Political Action

The Single-Payer Party? Democrats Shift Left on Health Care

Allison Miller checking a patient’s blood pressure during free health screenings in Los Angeles in 2012. On Thursday, California’s State Senate approved a preliminary plan for enacting single-payer health care.
David McNew / Getty Images

New York Times

June 3, 2017 – For years, Republicans savaged Democrats for supporting the Affordable Care Act, branding the law — with some rhetorical license — as a government takeover of health care.

Now, cast out of power in Washington and most state capitals, Democrats and activist leaders seeking political redemption have embraced an unlikely-seeming cause: an actual government takeover of health care.

At rallies and in town hall meetings, and in a collection of blue-state legislatures, liberal Democrats have pressed lawmakers, with growing impatience, to support the creation of a single-payer system, in which the state or federal government would supplant private health insurance with a program of public coverage. And in California on Thursday, the Democrat-controlled State Senate approved a preliminary plan for enacting single-payer system, the first serious attempt to do so there since then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, vetoed legislation in 2006 and 2008.

With Republicans in full control of the federal government, there is no prospect that Democrats can put in place a policy of government-guaranteed medicine on the national level in the near future. And fiscal and logistical obstacles may be insurmountable even in solidly liberal states like California and New York.

Yet as Democrats regroup from their 2016 defeat, leaders say the party has plainly shifted well to the left on the issue, setting the stage for a larger battle over the health care system in next year’s congressional elections and the 2020 presidential race. Their liberal base, emboldened by Senator Bernie Sanders’s forceful advocacy of government-backed health care last year, is increasingly unsatisfied with the Affordable Care Act and is demanding more drastic changes to the private health insurance system.

In a sign of shifting sympathies, most House Democrats have now endorsed a single-payer proposal. Party strategists say they expect that the 2020 presidential nominee will embrace a broader version of public health coverage than any Democratic standard-bearer has in decades.

RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, powerful labor groups that back single-payer care, said the issue had reached a “boiling point” on the left.

Supporters of universal health care, including activists with Ms. DeMoro’s union, repeatedly interrupted speakers at the California Democratic Party’s convention in May, challenging party leaders to embrace socialized medicine. Demonstrators waving signs with single-payer slogans have become a regular feature at town hall meetings hosted by members of Congress.

“There is a cultural shift,” said Ms. DeMoro, who was a prominent backer of Mr. Sanders. “Health care is now seen as something everyone deserves. It’s like a national light went off.” (Continued)

Representative Rick Nolan of Minnesota, a populist Democrat whose district voted for President Trump by a wide margin, said he had rarely seen core Democratic voters as enthusiastic about an issue as they were about single-payer health care. Mr. Nolan said he would support creating a state-level system in Minnesota, but believed the party’s goal should be a national law.

He warned Democrats against being too cautious on health care or trusting that they could passively reap the benefits of Republican missteps, saying that his party needed a more boldly “aspirational” health care platform.

Rank-and-file Democrats, Mr. Nolan said, “are energized in a way I have not witnessed in a long, long time.”

At this point, state and federal single-payer proposals appear mainly to embody the sweeping ambitions of a frustrated party, rather than to map a clear way forward on policy. A handful of legislators in Democratic states — some positioning themselves to run for higher office — have proposed single-payer bills, including in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Only in California does the legislation appear to have at least a modest chance of being approved this year.

Even there, State Senator Ricardo Lara, an author of the bill, said his legislation would not clear the State Assembly without detailing how expanded coverage would be financed. The proposal currently lacks a complete funding plan.

The bill would mandate far more comprehensive access to health care, with no out-of-pocket costs, for all California residents at an estimated cost of $400 billion annually. Roughly half would come from existing public money spent on health care, but the rest would require new taxes. Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who once campaigned for president supporting single-payer care, has questioned how the state can plausibly foot the bill.

Should California enact a single-payer law, it would still require a waiver from Washington to redirect federal funding to the state program — which might be difficult with Trump appointees running the Department of Health and Human Services.

But Mr. Lara said that Mr. Trump’s election, and subsequent Republican efforts to unwind the Affordable Care Act, had upended the conversation about health care among Democrats. He said he would have been unlikely to press for single-payer under a Democratic president.

“I no longer have the luxury of going step by step,” Mr. Lara said. “We need to do a single-payer or we’re going to be in a position where millions of people are going to lose coverage.”

There remains considerable skepticism among senior Democrats about a single-payer plan, and party strategists fear that proposing a potentially divisive health care agenda would offer Republicans a welcome diversion from their own tortured wrangling over the Affordable Care Act.

At a briefing with reporters last month, the House minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, replied with a flat “no” when asked if Democrats should make single-payer a central theme in 2018. She said state-level action was more appropriate, though she said she supported the idea in concept.

“The comfort level with the broader base of the American people is not there yet,” Ms. Pelosi said.
In the past, top Democrats — including President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — have suggested more incremental approaches, proposing the creation of an optional government health plan that people could buy into or lowering the eligibility age for Medicare.

Democrats were unable to pass either of those measures into law the last time they controlled Congress and the White House, in 2010, because they failed to draw unanimous support from both liberal and centrist Democrats. Mr. Obama never tried to create a full single-payer system, and Mrs. Clinton described the idea as unachievable during the 2016 campaign.

A study published in January by the Pew Research Center found that about 40 percent of Democrats favored a single-payer system, including a slight majority of self-described liberal Democrats. Among all Americans, support was markedly lower: Just 28 percent said government should be the sole provider of care.

But a sizable majority — about three in five Americans — said the government had a responsibility to ensure everyone had health care. And the idea of single-payer health care has stirred interest among some business leaders, like Warren E. Buffett and Charles Munger, who see health care costs as a drag on the economy.

Karen Politz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation who has tracked the single-payer debate for years, said it would be difficult to persuade the country to move to an all-government health care system — a disruptive process that would likely lead to higher taxes in place of the premiums people now pay to insurance companies.

Even if most consumers paid less over all, as single-payer proponents claim, Ms. Politz said, morphing premiums into taxes would be culturally and politically challenging. “It does involve big government, and it’s kind of baked into the American psyche that we resist that,” she said.

Still, Democrats acknowledge that there is a palpable appetite on the left for comprehensive government health care. A number of the party’s potential 2020 presidential contenders, including Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, have signaled support for some version of universal government care, though neither Mr. Booker nor Ms. Harris has endorsed the single-payer proposal in his or her home state.

In the House, 112 of the 193 Democrats have co-sponsored a single-payer bill proposed by Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and called the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.” Until recently, the bill had attracted a fraction of that support.

The Conyers proposal would effectively void the current private health insurance system and impose new taxes on wealthy people and on certain kinds of income to pay for benefits. In May, the bill won a symbolically telling endorsement from Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, the chairman of the Democratic caucus and a leading possible successor for Ms. Pelosi.

Mr. Crowley said his support for the bill was “part practical, part aspirational,” conceding that there was no immediate path to making it law.

“You can’t do this with 110 votes,” he said.

Categories: Political Action

California Finally Releases Wiretap Dataset

Deep Links - Fri, 06/09/2017 - 13:04

In 2016, California investigators used state wiretapping laws 563 times to capture 7.8 million communications from 181,000 people, and only 19% of these communications were incriminating.  The year's wiretaps cost nearly $30 million. 

We know this, and much more, now that the California Department of Justice (CADOJ) for the first time has released to EFF the dataset underlying its annual wiretap report to the state legislature. 

The yearly “Electronic Interceptions Report” includes county-by-county granular data on wiretaps on landlines, cell phones, computers, pagers1, and other devices.  Each interception is accompanied by information on the number of communications captured and the number of people those communications involved, as well as what percentage of the messages were incriminating. The report also discloses the criminal justice outcomes of the wiretaps (e.g. drugs seized, arrests made) and the costs to the public for running each surveillance operation. 

Under California’s sunshine law, government agencies must provide public records to requesters in whatever electronic format they may exist. And yet, for the last three years, CADOJ officials resisted releasing the data in a machine-readable format. In fact, in 2015, CADOJ initially attempted to only release the “locked” version of a PDF of the report until EFF publicly called out the agency for ignoring these provisions of the California Public Records Act.

EFF sought the dataset because the formatting of the paper version of the report was extremely difficult to scrape or export in a way that would result in reliable and accurate data. Tables in the reports have sometimes spanned more than 70 pages.  

This year, EFF has scored a major victory for open data: in response to our latest request, CADOJ has released not only an unlocked PDF, but a spreadsheet containing all the data. 

What’s especially interesting about the data is that it includes data not previously disclosed in the formal report, including information on when wiretaps targeted multiple locations, devices, and websites, such as Facebook. At the same time, the data does not include some information included in the official report, such as the narrative summary of the outcome of each wiretap.

Some of the highlights contained in the data.

