Showing posts with label fascist shift. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fascist shift. Show all posts

10.31.2018

something you can do with your shock and outrage: support military resistance to u.s. concentration camps

As the outrages pour out of the US daily, or seemingly hourly, good people's shock and horror are often accompanied by feelings of frustration and helplessness.

Far too many well-intentioned organizations are lining up around the midterm elections, as if the answer lies only at the ballot box. Many people are organizing locally to support rallies, demonstrations, letter writing, and the like. Still, the frustration is palpable -- and understandable. These actions, although important, feel so insufficient. The current US government shows no sign of respecting the rule of law or popular opinion, and certainly not morality.

One concrete action we can take to resist the Trump agenda is to support military resistance. Whenever and wherever fascist governments have perpetrated crimes against individuals and against humanity, they have been enabled by the loyalty of the militaries at their commands.

"We were just following orders." This was the answer famously given by Nazi officers on trial for war crimes in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II. The civilized world rejected that answer, and the Nuremberg Principles were created to enshrine that rejection in international law.

Unfortunately -- the most unfortunate thing in the world -- most military personnel the world over do not resist. But some do. And those courageous soldiers are fighting on the frontline for peace and justice.

Military resistance is the most direct blow to the outrages perpetrated by immoral governments the world over. Resistance is a lonely road, and one that comes at a very high price. Ask Chelsea Manning. Ask Kim Rivera, who -- deported by the Canadian government -- gave birth to her youngest child in a military jail.

War resisters need financial support, and they need moral and emotional support. And other soldiers need to know that resistance is possible. As with any groupthink, it's easier to speak out when others have gone before you.

Courage to Resist, which supports the brave and principled soldiers who refuse or resist illegal orders, has launched a new campaign: Do Not Collaborate
This summer, what might have been the defining low point of previous administrations, was simply the outrage of the moment: A plan to have the military host massive concentration camps of upward of 200,000 immigrant detainees across the United States, as we reported to you in July.

These camps do not appear to be going up as quickly nor on such a massive scale as first announced (quite possibly due to the resistance on many levels), but they do appear to be moving forward. On the Texas border at Tornillo Port of Entry, a tent city that first detained a couple hundred children a few months ago will hold nearly 4,000 kids by the end of the year.

Few people actually join the military to travel to distant lands to kill people. Fewer still join to help run concentration camps. Under both US and international law, military personnel have a moral and legal obligation to refuse to comply with any order that involves collaboration with these camps, but unfortunately few are aware of this fact.

That’s why we need your help. Together, we’re going to launch a strategically targeted communications project to reach service members across the country with this message:

These camps are illegal and immoral.

You have a responsibility to refuse and expose these orders.

Direct military resistance is powerful.


Our initial goal is to raise $20,000 to spend approximately one penny per member of the US military with this challenge. Of course, we believe that service members deserve two cents worth of encouragement if we can raise $40,000!

Just the idea of these massive military-hosted immigrant detention camps brings back memories of the forced relocation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Many of us thought something like that could never happen again, and yet, here we are. Along with everything else you can do to resist this affront to humanity, please support our challenge to military personnel to refuse these illegal orders. Your tax-deductible donation of $50 or $100 will make a huge difference.

Click here to learn more, or to donate to the Do Not Collaborate campaign.

6.30.2018

from the archives: for millions of american women, roe is already history

With the resignation of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, it is very likely that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, will be overturned. I'm getting frustrated by the spate of stories about how abortion will now be illegal -- with no mention of how Roe has become meaningless for so many women.

I wrote this (below) on Common Dreams in 2005. I was off on the chronology -- it took longer to get to this point than I thought it would -- and the lack of access has undoubtedly gotten worse since then. This piece in The Guardian will bring you up to date.

* * * * *

January 23, 2005

For Millions of American Women, Roe Is Already History
By Laura Kaminker

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, American women gained greater control over their bodies - and therefore, over their lives - when Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, became the law of the land.

The choice community celebrates the Roe anniversary as a kind of emancipation day, but it is unlikely we will see too many more of those celebrations. Roe will almost certainly be reversed soon. Abortion will be legal in some states and not others. State laws will vary widely in the circumstances under which a pregnancy may be terminated - as is now the case, only more so.

However, those of us involved in abortion access know that for millions of American women, Roe is already irrelevant.

Money. For a few years after the Roe decision, Medicaid paid for abortions; anyone could get an abortion regardless of her age or ability to pay. Only four years later, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned payment for abortions unless the woman's life was endangered. (In 1993, after much struggle, those exceptions were broadened to include cases of rape and incest.)

In most states, Medicaid rarely covers abortion. Yet the cost of a first-trimester abortion can be more than a family on public assistance receives in a month. In our Walmart economy, many working women can't afford a procedure.

Low-income women and girls delay termination as they try to scrape together the money they need. These delays often force them to have second-trimester procedures, which are more complicated medically, more risky - and much more expensive. It is not uncommon for women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they cannot afford a simple medical procedure.

Laws. Then there are the legal obstacles. With the Webster (1989) and Casey (1992) decisions, the Supreme Court upheld states' rights to restrict access to abortion in myriad ways. Women must jump through hoops and over hurdles before they can terminate a pregnancy. These laws run the gamut of idiocy, from 48-hour waiting periods, to parental consent and notification for minors, to mandatory "counseling," which often involves coercion.

These laws assume women are incompetent, irresponsible, and unable to make their own decisions. They also expose the anti-choice "abortion is murder" argument for the smokescreen that it is. If abortion was murder, these types of laws would be anathema to the anti-choice crowd: what good is delaying murder? However, if one's goal is to control women and punish them for having sex and getting pregnant, then these laws make perfect sense.

And then there's availability. In addition to the financial and legal barriers, there is one last, often insurmountable obstacle: availability.

Because of anti-choice terrorism and political action, thousands of doctors have stopped providing abortions and thousands of towns have stopped leasing space to abortion providers. Right now, nearly 80% of American women live in a county with no abortion provider. Obtaining an abortion often means traveling long distances, which in turn means finding child care and transportation, and even more funds. Imagine if the state also has a mandatory waiting period, so the entire trip has to be made twice. A baby should not be born because a woman could not afford the price of a bus ticket or had no one to watch her children.

When Roe is overturned, I will mourn. But in a very real sense, Roe is already history and has been for a long time. Without access, legal abortion is meaningless.

1.05.2018

required reading for revolutionaries: jane mcalevey and micah white

I've wanted to write about these two books for a long time, but adequately summarizing them is a daunting task. I just want to say to every activist and organizer: READ THESE BOOKS. I don't want to represent the authors' ideas, I want you to read them yourself.

No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age by Jane F. McAlevey and The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution by Micah White are both aimed at activists and organizers -- people who already believe in the need for social change and are trying to influence the world in a progressive direction. Both books identify pitfalls and shortcomings in the current ways we approach our activism, and they offer concrete ideas for change, along with theory and philosophy to guide our decisions. Both are beautifully written, powerful, and essential.

No Shortcuts focuses on the labour movement, but McAlevey's analysis could apply to any movement. The labour movement is an excellent lens through which to view activism generally, since, if practiced well, it activates people across the political spectrum, and has a direct impact on the everyday reality of people's lives.

Advocacy vs. Mobilizing vs. Organizing

McAlevey, a long-time organizer and labour educator, identifies three systems of organizing, distinguished by the extent to which the workers themselves create a new reality, that is, worker agency.

