Political Action

FOIA Uncovers Part of U.K. Shadow Regulation on Search Engines and Copyright

Deep Links - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 18:25

Last month we wrote about the adoption of a new secret agreement between copyright holders and the major search engines, brokered by the U.K. Intellectual Property Office, aimed at making websites associated with copyright infringement less visible in search results. Since the agreement wasn't publicly available, we simultaneously issued a request under the U.K.'s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), asking for a copy of the text. Today we received it.1

The agreement requires search engines to:

expand efforts to more effectively use [copyright infringement] notices to demote domains demonstrated to be dedicated to infringement, and work collaboratively with rights holders to consider other technically reasonable, scalable avenues empirically demonstrated to help materially reduce the appearance of illegitimate sites in the top search rankings.

Even before this agreement, Google had already begun to factor the Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices issued against websites into its search ranking algorithm, and Google has confirmed to us that the agreement won't cause it to do anything differently than it was already doing. However the difference is that its independent efforts to demote links associated with copyright infringement are now taking place under an explicit threat of government regulation if it doesn't make good enough progress by 1 June.

It's important to know, then, what amounts to "good enough". And, wouldn't you know it, we can't answer that question because the metrics for measuring progress under the agreement were redacted. The response to our FOIA request explains:

Disclosure of this agreement in full would compromise its effectiveness in combatting copyright piracy, resulting in the perpetuation of commercial detriment of legitimate copyright holders.  In effect, disclosure of the exempt information could assist persons intent on circumventing an agreed anti-piracy measure.

The redacted information is also exempt under section 31(1)(a), which relates to the prevention or detection of crime.  Disclosure of the redacted information could compromise the effectiveness of the Code as a measure to prevent or reduce the likelihood of copyright theft.

What we can be sure of, though, is that the more search engines tighten the criteria that demote websites from the top rankings, the more legitimate websites will trigger a false positive against these criteria, and be unfairly demoted. The U.K. agreement actually recognizes this, stating:

A whitelist process would need to be created to exclude legitimate sites that could be caught within this lower threshold. For an agreed sample of searches using neutral queries in conjunction with artist or content name, the aggregate results should be as follows...

The remainder of that paragraph, though, was also redacted—and a footnote (we would guess added by the copyright lobbyists) notes "Any such process will need to include a mechanism for challenging entries which are not clearly legitimate websites".

For a company that previously sustained a record $500m settlement for failing to kow-tow to the demands of rights holders, there are obvious reasons why Google has played along with this process so far. However it must be very careful that its acquiescence to this shadowy regulation doesn't escalate into a series of capitulations to copyright holder demands. You can read the full text of the agreement that we obtained below.

%3Ciframe%20class%3D%22pdf%22%20webkitallowfullscreen%3D%22%22%20mozallowfullscreen%3D%22%22%20allowfullscreen%3D%22%22%20src%3D%22https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eff.org%2Fsites%2Fall%2Flibraries%2Fpdf.js%2Fweb%2Fviewer.html%3Ffile%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.eff.org%252Ffiles%252F2017%252F03%252F06%252Fsearch_and_copyright_agreement_signed.pdf%22%20data-src%3D%22https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eff.org%2Ffiles%2F2017%2F03%2F06%2Fsearch_and_copyright_agreement_signed.pdf%22%20height%3D%22700%22%20frameborder%3D%22no%22%20width%3D%22600%22%3Ehttps%3A%2F%2Fwww.eff.org%2Ffiles%2F2017%2F03%2F06%2Fsearch_and_copyright_agreement_signed.pdf%3C%2Fiframe%3E Privacy info. This embed will serve content from eff.org
  • 1. We were not the only people to make such a FOIA request. TJ McIntyre from Digital Rights Ireland also made one and received the same information in return.

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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn Members in Georgia Endorse Inclusive Populist Jon Ossoff for U.S. House, Vow to Take ACA Fight to Ballot Box

Move On - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 15:01

MoveOn: Republicans Will Pay Political Price for Backing Trump’s Agenda, ACA Repeal

GEORGIA — Georgia members of MoveOn.org Political Action have voted overwhelmingly to endorse Jon Ossoff in the U.S. House special election in the state’s 6th District with 93% of votes cast in favor of backing Ossoff, praising Ossoff’s commitment to protecting the Affordable Care Act.

The election is to replace former Rep. Tom Price, who was tapped by Donald Trump to spearhead the repeal of the Affordable Care Act as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Ossoff has emerged as a strong, vocal supporter of the Affordable Care Act and is earning the support of progressives nationwide, including civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.

“That this historically Republican district is now very competitive is another example of the powerful grassroots energy we’re seeing across the country resisting Trump’s agenda,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action. “Ossoff is the sort of progressive champion—strong on both racial justice and economic justice—who can channel that resistance energy into progressive volunteers and votes, and Republicans have done him a big favor with their plans to repeal the ACA and kick tens of millions of people off of their health care. Republicans in Washington are attempting to take away health care from millions, including an estimated 30,000 in Georgia’s 6th. If Republicans move forward with repealing the ACA, they’ll pay a political price in districts like this one for supporting Trump’s dangerous agenda.”

MoveOn will be mobilizing its more than 15,000 members in Georgia’s 6th District to volunteer and vote for Ossoff and will be mobilizing progressives across the country to support the campaign through thousands of grassroots donations.

Here’s what a few MoveOn members in the district had to say about Ossoff:

“I believe Jon Ossoff is committed to protecting our environment, supporting civil rights and women’s rights, ensuring that health care coverage is available to all Americans, and representing Democratic values in Washington.” –Maggie T., Roswell

“He supports Planned Parenthood and women’s rights. He supports affordable healthcare. He has John Lewis’s endorsement which speaks volumes to me.” –Ginelle H., Roswell

“Jon Ossoff is a talented, principled anti-corruption investigator and a breath of fresh air for GA6, which has been complacent for too long with Tom Price’s leadership. Electing any Democrat – but particularly a young, progressive, articulate one – will send a message to Trump and the Republicans that the country, including areas they presume to be their base, is watching, angry, and ready, and that the Resistance is to be taken seriously.” –Kimberly L., Atlanta

“Jon O’s entire career has been about justice for the marginalized by standing up against crime and corruption. He has experience on the Hill. He has pledged to get affordable healthcare for all Americans, to protect seniors Medicare and Medicaid, to protect civil liberties, and women’s rights to reproductive freedom. He’s on the right side of the climate debate.” –Teresa L., Johns Creek

Fellow Democratic candidates Ron Slotin and Rebecca Quigg received 3.6% and 1.9% of votes cast, respectively, and Ragin Edwards earned less than 1% of votes. Republican candidates Karen Handel, Amy Kremer, and Mohammad Ali Bhuiyan all received less than 1% of votes.

MoveOn.org Political Action represents the collective will of MoveOn’s members at the ballot box by helping to elect progressive candidates.

Categories: Political Action

NY State AG’s Lawsuit Against ISP Shows Why We Need Net Neutrality Protections

Deep Links - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 13:53
And Proves What Time Warner Cable Can Do Worse

Back in 2013, a couple of Internet pranksters who were fed up with Time Warner Cable’s (TWC) dismal customer service released a parody video and website that asked, “What Can We [TWC] do Worse?”  In response, the company launched an aggressive takedown campaign against the parodists. But thanks to the New York Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman, we now know exactly what Time Warner Cable did “do worse.”

Earlier this month, AG Schneiderman filed a lawsuit alleging that Spectrum-Time Warner Cable (Spectrum-TWC) repeatedly misled customers and used its gatekeeping position to extort money out of content providers. If the allegations are true, the complaint provides several stunning examples of the kind of bad behavior we can expect from Internet Service Provider (ISPs) in the absence of meaningful net neutrality protections.

The AG’s complaint sets forth a host of specific facts, emails, and other statements that suggest that Spectrum-TWC repeatedly deceived its customers about speed of the their Internet connections and routinely provided its subscribers’ with equipment that was incapable of achieving promised connection speeds.

But that wasn’t their only alleged misdeed. According to the complaint, Spectrum-TWC also extracted interconnection fees from backbone Internet and online content providers. Spectrum-TWC knew it needed to increase its interconnection capacity in order to ensure its customers could reliably access popular web services, but refused to do so. As a result, Internet users accessing those services experienced slower speeds and service interruptions. TWC offered to add capacity only if the backbone or content providers agreed to start paying for it.

For example, when Netflix failed to pay,

the quality of the Netflix video streams received by Spectrum-TWC subscribers dipped significantly during peak hours . . .This resulted in subscribers getting poorer quality streams during the very hours when they were most likely to access Netflix.

Once Netflix agreed to pay, subscribers’ viewing experience improved.

Riot Games, the producer and distributor for the hugely popular online multiplayer game League of Legends, was also targeted by Spectrum-TWC. According to the complaint, until Riot Games agreed to pay Spectrum-TWC for access to its subscribers, Spectrum-TWC refused to give its subscribers of reliable access to Riot’s content — contrary to the carrier’s public promises.

This lawsuit deserves particular attention now in light of repeated threats to erode net neutrality protections at the federal level, including the Open Internet Order the FCC adopted in 2015.  Opponents of net neutrality rules often insist that net neutrality rules are a solution in search of a problem.  If even half the allegations in the complaint are true, it’s strong evidence that the problem is real. 

Of course, opponents of FCC rules might also suggest that this lawsuit shows there is no need for the FCC to intervene – state attorneys general can take care of it using consumer protection laws, right?  Wrong.  Welcome as the NYAG’s suit is, it’s no substitute for uniform baseline rules that can protect subscribers and innovators nationwide.

Moreover, while the FCC’s Open Internet Order may not be perfect, it appears that the Order is already doing some good: it caused Spectrum-TWC to temper some of its bad practices.  For example, after the Order came into effect, Spectrum-TWC agreed at last to resolve a dispute with another service provider, Cogent, and add additional capacity to improve the experience of some of its customers.

Unfortunately, newly minted FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has expressed his desire to get rid of the agency’s net neutrality rules, and several members of Congress are also itching to roll back these protections.  In the coming months, we’ll be working to rally support for the open Internet—and we’ll need your help. Watch this space -- and be ready to stand with us in defending net neutrality.


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Categories: Political Action

EFF to Court: Forcing Someone to Unlock and Decrypt Their Phone Violates the Constitution

Deep Links - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 12:57

The police cannot force you to tell them the passcode for your phone. Forcing you to turn over or type in your passcode violates the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination—the privilege that allows people to “plead the Fifth” to avoid handing the government evidence it could use against them. And if you have a phone that’s encrypted by default (which we hope you do), forcing you to type in your passcode to unlock the device means forcing you to decrypt your phone, too. That forced translation—of unintelligible information to intelligible—also violates the Fifth Amendment.