  • Wiretap application in Riverside County dropped from 620 wiretap applications in 2015 to 106 in 2016. This is likely due to reforms in the Riverside County District Attorney’s office following a series of investigative reports from USA Today that showed many wiretaps were likely illegal.
  • As in previous years, many of the wiretaps captured voluminous amounts of communications from large groups of people. The largest in terms of communications was a wiretap in a Los Angeles narcotics case in which 559,000 communications were captured from cell phones over 30 days. The largest in terms of number of people were caught up in a wiretap was a Riverside narcotics case in which 91,000 people each had a single piece of communication captured over 120 days.
  • The most expensive wiretap cost $1 million, mostly in personnel costs, to target a single person’s text message in a Los Angeles murder case. The most expensive wiretap in terms of non-personnel resources (i.e. equipment) cost $193,000. Two arrests were made in the associated narcotics case. 

Explore the 2016 data [.xls] and the full report. Previous years’ reports are available here [.zip]. Let us know if you discover something interesting in the data by emailing dm@eff.org.  

  • 1. No California county has applied for a wiretap for a pager under state law since 2011.
Categories: Political Action

EFF to USTR: IP Doesn't Belong in NAFTA. For the Rest, Talk To Us.

Deep Links - Fri, 06/09/2017 - 12:23

The dust has barely settled from the collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and already a new trade battle is ahead of us: the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). President Trump called the controversial 1994 agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico "the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country." But compared to the TPP, there's a lot to like about the original NAFTA from a digital rights perspective: it doesn't extend the term of copyright, it doesn't require countries to prohibit DRM circumvention, and it doesn't include new and untested rules to regulate the Internet.

That could all change soon. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) has called for comments from industry and the public on goals it should promote as it renegotiates NAFTA, which opens a window for the TPP’s proponents to try to use NAFTA to establish at least some of the dangerous proposals they hoped to impose through the TPP – including the TPP’s so-called intellectual property (IP) rules. EFF’s comment explains why that is a bad idea:

Prescriptive IP rules usually fail to account for developments in technology such as the Internet, or changes in business and social practices such as the sharing economy. Including such rules in trade agreements could inhibit the United States from modernizing its own intellectual property rules in the future.

We also lay out specific, real-world examples of how including IP rules in trade agreements can backfire. For example, the U.S.-Morocco FTA bans parallel importation of copyright material. Yet in the 2013 Kirtsaeng v Wiley case, such parallel importation was found legal. Similarly, the U.S.-Australia FTA included a provision extending copyright protection to temporary copies of data stored in computer memory. But since then, a line of appellate decisions has found that copyright protection may not exist in temporary copies. As we explain:

Enshrining an opposite rule in NAFTA would have caused not only a disconnect between U.S. law and U.S. trade commitments, (possibly rendering it liable to dispute settlement proceedings), the existence of such a rule might have discouraged the emergence of innovative technologies that routinely make such temporary copies in the course of their normal operations. 

In reality, we probably can't expect copyright rules to be removed from NAFTA altogether. We will face a hard enough task fighting the expansion of such rules. But in the event that such rules are included, they need to be balanced by crucial safeguards such as fair use. If America is to commit itself and its trading partners to upholding high levels of copyright protection, it must also commit them to allowing fair use, to prevent copyright rules from unfairly inhibiting innovation and creativity.

While Canada's existing fair dealing regime is similar to the U.S. fair use doctrine, Mexico lacks any such concept. Given that Mexico also has the world's longest term of copyright protection (at life plus 100 years, even longer than in the United States), the inclusion of fair use as a new minimum standard for NAFTA countries would help to balance out this excessive term of protection.

Beyond IP: Net Neutrality, Encryption and Global Orders

IP rules aren’t the only new rules being proposed for NAFTA. Groups such as the Internet Association have also proposed a raft of new digital trade rules [PDF] to promote the free flow of information online. But because many of these proposals have just as much impact on important non-trade interests and values, such as cybersecurity, freedom of expression, and privacy, we’re not convinced that trade rules are the right place for them.

In particular, our submission explains to the USTR why we think that including TPP-like rules on net neutrality, domain names, encryption standards, or limiting the review of software source code, is a profoundly dangerous proposition. Handing over those important and multi-layered topics to the myopic perspective of the trade negotiators and their corporate advisors will produce rules that miss or devalue the perspectives of computer professionals, users, and innovators.

That said, there are a few, narrow, trade-related digital proposals that we think could fit into the framework of a trade agreement, if it was negotiated in a sufficiently open and transparent fashion. At the top of the list is intermediary liability, since Mexico doesn’t currently provide its Internet platforms with a safe harbor from liability for their users’ content, which creates the incentives for providers to censor and restrict their users’ expression online.

We also think that there may be some merit in using trade agreements to address the problem of data protectionism, such as requirements that Internet platforms host data on local servers—provided that these rules contained adequate safeguards to allow countries to protect users’ personal data. And we are also open to considering the idea of rules to prevent countries from issuing injunctions against Internet platforms from outside their borders, who were not joined as parties to the case where the injunction was issued.

Transparency is key

But before the USTR pursues any of these proposals, it must first reform its trade negotiation practices to make them much more open, inclusive, and transparent. In particular,the USTR should release its text proposals, should release consolidated drafts after each round of negotiations, should hold a notice and comment period and public hearing on its proposals, and should reform and open up its trade advisory committees.

You can read EFF’s full submission below.

Categories: Political Action

Does Trump's Paris pullout mean game over?

Socialist Worker - Fri, 06/09/2017 - 01:00

Last week, Donald Trump announced that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement reached at the COP 21 climate summit sponsored by the United Nations in 2015. Though long anticipated, Trump's statement was greeted with outrage and opposition, reaching into the U.S. ruling class, as the heads of major corporations like Disney, General Electric, Tesla and Goldman Sachs criticized the move. But how can this opposition head off Trump's planetary death wish?

We asked Phil Gasper, editor of an authoritative new edition of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels' Communist Manifesto and a featured speaker on the environmental crisis at the Socialism 2017 conference in Chicago on July 6-9, to explain what Trump's decision means and the implications for the struggle to save the planet.

Protesters stand up to Trump at the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C. (Rainforest Action Network | flickr)

DONALD TRUMP announced that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement? What's the content of that agreement?

THE PARIS agreement was signed in December 2015 by almost every country in the world, facilitated by the United Nations, after an international summit meeting.

The agreement is a recognition that human-caused climate change is an urgent crisis, and there has to be a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times.

Each signatory country agreed to develop a plan to reduce emissions over the next several decades--with the countries that have historically done most to accelerate global warming, including the United States and those in Western Europe, agreeing to move the fastest.

The agreement also involved the more advanced economies agreeing to contribute billions of dollars to the Green Climate Fund in order to finance the adoption of sustainable energy sources in the developing world.

There's no doubt that action of this kind is desperately needed, but the Paris Agreement is also highly problematic. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol that it replaced, the new agreement has no enforcement mechanisms. Countries agree to various targets, but if they fail to meet them, nothing happens.

The agreement also puts most of the emphasis for reducing emissions on a variety of market mechanisms, which experience tells us don't work. Worse, even if every target that has been adopted is actually met, it's not enough to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

Similarly, contributions to the climate fund have so far been tiny--around $10 billion, compared to the $100 billion promised by 2020, and for each of the five years following that. And even amounts promised are not nearly enough.

Of course, that amount of money sounds vast, but the grand total is still less than the U.S. military budget for just one year--even before Trump proposed increasing it by another $55 billion a year. So the funds aren't unattainable.

IN THAT case, does it make any real difference that Trump has withdrawn from the agreement?

YES, IT makes a difference. A tiny step in the right direction is better than a big step in the wrong one. The Paris accord needs to be strengthened enormously, not abandoned entirely.

Trump has stuffed his administration with climate-change denialists, including Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Secretary of State (and former ExxonMobil CEO) Rex Tillerson.

These people either claim climate change is a total myth, or that human actions aren't the main cause, or that its impact won't be significant. Or they pretend there's no scientific consensus on the issue, and more study is needed.

Trump has already announced his intention to roll back regulations on coal plant emissions that were a central part of the Obama administration's plans to meet its Paris targets. If he wanted to, Trump could have kept the U.S. in the agreement while failing to implement it in practice. But instead, he decided to give the rest of the world his middle finger.

Now, instead of at least some reductions in emissions, we are likely to see the U.S. moving in the opposite direction.

Incidentally, while Trump makes Obama look good by comparison, the Democrats don't really deserve any praise on the climate issue. Obama took steps to regulate some emissions and to encourage the wider use of renewable energy resources, but he also presided over the biggest increase in fossil fuel extraction in U.S. history, driven by cheap natural gas made available by the fracking boom.

HOW DID Trump explain his decision?

