Political Action

4/13, Don't Bomb Syria! Let the refugees in!

The Boston Branch - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 16:16
ISO Public forum:  Don't Bomb Syria!  Let the refugees in! Thursday, April 13, 7pm 358 Washington Street Dorchester MA

The Trump administration recently ordered missile strikes in Syria, escalating previous U.S. military actions in the country. This adds to the bloodbath already raining down on the Syrian people by Syrian President Bashar al Assad allied with Russian military forces. All this is punishment for the revolutionary uprising by the Syrian people who have been repressed by Assad. Join this important discussion on how we need to mobilize against this latest atrocity by Trump, and oppose U.S and Russian imperialism and defend the Syrian revolution from Assad.
Categories: Political Action

Congress Is Home These Next Two Weeks. Will Members Hear from You?

Deep Links - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 16:12

Starting today, Congress is closed for the next two weeks so members of Congress can be home. That means if you want to tell your member of Congress how you feel on any specific topic, such as your thoughts on the repeal of your broadband privacy rights or the upcoming debate on network neutrality, you have enormous opportunities that will not last long.

Hearing directly from constituents is the most direct way to influence a member of Congress to change his or her vote as well as highlight issues that are critical to you. These next two weeks present a special opportunity to attend a town hall or district event near you. If you can't make the time to talk to your legislator or his staff in the next two weeks then make a plan to voice your opinion in the coming months. We've written this guide on how best to communicate your voice to Congress.

How to Find Out Where to Meet Your Member of Congress

The best way to meet your federal Representative is to contact the local office by phone and ask where you can meet your elected official. The staff is in a position to inform you where you can meet them because they are given the schedule for their time back home. Most times, this will be at a town hall or at a district event where the member of Congress will provide an update on current events and take questions. Other times, it will be at an event in the district where they deliver a keynote address and stay afterwards to talk to constituents. You should also consider subscribing to the online newsletters of your House member, as well as your state’s two senators, since they often email their local events directly to constituents and subscribers.

Tell Them You Opposed the Broadband Privacy Repeal

Congress was nearly evenly split on whether or not to keep your broadband privacy rights, with 50 votes in favor of repeal against 48 in the Senate and 215 in favor with 205 against in the House. That means the final vote ultimately came down to just eight votes in total (three in the Senate and five in the House). Ultimately, forcing Congress to correct its course would require flipping a very small number of those who sided with the cable and telephone industry over the Internet and Americans who use it.

Some in Congress are staunchly defending their vote by relying on myths or persuasive sounding—but ultimately superficial—claims that their votes to strip the FCC of jurisdiction perversely supported your right to privacy.

For example, expect to hear proponents of repeal to argue that the FTC is better situated than the FCC to handle privacy. It may be confusing to hear that the cable and telephone industry also prefer the FTC, until you find out that the Federal Trade Commission may not have the legal power to do anything: in 2016 AT&T's lawyers were successful in prompting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to declare that the FTC cannot enforce privacy law on cable and telephone companies because they are common carriers. When lawyers working for the cable and telephone industry attempt to replicate that legal victory across the country in the coming years it will render any contemporary push for FTC oversight really a play for no oversight.

So make no mistake: when you hear from your elected official about how great the FTC is and how they voted to help the FCC become the primary agency in charge of privacy, the fact of the matter is they voted to hamstring the only federal agency that has direct and explicit legal authority to oversee the activities of the cable and telephone industry—the FCC.

The other common refrain from proponents was voting to “level the playing field” because some members of Congress entertain the notion that your social media and email is on the same footing as your cable or telephone company. This ignores the fact that a majority of Americans have only one choice for high speed broadband access, in comparison to many choices among social media and email platforms. This false equivalence between dramatically different industry sectors was contrived by a narrative created by the cable and telephone lobby years ago. Moreover, the FCC is legally restricted to apply privacy protections to just cable and telephone companies because Congress wrote the law to apply to them due to their special position in the market. It has long been a legal tradition that communications platforms (in the past telephone, now broadband) are required to keep private information you disclose when you use the service confidential unless you grant it permission otherwise.

Cable and telephone companies have long wanted to remove legal restrictions that, for decades, had prevented them from selling your personal information to third parties. First, the Internet services you utilize typically do not charge you money, whereas you more than compensate your cable and telephone company with monthly subscription fees.

Tell Them to Protect Internet Freedom

Just last week, it was reported that the new FCC Chairman met with the cable and telephone industry to discuss how best to hand over the Internet to them. According to media accounts, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai intends to surrender the Internet to the cable and telephone industry by no longer enforcing net neutrality protections under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

The worst part about this plan is the FCC intends to do it in exchange for the cable and telephone industry promising they will not actively harm the free and open Internet for their corporate gain. Do you trust your cable and telephone company to not prioritize their own interests over yours?

Not only are these “promises” dubious as a legal matter, they cannot be held to keeping them once the FCC surrenders. Worst yet, no federal agency will be able to do anything about their activities. It is not surprising that this is the kind of plan that would be the product of a meeting with only cable and telephone executives. Since the FCC Chairman appears to be heading down a very destructive course of action for the free and open Internet, we need to mobilize to pressure Congress to push back on the FCC.