The Advocacy model, where paid union staff, professional lobbyists, and lawyers work alongside the employer to dictate the terms of employment, is the least effective. Indeed, this model is not only ineffective, it is downright dangerous. It often results in concessions and wage freezes, and even more damaging long-term results. It poisons the very concept of union, teaching workers that unions are just another powerful force benefiting an elite few at the expense of the many. It's the perfect scenario for employers, and unfortunately is the norm in many unions.

Turning to the more positive approaches, McAlevey differentiates between Mobilizing and Organizing. In Mobilizing, a group of leaders make decisions and activate the workers to support them. All campaigns depend on some amount of mobilizing, but if the entire campaign is based on a mobilization model, a great potential is lost. The campaign may make some material gains, but it will fail to change the workers' relationship to their employer and their work; it will have failed to challenge the power structure. Any gains made will be superficial and short-term.

McAlevey shows that only the Organizing model builds worker agency to make significant, potentially long-term progress. McAlevey didn't invent this method, of course, but she's illuminating it and analyzing it for us -- showing us how it's done and why it works.

In Organizing, workers themselves create their own change. Workers make the decisions, learn from their own experiences, and build strength together. Organizing creates massive pressure on the employer, builds allies in the community, and -- most importantly -- creates confident leaders who can then organize others.

Given this analysis, it's no surprise that McAlevey champions the most powerful of all workers' tools: the strike. Strikes not only demonstrate and leverage workers' greatest value, by withholding their contributions, they demonstrate to the workers themselves how powerful they can be. A successful strike is a transformative event, as the confidence it builds becomes deeply embedded in the workers' consciousness. Successful strikes lead, McAlevey writes,
to the ability of the workers to win for themselves the kinds of contract standards that are life-changing, such as control of their hours and schedules, the right to a quick response to workplace health and safety issues, the right to increased staffing and decreased workload, and the right to meaningful paid sick leave and vacation time.
To wage a successful strike, workers must be both organized and active. So the very tools needed to create the strike build the potential for success, in both the short-term and the long-term.

Case studies: the book's greatest strength and contribution to our movements

McAlevey offers many practical examples of the process of Organizing, such as transparency in bargaining and identifying leaders. These examples are beyond useful -- they are essential. But where No Shortcuts shines brightest, where it is the most useful and the most inspiring, is in the case studies.

McAlevey tells five stories -- four successes and one horrible shame. As a union activist, I found the stories of the Chicago Teachers' Union and the lesser-known campaign by workers at Smithfield Foods thrilling. Reading about them, I was filled with that sense of pride and joy that only the people's power can bring.
King County, Washington, has a population of two million. Ninety-three percent of its people are city dwellers; most of them live in Seattle. At the time I am writing this, the median household income is $71,175, and the average rent for a two-bedroom house is $1,123 per month. In 2014, there was a successful campaign to increase Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2022 (by which time, incidentally, that $15 will not be $15; it will be worth less, since Seattle didn't index it to inflation). The story was banner news worldwide in print and broadcast media, and a cause celebre for many liberals.

Meanwhile, without the fanfare of a single national headline, another kind of contract in a very different region also introduced a wage of $15 an hour. Bladen County, in southeastern North Carolina, has a population of 35,843. Ninety-one percent of those people live in the countryside; the rest are in the county's few small towns. Thirty-five percent are African American. At the time of writing, the median income is $30,031, and the average rent for a two-bedroom house is $637 per month.

In 2008, in the county's tiny town of Tar Heel, 5,000 workers at the Smithfield Foods pork factory voted to form a union with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). It was the single largest private-sector union victory of the new millennium, and it happened in the South, in the state with the lowest rate of union membership in the entire country: 3 percent. The new, ratified contract not only guaranteed a $15-an-hour wage but also paid sick leave, paid vacation, health care, retirement benefits, overtime pay, guaranteed minimum work hours, job security through a "just cause" provision, and tools to remedy dangerous working conditions. The wage alone far outranks Washington's: given the dollar's buying power in Bladen County, King County workers would have to earn $26.40 an hour to equal it.
The story of how these workers organized themselves and achieved these gains is one of the most exciting labour stories I've ever read. It will astonish you.

In "Make the Road New York", McAlevey tells the story of serious, strong, and sustained community organizing, not only for labour, but for an improved quality of life for the entire community.

Finally, McAlevey tells two stories about private-sector nursing homes. Incredibly, the examples stem from two locals in the same parent union -- one working within an Organizing model of true worker agency, the other run by a cadre of professionals who maintain comfortable conditions for the employer. What these so-called union leaders are is downright criminal. The expression "selling out" is too mild. They are every employer's and anti-union politician's dream. (Curious? Read the book!)

For several years now, we've been witnessing the re-emergence of organized labour as a vital force in our society. Inspired by the Fight For 15 fast-food workers, working people are fighting back, gaining public support, and activating themselves in great numbers. McAlevey's book is a road map to more of those victories -- which means it's a road map to a better world.

The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution takes a broader view through a very wide lens.

Micah White is a creative thinker, an excellent writer, a social theorist, and an activist. He is the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street (although this was not revealed at the time) and the originator of the idea that became the Rolling Jubilee debt forgiveness. He has been a human shield in the West Bank and an astute critic of clicktivism. He was named one of the most influential young thinkers alive today by Esquire magazine. He's a visionary, and you should read his book.

Is this thing on?

The premise of The End of Protest resonated deeply with me. Ever since February 15, 2003 -- the largest public demonstration in human history, which was ignored by mainstream media, and failed to prevent the US invasion of Iraq -- I have been frustrated and dissatisfied with the standard methods of public protest. The disastrous G20 demonstrations in Toronto in 2010 further confirmed my discontent.

Holding pens, free-speech zones, kettling, pre-emptive arrests, paid provocateurs, violent infiltrators, mass surveillence -- the ruling class has learned how to effectively neuter public demonstrations. The demos and the responses are predictable. They are theatre. They have symbolic value, they may build solidarity, and they may make us feel good. But they don't sustain movements and they don't create change.

There is value in being in the streets, especially when public protest occurs spontaneously. But many activists and organizations seem obsessed with how many people attend any given demonstration, as if a larger head-count somehow correlates with a greater likelihood of change. I've been involved in planning large-scale demos, so I've seen the vast amount of resources they consume. For what? Again, I'm not saying there is no value. But... can't we do better?

The End of Protest argues that our methods of protest are outdated, and that in order to be truly effective, we need to "break the script" of protest. We need to create fresh tools.

A framework for revolution

In the first part of the book -- "Today" -- White analyzes Occupy Wall Street, which he calls "a constructive failure". He beautifully articulates what was great about OWS, where it was successful, where and why it failed, and what lessons we can draw from it. He explores why dissent is necessary, and expands into a unified theory of revolution.

White creates a matrix -- or a Cartesian coordinate system (a term that was new to me) -- as a framework for analyzing different methods of protest, using four descriptors: voluntarism, structuralism, subjectivism, and theurgism. He describes each one in detail with very useful real-world examples. (A one-sentence definition cannot do justice to these ideas, hence I am refraining from doing so.)

In the book's second part -- "Yesterday" -- White analyzes protests from the recent past and the very distant past, situating each in his framework. The historic examples past are fascinating -- the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890), the Nika Revolt (532 CE), the Conversion of Constantine (312 CE), and the victory of Arminius (9 CE). In the modern examples, White trains his analysis on Palestinian solidarity, democracy movements in Greece and Spain, and the Rolling Jubilee.