TRUMP GAVE an awful speech announcing the U.S. withdrawal in which he claimed the rest of the world is taking advantage of the U.S., and that he was acting to save jobs.

The idea that the U.S., the world's biggest bully--which per capita is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases--is the victim of anybody is frankly absurd. It's because the U.S. has played such a big role in creating the problem that it should play a big role in solving it.

As for jobs, Trump cited a study funded by the Chamber of Commerce and by another pro-business group that claims the U.S. will lose 2.7 million jobs if it attempts to reduce its emissions by 28 percent in the next eight years.

However, that study admits in a footnote that it "does not take into account potential benefits from avoided emissions." Those benefits would include new jobs from investing in green technology, as well as avoiding the huge economic costs of climate-related floods, droughts, hurricanes, disease, and so on.

Trump claimed that he was "elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." But ironically, as the Washington Post pointed out, the majority of people in Pittsburgh support regulations to reduce carbon emissions. The same is true in the U.S. as a whole.

WHETHER IN the medium or long term, climate change is a major threat even to the interests of U.S. capitalists. So why have so many Republicans chosen to ignore the science and become climate-change denialists?

AT TIMES of major crisis, you often see the growth of irrationalism. I think that has a lot to do with it.

The role of the capitalist state is to protect the long-term survival of the system. When there's a major crisis, the system will only survive if the short-term interests of some sectors of capital are sacrificed for the good of the system as a whole.

But the capitalists who benefit from fossil-fuel production don't want to sacrifice their short-term interests, and they are powerful enough to influence a large part of the state apparatus.

That's the Republicans, but like I said before the Democrats aren't much better. They recognize there's a problem, but they're not prepared to take the steps necessary to deal with it, because they, too, aren't prepared to challenge the fossil-fuel industry.

TIME IS running out to prevent the devastating consequences that will result from unchecked climate change. Is it realistic to think that they can still be avoided?

THE FIRST thing to note is that the problem is mainly political, not technological. We could transition the United States and most of the rest of the planet to renewable energy sources by 2050 if there was the political will.

There are a lot of things that need to be done in terms of conservation, less waste, expanding public transit, reconfiguring our cities and living spaces, and also developing new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere. We have the resources to do these things, but we have an economic and political system, based on private property and profit, that is preventing them from happening--or at least happening fast enough.

The only thing that can change this is a powerful enough political movement that can force whoever is in power to make the immediate changes we need--and that can eventually grow strong enough to pose an alternative to the entire system.

Building that kind of movement is a daunting task, but Trump is radicalizing a lot of people. We have to take advantage of that. As the writer Eduardo Galeano once said, "Let's leave pessimism for better times."

Categories: Political Action

Our message of solidarity against the alt-right

Socialist Worker - Fri, 06/09/2017 - 01:00

Two acts of deadly racist violence on either side of the U.S. have drawn attention to frightening rise of the far right under Donald Trump's presidency. On the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, Richard Collins III was stabbed to death on May 20 by a white UMD student who, it was later revealed, participated in a racist Facebook group called "Alt-Reich: Nation." Less than a week later, in Portland, Oregon, known white supremacist Jeremy Joseph Christian killed two men and severely wounded another, after the three tried to stop him from harassing two women of color, one wearing a hijab.

In both cases, anti-racist activists and organizations, including the International Socialist Organization, have responded with urgent protest to send a message of resistance. Before two events this week--a June 4 counterdemonstration in Portland under the slogan Portland Stands United Against Hate to confront the far right's mobilization, and a June 6 town hall meeting in Washington D.C. under the title "The Racist Murder of Richard Collins III: Fight the Alt-Right"--ISO branches in Washington and Portland exchanged statements of solidarity with the victims of racist violence and those organizing against it.

Statement from Washington, D.C.

Anti-racist demonstrators in Portland send the message: Fear will not silence us (Leighta Lehto)

WE, STUDENTS at the University of Maryland (UMD) and residents of the Washington D.C, Virginia and Maryland area, extend our solidarity and support, from one community mourning and fighting against racist murder to another.

We send our sympathy and support to the families and communities of Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Micah David-Cole Fletcher. These men were murdered and wounded for standing up to racist hate.

We know firsthand the horror and sadness that plagues a community when such an attack happens.

On May 20, Richard Collins III, a graduating senior at the historically Black college Bowie State University, was murdered on the University of Maryland's College Park campus by a white UMD student for no apparent reason other than violent racism. Collins was also killed for standing up to racism when he said "no" to the demand that he move aside so his attacker could have full control of a nearly empty sidewalk.

What would have simply been an act of rudeness by a white bigot and the reasonable refusal to give into bigoted demands in years past has, in these new times, become an excuse for racist murder.

Racist activity had been on the rise in and around the greater D.C. area in the months leading up to the 2016 election. After Trump's election, we have seen white supremacists act with growing impunity and increased audacity. In the past few months, nooses have been discovered hanging:

-- Inside a UMD fraternity kitchen;
-- On the DC campus of American University; and,
-- Most recently from a tree outside the Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall.

On May 31, a noose was discovered inside the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, at an exhibit about the violent history of the KKK.

The level of boldness it takes for racists to feel confident in vandalizing a memorial to an important aspect of the civil rights struggle and the fight against racism--with the most threatening symbol of the lynching and violence that the struggle fought to overcome--is appalling.

These ugly incidents are part of a national upsurge of threatened and actual violence by the far right, that has touched Portland, College Park, D.C., and other communities as well.

At UMD, we have watched as our university president, like other political leaders locally and nationally, has failed to take seriously the threat of racist violence and neglected to take any meaningful action. We cannot rely on campus administrators, or city and federal officials alone to keep our communities safe. Their tactics of downplaying, dismissing, or ignoring racism have clearly failed.

Instead we need to organize ourselves and make it impossible for the bigots on the far right to propagate their hate or grow their organizations. We stand in full support of the people of Portland taking the streets to condemn the hate and violence of the far right. By protesting them, we demonstrate the strength and numbers of our side. We have the power to outnumber them and win when we all stand together.

We, like you, are organizing anti-racist individuals and groups to oppose the growth of racism by building the broadest anti-racist movement possible. On Tuesday, June 6, a new community grouping, calling itself "D.C. United Against Hate," will hold a town hall meeting called "The Racist Murder of Richard Collins III and the Fight Against the 'Alt-Right'." We expect this will be the beginning of a new movement against racism in and around the nation's capital.

Again, we affirm our solidarity with you and your struggle in Portland. We will have you in our hearts and minds on June 6, as we honor Richard Collins III, Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Micah David-Cole Fletcher in a moment of silence--followed by 120 minutes of speaking out, testifying, and organizing.

The targeting of young Muslim women and the murder of those who stood in their defense in Portland, the murder of Richard Collins at UMD, and the growing presence of open racists in Washington D.C., are horrific reminders of the persistence of racism today and the need to organize for a better world that is free of Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and all other oppression. Together we can win that world!

In solidarity,
UMD Socialists and the International Socialist Organization-Washington, D.C.
June 3, 2017

Partial list of endorsers of the June 6 meeting in D.C.: Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Circle of Love and Support (COLAS), Code Pink, Faith Strategies, International Socialist Organization, Jewish Voice for Peace -DC Metro Chapter, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington Action Fund, Protect UMD, Students for Justice in Palestine UMD, UMD Socialists, Washington Peace Center, WPFW 89.3 FM

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Statement from Portland

IN LIGHT of the tragic and gruesome attacks carried out in both of our cities, the Portland, Oregon, branch of the International Socialist Organization wants to express its solidarity to its comrades and to the community of the greater D.C. area who have experienced racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic attacks.

We send support and compassion to the family and community of Richard Collins III, murdered by a white supremacist as he waited for a ride with his friends.

On May 26, right-wing extremist Jeremy Christian killed Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Mecche and wounded Micah David-Cole Fletcher on the public TriMet light-rail train. These people had stood up to Christian as he flung racist abuse at two Muslim female youth who were traveling on the train. The murderer had recently attended right-wing extremist rallies and posted white supremacist propaganda.

This is the same racism that killed Richard Collins III at the University of Maryland campus on May 20. Collin's murderer, Sean Urbanski, was emboldened by the same mass phenomenon as Christian. They identified and organized with the far-right extremists who have been given confidence by the bigoted Trump administration.

Both white supremacists attempted to harass and intimidate, both were challenged, and both resorted to murder.

The tragedies of May 20 in Maryland and May 26 in Portland are both part of the far right's agenda. They have neither vision nor solutions--they can only put forth terror and bigotry. And every ICE raid, every attempt to ban Muslims or attack reproductive rights carried out by Trump inspires the far right to further carry out this horrendous agenda.

We here in Portland stand in full solidarity with you, the students of the University of Maryland and the residents of Washington, DC, Virginia and Maryland area, in your struggle against the onslaught of racist attacks in your communities.

