Political Action


OAKLAND, CA – 21JANUARY17 – The Women’s March Against Trump in Oakland – Women from community organizations and unions in Oakland, together with men, marched through the downtown district, carrying banners and blocking streets, to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. President, at the same time the inauguration was taking place in Washington DC. Members and organizers of Unitehere Local 2850, the union for hotel and restaurant workers in the East Bay, turn thumbs down on the idea of Trump as President.
Copyright David Bacon

By David Bacon
Truthout | Report 6/24/17

Sanctuary churches. Sanctuary schools. Sanctuary cities.

Sanctuary workplaces?

Albeit far from its intentions, the Trump administration has put the idea of sanctuaries on steroids — spaces free from the threat of raids and deportations. As immigrant workers, unions and their allies look for creative ways to counter anti-immigrant onslaughts, they’re adopting the sanctuary framework to deal with the dangers faced on the job.

Read the entire article

Categories: Political Action

Will the racist killers in blue ever be convicted?

Socialist Worker - 22 hours 28 min ago

Chance Lunning and Elizabeth Wrigley-Field report from Minnesota on the outpouring of anger and sorrow after the acquittal of the cop who killed Philando Castile.

Marchers take to the streets after the acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile (Fibonacci Blue | flickr)

THE ACQUITTAL of the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile a year ago--in Philando's car, as his girlfriend filmed the aftermath from the passenger seat--sent shock waves of sadness and anger through St. Paul and around the country.

"I will continue to say murder," said Philando's mother Valerie Castile on the day of the verdict. "I am so very, very, very disappointed in the system here in the state of Minnesota. Nowhere in the world do you die from being honest and telling the truth."

On July 6, 2016, officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled over Philando Castile in a St. Paul suburb for a traffic stop. Castile stayed calm, followed the officer's directions and notified him of the legally permitted firearm he had in his possession. Within moments, Yanez shot Castile, who died 20 minutes later.

The video taken by Philando's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds went viral, as she described in terror what was happening live on Facebook. On June 21, another chilling video was released of Reynold's 4-year-old daughter trying to comfort her mother later that night--from the back of a police car as they were being driven to the station.

The day the not-guilty verdict was announced on June 16, some 2,000 people rallied at the Minnesota state Capitol. After the rally, protesters marched through St. Paul, loudly chanting, "Your fear is not a license to kill!"

Yanez testified that he stopped Castile because he thought he looked like someone who had robbed a convenience store a few days earlier. The car had a faulty brake light, so he used this as an excuse to pull Castile over. The officer said that he smelled burnt marijuana in the car and was "scared to death."

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WHEN THE murder happened a year ago, it sparked a massive response. Thousands marched through the streets of St. Paul. The avenue in front of the Minnesota governor's mansion was occupied for several weeks. One march ended up shutting down Interstate 94, the main highway through the Twin Cities, near the Dale Street exit and resulted in over 100 arrests.

Due to this pressure from the community, there were signs of hope that justice might prevail in the legal process. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi decided to indict Yanez for multiple counts, rather than sending the case to a grand jury.

But despite the fact that Philando followed the officer's orders and did nothing wrong, Yanez's claim that he was afraid was enough for the jury--10 of whom were white and several of whom espoused pro-police views--was enough to find the officer justified in firing seven shots at point-blank range into a car containing two adults and a 4-year-old child.

Allowing police to use fear to as an excuse for their violent behavior essentially eliminates any possibility of holding the police accountable. It means that, regardless of the evidence, any attempt to prosecute the police can be swept aside, if the officer claims they were frightened--something there is no practical way to disprove in court.

This is a terrifying prospect--especially for Black drivers who encounter the police. In just a week's time, that have been at least two more examples of police getting by with murder after stopping Black men for supposed traffic violations.

On June 23, a judge declared a mistrial for the second time in the case of a University of Cincinnati officer who shot and killed African American driver Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in 2015. And the Milwaukee cop who killed Sylville Smith during a 2016 traffic stop--sparking several days of mass protest in the city--was cleared of first-degree reckless homicide on June 21.

All these deadly cases of "driving while Black" also expose the rampant use of racial profiling by police in every U.S. city. As Valerie Castile told CNN last year, "We're hunted every day. It's a silent war against African American people as a whole."

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ON FATHER'S Day, supporters turned out to show that they stand with Philando Castile and his family on the third consecutive day of protest since this unjust verdict.

Some 300 rallied outside the St. Anthony Police Department in a rally named "Father's Day for Philando," marking the loss of a man who had learned the name of every child in the school where he worked in the cafeteria.

The mood in the crowd combined devastation with determination. As Ojay Wicker, who was juggling an infant in the crowd, put it, "It just wasn't right--it's not justice. I can't believe in justice when it doesn't work for everyone. When will Black lives really matter?"

Following speeches, the crowd marched through a nearby shopping center and occupied a major thoroughfare, chanting, "No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police!" and "No cops, no KKK, no racist USA!"

Philando's sister Allysza Castile addressed the crowd sitting down in the intersection:

We really thought that Minnesota was going to get it right, was going to show the nation that Black lives matter. My brother was a good man; he was a righteous man. He didn't deserve to go the way he did. I will never, ever, ever stop fighting for justice for my brother. One way or another, we're going to get it.

That commitment was widely shared. Sixteen-year-old Mone had attended her first protest, a march for Philando, the day before. She decided to come back the next day, she said, because "this has been happening for a long time. And sometimes the only way to get justice is to stand up for what you believe in."

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IN CHICAGO, supporters on the South Side were also taking up the fight for justice for Philando Castile on Father's Day.

Some 400 people gathered at of 53rd and King for a rally that began with Dorothy Holmes, a Chicago mother whose son Ronald "Ronnieman" Johnson was shot and killed by Chicago cops in 2014.

Activist Dr. Barbara Ransby said the date was exactly in between Soweto Day, when South African youth rose up against the U.S.-supported apartheid regime in 1976, and Juneteenth, when the last scourge of slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865.

Ransby explained that state violence against Black people is deeply connected to street violence, in that the mechanics of "racial capitalism" disenfranchise and destabilize communities of color while simultaneously over-policing and incarcerating them, leaving families fragmented and economic opportunities few and far between.

Protesters then marched down King Boulevard, chanting "Black Lives Matter" and "Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail." Families, elderly people and children could be seen emerging from their windows and balconies, cheering on.

The march went on to the Real Men Cook event at Hales Franciscan High School, and then to Dyett High School, which was the focus of an intense campaign aimed at stopping its closure, including a hunger strike.

Yanez's acquittal is painful, but this case shows the potential of what a mass movement against the racist criminal justice system can achieve. The police have fear on their side--both as a means of control over us and as an excuse for themselves. But we have solidarity.