But there’s a problem: not all law enforcement officers have received the memo. In one particularly egregious case, military investigators forced the defendant, Sergeant Edward J. Mitchell, to unlock and decrypt his iPhone 6 after he asked for a lawyer. Not only was the investigators’ continued interrogation of Sgt. Mitchell without a lawyer a clear violation of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, but compelling him to unlock and decrypt his phone also violated the Fifth Amendment. The case is currently on appeal to a federal military appeals court, and we filed an amicus brief with the court explaining why.

The Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination protects “testimonial” communications. Testimonial communications are those that require a person to use “the contents of his own mind” to communicate some fact. Testimonial communications don’t have to be verbal; the key is that the information conveyed must come from the suspect’s own mind. As we explain in our brief, compelled passcode-based decryption is inherently testimonial—and thus always prohibited by the Fifth Amendment—for two reasons.

First, the compelled entry of a memorized passcode forces a person to reveal the contents of their mind to investigators—contents that are absolutely privileged by the Fifth Amendment. As far as the Fifth Amendment is concerned, there’s no difference between forcing a person to type their passcode directly into their phone and forcing them to say it out loud to an investigator. The trial judge in this case understood that and found that typing in a passcode was a “testimonial act.” So just by forcing the defendant to unlock his phone, the investigators violated his Fifth Amendment right.

Second, the process of decryption itself is testimonial because it involves translating unintelligible, encrypted evidence into a form that can be used and understood by investigators—again relying on the contents of the suspect’s mind.

Encryption transforms plain, understandable information into unreadable letters, numbers, or symbols using a fixed formula or process. When information is encrypted on a phone, computer, or other electronic device, it exists only in its scrambled format. If Sgt. Mitchell’s phone had merely been locked but not also encrypted, had the officers broken into the phone, they would have been able to access and understand the information stored on the phone. But since the phone was encrypted, if they had tried to break into the phone, they would have found only scrambled, encrypted data; they wouldn’t have been able to understand it. The officers needed Sgt. Mitchell, and his unique knowledge, to translate the information on the phone into its unscrambled, intelligible state for them to be able to use it against him. In other words, they were seeking transformation and explanation of data by an accused of the very data they sought to incriminate him with. This thus violated the Fifth Amendment for a second and independent reason—because of the nature of compelled decryption.

Oral argument in this case is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on April 4, 2017 at the University of Notre Dame Law School in Indiana, as part of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces’ student outreach program. We hope the court holds that, because of the very nature of decryption, compelled passcode-based decryption hits at the heart of the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination.

Thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of the District of Columbia for joining our brief.

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Categories: Political Action

MoveOn Condemns Trump’s Latest Muslim Ban and Suspension of Refugee Program

Move On - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 11:41

WASHINGTON DC — Moments ago, President Donald Trump signed a new executive order that once again halts the U.S. refugee program and suspends granting of visas for those traveling from six-Muslim majority countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

In reaction to the executive order, Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, released the following statement:

“Once again, President Trump has signed a Muslim Ban that is a de facto religious test for immigrants and shuts our doors on refugees.  While the Trump Administration has made some tweaks and changes to the executive order after a previous version was struck down by a federal district court, the intention and impact of the action remains fundamentally unchanged: This is the Muslim Ban that Trump promised during his campaign.

“MoveOn members will continue to oppose this hateful and counterproductive proposal and to demand that our elected officials and courts defend the Constitution and strike down this Muslim Ban.”

Categories: Political Action

Inflicting terror on immigrant communities

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 01:00

Nicole Colson reports on the new wave of attacks on undocumented immigrants and what it will take to stand up to the Trump administration's racist assault.

Then-candidate Donald Trump visits the Mexican border in Laredo, Texas

THEY TOOK Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez as he was on his way to drop his daughters off at school.

Footage of Avelica-Gonzalez's arrest, caught on video by his 13-year-old daughter on her cell phone, showed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers handcuffing the man before driving him away, as his distraught children sobbed uncontrollably in the family's car.

Joel Guerrero was grabbed at what he thought would be a routine check-in with immigration authorities--something he had done without incident every six months for more than six years.

Daniela Vargas, a 22 year old who came to the U.S. when she was just 7 years old, was snatched just moments after she finished speaking out at a press conference to denounce the escalating attacks on her community, including the arrest of her father and brother weeks earlier.

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THESE ARE just a few of the horror stories of the terror being inflicted on immigrants by the Trump administration.

Making good on threats he made during his campaign, Trump has ramped up the deportation machine, ordering, among other things, that immigration authorities "[e]nsure that aliens ordered removed from the United States are promptly removed," as an executive order reads.

This has translated to a mass crackdown on those in the U.S. without documentation, regardless of their history or circumstances, their ties to the community, the families that rely on them, or what they might face upon return to countries that are, in many cases, wracked with violence and poverty.

The Trump administration claims it is simply rounding up "dangerous" immigrants--those with prior convictions and deportation orders first among them--in order to make America "safe."

In reality, many of those being arrested and deported are guilty of "crimes" that shouldn't be called crimes at all. In other cases, green cards were revoked and deportation orders issued after an individual missed a scheduled hearing because they were unable to read notices in English or when paperwork was sent to a wrong address.

Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, for example, was ordered to be ripped away from his children because of a DUI conviction from nearly 10 years ago and an improper car registration from more than 20 years ago.

In Joel Guerrero's case, officials recently decided to enforce a 2014 deportation order--one that he didn't know had been issued--stemming from a misdemeanor drug conviction and a missed court date.

"We got married last month," Guerrero's wife Jessica explained to the New York Daily News. "I'm six months pregnant. He's working. He pays taxes. He was doing everything right. At this point, what's done is done, but it was a single, small pot plant in North Carolina. Yes, he made a mistake, but this is an extreme punishment for something that's over a decade old at this point."

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THERE ARE nearly 1 million "fugitive aliens" in the U.S.--immigrants who have been ordered deported, in some cases years ago, but who have remained in the U.S., often with families, including children who are U.S. citizens, and deep roots in their communities.

Most are guilty of little more than seeking a life in the U.S. "[S]lightly less than one in five people facing deportation has been convicted of a crime in the United States," the New York Times reported, but if there are deportation orders in place, regardless of why, those who are apprehended or who turn themselves in when ordered can be scheduled for deportation almost immediately.

Plenty of undocumented people without any criminal record also have been swept up in a dragnet supposedly aimed at convicted felons, to hear Donald Trump tell it.

Last month, when ICE agents came to Manuel Mosqueda Lopez's Los Angeles home looking for someone else, they discovered that the 50-year-old house painter was himself undocumented and put him on a bus to Tijuana, Mexico--until lawyers were able to temporarily stop his deportation.

Despite the myths perpetrated by the right, undocumented immigrants are no more likely to commit crimes than any other demographic group. In fact, studies show undocumented immigrants are incarcerated at lower rates than the documented population.

And many of the "crimes" being used as a pretext for deportation are victimless. One commonplace violation is using a fake Social Security number to gain employment. What this actually amounts to is undocumented people contributing to the Social Security system that will pay benefits to other people, while never being able to access it for themselves.

As the Atlantic's Peter Beinart wrote:

Trump's allies may believe that sneaking into the United States, or using a fake social security number to get a job, predisposes people to rob, rape, or kill. But the evidence does not bear this out. So if Trump's goal is increasing public safety, publishing a list of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants is irrational. It's like publishing a list of crimes committed by people with red-hair.

If, however, Trump's goal is stigmatizing a vulnerable class of people, then publicizing their crimes--and their crimes alone--makes sense. It's been a tactic bigots have used more than a century.

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WHILE TRUMP may be escalating attacks on the undocumented, the response from the Democrats has been, at best, muted, in large part because the deportation machine was running at top speed by Barack Obama, who sent 2.5 million across the border during his presidency. As the Nation's Laila Lalami noted:

A significant percentage of those deported under Obama had committed only minor offenses, such as traffic violations or drug possession. Only after a huge outcry by immigration advocates did the administration change course and begin restricting its deportation orders to serious criminal offenders.

Now, if Trump gets his way, even worse may be in store for some of the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants. According to Reuters, the Department of Homeland Security is now considering an unbelievably cruel proposal to separate undocumented women from their children when they are caught crossing into the U.S.

The policy change would allow the government to keep parents in custody as they wait for asylum hearings and fight deportation orders. Marielena Hincapie, executive director at the National Immigration Law Center, told Reuters that if implemented, the new policy "could create lifelong psychological trauma, especially for children that have just completed a perilous journey from Central America."

For many of these undocumented who face deportation to Central and South America, their very lives are in danger.

The New York Times reported on the story of a an undocumented immigrant named Juan, who fled Colombia for the U.S. six years ago. He is scheduled for deportation on March 21 after being denied a request for asylum--despite the fact that he says he came to the U.S. after paramilitary forces in Colombia tried to kill him.

"I feel hopeless," Juan told the Times. "My wife is here, my son is here. They are my world. I have nowhere else to run to. I've run out of options."

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THE ARRESTS taking place in immigrant communities seem designed to inflict maximum terror on a population already under constant threat. And they are being carried out by a wing of law enforcement only too happy to embrace its racist marching orders.

Take the case of Daniela Vargas, the 22-year-old who was taken into custody by ICE agents after a press conference advocating for the undocumented. Vargas had previously received protected status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but her status expired when she didn't have the money for a fee to renew it.

Despite the fact that she doesn't have a criminal record and recently filed to renew her DACA status, she was arrested--likely as payback for speaking out publicly after her father and brother were arrested by ICE in February. According to her attorney, the agents who pulled her car over after she spoke at the press conference reportedly told her, "You know who we are, you know what we're here for."

"It could be retaliation," Vargas' lawyer, Abby Peterson, told the Huffington Post. "They had been reading about her in the news, they had seen her at this press conference...[maybe] they didn't want to hear it anymore."

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly touted his "support" from ICE. He was, in typical form, exaggerating--federal agencies don't endorse candidates.

But the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, a union that represents 5,000 federal immigration officers and law enforcement support staff, did endorse Trump on the basis that he would "protect American jobs, wages and lives." Additionally, 11 leaders of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 16,500 agents, also backed Trump's candidacy.

Trump's executive orders on immigration are a green light for the racists inside these agencies. This has given rise to incidents like a February one in which Customs and Border Protection agents demanded "documents" from all of the passengers on a domestic flight from San Francisco to New York City, as they searched for an individual who had been ordered removed by an immigration judge after a criminal conviction. (It was later determined the person in question was not on the flight.)

