to sign up for “trustworthy information.”

Less than a year later, police broke that trust. The Santa Maria Police posted to its Nixle account a report that two individuals had been arrested and deported, which was promptly picked up the local press. Months later, court documents revealed that it had all been a lie to ostensibly help the individuals—who had been targeted for murder by a rival gang—escape the city.

Police were fiercely unapologetic. The agency has yet to remove the offending alert from Nixle or offer any kind of addendum, a direct violation of Nixle’s terms of service, which prohibits the transmission of “fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading communications” through the service.

The Stupid Meter Award Elster Solutions, Landis+Gyr, Ericsson

In May 2016 several smart meter companies sued transparency website MuckRock and one of its users, Phil Mocek, in a failed attempt to permanently remove documents from the website that they claimed contained trade secrets. Some of the companies initially obtained a court order requiring MuckRock to take down public records posted to the site that the City of Seattle had already released to the requester. 

But in their rush to censor MuckRock and its user, the companies overlooked one small detail: the First Amendment. The Constitution plainly protected MuckRock’s ability to publish public records one of its users lawfully obtained from the City of Seattle, regardless of whether they contained trade secrets. A judge quickly agreed, ruling that the initial order was unconstitutional and allowing the documents to be reposted on MuckRock. The case and several others filed against MuckRock and its user later settled or were dismissed outright. The documents continue to be hosted on MuckRock for all to see. But, uh, great job guys!

The Least Productive Beta Testing Award Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI spent most of 2016 doing what might be charitably described as beta testing a proprietary online FOIA portal that went live in March. But beta testing is probably a misnomer because it implies that the site actually improved after its initial rollout.

The FBI’s year of “beta testing” included initially proposing a requirement that requesters submit a copy of their photo ID before submitting a request via the portal and also imposed “operating hours” and limited the number of requests an individual could file per day.

Yet even after the FBI walked back from those proposals, the site appears designed to frustrate the public’s ability to make the premiere federal law enforcement agency more transparent. The portal limits the types of requests that can be filed digitally to people seeking information about themselves or others. Requesters cannot use the site to request information about FBI operations or activities, otherwise known as the bread and butter of FOIA requests. Oh, and the portal’s webform is capped at 3,000 characters, so brevity is very much appreciated! 

Worse, now that the portal is online, the FBI has stopped accepting FOIA requests via email, meaning fax and snail mail are now supposed to be the primary (and frustratingly slow) means of sending requests to the FBI. It almost seems like the FBI is affirmatively trying to make it hard to submit FOIA requests.

The Undermining Openness Award U.S. Department of Justice 

Documents released in 2016 in response to a FOIA lawsuit by the Freedom of the Press Foundation show that the U.S. Department of Justice secretly lobbied Congress in 2014 to kill a FOIA reform bill that had unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives 410-0. 

But the secret axing of an overwhelmingly popular transparency bill wasn’t even the most odious aspect of DOJ’s behavior. In talking points disclosed via the lawsuit, DOJ strongly opposed codifying a “presumption of openness,” a provision that would assume by default that every government record should be disclosed to the public unless an agency could show that its release could result in foreseeable harm.

DOJ’s argument: “The proposed amendment is unacceptably damaging to the proper administration of FOIA and of the government as a whole,” which is bureaucratese for something like “What unhinged transparency nut came up with this crazy presumption of openness idea anyway?” 

That would be Obama, whose FOIA guidance on his first day in office back in 2009 was the blueprint for the presumption of openness language included in the bill. Perhaps DOJ thought it had to save Obama from himself?

DOJ’s fearmongering won out and the bill died. Two years later, Congress eventually passed a much weaker FOIA reform bill, but it did include the presumption of openness DOJ had previously fought against. We’re still waiting for the “government as a whole” to collapse.

The Outrageous Fee Award Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

When public agencies get requests for digital data, officials can usually simply submit a query straight to the relevant database.  But not in Missouri apparently, where officials must use handcrafted, shade-grown database queries by public records artisans.

At least, that’s the only explanation we can come up with for why the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services estimated that it would take roughly 35,000 hours and $1.5 million to respond to an exceedingly simple request for state birth and death data.

Nonprofit Reclaim the Records, whose name pretty eloquently sums up its mission, believed that a simple database query combined with copy and paste was all that was needed to fulfill its request. Missouri officials begged to differ, estimating that it would take them the equivalent of a person working around the clock for more than four years to compile the list by hand. 

Although the fee estimate is not the highest the Foilies has ever seen—that honor goes to the Pentagon for its $660 million estimate in response to a MuckRock user’s FOIA request last year—Missouri’s estimate was outrageous. Stranger still, the agency later revised their estimated costs down to $5,000 without any real explanation. Reclaim the Records tried negotiating further with officials, but to no avail, as officials ultimately said they could not fulfill the request. Reclaim the Records has since filed a lawsuit for the data. 

The Dehumanization Award New Orleans City Marshall

Public officials often dehumanize the news media to score cheap points, but can the same ploy work when fighting public records requests? That’s the issue in a very strange case between the IND, a Lafayette media outlet, and a city marshal. After the marshal lost his bid to keep records secret in the trial court, he appealed on the grounds that IND had no right to bring the lawsuit in the first place. 

The marshal, who faced fines, community service, and house arrest for failing to turn over records, argues that Louisiana’s public records law requires that a living, breathing human make a request, not a corporate entity such as IND. 

Make no mistake: there is no dispute that an actual human filed the request, which sought records relating to a bizarre news conference in which the marshal allegedly used his public office to make baseless allegations against a political opponent. Instead, the dispute centers on a legal formalism of whether IND can sue on its own behalf, rather than suing under the name of the reporter. The marshal’s seemingly ridiculous argument does have some basis in the text of the statute, which defines a requester as a person who is at least 18 years old.

That said, it’s an incredibly cynical argument, putting the letter well over the spirit of the law in what appears to be a well-documented effort by the marshal to violate the law and block public access. We hope the learned Louisiana appellate judges see through this blatant attempt to short-circuit the public records law.

The Lethal Redaction Award States of Texas and Arizona 

BuzzFeed Reporters Chris McDaniel and Tasneem Nashrulla have been on a quest to find out where states like Texas and Arizona are obtaining drugs used in lethal injection, as some pharmaceutical suppliers have decided not to participate in the capital punishment machine. But these states are fighting to keep the names of their new suppliers secret, refusing to release anything identifying the companies in response to BuzzFeed’s FOIA requests.

At the crux of the investigation is whether the states attempted to obtain the drugs illegally from India. At least one shipment is currently being detained by the FDA. The reason for transparency is obvious if one looks only at one previously botched purchase the reporters uncovered: Texas had tried to source pentobarbital from an Indian company called Provizer Pharma, run by five 20-year-olds. Indian authorities raided their offices for allegedly selling psychotropic drugs and opioids before the order could be fulfilled. 

