Political Action

We'll honor Richard by standing up to the right

Socialist Worker - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 01:00

The murder of African American college student Richard Collins III on the campus of the University of Maryland (UMD) by a known white supremacist shocked and horrified people around the country. But it was another example in the wave of racist violence that has gathered strength in cities across the U.S.

The time to respond is now, and around the country, opponents of the right's hate and violence are organizing. SocialistWorker.org talked to three anti-racists in the Maryland-D.C. area about Collins' murder and the steps we need to take to challenge the far right. Brendan Sullivan and Zakariya Uddin are students at UMD and participants in the Protect UMD coalition on campus. Dave Zirin is an author and columnist for the Nation who has lived in the Washington, D.C., area for many years--his article for TheNation.com was one of the first reports on Collins' murder in any media, independent or mainstream.

All three will be attending a town hall meeting on the fight against the "alt-right" on June 6 at the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., with featured speakers to include Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, anti-death penalty activist Shujaa Graham, and author and activist Brian Jones.

Hundreds attend a vigil for Richard Collins III at Bowie State University (Jay Reed | The Diamondback)

WHAT DID you first think of when you heard about the stabbing of Richard Collins III?

Dave: It says something about the times we're living in that when I first heard that a Bowie State student was killed at the UMD campus, and knowing about all the hate that has occurred on campus this year, and that Bowie State is a historically Black college, my first thought was "I think that we're going to hear that this was a racist killing."

Obviously, any loss of life--particularly someone who was going to graduate from college that week--is beyond tragic. But I can tell you that in previous years, if I'd heard such a thing, my first response would have been "My god, what happened?" But now, it was "Oh my god, I bet there was a racist murder." All I needed to hear was Bowie State, UMD, and a student killed, and every fear just exploded in my brain. It says so much about the current situation.

Brendan: We get e-mail alerts from the UMPD whenever there's an incident on campus. So the first thing we heard was that there was a stabbing, and then that it was a murder, and then we found out that it was a murder of a Black man by a white man.

The UMPD said initially that this wasn't racially motivated, but we were all skeptical. Then a friend of mine, Chris BD, looked at Seth Urbanski's Facebook page and found that he was a member of this Facebook group called "Alt-Reich: Nation." Then we knew beyond doubt that this was racially motivated, and the university was trying to save face.

When the fact that Urbanski was a part of Alt-Reich leaked to the press, the university started to do damage control. And that's basically all the university does--damage control, not intervening proactively on behalf of students.

What you can do

If you're in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, come to a town hall meeting on "The Racist Murder of Richard Collins III: Fight the Alt-Right," on June 6 at 7 p.m. at the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ on Capitol Street NE in Washington.

Featured speakers will include Rev. Graylan Hagler, anti-death penalty activist Shujaa Graham and author and activist Brian Jones.

Zakariya: That was order of events for me, too: finding out first that it was a stabbing, then that it was a murder, and at a bus stop that's very close to me. Then, when we learned it was racially motivated, I found out the victim was someone I knew. I'm close friends with one of Richard's close friends. I didn't know him very well, but that was another big shock that just made it more real.

HAS THERE been a climate of racism at UMD that could have contributed to this?

Zakariya: During the school year, there were racist posters put up on campus by a group called American Vanguard. Apparently two students who went to UMD were a part of the group and put up the posters.

There was a noose found in the kitchen of a frat house on campus, where the staff is African American. The university didn't say anything about this for several days, which goes along with what Brendan was saying about damage control. The university knew about this immediately, but kept it under wraps for a significant amount of time before notifying students, as a way to try to squelch bad press.

Brendan: Also in the noose incident, the school talked about the investigation and there was a statement that they found no usable surveillance camera imagery of anyone coming into the frat house to hang the noose. But they haven't said publicly that the logical conclusion of that is somebody in the fraternity house did this. They have no surveillance camera footage of people going in to hang the noose. Again, this is a damage control measure to not expose racists in that frat house.

This atmosphere started bubbling up when Trump became a serious contender in the primaries last year. Terps for Trump became really vocal and prominent with chalkings and coded racist shit. Their chalkings would talk about building a wall, and because Trump had become a serious contender, this racism was more or less excused in the mainstream.

Zakariya: We've also seen chalkings calling for the deportation of DREAM students, so that definitely added to this political climate.

DAVE, IN your article for the Nation, you pointed out that this atmosphere goes beyond UMD.

Dave: We're living in a time where Nazism and white supremacy is being rebranded, expanded and sanctioned across the U.S. It's not to say that these people and movements haven't existed before, but people worked for decades to push them to the margins, where they were scared to even lift up their heads. But now they feel like this is their time.

They've used social media and private Facebook groups in the same manner that the Klan used to use cross burnings--to build community, where they come together and egg each other on, spreading racist and bigoted filth in the name of free speech.

When you have this coming together of forces, with a social media community coming together at the same time that the ideological backbone of the Trump presidency is directly connected to the far right, the result will inevitably end in violence and death. And the people at the top don't have the courage to stop it because this is part of their agenda, actually.

People are surprised that the Trump administration hasn't condemned the killing of Richard Collins III or the killings of the Samaritans in Portland--although Trump did say something about Portland days afterward, while assiduously avoiding any mention of Islamophobia.

But this isn't limited to the Trump administration. I think we make the mistake sometimes of fixating on Trump and what he's saying and not saying--but there's been no condemnation from anybody in the Republican Party that I can find, either about what happened in Portland or of what happened to Richard Collins.

Remember, Richard Collins III was a lieutenant in the Army. That's not a small part of this story. We're talking here on Memorial Day weekend, and a soldier was lynched a 20-minute drive from U.S. Army headquarters. This happened to a soldier of the U.S. Army and there's no mention? On Memorial Day?

It reminds you of the stories of Black soldiers returning home after the Second World War to the Jim Crow South. It says a lot about how the armed forces in this country view Black soldiers--and the fact the U.S. government, with all its military bombast, doesn't give a damn about Black soldiers. Any other attitude would run counter to the other narrative they're pushing--that of bigotry and division and cozying up to the most reactionary refuse in our society.

YOU ALSO pointed out that this case is a contrast to the media's association of violence and terrorism with foreigners or outsiders, but Seth Urbanski "is a homegrown terrorist who grew out of the soil of this college campus."

Dave: I think the statistics speak for themselves. The risk of coming to violent harm from a white supremacist terrorist--whether from the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys or whatever else they're choosing to rebrand themselves as--is so much greater than any other ethnicity or religion that they try to get us to be scared of.

Think of the collectivization of punishment on the shoulders of Arabs and Muslims, of Mexicans, and certainly of African Americans historically--these communities are somehow expected to take collective responsibility for the crimes of a few.

But where's the collective burden on these communities of white supremacists? Where are the calls for white people to report on their own "communities"?

I think the danger is that these racist crimes are written off as individual problems, committed by a guy who needs psychological help over here and maybe this guy over there was drunk. That doesn't look at the collective way the far right is organizing online, the collective way they're egging each other on, the collective way that they see this as their moment.

WHAT CAN the left do to challenge the spread of the alt right and turn the tide against this political climate?

Brendan: Actively confronting and outing white supremacists, and reclaiming spaces for everyone--that's the bottom line. Confronting and protesting white supremacists and reclaiming spaces for everyone. We have to openly confront these hateful people, wherever they may be.

Zakariya: On campus, a number of groups--including the NAACP, Asian American Student Union, International Socialist Organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, and others--formed a coalition called Protect UMD. There's organizing going on there--mainly just meetings so far, to discuss steps moving forward, especially after the summer, when students come back onto campus.

Another question is the response to President [Wallace] Loh's letter stating some of the steps that the university is going to take. The attitude of Protect UMD is that what Loh put forward is not enough.

I think a lot of students feel that the university isn't proactive or involved enough in making an environment where racism isn't tolerated. Instead of that, they're washing away chalkings calling for the deportation of students and there's no consequences or penalties for someone hanging a noose in their own frat house to inspire terror.

Brendan: The measures that Loh has proposed publicly aren't going to be enough. They call for actions from offices that are already overtaxed, beyond that, there's little more than lip service toward the concerns of students who are outraged. It's too little and far too late.

Dave: We know the way to turn this around, because we've done it before--and when I say "we," I mean anybody who's considered themselves anti-Nazi or anti-fascist, dating back over the last century.

We know how to do this--by amassing the largest numbers of people possible and showing in practice that we won't be afraid. These are terror-based movements, based on dividing and intimidating people. The public display of strength in the face of terror--whether it's a vigil or a demonstration or something else--is the way to turn them back. We need it to be put right in their face that they can't divide us.

I think we can run into trouble when we think that the right can be defeated through violence--the one-on-one violence that you see glorified by some anti-fascists. I think the right-wingers are in this for the one-on-one violence. They don't care if they get beat up or do the beating up--they want those expressions of violence that look frightening and intimidate people from coming out.

I think what the right fears more than anything is being swamped--swamped by white people, Black people, Brown people all moving in on their space and occupying it, and they're not being able to do anything but scatter.

That's where our strength lies. This is definitely one of those moments right now--if we're not trying to amass the largest number of people to demonstrate to them we won't be divided and we won't be moved, then we're going to pay for that down the line.

There's an urgency around this right now that I think anybody can see. There are masses and masses of people who are repelled by the right, repelled by the murder of Richard Collins III, repelled by the murder of the two Samaritans in Portland. This is the time to not merely be upset, but to put our bodies out there and stand up.

People need to remember Richard Collins III. Just like we've never forgotten Emmett Till's name, we should never forget Lt. Collins. We must say his name.

Categories: Political Action

Duterte reaches for more power

Socialist Worker - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 01:00

A military confrontation in Mindanao has provided Rodrigo Duterte with the ideal pretext for a declaration of martial law he has long sought, explains Alessandro Tinonga.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte addresses reporters during a press conference (JaLozano | Wikimedia Commons)

PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the southern part of the country, representing the next phase in Duterte's drive to centralize political power in his own hands, using repression and bloodshed.

Duterte went on the offensive after fighting between government troops and Islamic rebels on the southern island of Mindanao came to a head in late May.

After the Philippine Army unsuccessfully tried to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf, the militants called for reinforcements. About 100 gunmen from Abu Sayyaf and another group called Maute entered the city of Marawi and effectively took over a sizeable section for section for several days.

In the course of the fighting, 44 people have been killed, 31 of whom were alleged militants, while the rest were soldiers and police. A Catholic priest and several parishioners were kidnapped, and many thousands fled the city in search of safety.

Duterte's declaration of martial law suspends rule by local government and puts the army in charge of the entire island. According to the constitution, Duterte can essentially use the army as he deems necessary for 60 days, unless the Congress revokes his declaration or extends it.

Duterte also threatened to extend martial law to the rest of the country, perhaps for a period of up to one year. "If I think that you should die, you will die," he said on May 24. "If you fight us, you will die. If there is open defiance, you will die. And if it means many people dying, so be it."

Martial law under Duterte is a very dangerous development for the people of the Philippines. As mayor of Davao City, Duterte oversaw death squads that targeted petty criminals and drug dealers as well as his political opponents. As president of the country, Duterte launched an iron-fisted "war on drugs" that so far has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 people through police murder and state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings.

While the violence of Abu Sayyaf and other militants poses a real danger to everyday Filipinos, Duterte has shown that he is willing to oversee mass bloodshed to solidify his rule.

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THE SKIRMISH in Marawi in late May poses the question: Has ISIS landed on the islands?

In the thick of the crisis, much of the media coverage of the fighting on Mindanao uncritically echoed assertions by the Philippines government.

During a press conference, Duterte stated that the police chief in Malabang was beheaded by terrorists at a checkpoint. Several unconfirmed reports started to spread about beheadings taking place all across the region. A few days later, the press found out that not only was the Malaban police chief not beheaded, he was actually alive.

Duterte also asserted that the militants in Marawi were acting as an arm of ISIS, going so far as to assert that the Philippines had been "invaded." Yet Solicitor General Jose Calida stressed that the government had no evidence of a direct link between the militant groups and ISIS.

To be clear, both Abu Sayyaf and Maute are reactionary organizations that have committed atrocities, including beheadings, and recently declared their allegiance to ISIS. However, both are groups with roots in the Philippines, which predate ISIS. They sprang up and have endured because of the grinding poverty and ongoing instability that plague the region.

Mindanao has historically been one of the poorest areas of the Philippines. In a country devastated by the Marcos dictatorship's decades of plunder, then by neoliberal policies, Mindanao had been continually overlooked by the government when it came to aid or development programs. Mindanao's population is majority Muslim, which also explains the government's neglect in a predominantly Roman Catholic country.

As a result, corruption became the order of the day, and the desperate thirst for change served as the source for sustaining several rebel groups.