The fact that the demand to see passengers' documentation was likely unconstitutional didn't deter them.

Or there was the reported questioning--for nearly two hours--of Muhammad Ali Jr., son of famed boxed Muhammad Ali, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport upon returning from a trip to Jamaica in February.

During questioning, Ali says agents repeatedly asked about his religious beliefs. "I was shocked more than anything," Ali told the Courier-Journal i, adding, "Should I have had to say I'm a Christian to get back into the U.S?"

Australian children's book author Mem Fox said that when she was detained by immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport last month as she travelled from Australia to the U.S. for a conference, she and others--in particular, an Iranian woman who spoke Farsi--were berated for hours by Customs and Border Protection agents. Fox recounted:

I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don't have my power?

That's the heartbreak of it. Remember, I wasn't pulled out because I'm some kind of revolutionary activist, but my God, I am now. I am on the front line. If we don't stand up and shout, good sense and good will not prevail, and my voice will be one of the loudest.

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FOX'S RESPONSE is the right one: Relentless opposition to Trump, his racist policies and all those who enable them--and relentless solidarity with those who are under attack.

The emergency networks springing into formation in cities and neighborhoods across the country--drawing hundreds and more who say they will turn out to confront raids and arrests--will be vital to stopping the deportation machine.

So will the pledge by a network of churches and private homeowners to act as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants and their families--and the universities and even cities that are following suit under pressure from community members to take a stand.

Such acts of solidarity--large and small--will be crucial in the coming weeks and months to beat back the bigotry of the Trump administration and send a message that we won't allow racist scapegoating.

As Ricardo Mireles, executive director of the school that two of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez's daughters attend, said:

We held a school-wide assembly today for all of our students and staff so that we can be in solidarity with the family. What we wanted to communicate to our families was that we are in solidarity with that family, and we are in solidarity with all families. And we are going to stand together if this were to happen again.

Categories: Political Action

SF confronts the right's "40 Days for Life"

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 01:00

Emma Wilde Botta and Bruno Ruviaro report on a pro-choice counterprotest against the "40 Days for Life" campaign when it made a stop in San Francisco.

Women's rights activists confront the right wing's "40 Days for Life" campaign (International Socialist Organization-Northern California)

ABORTION RIGHTS supporters turned out in San Francisco February 26 to confront anti-choice forces as they kicked off their "40 Days for Life" campaign of holding prayer vigils and rallies in front of women's health clinics.

The 40 Days for Life is a national campaign of religious anti-choice activists who target women's clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion services during the period of Lent in the spring, and again in the fall. Though 40 Days for Life says it is non-denominational, all the directors, employees and key volunteers are Christians, according to its website.

The group formed in 2004 out of an anti-choice coalition that opposed the opening of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan/College Station, Texas, in 1998. Since then, it has expanded its prayer vigils to target clinics around the country. The Bryan/College Station clinic closed down in 2013, and according to the 40 Days website, it now serves as the organization's headquarters.

The 40 Days campaigners say they have vigils planned this year in more 340 locations across the U.S. and 29 other countries.

Anti-choice protests like these have helped create a climate that puts women's fundamental right to choose what she does with her body into question. They work hand in hand with legislative attacks that further limit women's ability to get the health care services, including abortion, they need.

Texas is an excellent example, where a raft of laws placing restrictions on clinics providing abortions passed in 2013, and forced badly needed clinics to shut down, including the Bryan/College Station clinic.

The decision to have or not have a child is up to the woman and woman alone--not her family, a church, a politician and certainly not anti-abortion protesters gathered in front of a clinic.

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IN RESPONSE to the anti-choice action in San Francisco, the International Socialist Organization called for a counterprotest at the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Mission neighborhood.

Some 50 people turned out to defend reproductive rights, outnumbering the opponents of women's right to choose. About 25 anti-choicers gathered for a religious ceremony that included prayers for the "unborn innocents" and for the souls of abortion providers and women who have had abortions.

Two weeks earlier, the same Planned Parenthood was the site a louder and more confrontational picket of anti-choice bigots. Some 300 pro-choice supporters turned out on February 11 to counterprotest those anti-abortion forces who assembled as part of a national day of action to defund Planned Parenthood.

While the numbers were smaller at the hastily organized February 26 protest, the effect of outnumbering and demoralizing the "right to lifers" was similar.

Clinic defenders established a walking picket in front of the clinic on February 26, and eventually, our numbers spilled out over half of the street. Chants like "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate" and "Pro-life, that's a lie. You don't care if women die" could be heard alongside continuous honking of cars in response to our prominent "Honk for Choice" sign.

The counterprotest successfully blocked the anti-choicers in sight and sound. At the protest, some 30 people signed up for a reproductive rights rapid response network, which will alert people of upcoming actions to defend women's right to choose.

The anti-choice group was forced to end its action an hour earlier than advertised. Pro-choice supporters celebrated the victory with a speakout in which people from the crowd talked about why they were there.

Silvia is a health care worker who joined the counterprotest when she saw it as she and a friend were driving by. "If the bigots really cared about human life," she said, "they should be working to welcome more refugees into this country, and not focusing on harassing women."

"It's my body, it's my choice," said Ursula, another counterprotester who explained that she has become more politically active since Trump's election. "We should get more and more people active, and show that most people in the U.S. need and rely on abortions and women's health, and that we need to be able to make our own choices. That's makes the best sense."

Another protester said, "I came here because it's so important for us to stand up for all Americans right now, and ensure we all have access to same health care that the 1 Percent has. I'm very concerned, especially for vulnerable folks right now, so we all have to show up and protect each other, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors."

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THIS IS the kind of solidarity that will be key if we are going to push back the right, which has become emboldened by the election of Donald Trump. Immigrants, women, Muslims and all working-class people have a stake in defending one another against the right-wing assault.

Abortion rights supporters were right to organize this counterprotest. We should counter anti-abortion bigots whenever and wherever they appear in order to demoralize them and prevent their side from growing.

At the same time, each of these successful counterprotests can help us rebuild a strong, unapologetic women's rights movement that doesn't allow the bigots to harass women and clinic workers at the clinic door.

San Francisco is only one of the many stops on the 40 Day's bigoted anti-woman campaign which continues through April 9. Supporters of reproductive justice should find out when they're coming to their city and help organize a counterprotest.

We have a message to send the anti-choice bigots: We won't go back.

Categories: Political Action

We stand with the Yemeni people

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 01:00

Yemen was already the poorest country in the Middle East before the intensification in early 2015 of a proxy war between rival powers plunged the Yemeni people into even more horrific circumstances. Now, the United Nations is warning that urgent action is needed to avert famine. As part of its war strategy, Saudi Arabia, with military and political backing from the U.S., has imposed a siege on Yemen, which depends on imports for 90 percent of its food supply. As a result, more than 7.3 million people today need food assistance, and 460,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Yemen needs $2.1 billion in to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of its population, according to Stephen O'Brien, the UN's Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. So far, only $63 million to provide these necessities has been received. The U.S. alone could easily provide all the funding needed to avert a humanitarian disaster in Yemen. Donald Trump has pledged to increase military spending in the next U.S. budget by $50 billion--nearly 25 times more than is needed to fully fund the programs needed to address the food and medicine shortages in Yemen.

In addition to the 10,000 killed in fighting since the conflict began, thousands more have died as a result of preventable disease and starvation. "A child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes," O'Brien said.

"Over 17 million people are currently unable to adequately feed themselves and are frequently forced to skip meals--women and girls eat the least and last," said Jamie McGoldrick, the top UN humanitarian official for Yemen. "Seven million Yemenis do not know where their next meal will come from and are ever closer to starvation."

Such barbarism is tragically familiar to Syrian revolutionaries and activists, who have watched their own country plunged into war and starvation since 2012. The Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad has been condemned for using siege and starvation as tactics of war--though the mainstream media in the U.S. and Europe don't level such accusations at the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for their conduct of war in Yemen.

Here, we reprint a statement by Syrian revolutionaries in solidarity with the people of Yemen similarly caught in a vise between outside powers who have turned their country into a battlefield for geopolitical dominance.

An emergency response team searches for victims in the rubble after a Saudi air strike in Sana'a

WHILE WE bond first and foremost over our pursuit of justice, our shared, painful reality also brings us together. Civilians in both Syria and Yemen have borne the brunt of the violence; our schools, hospitals and markets bombed by Assad, Russian, Saudi and American aircraft; our communities withering under siege, dying a slow and painful death; and the delivery of our humanitarian aid politicized by international actors. For almost two years, Yemen has suffered under a naval, air and water blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, restricting the flow of food, medicine and, importantly, information to and from the country. Our demands for the Assad regime to lift its sieges on Madaya, Daraya, Al-Waer and countless other towns and neighborhoods ring hollow unless we make the same demands of Saudi Arabia and Ansar Allah (hereafter referred to as Houthis). End the sieges now.

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the people of Yemen and their aspiration for freedom, democracy and social justice. Like other communities and cities in the region, thousands of Yemeni protesters took the streets in mid-January 2011 to protest peacefully the corruption and authoritarianism of the governments and Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule. As Syrian revolutionaries, we fully support the Yemeni people's struggle for freedom, social justice, safety, health and dignity.

We as Syrians who seek democratic and genuine secular change in Syria see how regional power dynamics between Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have had catastrophic consequences on both Yemen and Syria. Without drawing false analogies between the Yemeni state and the Assad regime, the Houthis and the armed Syrian opposition, it does not escape us how the power struggles for Syria and Yemen include the same regional actors and a mounting civilian death toll.

Specifically, KSA commits war crimes in the name of supporting the state in Yemen while Iran is responsible for large-scale destruction in Syria through its support of the Assad regime. Furthermore, both KSA and Iran are responsible for supporting armed non-state actors (certain armed opposition groups in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen, respectively) without a strategy for de-escalating violence, ensuring accountability measures, and protecting civilians and their basic human rights. It is clear to us as Syrian revolutionaries, who took the streets peacefully--not as Muslims or Christians, Sunnis or Alawites, Kurds or Arabs, but as people attempting to claim their citizenry as Syrians--that these countries' interference does not stem from their support of the people's demands for social change, but rather from the exploitation of the people's struggle, and the consumption of local human capital and natural resources to exercise control, maintain power, and build power.

Like in Syria, the international community's inaction has failed Yemen. The UN has become a mechanism to uphold systematic violence, and the rising military presence of regional and international powers has contributed to prolonging the conflict and hindering the process of finding just and sustainable solutions.

