Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Obama vs. Romney: Electoral Map, June 1 Update

[Updated July 1st,  August 1, September 1, and for the latest check our October 1 Update at
http://www.tullyspage.blogspot.com/2012/09/obama-vs-romney-oct-1-update.html ]

This map is updated just before the first of every month.  This month, we have made several changes based on polling and activities taking place in specific states, as follows:

ARIZONA: Once a red state, we see a backlash happening on several fronts: the zany antics of Sheriff Joe, efforts to define 'personhood' at ovulation, harping on the 'birther' issue, and harsh rhetoric about immigration should cause a perfect stew of resentment against Republicans by Hispanics, women, young people, and independents.  We see this state swinging Blue now.

IOWA: Polls are mixed, and too close to call. Iowa is tough to gauge, and will be close: we give the edge to the organizing capabilities of the religious right combined with the pro-Romney Des Moines GOP machine. Red.

FLORIDA: This should be Blue, but a massive effort by Republicans in the state to purge voting rolls of Democratic-leaning groups is almost certain to throw the electroal votes of Florida into court - again.  We give it to the GOP - again.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Though it went for Obama (narrowly) last time, this is a tight state.  An active Libertarian Party bid in NH that emphasizes peace and an end to the war on drugs will hurt Obama as much as Romney; and an increasingly organized Green Party effort will hurt Obama far more than Romney.  Given the already tight race in this state, we now give it to Romney - though we doubt he will win it with a majority of votes.

NORTH CAROLINA: Democratic convention in Charlotte notwithstanding, there is some Trumphalism among the religious right over the recent vote to ban Marriage Equality in the NC Constitution.  This momentum may just carry them through the Fall.

As for the other "swing" states: We still give Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio to Obama, and Indiana (won by Obama in 2008) to Romney. We do not believe that Obama is in damger of losing Wisconsin, but next month's recall election may tell us more about political organization and voter sentiment.

Overall: Obama over Romney, 304-234

Monday, May 28, 2012

An Open Letter to the Mainstream English Media from Montréal

Thank you; you are a little late to the party, and you are still missing the mark a lot of the time, but in the past few days, you have published some not entirely terrible articles and op-eds about what’s happening in Quebec right now. Welcome to our movement.

Some of you have even started mentioning that when people are rounded up and arrested each night, they aren’t all criminals or rioters. Some of you have admitted that perhaps limiting our freedom of speech and assembly is going a little bit too far. Some of you are no longer publishing lies about the popular support that you seemed to think our government had. Not all of you, mind you, but some of you are waking up.

That said, here is what I have not seen you publish yet: stories about joy; about togetherness; about collaboration; about solidarity. You write about our anger, and yes, we are angry. We are angry at our government, at our police and at you. But none of you are succeeding in conveying what it feels like when you walk down the streets of Montreal right now, which is, for me at least, an overwhelming sense of joy and togetherness.

News coverage of Quebec almost always focuses on division: English vs. French; Quebec-born vs. immigrant; etc. This is the narrative that has shaped how people see us as a province, whether or not it is fair. But this is not what I feel right now when I walk down the street. At 8pm, I rush out of the house with a saucepan and a ladle, and as I walk to meet my fellow protesters, I hear people emerge from their balconies and the music starts. If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like; the above video is a start. It is magic. It starts quietly, a suggestion here and there, and it builds. Everybody on the street begins to smile. I get there, and we all—young and old, children and students and couples and retirees and workers and weird misfits and dogs and, well, neighbours—we all grin the widest grins you have ever seen while dancing around and making as much noise as possible. We are almost ecstatic with the joy of letting loose like this, of voicing our resistance to a government that seeks to silence us, and of being together like this.

I have lived in my neighbourhood for five years now, and this is the most I have ever felt a part of the community; the lasting impact that these protests will have on how people relate to each other in the city is deep and incredible. I was born and raised in Montreal, and I have always loved this city, I have always told people that it is the best city in the world, but I have truly never loved it as much as I do right now.

The first night that I went to a casseroles (pots and pans) demonstration, at the centre of the action—little children ecstatically blowing whistles, a young couple handing out extra pots and pans to passers-by, a yoga teacher who paused his class to have everyone join—I saw a bemused couple, banging away, but seemingly confused about something. When we finished, they asked me, “how did you find us?” I replied that I had checked the map that had been posted online of rendez-vous spots, and theirs was the nearest to my house. “Last night we were all alone,” they told me. They had no idea it had been advertized online. This is what our revolution looks like: someone had clearly ridden around our neighbourhood, figured out where people were protesting, and marked them for the rest of us. This is a revolution of collaboration. Of solidarity.