The Poor Note-taker Award Secretary of the Massachusetts Commonwealth

Updates to Massachusetts’ public records laws were set to take effect in January 2016, with Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin tasked with promulgating new regulations to clear up the vague language of the law. But Galvin didn’t exactly take his duty seriously. Instead he crafted a regulation allowing his office to dodge requirements that public records appeals be handled in a timely fashion. But no regulation could take affect without public hearing. So he went through the motions and dispatched an underling to sit at a table and wait out the public comment – but didn’t keep any kind of record of what was said. A close-up captured by a Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reporter showed a pen lying on a blank pad of paper. Asked by a reporter about the lack of notes, the underling said, “I was just here to conduct this hearing. That’s all I can say.”

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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn members going big to save health care

Move On - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 10:36

Dear MoveOn member,

In the face of the Republicans’ craven attempt to ram through a dangerous and costly repeal of the Affordable Care Act, MoveOn members have spoken: In a membership vote this week, more than 96% of votes cast were for MoveOn to run a massive, emergency, top-priority campaign to stop health care repeal, which the media is now calling Trumpcare.

So we’re doing it. We’re shifting staff and resources, and we’re making this fight our very top priority for the next few weeks. The countdown clock on our “18 Days to Save HealthCare” campaign starts now.

We can win this. If just three Republican senators vote against repeal … then health care repeal can’t happen! The bill needs at least 50 votes in the Senate. We expect that all Democrats will vote NO. And Republicans aren’t united in support, according to media reports—thanks in no small part to all of our activism so far.1

It will take enormous grassroots energy to confront members of Congress over the coming days. Together, we’ll flood their phone lines; organize our friends, our family, our neighbors and folks across the country; fund breakthrough ads; organize state by state; and so much more.

We have so much to do in the next 18 days. We’ll need to:

  • Kill this bill in the Senate by making sure that Republicans nationwide—particularly Senate Republicans—hear that this plan is unpopular and politically toxic. Key Republican senators have already expressed reservations about the House plan. We need to make sure that the national media is covering all the groups—from doctors, to executives, to seniors, to former Republican and Trump voters who oppose the plan. We must make sure that Republicans everywhere feel the pressure.
  • Send a message to Republican House members from districts that voted for Clinton over Trump, by making them realize that their jobs are in jeopardy if they support this plan.
  • Make sure that Democrats do everything in their power to resist this bill in Congress and that not a single Democratic senator votes yes.
  • Invest heavily in the special election in Georgia, where MoveOn members endorsed John Ossoff for Congress. Ossoff, who is running to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, Trump’s new secretary of Health and Human Services, is unabashedly in support of the ACA. Winning this “safe red” seat would make Republicans run for the hills. We’ve already raised nearly $200,000 since last night for Ossoff’s election!

Our emergency campaign to do all these things will require substantial resources, and we have just 18 days!

But we know that we can do it—because MoveOn members voted overwhelmingly to mount this effort, and MoveOn members are the fuel that will make it go.

Thanks for all you do.


Categories: Political Action

American horror stories

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 01:00

Trump's absurd Twitter outbursts are easily debunked, but they serve the right wing's purpose of directing rage and resentment at the "enemy within," writes Danny Katch.

DONALD TRUMP is a dark guy. He boasts about groping women against their will. He created a TV show about firing people. As president, he reportedly spends much of his free time alone in his bathrobe, bitterly commenting on the cable news shows' coverage of him.

So it shouldn't be surprising that when this person wants to fire up a crowd, he invokes not the usual sunny clichés about God, freedom and plucky small business owners, but instead describes the country as a desolate plain of "rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape."

The current president looks down from his plane at the landmass between Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago and sees a forlorn place where "attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life," and whose borders are little more than velvet ropes, where rapists and murderers exchange fist bumps as they walk right in.

Trump's speeches are so unrelentingly grim that his first address to Congress--which centered on vows of revenge for the loves ones of people killed by Latinos and Muslims--was hailed by the press as "optimistic" because he dialed down on the fire and brimstone just a notch.

There's nothing wrong with politicians being negative or angry, especially at a time when people are rightly upset about working longer hours for less pay and feeling insecure about the future for themselves, their kids and the planet. There's a reason why Hillary Clinton's "America is already great!" campaign slogan failed so miserably last year.

But Trump's speeches aren't about real problems facing real people: the addiction epidemic of opioids pushed by Big Pharma; the thousands of factories and warehouses that are open, but ban unions and don't pay a living wage; the billions of dollars diverted from schools to police departments even though crime is at historic lows across the country.

Instead, Trump recycles the racist campfire stories that rattle around the echo chamber of Fox News and Breitbart: Did you hear the one about how immigration in Europe has gotten so bad that entire cities have become "no-go zones" for the police? No, but did you know that Black neighborhoods in the U.S. so rough that "you buy a loaf of bread and end up getting shot"?

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THESE BOGEYMAN tales are corny and sound like the frightened ramblings of an old man--which, of course, is exactly what they are.

But Trump is much more skillful--and therefore dangerous--when he talks about the wounded pride of an empire in decline, and his rage and resentment toward the leaders that he believes let it happen.

In his inauguration speech, Trump said:

For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished--but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered--but the jobs left, and the factories closed."

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land....

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be America First.

This isn't wild incoherent rambling about marauding bands of immigrant-terror-thugs. It's an accusation that we've been sold out by our own country's ruling class.

It rings true because we absolutely have been sold out by people who have spent decades telling us to be loyal to our country, while they were slashing our wages and raiding our pensions and stashing their wealth in overseas tax havens. Socialists look at this and conclude that nationalism is a con--that's where we get the whole "workers of the world unite" thing from.

But the right-wing response is to double down on patriotism--and accuse those who were in charge before of treason. The accusation isn't just about international trade deals, but about neglecting their duty to protect us from the violent enemies within.

"The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens," Trump declared at the Republican convention last summer. "Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead."

Why wouldn't leaders defend our lives from criminals, terrorists and drugs? Can anybody really be that "politically correct"? Inevitably, some people conclude that there must be something more sinister going on for this kind of gross negligence to take place.

Enter the scapegoats.

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ANTI-SEMITISM has made a stunning comeback under Trump because Jews have always played the role of the treasonous villain in reactionary fantasies.

But if you're constructing a racist conspiracy in the 21st century, all roads inevitably lead to Barack Hussein Obama.

Last year, when he was calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country after the massacre at a gay club in Orlando, Trump said: "Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart or he's got something else in mind. He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands--it's one or the other, and either one is unacceptable."

Trump was long infamous as the leading proponent of "birther" conspiracy theory that Obama was illegally occupying the presidency because he was born in Kenya--not to mention a Muslim, though that technically isn't illegal.

But birtherism didn't just launch Trump's political career. Its themes fundamentally shaped the politics and the message that he projects even now as president.

Obama paranoia went way beyond Trump into the supposedly more respectable quarters of the Republican Party. Remember the line that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio kept repeating like a robot when he had his famous debate meltdown: "Let's dispel this notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. He is trying to change this country."

Divorced from the context of a major political party that has gone off the deep end like a doomsday cult, it's hard to see what Rubio is saying. Of course, a president is going to try to make changes--on purpose. But in the paranoid Republican world we've all gotten used to, it was obvious that Rubio was trying to throw the party base some red meat by implying that Obama was trying to destroy America.