Here is what you need to do to pressure your elected represented to push back on the FCC plan:

  1. Call your Member of Congress, plus your state’s two Senators.
  2. Explain that you are a constituent, that you want to hear your Representative (or Senator) speak while home from Washington, and that you’d like the time & place for any town halls scheduled this week.
  3. Also ask to whom you should address a letter seeking a meeting with a staffer after this week’s recess is over.
  4. Recruit at least two neighbors, friends, or colleagues who live in your congressional district to join you.
  5. Attend a town hall, and ask a question of the speaker (ideally while an ally records video). Ask why they want ISPs to have the power to sell your browsing history, and whether they want to force the FCC to hand the Internet over to Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
  6. Publish your video online and share it through social media and encourage your friends to participate.
  7. If your group of local allies remains fired up and wants to do more, explore the Electronic Frontier Alliance.

Congress as a whole shares responsibility for overseeing and funding the activities of federal agencies. That power offers frequent opportunities to assert influence over the agencies’ plans. That means in the coming months as we fight back on terrible ideas from the FCC, it becomes imperative that you enlist your elected officials as defenders of a free and open Internet and make it explicit that it would be unacceptable for the FCC to stand down in the face of self-serving demands from cable and telephone companies.

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Categories: Political Action

Tax Marches: Taking Action Saturday

Move On - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 15:14

After dodging interest in his tax returns for months as a candidate, Donald Trump promised Americans when he stepped into the Oval Office that, like every other president for 40 years, he would disclose possible conflicts of interest by making public his tax returns.

And then, nothing. Which is more than we’ve come to expect from Donald Trump.

The good news is we don’t have to wait for Donald Trump to suddenly change his mind on Tax Day when he sees thousands stream by the White House demanding his tax returns.

Nope, Donald Trump doesn’t have to voluntarily release his taxes—because Congress can get them for us. They just haven’t yet.

The GOP-led House has already voted at least seven times on whether to compel Trump to release his taxes. But they’ve voted it down. The Ways and Means Committee has authority to review important tax returns, and have voted on doing so, but have voted to keep a secret who pays Trump and what Trump pays. And the Senate Intelligence Committee could subpoena Trump’s taxes; they just haven’t.

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

That’s where we come in. On April 15, widely known as Tax Day, we’re amping up that pressure with the Tax March. In Washington, D.C. and at over 100 events around the country, communities are coming together to demand from their representatives that they get us Trump’s tax returns.

Join us! Check out TaxMarch.org to learn about the effort and find an event near you.

Categories: Political Action

5 ways to stay engaged with immigration and the prison-industrial complex

American Friends Service Committee - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 14:49
Making a "Keep Families Together" sign Photo: AFSC/Lori Khamala

This list was created by Pedro Sosa from their workshop, "U.S. Criminal “Justice” system and the profit of private prison," at AFSC's 2017 Centennial summit. See this list and others from the summit online at afsc.org/5ways.  

1.  Learn about immigration.  

Categories: Political Action

4 ways to confront mass incarceration

American Friends Service Committee - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 14:45
"We pay for detention quotas" GUI banner Photo: AFSC/Arnie Alpert

This list was created by Matthew Lowen, Emily Verdugo, and Caroline Isaacs from their workshop, "Confronting Mass Incarceration in Arizona," at AFSC's 2017 Centennial summit. See this list and others from the summit online at afsc.org/5ways

Categories: Political Action

5 ways to undo racism

American Friends Service Committee - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 14:40
Youth at YUIR Freedom School 2014 Photo: AFSC/Nancy Wong

This list was created by Dominique Diaddigo-Cash and Jelani Brown from their workshop, "Youth Undoing Institutional Racism Freedom School," at AFSC's 2017 Centennial summit. See this list and others from the summit online at afsc.org/5ways

Categories: Political Action

Hacia la Implementación del Tratado de Marrakech en Uruguay

Creative Commons - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 14:19

El “Tratado de Marrakech para facilitar el acceso a obras publicadas a las personas ciegas, con discapacidad visual o con otras dificultades para acceder al texto impreso”, constituye un hito en la relación entre los derechos de autor y los DD.HH., siendo el primer tratado internacional consagrado con el objetivo exclusivo de proteger los derechos de acceso a la cultura y el conocimiento.

Dicho Tratado fue aprobado en el ámbito de la OMPI en el año 2013 y entró en vigor el 30 de setiembre de 2016. Desde su aprobación y ratificación, varios Estados parte se encuentran trabajando para lograr su efectiva implementación a nivel nacional.

La implementación del Tratado de Marrakech

Dos aspectos clave a tomar en cuenta para la implementación de Marrakech en las legislaciones nacionales son:

1) Marrakech constituye un mínimo de protección.  Las cláusulas mandatorias del tratado incluyen la obligación de establecer como mínimo las siguientes excepciones o limitaciones relacionadas con el acceso a las obras publicadas a las personas ciegas, con discapacidad visual o con otras dificultades para acceder al texto impreso:

  1. Excepción o limitación para la producción de obras en formatos accesibles.
  2. Excepción o limitación para la distribución y comunicación al público de obras en formatos accesibles.
  3. Excepción o limitación para la exportación (transferencia internacional) de obras en formatos accesibles.
  4. Excepción o limitación para la importación (introducción al país) de obras en formatos accesibles.
  5. Excepción a las Medidas Tecnológicas de control de Acceso (DRM)

Si bien en el cuerpo del Tratado se sugieren modelos de implementación para estas excepciones, estos modelos no son vinculantes. Las Partes Contratantes podrán incluir limitaciones y excepciones distintas a las previstas o con un mayor alcance, en la medida que se cumpla con la regla de los tres pasos presente en todos los acuerdos de DA y conexos.

2) La clave del éxito de Marrakech depende de la creación de redes internacionales con procesos ágiles de producción e intercambio de ejemplares accesibles, procurando evitar la duplicación de esfuerzos.