In the final section -- "Tomorrow" -- White riffs on what is and may be possible. Very briefly, he offers a vision of a dystopian future, "an eco-fascist nightmare" that is all too easy to imagine. In fact, I found it much easier to visualize that potential reality than White's predictions of a unified, global, progressive revolution -- and it breaks my heart to realize that.

But White also reminds us that the future has not been written, and the path to that revolution is unknown. In fact, in White's view, it must be unknown, because we need to invent entirely new tools: "Innovation that breaks the fundamental paradigms of the protest model is the only way forward." White offers eight principles of revolution, realizing there are probably many more, but these eight were derived from his own lived experience.

What doesn't work

In case you are concerned, White eschews violence, believing that political terrorism is a dead end. He doesn't make a big deal about this, doesn't harp on and on about peaceful protest and a commitment to nonviolence -- a performance leftist activists are expected to make for the mainstream. He merely states, deep into the book, that political terrorism doesn't advance our goals, and we must look elsewhere for solutions. But although we reject militarism and terrorism, the far greater enemy is inertia.

Two bits from The End of Protest that I really appreciated are repudiations of both clicktivism and the so-called ladder of engagement. Clicktivism, White writes, encourages people to believe that "political reality can be altered by clicking, sharing, and signing petitions". It creates a false theory of social change, and deepens entrenched complacency.

About the ladder of engagement, White writes:
The dominant paradigm of activism is the voluntarist's ladder of engagement. In this model, there are a series of rungs leading from the most insignificant actions to the most revolutionary, and the goal of organizers is to lead people upward through these escalating rungs. This strategy appears to make common sense, but it has a nasty unintended consequence. When taken to its logical conclusion, the ladder of engagement encourages activists to pitch their asks to the lowest rung on the assumption that the majority will feel more comfortable starting at the bottom of the protest ladder, with clicking a link or signing a virtual petition. This is fatal. The majority can sniff out the difference between an authentic ask that is truly dangerous and might get their voices heard and an inauthentic ask that is safe and meaningless. The ladder of engagement is upside down. Activists are judged by what we ask of people. Thus, we must only ask the people to do actions that would genuinely improve the world despite the risks. Rather than pursuing the idea of the ladder of engagement, I live by the minoritarian principle that the edge leads the pack.
I've learned a lot about the edge leading the pack through my leadership role with my own local union. Many people told me our members weren't ready to strike. But how would they ever be ready if no one led them to the barricades? Would there be a magical moment when members woke up suddenly organized and ready to walk? And how would we recognize that moment when it came? Our leadership evaluated the situation, assessed the risks, and articulated both risks and potential rewards to our members. After that, democracy ensured that our members were ready, with a 98.7% vote to strike. As our parent says, "Be Bold. Be Brave." Those of us who have a fervor to be bold, brave revolutionaries have an obligation to lead from that edge.

Never be afraid of ideas

I fear that the lessons of The End of Protest may dismissed by the people who most need to contemplate them. White challenges several core beliefs of modern-day activism, and many of us cannot tolerate that kind of challenge. Organizers and activists may read this book, consider, and then reject all or some of White's ideas. But dismissing or ignoring those ideas would be a grave error. If our goal is to create revolutionary change, we owe it to ourselves and the world to read this book and engage with its ideas.

8.13.2017

join the ndp and vote for niki ashton: deadline aug 17

The deadline to join the NDP and vote for Niki Ashton is August 17.


Last night I saw something that shocked me, and today I did something I've never done before: I joined a political party. And I did it so I can cast my vote for Niki Ashton for leader of the federal NDP.

* * * *

I worked on Saturday, and was very busy, with zero time to check headlines or social media. After work, I was watching the Red Sox trounce the Yankees and idly tapping on my tablet, when I was stopped cold.

Heather Heyer was killed when a Nazi rioter
drove a car into the crowd.
I am not easily shocked. Perhaps I think I am shock-proof. But the spectacle of an angry mob carrying torches and Nazi banners, openly attacking a group of peaceful protesters, hit me like a gut punch.

I've been writing about the collapse of the US empire, the US becoming a third world country, the fascist shift, and so on, for a long time. It's not like the rise of the white supremacists came out of nowhere. And it's no surprise that police and local government allowed this to happen. So on the level of "this happened" -- no, it's not a shock. But emotionally, psychologically, even physically, the force and weight of it hit me. Men holding Nazi banners, chanting about Jews and Muslims. A peaceful protester and two others killed. Right now, in the country of my birth.

And from the White House, silence.

And from Ottawa, silence.

White Supremacists surrounded peaceful protesters
and attacked them with pepper spray and torches.
I have no illusions about the priorities of Canada's oil-rich federal government and the shirtless Prime Minister. But I imagined they had at least the veneer of humanity. Nope. It's more important to please the US than it is to speak out against white supremacy and Nazism. They might be only empty words, but Trudeau won't even speak them.

I watched the spectacle in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I felt sick. Not a figurative "this makes me sick," but a literal churning stomach, cold chills of fear, tears in my eyes. Wondering, What's next? Wondering, where are hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets, shouting a huge, loud, collective NO! ?

* * * *

Some people think it's funny that the Nazis used
"tiki torches". I'm not laughing.
Despite the very justified focus on the current POTUS, the US has been moving in this direction for a long time. The spectacles we saw at Trump rallies did not materialize overnight, without context. An oligarchy completely unresponsive to the needs of its people, an economy based on the transfer of wealth from poorest to richest, no meaningful work, no social system for education, housing, and, until recently, health care -- a populace armed to the teeth, like its government -- xenophobic scapegoating -- and the legacy of racism that has never stopped, never even taken a breather: all this gave birth to what we're seeing now. I've seen some people on Facebook imagining (fantasizing) that if Hillary Clinton was POTUS, this might not be happening. One could just as easily fantasize that it would have happened the moment she was elected. The powderkeg would still exist, and the catalyst wouldn't be far behind. The Democrats certainly had no plans to reverse the course of the last 30 years.

The truth is, in the US, there was no choice. There's the party of cats or the คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019party of cats.

Of the many things that attracted me to Canada, one of the strongest was the presence of an actual, viable third party, a party that more closely represented my values. But in recent years, the NDP has been disappointing, to put it mildly. The party was using the same playbook that ruined the Democrats, moving farther and farther to the right, hoping to capture the so-called centre -- a strategy sure to lose before it even gets started. It's been depressing. My activism has never been around party politics and elections, and the NDP's rightward shift pushed me even further away.

But people's movements have surged in recent years. People are fighting back. Occupy, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, The Fight for Fifteen -- activism around climate change -- the popularity of Bernie Sanders' platform -- union fightbacks -- all taken together, have created a groundswell. A context where real change might suceed. Where we might have hope.

And right now, in Canada, we do have hope. At last, there is someone running for NDP leadership who wants to recall the party to its roots: Niki Ashton.