Like you, we watch as bigots grow more emboldened while our political leaders do nothing. The racists have left nooses in your schools and your museums, evoking the terror of the lynching tree, and neither campus administrators nor city officials adequately respond.

And like you, we are finding that it is only everyday people, committed to living in a better world, who are organizing a fight back against these right-wing terrorists. We stand in full solidarity with the town hall meeting to be held on June 6 organized by "D.C. United Against Hate."

The day after the attack on TriMet, a vigil was organized here in Portland to honor the heroism of Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Micah David-Cole Fletcher. Around 1,000 people came out to stand witness to their sacrifice. And in our mourning, we also felt anger. People felt the need to stand up, and in midst of so many others feeling the same thing, people became emboldened to fight back.

This determination coalesced into a large demonstration organized against a far-right rally on June 4. Like so many of the far-right events being held throughout the country, this one used the cover of "free speech" to justify spewing their hatred. The murderer Jeremy Christian, being questioned after arrest, said he carried out his violent attacks to protect his free speech.

In the world of the far right, the bigots would be protected as they harass, intimidate and terrorize people of color, women, LGBTQ folks and leftists.

Here in Portland, we have refused to stand by as these bigots take our city. On Sunday, June 4, as many as 1,500 people rallied to challenge the far right. More than 70 organizations endorsed Portland Stands United Against Hate, which brought together voices from the various communities that make up Portland. We outnumbered the bigots. We chanted loudly our solidarity with immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter and all those struggling against terror.

This demonstration and so many others across the nation show that people are ready to stand united against racism, Islamophobia and all kinds of hate. This also proves that a majority of people will not tolerate the hate of the far-right anywhere. The need to build a broad anti-racist movement in our localities and nationwide is evident, and we see by our own actions that that we can do it. Our power relies in our radical solidarity against all forms of hate.

It's an honor to be fighting in the same struggle with you on the other side of the country. From Portland, Oregon, to Washington, D.C., it will be the work of masses of everyday people who take on these racist thugs and defend ourselves.

On both ends of the U.S., and in the many places in between, we want to see a world without racism, without bigotry, where people don't have to be afraid as they ride the train or wait for a ride. So long as we remain united, we can transform the world together.

In solidarity,
Portland State International Socialist Organization
June 5, 2017

Partial list of endorsing organizations for the June 4 Portland Stands United Against Hate rally: Portland International Socialist Organization, Voz Workers' Rights Education Project, Portland Jewish Voice for Peace, Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, PCUN (Oregon's Farmworkers Union), Latino Network, Causa, Portland Democratic Socialists of America

Categories: Political Action

NSA Reneges on Promise to Tell Congress How Many Innocent Americans it Spies On

Deep Links - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 19:53

Lawmakers should know how the laws they pass impact their constituents. That’s especially true when the law would reauthorize a vast Internet and telephone spying program that collects information about millions of law-abiding Americans.

But that’s exactly what the Intelligence Community wants Congress to do when it considers reauthorizing a sweeping electronic surveillance authority under the expiring Section 702, as enacted by the FISA Amendments Act, before the end of the year.

Intelligence officials have been promising Congress they would provide lawmakers with an estimate of the number of American communications that are collected under Section 702. That estimate is a critical piece of information for lawmakers to have as they consider whether and how to reauthorize and reform the warrantless Internet surveillance of millions of innocent Americans in the coming months.

But during a hearing on Section 702 in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, despite previous assurances, said he won’t be providing that estimate out of national security and, ironically, privacy concerns.

He told lawmakers it is “infeasible to generate an exact, accurate, meaningful, and responsive methodology that can count how often a U.S. person’s communications may be incidentally collected under Section 702.” To do so would require diverting NSA analysts’ attention away from their current work to “conduct additional significant research” to determine whether the communications collected under Section 702 are American. “I would be asking trained NSA analysts to conduct intense identity verification research on potential U.S. persons who are not targets of an investigation,” he said. “From a privacy and civil liberties perspective, I find this unpalatable.”

From a privacy and civil liberties perspective, we find it unpalatable that the Intelligence Community would ask Congress to reauthorize a controversial surveillance program without first following through on the promise—reiterated by Coats as recently as earlier this year—to provide some much needed information about how the program impacts Americans. To do so supposedly in the name of privacy concerns is even worse.

It should go without saying: if the Intelligence Community is truly worried about the privacy and civil liberties of ordinary Americans, officials will take the looming Section 702 sunset as an opportunity to give lawmakers the information they need to have an informed and meaningful debate about how government spying programs impact Americans’ privacy.

Privacy advocate Sen. Ron Wyden criticized DNI Coats for his backtracking, calling his reversal a “very, very damaging position to stake out.” He warned, “We’re going to battle it out in the course of this, because there are a lot of Americans that share our view that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive.”

And that battle is already happening. With Congress’ debate over Section 702 reauthorization heating up, now is the time to tell your representatives in Congress to let this warrantless spying authority lapse.

Take Action

Categories: Political Action

EFF to Court: Holding Twitter Responsible for Providing Material Support to Terrorists Would Violate Users’ First Amendment Rights

Deep Links - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 13:46

A lawsuit claiming that Twitter provides material support to terrorists by providing accounts to users who discus or promote terrorism threatens the First Amendment rights of Internet users and Twitter, EFF told a federal appellate court in a brief filed on Wednesday.

The brief [.pdf] also argues that the lawsuit jeopardizes one of the Internet’s most important laws: 47 U.S.C. § 230, enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act (known simply as “Section 230”).

The case, Fields v. Twitter, seeks to hold Twitter responsible for the deaths of two Americans killed in a 2015 attack in Jordan. The family members argue that by providing accounts to users they describe as posting content advocating for terrorism, Twitter violated a federal law that prohibits individuals and organizations from providing material support to terrorists.

The federal trial court hearing the case dismissed the lawsuit in November 2016, ruling that Section 230 barred the claims and also that the family members had not shown that Twitter caused the attacks at issue in the case. The family members appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In the brief, EFF and the Center for Democracy & Technology argue that making Twitter legally responsible for providing accounts to users who discuss or promote terrorism will violate the First Amendment in several respects.

First, it will interfere with Internet users’ First Amendment right to access information on controversial topics or from unpopular speakers.

“Depriving users of their right to receive and gather information discussing terrorism will do far more than simply limit which content is available online­; it will stunt people’s ability to be informed about the world and form opinions,” the brief argues.

the First Amendment does not permit ad hoc judgments regarding the social value of speech to determine whether that speech is protected

Second, it will violate Twitter’s First Amendment rights to publish speech about terrorism because the vast majority of such speech is fully protected. There is no categorical prohibition on speaking about terrorism, the brief argues, because “the First Amendment does not permit ad hoc judgments regarding the social value of speech to determine whether that speech is protected.”

The brief also argues that making Twitter liable for the speech of its users will undermine Section 230’s legal protections for all Internet platforms. That will jeopardize the continued availability of open platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

“By creating Section 230’s platform immunity, Congress made the intentional policy choice that individuals harmed by speech online will need to seek relief from the speakers themselves, rather than the platforms those speakers used,” the brief argues.

Finally, the brief argues that if online platforms no longer have Section 230’s immunity, platforms will take aggressive action to screen their users, review and censor content, and potentially prohibit anonymous speech.  

“Because platforms will be unwilling to take a chance on provocative or unpopular speech, the online marketplace of ideas will be artificially stunted, despite such speech being protected by the First Amendment,” the brief argues.

Categories: Political Action

MoveOn calls for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings

Move On - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 02:29

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

In the United States, no one is above the law. The testimony that former FBI Director James Comey is expected to deliver today makes clear that Congress must begin impeachment proceedings immediately.

MoveOn does not make this call lightly.

We have opposed Donald Trump’s bigoted, dangerous, and reckless actions and policies at every turn, helping to mobilize a powerful Resistance movement that is engaging millions of Americans in political activism, many for the first time in their lives. But today’s testimony puts us in fundamentally new territory. This is no longer about our opposition to Trump’s policies and rhetoric.

Donald Trump, and those around him, have sought to undermine our democracy and the rule of the law like no administration in our history. It is now clear that Trump’s effort to use the powers of the presidency to interfere with an ongoing investigation of whether, how, and why a foreign power tried unlawfully to undermine our electoral process is exactly the kind of fundamental abuse of power that the founders believed is an impeachable offense—a ‘High Crime or Misdemeanor’ under our Constitution.

Eighteen years ago, MoveOn was founded around a call for Congress to avoid  impeachment proceedings: censure then-President Bill Clinton, and ‘move on to the business of the country.’

Today, we are in a very different moment.

“We can not ‘move on’ from this. We will not treat this as normal. And politicians in Washington must not continue to conduct business as usual. Everyone in Congress must look in the mirror and decide how they will fulfill their oath to defend our Constitution—and which side of history they want to be on.