La mayor innovación del Marrakech es, sin lugar a dudas, la instauración de un régimen internacional de transferencia internacional de ejemplares en formato accesible, facilitando el intercambio y fortaleciendo la eficiencia de aquellas entidades habilitadas a realizar la producción y distribución de este tipo de obras. Estas instituciones deben contar con un marco normativo claro y compatible con el de las entidades de otros países. Un país miembro podrá establecer como requisito suficiente para la exportación que el país haya ratificado Marrakech o que su legislación lo permita, pero también podrá disponer otro tipo de restricciones. Esto último podría dificultar enormemente el análisis de la legalidad de la transferencia, operando de barrera en el intercambio. La redacción óptima de esta excepción será siempre la más simple y menos restrictiva.

El régimen de cooperación internacional encaminado a facilitar el intercambio transfronterizo previsto en Marrakech establece a la OMPI como punto de acceso a la información, por lo que la OMPI se encuentra actualmente trabajando en la creación de una base de entidades autorizadas a nivel mundial, un catálogo mundial de obras y mecanismos de análisis de la compatibilidad entre legislaciones (a través del Proyecto ABC). Entendemos que, la implementación óptima del tratado a nivel nacional, deberá efectuarse indefectiblemente en coordinación con la OMPI.

Implementación de Marrakech en Uruguay

Los días 23 y 24 de marzo tuvo lugar en la ciudad de Montevideo el “Seminario Nacional: El derecho a la accesibilidad. La excepción a los derechos de autor en la Ley de Derechos de Autor del Uruguay y la implementación del Tratado de Marrakech de la OMPI” coorganizado por el Consejo de Derechos de Autor del Ministerio de Educación y Cultura de Uruguay (CDA – MEC) y la OMPI.

En dicha ocasión, fue presentado y discutido el proyecto de Decreto reglamentario del Tratado elaborado por el CDA-MEC. A su vez, las diferentes instituciones del gobierno, academia y sociedad civil que se encuentran trabajando en proyectos de bibliotecas digitales accesibles, presentaron sus experiencias e inquietudes.

Destacamos algunos aspectos de la propuesta de Decreto Reglamentario presentado por el CDA- MEC de Uruguay:

  • Se implementa el Tratado mediante la instauración de excepciones, excluyendo el uso de licencias obligatorias o limitaciones con remuneración compensatoria. Este requisito de remuneración compensatoria sería un gran obstáculo o carga poco razonable, ya que los proyectos de bibliotecas digitales accesibles de países como Uruguay cuentan con pocos recursos e infraestructura. Por otra parte, no existiría nada que compensar cuando la oferta comercial de obras en este tipo de formatos es prácticamente inexistente.
  • Se propone la creación del “Registro de Obras e Instituciones Autorizadas comprendidas en la excepción de derecho de autor a favor de personas ciegas o con otras discapacidades para la lectura”, el registro será de carácter obligatorio e implicará la creación de un catálogo nacional de obras y de una nómina de instituciones autorizadas. Dicho Registro estará a cargo de la Biblioteca Nacional del Uruguay que además cumplirá con las funciones de control, coordinación y colaboración con las las instituciones autorizadas, así como la facilitación y estímulo del intercambio interinstitucional y transfronterizo.
  • El Proyecto de Decreto declara como “instituciones autorizadas” para proporcionar y producir ejemplares en formatos accesibles a las instituciones de enseñanza públicas y/o privadas, las Bibliotecas públicas o privadas y a dos asociaciones: la Unión Nacional de Ciegos del Uruguay y la Fundación Braille del Uruguay. De esta forma se facilita la existencia de proyectos de producción y distribución de ejemplares en formatos accesibles en estas instituciones. Se prevé que, para otro tipo de instituciones sin fines de lucro, exista un trámite de acreditación, autorización e inscripción en el registro.
  • Se habilita directamente a los beneficiarios del tratado (personas ciegas o con problemas de acceso al texto escrito) y a las personas que actúen en su nombre a producir e importar ejemplares en formato accesible, no solamente a las instituciones autorizadas.
  • El Proyecto de Decreto NO obliga a efectuar un análisis de mercado previo a la producción o distribución de cada ejemplar, con el fin de determinar la posibilidad de obtención comercial en condiciones razonables. Simplificando, de esta forma, el trabajo de las bibliotecas, instituciones educativas y fundaciones.
  • El Proyecto de Decreto plantea una redacción simple, clara y sin mayores restricciones para el caso de intercambio transfronterizo de obras: toda institución autorizada que se encuentre registrada podrá distribuir, comunicar o poner a disposición de las personas beneficiarias o para una institución autorizada establecida en otro país Parte Contratante del Tratado de Marrakech o de un país cuya legislación lo admita, las obras en formato accesible de su catálogo.
  • Por último, se establece la legalidad de la elusión de medidas de protección tecnológica en el marco de las actividades relacionadas con estas excepciones. Por lo que, por ejemplo, desencriptar o desactivar la protección tecnológica de un archivo que contenga una obra, para producir un ejemplar accesible, no sería sancionable por el delito penal previsto en el artículo 46 de la ley de derecho de autor de Uruguay.

Consideramos que la reglamentación propuesta por el Consejo de Derechos de Autor del Uruguay es un buen modelo a seguir, esperamos sea aprobada a la brevedad por el Poder Ejecutivo.

The post Hacia la Implementación del Tratado de Marrakech en Uruguay appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Washington's cynical use of refugee children

Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 01:00

Nicole Colson examines the cruel hypocrisy of an administration that cynically exploits the plight of Syrian refugees, even as it consigns them to misery and death.