We won't stop fighting until Philando, and the many other victims of police violence, get justice.

Categories: Political Action

A socialist challenge in the North of Ireland

Socialist Worker - 22 hours 28 min ago

Shaun Harkin is an Irish socialist and activist who ran for a seat in the UK parliament representing Derry in the North of Ireland. He ran as a candidate of the People Before Profit Alliance, a left-wing coalition that has run in elections in both the North and South of Ireland since it was founded a decade ago. Although he did not win, his showing of 1,377 votes in the Foyle constituency is further evidence of the desire for a left-wing alternative.

Here, Todd Chretien talks to Harkin about the campaign and the lessons he draws from it--plus the political situation in Ireland and Britain following the triumph for the Labour Party under left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, followed by the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire.

Socialist activists with People Before Profit march for abortion rights in Ireland (People Before Profit | Facebook)

I WANTED to start by asking you about politics in the UK today--with the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London coming on the heels of the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and the surprisingly good election showing for the Labour Party under its radical leader Jeremy Corbyn.

IT WAS already difficult to see how Prime Minister Theresa May was going to survive after the disastrous election she had. But with Grenfall, it's even more difficult to imagine.

Where Jeremy Corbyn has come across human, caring and demanding answers and justice for the people who died along with their loved ones, May has been terrified to face working-class people.

Corbyn doing so well--pushing back against everything that the Tories stand for--is galvanizing people and giving them a sense of confidence. There's tremendous anger in London right now, and it's explosive--it certainly exists here in Ireland as well.

THE IDEA that the Labour Party would be viewed as winners in this election would have seemed farfetched a year ago, coming after the vote for "Brexit" in last year's referendum on leaving the European Union. Certainly, the Tory Party didn't believe it was possible when they called the snap election in April. Corbyn seems to have broken through against the Tories' smears, the bias in the mainstream media and opposition from the establishment of his own party. How did he do it?

THE BREXIT vote, I think, was a shock to the system, just like it was a shock to have Donald Trump elected. And there was a caricature of the British population--certainly the English population--as being "little Englanders": racist, anti-European, etc.

Some people did challenge that one-sided view at the time. Of course, there was an anti-immigrant narrative that was part of the Brexit argument, but there was also an anti-establishment narrative.

I think what Corbyn showed was that campaigning on demands that the vast majority of working-class people care about has great appeal.

Corbyn campaigned on reversing the privatization of public services--even renationalizing the rail system and the Royal Mail service. He called for raising taxes on the rich to properly fund public services and for a 10-pound minimum wage [the equivalent of about $12.50 an hour]. He proposed 30 hours of free child care a week and abolishing student fees.

People began to feel that these proposals would make a meaningful different in their lives.

And then there's Jeremy Corbyn himself, who, unlike other Labour leaders like Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, is an honest politician. He stood by his beliefs, and that's how people see him. He hasn't compromised on his beliefs. He's been a great representative of progressive and socialist ideas.

This was especially important after the terrorist attack in Manchester. Instead of simply condemning it, Corbyn opened up a larger discussion. He said that if we want to end these attacks, we're going to have to change British foreign policy. That was a very honest thing to do, and it blunted May's ability to use racism and Islamophobia.

That's not to say that hatred and racism aren't a big problem here. But this is where Corbyn's long-standing antiwar, anti-racist politics made a big, big difference. He's been a leader of the Stop the War Coalition--he opposed the Iraq invasion when a majority of people in Britain also opposed it. That opinion has always existed, but has never been properly represented by the leaders of the establishment parties.

SO MAY will remain prime minister for now, it seems, and the Tory Party in control of the government. But they have to rely on the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) 10 seats to have even a very thin majority. Can you tell us a little about May's new junior partners?

THERE'S NOTHING democratic about the DUP. I would say it's one of the most reactionary parties in Europe. In fact, many DUP members would be expelled from the Tory Party for their extreme reactionary positions.

The DUP here in Northern Ireland have stood in the way of woman having the right to choose, and of equal marriage, even though we now have equal marriage in the South of Ireland.

They are deeply racist, and their supporters regularly belittle people of the Muslim faith. They are openly hostile to Irish nationalism, specifically to the Catholic minority in the North. Ian Paisley, the party's founder in the 1960s, was a bigot who constantly beat the Orange drum, whipping up tensions between Protestants and Catholics.

The DUP has always had links--and do to this day--with Loyalist paramilitaries and even terror squads who have murdered innocent Catholics. So it's utter hypocrisy to talk about Jeremy Corbyn's "sympathy" for Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) when the Tories are now dependent on the DUP for forming a government!

The more the DUP becomes involved in UK-wide politics, the more toxic Theresa May will find them.

IN 1998, the Good Friday Agreement brought a formal end to the military conflict between the British state and the IRA and its political arm, Sinn Fein. Since then, power sharing and limited self-government have been concentrated in the Northern Ireland Assembly. But the Assembly dissolved several months ago, and Sinn Fein's leader Gerry Adams recently remarked that May's policies were in "breach" of the Good Friday Agreement. Can you describe the issues involved in these conflicts?

THERE ARE devolved governments in the UK: a devolved Scottish parliament, a Welsh parliament and a devolved Northern Ireland Assembly. There is a constant struggle over these bodies extending their autonomy and power--if you want to call it that--over local policy and taxation.

But there are limits to it as well. In the North of Ireland, taxation and security power still mostly reside in Westminster--that is, in British parliament.

Here, the Assembly came about as a result of Good Friday with a power-sharing executive. There was tremendous support here for peace--people had been through 30 years of violence. But there's less support for the political structures that came along with it.

The way the government is set up institutionalizes sectarian division. When you go to the Assembly, everything is organized to share power between the Nationalists or Catholics and the Unionists or Protestants. If you are like People Before Profit and refuse to declare yourself a Nationalist or Unionist, as is required--if you declare yourself Other or Socialist--you're considered not to count in the votes.

WHAT ABOUT Sinn Fein? Long-time IRA commander and Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuiness' passing elicited an outpouring of sympathy among the oppressed Catholic population. Does Sinn Fein still represent a progressive political force?

SINN FEIN and the DUP have shared power since 2007. Sinn Fein is a nationalist party, and it is better than the DUP on some key issues. For instance, they support equal marriage. Inside Stormont, where the Assembly sits, they would have attempted to slow down the introduction of privatization and welfare reform.

But it's also the case that Sinn Fein looks in two directions. They often say the right things, but they haven't provided enough resistance to Tory policies.

Sinn Fein supports Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals, where the government secures private financing for public projects like road or hospital building and ends up paying huge fees and interest payments. These deals are the kind of backdoor privatization that Sinn Fein supports.

It all came to a head two years ago, in March 2015, when the trade union movement called an all-out strike against the so-called "Fresh Start Agreement" in the Assembly between the DUP and Sinn Fein, which included privatization, welfare reform and a whole host of cuts to the public sector.