Abu Sayyaf grew out of one of those groups. In 1991, it broke from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), opting to fight for a separate Islamic state instead of the MNLF's call for an autonomous zone. For most of its existence, it has engaged in kidnapping and extortion to fund its operations.

While many of its commanders continue to be committed to its founding vision of establishing an Islamic state, it has behaved much like a gang. Its enduring appeal to its recruits is the promise to secure resources for an area wracked by poverty, to provide protection in a region ruled by local strongmen, and to give a sense of purpose amid widespread despair.

While Maute is newer on the scene, its orientation and existence is very similar. Both groups' allegiance to ISIS is probably a strategic move to attract more material support and prestige, rather than build an international alliance motivated by a singular goal.

Despite years of fierce counter-intelligence operations by the Philippine state, often with the help of the U.S., these rebel groups have been able to endure. The harsh and desperate conditions that people face in the region will continue to provide groups like Abu Sayyaf with a potential base of support.

Even a study published by West Point's counter-terrorism center in 2010 concluded that "a strong civilian government sincere in nation-building is needed to put an end to the ASG [Abu Sayyaf] by resolving the ethnic and political disputes plaguing the region."

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INSTEAD OF looking at fresh solutions to end the many complex conflicts in Mindanao and many other sections of the Philippines, Duterte and his administration are escalating the conflict. In an already difficult situation, Duterte is blowing the crisis out of proportion in order to sow fear and establish a grip on the country so he can start enriching himself and his fellow elites.

Even before Duterte was elected president, he often remarked that the country needed to be placed under martial law as it had been during the Marcos dictatorship. To put an end to the rebel conflicts, modernize the country and jump-start the economy, a strongman is necessary to get things on the right track, according to Duterte, without interference from democratic procedures or special interest groups.

One of his main strategies to kick-start the economy has been his effort to reset the Philippines' relationship to the main imperialist powers in the region.

Last year, Duterte announced that he was planning to break off relationships with the U.S. and seek better relations with China. Despite a long-running dispute with China over claims to islands in the South China Sea, Duterte has opted to relinquish these claims in favor of more economic cooperation with China.

Both countries are starting to finalize plans for more than two dozen projects that cover $9 billion in loans and $15 billion in investment pledges to revitalize Philippine infrastructure.

This much-improved friendship has caused anxiety in Washington, with many foreign policy experts and the Defense Department expressing fear that U.S. interests will be stymied. Despite Donald Trump's attempts to cozy up to Duterte, there's very little that the U.S. can offer in the way of financial inducements. Under Trump's proposed budget, foreign aid to the Philippines, as well as many other countries, will be reduced.

And though the recent uptick in fighting in Mindanao might produce opportunities for the U.S. to show its value in counter-terrorism operations, it may not rival the prospective cash flow from China into new Philippine private-public partnerships.

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AS MUCH as upgraded infrastructure is desperately needed, it's not clear that most Filipinos would actually benefit from the new ventures with China. In a detailed study of the deals, Kenneth Cardenas from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism found very little evidence that the funds would do anything but hand over billions to the wealthiest Filipinos.

Among the beneficiaries, according to Cardenas, are businesses tied to members of Duterte's entourage, firms that had a track record of taking massive government handouts without completing the projects, several unstable firms, and a few firms that had no history whatsoever. In the end, the infrastructure binge appears set to deepen corruption, sacrificing the needs of Philippines society in order to enrich a privileged few.

While Duterte continues to enjoy strong support according to polls, the support may not last if he is unable to deliver improvement in the lives of working-class Filipinos. Already, the number of poor people who trust Duterte is slipping.

Despite calling himself the Philippine's "first socialist president" and his rhetoric about challenging the elites--Duterte went so far as to encourage people to seize estates on May Day--he has done very little for the poor. As commentator Benjie Oliveros wrote:

The poor have hardly benefited, if at all, from the policies being pushed and implemented by the Duterte administration. The salaries and wages of rank-and-file employees and workers have remained the same; contractualization is still being practiced; landlessness is still prevalent; prices and rates of basic goods, services, and utilities remain high. And social inequities remain, as well as the system that perpetuated it.

If justice is going to be realized in the Philippines, working-class Filipinos and all those oppressed by the state must fight against the elite in order to redistribute the vast wealth of the archipelago. Martial law and its potential expansion will be a mighty blow to the movement.

It is impossible to find any common cause with the Duterte government on the issue of combating terrorism. The state is not interested in using martial law or similar measures to combat only Islamic extremists, but to repress any developing resistance.

The state-backed terrorism unleashed by Duterte's "war on drugs" has already killed more people than the entire dictatorial reign of Ferdinand Marcos, according to estimates. Giving him any space to use such methods will only ensure that the left will be crushed.

In the small but growing protest movement, activists recognize the methods that Duterte is employing mimic those of the Marcos dictatorship. "Today we will celebrate the ouster of the dictator," said activist Kat Leuch at a rally commemorating the 31st anniversary of the People Power Revolution. "But we must also continue to escalate the struggle against the threat of a new dictatorship."

Even those who are most at risk of being harmed by Abu Sayyaf recognize the danger of Duterte. Near Marawi, Aida Ibraham, a leader of a local Muslim organization, held a candlelight vigil.

"We are protesting the acts of violence committed by the attacker," she told reporters. "But we also oppose the military action and the declaration of martial law. With this kind of escalation, it's always the innocent that pay."

Categories: Political Action

Maduro is trying to subvert popular democracy

Socialist Worker - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 01:00

For months, Venezuela has been wracked by political and economic crisis, including widespread protests and rampant inflation, that is shaking the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Hundreds of thousands of people--both supporters of Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and opponents of the government--have taken to the streets in Caracas. The demonstrations have involved violence and looting, and the response of the security forces of Maduro's government has been similarly bloody.

Recently, Maduro called for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. This has drawn opposition not only from the right, but from many on the left, who see this as an undemocratic attempt by Maduro to avoid elections that the PSUV might lose and a further step in the increasingly repressive direction Maduro has taken since becoming president following Hugo Chávez's death in 2013.

In this editorial, the revolutionary organization Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide)--which was part of the PSUV from its founding by Chávez in 2007 until leaving the party in 2015 in protest of Maduro's authoritarian turn--explains why it opposes Maduro's call for a Constituent Assembly, on the basis of the experience of writing a new constitution under Chávez. The editorial was translated into English for International Viewpoint.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

MORE THAN 30 dead; the beginning and the extension of widespread looting; the word "peace" in the mouth of the rifles, and the rapid growth of a dynamic of lawlessness and hunger. And in the midst of this scenario, there is the announcement of a Constituent Assembly without parties or clear universal participation, and without respect for the consultation of the people in a referendum.

This government initiative is contrary to the constitutional process that led to the development, discussion and adoption of the constitution of 1999, with the active participation of a sovereign majority, a process that we in Marea Socialista claim as a democratic method. The Official Gazette, with the announcement made by Maduro, as well as the declaration of Aristóbulo Istúriz, a member of the Presidential Commission for the Constituent Assembly, that "there is no need to ask anything from the people because today the constitution provides for the Constituent Assembly," indicates a proposal of corporate and anti-democratic characteristics, with an arbitrary 50 percent participation of bodies co-opted to the state and without consultation. This only serves to add more fuel to the fire started by the political leaders, which presents us with a much more threatening atmosphere.

On the one hand, this Constituent Assembly is neither necessary nor helpful in coping with the most urgent and immediate problems suffered by our people. The emergency in the lack of food and medicine demands concrete measures, contrary to those being implemented by the government--such as the suspension of payments on the foreign debt so as to meet the needs of the people. This "Constituent Assembly" is intended to fit with the model of the Congreso de la Patria, a Congress made in the image and likeness of the leadership of the PSUV, where nobody knows what measures are taken or if the government is applying them. This excludes a large part of the Venezuelan people.

As indicated by Attorney General Luisa Ortega, you cannot ask for legality from the people if it is the state that violates the law. On this point, we must be absolutely clear: The current dynamics of violent repression, of excessive and, in some cases, brutal violence by state forces recklessly accompanied by armed civilians, go far beyond any control or supervision of social protest to become an open violation of essential human rights. Among other things, it is good to remember that the crimes caused by this violation have not become less severe with time.

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OF COURSE, we reject the action of foquista groups or trained snipers, which are covered up by the [right-wing] Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) leadership. But without having anything in common with the politics of that leadership and its demands, it should be noted that most of the deaths of unarmed civilians, young people and women, have been in the context of demonstrations demanding the legitimate right to protest. The same goes for the more than 700 injured and the hundreds arrested. In this case, we without reservation recognize that the right to legitimate defense is exercised by demonstrators when the state violates the expression of citizens' rights. This constant violation is the main characteristic of authoritarian regimes that lead to totalitarianism, and is one of the main factors that incite violence.

It should also be remembered that the immediate origin of the present situation is part of a chain of indisputable events in the context of a prolonged political, economic and social crisis: the repeal of the right to vote and the breaking of the constitutional thread, produced by judgments 155 and 156 of the Supreme Court of Justice [under which the judiciary assumed the powers of the National Assembly, where the right wing holds a majority]. The indefinite suspension of the regional elections and the violation of the rights of citizens who signed in favor of the recall referendum are sufficient actions to denounce the manipulation by state institutions of the rights of the people and the bowing to the government by both the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council.

In this context of constant ignoring Hugo Chávez's Constitution and the growing violation of human rights, the government has opened a suspicious "constituent process" since its very anti-democratic announcement. It calls for a "Constituent National Assembly," with corporate characteristics, with the division into two types of the constituents that would form it--and little or no transparency in its objectives. These are the elements that are provoking distrust and a rejection of the government's move, the purpose of which seems to be in preparation for a retrograde counterreform in violation of the Constitution of 1999.

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IN ADDITION there is a new violation of popular sovereignty: the failure to convene a consultative referendum to validate the realization of the Constituent Assembly--so that after the end, whether the people approve or reject it, the outcome becomes clear and transparent. As is stated in article 71 of the constitution, consultation must be made for the big decisions in this so-called "constituent assembly process," and the government says that it is big decisions that now must be taken. Thus, the experience and tradition of the process of convening the Constituent Assembly of 1999 is completely ignored.

In case there is any doubt about the way in which Articles 347, 348 and 349 of the Constitution are being manipulated by the regime, it is useful to compare Article 71 with the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador, which were inspired by ours:

Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela: Article 71
Subjects of special national significance may be submitted to a consultative referendum on the initiative of the President of the Republic in the Council of Ministers; by agreement of the National Assembly, approved by a vote of the majority of its members; or at the request of not less than ten percent of the voters registered in the civil and electoral registry.

Consultative referendums may also apply to matters of special parish, municipal and state importance. The initiative corresponds to the Parish Board, the Municipal Council or the Legislative Council, by agreement of two-thirds of their members; to the mayor or state governor, or to a number not less than ten percent of the total enrolled in the corresponding district, upon request.

Constitution of Bolivia: Article 411
The total reform of the Constitution, or anything affecting its fundamental bases, rights, duties and guarantees, or the primacy and reform of the Constitution, will take place through a plenipotentiary original Constituent Assembly, activated by popular will by referendum. The convocation of the referendum will be carried out by citizens' initiative, with the signature of at least 20 percent of the electorate; by absolute majority of the members of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly; or by the President of the State. The Constituent Assembly will self-regulate to all effects, having to approve the constitutional text by two-thirds of the total of its present members. The validity of the reform will require a constitutional referendum.

Constitution of Ecuador: Article 444
The Constituent Assembly can only be convened through popular consultation. This consultation may be requested by the President of the Republic, by two-thirds of the National Assembly, or by 12 percent of the persons registered in the electoral registry. The consultation should include the form of election of representatives and the rules of the electoral process. The new Constitution, for its entry into force, will require approval by referendum with half plus one of the valid votes.

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IN THE current situation of crisis and growing violence, it is essential to assert the voice of the people--to demand that the call is approved in sovereign in referendum and that the results of the Constituent Assembly, if it happens, must be approved in the same way. That is why we call for the formation of a broad front to demand and activate these consultative referendums. And meanwhile, we insist on the full validity of the Constitution of 1999.

The seriousness of the current situation obliges us to warn that if, on the contrary, the government continues to ignore the claim of a part of society--a claim that begins to appear from the ranks of Chavismo itself--if the level of repression continues to increase and the constitutional mandates are ignored, and all the roads to the democratic participation of the people continue to be closed, the government will be proceeding with the assassination of the Chávez Constitution.