From Ashton's website:
I am running because I believe we need a clear vision. We need fundamental change. We need to build the NDP as a movement for social, environmental, and economic justice.
The way forward for the NDP is clear. We must work tirelessly for true reconciliation with Indigenous people, for the protection and preservation of our environment, for working Canadians, for women, for people living with disabilities, for racial justice, for justice for transgender and non-binary people, for LGBTQ+ justice, and for the right to be who you are, and to love who you want to love. 
We must build a political movement that connects with the many Indigenous, racialized, student, environmental and labour movements that are driving progressive political change. We must move ahead with a positive agenda that tackles rising inequality and climate change. We must build a movement that has the strength of the people at its core. We must unite, and build people-centred policy as our foundation. As a party, we need to embrace the thousands of activists across this country who have paved the way for our movement. Their fight is our fight, and together, we are stronger.

I want people to know that we are in their corner, with every decision we make. I want Canadians to feel at home in the NDP because they see themselves reflected in the values and principles we fight for every single day.

It is time to be bold.
It is time to create the Canada we know is possible — we must accept nothing less.
It is time to address inequality in a real way, with real action.
I know we can do this.
I know that together, we can build a movement.
Today I realized that I must help Ashton build that movement. I need to exercise whatever power I have, to vote for Ashton for leader and to urge others to do the same.

August 17 is the last day to join the NDP in time to vote in the leadership election. You can do so here, from Ashton's own page, to show that you joined in order to support her.

Thanks to all my activist friends whose words and actions led me to this change! Solidarity always.

It's time!




11.12.2016

president trump: what didn't just happen

Since I'm making an effort to put more of my thoughts here, I'm gathering up a bunch of my Facebook posts and responses. If we know each other on Facebook, apologies for the repetition.

I find much of the analysis and commentary I've seen about the recent US election to be quite strange. Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. That happened. Here's what didn't happen.

1. "The United States is a democracy. The people chose Trump, end of story."

60,467,601 US voters chose Hillary Clinton.

60,072,551 US voters chose Donald Trump.

More than 100,000,000 Americans eligible to vote did not vote.

More than 5 million Americans cannot vote because they are either incarcerated or have been incarcerated, and thus have been disenfranchised.

There has been rampant voter suppression and vote fraud in both the primaries and the general election.

The United States is also a democracy if you close your eyes and stop up your ears.

Some views on winning the vote but losing the election from: The Guardian, The Independent, and The Atlantic.

2. "If only it had been Bernie!"

Bernie Sanders was never, for one moment, going to be the Democrat nominee. He was not leading a revolution, he was not even leading a movement. If he wanted to do those things, he would not have been running as a Democrat, and he would not have voted in line with the Democrats 98% of the time during his Congressional career. His role in the race was to bring in the left-of-liberal vote and that's what he did.

However, if Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, where would he have gotten more votes than Clinton? In Vermont, and possibly in New York and California -- i.e., states that went to the Democrats anyway. Because of the electoral college and the winner-take-all state-by-state system, recent presidential elections come down to a small number of swing states. I see no evidence that a more progressive candidate would have succeeded where Clinton failed in key swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina.

"If only it had been Bernie" assumes that a sizeable number of voters with strong progressive values opted to stay home in large numbers, rather than vote either Democrat or for a third-party candidate. This is possible, but not likely. Voters progressive enough to vote for Sanders likely would have voted to stop Trump.

"If only it had been Bernie" posits that a Jewish socialist born in New York City, a long-time representative of the liberal state of Vermont, would have carried the key swing states. Let's just say this strains credulity and leave it at that.

I do want, have always wanted, a progressive candidate to take on the Republicans, someone who actually offers a different vision of the country's future. By running as a Democrat, endorsing Clinton, and urging his supporters to vote for Clinton, Sanders demonstrated that he was not that candidate and never was.

3. Hillary Clinton is a good, strong, liberal woman of the people, and she deserved to win. She lost because of sexism and misogyny.

There's plenty of misogyny to go around, but the sexism smokescreen isn't big enough to hide Hillary Clinton's monstrous record.

Thomas Frank, writing in The Guardian:
She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. . . . And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. . . .

To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they'd chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn't mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country's well-being, or maybe both. . . .

Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station. Here’s what it consisted of:
- Hillary was virtually without flaws. She was a peerless leader clad in saintly white, a super-lawyer, a caring benefactor of women and children, a warrior for social justice.
- Her scandals weren’t real.
- The economy was doing well / America was already great.
- Working-class people weren’t supporting Trump.
- And if they were, it was only because they were botched humans. Racism was the only conceivable reason for lining up with the Republican candidate. (See original for links.)

The even larger problem is that there is a kind of chronic complacency that has been rotting American liberalism for years, a hubris that tells Democrats they need do nothing different, they need deliver nothing really to anyone – except their friends on the Google jet and those nice people at Goldman. The rest of us are treated as though we have nowhere else to go and no role to play except to vote enthusiastically on the grounds that these Democrats are the "last thing standing" between us and the end of the world. It is a liberalism of the rich, it has failed the middle class, and now it has failed on its own terms of electability.
Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch:
The DNC spent more time conspiring to defeat Bernie Sanders, than they did the Republicans. They absorbed nothing from the Sanders campaign, from the issues that resonated with his followers: a corrupt system fueled by corporate cash and militarism, working class people demeaned and ridiculed, the American youth burdened by debt with no opportunity for advancement, blacks and Hispanics treated as political chattel, captives to a party that demands their loyalty yet does nothing for them. The Clinton team vanquished Sanders, paid him off and then marched on arrogantly toward their doom.

Clinton herself showed a singular lack of courage to the very end of her campaign. She couldn't even speak out against the brutalization of tribal people in North Dakota defending their water and burial grounds against the mercenaries of Big Oil. How could anyone look at her silence in the face of those ongoing atrocities and believe that she'd ever stand up for them?
Robert Scheer, Truth Dig:
What you have is a defeat of elitism. Clinton's arrogance was on full display with the revelation of her speeches cozying up to Goldman Sachs—the bank that caused this misery more than any other—and the irony of this is not lost on the people who are hurting and can't pay their bills.
4. People voted for Donald Trump because they are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and ignorant.

Many Americans are indeed all of those things, and obviously Donald Trump appealed to voters on that level. But Trump was able to fashion those beliefs into a campaign because of the Democrats' abandonment of the American working class.

Sorry to Godwin here, but remember how we all learned how post-WWI Germany was in the throes of a gargantuan economic crisis, and that Hitler was able to blame all that on the Jews, by tapping into a hatred that was already there? Does this not ring a bell?

Do not underestimate the economic crisis in the United States. People are not just unemployed -- they are without hope. No party has been willing to change the laws that allowed corporations to move operations to countries without environmental and labour protections, with an ocean of cheap, surplus labour, and to pay no taxes while doing so. The election finance system ensures that any attempt to change this would result in political suicide. So what used to be the middle class tries to scrape by on sales commissions, retail and fast-food, and what used to be the working class is just plain poor.

For decades Americans have seen their prospects for a decent life evaporate, and the Democrats, once considered the party of the working class, did nothing but help that happen, caring more about its corporate masters than ordinary voters. The white working class was primed ready to see their bigotry legitimized, and their suffering answered with scapegoating. It's much easier to point a finger at "those people" than to do the hard work of rebuilding the manufacturing sector.

Donald Trump didn't invent that ugly stew of bigotry. We all know that. But the Democrats' abandonment of the working class created the anger and frustration, and the vacuum of hope, that paved the way for Trump.

People are suffering. They have been suffering a long time. The Democrats have been ignoring their suffering. And now they -- and the American people -- have paid a very high price.