So even though it's shocking to hear the president of the United States accuse his predecessor of wiretapping him--on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, the truth is this is completely in keeping with the message that has been coming for years, not just from Trump, but from most of the Republican Party.

So what's going to happen now that Trump is in office?

It gets harder to keep up the conspiracy theory act once you occupy the position that most conspiracy theories revolve around: the White House. That's why Trump's team is suddenly talking about the "deep state" being out to get their boss.

By pushing for plans to have government agencies publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants (but not hate crimes against immigrants) and "honor killings" by "foreign nationals" (but not violence committed by U.S. citizens, Trump clearly wants to use the power and authority of his office to expand the audience for his racist lies.

For now at least, the majority of Republican leaders and voters seem happy to go along with it. And once you've accepted aspects of the conspiracy, it can be hard to find a way out--since evidence and statistics that contradict Trump can be dismissed as just another part of the conspiracy.

That's why it's not enough to show that Trump and his co-conspirators are buffoons and their allegations preposterous, as everyone from the Democratic Party elite to Saturday Night Live is able to do. We need to organize around a left alternative that addresses the sources of the underlying discontent that allows Trump to get a hearing for his lies.

Categories: Political Action

What happened at the Middlebury protest?

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 01:00

Paul Fleckenstein writes from Vermont on the protest against a right-winger at Middlebury College and the debates and discussions that followed after.

Middlebury College student protesters turn their backs on Charles Murray during his scheduled lecture

SEVERAL HUNDRED student protesters disrupted a lecture at Middlebury College by arch-conservative Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute.

Demonstrators turned their backs on Murray, chanted and made a united statement, making it impossible for him to speak. University officials escorted Murray to another room, where he was able to give a closed-door lecture by broadcast by live stream over the Internet.

Later, a smaller group of demonstrators confronted Murray as he was leaving campus with an entourage. With campus security moving in, the confrontation turned chaotic, and one faculty member accompanying Murray was injured.

The act of opposition to racism at Middlebury has touched off a firestorm of criticism of protests from right-wingers and liberals alike. It has also raised important issues for the left to take up about academic freedom, free speech, the right to protest and strategies for countering the right-wing agenda.

Murray is infamous for peddling pseudoscientific theories to justify reactionary policies. The Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes him as a white nationalist.

His best-known book The Bell Curve, co-authored with Richard Herrnstein, claimed to prove the intellectual inferiority of African Americans. Though roundly denounced and debunked, The Bell Curve was taken up as "evidence" by Republicans led by Newt Gingrich as they sought welfare "deform"--and eventually achieved it, with the help of Democrat Bill Clinton.

Murray was invited to Middlebury by the college's American Enterprise Institute Club, with backing from the school administration, to promote the arguments in his recent book Coming Apart, on the topic of the white working class in U.S. society. Murray's later book is not less reactionary--it's a blame-the-victim account of deteriorating conditions for working class people that ignores the impact of decades of neoliberalism, assaults on unions, deindustrialization, budget cuts and wars.

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AMID ALL the mudslinging at the student activists--who have been variously characterized as an intolerant mob, privileged or lacking the "resilience" for intellectual debate--very few in the media took note of anything leading up to the protest.

The counterdemonstration against Murray was organized over several days, with a considerable debate over what strategy to adopt. Organizers say there were different positions put forward and considered, ranging from trying to make it impossible for Murray to speak, to waiting until the question-and-answer period to pose criticisms of him.

Murray has a particularly hostile relationship with Middlebury students. In a previous appearance, he dismissed a group of students of color who had attended his talk as better suited to attend a state college!

One organizer said in an interview that the students would have treated other conservative speakers differently, but Murray has crossed the line into hate speech. (Middlebury students contacted for this article requested to remain anonymous, out of fear that the university is preparing to single out activists for discipline.)

At the event, the strategy of vocally confronting Murray and trying to disrupt the lecture had a clear majority. When Murray started speaking, most of the attendees in the room stood up and turned their backs, with many reading a protest statement in unison, followed by continuous chanting.

The statement connects Murray to examples of pseudoscience in the past that "has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state," the statement said.

The protesters were also critical of the Middlebury administration's role in promoting the event, even though it had been organized by a right-wing club. School officials refused to respond to student criticisms of the format and prominence given to Murray's guest lecture.

Elizabeth, a Middlebury senior who participated in a roundtable of views for the New York Times Opinion section, stated:

Were students, especially students of color, expected to just sit and listen for 45 minutes to an individual who has written that they are inferior to whites? How could students engage in debate on an equal playing field when Mr. Murray had a stage and a microphone, and we were just members of the audience? Without a platform for legitimate discussion, it seems that students had few non-disruptive tools to get their voices heard.

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WHAT TOOK place later is less clear, even for organizers who were present at the time.

In a largely spontaneous action, students and some community members with signs--a much smaller number than had disrupted the lecture--lined the walkway as Murray departed from the Middlebury student center. The account from student protesters describes one person attempting to block Murray's departure, after which campus security mounted an excessive and violent response.

Middlebury professor Allison Stanger was injured in the confrontation. Official accounts claim protesters pulled Stanger by the hair, sending her to the emergency room. Protesters say the injury was unintentional, happening as she and others got caught up in the scuffle.

After Murray and others got into a car, several people tried to physically block it from leaving campus. Official accounts say the protesters climbed on the car and threatened the passengers, while protesters say the driver of the vehicle, a vice president of the college, nearly ran over several people while trying to leave.

An anonymous statement by students involved in the protest blames campus security for escalating the confrontation with aggressive behavior. That would be standard operating procedure for campus cops, of course.

But it is also true that this incident involved a much smaller number of counterdemonstrators than previously--and the confrontation came as Murray was leaving the campus, after he had suffered some measure of disgrace for being unable to face an open audience.

Some accounts suggest that this later confrontation mainly involved some protesters who weren't at the lecture and are committed to Black Bloc tactics of physical confrontation against the right in all circumstances. If true, this underlines the problem of tactics carried out unaccountably by a minority of protesters that put larger numbers and the wider movement at risk.

Whatever the details of what took place, this last confrontation with Murray and the injury suffered by Stanger overshadowed everything else that took place.

Predictably, the media has merged the nonviolent and non-threatening act of protesting and chanting inside a lecture hall with the physical confrontation that happened afterward. "Our fear," one organizer said, "is that this is the only story that is being heard, and it is reframing the entire event."

As a result, students who protested a racist speaker are now exposed to more drastic retaliation by the administration. In an e-mail to students last week, College President Laurie Patton wrote that there will be police and college investigations of individuals involved in the protests.

Protest organizers say the next weeks will be a test of where the administration of a liberal college stands: Defending its part in the provocation of inviting a notorious racist to give a prominent lecture--or defending the rights of students to challenge him.

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THE PROTEST of Murray isn't the first disruption and cancellation of a right-wing speaker in the Trump era, and it won't be the last.

With the right wing on the offensive--particularly the emboldened far right--it is important for the left to discuss how best to confront the threat and build our organizational capacity to resist on campuses and elsewhere. Here are some starting points.

The first is that we must resist the media-fueled backlash and defend the right to protest Charles Murray as both legitimate and necessary.