The immediate result of the call made by Maduro, in addition to the confusion generated in the majority of the population, contrasts with the increase of the repressive violence of the state towards demonstrations. An example of this is the activation of the Zamora Plan in the state of Carabobo, which should be understood as a test, with the intention of being extended to the whole country, of the activation of military tribunals for detained demonstrators who are denied ordinary justice, and the de facto installation of detention camps in military units. This is alarming and can lead to the crossing of a red line to an openly repressive and totalitarian government.

This single example should be sufficient for all those who reject the spiral of increasing violence initiated by the state power to together demand that the Electoral Council restore the functioning of the 1999 Constitution to assume its historic responsibility; activate the suspended regional elections for governors and mayors; and ensure the presidential election next year, installing a timetable for all of them. All this should occur with ample guarantees of democratic participation of all the political expressions of the country.

The struggle we are proposing is far-reaching and requires the construction of a social and political force with unity of action that will build itself on the march, on the basis of the defense of democratic rights.

First published in Spanish by Marea Socialista and translated into English for International Viewpoint.

Categories: Political Action

I spy with all your little eyes

Socialist Worker - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 01:00

In his column for Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee reviews a book that traces the history of government efforts to recruit "citizen spies" and foster a surveillance society.

IT WAS the working conditions of Soviet spies in the TV program The Americans that really drove home to me how pervasive and taken for granted the surveillance of public space has become.

Set in the Washington area during the 1980s, the show focuses on central characters who are extremely deep-cover agents--the pride of the KGB academy--and who seduce, betray, compromise and (when necessary) liquidate their human-intelligence sources right under the Reagan administration's nose. The usual pleasures of a period drama are infused with an occasionally melancholic sort of dramatic irony: the agents struggle to meet their superiors' demands in the interests of a regime that the audience knows already has one foot in the dustbin of history.

I've written about The Americans here in the past and will try to curb my fannish enthusiasm except to make a point. The show's whole premise turns on the risk of exposure; the viewer develops a vicarious feel for the state of remaining constantly on guard against leaving tracks, and for speed and thoroughness in erasing them when you do. But rarely do the spies have to worry about being watched or recorded on a security camera. Video surveillance represents so negligible and manageable a risk as to seem odd, not to say careless, to the 21st-century viewer, for whom it is as much a fact of urban life as the danger of being run over by a driver checking his e-mail.

While the options for storing, searching and retrieving visual data were limited, closed-circuit video systems tended to be larger and more blatant in 1984. (The year, I mean, not the book--although, on reflection, that too.) But the ubiquity of monitoring devices now is not just a matter of superior engineering. It comes as part of the most recent phase of a process Joshua Reeves studies in Citizen Spies: The Long Rise of America's Surveillance Society, published by NYU Press. (Reeves is an assistant professor of new media and speech communications at Oregon State University.)

Review: Books

Joshua Reeves Citizen Spies: The Long Rise of America's Surveillance Society. NYU Press, 2017, 256 pages, $30.

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BY "CITIZEN spies," the author does not mean anyone engaged in espionage but rather people who, upon noticing ("spying") criminal or otherwise suspicious activity, convey that information to the proper authorities. The latter are presumably legitimate, powerful and competent to respond appropriately. To put it another way, Reeves has in mind the kind of citizen who takes the widespread slogan "If you see something, say something" very much to heart. The good 21st-century citizen may even be defined as a "seeing/saying subject," to adopt the author's preferred expression.

He very quickly drives it into the ground, but it does imply an interesting conceptual prehistory. In the days before the rise of the modern police force in the West (about 200 or 300 years ago, depending on the country), enforcement of the law was the citizens' duty. They faced the task not just of identifying lawbreakers but of apprehending them, as well--rallying a crowd to find and corner a thief, for example. To ensure that citizens did their duty, those atop the social hierarchy imposed sizable financial burdens on municipalities where law and order was breaking down. Periodic service as a watchman was also mandatory. Reeves quotes a colonial commander in New York in 1776 proclaiming that "any who refuse to take Part in preserving the City will be judged unworthy to inhabit it."

"See something, say something"--or move to New Jersey, I guess. Anyway, this early mode of community self-policing was the source of the expression "hue and cry"--in which "hue" meant "horn," the instrument watchmen used to communicate. "Patterns of repetition, tone and emphasis allowed patrols in disparate communities to announce a criminal's presence," Reeves says, "and direct the dispersal of a number of civilian patrols." Later, printed "hue and cry" bulletins performed a similar function in circulating information about wanted criminals over much wider areas.

So conditions emerged in which law enforcement could be practiced as a regular, organized activity in which specialized bodies of armed men were part of a social division of labor in tandem with courts and prisons. In principle, at least, that would be more efficient and perhaps also fairer than the earlier ad hoc practice of rounding up a crowd prepared to deal out rough justice on the spot.

At the same time, having a police force separate from the rest of the population imposed its own problems--to which technology at times seemed to provide answers before opening up new difficulties. Reeves' chapters on the integration of the telephone into police practice are especially interesting. The public telephone seemed like a promising way to multiply the impact of the force by directing cops quickly and precisely to where they were needed. Doing more with less sounded good in the 19th century, too.

But the police did not trust the public's ability to use the (expensive) new technology wisely or responsibly. The phones could be accessed only by using keys, a small number of which were distributed to worthy citizens and marked to indicate which key belonged to which recipient. The phone line went directly to police headquarters; furthermore, once the phone was opened, the key could only be removed by an officer. Some models had buttons for what you were calling to report--6 for murder, for example, or 11 for fire. Sexual assault is noticeably absent from the dial appearing in one of the illustrations.

Developments tracked in later chapters (such as neighborhood watch programs and junior police clubs for children) follow a similar course of encouraging citizen participation in the effort to monitor and report on others--while at the same time trying to limit and channel that involvement. Reeves's larger point is that the array of surveillance and control systems established in American society since the September 11 attacks is largely dependent on habits of complicity, or at least of acquiescence, that have been a very long time in forming.

And that seems true enough. But it may underestimate the difficulty now of imagining that things were different even before the turn of this century. That walking down a city street and thinking that any number of cameras might well be recording you would have seemed a bit deviant, if not pathological, once. Now it's normal and, more strangely still, not even much of a concern.

First published at Inside Higher Ed.

Categories: Political Action

Solidaridad vs. chivo expiatorio

Socialist Worker - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 01:00

La respuesta del mancuniano común al horrible atentado se alza en marcado contraste a las tácticas chivo-expiatorias de los líderes políticos y los medios de comunicación.

LA BRUTALIDAD del atentado en Manchester, Inglaterra, es difícil de comprender. Y el horror continuará en las semanas venideras, con dirigentes políticos y reaccionarios de todo tipo usando la tragedia para justificar más represión, violencia y guerra; a menos que la marea de solidaridad y empatía de los mancunianos (originarios de Manchester), que siguió a la pesadilla, prevalezca sobre ellos.

El atentado y el explosivo mismo, lleno de clavos y tuercas para infligir la máxima carnicería, son en sí mismos despiadados. Pero el hecho de que el atentado fue llevado a salida de un concierto que en su mayoría fue atendido por mujeres jóvenes y niñas añade otra capa de horror al acto. En total, 22 personas murieron y 59 resultaron heridas, algunas gravemente.

Frank Langfitt, de NPR, reportó el pánico y la confusión entre los padres que deseaban saber si sus hijos estaban a salvo, y entre los jóvenes espectadores que no podían encontrar a sus padres. "Parece que esto fue dirigido a los niños", dijo Langfitt.

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LA ESPECULACIÓN inmediatamente se convirtió en terrorismo, especialmente por los paralelos hechos con los ataques coordinados en París, en noviembre de 2015, contra un concierto de rock, un estadio y bares y cafés. El atentado de Manchester es el ataque más mortífero en Inglaterra desde julio de 2005, cuando un ataque terrorista contra el sistema de transporte público londinense mató a 56 personas, incluyendo los cuatro perpetradores.

La policía ha identificado al terrorista suicida como Salman Abedi. Abedi nació en Manchester en 1994 después de que sus padres inmigraron desde Libia, huyendo del régimen de Muammar el-Gadafi. Aunque los motivos de Abedi permanecen inciertos, algunos amigos afirman que parece haberse radicalizado después de visitar Libia en 2011, cuando sus padres regresaron a vivir a ese país.

Según informes, Abedi pudo haber sido expulsado de una mezquita mancuniana en 2015 después de expresar su apoyo al Estado Islámico en Irak y Siria (ISIS, por sus siglas en inglés), y pudo haber viajado a Siria y Libia. Sus padres, al parecer alarmados por sus erráticas opiniones, tomaron su pasaporte británico por un tiempo, devolviéndoselo cuando Abedi expresó interés por viajar a La Meca. Pero, en lugar de volar a Arabia Saudita, Abedi regresó a Gran Bretaña.

Durante la primera semana después del atentado, al menos otras cuatro personas fueron arrestadas y las autoridades afirman estar investigando una "red" más amplia de potenciales sospechosos de terrorismo y conspiración.

El día después del ataque, ISIS asumió la responsabilidad, aunque éste tiene un historial de hacer esto incluso cuando no tiene conexión directa al acto terrorista. Al tiempo en que este artículo fue escrito, el público no ha sido informado de evidencia alguna de una relación entre Abedi e ISIS.

En cualquier caso, cabe repetir: cualesquiera sean los gravámenes que Abedi pudo haber cobijado--contra la brutalidad infligida al Oriente Medio o con la represión e islamofobia experimentada en Europa--nada puede justificar el horror que infligió.

Las víctimas de este ataque no son responsables de la islamofobia en Europa o de llevar a cabo la "guerra contra el terrorismo". Mientras tanto, los verdaderos responsables tienen ahora una excusa perfecta para intensificar su guerra en el Oriente Medio y la represión política en sus países, y para demandar apoyo de la gente común indignada por este acto.

El racismo y las tácticas chivo-expiatorias contra los musulmanes y la represión contra las libertades civiles son alimentados por la estrategia de ISIS y de otros grupos que defienden una interpretación reaccionaria del Islam. Aquellos que demonizan a todo musulmán como un potencial terrorista y al Islam como una "religión violenta" comparten la narrativa de ISIS del "choques de civilizaciones", en la que los musulmanes nunca podrán ser completamente aceptados o integrados en la sociedad occidental.

ISIS ha dicho en el pasado que sus ataques terroristas están dirigidos a provocar la represión contra la población musulmana en Europa y extinguir toda la posibilidad de solidaridad.

De manera típica, algunos líderes políticos británicos se apresuraron a cumplir con ese objetivo.

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LA PRIMERA ministra del Reino Unido, Theresa May, elevó el nivel de amenaza terrorista del país a "crítico" y desplegó fuerzas militares para trabajar con la policía, citando temores de que otro ataque terrorista era inminente. Unos 3.800 soldados están ahora desplegados en toda Gran Bretaña para patrullar zonas "sensibles", intensificando las patrullas e investigaciones policiales.

El comisario Mark Rowley, jefe de la Policía Nacional Anti-Terrorista, dijo en un comunicado que el despliegue militar era para garantizar al público de que "estamos ejercitando nuestros recursos para incrementar la presencia policial en lugares clave, como el transporte público y otros concurridos lugares, y estamos revisando eventos clave durante las próximas semanas".

Pero para muchos en el Reino Unido y el resto de Europa, cuando la policía "ejercita sus recursos" significa acoso y abuso para los inmigrantes y las minorías, en particular los musulmanes.

Mientras tanto, May tiene una oportunidad dorada para explotar el terrorismo en las elecciones generales del 8 de junio, en un momento en que su partido, el Conservador, estaba perdiendo apoyo contra el Partido Laborista, liderado por Jeremy Corbyn, según recientes encuestas de opinión.

Los reaccionarios británicos detestan la idea de una victoria laborista. Con su bajeza acostumbrada, el tabloide derechista Sun, del troglodita millonario Rupert Murdoch, corrió un titular el 23 de mayo gritando "Sangre en sus manos", acusando a Corbyn de ser suave contra el terrorismo.

El artículo del Sun aparentemente fue publicado antes de que la noticia del atentado en Manchester fuera conocida y acusaba a Corbyn de "alzar la moral" de los "asesinos" del Ejército Republicano Irlandés, cuando él expresó su solidaridad con la lucha por la libertad irlandesa. Esto es típico de los delirios reaccionarios y oportunistas de los medios y los políticos.

Como escribió el socialista británico Kevin Ovenden en las redes sociales:

No sabemos el nivel real de amenaza a la seguridad. Pero podemos confiar en que Theresa May lo explotará con su decisión de poner tropas en las calles, en varios lugares... Ella dirigía una campaña presidencial autoritaria antes de ayer, y lo seguirá haciendo ahora.

La respuesta a esto debe ser una masiva participación política y democrática, que es lo que en realidad proporciona las bases para una sociedad más segura.