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FOREIGN INTERVENTION in both countries has caused the people more sorrow than justice. We fiercely condemn KSA's use of internationally banned weapons, use of cluster bombs, targeting of schools, hospitals, weddings, and funerals among many other civilian inhabited neighborhoods. On this point, it should be clearly stated that KSA's relationship with the U.S. has also been fueling war crimes in Yemen. Likewise in Syria but on a different level, the KSA and other Gulf countries' support to some undemocratic groups and warlords in Syria, like Jaish Al-Islam in Ghouta, enhances counterrevolutionary forces that have been accused by several families, activists and writers of kidnapping and assassinating activists in besieged Ghouta. In addition, the Iranian-backed Houthis have been disrupting the political transition process and went against the popular Yemeni wish to remove Ali Abdullah Saleh. We equally condemn their mass atrocity crimes against civilian and minority communities in Yemen.

We echo the demands of Yemeni civil society activists to implement UNSC Resolution 2216, which calls for an end to violence by all parties in Yemen, Saudis and Houthis alike. The cessation of hostilities in Yemen is the first step to peace in the country; it will allow space for Yemeni-to-Yemeni negotiations.

So, too, do we stand with the people of Yemen in their quest for accountability and justice, a necessary step on the path to reconciliation and stability. Yemeni civil society and international human rights groups have repeatedly made calls for an independent investigation into war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. This is a critical first step toward accountability. Saudi Arabia last year successfully blocked a UN Human Rights Council resolution to establish an international commission of inquiry, which would have undoubtedly primarily incriminated the Gulf state. Syrians are no stranger to the politics of such demands--although the Human Rights Council established a commission to investigate war crimes allegations in Syria dating back to the start of the revolution in March 2011, Russian and Chinese UN Security Council vetoes have blocked meaningful action in the form of a referral to the International Criminal Court. All state and non-state actors in Yemen and Syria should be held accountable according to the dictates of international law. No exceptions.

To see a full list of the statement's signatories or to add your name to the list, go to the original post of the statement. If you are not Syrian, please add the word "ally" after your name when you sign.

Categories: Political Action

A day to prepare for conquering the enemy

Socialist Worker - Mon, 03/06/2017 - 01:00

One hundred years ago, on or about March 6 (February 21, according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time), the Petrograd Mezhrayonka (or Interdistrict Committee) distributed a leaflet regarding International Women's Day (IWD), coming up in two day's time on March 8. That day became the first day of the 1917 Russian Revolution, sparked by a strike of women textile workers.

Although the origins of IWD were in the U.S., German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin proposed in 1910 an annual international celebration of the holiday. IWD was first celebrated on March 8 in 1911 in Germany and several other European countries. Russia followed with a small demonstration in 1913, but IWD in Russia was overshadowed by May Day and the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre that took place on January 9, 1905.

In 1917, Russia's various socialist groups failed to unite behind common slogans for International Women's Day and therefore were unable to carry out a joint action. Without a printing press at the time, the Bolsheviks did not issue any leaflets for IWD.

The Interdistrict Committee, authors of the leaflet below, wanted to rally all the factions of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDLP) in a united front against the war, the autocracy and liberal attempts to draw workers into a patriotic effort to support the war. Later in 1917, the Interdistrict Committee, which Leon Trotsky joined when he returned to Russia, fused with the Bolshevik current.

According to historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, the Interdistrict Committee intended the leaflet below to educate workers, rather than provoke rebellion. None of the male socialists expected that on this holiday, women workers would provide the catalyst for the February Revolution, which would topple the autocracy.

Food shortages had become a routine occurrence by March 1917. On the morning of March 8 (February 23), a fuel shortage in Petrograd stopped bakeries from working. Women (or their children) who had stood in line for hours had no bread to buy. Anticipating the cries of their children hungry for food, women workers reached the limit of their patience. Women textile workers went on strike and appealed to metalworkers to join them. Radical socialists quickly decided to add slogans against the autocracy and war to the calls for bread.

In this way, unexpectedly and on a commemorative day that most radical leftists treated as of minor importance, the February Revolution began.

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

Workers in the streets of Petrograd to demand an end to the war during the February Revolution (Wikimedia Commons)


For 10 years, women of all countries have observed February 23 as Women Workers' Day, as women's "May First." American women were the first to mark this as the day to review their forces on it. Gradually, women of the entire world joined them. On this day, meetings and assemblies are held at which attempts are made to explain the reasons for our difficult situation and to show the way out of it.

It has been a long time since women first entered the factories and mills to earn their bread. For a long time, millions of women have stood at the machines all day on an equal footing with men. Factory owners work both male and female comrades to exhaustion. Both men and women are thrown in jail for going on strike. Both men and women need to struggle against the owners. But women entered the family of workers later than men. Often, they still are afraid and do not know what they should demand and how to demand it. The owners have always used their ignorance and timidity against them and still do.

On this day, especially, comrades, let's think about how we can conquer our enemy, the capitalist, as quickly as possible. We will remember our near and dear ones on the front. We will recall the difficult struggle they waged to wring from the owners each extra ruble of pay and each hour of rest, and each liberty from the government. How many of them fell at the front, or were cast into prison or exile for their brave struggle? You replaced them in the rear, in the mills and factories. Your duty is to continue their great cause--that of emancipating all humanity from oppression and slavery.

Women workers, you should not hold back those male comrades who remain, but rather you should join them in fraternal struggle against the government and the factory owners. It is for their sake that war is waged, so many tears are shed, and so much blood is spilled in all countries. This terrible slaughter has now gone into its third year. Our fathers, husbands and brothers are perishing. Our dear ones arrive home as unfortunate wretches and cripples. The Tsarist government sent them to the front. It maimed and killed them, but it does not care about their sustenance.

There is no end in sight to the shedding of workers' blood. Workers were shot down on Bloody Sunday, January 9, 1905, and massacred during the Lena Goldfields strike in April 1912. More recently, workers were shot in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Shuia, Gorlovka and Kostroma. Workers' blood is shed on all fronts. The empress trades in the people's blood and sells off Russia piece by piece. They send nearly unarmed soldiers to certain death by shooting. They kill hundreds of thousands of people on the front and they profit financially from this.

Under the pretext of war, owners of factories and mills try to turn workers into serfs. The cost of living grows terribly high in all cities. Hunger knocks at everyone's door. From the villages, they take away cattle and the last morsels of bread for the war. For hours, we stand in line for food. Our children are starving. How many of them have been neglected and lost their parents? They run wild and many become hooligans. Hunger has driven many girls, who are still children, to walk the streets. Many children stand at machines doing work beyond their physical capacity until late at night. Grief and tears are all around us.

It is hard for working people not only in Russia, but in all countries. Not long ago, the German government cruelly suppressed an uprising of the hungry in Berlin. In France, the police are in a fury. They send people to the front for going on strike. Everywhere, the war brings disaster, a high cost of living and oppression of the working class.

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COMRADES, WORKING women, for whose sake is war waged? Do we need to kill millions of Austrian and German workers and peasants? German workers did not want to fight either. Our close ones do not go willingly to the front. They are forced to go. The Austrian, English and German workers go just as unwillingly. Tears accompany them in their countries as in ours.

War is waged for the sake of gold, which glitters in the eyes of capitalists, who profit from it. Ministers, mill owners and bankers hope to fish in troubled waters. They become rich in wartime. After the war, they will not pay military taxes. Workers and peasants will bear all the sacrifices and pay all the costs.

Dear women comrades, will we keep on tolerating this silently for very long, with occasional outbursts of boiling rage against small-time traders? Indeed, it is not they who are at fault for the people's calamities. They are ruined themselves. The government is guilty. It began this war and cannot end it. It ravages the country. It is its fault that you are starving. The capitalists are guilty. It is waged for their profit. It's well-nigh time to shout to them: Enough! Down with the criminal government and its entire gang of thieves and murderers. Long live peace!

Already the day of retribution approaches. A long time ago, we ceased to believe the tales of the government ministers and the masters. Popular rage is increasing in all countries. Workers everywhere are beginning to understand that they can't expect their governments to end the war. If they do conclude peace, it will entail attempts to take others' land, to rob another country, and this will lead to new slaughter. Workers do not need that which belongs to someone else.

Down with the autocracy! Long live the Revolution! Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government! Down with war! Long live the Democratic Republic! Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat! Long live the united RSDRP!

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee

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Source: Published in Russian in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 306-308. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, The February Revolution: Petrograd, 1917, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981, pp. 215-18.

-- Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016.

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

Categories: Political Action

The Never-ending Battle — Redistricting 2011

Democratic Convention Watch - Sun, 03/05/2017 - 16:26

One of Charles Dickens’s lesser known novels is “Bleak House,” dealing with a legal case over an estate that lasted so long and was so expensive that the expenses of the case exceeded the value of the estate.  The same is unfortunately true of disputes over the redistricting process.   We are now almost six years into the current ten-year cycle of district lines.  The run-up to the next cycle begins with elections in several states this year and next that will pick some of the governors and legislators that will be in office in 2021 when the redistricting process begins again.  You would think that, by this point of the cycle with three congressional elections and two or three state legislative elections (depending on the state) under the new lines, all court cases about those lines would be over.  Unfortunately, we are not at that point yet.

This week, the Supreme Court decided the most recent redistricting case (and it has another one under submission).  This week’s decision involved the Virginia House and whether the  drawing of its lines represented a “racial gerrymander” that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The key issues in a racial gerrymander case is whether race is the predominate reason for the drawing of the lines of a particular district and (if race is the predominate reason) whether there is a sufficiently compelling reason for the reliance on race.  Such a challenge focuses on particular district lines.

In this case, the challenges concerned twelve districts.  The original three judge panel found that race was only the predominate reason for one of the twelve districts.  In part, this decision relied on the fact that the other eleven districts did not have unusual shapes and the lines could be justified by “traditional” redistrict considerations.  While the panel found that race was the predominate explanation for the twelfth district, the panel found that the need to bump up minority votes in that district to survive pre-clearance (as the Virginia lines were drawn before the Supreme Court abolished the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act) was a sufficiently compelling reason.

The Supreme Court rejected the panel’s decision that race was not the predominate reason for the first eleven districts.  While an unusual shape can be circumstantial evidence of a racial gerrymander (i.e. the unusual shape suggests that something other than proper factors are being considered in the drawing of the lines), a racial gerrymander can also be shown by direct evidence (i.e. those involved in drawing the lines acknowledge that race was a significant factor).  Here there were such admissions.  Thus, even though the lines could have been based on valid considerations, the panel needs to consider what the true reasons for the lines were and if race was the main factor behind the drawing of those lines.  The Supreme Court did accept the panel’s conclusion that — for the twelfth district — complying with the Voting Rights Act was a valid reason for putting a significant emphasis on race in adjusting the final lines.  The Supreme Court did give a degree of deference to the legislature on this issue — holding that the test was whether the legislature reasonably believed that the changes were necessary, not whether they were actually necessary.