If they fail to do so, millions of MoveOn members across the country will hold them accountable at the ballot box.

Categories: Political Action

The bigots behind the "anti-Sharia" marches

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 01:00

Nicole Colson reports on the group behind upcoming anti-Muslim rallies--and how a climate of toxic Islamophobia is being encouraged by politicians, with deadly results.

The professional provocateurs of the right are trying to exploit the non-existent threat of Sharia law

ON JULY 10, demonstrations are slated to take place in more than two dozen cities across the U.S. against the supposed threat of Islamic "Sharia law."

Why, exactly, are protests needed against something the majority of Americans don't know anything about, that doesn't exist in the U.S. on any institutional level, and that isn't actually a threat to anyone?

Because it's an easy opportunity for the right wing to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment--and capitalize on the racist rhetoric of the bigot-in-chief occupying the White House.

Fortunately, in a number of cities where the Islamophobes are mobilizing, people opposed to the bigotry emanating from the White House on down are preparing to send a message of resistance. They'll be adding their voices to the protesters who turned out June 4 against a hate crime in Portland.

The Islamophobic rallies on June 10 have been called by the group "ACT for America" (formerly known as the "American Congress for Truth"). It claims: "This is a march against Sharia law and for human rights. Our nation is built on the freedom of religion--a pillar of our democracy--which we must always respect, protect and honor. However many aspects of Sharia law run contrary to basic human rights and are completely incompatible with our laws and our democratic values."

This noble-sounding rhetoric about protecting freedom of religion and human rights hides an ugly reality, however.

By fixating on Sharia law--the religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition, which is interpreted in multiple ways by various strains of Islam--ACT for America is claiming that a "Muslim menace" threatens to spread across the U.S., overthrowing established democratic laws and institutions, and imposing a theocratic state.

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ACCORDING TO the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ACT for America is the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America. It claims to have 280,000 members and over 1,000 chapters, though these numbers are probably inflated.

The group is one of several anti-Muslim organizations that sprang up after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. These groups got a boost not only from the polarized political climate, but from the Bush administration, which openly embraced the idea that a fundamental "clash of civilizations" was taking place between the West and the Islamic world. In the intervening years, the Islamophobia industry has succeeded in fomenting such a toxic climate that plans had to be scrapped for a Muslim community center located blocks away from Ground Zero. At its worst, Muslims and even those who are perceived to be Muslim have become the victims of horrific hate crimes.

According to the SPLC, in 2007, ACT founder Brigitte Gabriel even gave a lecture to the Defense Department's Joint Forces Staff College as part a course on Islam, during which she reportedly told the audience that Muslims should be prohibited from serving in public office.

"[A] practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day--this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America," Gabriel claimed.

In actual fact, "Sharia law" is not a codified legal system that Muslims are attempting to enact in the U.S. It refers to a collection of religious and legal texts and is interpreted and practiced in a wide variety of way by Muslims.

"Sharia as a legal system doesn't exist," Sahar Aziz, a law professor at Texas A&M University, told the Washington Post. He added that a Muslim who claims to follow Sharia is similar to a Christian saying he lives his life "in accordance with Jesus Christ."

But the facts don't matter to ACT for America. It and other such groups see any tolerance for Muslims or the Muslim community--whether that means allowing the construction of mosques or accepting refugees or immigrants from Muslim-majority countries--as a threat. To them, Islam as an inherently violent religion, and all Muslims are potential terrorists.

In other words, ACT for America doesn't want to protect religious freedom. They want to prohibit the freedom to be a Muslim.

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MUCH LIKE the "Red Scare" of the 1950s promoted the idea that there were "reds under the bed," ACT for America and similar groups are part of an Islamophobia industry that recycles well-worn myths and stereotypes from the "war on terror" playbook about the threat that Islam and Muslims supposedly pose.

Roy White, the San Antonio chapter president of ACT for America, indicated as much in February, when he met with Texas lawmakers to make slanderous allegations against the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)--a mainstream advocacy group that works to promote civil rights and organizes against hate crimes against Muslims, among other things.

White told officials that CAIR is really attempting to "infiltrate" the government and destroy U.S. society from within. "They're jihadists wearing suits," he told the Washington Post.

At one ACT for America forum earlier this year, Bill Zedler, a Texas Republican state representative, said, "Regardless of whether it's al-Qaeda or CAIR or the Islamic State, they just have different methodology for the destruction of Western civilization."

Such drivel shouldn't have to be taken seriously, but groups like ACT for America are feeling emboldened in the current climate with the official lurch to the right in U.S. politics, led by Donald Trump and Co.

As the Washington Post reported, official ties between ACT for America and the Trump administration are numerous:

Stephen K. Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart, who has described Muslim American groups as "cultural jihadists" bent on destroying American society, is Trump's chief strategist. Breitbart has published several articles Gabriel has written. Trump's CIA director Mike Pompeo has spoken at ACT's conferences and sponsored an ACT meeting at the Capitol last year.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who sits on ACT's board of advisers, served as the president's national security adviser before stepping down after revelations that he might have violated the law in communications with a Russian diplomat.

"[ACT is] the fringe of the fringe," Ahmed Bedier, former executive director for CAIR's Tampa chapter, told the Post, "and now they have people on the inside of the most powerful government in the world. They're fascists. They don't want any presence of Muslims in America. And the only Muslim that is acceptable to them is a former Muslim."

Bedier was proven correct by Trevor Loudon, an ACT for America member, whose message to a meeting of the group's San Antonio, Texas, chapter after Trump's election emphasized the opportunities for bigotry with a reactionary sympathizer in the Oval Office: "We have four years--the most important four years of our lives--to redouble the efforts. If we blow it, our kids live in slavery. If we succeed, we can have a new golden age, not just in America, but all over the world."

But the "golden age" for the bigots of ACT for America is one where right-wing Christians can impose second-class status on not just Muslims, but other minorities and oppressed groups.

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ONE ESPECIALLY disgusting aspect of ACT for America is its crocodile tears for women and children, who it singles out as the main victims of Sharia law: "We, at ACT for America, are committed to protecting women and children from Sharia Law and its impact on Muslim women and children including honor killing and Female Genital Mutilation."

The hypocrisy is stunning. The conservatives who form the backbone of ACT for America have no shame when it comes to congressional Republicans slashing food stamps and Medicaid, cutting school budgets, and restricting women's right to control their own bodies. Yet they have the nerve to lecture about the threat to women and children from an imaginary Muslim horde.

In fact, ACT for America and the wider Islamophobia industry, including luminaries like Pam Geller of "Stop the Islamization of America" and Robert Spencer of "Jihad Watch", cheered as Donald Trump demonized some of the most vulnerable people in the world--refugees from Muslim-majority countries fleeing repression and war--with his travel ban already stopped twice by the courts.

In 2015, ACT for America's Gabriel told Breitbart News Saturday that Muslim refugees and immigrants "are people trying to suck off of the people from the West. They know they can get a free ticket for money. They are not coming here to build empires and become great businessmen and entrepreneurs. They are coming here to get the free checks from you and me who work very hard to pay our taxes."

This reaction has helped embolden toxic, even deadly, hate. It was no coincidence that when "alt-right" bigot Jeremy Christian recently killed two men and seriously wounded another in Portland, Oregon, he had been berating a young Muslim woman and her friend, telling them to "Get off the bus [sic], and get out of the country because you don't pay taxes here."

Is it any wonder that racists like Christian feel confident to go on the attack when--in response to the recent terrorist attack in London--Trump used the moment to lash out at London Mayor Sadiq Khan, himself a Muslim. "At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is 'no reason to be alarmed!'" read Trump's tweet.

Never mind that what Khan actually said was is that Londoners had "no reason to be alarmed" by an increased police presence on the streets, or that he repeatedly condemned the attack in the strongest language possible.

Trump went on to use the tragedy in London as an excuse to defend, once again, his Muslim travel ban.

Trump wasn't the only racist to exploit the London attack. On June 4, Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana posted a vicious message on his Facebook page calling for "[e]very conceivable measure...to hunt them down. Hunt them, identity them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all."

Higgins--a former cop dogged by allegations of excessive force--later said he did nothing wrong, emphasizing that he was "only" calling for "radicalized" Muslims to be murdered.

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THE TIDE of Islamophobia has had terrible consequences.

In May, CAIR announced that that it had tracked 260 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016, up from 180 in 2015 and 38 in 2014. Incidents involving anti-Muslim bias, including employment discrimination and denial of religious accommodation, were also up sharply, reaching 2,213 cases in 2016, up from 1,409 in 2015 and 1,314 in 2014.

But opponents of racism and hate are organizing to make sure that the Islamophobic bigots don't go unchallenged.