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POR SUPUESTO, es imposible ignorar el papel y las políticas del gobierno estadounidense en la "guerra contra el terrorismo" en alimentar la reacción.

Probando el punto, Donald Trump pareció deleitarse con una respuesta pueril y fácil. "Tantas jóvenes inocentes disfrutando de sus vidas, asesinadas por malvados perdedores ", dijo mientras viajaba al Oriente Medio. "No los llamaré monstruos porque lo gozarían; pensarían que es un gran epíteto. Los llamaré, a partir de ahora, perdedores, porque eso es lo que son: perdedores".

Perdidos entre los clichés y las amenazas de los líderes políticos, y las obsesiones contra el Islam de los medios, están los horrores, más frecuentes y a una escala mucho mayor, perpetrados por Occidente en otros países.

Un informe del Observatorio Sirio por los Derechos Humanos, por ejemplo, señaló que entre el 23 de abril y el 23 de mayo, 225 civiles, entre ellos 36 mujeres y 44 niños, murieron por ataques aéreos de Estados Unidos y sus aliados en Siria, el más letal mes registrado hasta ahora.

Pero no habrá videos de luto, ni las palabras de las familias sirias que han enterrado a sus hijos.

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ENTRE LO dicho por algunos políticos para sacar provecho del ataque pululó aquello dicho por algunos reaccionarios que inmediatamente avivaron un fervoroso sentimiento anti-musulmán.

La columnista del Telegraph, Allison Pearson, por ejemplo, pidió la "internación de miles de sospechosos de terror ahora para proteger a nuestros hijos". Y en las redes sociales, la columnista del derechista Daily Mail, Katie Hopkins, pidió una "solución final" en respuesta al ataque, una referencia al Holocausto nazi y, esencialmente, un llamado a exterminar a los musulmanes. Aunque Hopkins más tarde borró el tweet, ella dijo que mantenía sus comentarios.

Y otra amenaza también se asoma: la extrema derecha europea. Ya creciendo en un clima de crisis económica, austeridad y sentimiento anti-refugiado, no hay duda de que la derecha se apresurará a explotar el miedo al terrorismo usando a los musulmanes como chivo expiatorio para dividir a los trabajadores británicos e intentar crecer su base de apoyo.

Por ejemplo, la Liga de Defensa Inglesa (EDL, por sus siglas en inglés) intentó una marcha en Manchester el día después del ataque, llevando banderas inglesas, frente a un centro comercial en el centro de la ciudad. En un comunicado difundido después del atentado, EDL pidió a la gente "resistir al islamismo" con el fin de "prevenir futuras atrocidades islámicas e intimidación en todo el Reino Unido", y anunció más eventos para el próximo mes.

Tales llamados sólo alimentarán ataques, físicos y de otro tipo, contra árabes y musulmanes y envenenarán el clima político. Como señaló el Independent, sólo cinco horas después del ataque, la mezquita mancuniana de Oldham fue incendiada.

La clase obrera inglesa debe responder con la solidaridad, uniéndose para declarar que no sucumbirá al miedo y la ira.

Después del atentado, la gente mutuamente acudió en ayuda del prójimo, exhibiendo un contraste esperanzador. Los reportes mediáticos describieron a los conductores de taxi, muchos de ellos musulmanes, dando aventones gratis a personas varadas durante toda la noche. Vecinos ayudaron con agua o cargando teléfonos móviles.

En los medios de comunicación social, los mancunianos ofrecieron sus hogares a desconocidos varados, y los hoteles abrieron sus puertas a los niños que trataban de localizar a sus padres y otros que necesitaban un lugar donde alojar.

Y millones se han sido conmovidos por los informes de hombres indigentes, durmiendo cerca, que corrieron a ayudar a las víctimas, removiendo vidrios y clavos y confortando a los heridos. "No habría podido vivir conmigo mismo si hubiera arrancado", dijo Stephen Jones a ITV. "Hay mucha gente buena en Manchester que nos ayuda y necesitamos devolver el favor".

Miles de personas llenaron la Plaza de Albert, en Manchester, para una velada después del atentado, lamentando a los perdidos, loando a los trabajadores de emergencia por su ayuda y jurando no ser intimidados por la amenaza del terrorismo.

Y, especialmente importante, el rally de EDL no ocurrió sin oposición cuando trató de arrear a los mancunianos en torno a su odio racista.

Mientras un puñado de miembros del grupo fascista realizaban su acto, una muchedumbre multirracial de mancunianos realizó una demostración para oponerse a ellos, superándolos con creces.

Como dijo uno de los participantes en el rally anti-EDL:

El pueblo de Manchester no apoya su xenofobia y racismo.

El pueblo de Manchester va a unirse, no importa qué religión siga, no importa el color de su piel. No estaremos con gente como ustedes.

Vamos a seguir unidos, porque unidos somos más fuertes, y el pueblo de Manchester no va a tener miedo de los responsables de esta violencia.

Traducido por Orlando Sepúlveda

Categories: Political Action

Keeping the Light of the Paris Agreement Alive

Democratic Convention Watch - Sun, 06/04/2017 - 17:11

There was a lot of consternation and sadness when #NotMyCheeto pulled the US out of the Paris agreement, thus putting us in the company of Nicaragua and Syria. BUT! Take heart that 30 states, cities and an ever growing number of corporations have said that they will still work towards getting us off fossil fuels and saving the planet as best we can for our children and grandchildren, and those to come after them.  Mike Bloomberg is in for $15 million to help with the effort.

Just because #NotMyCheeto says no does not mean that all the rest of us cannot say yes. And there is a lot that we can do as individuals to help the planet .

  • First, what kind of car do you drive? What kind of mileage does it get? Did you know that close to 30% of all domestic carbon emissions come from transportation? This is almost the amount from electricity production. 24 pounds of emissions per gallon of gas. A little math – if you drive 12,000 miles a year (which is about average) and your vehicle gets 20 miles to the gallon, that’s 14,400 pounds a year. Switch to an efficient car getting 40 miles to the gallon and that drops in half. As an aside, along with your car payment and your car insurance since littler cars are cheaper to buy and own.  Further, make sure your tires are properly inflated, drive the speed limit, and if possible, avoid traffic.
  • If possible, walk, bike or carpool. Since this doesn’t often work in the suburbs, at least plan your errands in a circle so you’re not backtracking in your car.
  • Next, your house – it’s not just swapping out your light bulbs, but setting your thermostat a little higher in summer, and a little lower in winter. Make sure that curtains are closed facing east in the morning and especially facing west in the afternoon to decrease summer heat. Leave curtains open all day in the winter to get the benefit of warming sunshine.  Make sure your house if properly insulated. If you have electric outlets on outside-facing walls, you can get little pre-cut insulation pads for even that small space. If you can afford it, consider solar panels.
  • When you fly, buy carbon offsets. You can do this for a variety of things, but the most common is air travel. Also, as you probably know, for the same reason that public transportation is a better way environmentally to get around, avoid private planes.
  • Don’t forget the carbon impact of food. Local food is always best (especially if it’s from your own garden.) Buy local if you can: the further a food travels, the more carbon involved in transporting it.
  • Eat less beef and dairy. Especially imported beef. Eating lower on the food chain is not only better for the environment, but better for you.
  • When you buy food, seek out less packaging. All that plastic is made from fossil fuels. It’s just not that hard to bring your own tote bags. And those thin plastic bags in the produce aisle for things that need to be bagged, like green beans, peas and cherries? They’re reusable, too.
  • In your garden, seek out native plants. They take less water and are better for the birds and bees.
  • Decrease your trash! Recycle everything you can. And that goes for bigger things, too, not just the packaging from items you purchase. Electronics, appliances, and a whole variety of things can be recycled, or reused by someone else.
  • Learn your carbon footprint. There are a variety of calculators, just Google “What’s my Carbon Footprint” – the best calculator depends on where you live, and what level of detail you want to calculate.

Face it, there’s a lot we can do as individuals. And of course – make sure to vote out the idiots that got us here. There is an election this year, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, as there has been every year since 1791. Go support a candidate running locally over the summer and commit to getting 10 friends to vote for your candidate in November.


Categories: Political Action

A June to Remember/Fear?

Democratic Convention Watch - Sun, 06/04/2017 - 16:42

There are times when, through the normal cycle, and discretionary decisions, events start to come in rapid procession.  June is shaping up to be one of those month between elections (both in the U.S. and abroad), the end of the Supreme Court term, and the matters currently on the plate of Congress.  We have already had the first major event of June — the decision by the Trump Administration to make America weaker by playing to his misinformed base on climate change and withdrawing from the Paris Accords.  It’s almost impossible to count the reasons why this decision is wrong,  here are a few:  1) the agreement was non-binding; 2) being a signator gave us a seat at the table in future discussions; 3) withdrawing makes China and the European Union more powerful; 4) state laws requiring an increasing percent of energy to come from renewal sources are still in effect and will contribute to the U.S. meeting its pledge anyway; 5) the federal courts have held that greenhouse gases are a pollutant requiring federal action under the Clean Air Act (even though the precise terms of the regulations to reduce greenhouse gases are not yet final) which means that we may have to meet or exceed the pledge anyway.

Moving to the Supreme Court, June is looking like immigration month.  May ended with a decision in the first of four immigration cases heard this term.  The case involved what types of sexual offenses against a child trigger deportation hearings for authorized immigrants (e.g., permanent residents).  The Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the statute, meaning that — for some sexual offenses (those that can be committed against a 16 or 17-year old — the first offense will not trigger deportation.  Two of the other three also directly or indirectly concern deportation.  In addition, with the lower courts having barred enforcement of the travel ban, the Trump Administration is asking the Supreme Court to stay those injunctions.  (The real issue is the enforcement of the restrictions on visas and entry.  It is likely that the Supreme Court will grant relief to some overbroad language in those bars that could be read as suggesting that the Trump Administration can’t begin work on revisions to the vetting process.)  There are 22 other cases to be decided this month, so immigration will not be the only big news this month.  And, even aside from the decisions in cases already argued, the Supreme Court will be deciding what cases to take next term and there are some potentially major issues that could be on the agenda for 2017-18.

Moving to U.S. elections, there are still three special elections — all of which will occur this month.  Two — in Georgia and South Carolina — involve vacancies created by the Trump cabinet appointment.  The other — California — arose from a vacancy created by filling the vacancy in the California Attorney General position created when the former AG won the U.S. Senate election last fall.  Because California uses a “jungle primary” (i.e.  one in which all candidates from all parties run in one primary with the top two advancing to the general election), we already know that the Democrats will keep this seat and the only question on Tuesday is which Democrat will be elected.  For the most part, both parties in choosing members of Congress to fill vacancies have followed the rule of only choosing people from “safe” seats.  As such, while the Democrats have so far — in the first round in California and in Montana and Kansas — run around 10% ahead of 2018, this success has not changed the winner of any seat.

The run-off in Georgia is the best chance for Democrats to actually win a Republican seat.  This district went solidly for the Republicans in 2012 with Romney winning by 13 percent.  On the other hand, Trump won by 2 percent (while the Republican member of Congress by 23 percent).  That leaves this seat as roughly an R+8 seat (meaning that Democrats would expect to win this seat if the Democrat’s national vote is around 58 percent).  This seat is the 165th most Republican seat — based on the 2012 and the 2016 results — so it is not necessarily one that the Democrats would expect to win, but if Trump is shuffling the deck on traditional party divisions, this suburban seat is the type of seat that a youth + white collar + minorities Democratic Party could win.   The race in South Carolina involves a district that is only slightly more Republican, but it is a mostly rural district which was even more Republican in 2016 than it was in 2012.  The bottom line is that — if predicting in advance — the fact that Republicans have had to fight hard in all four seats is a good sign for the Democrats, but it would be nice to get a pick up.  Both of these special elections are scheduled for June 20.

Besides these special elections,  New Jersey and Virginia will hold primary elections.  In New Jersey, the big question is which Democrat will be replacing Chris Christie after the November election.  There are six Democrats and five Republicans running.  (The primary is this Tuesday.)  Virginia (holding its primary on June 13) will be  closer general election.  The Virginia Democratic Primary looks like a close race between the state government Democratic establishment (supporting the current lieutenant governor) and the Washington D.C. Democratic establishing (supporting a former Congressman).  This fight represents the unique geographic position of Virginia, with northern Virginia dominated by the federal government and central Virginia dominated by the state government.  In November, regardless of which candidate wins, the Democratic nominee will need to do well in both the D.C. suburbs and in the Richmond area in order to carry the state.