Syrian refugees are met by aid workers in Greece after crossing the Mediterranean (Ben White | flickr)

NO, DONALD Trump did not suddenly grow a conscience and a soul and begin to care about the slaughter of Syrian civilians.

The naked cynicism of Trump's rhetoric as he announced U.S. airstrikes on the Shayrat Syrian Arab Air Force base last week was apparent to anyone who's been paying attention.

Invoking the horrifying loss of life resulting from the Syrian government's use of sarin gas against civilians, Trump declared that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack."

But Syria's "helpless men, women and children" have been dying for years and desperately pleading for safe passage to Western nations, including the U.S. Rather than welcoming the "beautiful babies" and the Syrian families fleeing "barbaric attacks," however, Trump has seized every opportunity to whip up racism and Islamophobia against refugees--scapegoating an already embattled population as a terrorist menace.

First on the campaign trail and then in office, Trump has repeatedly called for "strong borders" and "extreme vetting" of those seeking refuge in the U.S. While he's expressing sorrow for Syrian babies today, in February of last year, he declared at a campaign rally that he would have no problem looking Syrian children "in their faces and say[ing] 'you can't come,'" because "we don't know where their parents come from...They may be [members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria]...It could be a Trojan horse."

Around the same time, Donald Trump Jr. even compared Syrian refugees to poisoned candy: "If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem."

Less than 100 days into Trump's presidency, he has twice attempted to ban those seeking to enter the U.S. from Syria and other majority-Muslim nations. In making his case for the revised travel ban last month, Trump and others in his administration repeatedly--and without any evidence--claimed that more than 300 people who entered the U.S. as refugees were the subject of counterterrorism investigations.

But as the Washington Post pointed out, to put that in perspective, that number represents just one-fifteenth of 1 percent of refugees admitted from the six countries targeted by Trump's revised travel ban since 9/11--and it's not clear what, if any, charges have ever been brought in any of these investigations. Further, according to the FBI, in 2016 there were at least 1,000 open investigations into "homegrown violent extremists."

All of this underscores Trump's hypocrisy: You can't demonize those fleeing warzones as a terrorist menace in one breath and use that as continued justification for policies that put their lives in danger, but then turn around and use their suffering as an excuse for war in another.

As Syrian-Canadian writer Yazan al-Saadi bitterly commented on Democracy Now!:

[Trump's] playing a game. He's playing a game...

I'm sorry, but when he's talking about the cruel suffocation of babies--right?--this is a man that doesn't mind these babies drowning on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea with their family trying to escape the horrors of Syria. This man doesn't mind bombing places in Iraq, where hundreds of people have died. This man doesn't mind supporting Saudi Arabia, the world's most embarrassing country, in its slaughter of Yemen. This man doesn't mind making a deal with Bashar al-Assad, a revolting tyrant, in order to fight ISIS. So, I can't really take him seriously...

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AT THE end of March, according to the United Nations, the number of refugees who have fled Syria officially passed the 5 million mark--with another 6.3 million displaced internally within the country's borders--a staggering number given the country's pre-war population of more than 22 million.

Among the 5 million who have escaped the country is Yasmine Mashaan, a pharmacy technician from the town of Muhassan in eastern Syria. Mashaan, who now lives in Germany, was forced to flee with her five children in fear for her life. Her brothers and husband had been arrested and tortured at various points during the conflict--and four of her five brothers were eventually killed (three by Assad's regime and another by Islamic State forces).

Mashaan told the New York Times that Trump's newfound sympathy for the plight of the Syrian people rings hollow. "It would be great if [Trump] continued this in the direction of saving more civilians or establishing a safe zone, but after his racist speeches and anti-refugee policy, I think the strike is more for popularity," she said.

In fact, even as Trump continued to talk about the plight of Syrian babies, administration officials defended his smearing of refugees as possible terrorists. When questioned this week, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley declared on CNN's State of the Union that Trump's military response was "compassionate," but couldn't explain the continued refusal to allow in refugees.

When host Jake Tapper incredulously asked Haley, "Certainly you don't think Syrian children pose a risk to the American people?" she responded, "Well, Syrian children have to come with Syrian adults. And you don't know. It's hard to know based on the vetting process."

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EVEN DEMOCRATS--who overwhelmingly cheered Trump's use of U.S. bombs against the Syrian regime--brought up the hypocrisy of Trump's attacking Syria to ostensibly save civilian lives while denying refugees entry into the U.S.

Chief among them was Hillary Clinton--long an advocate of increased U.S. military intervention in Syria--who, at a political event in Texas on April 7, said that she hoped the Trump administration would "recognize that we cannot in one breath speak of protecting Syrian babies and in the next close American doors to them."

Clinton's words ring hollow. The Obama administration, it should be pointed out, was hardly welcoming of refugees, Syrian or otherwise. In 2015, when the images of Aylan Kurdi--the Syrian toddler who drowned along with his mother and brother in the Mediterranean--shocked millions around the globe, the Obama administration accepted a total of just 1,682 Syrian refugees into the U.S. In 2016, just 12,587 refugees from Syria were admitted to the U.S.

These are pitiful amounts considering the millions who have been forced to flee. The world's richest country--whose economic and military policies are a major contributing factor to the largest ongoing refugee crisis since the Second World War--should be doing far more to aid refugees, including opening its doors to those fleeing the violence.

Clinton in particular deserves to be singled out for her own hypocrisy regarding refugees. The failed presidential candidate who today is criticizing Trump for "closing the doors" to Syrian children showed little concern for the plight of refugee children when, in 2014, she advocated closing U.S. borders to children fleeing violence in Latin America.