The next night the crowd had doubled. Tonight we will be even more.

I come home from these protests euphoric. The first night I returned, I sat down on my couch and I burst into tears, as the act of resisting, loudly, with my neighbours, so joyfully, had released so much tension that I had been carrying around with me, fearing our government, fearing arrest, fearing for the future. I felt lighter. Every night, I exchange stories with friends online and find out what happened in their neighbourhoods. These are the kinds of things we say to each other: “if I loved my city any more right now, my heart would burst.” We use the word “love” a whole lot. We feel empowered. We feel connected. We feel like we are going to win.

Why don’t you write about this? This incredible feeling? Another example I can give you is this very blog. Myself and a few friends began it as a way of disseminating information in English about what was happening here in Quebec, and within hours, literally hours, volunteers were writing me offering to help. Every day, people submit translations to me anonymously; I have no idea who they are, they just want to do something. They come from everywhere. They translate what they think is important to get out there into the world. People email me corrections, too. They email me advice. They email me encouragement. This blog runs on solidarity and utter human kindness.

This is what Quebec looks like right now. Every night is teargas and riot cops, but it is also joy, laughter, kindness, togetherness, and beautiful music. Our hearts are bursting. We are so proud of each other; of the spirit of Quebec and its people; of our ability to resist, and our ability to collaborate.

Why aren’t you writing about this? Does joy not sell as well as violence? Does collaboration not sell as well as confrontation? You can have your cynicism; our revolution is sincere.


Administrator, "Translating the Printemps Érable"


Saturday, May 26, 2012

At Annapolis Navy Academy, End of "Dont-Ask-Dont-Tell" Goes Smoothly

It's Memorial Day weekend, and that means it's "Fleet Week" in New York City. Thousands of sailors are docked at port along Manhattan's Hudson River piers...but for some sailors, this year will be different.

On Memorial Day 2011, I was in NYC for Fleet Week, and spent an evening at The Eagle, one of my favorite gay bars on New York's gritty, industrial west side. And yes, sailors - in uniform - ducked into the bar and found both celebrity - and anonymity - on the dark and crowded second floor and roof deck.

Last year, that may have cost them their jobs, their pensions, their livelihoods. Today, a new chapter must be written...

* * * * *

When his roommate at the Naval Academy said jokingly last year that Andrew Atwill was a homosexual, the midshipman told him to cut it out.

His friend didn't know it, Atwill says, but he really was gay — and under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, it could have jeopardized his military career.

This year, the first since the Clinton-era policy was repealed, Atwill says change has come to the academy. And talking about his sexual orientation, rather than being a career-ending offense, has rallied midshipmen to his defense.

"Pretty much everybody in my company knows now," Atwill said, and "they actually stand up for me." If his friends hear someone make a negative remark about homosexuality, he said, they "don't hesitate" to tell that person "it's not cool to do that anymore."

Eight months after the repeal, midshipmen both gay and straight describe a quiet but significant transformation at the Naval Academy. Gay midshipmen are seeking recognition for a student club. Last month, for the first time, faculty members and staff attended an off-campus dinner that had been organized secretly every year by and for gay midshipmen.

And Atwill and his boyfriend, classmate Nick Bonsall, planned to go together to the Ring Dance, a formal ball held each spring for third-year midshipmen.

"It's been really great, actually," Bonsall, 20, of Middletown, Del., said of life at the academy since repeal. "Everyone has been really accepting of us."

The experience at Annapolis this year mirrors those at the other service academies, but some future officers worry about what happens after they graduate. While their generation might be accepting, the broader military is made up of people of all ages and backgrounds. Some senior officers say privately that they won't come out for fear of jeopardizing their careers.

Across the military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said recently, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell'' — once highly controversial — is "going very well."

"It's not impacting on morale," he told reporters after receiving a report on the subject this month. "It's not impacting on unit cohesion. It's not impacting on readiness."

Gay cadets at the U.S. Military Academy and the Coast Guard Academy are forming clubs. Gay alumni at the Air Force Academy hosted their first football tailgate last fall, and gay alumni at the Air Force Academy and West Point held their annual dinners on campus for the first time.

But at the Naval Academy, while several gay midshipman describe a new level of comfort on campus, some wonder how they will be accepted after they leave Annapolis and join the fleet.