In foreign elections, first up is the British elections this Thursday.  The continuing fallout from last year’s narrow decision to leave the European Union led to these early elections.  At the time that the Conservative government called these elections, polls suggested that they would win comfortably and substantially increase their current narrow majority.  Since then, the polls have tightened.   As with the U.S. election, the final national vote count is not what will determine the winner.  What will determine the winner will be the results in each of the 650 constituencies.  In theory, it takes 326 seats to win.  However, one of the parties running (Sinn Fein — the political wing of the Irish Republican Army) refuses to sit in Parliament (members of Parliament most take an oath of loyalty to the Queen before taking office and Sinn Fein members will not take this oath).   As such, depending on how many seats Sinn Fein wins (four in the last election), it actually takes around 323 or 324 to have a majority of the sitting members.   There are two additional complicating factors:  1) each of the four “nations” of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have very distinct politics; and 2) third parties will win a significant share of seats.  In Scotland, the Scottish National Party is the leading party in Scotland and the “unionist” parties are simply hoping to win back some seats.  In Wales, Plaid Cymru will win some seats (but they are not anywhere near as strong as the SNP).  In Northern Ireland,  the parties likely to win seats are only loosely affiliated at best with the British parties.  In England, the Liberal Democrats have pockets of strength — particular in the South — where they will win some seats and the United Kingdom Independence Party may win a seat or two in “Trumpian” parts of England.  Polls in England close around 10 p.m. their time and — depending on the seat — can take between 1-4 hours to count; so we should have some idea of the results during prime time in the U.S.

After the British vote, France will have two rounds of voting in its parliamentary election.  The first round will take place next Sunday (June 11) with a second round on June 18.   If any candidate gets an absolute majority of those voting and more than 25% of those registered to vote, they can win the seat on June 11.  If no candidate meets that threshold, the top two candidates and any candidate who gets more than 12.5% of the registered vote will advance to the run-off.  In 2012, approximately 58% of registered voters participated in the first round.  Assuming the “average district,” any candidate who got an absolute majority would also meet the 25% of registered vote requirement.  It would take 22% of the vote in such a district to qualify for the run-off.  Thus most districts with run-offs would involve 2-3 candidates with a very tiny number having a fourth candidate.  (A candidate who advances to the run-off does have the option to withdraw which can avoid a district in which two candidates from the same side of the political spectrum “split” the vote and allow a candidate from the other side to win the run-off with 40% of the vote.)  In France, there are four major left-wing parties/alliances, the centrist party of the new President (running for the first time), a center-right (Gaullist) party/alliance, and two extreme right parties.  Current polling suggests that the presidential party will get about one-third of the vote in the first round and will probably end up with a slim, but working, majority after the second round of the vote.

Besides election and court cases,  June will also feature the continued business of government.  The two big issues here will be continued Congressional hearings related to Russia and the Trump Administration (including whatever pressure the President may have put on James Comey to stop the investigation).  Meanwhile Senate Republicans will continue to try to negotiate behind closed doors on a health care bill.  And at the same time, House and Senate Republicans will be looking at tax reform and infrastructure spending.  On all of these bills, there are three main problems:  1) passing any bill requires both moderates and conservatives to agree unless the Republicans want to negotiate with Democrats; 2) passing any bill requires both the Senate and the House to agree (and may require some Democrats in the Senate); and 3) the clock is ticking.  Recent years have shown that the Freedom Caucus/Koch Brothers/Tea Party is willing to primary Republicans who do follow their version of Republican purity.  That means that House and Senate Republicans will soon need to start worry about a potential primary opponent and switch from governing mode to election mode sometime this fall.  After about mid-July, the focus will shift from substantive legislation to passing a debt ceiling bill (which needs to be done before the end of July).  After that, the House will be in recess for most of August, and September will be focused on trying to finish appropriations (or at least passing some continuing appropriation to buy more time).  If we are going to see any movement on any of the big three issues on the Trump/Republican agenda, it has to come soon.

In short, there are four things to look for in June:  1) Will the Supreme Court be as hostile as the lower courts were to Trump’s immigration agenda; 2) what special elections and primaries say about the 2018 cycle; 3) do foreign elections have any impact on the U.S. agenda abroad; and 4) is there any sign that the Republicans can actually do anything legislatively with their control of both houses and the presidency.

Categories: Political Action

Expansive Protections Against Police Abuses Win Approval in Providence

Deep Links - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 13:33

On Thursday night, the capital of the smallest state in the union adopted a wide-ranging police reform measure with national and historic implications. The Providence City Council voted 13-1 to adopt the Providence Community-Police Relations Act, which had generated controversy for the very same reason that it was ultimately adopted: it protects a sweeping array of civil rights and civil liberties (including digital rights championed by EFF) from various kinds of violations by police officers, all in a single measure. 

Included within the Act are protections to prevent police from arbitrarily adding young people to gang databases, providing notice to youth under 18 if they are so designated, and allowing adults an opportunity to learn whether they have been included. It also forces police to justify any use of targeted electronic surveillance by imposing a requirement that officers first establish reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Last but far from least, the Act protects the civilian right to observe and record police activities, which—combined with technology such as cell phones, video, and social media—has recently proven crucial in inspiring a multi-racial social movement responding to long festering abuses.

Beyond those concerns shared by EFF, the Act also includes a range of further elements protecting civil rights. Visionary measures to address discriminatory profiling prohibit police from considering racial, religious, and gender characteristics when assessing suspects unless “the officer’s decision is based on a specific and reliable suspect description as well.” The Act also prohibits police from inquiring about immigration status, preserving community trust and protecting both families from being torn apart and police departments from being commandeered to do the federal government’s work enforcing non-criminal civil code violations. 

Earlier this spring, the Council unanimously approved a slightly different version of the measure, then known as the Community Safety Act, in a unanimous vote. Only a week later, it delayed its prior decision, deferring until June 1 a final vote on proposed recommendations from a working group it established to bring together stakeholders including community advocates and police officials.

After meeting five times over the course of the past month, the working group issued its recommendations, with the support of Police Chief Hugh Clements and other officers included in the working group. Yet the Fraternal Order of Police remained intransigent in its opposition, issuing formal condemnations of the policy process at the eleventh hour for the second time in only a few weeks.

In the wake of the Council's approval, Mayor Jorge Elorza pledged to sign the bill into law. But long before it gained the approval of policymakers, a proposal for intersectional policing reforms united community organizations in and around Providence, including Rhode Island Rights, a member of the Electronic Frontier Alliance.

Groups of residents promoted both formal and informal discussions of the issues. They educated their neighbors, drew together a remarkably broad coalition of local groups, and even hosted a street festival “to use music, dance and art to bring attention to injustices and inequalities in our city and encourage people from across Providence to stand behind this legislation so that we can ban racial profiling and build a safer city, specifically for youth, immigrants and people of color.”

The movement for police accountability has drawn viral participation in some cities driving national news cycles, including St. Louis, Baltimore, and Charlotte. But Providence may now plausibly claim to lead the nation in embracing policy reforms responding to those social movements. 

By working to secure the near-unanimous support of their elected municipal representatives, grassroots groups who championed the new Act have conclusively demonstrated the viability of expansive local reforms combining measures to limit police profiling, surveillance, and retaliation all at once. Where concerned residents in other parts of the country learn from their examples, they might create new policy opportunities for civil rights and civil liberties, and together, even shift the national landscape.

Categories: Political Action

Dozens of organizations call on European Parliament to redouble efforts for progressive copyright changes

Creative Commons - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 13:12
“Tools in order” by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash. But one European political party wants to weaponize the worst parts of the copyright plan

This week, Creative Commons and over 60 organisations sent an open letter urging European lawmakers to “put the copyright reform back on the right track”. The letter criticizes the Commission’s lackluster proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, and calls on the Parliament and Council to spearhead crucial changes that promote creativity and business opportunities, enable research and education, and protect user rights in the digital market. From the letter:

The lawfulness of everyday activities depends on being able to count on a clear legal framework allowing companies to do business across the EU, individuals to access and use cultural goods, researchers to collaborate across borders using the latest technologies, and creators to be remunerated and contribute to Europe’s rich cultural heritage. This clear legal framework implies that the limitation of intermediaries’ liability must be upheld in EU law.

The letter highlights two aspects of the Commission’s proposal that are wholly detrimental to creativity and access to information in the EU. First, it calls for the removal of the new right that would permit press publishers to extract fees from search engines for incorporating short snippets of—or even linking to—their content (Article 11). This would undermine the intention of authors who wish to share without additional strings attached, including Creative Commons licenses. Second, it urges lawmakers to delete the provision that would require Internet platforms to proactively monitor user uploaded content in order to identify and remove copyright infringing content (Article 13).

The letter was signed by stakeholders representing publishers, journalists, libraries, scientific and research institutions, consumers, digital rights groups, technology businesses, educational institutions and creator representatives.

While these organisations have been advocating for positive changes to support the public interest and fair rules for creators, a faction of the European Parliament is proposing alternative amendments to the Commission’s plan that would not only retain the harmful ancillary copyright and upload filtering mechanisms, but make them much, much worse.

Days after we sent our open letter, we learned that the European People’s Party (EPP) is considering “compromise amendments” that could be introduced in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. The changes would further extend the ancillary copyright to last for 50 years (instead of the originally-planned 20), and would also apply to offline uses (original proposal only covered digital). Perhaps most strikingly, their “compromise” would grant protection to academic publications (specifically left out in the Commission’s plan). This would mean that users of scientific and scholarly journal articles would be forced to ask permission or pay fees for including short snippets of a research paper in another publication. This type of arrangement is completely antithetical to longstanding norms in scientific research and scholarly communications.

Regarding upload filtering, the EPP’s proposed changes would remove the liability protections granted to online platforms if that services does anything above and beyond simply displaying user-uploaded content. This would mean that platforms would be forced to heavily filter content, or acquire licenses to protect themselves against the copyright infringement liability passed on by its users.

The vote in the Internal Market Committee is scheduled for 9 June (next week!). If you’re in the EU, now is the time to act. Tell your MEP to say no to these false compromises. Contact an MEP from your country who sits on the IMCO Committee and tell them you expect them to support MEP Stihler’s compromise amendments on the copyright file. A phone call takes no more than a few minutes and can prove very effective. Internet rights NGO Bits of Freedom has created a handy tool that allows you to call MEPs for free.

The post Dozens of organizations call on European Parliament to redouble efforts for progressive copyright changes appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Hearing Tuesday: EFF Asks California Supreme Court To Allow the Public Access to License Plate Reader Data Collected By Los Angeles Police

Deep Links - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 12:46

Los Angeles—On Tuesday, June 6, at 9:30 am, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California will argue that license plate data, collected by police indiscriminately on millions of drivers each day, are not investigative records that police can shield from public scrutiny.

Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are high-speed cameras mounted on light poles and police cars that continuously scan the plates of every passing car. They collect not only the license plate number but also the time, date, and location of each plate scanned, along with a photograph of the vehicle and sometimes its occupants. Police departments store this data for years. Location data like this, especially when stored over time, can reveal sensitive information about the history of a person’s movements, associations, and habits.

EFF submitted public records requests to Los Angeles law enforcement agencies asking for a week’s worth of data collected by the hundreds of ALPR cameras around the city and county of Los Angeles. When the agencies refused, EFF teamed up with ACLU to sue for access to the records. A lower court ruled all license plate data could be withheld from disclosure as “records of law enforcement investigations.”

EFF co-counsel Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the ACLU SoCal, will argue that ALPR data are not investigative records because they are collected indiscriminately on all drivers within view of the cameras—the vast majority of whom are innocent citizens going about their daily lives. The data should be released so the public can understand and scrutinize how this intrusive technology is used.

What: Hearing in ACLU of SoCal and EFF v. Superior Court of Los Angeles

When: Tuesday, June 6, 9:30 am

Where: California Supreme Court
             Ronald Reagan State Office Building
             300 South Spring Street, Third Floor, North Tower
             Los Angeles, California

For more information on this case:

For more information on ALPRs:

Contact:  JenniferLynchSenior Staff Attorneyjlynch@eff.org
Categories: Political Action

CC is more Awesome than ever

Creative Commons - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 12:04

CC’s community consists of hundreds of individuals and organisations doing awesome stuff worldwide – from spreading the word about licensing to offering specific advice for creators and users, showcasing all aspects of open culture, and influencing policy makers around to globe to encourage them to adopt more open policies.

When we set up the Awesome Fund last year, we wanted to provide microfunding for this wide variety of activities. In the end, we received almost 40 applications – you can find the full overview of all projects we funded on our Wiki. Some projects haven’t finished yet, so this page will be regularly updated. On social media, look for #CCisAwesome for updates on ongoing projects.