Going forward — for this case, for any case from this cycle that is still pending, and for next cycle — if the legislature looks at racial composition of the district in adjusting district lines, the districts are challengeable.  If the legislature reasonably believes that such adjustments are necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act (primarily Section 2 barring vote dilution in light of current case law) the districts will probably survive the challenge.  In these and other cases that are currently pending on equal protection claims, there is a big question about the validity of partisan gerrymanders.  In other words, while it is improper to discriminate based on race, can the legislature discriminate based on party-identification?

Given how bad this past cycle was for Democrats, these cases are a reminder of two things.  First, we need to work hard in state elections for the next four years.  As noted above, some of the folks elected this year in New Jersey and Virginia and next year in about forty-six states will be in office in 2021 when the process starts all over again.   Now is the time to find candidates who can win seats currently under Republican control and keep open Democratic seats.  After we find these candidates, we need to work to get them elected.  (In Virginia, the Republicans have a 21-19 advantage in the State Senate and a 66-34 advantage in the State House.  In New Jersey, the Democrats have a 24-16 advantage in the State Senate and a 52-28 State House.)

Second, we have to consider changes to the redistricting process, using the right of the public to propose statutory and constitutional changes in those states that permit that.  While citizen redistricting commissions can be an improvement on the legislature getting to draw the lines (avoiding self-protection), the rules for picking those commissions matter.  (In my state, the governor picks from lists proposed by both parties with each party getting half of the seats — a formula for deadlock that results in the courts drawing the seats.)

The bigger need for change is in establishing the priorities to be used in drawing lines.  My personal belief is that progressive need to stand for an end to partisan gerrymanders and incumbent protection.  On partisan gerrymanders, my belief that any redistricting plans needs to be “party neutral.”  By party neutral, I mean a plan that meets several criteria.  First, the partisan breakdown of the median district should be the same as the partisan breakdown of the state.  For example, if (over the past three election cycles) the Republicans got 52.0% of the two-party vote for statewide candidates, then the median district should have a two-party vote for statewide candidates of approximately 52.0% for the Republicans over the same period.  If there are an even-number of districts, the two median districts should average to that same number.  There should be a maximum permissible deviation in the partisan breakdown in the median district(s) (maybe 0.1% or 0.2%).  Second, within each band from that median district, there should be a roughly even number of Democratic and Republican district.  For example, if you use 3% bands, there should be the same number of districts in which the Democrats do 0-3% better than the statewide two-party average as districts in which the Republicans do 0-3% better than the statewide two-party average (give or take one or two districts).  In short, whomever gets the most votes statewide should win the most seats, and there should be no partisan cramming and packing.

As a second level priority (after assuring partisan neutrality), district lines should comply with precinct/voting district lines.  While one-man, one-vote requires districts to be of roughly equal populations, the permissible deviation from strict equality is large enough that — in most states — there is no need to split a precinct.   Splitting precincts leads to bizarre shapes and makes it difficult for voters to figure out in which district they live.

It is only at the third tier that the redistricting authority should consider communities of interests (racial, socioeconomic, political subdivisions, etc.).  On racial and socioeconomic groupings, it is important to limit too much packing.  Putting aside unusual features (e.g. prisons, colleges) that allocate a large number of non-voters to a district, it typically only takes 55-60% of the voting age population for a unified demographic group to get their preferred candidate.  Anything larger is an attempt to dilute the voting power of that group by packing them into a small number of districts.

At the final tier, compactness is significant.  If there are two plans that get similar results in terms of political neutrality and giving communities their proper voice in Congress and state legislatures, keeping districts as small as possible and regularly shaped is preferable.  But compactness is less of a concern if it means that — in a 50-50 state — one party represents districts in which it typically get 70% of the vote while the other party represents districts in which it typically get 56% of the vote.

As noted above, incumbent protection should play no role in the process.  The redistricting authority should be barred from looking at the current residences of any sitting U.S. representative or state legislator.  If the best lines put two incumbents in the same district or move an incumbent into a district that is less safe, that’s just the way that the process should work.  Voters have the right to choose whom they want to represent them (and incumbents are free to move to more favorable districts).  Incumbents do not have the right to choose their voters in a way that deprives voters of control of their government.

The next four years will not be easy, but — if we wait until the 2020 census results are released in the Spring of 2021 — the result will be more states like Colorado, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin where, even when we win the statewide vote, we still are unable to win the majority of U.S. House seats.

Categories: Political Action

NY City Council Measure Would Require Transparency for NYPD Electronic Surveillance

Deep Links - Sat, 03/04/2017 - 10:13

Two members of the New York City Council introduced a bill on Wednesday, March 1 to enact long overdue transparency rules for the NYPD’s procurement and deployment of electronic surveillance technology. It is the latest in a series of similar proposals around the country modeled on a Silicon Valley law adopted in 2016, which was crafted to impose municipal checks  and balances to constrain on executive power and address the metastasis of surveillance.

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, introduced by councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Vanessa Gibson, would require important disclosures by the NYPD before it buys electronic surveillance gear. It would also require an opportunity for public comment on its proposed use policies. 

In particular, the POST Act would require the NYPD to publish a use policy for each electronic surveillance platform that it uses, or that it seeks to use in the future. The policy must explain the applicable supervisory guidelines and potential requirements for court authorization, as well as "[s]afeguards or security measures designed to protect…from unauthorized access" of the sort that has plagued federal surveillance efforts. Each platform’s use policy must also include parameters for data retention, access, use, and dissemination, as well as reports or tests about the technology’s potential impact on health and safety.

Informed by the history of executive circumvention of legal limits on surveillance authorities, the POST Act also provides for ongoing auditing by the NYPD's inspector general. That office was created three years ago when the Council—responding to mounting concerns about police accountability—overrode a veto by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sought to prevent the Inspector General’s office from being established in the first place.

Because of separation of powers principles embedded in the New York State constitution, NYC's POST act is less demanding than the Silicon Valley law on which it was based. Specifically, the NYC proposal lacks a legislative veto over proposed surveillance platforms. The transparency rules proposed in NYC would, however, represent a big step forward from the current baseline.

Transparency, relative to the prevailing practice of secret procurement and unaccountable use, could be effectively transformative. Noting a history of secrecy precluding effective oversight by Councilmembers, Faiza Patel & Michael Price from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school explain:

The POST Act is sensitive to national security and public safety needs and does not require the police to stop using cutting-edge tools. Nor does the bill undermine operational secrecy.

It simply requires disclosure of big-picture information about new technologies and their permissible uses — before they hit the street….

New York needs greater transparency, oversight and democratic accountability for local policing. The POST Act is an essential step in that direction that will promote both public safety and the rights of every New Yorker.

Beyond helping secure the rights of New Yorkers, the POST Act could also embolden reform in Congress, which has settled for legislating in the dark by repeatedly authorizing domestic intelligence powers without conducting meaningful oversight.

With a key statutory pillar of the NSA’s Internet spying programs set to expire at the end of 2017, municipal campaigns challenging the ubiquity of surveillance are especially timely this year. As the legislative overseers of the nation’s largest police department, the New York City Council will have a chance to show Congress how to do its job.

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Categories: Political Action

Trump's Director of National Intelligence Pick Is on the Wrong Side of Surveillance

Deep Links - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 15:51

President Donald Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence has laid out his vision for the country’s surveillance, and it’s not good for technology users.

In his confirmation in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, former-Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana, said there need to be continued conversations about legal authorities to undermine encryption and called reauthorizing an authority that the government uses to spy on Americans’ Internet activities without a warrant his “top legislative priority.”


Government Surveillance

Coats made it clear that reauthorizing Section 702—which was created by the FISA Amendments Act and expires at the end of this year—is high on his to-do list. In answers to written questions prior to the hearing as well as during the hearing, Coats repeatedly praised the surveillance authority, calling it “a critical tool” and agreed when Sen. John Cornyn quoted FBI Director James Comey’s description of the authority as the “crown jewels of the intelligence community.”

He also repeatedly defended the programs under Section 702—which includes the NSA’s warrantless copying and searching of Americans’ Internet activity—as being “designed to go after foreign bad guys” and subject to “a robust oversight regime.”

We’ve long argued that the surveillance programs under Section 702 are not targeted, do not have sufficient oversight, and violate Fourth Amendment protections. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to let the authority sunset.

As Congress debates Section 702 reauthorization, lawmakers have repeatedly asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to make good on former Director James Clapper’s pledge to produce a long-delayed report on the number of U.S. communications that are swept up under Section 702 surveillance. When asked by Sen. Ron Wyden if he plans to produce that report, Coats said he will “do everything I can to work with [NSA Director Mike] Rogers and the NSA to get you that number.”

Coats also appears prepared to ask for rollbacks to crucial privacy reforms enacted in 2015.

As a senator, Coats voted against the USA FREEDOM Act, the bill that made privacy-enhancing improvements to the government’s national security surveillance programs, including prohibiting a program involving the bulk collection of Americans’ phone call records. In his written answers, Coats acknowledged that, if confirmed, he “will ensure the [intelligence community] abides by … the changes to the program made as part of the USA FREEDOM Act.”

However, he said he’s prepared to come back to Congress if he sees “deficiencies in the program,” including if telecom companies fail to retain phone records for long enough to be useful to intelligence agencies. Privacy advocates fought hard to keep phone record retention requirements out of the USA FREEDOM Act, and we stand ready to fight if Coats or anyone else tries to put them in place in the future.



Coats called on lawmakers and tech companies to continue working on the issue of law enforcement access to encrypted data.

While he said he recognized the value of encryption as an essential security and privacy tool, he also said the “ongoing discussion” about the legal authority to access data even when it’s encrypted should continue. “The CEOs of companies that are making devices and guaranteeing their buyers encryption, they worry about their families, … they worry about attacks on the U.S.,” he said. We’ve fought efforts on the Hill to undermine users’ security, and we will continue to push back on proposals to force companies to give law enforcement backdoors to encrypted technologies.


Privacy Protections Abroad

Coats tried to quell lawmakers concerns about the Trump administration undermining privacy protections for foreigners, especially in it’s aggressive anti-immigration push.

On Presidential Policy Directive 28 – an Obama-era document that outlines basic privacy protections for foreigners – Coats wrote that he expects the administration is reviewing the policy along with other presidential directives “in the interest of determining whether in their present for they still address national priorities or deserve to be revisited.”

But he noted specifically that European officials relied heavily on the privacy protections in PPD-28 when approving the Privacy Shield, a data deal that lets U.S. companies bring European users’ data across the Atlantic. “For that reason, before any changes to the PPD are made, I believe it important to consider the consequence of any modifications,” he wrote.