Joshua Frank, Counterpunch:
...no matter what bullshit excuse Democrats come up with for Hillary's historic embarrassment, they have only themselves to blame. She lost because she deserved to lose. She ran an awful campaign, mired in controversy, and was unable to excite voters to the polls. She believed neoliberalism could carry the day, but she was wrong. The DNC was wrong. The establishment lost because the establishment deserved its fate.

By no means does this imply Trump will overthrow the status quo, it only means the outsider Trump was better able to exploit the boiling rage of middle America. All the workers who were undercut by Bill Clinton's NAFTA. The hundreds of thousands that never rebounded from the Bush recession. Trump provided an outlet of hope for these lost souls – a fabricated hope no doubt, but hope nonetheless – gift wrapped in rage. His mastery of social media, of vindictive and racist rhetoric, helped him gut the provincial electorate.
Richard Moser, Counterpunch:
The Democrats were oblivious to the deep discontent among the American people because that simply does not figure into their clever and cunning calculations. Why should it? Fear, lesser of two evils, scapegoating, palace politics — all these things worked in the past, didn't they?

So all the discontent and unhappiness from years of economic distress fed right into the only other choice. We have the "great two party system" don't we? Both Democrats and Republicans insist there is no alternative. ...

The Democrats run a candidate who spent eight years in the White House, crow about her experience, even when the experience included the fact that Bill Clinton was IMPEACHED and widely viewed as a bum. The Democrats embrace a family dynasty the includes one of the two presidents in all of American history impeached by the House of Representatives. Good choice!

This has to be one of the most amazing proofs that the Democratic Party echo chamber is truly deafening.
Robert Scheer again:
The people Hillary Clinton derided as a “basket of deplorables” have spoken. They have voted out of the pain of their economic misfortune, which Clinton’s branch of the Democratic Party helped engender.

. . . It’s a repudiation of the arrogant elitism of the Democratic Party machine as represented by the Clintons, whose radical deregulation of Wall Street created this mess. And instead of recognizing the error of their ways and standing up to the banks, Clinton’s campaign cozied up to them, and that did not give people who are hurting confidence that she would respond to their needs or that she gave a damn about their suffering. She’s terminally tone-deaf.

So too were the mainstream media, which treated the wreckage of the Great Recession as a minor inconvenience, ignoring the deep suffering of the many millions who lost their homes, savings and jobs. The candidate of Goldman Sachs was defeated, unfortunately by a billionaire exemplar of everything that’s evil in late-stage capitalism, who will now worsen instead of fix the system. Thanks to the arrogance of the Democratic Party leadership that stifled the Sanders revolution, we are entering a very dangerous period with a Trump presidency, and this will be a time to see whether our system of checks and balances functions as our Founding Fathers intended

Make no mistake about it: This is a crisis of confidence for America’s ruling elite that far surpasses Nixon’s Watergate scandal. They were the enablers of radical deregulation that betrayed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s contract with the American people in the wake of the Great Depression. The people are hurting, and regrettably, Trump was the only vehicle presented to them by either major party in the general election to register their deepest discontent. The Trump voters are the messenger; don’t demonize them in an effort to salvage the prestige of the superrich elite that has temporarily lost its grip on the main levers of power in this nation.

Thankfully, the Clinton era is over, and the sick notion that the Democratic Party of FDR needed to find a new home in the temples of Wall Street greed has been rudely shattered by the deep anger of the very folks that the Democrats had presumed to represent. That includes working-class women, who failed to respond to the siren song of Clinton, whom the Democratic hacks offered instead of a true progressive like Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Yes, we need a female president, but not in the mold of Margaret Thatcher.
Scheer, I should note, believes that Sanders would have defeated Trump in a progressive populist versus neofascist populist showdown. If Sanders was not actually a Democrat, I might have believed that, too.

Michael Laxer, The Left Chapter, "The wages of liberalism is Trump":
Much of the worst damage actually happened under Democrats. It should never be forgotten that it was Bill Clinton who helped to destroy the American liberal post-war state. Nor the role the Clinton Presidency played in the passing of sweeping and deeply racist crime bills that imprisoned and also disenfranchised millions of people-of-colour in the United States. . . . .

It was bizarre, as so many apologists for Clinton and the Democrats did, to go on about the alleged achievements of "incrementalism" or Democratic governance when it is easy to prove that the United States has gone dramatically to the right in every meaningful economic sense and when inequality is greater than it has been since the 1920s.

This did not change in any real way at all under Obama, a fact that is easily demonstrated.

Liberals and social democrats have failed workers and people living in poverty so spectacularly that it is impossible to overstate the extent.

This is a day-to-day lived reality for staggering numbers of people and telling those who might well be inclined to support something that rejects what has happened around them that your candidate and party are singularly qualified to stay the course due to their experience over this time in having done so, was both typically liberal and the worst form of political folly. It was a blind and bizarre self-defeating arrogance, that was profoundly, truly, madly, deeply foolhardy in its timing.
(Thanks to Allan for collecting these.)

5. We know what lies ahead.

In fact, we don't. This may have been merely an upset in the polls. Or it may be a sea change in US politics. I don't know what's coming and neither do you. That's why we're all so afraid.

11.09.2016

a dark and frightening day

I've spent the past several months reassuring my co-workers and baldly stating on Facebook that Donald Trump would not become President of the United States.

The lesson for me and for many of us: never underestimate what angry, alienated people can be led to do. The racism, hatred, and violence that is always present in the United States, decades of hopelessness and downward mobility that have gone completely unaddressed, and a demagogue fearmonger unafraid to pander to the lowest strains of American life: and here we are.

It would appear the system is less rigged than I thought. I thought the corporatocracy that controls the US would not allow this to happen. I thought Trump's presence on the right -- a huge boon to Democrats by shutting down left-of-liberal resistance -- would also drive moderate Republicans to vote Democrat. If either of these scenarios came into play, they were not of sufficient magnitude to overcome the popular discontent and desperation.

I fervently hate the Democrats and would not have voted for Clinton (and it wouldn't have mattered if I had), but the Democrats are a known quantity. I know what they do. They make war on foreign nations, they deport immigrants and refugees, they superficially (and sometimes meaningfully) support reproductive rights and LGBT rights. They are moderately liberal on social issues, and far-right on both military and economic issues. They are a party of cats, and I expect nothing for the mouse beyond the occasional crumb.

Trump, however, is an unknown. No one knows how far this will go, and whether enough resistance can be mounted against it.

9.04.2016

thank you, colin kaepernick!

Another awesome athlete protest that I have no time to write about. I can only thank Colin Kaepernick for his courage.

Joy of Sox speaks for me: To Mookie Betts (And Others): The Right To Protest Has Nothing To Do With The Military.

3.20.2016

fascist shift: donald trump in context

Many years back, I used to blog about a phenomenon called fascist shift. I borrowed the term from Naomi Wolf's essential The End of America, but the concept was something I had been thinking about for many years. In brief, fascist shift asks, What if we're all looking for jackboots and Sieg Heil and tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, and while we're keeping our eyes peeled for a scene from a black-and-white newsreel, a different brand of fascism moves in and sets up shop? What if today's fascism is more insidious and less obvious - and what if it's dressed up in a democracy costume? What if while you're saying That can happen here and But they wouldn't do that, it already has, and they did.

When you scroll through Wolf's ten indicators of fascism, are there any not seen in the US? And have any of them been repaired or reversed under Obama? Not a one.