It was outrageous that Middlebury College gave official sanction--through departmental sponsorship and an introduction by the college president--to a lecture by a right-wing hack whose lucrative career was built on legitimizing racism and reactionary politics.

As Linus Owens, one of the few Middlebury professors to publicly support the students, wrote: "To put this bluntly, y'all/we got played. I am angry that students were put in a bad situation, just so the college could prove that they are open-minded."

Unfortunately, many faculty members and the whole of the administration have joined in blaming students and lecturing them to "learn to listen, learn how to object in a proper, well-reasoned way to arguments that seem, after consideration, wrong, even repugnant," in the condescending words of professor Jay Parini, in a CNN commentary.

College President Patton urged students to develop "rhetorical resilience" in order to tolerate views they oppose. But students have raised the issue of who is being asked to be resilient?

A defense of the protesters published in Inside Higher Ed pointed out the contradictions between the depiction of colleges and universities as an intellectual bubble where all conflicts can be resolved through rational discussion and the reality of an increasingly polarized and unequal world:

Colleges are asked to model a fantasy version of society in which profound social cleavages--racial, partisan, economic--exist only as abstract issues that we can have a "conversation" about, rather than material conflicts that may need to be confronted. And most educational leaders and administrators, Robin [Kelley] writes, are basically conflict-averse--they want to "want to change words, not worlds." Isn't politics really just the contest of the best ideas, they seem to ask, rather than a conflict of resources and power?

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BEYOND THIS, the left needs to be able to discuss how best to confront the right.

We should never let the inevitable complaints about infringing on "free speech," whether from conservatives or liberals, stop us from protesting. Our side has the right to free speech, too--and we should use it to make our voices heard against the racism and lies of professional bigots like Charles Murray.

But there are questions about how to protest. Our aim should be to expose right-wingers like Murray for the reactionaries they are--and make it clear that they are opposed by as many people as we can mobilize.

By this standard, the confrontation with Murray after the event was a problem. Leaving aside the fact that he was leaving, a much smaller number of people were involved in opposing Murray, which gave the right and the media an opportunity to portray the whole counterprotest as the work of a small group bent on physical intimidation.

The protest inside the lecture hall was clearly different, with at least several hundred students showing their opposition nonviolently, including vocally. As the Middlebury senior who contributed to the New York Times roundtable pointed out, anti-racists were denied any kind of platform through the format of the event, so they "had few non-disruptive tools" to send their message.

In situations like these, it is important for activists to be flexible in their tactics. We want to make our opposition clear, but if a majority of people in a lecture hall or some other scenario aren't prepared to take action in the same way--for example, by chanting and disruption--then activists have to be aware of this and consider something else. We don't want to be painted as isolated.

Moreover, in challenging the inevitable backlash from a right wing that will always complain about infringements on their rights, we need to insist that we are exercising our right to speak and protest, not necessarily stopping others from using theirs.

In the Middlebury case, some people who have come to the defense of the student protests--though not necessarily the organizers themselves--argued that Murray's hate speech should not be allowed on campus, and the university should have stopped him from speaking.

Hateful Murray is, but giving the university the authority to ban hate speech means giving them the authority to decide what hate speech is. All too often, the left will be the target of such a ban.

There is a lot to be sorted through and learned in the months and years ahead--again, this won't be the last time that anti-racists have to protest someone like Charles Murray. We need to build up the experiences of our movements and organizations in these situations.

But the first step must be to defend the Middlebury student activists against disciplinary retaliation--and defend their right to protest when a racist is brought to campus with the support of the administration.

Categories: Political Action

Trump's threat to transgender youth

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 01:00

Keegan O'Brien explains the impact of Trump's reversal of guidelines allowing transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

Activists rally for transgender rights in Washington, D.C., after the Trump administration rolls back protections (Victoria Pickering | flickr)

KYLER PRESCOTT grew up in San Diego. He was an avid piano player, an animal lover and a talented writer. According to his mother, Katharine Prescott, he was, most of all, a deeply compassionate young man.

Kyler was also transgender and dealt with bullying in school, online harassment and constant misgendering. Like many transgender teens, he struggled with depression and suicide. When he was 13, he wrote a poem about the heartache of a boy forced into a gender he never identified with:

...I've been looking for him for years,
But I seem to grow farther away from him
With each passing day.
He's trapped inside this body,
Wrapped in society's chains
That keep him from escaping.

But one day I will break from those chains.
One day I will set him free.
And I'll finally like in the mirror.
And see me--
The boy I was always meant to be.

Less than a year later, on May 18, 2015, Kyler locked himself inside his family's bathroom and committed suicide. He was 14 years old. He was the third transgender teenager in San Diego to commit suicide in 2015.

Fast forward to February 27, 2017: 26-year-old Ciara McElveen was in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras with friends when she was ripped out of her car, stabbed multiple times, run over by the vehicle and left to die.

Two days earlier, 31-year-old Chyna Gibson was shot to death outside a shopping center in the same city. Both were Black and transgender. As of the writing of this article, seven transgender women, all women of color, have been murdered in 2017.

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THIS IS the social context for transgender people in the U.S. as the Trump administration's rescinded guidelines put in place under Obama directing schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.

In his statement to the media, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had the audacity to claim, "The president has maintained for a long time that this is a states' rights issue and not one for the federal government."

Bullshit. This is a direct attack on transgender people and an effort to scapegoat society's most vulnerable and marginalized.

While transgender students remain protected from discrimination under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, the Trump administration's attack on transgender students will be felt in schools across the country.

Also as a result of Trump's executive order, the case of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender boy who is suing for access to the boys' bathroom at his school in Virginia, has been delayed. Grimm's case had been scheduled to go before the Supreme Court later this month, but it will now be kicked back down to a lower court. It may take years for the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Trump's order will make it more challenging for transgender students and their families to advocate for their legal rights, embolden right-wing students, parents, teachers and administrators, and create more hardship for transgender kids on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.

What Trump has done is illegal. All schools have an obligation to provide students with a safe environment to learn, foster positive emotional development and social relationships and develop to their fullest potential. This includes having the freedom to express your gender identity without fear of harassment or violence.

For transgender students who experience rejection from families, schools have the potential to be affirming and supportive institutions that can provide mental health services, educational resources and important medical needs. Unfortunately, for too many, they are the opposite.

In a 2011 study, 82 percent of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school, 44 percent experienced physical abuse, and 67 percent were bullied online by peers. In a social climate like this, Trump's executive order will have deadly consequences.

"The reality is that kids will be harmed by this," Chase Strangio, staff attorney for the ACLU's LGBT and AIDS Project, explained in an interview with Democracy Now! "I can't say it more strongly, but the blood is on the hands of these lawmakers, who are making it a priority to make vulnerable kids feel less safe."

The right wing has tried to whip up a moral panic about transgender people using the bathroom to assault women and children to regain ideological ground lost since their decisive defeat in the battle for marriage equality.

But contrary to bigoted hysteria, there have been zero reported incidents of transgender students physically attacking or sexually assaulting anyone in restrooms or locker rooms.