Although we’ve criticized PPD-28 as not going far enough to give privacy protections to those located abroad, rolling back those protections would be worse still.

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Categories: Political Action

What's up at the W3C: further reading for Reply All listeners

Deep Links - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 15:21

The latest episode of the technology podcast Reply All features an excellent summary of some of the issues with the World Wide Web Consortium's current project to create a standard for restricting the use of videos on the web; we've created this post for people who've just listened to the episode and want to learn more.

What's going on?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a standards body: they work to create open standards, rules for connecting up the web that anyone can follow, guaranteeing that anyone can make a web browser, web server, or website.

In 2013, the W3C gave in to pressure from a few entertainment companies and big tech companies to make a new kind of standard: a standard for limiting how people could use the videos that they watched in their browser. These controlling technologies are called "Digital Rights Management" (DRM), and the W3C's DRM standard is called "Encrypted Media Extensions" (EME).

What is EME for?

That's a good question! The companies that want EME say that they need it to prevent copyright infringement. But long experience with DRM has shown, time and again, that it's just not hard to bypass these systems, and once one person figures out how to do that, they can upload un-DRMed versions of the videos to websites where people who want to violate copyright can go (the host of the Reply All episode explains right at the start that he does this when he can't get DRM to work).

If DRM is about preventing piracy, it's not doing a very good job.

OK, so what is EME for then?

We think the real story here isn't the technology, it's the law.

In 1998, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which includes an "anti-circumvention" rule that sets out very harsh penalties for tampering with DRM, and is worded so badly and broadly that it has been used to threaten, sue and even jail people who break DRM, even for a lawful reason.

When DRM is deployed, it's never limited solely to preventing people from violating copyright law -- it also stops people from doing things that copyright law permits, but that companies don't like. Companies have all kinds of wishes about how their customers would use their products, but those are just wishes, not law. But when companies use DRM to enforce those wishes, they can turn them into law, because breaking the DRM is against the law.

Take Netflix, one of the companies really eager to see DRM added to browsers. Netflix started out by mailing DVDs to its customers, something the movie studios hated. But Netflix bought those DVDs fair and square, and even though the copyright holders behind those discs didn't want Netflix to mail them around, those wishes were not laws, and so Netflix got to grow into the service we all use today.

Today's Netflix has wishes, too: they want to stop you from recording your Netflix streams to watch later, or to move onto other devices. Those are just wishes too -- the same copyright law that makes DVRs and VCRs legal apply to Netflix streams too. But once Netflix uses EME to prevent you from doing this stuff, it can treat its wishes as laws -- and demand that you do the same.

Are you sure this is just about laws?

Pretty sure, yup! Just to double-check, EFF proposed a solution that would cleanly separate the technology from the broad powers that corporations get from DMCA 1201. Under our proposal, W3C members would agree that they could only use DMCA 1201 to stop people from doing something that was already illegal, like movie piracy.

More than 40 W3C members support this proposal, but the companies that want DRM won't hear of it, and last week, the W3C's Director signaled that he wouldn't listen to the members who want this -- rather, he'll let the W3C be turned into an organization where big companies go to get new avenues for legal control, instead of new technologies.

What will EME mean for the web?

Once a company uses DRM in its product, it can threaten anyone who opens up that product in ways they don't like. The exact boundaries of DMCA 1201 are contested, with prosecutors, rightsholders, and some courts arguing for a very expansive scope. Because the penalties for losing a DMCA claim are so scary -- in some commercial circumstances it could mean a $500,000 fine and a 5-year prison sentence for a first offense! -- few people want to operate in the gray area threatened by DMCA 1201.

There are three important groups in the web ecosystem who will lose their rights thanks to EME:

  1. Competitors: these are the intended targets of EME. Companies, free software projects, and individuals who want to let people do more with the videos in their browsers will need permission from the Netflixes of the world in order to develop their tools. It's a first for the W3C: a standard that's designed to stop people from improving the web in lawful ways.
  2. Security whistleblowers: these are an unintended -- but welcome (for some companies) -- target for EME. DRM advocates have said that merely disclosing defects in products that use DRM violates Section 1201 of the DMCA. The thinking goes like this: "When you tell people about the errors we made in designing our products, you also show them where the weak points in our DRM's armor is." Security researchers are routinely stopped from going public when they discover high-risk defects in widely used products because their institutions fear reprisal under DMCA 1201. Rather than protecting the right of these researchers to make truthful statements about defective products, the W3C is crafting voluntary guidelines to help its members to decide when to censor reports of defects in their products.
  3. People with disabilities: these are also an unintended target of EME. EME includes many adaptations to help those with disabilities enjoy videos, but there are plenty of ways this could be improved. Normally, adapting technology to accommodate disabilities is all about writing code, but because these adaptations would require bypassing DRM, accessibility toolsmiths will need to clear a thicket of permissions before they start work (or risk criminal and civil penalties).

Who else feels this way?

Lots of organizations in the W3C and hundreds of leading security researchers. The W3C members who've gone on record as supporting EFF's position include:

  • Accessibility organizations: Royal National Institute of Blind People (UK); Braillenet (France); Vision Australia and Media Access Australia (Australia); Benetech and SSB Bart (USA)
  • Research institutes: Lawrence Berkeley Labs; Eindhoven, Oxford, Kings College London, Open University, Vrije University
  • Public interest groups: EFF, Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Cryptocurrency, blockchain and security groups: Ethereum, Blockstream, White Ops
  • Commercial firms, webscale projects and browsers: Hypothes.is, Vivliostyle, Brave

Is this just a US problem?

Alas, no: the US Trade Representative has been a busy beaver, convincing almost all of the US's trading partners (with the sole exception of Israel) to adopt rules like this.

But EFF is on the case: we're suing the US government to invalidate section 1201 of the DMCA.

Share this: Join EFF
Categories: Political Action

Law for All: Free Law Project’s Radical Approach to Legal Transparency

Creative Commons - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 10:49
Free Law Project Logo CC BY

What does open access look like for the law? Through free access to primary legal sources, the Free Law Project provides an important service to advocates, journalists, researchers, and the public. Joining with an international movement for Free Access to Law, the US-based organization helps people know their rights in an increasingly uncertain and rapidly changing legal era.

The Free Law Project is an umbrella organization for a variety of projects, including Court Listener for millions of pieces of legal data, the RECAP project (begun by Aaron Swartz in 2009) to freely open the PACER archive of legal data, a complete repository of Supreme Court Data, a repository of judicial opinions and seals, and a Free Law Reporters Database. The project’s call for greater transparency in the law has been covered in a variety of news outlets, and their work continues to grow in scope and importance.

The Free Law Project is accepting volunteers, legal and otherwise, for help with code, transcription, and more at their website. Project founder Mike Lissner graciously answered these questions via email.

Why is it important for citizens to gain access to free legal documents? How does your work run parallel with the open access movement in science and academia?

We see our work and the open access movement as two sides of the same coin. Just as people need access to journal articles to do good scientific research, they need access to legal information to do good legal research. It’s not enough to have access to American laws in the same way that it’s not enough to have access to the laws of physics. Knowing what the laws say is one thing, but properly understanding them in practice is something else entirely. That’s a gap we are working to fill.

With every passing year, we are seeing more and more people defending themselves in court, without hiring a lawyer. Last year, in federal courts alone, 52% of filings were made by people defending themselves, a whopping 18% increase from 2015.

To get a fair shake, these people need good tools and they need to be well informed. We believe the way to accomplish that is by providing high-quality legal data to organizations, researchers, journalists, and the public.

How has the internet changed free access to law? How has it made it more or less possible to gain access to free legal documents? How is your work technically mediated, and how do you create tools to empower legal recourse?

We collect hundreds of new legal documents from court websites every day and make them searchable on CourtListener.com. Within minutes of a new case being published, we can send you an email about it so that you know that it’s something you may want to read. Prior to the Internet, this kind of access was impossible.

But there are still major difficulties that we encounter while gathering these documents. For example, most opinions published by the courts don’t have unique identifiers, so there’s no easy way to cite them until they are blessed by a third party publisher. And of course, very few courts have websites with high-quality machine-readable data, so we spend a lot of effort making sure our crawlers are working properly.

One of our biggest projects, RECAP, collects data from a government-run website called PACER, where legal documents cost roughly ten cents per page. PACER is the biggest paywall in the world, holding more than a billion copyright-free documents, and we’re working on liberating as many of them as we can so that the public can easily and freely access them.

You run a variety of projects, technical and nontechnical, to help citizens gain greater access to legal documents. How does your work contribute to a more just and open society?

We approach this from two different angles. First, we try to make the legal industry more competitive by offering high-quality legal data and APIs. This lowers the barrier to entry that startups and researchers face, making it easier for them to focus on their innovations or research instead of on how to get expensive legal data.

Second, part of our mission is to create simple high-quality tools for people to use to research the law. This helps level the playing field by giving both sides of any legal dispute good tools. Some legal tools are incredibly sophisticated, but even the simplest tools are often quite expensive (it’s hard to know how expensive because prices are usually secret).

We see one of our roles as pushing the bar of what can be free. If Free Law Project, a tiny non-profit, can offer a tool for free, surely your organization can too.

How can non-lawyers get involved with your projects? How do you see your work as being more broadly related to legal advocacy? What kinds of contributions do you seek from the public?

This is a great question. We’re always seeking help from just about any- and everybody. All of our work is open source, and we’re always looking for people to help build new features or squash bugs. We have data entry work that we need volunteer corps to help fix, and we even have a collection of photos of judges that needs to be fleshed out. Essentially, if you have time and skills to volunteer, we can probably use your help.

You work mostly in the United States, but the Free Access to Law Movement is a global movement. How does your project advocate globally as well as in the US? What kinds of organizations are doing similar work around the world?

The Free Access to Law Movement is incredibly important and has gained a toehold in dozens of countries. You can see a list of all the members on their website, www.falm.info. A great way to get involved in the Free Access to Law Movement is to start at that site, find an organization in your country, and send them an email. There’s also the Law via the Internet conference every year that attracts free law advocates from around the world. For our part, working on the American legal system has proven to be more than enough!

The post Law for All: Free Law Project’s Radical Approach to Legal Transparency appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

NEO AFSC March 3, 2017 Podcast

American Friends Service Committee - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 10:24

We summarize last week’s activities; share next week’s upcoming events; and comment on President Trump’s proposed military budget increase, increased awareness of “corporate personhood” inside the Washington DC beltway, the Democratic National Committee’s decision to continue accepting cash from corporate political action committees, and the failure of the privatized/corporatized JobsOhio economic development organization to create jobs in Ohio (but enriching its own employees). [Length: 44:13]

Categories: Political Action

Raising the resistance

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

The only answer to the Trump onslaught is to raise the level of the resistance--but the struggles of today open the way to building a stronger left that can rise to the challenge.