CC Francocar workshop

The projects were diverse and exciting, with a number of teams using the funds to strengthen their own team or connect with others. Some highlights:

CC Belarus and CC Ukraine got together to create workflows for CC integration and to discuss on how to target creative communities to inform them about CC. CC UK and Ireland collaborated for a workshop on CC for start-ups. FRANCOCAR supported a range of events in the french speaking West African countries. CC Columbia, Chile, Uruguay and El Salvador collaborated on a series of podcasts highlighting Latin-American champions of open culture.

CC Ireland at the CC for Startups event

Some teams used to funds to travel to difficult to reach areas in their own countries: The Mongolian CC team used the funds to travel to the remote Buryat region to talk about CC as a tool for local empowerment and to promote local culture. CC Tanzania gave an advocacy training in the Iringa region.

CC Tanzania Training

CC is committed to supporting the Public Domain and promoting open policies and open culture: CC Argentina and CC Chile created a database of authors in the public domain. CC Israel organised an event to celebrate Public Domain Day and Fair Use Week, CC Nigeria organised a round table session on Creative Commons for policy makers and the copyright commission in Lagos, Creative Commons Portugal created a live performance and an accompanying site about copyright (and copywrongs) in the performing arts, while CC Indonesia showcased CC licensed music on an event promoting Free Culture and the joy of sharing. CC Ghana even organised their first ever CC Salon!

Having now left my position as Regional Coordinator for Europe, it is with great pride and joy I look back on the Awesome Fund projects. The amount and quality of applications, and the brilliant display of creativity and dedication that they showcase have been truly inspiring. The Creative Commons community is alive and kicking – and ready for the next phase with the ongoing network reform process.


The post CC is more Awesome than ever appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Stand up for the victims of racist hate

Socialist Worker - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 01:00

In the face of renewed and spreading harassment and violence, the International Socialist Organization appeals for a large and united resistance against the far right.

Students marching against racist hate crimes at University of California at San Diego

WHEN RIGHT-WING thugs feel free to harass and murder, and a leading voice of the U.S. left faces racist death threats, the need for solidarity and activism against the far right could not be more urgent.

Amid the surge of violent hate crimes since Donald Trump took office came the May 20 murder of an African American student, Richard Collins III in Maryland, on the eve of his graduation. Collins was killed on the University of Maryland campus by Sean Urbanski, a known racist who was identified as a participant in the "Alt-Reich" Facebook group.

The horror over that killing was still fresh when another Nazi, Jeremy Joseph Christian, stabbed to death two men, Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and badly wounded a third, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, in Portland, Oregon. Christian attacked them for defending two women, one of them wearing a hijab, who Christian had harassed and abused on a commuter train.

Politicians and the mainstream media typically try to dismiss such killings as the acts of mentally ill individuals acting alone, rather than evidence of the rising level of racist violence in society.

But even the pro-Trump New York Post had to report earlier this year that the murder by stabbing of Timothy Caughman, an African American man, came at the hands of an avowed white supremacist, James Harris Jackson--who told police that he traveled to New York City specifically to kill Black people.

Meanwhile, college campuses like the University of California at Berkeley have become a focal point for the extreme right, which seeks physical confrontation with anti-racists and the left under the guise of demonstrating for "free speech." Conservative commentators like Fox News and not a few more liberal media outlets have taken the far right's claims at face value, criticizing the left instead.

That is the frightening context for scores of death threats directed at author, activist and Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor this week after Fox News and other right-wing media targeted her following her commencement address at Hampshire College, in which she denounced Trump as a racist and sexist.

As Taylor wrote in an announcement on social media that she would withdraw from several speaking engagements:

Fox did not run this story because it was "news," but to incite and unleash the mob-like mentality of its fringe audience, anticipating that they would respond with a deluge of hate-filled e-mails--or worse. The threat of violence, whether it is implied or acted on, is intended to intimidate and to silence...

The cancelation of my speaking events is a concession to the violent intimidation that was, in my opinion, provoked by Fox News. But I am releasing this statement to say that I will not be silent. Their side uses the threat of violence and intimidation because they cannot compete in the field of politics, ideas and organizing. The true strength of our side has not yet been expressed in its size and breadth, and so they believe they are winning. We have to change this dynamic and begin to build a massive movement against racism, sexism, and bigotry in this country. I remain undaunted in my commitment to that project.

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THE MURDERS in Maryland and Oregon and the harassment Taylor has faced are not random events. They are political acts. This is terrorism, committed by those who feel confident to act on their racist and reactionary views at a time when the Trump White House includes figures like Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart News gave a "platform" to the "alt-right"--which includes Klan, Nazi and other far-right elements attempting to rebrand themselves as "white nationalists."

In a country founded on the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and the oppression of nonwhite immigrants, racist violence has deep roots. It expresses itself in many ways, including the wildly disproportionate numbers of killings and arrests of African Americans by police, as even the U.S. Department of Justice has been forced to acknowledge in its review of policing in numerous cities such as Chicago.

Central to this history of racist violence is the long tradition of white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, as well as Nazi groups. These elements have often tried to give themselves a mainstream cover--as with Klansman David Duke's 1991 campaign for governor of Louisiana, or, more recently, Richard Spencer's National Policy Institute, whose supporters celebrated Trump's election with a Nazi salute.

But the Nazis inevitably reveal their true agenda through violence --for example, Dylan Roof's 2015 massacre of nine people in a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Now, other racists are following Roof's example by threatening people of color, Muslims and anyone else who challenges their agenda. At a time when the president of the United States calls for banning Muslims from entering the U.S., while gutting civil rights protections and deporting immigrants en masse, it's little wonder that the far right feels emboldened--and that some white supremacists act on their threats, such as the racist who shot two Indian engineers, killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounding Alok Madasani, in a Kansas bar.

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VIOLENCE AND intimidation must be met with solidarity and a systematic defense of those under attack, whether it is well-known activists like Taylor or the random Muslims, African Americans and immigrants that the Nazis target in the streets.

In taking on this challenge, we can draw on the U.S. left's long tradition of resisting right-wing violence. It ranges from the anti-fascist workers' defense guards of the 1930s to the Deacons of Defense and other Black self-defense groups that provided protection for the civil rights movement of the 1960s against the Klan.

Recent decades have seen more modest but extremely important organizing against the far right, such as the effort in the 1990s by the Midwest Network to Stop the Klan to keep organized white supremacists from getting a foothold in Iowa and other Midwestern states.

Now the violent far right is back--and bigger and more lethal than at any time in decades. Fascists are attempting to use the rightward lurch in U.S. politics to market themselves as mainstream. While they portray themselves as champions of the "white working class," they are the avowed enemy of all genuine working-class organizations as opponents of the totalitarian order they seek.

The ISO appeals to left-wing, labor and anti-racist organizations of all currents to unite and take mass action against this surge of right-wing violence and fascist organization.

Only by confronting these elements can we expose their real agenda of oppressing the vulnerable and destroying democracy. They will not go away if we ignore them. On the contrary, they will use every opportunity to advance--which means more racism, more murder, more terror.

We can't let them get away with it. Defenders of social justice in Portland, Oregon, are organizing a demonstration on June 4 as a counterprotest against the far right to show that the bigots are a tiny, hateful minority. Two days later, on June 6, anti-racists will gather at the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ to hear for a town hall meeting to reflect on the murder of Richard Collins III, with featured speakers to include Rev. Graylan Hagler, anti-death penalty activist Shujaa Graham, and author and activist Brian Jones.

These should be the first of many such mobilizations. Join us in taking a stand in solidarity with the oppressed--and organizing a fight for justice and equality for working people.

Categories: Political Action

Face to face with the Wendy's bosses

Socialist Worker - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 01:00

Pranav Jani, a longtime socialist activist and professor at Ohio State University, tells what happened at a farmworkers' protest outside and inside the annual shareholders meeting for fast-food giant Wendy's--and considers what's next in the struggle for justice.

Supporters of the farmworkers' campaign march outside a Wendy's shareholders meeting

"HE SIDO un trabajador agrícola desde que tenía 17 años." ("I have been a farmworker since I was 17 years old.")

The voice of Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), is always powerful to hear, no matter what the setting.

But on May 23, Benitez's voice rang out in a place that has been hostile to farmworkers' rights--the annual shareholders meeting for Wendy's, held at the fast-food giant's headquarters in Dublin, Ohio.

As the Alliance for Fair Food (AFF) reported, Benitez and 26 other supporters, including myself, went into the meeting to confront Wendy's corporate leadership about its refusal to join the Fair Food Program (FFP) established by the CIW and allies as a monitoring program to prevent abuse of farmworkers by the fast-food industry.

More than 60 protesters led a vigorous picket in support outside the meeting, urging people to boycott Wendy's, support the farmworkers and fight for immigrant justice. Their actions forced Wendy's Director of Corporate Communications Heidi Schauer to come out and speak with CIW members and their allies, suggesting that Wendy's is entering damage-control mode.

The CIW is calling on Wendy's to follow the example of other fast-food giants and agree to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes to raise workers' wages and only buy from fields where workers' rights are respected. Wendy's has defied this simple call for justice and instead tried to weather the storm of criticism by releasing a new "Wendy's Supplier Code of Conduct" that has no effective enforcement mechanism.

On May 23, the farmworkers movement gained from the actions outside and inside Wendy's headquarters in three ways.

We forced corporate officials to more specifically articulate the content of supplier code of conduct" so that we can investigate it further and sharpen our critique of it. We learned how organized we can be, mobilizing and uniting a diverse group of people to take bold action around a specific goal. And we gained more insight into what drives Wendy's and other corporations to take such a firm stand against workers' movements, and the challenges this poses for us.

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THE SIZE and diversity of the direct actions organized this year show the powerful unity that has been forged over the course of the CIW's campaign.

The protesters inside and outside the shareholders meeting represented national and local Protestant, Catholic and Jewish institutions, community and social justice groups, and the "Boot the Braids" campus campaigns at the Ohio State University, University of Michigan and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

I was asked to participate as a faculty supporter of the campaign at Ohio State led by Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) and Real Food OSU--a growing movement that includes student members of the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

The planning of the action was superb and our execution flawless--as it needed to be to challenge Wendy's bosses in their own house. The 27 of us went in separately and incognito, wearing business-friendly dress and entering as proxy representatives of supportive Wendy's shareholders.

When I went into the conference center, a cop at the door joked to me and a shareholder that Wendy's had ordered "entertainment"--referring to the sounds of the protesters chanting outside. They had no idea of the real "entertainment" that was coming up, I thought.

CIW supporters have been entering these annual meetings for a few years, and Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito opened her "Corporate Social Responsibility" update saying, "We know you are here." But it was clear they had no idea of the scale of this action.

During the question-and-answer period, our well-prepared speakers came to the mic and hammered away at Wendy's narrative of "corporate social responsibility," exposing the Wendy's Supplier Code of Conduct for its lack of independence and transparency.

Board Chair Nelson Peltz finally shut down the meeting after our 11th speaker, and then all 27 of us held up "Boycott Wendy's" placards, met at the back of the hall and marched out together to join our comrades.

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AS ACTIVISTS and organizers, we have many experiences protesting the policies of the 1 Percent. We sometimes even get a chance to speak directly to their political representatives in the form of local and national Republican and Democratic Party politicians.

But it's rare that we get to tell the capitalist class, face to face, what we think of their unjust and exploitative policies.

Those lined up against us on the stage at Wendy's headquarters included: Todd A. Penegor, president and CEO, with total compensation of $5,117,784 in 2016; Gunther Plosch, CFO, with total compensation of $2,265,264 in 2016; and Nelson Peltz, chairman of the board, with a net worth of $1.53 billion that puts him among the richest people in the U.S.

These aren't people who are interested in listening to farmworkers, Wendy's employees or solidarity activists. But because we were well-prepared and flexible enough to ask relevant follow-up questions and make comments, we created an environment in which they couldn't simply ignore us.

And sometimes we even got them to crack and show their cards.

I focused on the ways in which the FFP's monitoring process is superior to Wendy's Code of Conduct: the code is mandatory for all growers, and farmworkers themselves participate actively in shaping the code.

You can find out more by reading law professor James J. Brudney's April letter to OSU's Lantern newspaper and the CIW's critique of the Wendy's Code.

Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito claimed that Wendy's was already a defender of workers' rights, and, repeating an argument she has made since October 2016, falsely suggested that Fair Food Program fees would go into the coffers of the CIW, a claim that the AFF's Patricia Cipollitti easily refuted.

When we asked whether Wendy's could identify third-party independent monitors that made their Code of Conduct enforceable, as they claimed, they refused to name any--raising basic questions about their transparency and credibility.

Peltz tried a number of times to quiet our side, saying snarkily, "Please, please, don't make [your questions] about this Fair Food stuff. We've heard this over and over again, ad nauseum." Refusing to meet with members of the human rights group T'ruah, which represents 1,000 rabbis, Peltz rudely told their representative, "I have plenty of rabbis in my life."