There are, however, horrifying stories of trans people being harassed, brutally assaulted and even killed for simply using the bathroom or even merely existing.

When class, race and gender identity are viewed simultaneously the statistics are horrifying: trans women of color make up 67 percent of LGBTQ homicides and have a life expectancy of 35 years. When it comes to safety, it's clear whose lives are in danger: transgender people, particularly transgender women of color.

Claiming that Trump, a misogynist and admitted sexual predator, cares about the well-being of women and children is disgusting. It's right-wing politicians who lay off teachers, restrict women's access to abortion, cut funding for food stamps, close rape crisis centers, tear apart immigrant families and defend police brutality that are a threat to women and children, not transgender people.

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TRUMP WON support in the last election by tapping into widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo and promising to "Make America Great Again." Instead, he's offering massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations, lower wages and deeps cuts to domestic social program, including public education.

As it becomes obvious that the Trump administration won't make good on its promises, it will double down on scapegoating and attacks against the most vulnerable to maintain support and redirect anger away from them and toward other workers--immigrants, Arabs and Muslims, African Americans and LGBTQ people.

Given the centrality of scapegoating to Trump's economic nationalism and his brutal austerity agenda, winning this fight will take more than a talented team of lawyers in the courtroom or relying on half-hearted "allies" in the Democratic Party.

The inspiring wave of airport occupations across the country pressured federal judges to overturn Trump's racist Muslim ban within days and demonstrated the collective social power that ordinary people have to resist and win.

Supporters of transgender equality will need to revive the same kind of mass militancy to reverse Trump's attack and move toward winning the supportive schools that all students deserve and the funding and resources to make that possible.

That can begin with organizing for the National LGBT March in Washington, D.C., on June 11 to send a clear message that millions stand with transgender students and are ready to take this fight all the way.

Categories: Political Action

Building a feminism for the 99 percent

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 01:00

At marches, rallies, teach-ins and other events in cities across the country--and in others around the globe--March 8 marked a return to the fighting spirit of International Women's Day, as people turned out for events organized around the call for an International Women's Strike and "A Day Without a Woman."

Called as a day of action to protest not only U.S. politics under Trump, but to begin the process of building a "feminism for the 99 percent," the strike call took on various forms depending on the city. Among other actions, schools closed for the day in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. The call for a "day without a woman"--a boycott of women's labor organized by those who called for the January 21 Women's March on Washington--was also an attempt to build on the protests drew nearly 4 million people globally.

Here, SocialistWorker.org presents snapshots of a few of the many events on March 8.

Protesters take to the streets of Baltimore on International Women's Day (Elvert Barnes | flickr)

New York City

Some 7,000 turned out for an afternoon rally at Washington Square Park before marching to Zuccotti Park--chosen because of its importance as the site of New York's encampment during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

SocialistWorker.org contributor and Women's Strike organizer Tithi Bhattacharya told the Guardian that the strike was "about the women who have been left behind. The decline in real wages, the rise of mass incarceration, the violence against marginalized communities--those issues did not start with Trump, those are ongoing. Trump is their apotheosis."

Additionally, several hundred people demonstrated at noon at Trump Tower as part of the "Day Without a Woman" protest. Speakouts and other actions also were held at several schools, including Columbia University, the New School and New York University in the lead up to the afternoon rally and march.

At Columbia, a walkout brought out a few hundred people and led to many classes being cancelled.

Fainan Lakha, a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and a Columbia student, told Gothamist, "Within the women's movement internationally, 'strike' has always had this broader meaning of rejecting all forms of labor that are put on women. That context is important because it shows the necessary and unavoidable contribution that women make in society. At the same time, women's oppression continues to exist and has been heightened in the absence of a radical, assertive feminist movement."

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In Chicago, some 650 people attended an indoor rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters. The impressive list of speakers linked key struggles of the day, including Chicago teachers who are organizing for sanctuary schools to support their immigrant students; representatives from the Black Youth Project 100; Planned Parenthood; the Council on American-Islamic Relations; the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression and others.

Rasmea Odeh, an organizer of the Women's Strike and a member of the Arab American Action Center, described the struggle for Palestinian rights, as well as the smear campaign directed against her in the media in the run-up to the day of action.

Several women talked about the battles they faced in their workplaces, including a teacher who is part of a unionization drive at Aspira Charter Schools, and a state worker who talked about AFSCME's battle with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Adriana Alvarez, from the Fight for 15 movement, spoke about trying to make ends meet as a single mother while she and her co-workers face not only low wages but harassment and intimidation on the job.

Deborah Cosey-Lane from the Amalgamated Transit Union described the harrowing working conditions for women bus and train drivers, including no safe places for them to take bathroom breaks. "We're tired of being silenced," she said. "The sleeping giant is awake."

University of Chicago (U of C) grad student Charlotte Heltai, a member of the ISO and the University of Chicago Resists coalition, explained the importance of building opposition to the attacks on out movements--and the need for solidarity:

On this International Women's Day, and on every other day, we must remember that none of us are free until we all are free, and that opening the borders and ending the wars and closing the prisons, and winning education and health care and reproductive justice and a living wage for all--those are women's issues, those are queer issues, those are everybody's issues!

A performance by the Goodman Youth Poetry Ensemble of "Pussy Grabs Back" brought the audience to its feet, as did Opal Staples of the Staple Singers, who led the room in singing "I'm Every Woman."

Earlier in the day, students at DePaul University and U of C held speakouts. At DePaul, the indoor speak-out drew several dozen and speakers highlighted the importance of solidarity and the history of International Women's Day. At U of C, the speakout, sponsored by U of C Resists, drew about 100 people

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Oakland, California

As many as 1,000 people gathered for a rally in Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza. The speakers at the rally began with a description of the international character of the day and continued talking about a range of local and international struggles, calling attention to both the individual oppressions faced by particular communities of women and the historic work being done by women in the movements.

A member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spoke about the increase in sexual harassment that women janitors face cleaning office building after traditional work hours.

One local organizer critiqued the policies of Oakland Mayor Libby Shaaf as leading to the homelessness crisis that Oakland and the greater Bay Area are facing. A member of coalition that advocates for the rights of sex workers spoke about the violence that sex workers face, particularly from police.

In closing, one of the organizers declared that Trump isn't the problem, capitalism is--and that the fight to end sexism, racism, transphobia and imperialism will take a concrete fight against the system that produces such oppressions.

Hundreds then began marching with drum regiments, amplified music, a lighted banner reading "Strike against Sexism" and a mobile projector shining "Women's Strike" on buildings as we moved.

The march stopped for speakouts at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and at the still-under-construction headquarters of Uber, where speakers denounced the company as a symbol of rampant corporate disregard for workers and society at large, and calling attention to recent sexual harassment allegations at the company.

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Berkeley, California

A group of 300 students, faculty, and workers, wearing red and sporting sandwich boards as a nod to the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, gathered in Sproul Plaza at the University of California-Berkeley to participate in the Women's Strike. After speeches by some of the student and faculty organizers, a speakout followed that featured readings and speakers from across the student body.

"We are excited to respond to call for a more intersectional movement," one student said. "This is the direction the movement needs to go."