In several places, counterprotests have been planned against the June 10 ACT for America rallies, with the aim of drawing together wide layers of people to stand in defense of our neighbors and communities.

In New York, for example, the Jewish Social Justice contingent, International Socialist Organization, Arab American Association of New York and Bay Ridge for Social Justice will be "Standing with Muslims Against Racism and Islamophobia" in a counterprotest.

Demonstrations like these are an important start to pushing back against the right--and sending the message to ACT for America and the other bigots that we won't stand by as they target Muslims.

As the call for the New York counterprotest says, we'll stand up to say:

NO to Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism!
NO to white supremacy!
YES to building community and protecting one another!
YES to dignity and justice for all communities!

Categories: Political Action

ICE isn't welcome at Northwestern

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 01:00

Jack Kelley and Brandon Kik report on the campaign to defend Northwestern University activists who face discipline for protesting a campus event featuring ICE.

Students protest an ICE official invited to speak at Northwestern University (Colin Boyle | The Daily Northwestern)

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY (NU) administrators are going after students who protested the appearance of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representative on campus in May--but the students and their supporters are determined not to be silenced.

On May 26, some 50 students and faculty gathered for a protest, organized by Northwestern's MEChA chapter, outside the student activities center, where administrators were holding a conduct hearing for members of the Coalition of Students for Immigrant Justice who participated in a direct action on May 16.

The activists were part of a larger protest by students voicing their opposition to the ICE public relations representative, who was invited to visit a sociology class. Protesters entered the class during the ICE agent's presentation and demanded to know why he was invited to NU's campus.

The action made international news when the ICE representative's presentation was shut down, forcing him to leave before the class period was over.

Beth Redbird, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, said she invited the ICE representative to visit the class, which covered social inequality, to explain how the agency's Chicago field office works within the larger law enforcement structure of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. A Department of Justice representative was also going to speak during the class, Redbird said.

Redbird also invited an undocumented, pro-immigrant rights student activist to the class and planned for both the ICE representative and undocumented student to answer questions in two separate class periods.

When word got around about the guest speaker, activists from MEChA de Northwestern, Black Lives Matter NU, the Immigrant Justice Project, the Asian Pacific American Coalition, NU Queer Trans Intersex People of Color, and Rainbow Alliance--which make up NU's Coalition of Students for Immigrant Justice--organized a protest against the presence of an ICE agent on campus and the potential threat it posed to immigrant students.

University spokesperson Al Cubbage told The Daily Northwestern after the demonstration that it was "disappointing that the speakers were not allowed to speak." A few days later, several students received notices to appear before a conduct hearing on May 26 for their involvement in the protest. The outcome of the conduct hearing was still unclear as this article was being written.

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IMMIGRANTS ON campus, documented and undocumented, have every right to be disappointed that NU invited ICE, an organization that targets and terrorizes immigrants, to propagandize on campus.

When students protested ICE on May 16, they were using their right to free speech to expose what this agency stands for and what its agents do.

ICE raids, which have escalated under Donald Trump, have spread fear through immigrant communities. Members of these communities are now fearful of daily activities like grocery shopping and dropping children off at school--or already traumatizing experiences like appearing in court as a victim of domestic abuse.

Welcoming a representative of ICE onto campus is a threat to all immigrants or non-citizens, including students from abroad, as ICE has already shown little regard for the documentation status of any foreign-born person in the U.S. In March, an ICE agent shot a father in front of his family, none of whom were undocumented, in his own home in Chicago.

The administration is standing by its attack. Cubbage told The Daily Northwestern: "The university believes very much that if you have concerns about an idea or position, the solution is not to censor or prevent someone from expressing those ideas, it is to provide more discussion and more discourse. More speech is better than no speech."

Cubbage and other NU officials would like paint protesters as taking away freedom of speech from ICE agents, but students and faculty have a right--and in the face of such injustice, a responsibility--to use their free speech and speak out against the Trump administration's policy of targeting immigrants through ICE raids that are carried out åwith impunity.

In fact, there are few government institutions more opposed to the rights of free speech and association than ICE, especially now that it is specifically detaining immigrant activists organizing for justice in their communities.

As socialists, we are committed to the expansion of democracy, which includes standing up to government institutions or right-wing bigots who spread hate. We need democratic organizations and movements to oppose bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head.

This also means exposing the hypocrisy of complaints that there's a danger of ICE representatives having their rights taken away.

"We're not interested in having those types of conversations that would be like, 'Oh, let's listen to their side of it,' because that's making them passive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence," April Navarro, a Northwestern sophomore who helped organize the protest, told the Daily Northwestern.

"We're not engaging in those kinds of things--it legitimizes ICE's violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There's an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses."

As another protest organizer said in an interview:

There's no way you can have an equal relation between a state institution and someone in that institutional apparatus. If you are going to have dialogue, it has to be between equals. There had been talk about how we 'limited' free speech and the opportunity for free speech and academic freedom. The whole conception of free speech protects dominant narratives--free speech for who is what I would ask."

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NORTHWESTERN STUDENTS are building support for undocumented students and a climate on campus where the presence of ICE is unacceptable by publishing a list of demands on the administration, which was published through the Immigrant Justice Project.

These demands include the declaration of Northwestern as a sanctuary campus; services and scholarships for undocumented students, which students are able to access with anonymity; expansion of the Latin American and Asian American studies programs into full departments; and more courses that "have an emphasis on intersectional ethnic studies which include but are not limited to race, class, gender, sexuality and indigeneity."

Activists are also demanding that students within these newly established departments participate in decisions made about staff, faculty and courses.

While institutions like NU punish those on the left for using free speech, an emboldened far right is attempting to organize on campuses and provoke confrontations under the guise of supposed attacks on their rights.

Establishment voices, liberal or conservative, would rather prioritize so-called "civilized debate" than the safety of human beings on and off campuses, and so they are more than happy to protect bigots' rights to speak out.

University administrators have demonstrated that they aren't on our side in this fight. Activists need our own approach for countering the influence of anti-immigrant bigots, which emphasizes organizing all those who oppose anti-immigrant attacks to stand up to reaction on campus and elsewhere.

Categories: Political Action

Puerto Rico is always political

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 01:00

Lider Restrepo writes from New York City on the political storm that broke out over the honoring of Oscar López Rivera at this year's Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Oscar López Rivera greets supporters at a rally shortly after his release from prison

PUERTO RICAN political prisoner Oscar López Rivera was finally released this March from federal custody after 36 years behind bars--only to find himself at the center of a manufactured controversy that reveals how little has changed in the status of the island he went to jail trying to free.

López Rivera was going to be honored at this year's National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City as a National Freedom Hero. Conservatives and police organizations were furious about such an honor being bestowed on a former leading member of the Fuerzas Armades de Liberación Nacional (FALN), which conducted an armed struggle for Puerto Rican independence in the 1970s.

The right-wing Media Research Center, which falsely calls itself "American's leading media watchdog," claimed credit for pressuring major media outlets like Univision and corporations like Goya Foods and Coca-Cola from withdrawing their sponsorship of the parade.

Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican state Assembly member, New York City mayoral hopeful and noted xenophobe, held a press conference in front of Fraunces Tavern, where four people were killed by an FALN bombing--one never linked to López Rivera, by the way. Malliotakis declared that the parade organizers' decision was "equivalent of saying 40 years from now saying it's okay to honor a leader in al-Qaeda, Timothy McVeigh or Ramzi Yousef."

Current Mayor Bill de Blasio seemed to be standing strong in the face of pressure on him to boycott the parade--until he claimed this week that he had been working behind the scenes to pressure parade organizers to rescind their decision honoring López Rivera.

"It's not for me to dictate to them how to do it," de Blasio said. "I just made clear to them that what was going on wasn't going to work and had to be changed."

In the midst of all the frenzy, López Rivera took the high road. In an opinion article for the New York Daily News, he wrote:

Unfortunately, the narrative around the Parade is not celebration and concern for the situation on the island, but rather misinformation about who I am and what I stand for.

We must shift the focus. We cannot let people who are unfamiliar with Puerto Rican history define the narrative and experiences of our community. I want to repeat what I have said in many interviews, both in prison and since my release. I personally, and we as a community have transcended violence -- it's crucial for people to understand that we're not advocating anything that would be a threat to anyone...

I will be on Fifth Avenue not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather who at 74 continues to be committed to helping raise awareness about the fiscal, health care and human rights crisis Puerto Rico is facing at this historic juncture.

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LÓPEZ RIVERA was the longest-serving Puerto Rican political prisoner in American history. Of his 36 years behind bars, he spent over a decade in solitary confinement. As Sandy Boyer wrote in SocialistWorker.org two years ago:

The government could never tie López Rivera to any injuries or loss of life suffered from the group's armed struggle. A 1980 Chicago Tribune editorial noted that FALN operations were "placed and timed as to damage property rather than persons," and that the group was "out to call attention to their cause rather than to shed blood."