By the end of the meeting, the corporate doublespeak was plain to all. Penegor brushed off the question of whether the boycott was hurting Wendy's bottom line, resorting to wartime language: Wendy's would continue to win the "hearts and minds of people."

Apparently forgetting Wendy's fuzzy p.r. image of "food, family and community" that he repeated during his presentation, Penegor said people were free to make fast-food choices. After all, "[t]here's a huge share of stomachs" out there, and Wendy's did not need to appeal to everyone.

A larger "share of stomachs"--the beloved consumer reduced to nothing but a body organ for fast-food companies to fight over. A Marxist couldn't have made a better argument for what drives Wendy's and the 1 Percent--and the disdain they have for workers, as both producers and consumers.

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DURING THE course of the meeting, Wendy's executives revealed the many problems with the company's Supplier Code of Conduct.

The research we do on how the Wendy's code works in practice will be crucial, because universities that claim to stand by human rights will decide whether to renew the company's contracts based on the code.

For instance, Ohio State University sent an e-mail a few days ago to Amanda Ferguson, an SFA leader and ISO organizer, telling her that OSU will extend its contract with Wendy's for three years because they are satisfied with Wendy's claims that "that workers picking tomatoes [for Wendy's suppliers] are doing so under safe and appropriate conditions."

As Rachel Rieser pointed out in a recent Socialist Worker article on the "Boot the Braids" campaign at OSU, campus campaigns were central to getting Taco Bell to join the FFP in 2005.

The OSU contract renewal, representing yet another betrayal of the administration in relation to student and worker voices, is a crucial obstacle to overcome. A sharper critique of Wendy's Code of Conduct will be a key weapon in this struggle.

The direct action at Wendy's headquarters also gave us experience in uniting many organizations behind this fight. We can't overestimate the importance of activists coming together and forging the links that will serve us well in CIW solidarity work, but also the broader struggles against racism, for workers rights, and for immigrant justice.

Socialists should support the CIW campaign all over the country, joining rallies and marches, connecting the CIW struggle with the campaign of low-wage workers in the Fight for 15, and linking the farmworkers' struggle with all immigrant rights, anti-racist and labor organizing.

The CIW is focused on farmworkers' rights, and the FFP has reduced the most oppressive conditions of sexual and economic abuse in an industry that continued to be unregulated.

This abuse isn't only in Mexico and other countries, but right here in the U.S., where the Fair Labor Standards Act continues to exclude farmworkers in significant ways. This is important to emphasize, because sometimes it can be easier for activists to criticize companies for taking work to Mexico, when workers' rights and safety on the job are also unregulated here in the U.S.

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THE CIW'S demands might not seem all that radical. It's important, however, to consider the impact if farmworkers pressured Wendy's to join the FPP, as other fast-food giants such as Taco Bell, McDonald's and Burger King already have.

Wendy's corporate leadership would no doubt use such a concession to polish its image of "corporate social responsibility"--even as Wendy's restaurant workers continued to get the minimum wage or less, as is the case at other fast-food chains that have joined the FFP.

The pious shrines to Wendy's founder Dave Thomas in the halls of the corporate headquarters--describing his "humble beginnings," praising him as a "folk hero" and continuing the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mythology--would remain. So would "white savior" image of Thomas--reflected neatly in Penegor's and Esposito's presentations. Apparently, people of color exist in Wendy's propaganda only when they are being helped by Wendy's charities, depicted as Wendy's workers, or being turned into franchise owners by the corporation's good graces.

All of these questions about social responsibility and corporate greed would still need answers. But getting Wendy's to join the FFP would be a tremendous victory for a group of workers who have had little support except through their self-organization. On campuses and in cities, we should join this fight.

The CIW has uniquely connected the question of workers' rights with immigrant rights and women's rights in launching a wider struggle for social justice. This bodes well for the present and the future. As the CIW's Lupe Gonzalo said at the rally:

We are more unified and stronger than ever, because we know that unity is what makes us strong in these times. Wendy's may think that humiliating us and ignoring us will make us go away, but they're wrong--our community knows how to fight, and we are going to keep struggling harder than ever until Wendy's treats farmworkers like human beings with dignity!

Categories: Political Action

NLPC's False Report Diverts Attention from the Concerns of Real Net Neutrality Supporters

Deep Links - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 00:46

We learned this Wednesday of a report [PDF] by the National Law and Policy Center (NLPC) that claimed EFF submitted over 100,000 fake comments to the FCC's net neutrality docket, using fake names, email addresses, and physical addresses. Since we’ve started to get questions about NLPC’s report, we wanted to set the record straight.

NLPC’s report is false. Not one name, email address, or email domain cited in the report matches to any of the comments that came through EFF's comment tool.

NLPC’s report is false. Not one name, email address, or email domain cited in the report matches to any of the comments that came through EFF's comment tool.

Unfortunately, NLPC didn’t reach out to us before publishing its report. If they had, we would have been able to share our evidence with them and they could have avoided publishing a flawed report.

Before we explain how we know that NLPC’s accusations are false, we want to say a few words about our DearFCC tool. The FCC proposal to toss net neutrality guidelines would open the door to ISPs creating fast lanes for some content and slow lanes for others. It would leave consumers at the mercy of throttling and rob them of the meaningful access guarantees and privacy protections we fought for and won two years ago. DearFCC was created to provide consumers like you a tool for making your voices heard. Your Internet rights are at stake, and you deserve to be heard. We take very seriously claims of fake comments, and our analysis shows that none of the supposedly fake comments in the NLPC report were submitted through DearFCC.

So how do we know NLPC’s report is wrong? For one thing, we counted the number of comments people have submitted to the FCC through our system. That number is nowhere near the 100,000 comments NLPC said we filed.

Further, just before the sunshine period—when the FCC stopped accepting comments—we started storing copies of comments submitted through our system, because we weren’t sure how the FCC would treat comments submitted during that period. This week, we searched through all of the stored comments for the names and email address domains listed in NLPC’s report, and didn’t find a single match.

Finally, the text that NLPC found in the 100,000 comments in question isn’t identical to the text our system uses. It’s close, but there’s a subtle difference.

One of the sentences our comment system generates is: 

 “As an Internet user, I’m asking the FCC to protect the net neutrality protections currently in place.”

The language in NLPC’s report is:

As an Internet user, I'm asking the FCC to protect the net neutrality protections currently in place.

 Notice the difference?

It’s subtle, but in the word “I’m” in EFF’s text, the apostrophe is actually a “right single quotation mark.” In the text from the 100,000 comments mentioned in NLPC’s report, the apostrophe is a neutral “typewriter apostrophe.” For more information on the difference, see this Wikipedia article.

Why does the difference matter? Because it shows that whoever submitted the 100,000 identical comments the NLPC report mentions copied and pasted the text to make the comments look like they came through EFF’s DearFCC.org site, when they did not. If NLPC had looked closely at the comments they would have noticed the difference, and realized that the comments weren’t generated by EFF’s website. Apparently, they did not.

Fake Comments Shouldn’t Silence Real Voices

Throughout the FCC’s comment process, we’ve seen malicious actors attempt to discredit the process by generating obviously fake comments. Their hope is that they can drown out the voices of the overwhelming majority of Americans who support net neutrality

We can’t let that happen.

As we said last month, “Digital democracy is not easy. The FCC can’t just count comments for and against net neutrality as though they were ballots in a ballot box. But neither can Chairman Pai ignore the opinions of Internet users in the U.S., the majority of whom want to [continue] being protected against data discrimination by ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.” If the FCC and opponents of net neutrality respond to attacks on the “public comment system not by defending the system, but by discounting and ignoring public opinion expressed through that system, then the agency is answerable to no one.”

Help us hold the FCC accountable. Submit your comments to the FCC at https://www.dearfcc.org, and we’ll work as hard as we can to make sure the FCC listens. And you can be sure that we won’t let anyone drown out your voice.

Categories: Political Action

Montana Protects Communications Privacy, But Allows Gag Orders

Deep Links - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 17:43

In May, Montana adopted a new statute that limits government access to the contents of electronic communications stored by service providers. EFF applauds this new privacy safeguard. We thank the Governor for cutting two flawed terms concerning the level of judicial review and records stored abroad, as we requested in a letter with the Center for Democracy & Technology. 

Unfortunately, the new Montana law also allows the government to prevent providers from notifying their customers of records demands. Much like federal law that authorizes gags on service providers, this provision violates the First Amendment on its face.

What Montana Got Right 

Service providers maintain an ever-growing volume of our highly private digital content. If government wants to seize this content from the providers, it should first get a search warrant from a court based on probable cause of crime. In the watershed Warshak decision in 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant in these circumstances. For many years, EFF and other privacy advocates have asked legislators to codify this critical standard. We succeeded in California. Congress remains a work in progress.

The bill that the Montana Legislature initially sent its Governor was significantly less protective than Warshak. Specifically, it would have allowed government to seize digital content from service providers based either on a court warrant, or on “an investigative subpoena,” which in Montana can be issued on a lesser standard than probable cause.

EFF and CDT sent the Governor a letter seeking an amendatory veto of this provision. The Governor issued such a veto, requiring a court finding of probable cause for either a warrant or an investigative subpoena. The Legislature then enacted this change.

The Governor also fixed a second problem that we raised. The original bill would have required service providers to turn over digital content “regardless of where the information is held.” In other words, a Montana warrant would purportedly empower police to seize digital content stored outside the United States, including the content of foreign persons living in foreign countries. 

EFF and CDT objected that a comparable rule by a foreign country would intrude on the digital liberties of U.S. persons. The Governor vetoed this problematic extraterritoriality clause, and the Legislature enacted the statute without it. We hope other states and Congress will follow this lead.

Montana, Meet Microsoft v. DOJ

Unfortunately, the Montana law also replicates a serious constitutional flaw in federal law and promises to violate service providers’ First Amendment rights. The law allows Montana authorities to ask a court to gag providers and prevent them from informing users that their data has been turned over. The wording of this provision is quite similar to a gag order provision in the federal Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2705; both laws allow the government to get a gag based on the assertion that notice to the user might interfere with an investigation or cause other harms. However, a federal court recently allowed a First Amendment challenge to Section 2705 by Microsoft to proceed. The court found that Microsoft had plausibly argued that Section 2705 violates the First Amendment because it does not require the government to demonstrate that a gag is truly necessary. If anything, the Montana law is even weaker on this ground because it requires only that the government claim that notification of a user “may” cause a specific harm, where Section 2705 requires that harm “will” result.

In light of the Microsoft case, the Montana gag order provision may be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, and EFF will be keeping a close eye on it. As always, we’re happy to hear from anyone who might need our assistance in this regard.  

Related Cases: Microsoft v. Department of Justice
Categories: Political Action

MoveOn, United to Protect Democracy Letter to DOJ: Investigate Jared Kushner

Move On - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 16:42

MoveOn.org Civic Action and United to Protect Democracy today sent a letter to the Department of Justice, with support of MoveOn members nationwide, urging the department to “initiate an immediate investigation into whether Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner committed a federal felony, violation of 18 U.S.C. §1001, by deliberately and repeatedly failing to disclose multiple contacts with representatives of the Government of the Russian Federation.”

A MoveOn.org petition demanding an immediate suspension of Jared Kushner’s top-secret security clearance has 127,652 signatures—the majority within 36 hours. As the letter explains, this is precisely the sort of instance the law is meant to address, and does not reflect the sort of behavior that the Department has declined to prosecute in the past.

The letter to the DOJ is signed by MoveOn.org Executive Director Anna Galland and Protect Democracy Executive Director Ian Bassin, and was sent on Thursday, June 1, 2017. You can see the full letter here (PDF link).

Categories: Political Action

While EU Copyright Protests Mount, the Proposals Get Even Worse

Deep Links - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 16:22

This week, EFF joined Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Mozilla, EDRi, Open Rights Group, and sixty other organizations in signing an open letter [PDF] addressed to Members of the European Parliament expressing our concerns about two key proposals for a new European "Digital Single Market" Directive on copyright.

These are the "value gap" proposal to require Internet platforms to put in place automatic filters to prevent copyright-infringing content from being uploaded by users (Article 13) and the equally misguided "link tax" proposal that would give news publishers a right to compensation when snippets of the text of news articles are used to link to the original source (Article 11).

The joint letter addresses these two muddle-headed proposals by stating:

The provision on the so-called "value gap" is designed to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they want to have any chance of staying in business. ...

More and more voices have joined the protest by academics and a variety of stakeholders (including some news publishers) against this [link tax] provision. The Council cannot remain deaf to these voices and must remove any creation of additional rights such as the press publishers’ right.