PICKING UP on the theme of strikes and social movements, how does People Before Profit see the relationship between elections and broader struggles?

IN THE aftermath of the strike against the Fresh Start Agreement, I think Sinn Fein began to lose some of its support. Gerry Carroll and Eamonn McCann were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly for People Before Profit (PBP) in two heartland areas for Sinn Fein--in West Belfast and in the Foyle constituency that includes Derry.

PBP was launched as an attempt to give expression to grassroots struggle and a more radical set of demands. In addition to standing in the North, we've achieved some breakthroughs in the South of Ireland--we're an all-Ireland, 32-county organization.

You're probably familiar with the water charges movement as a kind up uprising against a European Union directive to mandate fees for water usage. The left has been some of the most consistent fighters around these issues, leading to a political breakthrough in the elections. Not to the degree of SYRIZA in Greece or even Podemos in Spain, but significant nonetheless.

YOU MENTIONED the water charges movements and the fight for marriage equality and abortion rights in the South. If the government has accommodated itself to certain aspects of change, it has also responded with repression. How has the left--North and South--navigated these challenges?

THE POLITICAL establishment in the South of Ireland is losing credibility. For a long time, it was governed by the "two-and-a-half party" system as it was called--after the two parties that emerged out of the Irish Civil War, Fianna Fáil and Fianna Gael, as well as Labour Party as a junior partner.

The Catholic Church has enjoyed a privileged position in the Irish Constitution and in setting reactionary social policy. Further, Ireland was an economically underdeveloped country.

But over the last 30 years, we've seen people begin to challenge this arrangement. Most importantly, the referendum on equal marriage in 2015 was a massive victory.

Recently, the Labour Party has paid a very steep price for joining in a pro-austerity governing coalition, leaving space in 2016 for PBP and the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) to win almost 4 percent of the national vote and six seats in the Dáil Éireann, or the Assembly of Southern Ireland.

One of those elected, Paul Murphy of the AAA, is currently facing six months in prison and the loss of his seat on trumped-up charges for taking part in a protest. That trial is going on as we speak, and campaigning for the charges to be dropped is an important part of our fight.

All of this means that, looking from the North to the South, people on both sides of the border can begin to imagine the kind of society we want to build and the kind of movements it will take to win it. It's a very important development.

In the North, we broke through in May 2016 when Eamonn McCann, who had been standing in Derry and the Foyle region since the 1960s, won a seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly and Gerry Carroll won a seat in West Belfast.

There was an appetite for an alternative to nationalism and unionism, to stand up more vigorously to austerity, to defend public sector jobs, and to fight on all sorts of progressive social issues like equal marriage, women's right to choose, solidarity with refugees and migrants, and protection of the environment.

YOUR CAMPAIGN for UK parliament was also based in Derry. Can you talk about the issues you ran on and how you were received by both Catholic and Protestant voters?

WE KNEW it would be difficult because it's a first-past-the-post system, similar to the U.S., rather than the proportional representation system in play for the Assembly. The party with the most votes in each of the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland gets the seat. Here in Foyle, there's only one seat.

We had an aggressive canvasing operation, visiting working-class areas all over Foyle, knocking on doors and talking to people about opposing a Tory Brexit, opposing Tory cuts, having no border here, neither a soft nor a hard border.

We talked about getting rid of the two rotten Irish states and replacing them with a united, socialist Ireland. We talked about privatization and poverty and defending the public sector. We explained that we stood for a lot of the same things that Jeremy Corbyn stood for in terms of a 10 pound minimum wage and things like that.

We also had an excellent social media presence. We got substantial coverage in the mainstream press, we participated in lots of rallies and campaigns, and we had the right to a mailing delivered to every house in the constituency.

We got on radio and television, and participated in the "hustings," an obscure British word for candidates' debates. And we put up posters all around town with People Before Profit and the candidate's picture on them. The candidate had to apologize to all his friends and family for that!

YOU MENTIONED Eamonn McCann. He's a longtime socialist leader who is also closely identified with the historic fight for the Catholic minority's civil rights in a city that has suffered terrible levels of Protestant paramilitary and British military violence. Is PBP primarily based in the Catholic working class or do you also appeal to Protestant voters?

WE CANVASSED in both Catholic and Protestant working-class areas. We're the only party that does it.

I would say that the same number of doors didn't want our materials in nationalist areas as in unionist areas. We know that working-class Protestants do vote for us. We consider this very important. The conversations we had in working-class Protestant areas were very similar to ones in Catholic areas: We talked about poverty, about austerity, about people's frustration with the establishment parties. I think that makes us optimistic.

There is a tradition--one where Eamonn is an important figure, even though he's closely associated with the Bloody Sunday massacre of Catholic civil rights demonstrators and the fight to hold the British government responsible--that understands us when we champion the idea that class is the most important division in Irish society. There's a hearing for the idea that working-class Catholics and Protestants face the exact same problems when it comes to housing, cuts to benefits, cuts to education, cuts to the NHS.

We thought that because we were standing a new candidate, if we got 1,000 votes, that would be a success. In the end, we did better than that, I got almost 1,400 votes, and Gerry Carroll got 4,100 in West Belfast. So this gives us a platform to build on.

LET'S RETURN to May's reliance on the DUP in the UK parliament in London. This comes while the DUP can't even convene the Northern Ireland Assembly. Is there a strategic opportunity for the Irish left in the fight against the Tories?

A LOT of people here are excited about how well Corbyn did across the water. However, politics in the north of Ireland don't follow the same pattern, because politics here are very much shaped by the sectarian division. We've found in the last cycle of elections that the vote for the smaller alternative parties was squeezed.

At the beginning of the year, a financial scandal around the Renewable Heating Initiative program involving the DUP Assembly first minister Arlene Foster--who is currently leading negotiations with May over forming a British government--forced Sinn Fein, under tremendous public pressure, to bring down the Assembly by withdrawing its support.

That left us without a government here since January. Sinn Fein's support has subsequently grown as it is seen as taking a tougher line against the DUP.

In the last Assembly election in March of this year, Sinn Fein won more seats and the overall Unionist majority in the Assembly was lost. That's set off a dynamic here where the competition between the two biggest blocs has intensified.

We saw the DUP increase its vote in the general election on June 8 and increase its mandate in a sense. On the other hand, Sinn Fein used the increase in its support to insist on a referendum on the status of the Irish border within five years and the potential for Irish unity. The return of the question of a united Ireland has come back in a big way.

There are a lot of people voting for Sinn Fein because they are genuinely disgusted with DUP financial scandals--and for the DUP's disrespect for the Irish language, where Arlene Foster described Irish speakers as "crocodiles." They're outraged by the DUP's hostility to LGBT people, to women's rights. People are not simply voting for Sinn Fein because they're for a united Ireland--they also want to send a signal in favor of progressive issues.