"For me, personally, it's still a concern," said Atwill, 23, of Bolton, Ky. "When I become an officer, I'm kind of worried about whether or not my sailors will take it the wrong way if I give them a pat on the back or, you know, happen to be in the bathroom at the same time as them.

"I'm afraid that if they know that I'm gay, that if I was even to look at them wrong, they may end up somehow turning that against me."

Not everyone foresees problems.

"In the fleet, it will be good," predicted Caitlyn Bryant, a second-year midshipman from Quantico, Va. Commanding sailors after the repeal, she said, "you don't have to worry about what they might think your orientation is. You can just focus on being a leader."

Bryant, 21, said she has seen no "negative backlash" against gay midshipmen: "People have accepted it."

[Source: McClatchyTribune]

Friday, May 25, 2012

NJ Black Caucus Agrees With Tully's Page, Opposes Harris Court Nomination

The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus has issued a press release to the Associated Press opposing the nomination of attorney Bruce Harris - a black, gay attorney - to New Jersey's highest court.

"The nomination of Mr. Harris [by Governor Chris Christie] sends the wrong message -- that we can only achieve diversity on the Supreme Court through lowering the bar for qualifications," said Sen. Ron Rice, the caucus leader. "In a state with many distinguished African-American lawyers and judges, nothing could be further from the truth."

The caucus also expressed concern that Harris told the governor he would recuse himself from cases involving gay marriage, an issue for which Harris had advocated before being nominated. Harris, who has a degree from Yale Law School, is gay and lives with his partner of 32 years, Marc Boisclair.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), the group's second vice chair, said,

"...It's doubly inappropriate to commit ahead of time to recuse oneself from a case based on one's race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Mr. Harris's promise on recusal sets a dangerous precedent and only emphasizes why he is not qualified for the job."

We applaud Coleman for this stand, which echoes precisely the arguement outlined in this blog in January of this year, when we broke the nomination story and urged New Jersey Legislators to reject Harris.
(Full Story)

On January 30, we wrote:

“The nomination of Harris was initially greeted with excitement in civil rights circles, especially since Harris is both openly gay and partnered.

Unfortunately, Harris’ appointment is conditional upon his recusing himself from any same-sex marriage issues. Governor Chris Christie is on record as opposing same-sex marriage. Christie insists that Harris voluntarily offered to recuse himself, supposedly because three years ago he wrote to several state senators asking for their support of a same-sex marriage bill.

Whether this is Harris’ unsolicited offer or Christie’s requirement is immaterial: it is a dangerous (and illogical) precedent that enables the Executive and Legislative branches to stick its collective noses into the outcomes of judicial cases where it doesn’t belong.

Every Court nominee arrives at the bench with a history of advocacy, either through the legislative process, or through written judicial opinions. This is nothing new. What is new is the pre-emptive strike against specific judges from hearing certain issues.

When President Obama nominated the Hon. Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, there was a brief storm of opinion when she commented, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Sotomayor, who was ultimately confirmed to the Court, was not suggesting that Latina women were somehow smarter than white men; rather, she was expressing a well-settled understanding that diversity is important in the legal system. Those who have struggled to answer a police officer’s question because they do not speak the language; a woman who has feared for her life in spite of a restraining order issued against her abusive boyfriend; an immigrant afraid to report a crime because of their residency status; and a gay man who is denied justice after being beat on the street by someone who then claims the ‘gay panic defense' - understand life and the American legal processes in ways that are different than those who do not have to deal with such issues. That is why diversity is important, especially in the Judiciary.

To be certain, Judges should recuse themselves from some issues. Title 28 of the United States Judicial Code set standards for judicial recusal, naming four specific occasions. A federal Judge must recuse himself..."in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."

...[O]n its surface, Harris might be accused. A logical analysis, however, as well as history, shows this to be utter nonsense.

Having an opinion on a legislative issue (what “should be”) does not imply that impartiality on a judicial issue (how the law “is” to be applied) is compromised.

First of all, being gay does not disqualify Harris from ruling on marriage issues. If it did, his being a black man would also disqualify him from racial discrimination cases. Furthermore, if being gay disqualifies him from cases involving same-sex marriage, then being heterosexual or married would also disqualify most other judges, since the opponents of gay marriage claim that same-sex marriage harms traditional marriage. This would disqualify both gays and judges in traditional marriages, thereby creating the unacceptable situation of only allowing single judges to rule in such cases.