U.S. officials resorted to charging López Rivera with seditious conspiracy, which has been used overwhelmingly against Puerto Rican nationalists. By contrast, no member of a right-wing militia has ever been convicted of seditious conspiracy....

López Rivera would be free today if he'd been willing to leave his imprisoned comrades behind. He was offered a pardon in 1999, when Bill Clinton pardoned 13 Puerto Rican political prisoners. He refused it because two of his comrades--José Alberto Torres and Haydée Beltráne--were excluded. He felt he shouldn't be free while they were still in prison. Since then, they have both been paroled, while López Rivera remains behind bars.

The demonization of López Rivera and his comrades served to obfuscate the far more destructive nature of the U.S.'s century-long terrorism in Puerto Rico--such as the forced sterilization campaign that left one-third of Puerto Rican women unable to give birth from 1936 to 1968, the Ponce Massacre that killed 19 Puerto Rican nationalists and bystanders, and the radiation experiments performed on an imprisoned Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the leading figure of the Puerto Rican independence movement.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo claimed to speak for Puerto Ricans by arguing that honoring López Rivera would detract from the true "purpose of the parade, which is to honor the Puerto Rican community, and honor our connections, and honor their culture."

In fact, López Rivera has broad support on the island--35,000 people marched in San Juan for his release in 2014--and he would have served as a better symbol of hope in the face of the island's prolonged crisis than a bunch of corporate logos next to the Puerto Rican flag.

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JUNE 11 happens to be the day of both the parade in New York City and a referendum in Puerto Rico on the island's colonial status.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello and his New Progressive Party are strongly pro-statehood and are positioning this referendum as a way to alleviate the budget crisis. Many observers believe that Rossello and his allies used the parade controversy to attack their opponents in the lead-up to the vote.

"The statehood party is very much threatened by what this parade represents and what Oscar López Rivera represents," claimed New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "And so now they're engaging in trying to force companies to withdraw, and making certain threats if they don't do so."

The solutions presented by statehood are limited. The vote is nonbinding and subject to congressional approval. Rossello's pleas to make Puerto Rico the 51st state will likely fall on the deaf ears of a Congress that is currently attempting to dismantle an already scant social safety net in the mainland and has no interest in adding a state in fiscal crisis.

Puerto Rico has been suffering from the crisis for years. Barack Obama's bipartisan solution to address the debt crisis--PROMESA--has only "promised" more austerity and ruin for ordinary Puerto Ricans.

An unelected Financial Oversight Board representing the very interests that put Puerto Rico in this terrible position now has authority over the island's governance. Not surprisingly, its recommendations include continued reduction of spending on K-12 and higher education, and health care; the sale of Puerto Rico's public resources, such as its shoreline; and the privatization of public utilities.

The callous handling of Puerto Rico's crisis is the latest episode in a long history of negligence by the U.S. government and plunder by American investors and vulture capitalists. The island's colonial status that Oscar López Rivera dedicated his life to fighting continues to limit its ability to fight this sustained injustice.

Those who claim that the Puerto Rican Day Parade shouldn't have "political" elements are ignoring the eternally political nature of the island's status and the conditions of its people at home and in the diaspora. Until Puerto Rico's colonial question is resolved, any talk of Puerto Rico will necessarily be political. And the parade is one of the most highly visible occasions for these discussions to happen.

Puerto Rico's moment now requires a revival of its history of resistance and struggle for self-determination.

Tens of thousands of students at the University of Puerto Rico are leading the way with an ongoing strike against cutbacks set forth by Rosello's government that would decimate the University of Puerto Rico system, raising tuition and closing the majority of its 11 campuses. The students are also calling for a national audit of Puerto Rico's debt, a demand that has the support of a majority of Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Ricans of the diaspora need a reason to look at their homeland as something more than a lost cause. Puerto Rican pride must be channeled into action.

Categories: Political Action

The season to protest for justice in Texas

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 01:00

Eric Nava-Perez, a migrant movement activist and organizer with the Sanctuary UT movement at the University of Texas, writes from Austin about the launch of a summerlong campaign to protest one of the most draconian anti-immigrant laws in the country.

Opponents of SB 4 in Texas launched a "Summer of Resistance" with protests in the Capitol building (Jeffrey Harland | SW)

ON MEMORIAL Day, immigrant rights activists in Texas kicked off their call for a "Summer of Resistance" against Senate Bill 4 (SB 4)--also known as the "Show Me Your Papers" bill.

People poured in from several states across the country in solidarity with immigrants and their struggle against the national onslaught launched by the Trump administration, and now the attack in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott last month signed legislation that the ACLU called "the worst racial profiling, anti-immigrant bill in the country."

SB 4 bars cities and universities from establishing sanctuary status for the undocumented. They can be fined $25,000 a day and officials, including police officers, jailed for failing to comply with federal requests for information on the immigration status of residents and students--and local police are allowed to ask about the status of not only people under arrest, but those who are deemed victims and even witnesses to crimes.

The May 29 demonstrations were primarily organized by United We Dream, the largest youth-led immigrant organization in the country, and supported by other groups, including Democratic Socialists of America, Education Austin, International Socialist Organization, Immigrants United, Workers Defense Project and University Leadership Initiative.

The day of action, which took place during the last day of the legislative session, began with almost 1,000 activists taking over the Texas House gallery.

Chants such as "Queer, undocumented and unafraid!" could be heard from outside, setting off physical altercations between Texas lawmakers. Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on protesters--and threatened to shoot state Rep. Poncho Nevarez for having tried to restrain Rinaldi in response to his initial threat to call ICE.

By 12 noon, protesters exited the House gallery, marched around the Capitol building a few times and held a brief speakout. Despite Rinaldi's intimidation tactics, the day wnded with a celebratory vibe, thanks in part to guest performers and their instruments.

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THE CITY of Austin has joined El Cenizo, El Paso and San Antonio in a federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of SB 4. "This law provides that an elected official, such as myself, could be removed from office for endorsing a policy that is contrary to Senate Bill 4," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "Lest there be any question, I am today endorsing a policy that is different from that set out in Senate Bill 4."

Organizers from United We Dream and other organizations promise more protests to come, along with the legal actions being pursued by city officials.

"I have lived in Houston for most of my life," said United We Dream organizer Karla Perez, a University of Houston graduate student who is undocumented. "This is my home. I am here to defend it and I'm here to stay...It is time to take action in the streets, in the courts, and on the airwaves."

The aim of immigrant rights activism during the Summer of Resistance will be to try to stop SB 4 before it goes into effect in September. There will be participation from Democrats like Adler, of course, but the movement will need to take care to maintain independence.

In 2006, the mega-marches and other protests were able to defeat federal legislation proposed by Republicans that would have criminalized all 13 million undocumented immigrants. But one slogan from that year was "Today we march, tomorrow we vote." That got us the deporter-in-chief Barack Obama.

While Obama was in office, it was the courageous direct actions of undocumented youth staging sit-ins and other actions that obtained the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We will need the same dedication to struggle to turn back the anti-immigrant agenda in Texas and around the country.

Categories: Political Action

Workers are exposing B&H abuse

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 01:00

Dave Peters reports on the continuing fight of warehouse workers at B&H Photo Video, which is trying to bust their newly formed union by relocating work.

Warehouse workers for B&H Photo rally in Brooklyn in defense of their jobs (Laundry Workers Center | Facebook)

HUNDREDS OF workers have been fighting for months to demand a first contract from B&H Photo Video, which is trying to bust the new union representing its mostly Latinx workforce.

In the midst of the first contract negotiations with the union, which was formed in January, the company announced plans to move over 330 Brooklyn warehouse jobs to a New Jersey facility over 75 miles away.

The predominantly low-wage, immigrant workers at the B&H warehouses voted in 2015 to join the United Steelworkers (USW) to demand better and safer working conditions and an end to the abuse and discrimination against Latinx workers.

Workers at the B&H warehouse had reported inadequate training to use heavy machinery, exposure to asbestos, long hours, lack of access to safety equipment, restricted access to bathrooms and drinking water, and systematic harassment.

"They treat us as if we were animals," said Florencio Salgado to Al Jazeera. "We are involved in this because we are tired of being abused."

What you can do

If you're in the New York City area, you can join the picket line at 420 9th Ave. in Manhattan on Fridays from 12 noon to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The majority of B&H's revenue comes from online sales, so you can also make a difference by spreading the word about B&H's practices on social media using #BHExposed.

Additionally, Latinx workers reported making significantly less than other workers at the warehouse, being passed up for promotions, receiving an unfair share of the harder physical labor, being subjected to more strenuous security screenings than other workers, and experiencing racist verbal abuse from managers.