The highlight of the event was the announcement of a new union of undergraduate student workers fighting for recognition and safer conditions in the dining halls on campus.

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Madison, Wisconsin

Madison's "Day Without A Woman" action brought together approximately 700 people of all ages for a multigenerational day of resistance. The event was organized by a broad coalition of local grassroots organizations, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), the ISO, Socialist Alternative, the campus Women's Center, Dreamers of UW-Madison and more.

The action began with a large contingent marching down the main commercial road in downtown Madison and toward the state Capitol building, led by an ISO banner that read "Unite and Fight for Women's Rights."

Energetic chants of "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no," and "Free abortion on demand; Can we do it? Yes we can" rang through the crowd. Marchers also highlighted the importance of solidarity with immigrants with chants of "No borders, no nations, stop deportations."

At the Capitol, the march met up with an impressive showing of students from three area high schools and one middle school who had walked out from their classes in their own show of solidarity.

Speakers at the event included Jessie Brown, a Native rights activist who introduced the demonstration as taking place on Ho Chunk land; Lydia Harter, the student organizer of the high school and middle school walkouts; a nurse currently involved in a collective bargaining battle at a local hospital; and Dayna Long and Hayley Archer of the ISO, who emphasized the radical roots of International Women's Day.

In her remarks, Archer criticized "lean-in feminism that tells us that we don't have jobs that pay a living wage because we don't really know how to shake hands the right way," and called for a feminism that addresses the systemic issues that affect working-class women and their families.

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Syracuse, New York

A rally at Syracuse University began with over 150 people chanting, "The people, united, will never be defeated."

The day didn't focus only on women, however. Activists at Syracuse have been fighting since November for the campus to be declared a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants.

An ISO member named Brandon rallied the crowd, chanting, "What do we do when women's rights are under attack?"--as the crowd replied "Stand up, fight back!"

Professor Dana Cloud spoke about historic women's struggles, including the women's strikes that began the 1917 revolution in Russia, the fight for abortion rights in the 1960s, and the January women's marches that drew out millions. Cloud ended on a note of solidarity, explaining that, "Refugees must be welcomed, not criminalized."

Megan, another activist, also spoke about the injustice of undocumented women being unable to report abuse because of fear of deportation. "We cannot wait for someone in the government...to protect us, we need to make those protections happen," she stated.

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Rochester, New York

Forty people attended a panel sponsored by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Student Solidarity Network (SSN) titled "Voices of Equality" on March 8. This was the first event planned by the newly formed SSN.

Speakers highlighted the influence and importance of women in the struggles of the past, including in the international labor movement, the civil rights movement, and in the Italian Civil War and Russian Revolution. One speaker described he challenges of working as a woman in a science-oriented field and her elation at attending her first protest--the January 21 Women's March in Washington, D.C.

This was a great first event for the SSN and is a step in the right direction in rebuilding a fighting left at RIT.

Categories: Political Action

For a general strike against autocracy

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 01:00

One hundred years ago on March 12, 1917, (February 27 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time), socialists in Petrograd distributed the following appeal for an insurrectionary general strike to bring down Tsarism. That day, in the culmination of Russia's February revolution, Tsarist power crumbled with the fall of Nicholas II.

The day after the demonstration by women workers on February 23 (March 8), more than 200,000 striking workers marched into the center of Petrograd. Large numbers of students and middle-class professionals joined the demonstrations on February 25 (March 10). Soldiers at first hesitated to forcefully remove demonstrators, but on February 26 (March 11), some soldiers followed orders to shoot at demonstrators, killing hundreds.

As the senior member of the Russian Bureau of the Bolshevik Central Committee in Petrograd, Alexander Shlyapnikov encouraged workers to win soldiers over to their side during the first days of the February Revolution, but felt that armed struggle by socialists against the government was premature. Preferring direct armed action, the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee scorned Shlyapnikov's position as denying the revolutionary character of the ongoing demonstrations.

The Petersburg Committee of the RSDRP called for Bolsheviks to take practical measures to organize and accelerate the pace of revolutionary developments. Yet the Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka) of the RSDRP may have had the most influence upon radical socialist workers and soldiers during the February Revolution. It encouraged workers to prolong their strike and called upon soldiers to defend workers against police attacks.

The mutiny of the Volynsky regiment on February 27 (March 12) set an example for other soldiers. The February Revolution culminated that day, as Duma liberals formed a committee that would become the nucleus of the Provisional Government, Tsarist ministers resigned, and socialists formed the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

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

Revolutionary soldiers at the barricades in the early days of the February Revolution (George Shulkin | Wikimedia Commons)

PROLETARIANS OF all countries, unite!

Comrade workers! They are shooting us down! Workers' blood has been spilled on the streets of Petrograd! Hungry people rose to struggle, but the Tsar made them eat lead. Just as on January 9, 1905, when the servants of the autocracy shot down workers who went to the Tsar for justice and mercy, on February 25-26 they shot down hungry workers who went onto the streets to protest hunger and the reigning arbitrariness.

Comrades! They have committed a terrible, senseless, monstrous crime. During these days of the people's rage and also of merciless retribution against them, we were helpless against the policemen and handfuls of soldiers who were loyal to the Tsar. We could not fight back against their blows or take a life for a life. We were unarmed. Our fists were clenched in impotent rage. They beat us with their swords, their horses trampled us, and the defenseless people fled with hatred in their hearts toward the enemy.

Comrades! During these difficult days, the working class saw more clearly than ever before that without strong, powerful, proletarian organizations, fighting detachments, and without the army's support for the people, we won't break the enemy and destroy autocracy. Likewise, we learned during these days that our brothers the soldiers do not always obey orders to carry out fratricide. We hail the Cossacks who chased the mounted police from Znamenskaya Square. We hail and give fraternal thanks to the soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment who shot at a detachment of mounted police near the Cathedral of Resurrection.

What else to read

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

Bolshevik leaflet
To the revolutionary students of Russia

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

Menshevik leaflet
Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace

Bolshevik leaflet
For a provisional revolutionary government

Mezhraionka leaflet
A day to prepare for conquering the enemy

Mezhraionka leaflet
For a general strike against autocracy

Soldiers are beginning to see the light. They understand that their enemy is not the starving, oppressed people, but the Tsarist autocracy. During these difficult days for workers, only part of the soldiers, students, and citizens supported us. The State Duma, which is not truly representative of the people, is criminally silent. While the stones cry out for vengeance, the State Duma is deaf and blind to the people's woe.

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COMRADES! Not only do they shoot us down, but they also cast us onto the streets to suffer hunger and destitution. Putilov and Trubochnyi factories have been shut down. Fifty thousand workers have been deprived of a morsel of bread!

Comrades! Whoever still has a conscience and is neither a slave nor a pitiful traitor to the workers' cause will hear our appeal and will join us to unanimously protest merciless international war.

Comrades! Bring activity in the city to a standstill. Let all the factories, mills, workshops, and printing presses come to a halt. Let the electricity go out. We summon you to a general strike of protest, to strike a blow against the despotic autocracy. We, the Social Democratic Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, summon the proletariat of Petersburg and of all Russia to organize and feverishly mobilize our forces.