On Brexit, 56 percent of people in the North voted to remain, including big remain votes in Derry, Foyle and West Belfast, while the DUP supports leaving the EU on the same terms as Theresa May.

Sinn Fein, for its part, has expressed support for some sort of special status in the relationship to the EU. Again, this has raised the question of a united Ireland as an important issue unlike any time in decades, because according to the EU's Article 49, if the North were to unify with the South, it would mean the North would automatically remain in the EU.

HAS CORBYN had an impact in Ireland? What are the prospects for the left?

THE DUP has said that they are supporting May in order to prevent Corbyn from ever becoming prime minister.

They made a big deal about Corbyn's sympathy with the IRA in the past as the basis for stopping him. And given the polarization between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the question of the Irish border, it's been harder for the socialist left to win support for an independent class position.

Having said that, the DUP/Tory government has yet to be formed. They've agreed in principle to work together. However, the crisis of Grenfall has thrown everything up in the air. Nobody really knows what's going to happen.

What I would like to see, and what I think the Irish left would like to see, is the biggest possible opposition to Tory policies. We want to stop that government in its tracks and then push for the sorts of proposals that Corbyn has been talking about.

Whether that leads to the government collapsing, a new election and a chance for Corbyn to form a government, we can't say in advance. Those are all possibilities.

Here, the discussion is about whether there will be new elections for the Assembly. Can the DUP and Sinn Fein reach an agreement to restart the Assembly? We've been given the date of June 29 by the British Secretary of State for a deal to be reached or face the prospect of direct rule from London.

It's hard to tell. But there is another factor that could emerge. If there's the development of a protest mood in Britain, we'd like to see that carry over here on the streets. There are calls for mass protests on July 1 to stop the Tory government, and there's an equal marriage march planned here for that same day. People power on the streets could reshape all the calculations of the mainstream parties.

Categories: Political Action

Smear campaign against a Trinity professor

Socialist Worker - 22 hours 28 min ago

Eric Maroney reports from Connecticut on the latest target of the right's strategy of complaining about so-called threats from the left to cover their own abuse and violence.

Professor Johnny Eric Williams

THE RIGHT-wing campaign against left-leaning professors and academics took aim at another educator last week.

Trinity College, a small liberal arts college in Hartford, Connecticut, announced it would close, with all employees and guests evacuated on June 21 following a storm of threats received by Dr. Johnny Eric Williams, a tenured professor of sociology who teaches on race and racism.

The smear campaign was in response to an article Williams shared on his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. As Inside Higher Ed explained, the article, written by someone else, was taken out of context to accuse him of threatening violence.

The Trinity professor, John Eric Williams, last week shared a link to a Fusion piece called "Bigoted Homophobe Steve Scalise's Life Was Saved by a Queer Black Woman." It points to the fact that Scalise, the Republican congressman who was recently shot at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, has previously opposed extending protections to LGBTQ people and reportedly once spoke at a meeting of white supremacists, while one of the Black law enforcement officers who rescued him is a married lesbian.

Williams shared the article through an embedded link in Medium, accompanied by commentary from an author called Son of Baldwin, entitled "Let Them Fucking Die."..."Saving the life of those that would kill you is the opposite of virtuous," Baldwin wrote.

In sharing Baldwin's link to the Fusion article, Williams also used [Baldwin's] "Let them fucking die" comment as a hashtag and wrote that it is "past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be 'white' will not do, put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system."

What you can do

To show your support for Professor Williams, add your signature to this statement of support.

Far from being a call for violence against white people that right-wing media outlets like Campus Reform, the Washington Times and The Blaze made it out to be, Williams comments were a reference to the rise of racist terror and continued state-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people.

"I never intended to invite or incite violence," Williams wrote in an e-mail addressed to Trinity College. "My only aim was to bring awareness to white supremacy and to inspire others to address these kinds of injustices."

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ON THE other hand, it is clear that violence is coming from the other direction: the far right.

In just the past month or so, Richard Collins, a Black college student, was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland campus by a known white supremacist; two people were murdered and another severely injured on a Portland train when they tried to prevent white supremacist Jeremy Christian from harassing two young women of color; and 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen was abducted and beaten to death as she returned for all-night prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society center in Sterling, Virginia.

During the same time period, the police officer who murdered Philando Castile outside St. Paul, Minnesota, as he sat in his car at a traffic stop was acquitted; there was a second mistrial in the case of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing shooting unarmed motorist Sam DuBose; and protests erupted in Seattle after police shot and killed pregnant 30-year-old mother of four, Charleena Lyles as her children listened nearby.

How can anyone dispute Williams' comment about the continuing racist violence experienced by African Americans?

By slandering left-wingers like Williams, the right tries to point the blame in the other direction, but it is clear that bigots have been emboldened by the crackdown on left-wing protesters, the laws designating police as a group protected under hate crime legislation and the ongoing vitriol from the White House.

As Elizabeth Schulte wrote for SocialistWorker.org, hate crimes, particularly against Muslims:

have only increased since Donald Trump took the White House, where he has reinforced every bigoted anti-Muslim idea in society--not only with rhetoric, but with action, like attempting to ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

But while skyrocketing anti-Muslim attacks are staring law enforcement officials in the face, they won't take them seriously, preferring instead to focus on what they consider to be the "real" threat--Muslims themselves...Media bias contributes to the toxic climate of Islamophobia--but by whipping up fear and hysteria, it helps create an atmosphere where more attacks are possible.

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WILLIAMS IS one of a number in a series of left writers and academics facing the increased threats and harassment of the far right--among them, Syracuse Professor Dana Cloud, Princeton Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, University of Iowa Professor Sara Bond and Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher.

Often enough, the issue isn't anything these victims have said, written or done, but views ascribed to them by others.

For its part, the Trinity administration has failed to show significant support for Professor Williams. In her statement to the campus community, President Joanne Berger-Sweeney briefly upheld the College's commitment to free speech and a diverse college community, but then characterized Professor Williams' remarks as "hate speech" and "calls to incite violence," while promising to "explore all options to resolve this matter."

Berger-Sweeney said further action against Williams could come, before concluding with a lecture: "I told Professor Williams that in my opinion his use of the hashtag was reprehensible and, at the very least, in poor judgment. No matter its intent, it goes against our fundamental values as an institution, and I believe its effect is to close minds rather than open them."

Two Connecticut Republicans and Trinity alumni took a step further to call for Williams to be fired. State Sen. George Logan and state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides wrote a letter calling Williams' social media posts "outrageous and racist" and calling for his removal.