"They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are," Clinton said of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border. "We have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't mean the child gets to stay. We don't want to send a message that's contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey."

Today, it's imperative that activists put the plight of refugees front and center--and refuse to allow racist and Islamophobic scapegoating to go unchallenged.

But as Bashir Abu-Manneh put it in a piece for Jacobin magazine, simply being for the rights of refugees and calling for them to be let in also is not enough.

The left needs to not only call for an end to the U.S. imperial policies that cause so much suffering in Syria and beyond, we also must support the right of ordinary Syrians to determine their own fate--including their right to rise up against Assad's brutality:

Being contra-empire and pro-refugee is not enough. It is simply unacceptable to stand by and see a brutal regime like Assad's get away with emptying Syria of its own people. Syrians have a right both to live and to live freely in their homeland. No regime should be allowed to massacre its own people or force them into a life of permanent exile and displacement.

If the answer to Israel's colonial persecution and dispossession of Palestinians is to help Palestinians stay in their homeland and fight for their rights, then the same solidarity principle should apply to Syrians.

Do open your borders to the wretched of the earth, but also stand in solidarity with the fight for their rights in their homeland.

Categories: Political Action

Arkansas speeds up its death machine

Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 01:00

Lily Hughes of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty reports on Arkansas’ cruel acceleration of executions, and why no execution method is "humane."

ARKANSAS IS poised to add a grisly twist to the horror story that is the death penalty, after Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered prison officials to carry out seven executions in just 11 days.

The state plans to execute two prisoners at a time over a series of days--Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward on April 17, Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson on April 20, Marcel Williams and Jack Jones Jr. on April 24 and Kenneth William on April 27.

Williams was also supposed to have a partner in the death house, but Jason McGehee was granted a reprieve from execution this week.

The state is rushing to carry out this series of barbaric double state-murders because its supply of the execution drug midazolam is about to expire. Drugs for use in executions have become extremely difficult for states to procure.

For many years, states bought drugs from pharmaceutical companies in Europe, but in the last decade abolitionists waged a successful campaign to stop European companies from selling these drugs for executions. Supplies started to dwindle, and over the last few years, many states have resorted to desperate, and sometimes illegal, methods to procure them.

Texas went from administering a three-drug execution protocol to just one drug, trying out a few different drugs in the process. When they still had trouble obtaining drugs for use in executions, they turned to unregulated compound pharmacies in Texas. Soon, those pharmacies became unwilling to involve themselves in the execution controversy. In October 2015, federal authorizes seized a shipment of drug sodium thiopental purchased by Arizona and Texas from abroad, arguing that importing it was illegal.

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MEANWHILE, OTHER states have brought back archaic execution methods.

Utah revived the firing squad in 2015, the same year that Oklahoma passed a bill authorizing the use of the gas chamber for executions. In the era of lethal injection, these old methods of execution appear grossly macabre. Yet despite its appearance as a sanitized and quasi-medical execution method, lethal injection is as barbaric as all the rest.

Introduced in the late 1970s by an Oklahoma state medical examiner as a less painful execution technique, lethal injection was never approved by the FDA, much less subject to any clinical trial. In fact, a 2012 study by researchers at Amherst College showed that it was the most error prone of any execution method.

The new drug protocols adopted by states, which includes experimenting on death row prisoners with a variety of drugs, has led to a series of gruesomely drawn out executions. Midazolam has been included in several of these executions, including the grisly execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in 2014. Lockett reportedly writhed in pain on the table, while officials attempted to halt the execution. Lockett died on the execution table over 40 minutes after the execution began. Midazolam was implicated in botched executions in Ohio and Arizona in 2014.

None of this has given pause to Hutchinson however. Discussing the use of midazolam, he recently told NPR, "In order to fulfill my duty as governor, which is to carry out the lawful sentence imposed by a jury, it is necessary to schedule the executions prior to the expiration of that drug."

Arkansas hasn't carried out an execution in 12 years, and hasn't previously used midazolam in its execution protocol. Nor has it carried so many executions in such a short time. In fact, the state is having a hard time rounding up the required number of witnesses for the executions, leading Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley to ask members of a Little Rock Rotary Club to volunteer.

Predictably, a number of the men slated for execution in this horrific plan have serious issues in their cases. One man is diagnosed as bipolar, another as schizophrenic, and two others meet the threshold for intellectual disability. Others, like Ledell Lee, have claims of inadequate representation during trial and post-conviction. These issues are further complicated by the fact that in Arkansas, clemency appeals can't be initiated until the execution date is set.

"In some of these guys' cases, [the deadline] was, like, 10 days from the day they learned they had an execution date," public defender John Williams told NPR.

This process hasn't left enough time to mount an effective clemency appeal, he explained. In his case, Williams represent four of the men scheduled to die--making pursuing various legal avenues and assembling clemency packages a herculean task.

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ARKANSAS IS proposing this spate of executions at a critical time in death penalty history. Support for the death penalty has fallen dramatically over the last two decades.

A Pew Research Survey in 2016 found that support for the death penalty nationally had dropped below 50 percent--the first time since the early 1970s that the death penalty hasn't had majority support from the American people.

Botched executions and challenges to lethal injection protocol are just one part of this declining support. The number of innocent people released from death row, including a series of campaigns around high-profile death penalty cases like that of Troy Davis in Georgia who was executed in 2011, have helped spark a national conversation about the death penalty.