IMCO Proposal Lowers the Bar for Awful Copyright Policy

Incredibly, since the letter was drafted, the proposals have gotten even worse. In our last post on this topic, we highlighted some of the atrocious amendments to the original text being pushed by the CULT (Committee on Culture and Education) of the European Parliament, notably to give producers and performers an unwaiveable copyright-like power to demand additional payments for the use of their work by online streaming services. But the CULT committee doesn't have a monopoly on bad ideas for European copyright. 

One of the other committees, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO), will be finalizing its own recommendations for the amendment of the Digital Single Market Directive in a vote on 8 June. On Wednesday Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda sounded the alarm about a sly move by EPP Group Shadow Rapporteur to IMCO, MEP Pascal Arimont, to propose that the committee accept an alternative "compromise" text, that far from being a compromise, checks off every item on the copyright maximalist wish-list.

As regards the upload filtering mandate, the "compromise" would extend this mandate to cover not only content hosts, but also "any service facilitating the availability of such content," apparently including search engines and link directories. Only small startups would be exempt from this filtering requirement, and only for a maximum period of five years.

The safe harbor that protects Internet platforms from copyright liability for users' content would also be abolished for any Internet platform that uses an algorithm to improve the presentation of such content—and it's hard to imagine any platform that doesn't do that. As such, it is no exaggeration to say that if this became law, it would no longer be safe to operate a user-generated content website in Europe.

If this wasn't bad enough, the Shadow Rapporteur's proposal goes all out in favor of the Commission's unpopular link tax proposal, extending it even further so that it would cover all uses of news snippets both online and offline, and last for 50 rather than 20 years. The new monopoly right would also be extended to scientific and academic journals, allowing them to demand fees for the use of abstracts of articles. Only the use of single words and bare hyperlinks would be exempted from the link tax, meaning that as few as two words quoted from a news article would raise liability for copyright-like fees payable to publishing organizations.

A Ban on Image Search

Another of the senseless proposals that has been published this week, this time not by the Shadow Rapporteur of IMCO but by the CULT committee again, is a proposed amendment to extend the "value gap" proposal to include a new tax on search engines that index images, as for example Google and Bing do. This proposed amendment [PDF] provides:

Information society services that automatically reproduce or refer to significant amounts of visual works of art for the purpose of indexing and referencing shall conclude licensing agreements with right holders in order to ensure the fair remuneration of visual artists.

It's unclear how much support this particular proposed amendment may have, but should it find its way into the final CULT committee report, we can well imagine that just as Google News shut down in Spain following Spain's implementation of a link tax for news publishers, the closure of image search services won't be far behind. It's hard to see that outcome as being any less detrimental to artists as it would be for users.

European lawmakers need to draw a line in the sand, and stop giving oxygen to copyright holders' most fanciful demands. If you are European or have friends in Europe, you can help deliver this message by contacting members of the IMCO committee and of the CULT committee to urge them to oppose such extremist rent-seeking proposals.

Categories: Political Action

Independent cinema for Brazil and beyond: How Canal o Cubo inspires media makers around the world

Creative Commons - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 15:54

Canal O Cubo is a popular Brazilian platform for independent Creative Commons licensed films and the promotion of Brazilian multimedia production. In 2014, they produced “Eu Te Amo Renato,” the first full length Creative Commons film on the Brazilian internet. This year’s spinoff is an LGBT focused web series called “Todo o Tempo do Mundo,” which won best drama webseries and best directing of a dramatic webseries at the international Rio Webfest this year. They produce collaborative content through their short movie production program called Make a Short!/Faça um Curta! as well serve as a diverse content aggregator of Documentaries, Originals, Video Art, Animation, and more – all with CC licensing as the backbone. By solving the distribution issue for Brazilian filmmakers, they are able to better support a variety of independent artists around Brazil and contribute to an ecosystem of Brazilian independent media.

In addition to their content collection, the small team runs a yearly festival, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary in Rio de Janeiro in May. Director Fabiano Cafure spoke with Creative Commons about this year’s festival and the challenges and success that he faces as an independent media maker in Brazil.

Congratulations on this year’s Festival o Cubo! What was this year like? What kinds of films did you enjoy screening most? What themes have emerged within the festival?

Each year is a surprise for us in terms of what we will receive from the independent scene. This year we had an increase in fiction movies and we were also able to observe how the medium format is coming back to the scene in internet productions because most of the independent filmmakers do not have the budget to use traditional mainstream movie distribution. Last year we had a greater amount of documentaries.

Why did you begin Canal o Cubo? What is the reason for creating a platform and festival such as this one?

Canal O Cubo came to life after years trying to understand the movement of internet and its advantages for independent distribution using existing platforms such as Youtube and public licenses such as Creative Commons. We understood that we needed to go that way in order to have a wider and bigger voice, but not before establishing a network of Brazilian producer to come together – and we did. The festival came as a result of the channel we created.

What have been the challenges behind Canal o Cubo? How have you explained the CC licensing to the artists you work with?

The challenges are basic: we have a lack of money to make it grow and invest. We are only three people to make all it work. Until now we were able to unify lots of producers from all over the country in order to have a good amount of titles to play for free. It takes time for people and other companies to see you and your work, which is serious work. We are getting there and Creative Commons is very important in that process. Sergio Branco has been a great mentor to us and a great help to better explain the definition and benefits from CC. The artists are getting more open to the idea but it takes time to break paradigms.

What has it been like to produce a popular web series under CC? What kinds of stories are you looking to tell?

It has helped us to reach out to our public. I usually say that CC is like a domino: you may not profit from a specific work under CC but it sures comes around as it helps to show your work. It has been proven to me by experience. I usually tell stories about people around me and my perspective of life, so in the end it is about life, specially about those who have no voice.

What’s next for you, both in terms of content and how you want Canal o Cubo to grow?

I enjoy being a person who facilitates understanding on how to produce with low or no budget at all. I love teaching the process of filmmaking. As far as Canal O Cubo, we are working on it becoming one the best Brazilian independent movie platforms as well as a reference in producing and distributing.

The post Independent cinema for Brazil and beyond: How Canal o Cubo inspires media makers around the world appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Aadhaar: Ushering in a Commercialized Era of Surveillance in India

Deep Links - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 14:16

Since last year, Indian citizens have been required to submit their photograph, iris and fingerprint scans in order to access legal entitlements, benefits, compensation, scholarships, and even nutrition programs. Submitting biometric information is needed for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, the training and aid of disabled people, and anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS patients. Soon police in the Alwar district of Rajasthan will be able to register criminals, and track missing persons through an app that integrates biometric information with the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network Systems (CCTNS).

These instances demonstrate how intrusive India’s controversial national biometric identity scheme, better known as Aadhaar has grown. Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identity number (UID) issued by the government after verifying a person’s biometric and demographic information. As of April 2017, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has issued 1.14 billion UIDs covering nearly 87% of the population making Aadhaar, the largest biometric database in the world. The government asserts that enrollment reduces fraud in welfare schemes and brings greater social inclusion. Welfare schemes that provide access to basic services for marginalized and vulnerable groups are essential. However, unlike countries where similar schemes have been implemented, invasive biometric collection is being imposed as a condition for basic entitlements in India. The privacy and surveillance risks associated with the scheme have caused much dissension in India. 

Identity and Privacy in India

Initiated as an identity authentication tool, the critical problem with Aadhaar is that it is being pushed as a unique identifier to access a range of services. The government continues to maintain that the scheme is voluntary, and yet it has galvanized enrollment by linking Aadhaar to over 50 schemes. Aadhaar has become the de-facto identity document accepted at private, banks, schools, and hospitals. Since Aadhaar is linked to the delivery of essential services, authentication errors or deactivation has serious consequences including exclusion and denial of statutory rights. But more importantly, using a unique identifier across a range of schemes and services enables seamless combination and comparison of databases. By using Aadhaar, the government can match existing records such as driving license, ration card, financial history to the primary identifier to create detailed profiles. Aadhaar may not be the only mechanism, but essentially, it's a surveillance tool that the Indian government can use to surreptitiously identify and track citizens. 

This is worrying, particularly in context of the ambiguity regarding privacy in India. The right to privacy for Indian citizens is not enshrined in the Constitution. Although, the Supreme Court has located the right to privacy as implicit in the concept of “ordered liberty” and held that it is necessary in order for citizens to effectively enjoy all other fundamental rights. There is also no comprehensive national framework that regulates the collection and use of personal information. In 2012, Justice K.S. Puttaswamy challenged Aadhaar in the Supreme Court of India on the grounds that it violates the right to privacy. The Court passed an interim order restricting compulsory linking of Aadhaar for benefits delivery, and referred the clarification on privacy as a right to a larger bench. More than a year later, the constitutional bench is yet to be constituted.

The delay in sorting out the nature and scope of privacy as right in India has allowed the government to continue linking Aadhaar to as many schemes as possible, perhaps with the intention of ensuring the scheme becomes too big to be rolled back. In 2016, the government enacted the 'Aadhaar Act' passing the legislation without any debate, discussion or even approval of both houses of Parliament. In April this year, Aadhaar was made compulsory for filing income tax or PAN number application and the decision is being challenges in Supreme Court. Defending the State , the Attorney-General of India claimed that the arguments on so-called privacy and bodily intrusion is bogus, and citizens cannot have an absolute right over their body! The State’s articulation is chilling, especially in light of the Human DNA Profiling Bill seeking the right to collect biological samples and DNA indices of citizens. Such anti-rights arguments are worth note because biometric tracking of citizens isn't just government policy - it is also becoming big business. 

Role of Private Companies

Private companies supply hardware, software, programs, and the biometric registration services for rolling out Aadhaar to India’s large population. UIDAI’s Committee on Biometrics acknowledges that biometrics data are national assets though American biometric technology provider L-1 Identity Solutions, and consulting firms Accenture and Ernst and Young can access and retain citizens' data. The Aadhaar Act introduces electronic Know-Your-Customer (eKYC) that allows government agencies and private companies to download data such as name, gender and date of birth from the Aadhaar database at the time of authentication. Banks and telecom companies using authentication process to download data and auto-fill KYC forms and to profile users. Over the last few years, the number of companies or applications built around profiling of citizens’ personally sensitive data has grown exponentially.

A number of people linked with creating the UIDAI infrastructure have founded iSPIRT, an organisation that is pushing for commercial uses of Aadhaar. Private companies are using Aadhaar for authentication purposes and background checks. Microsoft has announced SkypeLite integration with Aadhaar to verify users. Others, such as TrustId and Eko are integrating rating systems into their authentication services and tracking users through platforms they create. In essence such companies are creating their own private database to track authenticated Aadhaar users and they may sell this data to other companies. The growth of companies that share and combine databases to profile users is an indication of the value of personal data and its centrality for both large and small companies in India. 

Integrating and linking large biometrics collections to each other, which are then linked with traditional data points that private companies hold such as geolocation or phone number enables constant surveillance to take over. So far, there has been no parliamentary discussion on the role of private companies. UIDAI remains the ultimate authority in deciding the nature, level and cost of access granted to private companies. For example, there is nothing in Aadhaar Act that prevents Facebook from entering into an agreement with the Indian government to make Aadhaar mandatory to access WhatsApp or any of its other services. Facebook could also pay data brokers and aggregators to create customer profiles to add to its ever growing data points for tracking and profiling its users. 

Security Risks and Liability

A series of data leakages have raised concerns about which private entities are involved, and how they handle personal and sensitive data. In February, UIDAI registered a complaint against three companies for storing and using biometric data for multiple transactions. Aadhaar numbers of over 130 million people and bank account details of about 100 million people have been publicly displayed through government portals owing to poor security practices. A recent report from Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) showed that a simple tweaking of URL query parameters of the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) website could unmask and display private information of a fifth of India's population.

Such data leaks pose a huge risk as compromised biometrics can never be recovered. The Aadhaar Act establishes UIDAI as the primary custodian of identity information, but  is silent on the liability in case of data breaches. The Act is also unclear about notice and remedies for victims of identity theft and financial frauds and citizens whose data has been compromised. UIDAI has continued to fix breaches upon being notified, but maintains that storage in federated databases ensures that no agency can track or profile individuals. 

After almost a decade of pushing a framework for mass collection of data, the Indian government has issued guidelines  to secure identity and sensitive personal data in India. The guidelines could have come earlier, and given large data leaks in the past may also be redundant. Nevertheless, it is reassuring to see practices for keeping information safe and the idea of positive informed consent being reinforced for government departments. To be clear, the guidelines are meant for government departments and private companies using Aadhaar for authentication, profiling and building databases fall outside its scope. With political attitudes to corporations exploiting personal information changing the world over, the stakes for establishing a framework that limits private companies commercializing personal data and tracking Indian citizens are as high as they have ever been. 


Categories: Political Action