Now, though, Donald Trump's presidential bid and the many millions of Americans who support him bring America's fascist shift into better focus.

* * * *

It's difficult to analyze Trump on this level, because most people only want to talk about who will become the next US President. Whereas I think (a) it's incredibly obvious who will become the next POTUS, (b) it doesn't really matter, and (c) any pretense of democracy in the US is a complete sham. In this post from 2012 (which is a good read, by the way), I wrote:
As always, I am completely blocking out all US electoral politics. I don't know anything about the campaigns, because I already know everything about them, without knowing a single detail. If you've followed one US election campaign since 1980, you've followed them all. They only change by a matter of degree: they get worse and worse.
Nothing has changed in the intervening years. Including all the voters who seem not to understand what is happening.

I cannot understand - I mean, for the life of me, I cannot understand - how anyone of voting age could possibly think Bernie Sanders is going to win the Democratic nomination. It is not even remotely possible. (For more on that, see my post "bernie sanders, the pope, and the politics of amnesia".)

Bernie Sanders running as a Democrat is ultimately a betrayal of everything Sanders says he stands for. And if he ran as an independent and tried to build a movement, he'd be vilified by the people who now praise him, and everyone who dared vote for him would be accused of electing the Republican. Such is the tragedy of the American left.

And despite Trump's performance in the primaries, I still believe, as I have all along, that the Republican National Party will not give the nomination to Donald Trump. I don't think the corporate oligarchs that control the duopoly parties want a clown as their figurehead. I don't know (or care) how they'll manage it, but my lack of imagination will not impede them.

It looks like the RNC has decided to sit this one out, as each party does from time to time. They can run a weak candidate, and simply let Hillary Clinton win. And why not? A Hillary Clinton presidency will be every bit as Republican as the Republicans. It's a win-win for the corporate masters.

* * * *

But this doesn't mean I don't recognize the significance of Trump's campaign. Trump - not the man, but the performance, and the audience's reaction to it - is a milestone of sorts. Trump is American fascism unmasked.

In a discussion on Facebook, a friend wondered when was the last time a presidential candidate from a major party spoke about hatred and bigotry in such bald, uncoded terms. The most recent example we could think of was George Wallace. (Todd Gitlin had a similar thought.) That's going back a ways.

I may have forgotten some gems from Michele Bachmann's campaign, but Bachmann never commanded the attention that Trump now enjoys, garnering a full 23 times the media attention given to Sanders. The US and Canadian media are enthralled. What will he say next? How far will this go? His entire campaign is one long vamp for the camera.

* * * *

The mainstream Canadian media (and Canadians who look to those sources) seem to take the US at face value. The skepticism and caution applied to Canadian politics ends at the (Democrat) White House door. Trump's open racism and bigotry shocks them, because Obama! They seem not to recognize that all the hatred of Obama and the worship of Trump are fueled by pure, undiluted racism. Much of the white working class - with no decent jobs, no bright future for their children, and no rescue in sight - cannot abide that a black man represents their country, and sits in a position of authority over them. The subtitle of this Barbara Ehrenreich piece says it all: "Downward mobility plus racial resentment is a potent combination with disastrous consequences."

Progressive USians know that both institutional and personal racism have never gone away. But, as someone said in that same Facebook conversation, for the last 40 years or so, most politicians have trained themselves to speak in code or to keep their mouths shut. But all the while, O'Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh, Beck (and so on) have been stoking that hatred, keeping their audiences primed and ready. Now Trump comes along to cash in.

For me the surprise is not that so many Americans rally around hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and violence. The surprise is that so many people are surprised! How did you all not know this about the US? A country founded on the genocide of its original inhabitants, built by slavery, justified by conquest, and made rich and powerful by imperialism. The United States, where property rights and the rights of the ruling class are sacrosanct above all, including human life.

For all its fears of communism (then) and terrorism (now), the US has only ever been in danger of takeover from fascism.

10.06.2015

votepopup: voter education at the library

On the long list of anti-democratic policies the majority Harper Government has enacted, the Orwellian-named Fair Elections Act ranks near the top. More properly called a voter suppression law, the Act effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of Canadians.

The Council of Canadians has taken the issue to court, including an ongoing Charter Challenge, but those won't affect the upcoming election. That means there's only one way to lessen the effects: voter education. 

Last night at the Malton Library, we contributed to that effort, with #VotePopUp, a voter education program for new Canadians. 

Some weeks ago, I learned that one of our libraries had hosted this program, and jumped onboard. I worked with an amazing community organizer, who has a bit of funding from Samara Canada and Elections Canada, and copious amounts of know-how through the Peel Poverty Action Group and her own nonprofit, Building Up Our Communities.

I promoted the program through various community organizations in Malton, and by chance it was scheduled on the same night as a newcomer ESL class, known here as LINC: Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada. These programs have been hit hard by Conservative and Liberal budget cuts (do you see a pattern here?), but thanks to dedicated teachers and social workers, they survive.

So last night, 39 adults crowded into a room in the Malton Community Centre to talk about voting. 

Why vote? Am I eligible to vote? Where do I vote? What ID do I need? How do I mark the ballot? ... and a few dozen similar questions were answered. Many of the students have voted in their original countries and are very keen to do so in Canada. Many of their original countries make voting much easier; others, more difficult. 

The program is completely nonpartisan, of course. By another excellent coincidence, there is an all-candidates meeting in Malton tonight, the night following the program. We were able to distribute flyers and explain what would happen at that meeting.

The presenter had prepared a mock ballot, and students chose the issue most important to them: jobs, transit, education, healthcare, and so on. Jobs won by a landslide. Using that, I was able to demonstrate how this would tie in with an all-candidates meeting: "What will your party do to bring more jobs to my community?" 

The library is the perfect place for a program like this. Our customers can use free, public computers to register to vote or look up their polling station. They can ask experts for free (and friendly!) help. They can use their library cards as a piece of voting ID. The public library is all about democracy and levelling the grossly unfair playing field. Voter education is naturally a piece of that picture.

7.04.2015

what i'm reading: wild by cheryl strayed, zeitoun by dave eggers

I've just finished two truly excellent works of nonfiction: Wild and Zeitoun. Both books read like fiction, with clean, clear writing and page-turning suspense. Both document almost unbelievable, out-sized events, in one case likely unique, in the other - horribly - anything but. I highly recommend both books.

I didn't expect to like Wild. Something about the phrase "best-selling memoir" just turns me off. But when the book was chosen as one of my Library's "Raves and Faves," I was intrigued. Those are always excellent books. (I'm quite proud that all five of my Raves and Faves suggestions made the list!)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail is a story of perseverance and redemption. Her life unhinged, battered by loss and confusion, the author decides to undertake a wilderness backpacking expedition. This is no casual walk in the woods; she's chosen a trail for which experienced backpackers may spend a year in training and research. Strayed is completely inexperienced and almost comically unprepared - comic, that is, if the consequences of failure weren't potentially life-threatening. At several points in the book, I thought, "Well, she must survive, because she wrote this book...".

Wild is suspenseful, moving, sad, uplifting, heartrending, and joyous. I was filled with wonder at this woman's strength, tenacity, and resilience. Wild left me contemplating that potential in all of us.

Zeitoun is also a nonfiction page-turner. It's almost impossible to write about Zeitoun without spoiling it, and the way in which the story unfolds gives it tremendous power. Perhaps most people reading this review already know the terrible punchline.