"They make me feel as if I was nobody," said Jorge Lora, a leader in the unionization effort. "It makes me feel beaten down, like I'm a loser... I don't mind hard work, but what I don't like is the humiliation."

B&H, a company with over $100 million in annual revenue, has an alarming history of labor issues.

The Department of Labor sued B&H in February 2016 for discriminating against Latinx workers--nine years after the company was forced to pay Latinx workers a $4.3 million settlement for various forms of discrimination, including unequal pay rates, unequal promotion, and denial of health benefits.

B&H was also sued in 2009 by current and former female employees who claimed that women were not allowed to work in sales, and the company has been fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for dangerous workplace conditions.

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WITH ORGANIZATIONAL training and assistance from the Laundry Workers Center (LWC), a grassroots labor advocacy group, the warehouse workers at B&H successfully unionized in spite of a concerted effort by management and anti-union consultants to intimidate and threaten them.

In #a BHexposed video produced by the LWC, various workers testify to the reasons they decided to organize:

At B&H, all my co-workers are tired of the abuse. Because of this, we've decided to organize. Laundry Workers Center has trained us. They've taught us our rights, and how to defend ourselves.

We're fighting for a better future.

For no more verbal abuse.

We're here for respect.

Stop the discrimination.

We're here for a union.

After over a year of refusing to settle a contract with the union, B&H announced in January its intentions to move the warehouse jobs to the New Jersey facility in the second half of 2017.

"Moving to South New Jersey will make it difficult, and certainly a challenge, for employees currently relying on public transportation to accept employment offers at the new site," said USW district director John Shinn. "This is clearly an illegal tactic designed to avoid the company's obligation to bargain in good faith."

"We see this as an attempt to bust their union and stop the grassroots worker organizing that has resulted in concrete improvements at B&H," said Rosanna Rodríguez of the LWC.

The USW quickly filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, and the next stage of the struggle began.

Over 200 workers participated in a one-day strike on May Day. They drew many supporters to a picket line at the B&H retail store on the west side of Manhattan with signs demanding good jobs in New York City, flyers explaining their fight, and energetic chants of "What's disgusting? Union busting! What's outrageous? B&H wages!"

"We are here today to let B&H know that we, the workers, have the power," said warehouse worker Francisco Pimental. "We will not allow B&H to leave over 300 workers without a job."

After May 1, workers, supporters and members of other unions have continued to go out twice a week to picket, spread the word and apply pressure on the store. They recently organized a demonstration outside, and a direct action inside, of Optic 2017, a photography expo hosted by B&H, taking the stage and telling attendees about their host's many labor abuses.

Attendees of the expo found out that day something that the company already knows: Workers and their supporters are going to continue to fight for justice at B&H.

Categories: Political Action

4 Facebook posts that prove why shareables are a campaign organizer’s best friend

M&R - Wed, 06/07/2017 - 18:37

As you know, nearly half of the people who see your posts on Facebook aren’t actually, officially, your fans (if you didn’t know that, check out our quick primer on who really sees you on Facebook). If you’re a glass-half-empty kinda person, that might sound like bad news — what if your existing followers are the best conversion prospects you’ve got?

But you and I are marketers; we are optimists. We believe that if we can put the right content in front of the right people, we can change the world.

So when we’re reaching all those new folks who aren’t our followers (yet), we want them to do something (learn, change their mind, sign a petition, sign up for emails, make a donation, etc.).

Expand our reach, and move people to respond? Only one thing for the job: a shareable.

Share·a·ble (ˈSHerəbəl/) noun 1. A Facebook post that is specifically aimed at getting people to share it AND drive an action for your campaign. e.g. The shareable posted to Facebook as part of this campaign generated 35% of campaign signups.  

Anatomy of a Shareable
If a shareable is a Facebook post, that means it has two pieces:

1. Image: It must boil down your issue to something simple, emotional and attention-grabbing. It needs to compel people to want to share it…without you even asking.

2. Post Copy: A lot of people forget this part when they’re developing a shareable, but they need to be developed hand-in-hand. The copy is where you actually connect your share-worthy content to your campaign call to action.

How to make your image share-worthy

A critical element of the shareable is its inherent share-worthiness (is too a word!). Just whipping up a display ad and asking people to click Share isn’t going to cut it.

Here are 4 different types of shareables, and tips on how you can make them work for you:

1. Convey a Shocking Fact

SmokeFree Philippines
wanted to raise public support in the Philippines to help persuade President Duterte to sign an executive order banning smoking in public places. So they created an image of a shocking fact about tobacco use by children. Note that the call to action here was simple: share in order to spread awareness about tobacco companies’ shady tactics. We relied on supporters’ outrage to motivate them to take action…and it worked!

2. Announce Breaking News

of U.S. adults get news on social media, according to the Pew Research Center. Planned Parenthood Action Fund knows that, so they took a simple approach to this shareable and used it to announce breaking news about the impending House vote to repeal the ACA. By directly tying the news to an action, it enticed their supporters to share this post to educate others about the news, and more importantly, what they could do about it IRL (in this case, make a call to their Congressperson).

3. Affirm Your Viewer’s Identity

The Wildlife Conservation Society wanted people to contact an international body and encourage them to close ivory markets. So they appealed to people’s identity as wildlife lovers. When someone shares this, all their friends know that they care about elephants, and the post copy directs them to how they can actually DO something about that.

4. Quote Someone

Anyone with an instagram account or an aunt on Facebook knows that quotes are queen on social media. The American Cancer Society Relay For Life often turns inspirational quotes from well-known figures into shareables that appeal to their audience’s passion for fighting cancer. And in the caption of the photo, they connect that passion to registering for a Relay For Life fundraising event. People share these types of posts because they feel inspired by the message of the quote — and by doing so, they’re also spreading the word about Relay For Life far and wide.

And to prove that we really do follow our own advice, here’s the actual Facebook post we made to help promote this post (#soverymeta):

Make a particularly amazing shareable that you want to brag about? Tweet us @mrcampaigns!


4 Facebook posts that prove why shareables are a campaign organizer’s best friend. #nptech #sm4np https://t.co/vUmtLTzPrS

— M+R (@MRCampaigns) June 8, 2017

Categories: Political Action

EFF Sues DOJ For Records on Procedures for Ending NSL Gag Orders

Deep Links - Wed, 06/07/2017 - 13:26

San Francisco, California—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the Justice Department today to obtain records that can shed light on whether the FBI is complying with a Congressional mandate that it periodically review and lift National Security Letter (NSL) gag orders that are no longer needed.

The FBI has issued as many as 500,000 NSLs since 2003. Despite Congress requiring the FBI in 2015 to review and terminate unwarranted gag orders, only a handful of companies and individuals have publicly disclosed receiving an NSL after being notified the FBI terminated the gag orders.

NSLs are secret FBI demands to phone companies and Internet service providers for data about their customers’ communications and online activity. The letters are not subject to any meaningful oversight or court review and almost always come with a gag order. Companies receiving the letters are barred from telling customers their data is being sought and banned from publicly acknowledging or otherwise discussing the letters, potentially indefinitely.

Following a ruling in EFF’s lawsuit that NSL gags are unconstitutional, Congress enacted reforms in 2015 that require the bureau to review NSLs to determine whether the gag orders are still necessary, and terminate those that are not. The FBI established procedures under which a record keeping system generates reminders—when an NSL investigation closes or reaches the three-year anniversary of its initiation—that the gag order should be reviewed for possible termination.

EFF sent a FOIA request to the FBI in September seeking records about the number of NSLs reviewed under these procedures, the number of reminders generated, the number of termination notices sent to NSL recipients, and how long it takes for a review to begin after a reminder is generated. In March the FBI said it had no such records. In a complaint filed today in San Francisco, EFF asked a court to order the FBI to disclose the requested records.

“Unilateral, indefinite NSL gag orders violate the First Amendment rights of individuals and companies to speak out about government surveillance and inform customers about FBI demands for their data. The bureau’s procedures for lifting gag orders that are no longer needed do not fully address these constitutional concerns. Nevertheless, the public has an interest in knowing whether these procedures are being followed, and our FOIA request seeks to shed light on if the FBI is doing so,” said Andrew Crocker, EFF Staff Attorney.

“We would have expected the FBI to respond to our FOIA request with records about the gag orders that we know have been lifted. The FBI’s response that it has no such records raises serious questions about whether the bureau is following Congress’ command to review NSL gag orders,” said Aaron Mackey, EFF Frank Stanton Legal Fellow. “Gagging NSL recipients indefinitely is a draconian and overzealous use of surveillance power that prevents discussion and debate about government spying tools.”

For the complaint:

For more about NSLs:

Tags: National Security LettersContact:  AndrewCrockerStaff Attorneyandrew@eff.org AaronMackeyFrank Stanton Legal Fellowamackey@eff.org
Categories: Political Action