In response, the Trinity chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement:

It is important to remember that there is currently an organized effort to intimidate academics and especially those who speak out about issues of race and white supremacy, as Johnny did...We should not entertain the positions of those who...seek to target, distort, intimidate and punish an individual based on a (mis)reading of a few posts.

We all have an interest in protecting free speech for writers and academics. If Williams is harassed, intimidated or bullied out of the job, it would set a precedent for anyone who seeks to speak out against right wing bigotry.

But another outcome is possible. In Syracuse, supporters of Professor Dana Cloud built a campaign defending her against a very similar smear campaign by the right, and the solidarity expressed for her contributed to University Chancellor Kent Syverud taking a very different tone than Berger-Sweeney in his a letter to the campus community:

I have received messages to this effect, some of which are hard to interpret in any way other than to encourage violence. They insist that the University--and that I--denounce, censor, or dismiss the professor for her speech.

No. We are and will remain a university. Free speech is and will remain one of our key values. I can't imagine academic freedom or the genuine search for truth thriving here without free speech. Our faculty must be able to say and write things--including things that provoke some or make others uncomfortable--up to the very limits of the law.

Those committed to fighting bigotry and censorship must respond to the attacks on Dr. Williams and others. A petition calling for the Trinity administration to stand by Williams is circulating--and we need to look for other ways to show our solidarity.

Categories: Political Action

What will it take to get Baystate to say "uncle"?

Socialist Worker - 22 hours 28 min ago

Rojas Oliva reports on a fight by nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Western Massachusetts, who have been locked out as punishment for a planned one-day strike.

Nurses walk the picket line during a previous one-day strike against Baystate Franklin Medical Center

BAYSTATE FRANKLIN Medical Center nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), are planning a one-day strike on Monday, June 26, to protest the hospital's refusal to bargain for a fair contract and improved working conditions.

In March, the nurses at the Springfield, Massachusetts, hospital voted by 93 percent to authorize the strike. Claiming that a walkout is illegal, Baystate is retaliating by locking out nurses from the evening of June 25 through to the evening of June 28. This is despite not having a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board saying the strike is illegal.

The nurses' previous contract expired in December 2016. More than 20 bargaining sessions since then have stalled over various issues, key among them staffing and health insurance.

The planned strike is part of a tumultuous history between the nurses and Baystate that includes a strike in 2012, and another near-strike in 2014 that was averted when Baystate gave in and agreed to contract demands days before the planned strike.

In a May letter to Baystate Franklin's President Cindy Russo, the nurses summarized the current conditions as "working while exhausted" and enumerated the following systematic staffing failures in the past year:

-- There were 3,980 shifts that were longer than 12 hours.
-- It is bad enough that 2,768 times 12 hour nurses could not leave at the end of their shifts, but it is unconscionable that 1,193 times nurses who were scheduled to work 8 hours were not able to stop working for more than 12 hours!...
-- There were 433 shifts of 13 hours or more; 70 shifts of 14 hours or more, 131 shifts of 15 hours or more, 22 shifts of 16 hours or more and 5 shifts of 17 hours or more!
-- It is illegal for an RN ever to work 16 or more hours even in a declared federal or state emergency. But your data show that this happened 27 times. The longest shift was 17.5 hours.

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THESE SYMPTOMS of chronic understaffing and faulty scheduling have severe consequences for patients. A 2004 study found that nurses working shifts longer than 12 hours, overtime, or more than 40 hours per week were significantly more prone to errors.

Donna Stern, a Baystate nurse and senior chair of the bargaining unit at the hospital, said in an interview:

People's lives are at the receiving end of what we do. When patients don't have proper nursing care they die. They die with medical errors, they die with infections, they die with pressure ulcers, they die with high readmission rates. We're asking [Baystate] to meet their core staffing, their own guidelines that they have come up with.

Beyond staffing concerns, the nurses are attempting to renegotiate their health insurance. Under their current plan with Health New England--an insurance company owned by Baystate--nurses are responsible for the 26 percent raise in rates during a single year, as well as increased charges if the need care outside of the Baystate system.

This creates a self-feeding loop where Baystate employees, because they have health insurance through Baystate, are pushed into using only the Baystate system for their care. Not only this, but the health insurance plan the nurses have is more expensive than Baystate offers to the general public. "It's the worst New England health plan design in all of western Massachusetts," Stern said.

While health insurance is a key component to many negotiations for fair labor conditions, it is especially urgent for registered nurses as they have one of the highest rates of occupational injuries and illnesses.

"Back injuries, shoulder injuries, knee injuries [and] in terms of violence we get attacked more than police officers," Stern said. "We accept that the job is dangerous, but you have a responsibility as the employer to not only create safe working conditions in terms of staffing, you have a responsibility to provide us a decent and affordable health insurance plan."

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AFTER BAYSTATE'S continued failure to improve patient-to-staff ratios at the hospital or provide better health insurance for their employees, the 200 union nurses at Franklin voted 93 percent to authorize a one-day strike.

Although Baystate, like other employers public health employers, has characterized the strike as selfishly damaging the community, Stern sees it as fundamental to winning better working conditions for the nurses and, in doing so, improving patient care.

"When you skimp on workers, what you're saying is 'I'm skimping on the patients,'" Stern said. "That's what it really comes down to. If you really cared about the patients you would recognize that taking care of workers means taking care of patients. [Instead], it's profits over patient care."

The ability of a strike to bend a corporation's ironclad commitment to profit toward greater justice for workers comes from the ability to combine the various pressures of workers solidarity and community support. As Stern explains:

It always goes back to power. See, bargaining doesn't take place at the table. You don't get a contract at the table. You get a contract with what you're willing to do, action-wise. You're going to have to make them quite uncomfortable, and you don't know what the thing is that's going to make them break. It's usually a number of actions, a number of pressures.

Stern says that she sees strikes within a wider context of historical labor struggles:

Everything in this contract and everything that's ever happened in unions has been fought for. People have died. They have literally died for the right for me to be in this privileged place. If you look at United States labor history, it's full of workers dying for the rights of other workers. That's a powerful thing. This is peanuts compared to coal mining strikes. This is stressful, but nobody's going to pull a gun on me...

No union is going to be perfect. That's not where the revolution is going to be. As good as unions are you're negotiating the terms of your own exploitation. Any way you figure this out, they're making money off of you.

This is a way to get some of it back and have some decent standards at a workplace, but they're still making money off of you. You don't make $480 million in a four-year period, you don't have money in offshore accounts, you don't pay your top brass over $15 million a year.

Beyond improving the specific conditions for those on strike, the usefulness of a strike lies in demonstrating the concrete power of working-class solidarity. "We are right on the brink of workers realizing their power," Stern said. "Even at this little hospital, I can feel the shift."