Zeitoun is the story of one man's, and one family's, ordeal during and after Hurricane Katrina. It is a story that sits at the intersection of two American nightmares: Katrina and the post-9/11 police state.

It is an answer to every person who feels "police state" and "fascism" are hyperbole when applied to the United States. In truth, that depends on your zip code, your skin colour, and your last name.

Considering I last visited New Orleans in 1992, I have a strangely personal relationship with Hurricane Katrina. August 30, 2005, the day Katrina hit New Orleans, was one of the most momentous days of my life: the day my partner and I moved to Canada. As with any move of this magnitude, we were unplugged from the world - no TV, no internet - for a couple of days before, and at least two days after. When we were back online, I struggled to take in the magnitude of what had happened. No matter how much we read, I felt like I never caught up.

In the 10 years since, in any story about the Katrina disaster, the dates jump out at me. I can picture us clearly, driving The World's Fullest Minivan, my beloved Buster between us, Cody hunkered in a cave in the back, starting our new life. Right at those moments, tens of thousands of lives were shattered, ruined, or ended.

The Zeitouns' story is compelling, heroic, and deeply frightening. If you've ever been inclined to think, "That wouldn't happen here," or "But they would never do that", know that it did, and they already have.

As with What Is The What, Dave Eggers is using proceeds from this book to fund many very important and worthwhile causes. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

3.13.2015

march 14: speak out against bill c-51

Guest post by Allan:

Tomorrow - Saturday, March 14 - there will be protests across Canada against Stephen Harper's latest assault on democracy and free speech - Bill C-51 ("The Anti-terrorism Act 2015").

While Harper states the bill would merely "criminalize the promotion of terrorism" and give the government the power to remove "terrorist propaganda" from the internet, left unanswered is who defines "terrorism" and "terrorist propaganda". The bill is written in such overly broad terms it could be applied to nearly anything the Conservative government wants to deem criminal.

The introduction of C-51 comes on the heels of news that the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's spy agency, is operating a covert, mass surveillance program that monitors the online activities of millions of Internet users around the world. Ron Deibert, a professor at the University of Toronto, likened the CSE program to a "giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives. . . . Everything single thing that you do . . . is being archived, collected and analyzed."

To find out where the nearest rally is to you, click here or here. (Information about the Toronto rally is here.)

Amnesty International lists seven reasons to oppose C-51. Other groups endorsing the rallies include: Leadnow.ca, Idle No More Toronto, Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Occupy Canada, and Greenpeace Canada.

C-51 will expand the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) while also allowing the Conservatives to increase their crackdown on legal political dissent.

Paul Champ, a civil liberties lawyer, said there are serious concerns that C-51 "is going to target not just terrorists who are involved in criminal activity, but people who are protesting against different Canadian government policies." Indeed, an internal RCMP report from January 2014, obtained by Greenpeace, reported that the so-called "anti-petroleum" movement is a growing security threat to Canada.

C-51 would relax privacy restrictions, lower the legal threshold for police to obtain a warrant, and allow Canadian authorities to hold suspects without charges for as long as one year. The Toronto Star reported the bill would give 17 security agencies "access to any information in any government department on any Canadian".

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, has sharply criticized the bill, saying it would "allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force". After some initial waffling, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has spoken out against C-51.

Silencing of dissent appears to be one of the bill's main goals. When May asked the public safety and justice ministers during question period if C-51 could be applied to non-violent civil disobedience, such as blockading along a pipeline route, she did not receive a direct answer.

Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said C-51 "proposes an unprecedented expansion of powers that will . . . impose a broad chill on legitimate political speech".

Harper and the Conservatives remain hostile to transparency and accountability. CSIS's internal watchdog was eliminated by the Conservatives in 2012 and C-51 offers little in the way of additional oversight. University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese says the Conservatives want to return to an era when the security services were free to engage in illegal, dirty tricks. He wrote that the bill creates a "secret jurisprudence on when CSIS can act beyond the law".

We must speak out against such obvious anti-democratic activities and resist Harper's totalitarian measures.

10.06.2013

snowden: mass surveillance threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time

The heroic Edward Snowden, in his own words, via Jesselyn Radack, at the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee in Brussels.
I thank the European Parliament and the LIBE Committee for taking up the challenge of mass surveillance. The surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time. The success of economies in developed nations relies increasingly on their creative output, and if that success is to continue, we must remember that creativity is the product of curiosity, which in turn is the product of privacy.

A culture of secrecy has denied our societies the opportunity to determine the appropriate balance between the human right of privacy and the governmental interest in investigation. These are not decisions that should be made for a people, but only by the people after full, informed, and fearless debate. Yet public debate is not possible without public knowledge, and in my country, the cost for one in my position of returning public knowledge to public hands has been persecution and exile. If we are to enjoy such debates in the future, we cannot rely upon individual sacrifice. We must create better channels for people of conscience to inform not only trusted agents of government, but independent representatives of the public outside of government.

When I began my work, it was with the sole intention of making possible the debate we see occurring here in this body and in many other bodies around the world. Today we see legislative bodies forming new committees, calling for investigations, and proposing new solutions for modern problems. We see emboldened courts that are no longer afraid to consider critical questions of national security. We see brave executives remembering that if a public is prevented from knowing how they are being governed, the necessary result is that they are no longer self-governing. And we see the public reclaiming an equal seat at the table of government. The work of a generation is beginning here, with your hearings, and you have the full measure of my gratitude and support.

9.16.2013

snowden, greenwald, miranda, and the creeping police state: one month later, we should still be disturbed

One month ago, something happened that should trouble us gravely.

Something happened that people who believe in democracy and free speech and an independent media and civil liberties and human rights should find appalling and unacceptable.

It's old news by now; anything that occurs one month ago is ancient history. I wasn't able to blog about it at the time, and in a way that is good. Events of great significance occur - our rights continue to shrink, governmental powers continue to expand, fascism and police states continue to be normalized - and we rarely have a moment to process one slippery step before we slide into another.

On August 18, 2013, a man named David Miranda was taken into custody at London's Heathrow Airport. Miranda is the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald. And Greenwald, you'll recall, is one of the two people with whom Edward Snowden entrusted his evidence of the massive domestic spy campaign being perpetrated by the US government, with the help of Microsoft, Google, Verizon, Yahoo, among other of the world's largest corporations.

Miranda was detained for nine hours under "schedule 7", some fine print in the UK's sweeping so-called anti-terrorism laws that gives police broad powers and ordinary citizens little recourse. Throughout, Miranda was denied the right to his own counsel. He was not charged with an offense. Media he was carrying was confiscated, but we know that doesn't take nine hours to accomplish.

As I said, I'm sure you read about Miranda's detention when the story broke in August, and I hope you are not so jaded that you merely shrugged, without finding it truly chilling. In any case, for the sake of this post, let's take a moment to think about it and let it sink in all over again.

The government has a massive, secret program through which it spies - constantly and without cause or provocation - on its own citizens. Someone inside the survellience program courageously comes forward to reveal it. In doing so, the whistleblower risks everything. He must leave his country, must fight for sanctuary and safety, must start an entirely new life.

This whistleblower, Edward Snowden, entrusts two people - one journalist and one filmmaker - with the evidence he has gathered. And the partner of the journalist is detained under anti-terrorism laws.