Comrades! Organize underground strike committees in the mills and factories and link districts to one another. Collect funds for underground printing presses and for weapons. Get ready, comrades! The hour of decisive struggle approaches. We will not fear General [S.S.] Khabalov [commander of the Petrograd Military District], who dares to call us traitors. It is not we workers who betray the people, but those traitors and murderers, the [V.A.] Sukhomlinovs [War Minister] and the Khabalovs. The State Duma and the liberals betray the people.

Comrades! Khabalov orders us to go back to work on the 28th, but we summon you to struggle and to a general strike!

Be brave! All for one and one for all!

Long live the general political strike of protest!

Always remember our fallen brothers!

Down with war!

Down with autocracy!

Long live revolution!

Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!

Long live the Constituent Assembly!

Long live a democratic republic!

Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat!

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP

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Source: Published in Russian in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 337-338. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, The February Revolution: Petrograd, 1917, University of Washington Press, 1981, pp. 258-261.

-- S.A. Smith, Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 101-102.

-- Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 29-45.

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

Categories: Political Action

Donald Trump Is/Is Not Nehemiah Scudder

Democratic Convention Watch - Sun, 03/12/2017 - 18:16

One of the advantages that science fiction has as a genre is the ability of writers to recast issues by presenting them in another place and time.  On occasion, the transformation of our problems into another situation can be forced (e.g., the original Star Trek episode in which the racial conflict was between those who were black on the left side of the face and those who were black on the right side of the face).

During the third quarter of last century, one of the top science fiction writers was Robert Heinlein.  While most famous for his novel Stranger in a Strange Land, his early career consisted of a series of short stories and novellas that formed a “future history” — taking the United States from the mid-20th Century until around 2200.   In several of the stories in this sequence, Heinlein mentions Nehemiah Scudder, a preacher who became popular enough to be elected president in 2012.  Scudder then establishes a religious dictatorship which governs until it is overthrown around 2100.  While Heinlein never got around to writing a story focused on Scudder’s rise to power, his summary of that rise in other stories identified some aspects of American politics that were not immune to the rise of a demagogue.  So in what ways does the election of Donald Trump mirror those aspects and in what ways do they differ.

The obvious difference is that Donald Trump is not a fundamentalist preacher.  However, writing in 1941, (well before the rise of the Moral Majority), Heinlein noted the power of fundamentalism in American power.  While Trump should not have been the natural candidate for fundamentalists, somehow he managed to get the support of fundamentalists over other “better fitting” candidates during the primary followed by the usual support for the Republican nominee in the general election.

Another significant difference is that Heinlein did not have the advantage of knowing how the two parties would revise their presidential nomination process.  As such, Heinlein forecast an America in which there were multiple third parties splintering the vote — a forecast that was not outrageous in the 1940s.  (In 1948, both the Dixiecrats and the Progressives managed to get 2% of the vote and — as late as 1932 — the Socialists managed to get 2% of the vote.)  However, instead of these splinter groups emerging as significant third parties, they have become factions within the two major parties.

Heinlein did get two key factors right — the low number of votes and the ability to win with a plurality.  According to Heinlein’s later descriptions of the election of 2012, only 63% of registered voters voted (and less than 50% of eligible voters) and Scudder got 27% of the popular vote which translated into 81% of the electoral vote.  While not great, in the November Presidential elections, a majority of eligible voters do tend to vote — around 55% in 2016.   However, the same can’t be said for the party primaries.  Comparted to the 137 million who voted in November, only around 62 million (approximately 25% of eligible voters participated in the primary elections).  Additionally, while the third parties only represent a small share of the vote, the primary vote tends to be very splintered.  While the Democratic Party rules (proportional in every state and district) force a successful candidate to get close to a majority of the primary vote (Clinton got approximately 55% of the Democratic Primary vote), the Republican Party rules allow a candidate to rack up a significant majority of the delegates while winning narrow pluralities in states and districts (Trump ended up with 44% of the vote despite being essential unopposed in the last month of the campaign and was only around 40% when the last of his opponents stopped campaigning).  Trump won a lot of delegates in states where he got around one-third of the vote.  (By March 15, Trump had just slightly less than 50% of the delegates while getting around 37% of the vote.)  The low turnout in primary elections plus the use of plurality rules makes it possible for “outsider” candidates to contend and win the party nomination even if they do not speak for either the majority of party loyalists (i.e. those who regularly vote in the party primaries and work for the party’s candidates) or the majority of the party supporters in the general election.

The big things that Heinlein got wrong were the relative weakness of the President and the separateness of elections.  Winning the presidency is not enough in the U.S.  The composition of Congress and state governments matters too.  Additionally, while a president or a presidential candidate can have influence on other races (especially in the general where ticket splitting is becoming less common), candidates still have to run for these lesser offices on their own.  Over the past sixty years, both parties have become somewhat hollow, lacking the ability to restrict the candidates who run in primaries or to assure the nomination for the leadership’s preferred candidate.  Every candidate (whether primary challenger or incumbent) has to run and raise money in their own districts, and no president has the ability to deliver enough money to every congressional district and state legislative district to guarantee a party composed of clones.  Furthermore, even the most popular president is unable to deliver victories for his party for every state-wide official and every state legislative chambers.   As such, as we have seen with challenges to the Muslim travel ban, there will be pockets of opposition to every president.  (And there is enough of a dedication to the rule of law from judges and the militaries to prevent a president from crushing the opposition through martial law.)

One last factor that played a part in Heinlein’s predictions was the “cult of personality” around political leadership.  While we are not yet at the level of the near-deification of Scudder by his followers, we are seeing a fluidity of political beliefs.  Since the election, polls of Republicans show vast changes in their answers to certain policy questions — friendlier toward Russia, more protectionist, etc.  If party loyalty stops being about a unified world of a view and more about an us versus them battle for power, it becomes much easier for demagogues to win.

Some takeaways from this diversion into whether Trump resembles a fictional account of how the U.S. could slip into a dictatorship.  First, whatever changes may occur to the Democratic rules for the 2020 nomination cycle, they must still contain some assurance that a nominee must represent the consensus of the party.  Second, every election matters — whether a primary or a municipal or off-year or mid-term election.  Getting good candidates to fill these offices provide a significant check on an out of control president.  We need to start working on 2018 now.  Third, turnout matters.  The nature of our government means that there really are no minor elections.  Even the presidential general election turnout is inadequate, but we desperately need to improve the turnout in these other elections.  If every Democrat who voted in 2018 for a Democratic House candidate votes for a Democratic House candidate in 2018, we would win control of the House.  Fourth, we need to work on the Democratic brand.  A lot of the critique that I have heard about the 2016 elections reflects how poorly we have been conveying the Democratic brand.  The Clinton campaign had positions on a lot of issues.  However, the vast majority of the voters did not know about these positions.  Voters perceived the Democrats as focusing on certain issues (aiding specific groups) that did not matter to the voters and missed the broader pro-growth policies.  While misguided, Republicans have done a better job of identifying (inaccurately) problems that they contend inhibit growth and suggesting that, if we just trust them to fix those issues, we will have growth that we have not had in decades.  They also do a much better job of getting on the same page and using the same terms to describe those problems.   It’s nice to have detailed plans, that is part of governing.  But winning elections is about having a couple of key ideas and pounding on them constantly.  A demagogue has an advantage over serious candidates in that the demagogue only has a handful of ideas and is not distracted by the details of how to address any particular issue.  (e.g., It is easy to say that we will negotiate great trade deals if you don’t have to identify what is wrong with the current deals or how you will fix them.)  There are some issues on which Democrats have done a decent job of simplifying the issue, but we tend to let our disagreements about the details out during campaigns while Republicans focus on the big picture.