A crowd takes the streets in Washington, D.C., to protest Trump's Muslim ban (Stephen Melkisethian)

AFTER JUST a month or so in office, Donald Trump's presidency has already been unprecedented--just not in ways he would want.

Trump took the oath of office with the lowest approval rating of any previous incoming president. His first full day in office saw the largest single day of protest nationwide in U.S. history. Defiance of his first executive orders led to a new form of political mobilization--the airport occupation--and revived an older form with the "Day Without Immigrant" strikes.

Though it's still in its formative stages, the resistance to Trump's presidency is causing a higher level of left-wing radicalization, political discontent and struggle than the U.S. has seen in years--maybe in all the nearly 40 years that Socialist Worker has been publishing.

But that won't stop the Trump presidency by itself. His administration is locked on full-steam-ahead in attempting to drive through his reactionary agenda. As massive as the opposition to Trump has been already, the resistance will need to grow bigger still--its politics need to deepen and radicalize, and the level and forms of its struggles need to expand.

The mobilization of determined opposition to Trump has won some victories, though--most obviously, the legal halt on his first Muslim ban--and it has given rise to another "unprecedented": The greatest opportunities in a generation for the U.S. left to expand the influence of its politics and the reach of its organizations, which are necessary conditions to raising the resistance to a new level.

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SIGNS OF the scale of opposition to Trump were clear right after the election as the streets of major cities were clogged with nightly protests.

But there was some reason to fear that the discontent could be stifled or dispersed--in particular, because the immediate response of the official "opposition" in mainstream politics was so pathetic.

Barack Obama led the way in insisting that the Democratic Party would hope for Trump's success, and unions and liberal organizations--accustomed to their unquestioning loyalty to the Democrats, above all else--were either invisible or in retreat mode already.

We got another example of spinelessness this week after Trump's speech to Congress. After he managed to smile for the cameras instead of snarl the whole time, the media declared him to be "presidential," and leading Democrats emphasized what they shared in common.

But the attitude to Trump is different outside the political and media establishment. That's why the massive turnout for the Women's Marches on January 21 was so important. It proved that there are millions of people who not only want to say they're against Trump, but show it--and they mobilized themselves to do so.

In the many eruptions of protest and struggle that have followed, January 21 has been cited often as a huge confidence-booster.

It was a starting point for the women and men who wanted to confront the anti-abortion fanatics and the plans for actions on February 11 outside Planned Parenthood clinics--even though that organizing meant challenging the conservative strategy put forward by Planned Parenthood itself.

This year, International Women's Day on March 8 will be a day of action in more than 30 countries, with feminist activists hoping to revive an old initiative--the women's strike--that marked an important moment of the last women's movement in 1970.

Though the Department of Homeland Security run by Trump is claiming new victims among the undocumented, public opinion is against mass deportations. The call for the biggest Day Without Immigrants protests yet on May 1 holds the possibility of mobilizing that sentiment.

The underlying discontent with the Trump regime stretches beyond where anyone guessed it would before Inauguration Day. Trump himself has suffered some setbacks, but even GOP members of Congress representing states and districts that are reliably Republican are paying a price.

In a reversal from the right-wing Tea Party protests of legislators' town-hall events during the Obama years, Republicans are facing demonstrators opposed to the Trump agenda--especially the drastic health care cuts ordinary people are likely to face if the GOP goes ahead with repealing Obamacare.

Trump and Co. call them "professional protesters," but more than more than 40,000 people have sent a message of defiance at congressional town halls and activist meet-ups in over 300 cities in 49 states, the Guardian reported, citing estimates by liberal groups.

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IF THE U.S. political system were a democracy, Trump would be toast. His agenda has been exposed already as representing a small minority of the population.

But Trump won the U.S. presidency, whose extensive powers are insulated from popular control--not only by an Electoral College that allowed Trump to "win" despite losing the popular vote, but by a political system that leaves elected leaders, and especially the president, unaccountable in between elections.

Gone are any of the illusions that Trump would be reined in, either directly by the Republican Party or indirectly by the ruling class it represents. However unexpected his victory may have been, he and the circle of reactionaries that have accumulated around him have a program to unite them, and they are ready to go to any lengths to achieve it.

Parts of the Trump agenda are unpopular with a majority of the U.S. ruling class. In particular, Trump's economic nationalism--a response to the relative decline of U.S. imperial power--threatens to upset a framework for the world economy that made most of Corporate America and the bankers very rich and powerful.

But Trump--despite the populist rhetoric he adopted to win votes last year--is also promising a lot that the U.S. ruling class is thrilled about: more tax cuts for businesses and the super-rich, elimination of corporate and financial regulations, anti-union measures aimed at crushing the last remaining bases for organized labor.

General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, whose company has a lot at stake in maintaining both multinational markets and an international production chain, nevertheless told CNBC: "There's a lot that I like in what President Trump is doing."

The post-election stock market boom tells the story: after an initial period of uneasiness, stock prices soared to new highs on expectations of a further bonanza for the rich at the expense of the rest of us.

And as incompetent as the administration has been in rolling out its agenda, the Trump regime has one thing going for it in mainstream politics: the cowardice and capitulations of the Democratic Party.

In February, for the election of a new chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), party leaders, reportedly led by Obama, recruited a longtime apparatchik, Tom Perez, to run against Rep. Keith Ellison, an early supporter of Bernie Sanders during the primaries last year.

That kept the DNC out of the hands of someone whose loyalty to the Clinton-Obama leadership isn't locked down. But the Democrats' craven behavior since Trump's election isn't a matter of the wrong people at the top of the party apparatus. It's a product of the nature of the party itself--as a defender of the same corporate interests that have found "a lot to like" in the Trump agenda.

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GIVEN ALL THIS, it's all the more significant that Trump has suffered setbacks on important issues.

The most obvious example is the travel ban against Muslims, which was blocked by the rulings of federal judges. This was partly a sign of a conflict within the political establishment. Judges appointed by a former Republican president opposed an action of the current one, and in so doing defended the powers of their branch of government against the White House.

But we certainly can't count on unelected Republican judges to stand up against injustice. The Washington system of "checks and balances" routinely allows completely unchecked power. As Danny Katch wrote at SocialistWorker.org, "[T]he judicial branch has a long history of deferring to the executive one at precisely the moments when we need it to protect our liberties."

The court decisions might have gone differently if not for the massive eruption of protest against Trump's travel ban and everything else that he represents. That put pressure on a naturally conservative institution to block a plainly illegitimate and unjust order by the executive branch.

When the Trump administration comes up with a revised ban, as it has repeatedly promised to, the protests will matter once again in determining what the judiciary does.

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THE TRUMP offensive will continue, and the only answer to it is to raise the level of resistance--to bring millions more into open protest, to link together and magnify the different movements for justice, ultimately to put the full economic and social power of the working class majority behind the struggles against Trump and the right.

That's a tall order, especially considering the years of defeats and disorientation suffered by the labor movement and the broad left. There is no short cut to building up politics and organization, which are both necessary to a resistance that can rise to the challenge in the months to come.

But the critical point for socialists is that the eruptions of struggle taking place around many issues are creating the opportunities to take those steps.

When anti-abortion forces called for a day of action against Planned Parenthood last month, large numbers of women and men wanted to respond, and were more confident to do so after the Women's Marches. But they faced opposition from Planned Parenthood itself, which remains wedded to a strategy of lobbying and support for Democrats, while asking for, at most, passive support from the pro-choice majority.

So the instinctive response to confront the right ran into a debate that helped those involved in it clarify and develop their own ideas further. Those who went ahead in organizing counterprotests were drawn into further political discussion and organizing that will help prepare them for future struggles--and connect them to others who want to resist on this and many other issues.

As Jen Roesch wrote about the experience of organizing the counterprotests:

This collective process is the only way we can determine the best ways to fight back. As we did around this protest, we will have many debates as we move forward, but we should welcome them as an indispensable part of building the renewed movement we so desperately need.

Experiences like this one are part of the history of every social upsurge in the U.S. and beyond.

In the struggle against injustice or to win some economic or social advance, however modest, the people who want to fight have to either build on existing organization or--when existing forces hold things back, as is often the case--create new ones to build the struggle.

In that situation, what socialists can do in making their ideas and the distilled experiences of past struggles and movements relevant to the current moment can be decisive.

We are only at the beginning of a new era of radicalization and protest, but the eruptions of resistance to Trump and the right are giving socialists the greatest opportunity in a generation and more to seize the moment--and build not only the vitally important struggles of today, but the movement to win a new world.

Categories: Political Action

How do we stand up to India's far right?

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

The threat of the fascist right was revealed in violent attacks at an Indian university, but there is a determined resistance by students and faculty, writes Pranav Jani.

Several thousand students from around Dehli came out to oppose right-wing violence (Bonojit Hussain)

"IF YOU are planning to fight fascism, wait no longer. The time is now. The place is DU."

This tweet from Shehla Rashid Shora, former vice president of the student union at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and a well-known student activist in India, called for solidarity with students and faculty at Delhi University (DU), where a right-wing student group rioted in opposition to free speech on February 21-22.

Over 3,000 people gathered for a vibrant march at DU on February 28. Certainly, there were many left student groups, but also first-time protesters from colleges and schools around Delhi who were simply angry that their universities could be targeted in this way.

Shehla Rashid's comment captures the resilient mood of students on Indian campuses across the country in the face of a far right that has only become more confident after the 2014 election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi is not only a representative of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu right's political arm, but a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its core cadre group.

Against these odds, Indian students have been moving rapidly into struggle. In standing up to the emergent fascist threat in India in campus after campus, they are giving the rest of us a picture of the kinds of courage and organizing it will take to confront the global emergence of the right.

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ON FEBRUARY 21 the student group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), affiliated with the BJP and RSS, spearheaded actions to shut down an academic seminar called "Cultures of Protest" organized by English Department and Wordcraft, its literary society, at Ramjas College at DU.

As angry crowds gathered outside the venue, some brandishing lathis (long clubs) according to a student organizer of the seminar, police asked the university to disinvite their JNU guests, Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid Shora. Both speakers were prominent in the massive JNU protests and clashes with police in February 2016 after federal authorities had arrested Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar under the Sedition Act.

But even after these talks were canceled, the ABVP kept on the offensive, continuing to harass attendees and raise nationalist slogans. Soon, the conference was interrupted by the sounds of shattering glass as rocks were hurled through windows.