In fact, following the successful show of nurse solidarity in their 2012 strike, both the security workers and skilled maintenance workers at Franklin unionized. "The long-term goal is to get every person at Baystate organized," Stern said

Accomplishing this broader goal of inspiration and organization begins with the smaller goal of achieving justice through workers exercising their power. "Baystate is a $1.5 billion corporation against 200 nurses," Stern said. "Getting them to say 'uncle'? We did it the last time and we're going to do it again."

Categories: Political Action

Why do these survivors need help anyway?

Socialist Worker - 22 hours 28 min ago

Independent columnist Mark Steel considers Tory Party objections to the proposal by Labour's left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn after the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire.

Jeremy Corbyn with residents of West London after the Grenfell Tower fire (David Mirzoeff | Press Association)

SOMETIMES, THE terms used in politics, such as Marxism and capitalism, can be confusing. So it was helpful for Tory MPs such as Andrew Bridgen to offer a simple explanation this week. He suggested the proposal of Jeremy Corbyn, that survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire should be housed in properties left empty by speculators, "fits in with his hard Marxist views."

It's always welcome when someone explains complex ideas in a way we can all understand. Now, when someone asks "What is a crazy Marxist?" all you have to say is, "It's someone silly enough to believe that if someone's house has burned down, they should be allowed to stay in an empty house."

Thankfully, we live in a fair capitalist society, so if a Russian oligarch has gone to all the trouble of buying a flat in Kensington and leaving it empty, we won't let some sod enjoy that wealth when they've done nothing to earn it except run screaming in terror from a raging inferno.

It's the same with those irresponsible Marxists who went down with blankets and food, the communist bastards. They should have set up a pop-up bedding and hot chocolate store to tap into extensive market opportunities.

If the Conservatives had seen the community in Manchester after the bomb, giving lifts home to strangers and looking for relatives, putting people up and looking after them, they'd have said, "Oh my God, the place is overrun with communism, it's like North Korea."

So we should hand the rights to Costa Coffee to be first at a major incident--that way they can make money out of selling drinks rather than give in to the socialist menace of giving them away.

Here's a captive clientele, who probably won't know how much they're spending as they're in a state of deep trauma, and we're restricting business opportunities by handing the operation to volunteers who have no idea how to generate wealth.

Someone should go on Dragon's Den to set up a company to help people out after catastrophes, charging 70 pounds to contact panicking relatives and provide a choice of light snacks to calm you down after an explosion, in a van with "We get there faster when there's a disaster" on the side.

Confusingly, 40 percent of Conservative voters are in favor of Jeremy Corbyn's proposal to requisition empty properties, which means we've reached an alarming state, in which almost half of Conservatives are Marxists.

Conservative garden parties in Surrey will soon raise funds by getting Iain Duncan-Smith to auction a signed photo of Fidel Castro, then they'll have a vote on whether to hand over the lawn to the peasants.

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THE COMMENTS about Marxism may have another cause, which is that the Conservatives have no idea what's just happened. For 35 years, the consensus has been that nothing can work unless it's run by the rules of big business, and no one will vote for anyone who tries to restrict the laws of the free market.

That law is broken now, so they scream all the old insults against Corbyn, and it no longer has an effect. Now the Tories suddenly look helpless, unable to sort out an arrangement with 10 people in the Democratic Unionist Party, who they agree with on most things. Luckily, Brexit will be with 27 countries, half of which hate us, governing minor issues like what everything costs and where everyone lives, so that should be much easier for them.

Theresa May now looks so bewildered that this weekend, the Queen will probably announce, "For God's sake, I'm asking him with the beard to take over. And he wants me abolished."

The Royal Family already appears to have held a meeting in which they've decided, "I don't want to be head of the place if this lot's still in."

But some people are sticking to the old values. The Guardian interviewed residents at the modern block in Kensington Row, where some survivors will be housed. One of the property owners, Nick, said: "I'm very sad that people have lost their homes, but there are a lot of people here who have bought flats and will now see the values drop. It will degrade things. And it opens up a can of worms in the housing market."

That's the spirit, Nick. There's a proper Conservative, not like these fairweather Tories who abandon their free market principles just because people were scorched in an entirely predictable and avoidable inferno.

First published at the Independent.

Categories: Political Action

Election Update

Democratic Convention Watch - Sun, 06/25/2017 - 15:25

May and June were significant months for elections, both in the United States and Europe.  While the news media tends to overhype some elections and ignore others, there are some conclusions that can be drawn from those elections.

Starting with the United States, the big news has been a series of special elections — focusing mostly on three Congressional seats held by the Republicans.  Neither party can be particularly happy with the results at the Congressional level, but certain things need to be noted.

First, except when caused by death or sudden resignation due to scandal, most vacancies occur in what the parties consider to be “safe” seats.  With the exception of the upcoming special election in Utah, the special elections for the House are all the results of an executive of their own party “promoting” the member of Congress to an executive office.  In California, you have to go back to 2012 to see the last time that a Republican even ran in the 34th district.  The four Republican seats were solid wins for the Republican incumbents in 2016 with the closest margin being 16% in Montana.  All five of these districts were double-digit wins for their party’s candidate in 2012.  The only district that was arguably winnable by the “out” party was Georgia 6 and that is only if you looked solely at the 2016 presidential election.  By the partisan vote index, Georgia 6 is still R+8, meaning that the Democrats would need to get around 58% nationally to win that seat.

Second, while national trends have a significant role to play in Congressional election results (as the number of true swing voters declines), races still involve actual candidates running actual campaigns.  Unlike regular elections, in which the parties have a significant period of time between the last election and the start of filing to recruit solid candidates for winnable seats, special elections require getting candidates to file (or choosing a candidate in some states like Kansas and Montana) in a matter of weeks from the announcement of the election to the close of filing.   The candidates for both parties are the ones who are ready to run, not necessarily the “best” candidate.  (That is especially true in Montana where both parties ran flawed candidates.)

Third, special elections are almost never about which party controls Congress.  While the media focuses on wins and losses (and parties will find consolation/disappointment in the wins and losses), the more significant story is whether the results show anything about swings since the last election.

It is in those trends that any discussion of these elections has to begin and it leads to the bigger question — has Trump yet made the Republican Party his party.  In the 2016 election, Trump exceeded expectations in some rural and blue collar districts but underperformed in certain suburban white collar districts.  A question going forward is whether Trump has driven voters with college degrees who, in the past, have leaned Republican from the Republican party or if these voters merely oppose Trump.  On the other side, the question is whether rural and blue collar voters have been permanently lost to the Democratic Party or if they merely disliked President Obama and Secretary Clinton.  Assuming that the results from the special elections so far has any meaning for 2018, it seems likely that the Democrats are looking at getting a result near the 53-54% national vote needed to win a majority in the House.