Over the last few decades, abolitionists have successfully highlighted the role that racism and class bias has played in the application of the death penalty. A growing number of states have abolished the death penalty--19 as of 2017. Of the states that have the death penalty, 17 haven't had an execution in more than five years.

The number of death sentences carried out has also dropped dramatically in almost every state--including Texas, the "belly of the beast" for executions. In 2016, 20 people were executed in the U.S., down from a high of 98 in 2000, which was the most in a single year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The decline in support for and use of the death penalty in the U.S. has led many to conclude that the death penalty is dying--but a handful of states are bucking the trend. If Arkansas succeeds in its plan to carry out this gruesome series of executions, it will join states like Oklahoma and Texas that are fighting tooth and nail to maintain an outmoded and barbaric system.

Categories: Political Action

Parents occupy a school to save it

Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 01:00

Peter Lamphere reports on a dramatic action by New York City parents determined to remove the abusive principal of Central Park East 1, a historic progressive school.

Parents at Central Park East 1 High School in East Harlem occupy their school

PARENTAL ANGER boiled over last week at an East Harlem school as parents occupied the building to demand the resignation of an abusive and out-of-control principal.

Monika Garg took over administration of Central Park East 1 (CPE1)--a historic progressive elementary school--a year and a half ago, and swiftly alienated staff and parents.

With little background in the progressive, child-centered pedagogy on which the school was based, she began disciplinary investigations on every experienced teacher at the school, culminating in the removal of the school's United Federation of Teachers (UFT) delegate, and then Marilyn Martinez, the union chapter leader (a position similar to shop steward in other unions).

A number of parents started the Save CPE1 campaign last year after the first teacher was removed from the school—on charges that were later proven false when the family at the center of the case spoke out. Parents were especially upset that Garg’s investigations often involved interviewing young elementary school students without their parents’ consent or knowledge.

The removal of Martinez, who is a beloved teacher as well as a union activist, sparked a new level of urgency and resistance. Parents and teachers rallied to her defense, packing the disciplinary hearings for Martinez, pushing the UFT to take action.

Some 60 percent of families at the school signed a letter stating no confidence in the Garg's leadership. Parents presented this statement and demanded Garg's resignation at a School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting on April 6.

What you can do

Visit the Save CPE1 website and sign the campaign's petition to show your support and to get updates about the campaign.

Over 100 parents and community supporters, including local City Council member Bill Perkins, packed the meeting, which was forced to move into the school's auditorium. Impassioned parents spoke about the damage Garg had done to the school, through her lack of concern and understanding for the school's pedagogical culture and her removal of some of the school's leading teachers.

It was an explosive meeting. The room was stunned as one parent recounted through tears how Principal Garg had urgently called her to school to say that her child had been abused by a teacher--and then emotionally begged the parent to press criminal charges. When the parent determined this charge to be false, she and her child were traumatized as a disciplinary process she did not want to pursue proceeded and Garg failed to provide counseling or other support.

Due to the Department of Education's (DOE) secretive investigation process, this was the first time that many parents had heard this story--almost 14 months after the teacher’s removal. The room erupted in a standing ovation and shouts of support for the parent.

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AFTER WEEKS of appeals from parents and teachers for support from the teachers union, UFT Assistant Secretary LeRoy Barr finally appeared on behalf of embattled union members and said that the city's education chancellor Carmen Fariña needed to take responsibility for the situation at CPE1. "When a school is facing this kind of crisis," Barr said, "it is the employer's responsibility."

CPE 1 parents were also joined by parents and teachers from other progressive schools and education justice groups.

The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), a social justice caucus inside the UFT, has backed the struggle at CPE 1 since the beginning and helped organize support from teachers from other schools.

A small contingent of teachers from a progressive school in the Bronx came and spoke about the role that CPE 1 has played in inspiring and educating other schools.

Kemala Karmen, a parent leader in movement to opt out of state standardized tests, spoke to the importance of democracy in our schools and lambasted Garg for relying on other administrators to speak on her behalf at the meeting.

Finally, at the end of the meeting, parents stood up and responded to Garg's declaration that she had no intention of leaving by replying that they weren't going to leave either, and initiated a sit-in demanding her removal.

Dozens supporters stayed in the auditorium to join the occupying parents, and an impromptu speak-out ensued.

A substitute teacher spoke about how Garg had secretly given her an unsatisfactory rating without any warning. The rating was overturned when the teacher appealed it, but it was a stunning revelation to parents who had just heard Garg claim that she had never given a teacher an unsatisfactory rating in her career.

Singing civil rights songs, seven parents stayed the entire night in the school, suffering through low temperatures after the principal ordered the heat turned off. For the first six hours they were denied access to the bathroom, until a DOE official discovered the bucket being used as a makeshift bathroom and opened access. Outside the school, supporters kept up a spirited rally until past midnight.

Marilyn Martinez couldn't speak in her own defense at the meeting because she's not allowed on school property. But her presence was powerfully felt as she stood across the street with duct tape covering her mouth and a sign reading "when you can't speak, when you can't breathe, #abusiveadministrators".

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CITY OFFICIALS made it clear to the parent protesters that they had no desire to make arrests and risk potentially negative publicity. But parents are enraged that the police and DOE chose to have a massive show of force at the doors as school resumed the following morning.

Children had to enter or walk past close to a dozen uniformed and armed police officers clustered in the entry to the school. Parents, who are usually allowed to bring children up to the classroom, were not allowed into the building

Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, co-chair of the schools Parents Association, expressed the anger many in the CPE1 community felt that morning:

Although I begged and pleaded with the police officers as I was watching children cry, they told me that the DOE called the shots. Everyone knew the parents inside the auditorium posed no threat and that a police presence was completely unnecessary. I believe they wanted to intimidate and deter parents from organizing because they know we fear the impact on our children.