From the accounts and photo evidence of many students, the police simply allowed all of this to take place--either letting the ABVP to stand on police cars and throw rocks, or joining in with lathi-charges and even assault of protesters.

The next day, ABVP activists stopped a planned march to the police station by blocking the gates of the college for five hours, as documented under #RamjasUnderSiege and #DUFightsBack.

Outside, students and activists who had gathered in solidarity were physically attacked, including Prasanta Chakravarty, a professor of English at DU, who sustained serious internal injuries and broken ribs from being thrown to the ground, kicked in the stomach and almost strangled.

Rather than drawing attention to the growing willingness of the Hindutva goons to physically attack those with whom they disagree, the corporate media repeatedly has chosen to portray the events as a "clash" between rival student organizations: the ABVP and the All-Indian Students Association (AISA), affiliated with the leftist CPI (ML) Liberation.

Hindutva trolls have been also been working overtime and en emass. Gurmehar Kaur, a DU student and daughter of a slain Indian soldier, bravely began a #StudentsAgainstABVP social media campaign that quickly became popular. But she was smeared with such misogyny and hatred that she had to step back.

And yet, as the February 28 mass march shows, the opposition to ABVP's actions has only grown, with many new students deciding to take sides, and to enter into the demonstrations with their own creative and thoughtful slogans.

Rather than a "clash" between student groups, what we are seeing is the blossoming of a whole new generation of activists who take education and ideas seriously, and are willing to defend them.

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IN A perceptive statement on the violence, the Delhi branch of the group New Socialist Initiative (NSI) noted two specific aspects of the ABVP attack in Delhi.

First, Narendra Modi's Home Ministry directly controls the Delhi police, which helps explain some of their reluctance to interfere in the rioting. Second, unlike other recent sites of ABVP mobilization like JNU and Hyderabad Central University (HCU), DU and its student union have been open to influence from ABVP for decades. All of which has prepared the ground for this sort of direct violence.

As NSI puts it, the Hindutva right now has "a group of storm troopers, ready to terrorize and physically assault in open daylight anyone who does not agree with...RSS and BJP."

What threatens the Hindutva forces so much about seminars and conferences? Why put so much emphasis on college campuses?

Despite being institutions that perpetuate social hierarchies, colleges and universities--in India, in the U.S. and elsewhere--are key places where alternative thinking and radical politics continue to thrive. In order to win the ideological battle, the right wing knows it can't allow thinking and access to knowledge.

Indian campuses have increasingly allowed young people to meet across caste, class, gender and regional lines. To quote NSI again, "[T]he recent expansion of higher education in the country has seen millions of first generation students from the oppressed castes, minorities and women joining universities like DU."

Indeed, many of the recent campus struggles have been around fighting Islamophobia, raising the questions of Indian occupation in Kashmir, Bastar and the Northeast, and challenging caste and gender hierarchies--and the ABVP has particularly targeted Dalit groups and Muslim and left leaders.

The institutional murder of HCU student activist Rohith Vemula and the disappearance of JNU student Najeeb Ahmad after an altercation with an ABVP activist reveal the deadly threat of right-wing mobilization.

In all of these cases, the term "anti-national" gets thrown at students and faculty who dare to speak about politically controversial topics, from Islamophobia and terrorism to Kashmir to anti-Dalit violence to sexual assault and rape.

The claim of "anti-national" is a calculated effort to silence all critics. "For right-wing groups," writes Mohinder Singh, "the obsessive invocation of the unity against external enemy is nothing but a strategy of perpetuating existing social hierarchies and dominance."

Going beyond the slur "anti-American" in the U.S. context, "anti-national" in India carries with it the threat of the Sedition Act (Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code), a colonial-era law which actually abrogates free speech when regarded as a threat to national integrity.

An example of the mentality generated in this context was given by BJP Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, speaking at the London School of Economics at the time of the Ramjas College incidents. After an obligatory criticism of violence, Jaitley effectively defended the ABVP, chastising campuses for being sites of "subversion":

If somebody speaks about breaking India into pieces and thinks that is part of free speech--don't forget, under Article 19 (2), sovereignty is an exception to free speech--assuming you wanted that right, be liberal enough to believe that within the democratic framework, a large majority will stand up to you and counter your free speech.

Clearly implying that the ABVP response was the voice of the "large majority," Jaitley subtly gave a green light to further escalations of this sort, even beyond the use of the Sedition Act to muzzle dialogue.

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DEMONSTRATIONS AND counter-demonstrations continue to be planned through early March, with political figures of the left and right joining in. DU has joined JNU and HCU at the center of a national struggle over whether free speech and democratic rights will continue in Modi's India or not--as well as the possibilities for rebuilding the left.

In a recent Facebook post, Prasanta Chakravarty articulated the work ahead of building the fight against forces of chauvinism and hate:

There must be a broad coalition now, silently building up. And years of work lie ahead. A painstaking job. The Right is in ascendancy today because they have done and are doing this painstaking job of hate-mongering effectively, at the grassroots level, for decades. We have to take on that kind of a might. I have no clue how. But we must rise above our silos and egos and come together--students, teachers and everybody else who wish to see a different climate from the one we find ourselves in today.

DU and Indian students are showing that this coalition is possible, and already in the making.

Categories: Political Action

Healthy Domains Revisited: the Pharmaceutical Industry

Deep Links - Thu, 03/02/2017 - 18:56

Users scored an exciting victory over copyright-based censorship last month, when the Domain Name Association (DNA) and the Public Interest Registry (PIR), in response to criticism from EFF, both abruptly withdrew their proposals for a new compulsory arbitration system to confiscate domain names of websites accused of copyright infringement.

But copyright enforcement was only one limb of the the DNA's set of Registry/Registrar Healthy Practices [PDF]. One of the other limbs of these practices was a process for "streamlining complaint handling from illegal or 'rogue' online pharmacies." Although the target is different, the mechanism is much the same: allowing a self-interested private entity to request the cancellation of domain names associated with websites that it alleges infringe its rights.

How and Why Big Pharma Blacklists Overseas Pharmacies

The treatment of online pharmacies in the Registry/Registrar Healthy Practices is even more unbalanced than in the copyright proposal, in that decisions on whether a domain name should be confiscated would not be made by an independent arbitrator, but by reference to an opaque blacklist maintained by big pharma trade groups the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) and LegitScript. These blacklists use the loosest of definitions of "illegal online pharmacy" in order to depict licensed overseas pharmacies as rogue, even if they supply original branded medicines and require a prescription, unless they are also licensed in the country of each and every online customer.

Why can't overseas pharmacies just obtain foreign licenses to avoid being blacklisted, then? Because, at least in the case of U.S. sales, that would mean they could only dispense medicines sourced within the U.S. from the manufacturer, at the world's highest prices. In other words, it is literally impossible for a foreign-dispensing pharmacy to obtain a license that would keep them off the ASOP and LegitScript blacklist.

Now, it may well be that there should be some international mechanism to regulate overseas pharmacies sending prescription medicines into countries where they are not licensed. EFF doesn't take a position on this because it's outside of our area of expertise, but it's worth noting that there are several similar initiatives already in place, focused on cases that pose a high risk to consumers, such as the criminal trade in fraudulent medicines.1

In contrast, ASOP and LegitScript call all overseas pharmacies that dispense medicines to the U.S. "illegal", regardless of whether they dispense fraudulent or authentic medicines. This is misleading because although it may be against U.S. law for Americans to import medicines from overseas, the pharmacies sending such medicines are not subject to U.S. law. Provided that they comply with the laws in their own countries, such as by maintaining professional licenses and sourcing authentic medication, they are breaking no laws that apply to them. Calling them "illegal" and blacklisting them along with vendors of fraudulent medicines is a misleading tactic at best.

Shadow Regulation Gets Big Pharma What the Law Won't

This explains why big pharma has fallen back on Shadow Regulation as a way of getting what they want, by putting pressure on pliant Internet intermediaries such as domain registries and registrars who are neither qualified, nor perhaps particularly interested, in distinguishing between fraudulent drug peddlers and licensed pharmacies whose only crime is being based outside of the U.S. By setting up their own front organization ASOP as judge and jury, and Internet intermediaries like the domain name registries as executioners, big pharma is able to effectively maintain a stranglehold on online sales of prescription medicines that they could never get under national or international law.

That doesn't mean that online trade in medicines needs to be an unregulated free-for-all. There may be some merit in the DNA's idea of a cross-border framework of cooperation on online medicine sales. But the DNA's big mistake was in allowing big pharma to write the rulebook. If a set of practices on online pharmacies is to be developed, this should be done through an inclusive, balanced and accountable process. This means including all affected stakeholders, so that a balance can be struck between the private interest of patent monopolists and diverse public interests such as access to affordable medicine and maintaining a free and open Internet.

The outcome of such a conversation probably wouldn't look much like what we see in the DNA's Registry/Registrar Healthy Practices—which are quite literally lifted holus-bolus from a document of the ASOP/LegitScript mouthpiece Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP). A more balanced set of guidelines might, for example, provide a channel for Internet intermediaries to ensure that consumers have accurate information about the provenance of the pharmaceuticals that they buy online, and assist law enforcement authorities in obtaining information about online pharmacies that dispense fraudulent medicines.

Meanwhile, it's not as if there are no safeguards already in place for purchasers from online pharmacies. We already mentioned one independent pharmacy watchdog in our last piece on this topic; PharmacyChecker.com. In addition, there are self-regulatory guidelines that many reputable online pharmacies follow, such as those of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). (EFF is presenting on Shadow Regulation at CIPA's AGM today, and our presentation is linked below.)

Without even acknowledging the existence of such existing best practice initiatives, the DNA's Registry/Registrar Healthy Practices would have Internet intermediaries hand the reins of Internet content regulation over to big pharma. There is no better illustration of what a dangerous precedent this sets than in the Healthy Practices themselves, which would have granted similar content censorship powers to copyright monopolists, if we hadn't stopped that proposal first. Even if well-meaning, Shadow Regulation will always be inclined to have unintended consequences such as these, because of its deliberate exclusion of Internet users and the public at large.

We called it out before, and we're calling it out again: the Healthy Domains Initiative remains unhealthy for the Internet, and the DNA needs to go back to the drawing board.

  • 1. Big pharma has long tried to dishonestly conflate this with international trade in safe generic and branded medicines, by describing them both using blanket phrases like "counterfeit drugs". However they suffered a setback last year, when the World Health Organization (WHO) ruled that it would henceforth use the terminology substandard and falsified in its work on public health concerns around fraudulent medicines, signalling that the WHO has no designs to become an international patent enforcement body.

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Categories: Political Action