Another issue from these elections is that, in each of the races in the Republican districts (except perhaps in South Carolina), the polls showed the Democratic candidate either leading or in a close race shortly before the election.  After those polls showing a closer than expected race, the national Republicans intervened in the races and local Republican activists woke up to the need to work hard to keep the seat.  In all of these seats, the Republicans slightly over-performed these polls to barely keep the seat.  Obviously, the mid-term election will be quite different than these special elections.  With 435 seats up for grabs, there will not be polling for every seat (so people will not necessarily know which seats are at risk of an upset).  Additionally, neither party will be able to pour money into every close race — at least not at the overkill levels seen in Georgia 6 — a race that shows that there is such a thing as too much money.    On the other hand, traditional Republican voters did come home in these seats despite any potential problems that they might have with President Trump.

Of course, there are still more elections to come this year — the regularly scheduled off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia and the special election for Utah 3 are all scheduled for November.

Internationally, the big elections were in the United Kingdom and France.  In the United Kingdom, the election law is supposed to make it difficult to call an early election.  However, the Conservatives called an early election barely two years into a five-year term.   The traditional thought in the United Kingdom — from the days when the election law placed no limits on the ability of the government to call an early election — is that calling an early election (i.e. before the last year of the term) when the government has a working majority is generally viewed as opportunist and the government is punished.  This election followed that general rule.  Despite the early polling showing the Conservatives gaining a significant number of seats, the Conservatives actually lost seats and their majority.

Equally big from the United Kingdom were the continued developments in Northern Ireland.  This election saw the Ulster Unionists and the Social Democratic and Labour Party lose their last seats in Parliament.  In the old days, when there was still fighting between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, these two parties were the two leading parties in Northern Ireland.  Since the Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland, these two centrists parties that pushed for peace have lost votes and seats to the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein — the two parties that represent the extremes of the two communities.  After the last election, the Democratic Unionists held ten seats and Sinn Fein held seven seats with one seat held by an independent who was originally elected as an Ulster Unionist.  (In comparison, before the Good Friday Agreement, the Ulster Unionists and SDLP held thirteen seats.)  Given that the Conservatives fell just short of a majority, the overall election results mean that the Democratic Unionists hold the balance of power.  Given that the DUP is a socially conservative party and the fact that the rest of the UK has managed to stay above the unique regional disputes of Northern Ireland, the DUP being power brokers is not a good thing.

Another development worthy of note from this election is that the DUP is only in this position because the Conservatives rebounded in Scotland.  Before the election, the Conservatives held only one seat from Scotland with the Scottish Nationalists holding 56 of 59 seats.  The SNP fell to 35 seats with the Conservatives gaining twelve seats (compared to a gain of six by Labour) leaving the Conservatives with a total of thirteen seats.  Given that the Conservatives fell six short of a majority (forcing them to rely on the DUP’s ten votes to survive any motion of no confidence), the gain of twelve in Scotland is the only thing letting them form a minority government that has any chance of surviving more than a couple of months.  (It will also be interesting to see what will happen.  In the past, a minority government would probably call an election within several months in the hopes of winning a working majority.  Now, calling an election would require the support of the opposition parties.)

The stated reason for the Conservatives calling the election was to receive a mandate to pursue a certain strategy in Brexit negotiations.  The attempt to get a mandate for a very Trumpian approach to those negotiations failed “bigly.”  Additionally, the most Trumpian party lost its only seat in parliament.

Across the English Channel in France, the election results show the significance of “personality politics.”  A political party that did not exist in the last general election has now won the presidency and an overwhelming majority in Parliament.  While the new president is not quite the newcomer that he is sometimes portrayed in the media — he served in the last government — the ability to build a movement from scratch is somewhat foreign to U.S. politics.  Other countries make it much easier for parties to get on the ballot leading to more fractured political loyalty and a chance for a new party to accumulate a significant percentage of votes.  In the first round of voting (for both president and the legislature), this new party managed to get in the mid-20s.  Given the number of parties in France, those numbers were enough to make the run-off for president and the run-off in almost all of the legislative seats.  In the U.S. (or even the U.K.) with two major parties and no run-off, those numbers would be an electoral disaster rather than winning numbers.  While the Trumpian party made the presidential run-off, it got crushed and only won eight seats in parliament.

As in the U.S., major international elections are not done for the year.  Even  if there is not a second election in the U.K., German elections are scheduled for late September.  In the beginning of the year, it looked like a far right Trumpian party might win a significant number of seats (polling in double digits).  Now it looks like, they are polling in the single digits.  While currently they are polling over the 5% necessary to qualify for seats (having fallen just short in 2013), they have dropped 3-4% since earlier in the year and may ultimately fall short again.  (The most recent polls have them between 6% and 9% compared to polls showing them near 15% at the start of the year.)  As would be expected, most of the voters that flirted with the far right have returned to the center-right meaning that Chancellor Angela Merkel is looking likely to win another term in office.  While Chancellor Merkel’s party is polling slightly under its result in 2013, its main ally (who failed to get the necessary 5% in the last election) is polling around 8%.  As a result (as compared to a grand coalition after the 2013 election), it looks likely that Chancellor Merkel will be able to form a center-right coalition after this election (like after the 2009 elections).

Of course, the big story from Europe is that the Trump brand of politics is not doing well in European elections.  The far right populism peaked in Europe last year and Trump’s example of poorly run government is turning off European voters.  For the United States, the bigger problem is that Europe’s leaders are getting the message that they are on their own.  The United States has been able to get rather favorable deals internationally (regardless of how domestic opposition mischaracterize them) because the United States was in a leadership role and seen as indispensable to making any arrangement work.  If our traditional allies get used to having to do things for themselves, it may be hard for the U.S. to reclaim that position after Trump is shown the door.

Categories: Political Action

Free Speech Uber Alles

Democratic Convention Watch - Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:48

The late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was famous for a very literal interpretation of the First Amendment — that the language in the Amendment providing that “Congress shall make no law” meant that Congress should make no law.  While the current Supreme Court does not go quite as far as Justice Black, a consistent theme of the Roberts Court has been — with the occasional exception that proves the rule — a very broad interpretation of the First Amendment to strike down any law in which the government either directly (by banning it) or indirectly (by favoring other speech) regulates speech.  Simply put, if there is a free speech component to your case, the expectation has to be that the government will lose if the Supreme Court grants review and the only question is exactly how the justices will line-up in the decision.

This week saw the last two free speech opinions of the term (there is a remaining free exercise case that could incorporate some of the recent free speech cases into that sphere of law) — both issued on Monday.  In both cases, the ultimate decision was unanimous, but there was a liberal-conservative split in the reasoning.