But the DOE and Garg, not those of us standing up for justice, are responsible for creating a situation in which young children had to walk through a crowd of police to go to school. They cared more about their public relations image then they did about the safety and emotional well-being of our children.

The parent occupiers decided to end the occupation that morning after being promised an onsite meeting with DOE officials. They spent their early morning hours in the auditorium planning with supporters on the outside for a press conference and large rally of parents in front of the school.

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FOLLOWING THE press conference, parents met with DOE officials, who again told them that they are committed to making it work with Garg. A few days later, the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio informed parents that the mayor would not be meeting with them since the DOE is "handling it".

"These administrators repeated the same failed promises they've been making for the past eight months," says Jen Roesch, one of the occupying parents. "In response to media requests, they've said they are putting together a 'panel of experts' to help our school. We already have experts--they are the veteran teachers who are being harassed by our principal and they are the parents who have dedicated themselves to this school."

Garg knows that she has the backing of the DOE, which is why she opened the SLT meeting with a written statement that declared, "Just to be very, very clear I am not going anywhere."

But the occupation was successful in putting a spotlight on the crisis Garg has created. When de Blasio was doing his weekly radio spot on the Brian Lehrer show on April 7, he was asked about CPE1 and replied, "It is a school with a very powerful history. We have a lot of things to resolve... this is unusually strong reaction of parents... I want to understand better what the concerns are."

In fact, the de Blasio administration has been aware of the situation for over a year and done nothing. And this isn't the only situation in which the city's supposedly progressive mayor has stood behind an abusive principal.

There is a similar battle against Rosemarie Jahoda, acting principal of Townsend Harris High School in Queens. Townsend Harris students read a statement of solidarity at the CPE1 SLT meeting, stating that the DOE has "been ignoring our voices all year and we feel this process is rigged. We at Townsend Harris understand your struggle and stand behind you in your efforts."

It will take continued protest and action, from both families and teachers, to keep the pressure up and force DOE action. The Save CPE1 campaign has already achieved unprecedented level of support and activity from families, but it will need to keep organizing wider support from teachers and parents from around the city.

And with the de Blasio administration seemingly determined to ignore the will of the vast majority of the CPE1 community, parents are indicating that this there may be more dramatic actions to come in their efforts to force Garg out and save Central Park East 1.

Categories: Political Action

"Freedom" from health care

Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 01:00

Jacob Cook examines the career of North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows in the wake of his efforts to protect health care companies' profits at our expense.

Rep. Mark Meadows (Gage Skidmore | flickr)

NORTH CAROLINA Republican Rep. Mark Meadows has been grabbing headlines as leader of the faction within the GOP that derailed the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

Though Donald Trump publicly blamed Democrats for defeating his pledge to repeal Obamacare, the truth is that the Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House--and the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right Tea Party-aligned group of about 30 congressional representatives, is chiefly responsible for denying Trump the majority he needed to get his legislation through the House of Representatives.

Meadows' unremarkable career has mostly involved repeated failed efforts to repeal Obamacare--while collecting donations from the finance, insurance and real-estate sectors. Installed into the U.S. House in 2012 thanks to gerrymandering by the North Carolina General Assembly and funding from right-wing PACs, the Koch brothers, and student loan companies, Meadows joined the effort to shut down the federal government in 2013. This was itself a move to repeal Obamacare.

Along with other Freedom Caucus members, Meadows endorsed Paul Ryan to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House in 2015.

As noted by Trump during the confrontation over the AHCA, Meadows supported Trump during his presidential campaign. Like the various right-wing advocacy groups that he represents or is allied with, such as FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, Meadows extols the virtues of free trade, free markets and opposition to regulation of industry as ways to improve the lives of everyday people.

Meadows' biggest chance yet to settle his political debts and justify his existence to his benefactors came recently with the Republican attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. However, not only did he and his fellow conservatives fail to repeal Obamacare, they actually torpedoed the efforts to do so and in the process angered leading Republicans such as Trump and Ryan.

The Freedom Caucus opposed Trumpcare for three main reasons: the legislation did not lift the requirement on insurance companies to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions; it did not put enough restrictions on the types of illnesses that insurance must cover, and; it did not prevent young people from being covered under their parents' insurance up to the age of 26.

In other words, when Meadows and other conservatives blather on about free markets and deregulation, what they mean is that workers should be deprived of the basic necessities of life, including health care, in order to protect their corporate backers' "rights" to hoard the wealth created by labor.

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MEADOWS' OPPOSITION to Trumpcare isn't based on compassion for the more than 400,000 North Carolinians denied health care due to his party's refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid. It's based on his loyalty to the corporate lobbies and PACs that helped place him and his kind into office.

These are his real constituents.

All of the representatives in the House Freedom Caucus are funded by lobbyists and professional groups--and especially wealthy conservatives such as the Koch brothers, whose net worth is more than $44 billion each. To give a sense of how much wealth this really is, for the 81-year-old Charles Koch this is the equivalent of collecting more than $62,000 per hour from the moment he was born. (North Carolina's median household income is about $45,906 per year.)

Keeping the focus on Meadows' actual constituents, taking only half of the Koch brothers' hoarded gold would cover the cost of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina for the next decade, extending health insurance coverage to at least 400,000 people.

Here in the 11th district of North Carolina, the local chapter of Our Revolution--the political organization that's emerged from Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign--is demanding Mark Meadows appear at a town hall this April 23 to face voters' anger over his attempts to repeal Obamacare.