As 2016 shows, the U.S. is not immune from electing a demagogue to a position of power.  The Framers of the Constitution knew this and designed barriers to keep such individuals from destroying the country.  Those barriers depend upon voters electing individuals to positions of power that have the ability to resist any attempt to convert an election win into a dictatorship.   To succeed, we need to start working hard on 2018 and 2020.


Categories: Political Action

ICANN's Special Privileges for Trademark Owners are The.Worst

Deep Links - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 18:10

If gaining control of hundreds of Internet domains that resemble your business name at a single stroke sounds like a trademark lawyer's wet dream, you may be surprised to learn that this is just one of the special powers that brand owners have under a little-known ICANN mechanism, the Trademark Clearinghouse. A letter released today by twenty-one law professors and practitioners exposes this and other privileges that ICANN bestows on brand owners, and sounds an urgent note of caution to the ICANN working group that is currently reviewing these special powers.

One of the flaws in ICANN's complex multi-stakeholder structure is the deference paid to private commercial interests. Within ICANN's Generic Names Supporting Organization (which is responsible for developing policy for most Internet domains), there are no fewer than five separate constituency groups representing commercial interests, and only two representing the interests of non-commercial and not-for-profit interests. One of the commercial constituencies is the influential and well-funded Intellectual Property Constituency, which promotes the interests of trademark and copyright holders within ICANN.

Following a sustained lobbying effort, in 2013 the Intellectual Property Constituency won an unprecedented set of new powers for trademark holders as a condition of ICANN's subsequent introduction of hundreds of new top-level domains. Perhaps the worst of these is the Trademark Clearinghouse, a system that gives brand owners special powers to prevent the registration of domain names that contain their trademarks. This veto power applies even in cases where their use in a domain name is not actually a trademark infringement—for example because of the defense of fair use, or because the domain name is in a different category of goods or services to that in which the mark is used, or because the words in the mark are only protected as part a distinctive design.

A particularly egregious example of the abuse of the Trademark Clearinghouse is in the veto power reportedly granted to an English company over the use of the word "The" in ICANN's new domains. (We say "reportedly" because the Trademark Clearinghouse doesn't provide any search function enabling us to verify trademark record registrations; quite a backward leap in transparency when compared with national trademark registries.) The company granted this power doesn't, as far as we could ascertain, operate in the automotive, gambling, health services, or education sectors. And yet it has been able to use the veto powers obtained through the Trademark Clearinghouse to gain priority status to register domains such as the.cars, the.casino, the.doctor, the.school, and the.university—amongst many others. 

ICANN's acquiescence to even the most outlandish demands of the trademark lobby has also set a precedent enabling some registries to go even further; for example, the registry Donuts (which we recently exposed as an architect of the copyright-blocking Healthy Domains Initiative) offers a DPML-Plus program that allows brand owners to block registrations not only of their registered marks, but also substrings, misspellings and variants of those marks, across hundreds of domains, for a period of ten years. We are aware of no national trademark system anywhere in the world that provides such extensive privileges to brand owners. Neither is there any convincing reason why the domain industry should be providing them with such privileges.

Today's letter to ICANN exposes this scam and calls upon ICANN to stop being so solicitous to brand owners at the expense of other legitimate users of the domain name system. In particular, we are very clear that ICANN should not extend the Trademark Clearinghouse to top-level domains that it doesn't already cover, such as the most widely used domains .com, .org, and .net. Looking forward, ICANN should also review the failings of the Trademark Clearinghouse system and roll it back from the more than 1,000 domains to which it already applies.

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Categories: Political Action

Work with EFF This Summer! Apply to be a Google Public Policy Fellow

Deep Links - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 14:23

If you’re a student who is passionate about emerging Internet and technology policy issues, come work with EFF this summer as a Google Public Policy Fellow! This is the tenth year we’ve offered this Fellowship1, an opportunity for undergraduate, graduate, and law students to work alongside EFF’s international team for 10 weeks on projects advancing debate on key public policy issues.

EFF is looking for someone who shares our passion for the free and open Internet. You'll have the opportunity to work on a variety of issues, including censorship and global surveillance. Applicants must have strong research and writing skills, the ability to produce thoughtful original policy analysis, a talent for communicating with many different types of audiences, and be independently driven. Below are the basic application guidelines. More specific information can be found here.

  • You must be 18 years of age or older by January 1, 2017.
  • In order to participate in the program, you must be a student. Google defines a student as an individual enrolled in or accepted into an accredited institution including (but not necessarily limited to) colleges, universities, masters programs, PhD programs and undergraduate programs.
  • Eligibility is based on enrollment in an accredited university by January 1, 2017. You must be eligible and authorized to work in the United States.
  • Program timeline is June 5, 2017 - August 11, 2017, with regular programming throughout the summer.
  • The application period opens Friday, March 10, 2017 for the North America region and all applications must be received by 12:00AM midnight ET, Friday, March 24, 2017.
  • Acceptance will be announced the week of April 18, 2017.

The accepted applicant will receive a stipend of USD $7,500 in 2017 for their 10-week long Fellowship. To apply with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, follow this link.

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Categories: Political Action

NEO AFSC March 10, 2017 Podcast

American Friends Service Committee - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 13:56

We summarize last week’s activities; share next week’s upcoming events; and comment on President Trump’s courting of financial donors for 2020, the Republican health care plan and its winners and losers, protecting Medicaid in Ohio, income inequality and the endorsement of the We the People Amendment by U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge. [Length: 42:15]

Categories: Political Action

Obliterated Families - The Shattered Lives of People in the Gaza Strip

American Friends Service Committee - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 13:34
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 6:00pm Obliterated Families - Gaza

From the introduction to Obliterated Families, an award-winning multimedia web documentary about families from the Gaza Strip whose lives were shattered in the Israeli offensive in 2014.

Photo: AFSC/
Categories: Political Action

International Women’s Day – Photos and History

Photos by David Bacon

This year International Women’s Day has a deep meaning because of the desperate situation in which our country finds itself. Women in earlier eras confronted problems as great, and founded International Women’s Day as a way to fight for deep social change. Temma Kaplan, distinguished professor of history at Rutgers University, and a longtime teacher, scholar, and activist in pursuit of social justice, wrote a history of the day in 1985, “On the socialist origins of International Women’s Day” – Feminist Studies 11, No. 1 (1985), pp. 163-171. With thanks to her, following these photographs, taken on the University of California Berkeley campus and at Oakland City Hall on International Women’s Day, are selections from this important work.

To see the complete selection of photos: CLICK HERE



Categories: Political Action