The more “traditional” case was Packingham v. North Carolina.  This case involved a North Carolina statute that barred registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking website if juveniles could also join that site.  (Under the very broad definition used by North Carolina, this site might qualify.)  All eight justices (the case was heard in February before Justice Gorsuch joined the Court) agreed that the statute was overbroad and not narrowly tailored due to the sheer number of sites covered by the statute that were not primarily designed to facilitate the type of one-on-one real world interaction that the Court saw as the legitimate purpose behind the statute.  The main disagreement in the case — between Justice Kennedy writing for the “liberal” majority and Justice Alito writing for the three conservative justices — was how to characterize the internet.  The majority described the internet as the functional equivalent of public streets and parks.  (In free speech law, streets and parks are considered “public forums” and the government’s ability to regulate is very limited — some content-neutral “time, place, and manner” restrictions like requiring parade permits are allowed, but such restrictions are closely examined to determine that they are not being used to prevent speech.)  From a factual point of view, this analysis is partly accurate.  The internet itself is arguably like a street, but the individual websites are more like private homes and offices.  The dissent — borrowing from language in the majority about the need to be cautious in applying existing legal categories to the internet to avoid inhibiting the speed at which the internet is changing — thought that it was not necessary to categorize the internet as a public forum.  (Because both opinions recognize that preventing crime is a legitimate governmental interest potentially supporting restrictions on sex offenders, there are likely to be future cases considering whether other restrictions — whether imposed on sex offenders on a case-by-case basis or statutes that apply to certain categories of sex offenders across the board — are narrowly tailored.)

The other case — Matal v. Tam — involved the Supreme Court’s growing line of “indirect” restrictions on speech.  The issue in this case — as discussed on prior occasions — was the law permitting the patent office to decline to grant trademark recognition if the item for which trademark recognition was sought “disparaged” any person.  In this case, the “Slants” — an Asian-American rock band — sought and had been denied trademark protection for that name.  Again, all eight justices agreed that the law was unconstitutional — rejecting all arguments that the statute did not actually bar or restrict speech but merely governed a governmental benefit that the government choose to give to certain “favored” speakers.  (While trademark recognition makes it easier for the trademark owner to bring an infringement action, it is not absolutely necessary that the government officially recognize and register a trademark for there to be a legally-protected “common law” trademark.)  As in Packingham, the justices split on some of the reasoning.   Seven of the justices (Justice Thomas did not join this part of the opinion) held that, although the statute only expressly barred trademarks that disparaged persons, the patent office correctly interpreted the law as also barring trademarks that disparaged groups of people (such as derogatory names for certain racial groups).  All eight justices agreed that the trademarks was not governmental speech and, because registration did not endorse the content of the trademark, registration was not governmental speech either.  However, the justices disagreed about how to analyze the rest of the case.

Justice Alito (writing on behalf of himself, the other two conservative justices, and Justice Breyer) rejected the claim that trademark registration was a form of subsidy (holding that the subsidy cases only applied to cash subsidies) or a government program.  Treating trademarks as a “limited public forum” (think public comment session at a local government meeting), the “conservative” opinion noted that regulations limiting permissible speech in such forums had to be viewpoint neutral and the bar on disparaging comments is not viewpoint neutral.   Finally, analyzing the regulation under the relatively relaxed standard that applies to commercial speech, the regulation is still not viewpoint neutral and thus fails the intermediate scrutiny because (like the regulation in Packingham) it is not sufficiently narrowly drawn to match any proposed legitimate governmental interest.

Justice Kennedy (writing on behalf of himself and the remaining three liberal justices) would have applied heightened scrutiny to the regulation (requiring a compelling interest and narrow tailoring rather than the substantial interest required by intermediate scrutiny) because it constituted viewpoint discrimination.  As with the four justices who applied intermediate scrutiny, these four justices found that this regulation failed heightened scrutiny.

While none of the opinions address the rest of the registration statute, the statute also bars registration of trademarks that are “immoral,” “deceptive,” or “scandalous.”  While the bar on deceptive trademarks probably would withstand scrutiny, the bars on “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks will probably also be struck down in future cases unless a court very narrowly interprets those terms  (For example, by equating immoral with obscene).

The decision in Packingham is the less significant of the two.  When the case was granted, the law looked in trouble and the only question was whether some of the justices might create a “criminal” exception to free speech.  Tam raised more significant questions because it was less clear how to characterize the impact of the regulation and whether it actually restricted speech.  The immediate impact of Tam is that efforts to pressure the Washington Redskins to change their name by denying trademark registration  to that name are gone.  The case also falls into a line of cases that restrict regulations on hate speech unless that speech is associated with a criminal intent (i.e. directed at intimidating or harming a specific individual).   It also represents another link in a line of cases that sees the denial of a governmental benefit based on viewpoint discrimination (except when the viewpoint is closely connected to the purpose of the benefit) as a violation of the applicant’s free speech rights.

Looking at things longer term, while Justice Gorsuch did not participate in either case, the Roberts Court is unlikely to be changing its approach to the First Amendment.  While we still have three April cases left, Justice Gorsuch appears to be lining up with Justice Alito and Justice Thomas more than Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts.  It is unlikely that this Court is going to walk back from Citizens United.  More significantly, just before Justice Scalia died, the Supreme Court heard a case asking the justices to overturn a prior decision requiring public employees in closed shop states to pay fees to unions to cover the expenses of collective bargaining on behalf of those employees.  The decision in that case was 4-4.  Anti-worker activists have several cases in the  pipeline, and the conservative majority is likely to get another case raising that issue to the Supreme Court soon.  Given the gradual shift among unionized workers from those working in the private sector to those working in the public sector, such a decision would cripple the union movement.  And given the role that the union movement plays in supporting progressive candidates, such a decision would leave the Republican Party and the Koch brothers with a monopoly in campaign spending.

Ten years from now, workers and progressives are going to realize that the 2016 election was a missed opportunity to bring the Supreme Court back to the center.  With Justice Gorsuch on the court, conservatives will continue to use the First Amendment as a battering ram to crush any restrictions on the wealthy buying elections.  While, thanks to Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts, we might win individual cases on other issues, campaign finance reform is dead for the foreseeable future.

Categories: Political Action

Take action to #ProtectOurCare!

Move On - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 13:50

Thanks for your interest in taking action to defeat Trumpcare! Here are a few ways to raise your voice.

1- Text CARE to 668366 for updates in real-time about actions we can take to protect health care coverage in Congress!

2- Call your Senators to demand they oppose Trumpcare
The Capitol Switchboard number is 202-224-3121. Dial that number, then provide your zip code to be connected with your Senator. If possible, ask to speak with the person who handles health care legislation.

3- Call again!
Save that number to your contacts. Then set a daily calendar reminder to call your Senator’s office and paste the number in the notes — make sure to call every day until we defeat Trumpcare.

4- Sign this petition calling on Senators to opposed Trumpcare.

Categories: Political Action