While activities like this are a good opportunity for people to meet and discuss the tactics that will help us win health care for all, North Carolinians especially should harbor no illusions in the Democratic Party after their shameful compromise on HB 2, a state law attacking the rights of transgender people.

We must organize larger and more frequent mobilizations that unite demands for expanded access to, and full funding of, health care, child care, housing and education with the broader fight for workers' rights, including living wages, wage equality and paid parental and sick leave.

The Republican disunity around Obamacare repeal will be temporary. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has announced plans to push for a Medicare-for-all single-payer system. This effort is likely to face strident opposition from both parties.

That will make it even more important for our side to build the struggle to fight for the kind of health care we deserve--because without overwhelming pressure from the grassroots, single payer has no chance of being implemented.

Categories: Political Action

The roots of the Russian subway bombing

Socialist Worker - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 01:00

A suicide bomber set off a blast in a subway train in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on April 3, killing 14 people and injuring dozens more. A second, larger bomb was defused. The bomber was identified as 22-year-old Akbarjon Djalilov, from Kyrgyzstan, one of the central Asian countries that were once republics of the USSR.

The Russian government led by President Vladimir Putin immediately labeled the attack the work of "Islamic terrorists." This has been a familiar theme during Putin's highly repressive reign. Islamist organizations have been a main part of the resistance to Putin's draconian crackdown and worse within the Russian Federation--for example, in Chechnya in the Caucasus region of Southwestern Russia, where the Russian military twice laid waste to whole cities in combatting an insurgency.

This isn't the first suicide bombing in a major Russian city, but the identity of the suicide bomber has shifted attention from the Caucasus region further east to the large central Asian countries that gained independence after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, but remain connected and subordinate to Russia. Yurii Colombo writes from Russia to provide background on the desperate conditions in Central Asia that give rise to violence, in an article written for Italy's Il Manifesto newspaper, and translated by Doniella Maher.

A memorial honors the victims of a bombing in the St. Petersburg metro

THE THREAT of terrorism committed by Islamist organizations in Russia doesn't come only from the North Caucasus, but also from central Asian countries. Thus, the main suspect in the St. Petersburg subway bombing is from Kyrgyzstan.

In the republics of Central Asia--and in particular, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan--there has been, since the 1990s, a re-emergence of fundamentalism and the birth of strong Islamist organizations. In the rest of the central Asian region, the long borders of China, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan have created a magnet for many Islamist groups and a route for the trafficking of narcotics.

The regimes that have been imposed in these states after the fall of the USSR are characterized by nepotism, corruption and mismanagement of public affairs, retaining the old vices of the old Stalinist bureaucracy. In fact, the new regimes are generally still governed by the same politicians who 30 years ago abandoned the roles of functionaries of the Communist Party and embraced those of managers of neoliberalism.

Chronic unemployment and the collapse of the old Soviet welfare state have forced many citizens of these states to emigrate to Russian and European cities, where they are now at the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder. Uzbekistanis, Tajiks and Kyrgs find themselves in some of the most difficult and poorly paid occupations and are often the objects of xenophobic attacks and pogroms.

Overall, the elite of these countries have retained the traditional secularism. None have declared Islam the state religion, and they have maintained the separation between church and state. The objective was, and is, to impede the emergence of any potential threats to the direction of their governments.

Through collaborating with Russian authorities for many years, they have been able to constrict the political and military activity of armed Islamist groups, which has stayed at a low level. The number of Jihadist militants who have gone to Russia has remained limited.

The relative influence of radical Islam in the region has for a long time been the product of internal divisions over the interpretation of the Koran, the relationship with modernity and the use of violence as an instrument of struggle. Despite this, the failure of the political establishment to create economic development, the absence of social mobility, and the regimes' political repression have given new impetus to fundamentalist groups in the region.

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KYRGYSTAN IS a good example.

According to the United Nations Development Program, the country's basic institutions, like the education system, have been collapsing for years. One-third of the population is under the poverty line, and the median salary is equivalent to $190 a month. Nearly 20 percent of the population has emigrated to Russia, and the earnings sent back to their families represent 30 percent of gross domestic product. The frequent nationalist clashes with the neighboring Uzbekistani population have already threatened the stability of a diverse society with dozens of ethnicities.

The Islamic groups represent a call for a tentative, if distorted, attempt to give social cohesion to the country. Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Salafist group that officially refutes the use of violence, but has been outlawed for its links to ISIS, has thousands of supporters in the country.

Since 2015, ISIS has reportedly circulated a propaganda video to recruit fighters for the war in Iraq and Syria. In September 2016, a car bomb was used to attack the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgystan capital. The 26-year-old responsible was identified as a militant of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement.

In this context, we cannot be surprised that Kyrgs have been recruited to ISIS to fight in Syria. According to reports, of the 3,000 to 4,000 ISIS combatants from the central Asian countries, 800 are from Kyrgyzstan.

The possible ending of the conflict in Syria with a victory for the regime has, paradoxically, created major internal dangers to Putin's Russia. A large percentage of the ex-fighters from Syria are now re-entering illegally and trying to find additional converts within the Kyrg, Uzbeki, and Tajik communities.

The devastated economic crisis that has hurt Russia for the last two years has done nothing to diminish the suffering and frustration of Muslim residents, many of whom are naturalized citizens of Russia, and this in turn gives new lifeblood to extremist groups.

This is also why the harshly repressive response from the Russian government is myopic and counterproductive--and could open new and profound tensions in Russia and nearby regions.

Categories: Political Action