Large numbers of ink and pixels have been expended on this topic, but I saw none more responsible and less equivocal than those from Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. He writes:
On Sunday morning David Miranda, the partner of Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, was detained as he was passing through Heathrow airport on his way back to Rio de Janeiro, where the couple live. Greenwald is the reporter who has broken most of the stories about state surveillance based on the leaks from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald's work has undoubtedly been troublesome and embarrassing for western governments. But, as the debate in America and Europe has shown, there is considerable public interest in what his stories have revealed about the right balance between security, civil liberties, freedom of speech and privacy. He has raised acutely disturbing questions about the oversight of intelligence; about the use of closed courts; about the cosy and secret relationship between government and vast corporations; and about the extent to which millions of citizens now routinely have their communications intercepted, collected, analysed and stored.

In this work he is regularly helped by David Miranda. Miranda is not a journalist, but he still plays a valuable role in helping his partner do his journalistic work. Greenwald has his plate full reading and analysing the Snowden material, writing, and handling media and social media requests from around the world. He can certainly use this back-up. That work is immensely complicated by the certainty that it would be highly unadvisable for Greenwald (or any other journalist) to regard any electronic means of communication as safe. The Guardian's work on the Snowden story has involved many individuals taking a huge number of flights in order to have face-to-face meetings. Not good for the environment, but increasingly the only way to operate. Soon we will be back to pen and paper.

Miranda was held for nine hours under schedule 7 of the UK's terror laws, which give enormous discretion to stop, search and question people who have no connection with "terror", as ordinarily understood. Suspects have no right to legal representation and may have their property confiscated for up to seven days. Under this measure – uniquely crafted for ports and airport transit areas – there are none of the checks and balances that apply once someone is in Britain proper. There is no need to arrest or charge anyone and there is no protection for journalists or their material. A transit lounge in Heathrow is a dangerous place to be.

Miranda's professional status – much hand-wringing about whether or not he's a proper "journalist" – is largely irrelevant in these circumstances. Increasingly, the question about who deserves protection should be less "is this a journalist?" than "is the publication of this material in the public interest?"

The detention of Miranda has rightly caused international dismay because it feeds into a perception that the US and UK governments – while claiming to welcome the debate around state surveillance started by Snowden – are also intent on stemming the tide of leaks and on pursuing the whistleblower with a vengeance. That perception is right. Here follows a little background on the considerable obstacles being placed in the way of informing the public about what the intelligence agencies, governments and corporations are up to.

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian's reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government's intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London. The seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald's work.

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like "when".

We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting – indeed, most human life in 2013 – leaves too much of a digital fingerprint. Those colleagues who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state to know best (many of them in the UK, oddly, on the right) may one day have a cruel awakening. One day it will be their reporting, their cause, under attack. But at least reporters now know to stay away from Heathrow transit lounges.
The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression issued a stern caution about this, noting:
The protection of national security secrets must never be used as an excuse to intimidate the press into silence and backing off from its crucial work in the clarification of human rights violations. . . . The press plays a central role in the clarification of human rights abuses.
This is good, but useless. The forces that shape our world are increasingly decided outside any democratic body, whether in a G20 Summit or an arcane provision of a law that no one has read or debated. The UN's warning is a sneeze in a storm.

UK journalist Philip Bump also explains why this should cause us concern, and points out a few people who care, and a few who don't.
David Miranda, who was detained for eight hours and 55 minutes by British authorities over the weekend because they thought he was carrying NSA documents for The Guardian, is taking legal action against the government — a move that could crystallize the conflict between state security and journalism.

The British government's conflation of journalism with terrorism in the case of David Miranda is problematic largely because journalism, like terrorism, is no longer performed by discrete, centralized entities. Instead, journalists and those performing journalism around the world operate in small cells or individually. You post a video of police detaining a suspect to your Facebook wall, and you're committing an act of journalism — one that authority figures may not see as subject to First — or Fourth — Amendment protections.

In the battle with the security state, those who might commit acts of journalism have three choices: acquiesce, push back, or step away.

Miranda, who is Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald's partner, is choosing option two. The BBC reports that Miranda is taking legal action of an unspecified nature, challenging his detention and seeking to prevent the government from reading the information on the devices it collected. What that information is may only be known by filmmaker Laura Poitras, the person with whom it originated in Berlin, but there's little doubt it includes encrypted files related to the Snowden leaks.

The British Home Office released a statement about the Miranda incident. It reads, in part:
If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that. Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning.
The most important word in that statement is "would." Not "could" help terrorism — a standard so loose that it might apply to millions of pieces of information and real-world objects. But "would." The British appear to be echoing the NSA's line that detailing how the government does its work is itself an aid to terrorists. (A claim perhaps undermined by the recent embassy closures.) It also appears to echo the argument made by the government in the Bradley Manning case: publishing information is aiding the enemy.

There are some to whom this argument is compelling. The British paper The Telegraph defends the authorities' action in detaining Miranda, as does the editor of Kernal magazine. (His article begins "PRISM blogger Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian boyfriend, David Miranda…," providing a clear indicator of where his argument was headed.)

Rising to the defense of the American government is Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker. Toobin was criticized for his critique of the Snowden leaks earlier this month; Tuesday's essay is a continuation of that critique. "To be sure, Snowden has prompted an international discussion about surveillance," Toobin argues, "but it’s worthwhile to note that this debate is no academic exercise. It has real costs." Those costs are literal — the NSA having to build new surveillance systems — and figurative: "What if there is no pervasive illegality in the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs?" Toobin states that there is "no proof of any systemic, deliberate violations of law" revealed by Snowden, then noting of the Post revelations about privacy violations that "it’s far from clear, at this point, that the N.S.A.’s errors amounted to a major violation of law or an invasion of privacy." Incidental violations of privacy law, averaging seven a day, are acceptable to Toobin, as a cost-saving measure.

Those specific defenses aside, the intentions of the British authorities cannot be considered outside of the context of their behavior. Late Monday afternoon, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger revealed the paper's encounters with British authorities over this information. In a weirdly archaic move, representatives of the government's intelligence arm forced the destruction of hard drives containing Snowden information, as though that limited their ability to travel. The authorities threatened Rusbridger, prompting the paper to decide to move its reporting on the topic out of the country.

And then there's the treatment of Miranda himself. For eight hours, he was denied the right to his own counsel. The end result was confiscation of his electronic media, something that could have been accomplished in less than an hour. But, Reuters reported on Monday, that wasn't all that the authorities hoped to accomplish.
One U.S. security official told Reuters that one of the main purposes of the British government's detention and questioning of Miranda was to send a message to recipients of Snowden's materials, including the Guardian, that the British government was serious about trying to shut down the leaks.
In other words, intimidation.

The Columbia Journalism Review offers a broader sense of the effect on journalism — behavior performed by far more than just journalists.
In light of Rusbridger’s disclosures, it’s even clearer that the detention of Miranda is part of an attack on American journalists authorized at the highest levels of the British government, and it’s an attack that is at the very least implicitly backed by the Obama administration. …

This is police-state stuff. We need to know the American government’s role in these events—and its stance on them—sooner rather than later.
The founder of law site Groklaw offered her response to the government's surveillance systems in a post this morning. In short: she's closing the site. That's stepping away from the fight, and a natural reaction to intimidation. But only one of the three responses — acquiescing, pushing back, or avoidance — offers the hope of reform.
And finally, for reference, The Guardian has an excellent page full of stories and links about what's at stake: The NSA files.