Second, Harris’ advocacy on behalf of gay marriage can not possibly be deemed to render him impartial in a legal case. As stated above, advocacy for legislative issues does not imply impartiality in Judicial cases. As proof of this, I offer none other than Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

As a State Senator in Arizona, O’Connor not only advocated, but actually cast a procedural vote in favor of a bill to repeal the state's criminal-abortion statute. Later, she voted against a measure to prohibit abortions in Arizona state hospitals. In spite of this, no one ever suggested that O’Connor needed to recuse herself from abortion cases before the Court, and she was confirmed by a vote of 99-0.

Later, in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989), which upheld some restrictions on second trimester abortions, O’Connor not only participated, but wrote a concurring opinion in which she explicitly opposed overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision. In 1990, she was the critical swing vote in Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U.S. 417 (1990), which looked at whether a state may require notification of both parents before a minor can obtain an abortion. Again, O’Connor not only participated, but provided the swing vote with the liberals in ruling 5-4 that a state could not do this, and then also provided the critical swing vote with the court conservatives in ruling 5-4 that such a law would be valid if there was a judicial by-pass in place of notifying both parents.

Never in the course or aftermath of these decisions was it ever suggested that Sandra Day O’Connor should have recused herself due to having a position on abortion issues as a state legislator.

The notion, then, that Harris should recuse himself from same-sex marriage cases simply because he favored same-sex marriage legislation in New Jersey is not only unprecedented, it is dangerous: it eviscerates the entire purpose of appointing a representative, diverse court, and calls into question a judge’s integrity before he or she has even had the chance to hear a case.

The caveat that Harris recuse himself is an unacceptable condition of his approval. If this is Christie’s doing, shame on Christie; if it is Harris’ offer, then shame on him.

Either way, this nomination deserves to be defeated as a rejection of the politics of control over judicial rulings.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Scotland Launches Independence Bid

Supporters of Scottish Independence will launch what they say is the biggest grassroots campaign in Scottish history on Friday in an effort break Scotland’s 305-year-old union with England.

Seeking to tap into a cocktail of historical rivalry, opposing political tastes, and a perception that the British parliament in London does not represent or support Scotland's interests, the "Yes Scotland" campaign says it wants to win a referendum on independence in 2014, and plan for full independence to be achieved within two years after that.

History runs deep in Scotland and, symbolically, the independence referendum will be held on the 700th anniversary of the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn in which an army commanded by England's King Edward II was roundly defeated at the hands of a smaller force led by Robert the Bruce, a source of enduring pride for Scottish patriots and the subject of the pro-Scottish film “Braveheart.”

"For the first time the issue is real because people are going to have a vote," said a spokesman for the campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity with Reuters News Service. "People are more open to this than they have ever been before. It is fundamentally better for our future if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care about it the most."

The Scottish National Party, under party leader Alex Salmond, has recently made significant gains in Scotland. The SNP won a majority of seats in last year’s elections for the Scotish Parliament, and has control over Scotland’s health, education and penal system. Current opinion polls show that around 40 percent of Scots favor independence, 50% oppose, and 10% remain undecided. In addition to SNP supporters, former Scottish Labour Party Member of Parliament Dennis Canavan will be among the keynote speakers at the launch of the Yes campaign. Canavan served as an MP for 26 years.

If successful, Scottish independence could create serious problems for Britain. Britain's Trident nuclear submarine fleet is based in Scotland, revenues from Scottish North Sea oil remain important to its coffers, and analysts say Britain would find it harder to maintain its voice at international bodies such as the U.N. Security Council as well as in European Union decision-making.

"The biggest issue for the UK is defense," Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde said in a phone interview. "The question would be whether an independent Scotland would allow the UK to maintain its nuclear facilities there." Salmond wants Scotland to have its own armed forces and foreign policy and rejects a nuclear submarine facility based close to Glasgow.
In addition, said Curtice, “The rest of the world would be surprised and shocked that the UK was unable to hold together. It would not be perceived to be as big a player as it is now. Its weight in the world would be diminished."

The SNP-backed launch of the “Yes Scotland” campaign will take place at a conference centre on Friday in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, and will be attended by pro-independence celebrities whose names have not been revealed. One of Scotland's most high-profile celebrity supporters of independence is Sean Connery, famous for his cinematic depiction of British secret service agent James Bond. The same campaign spokesman declined to confirm whether Connery would attend.

Scotland historically is more inclined to vote for leftist parties, whereas English voters have voted in much larger numbers for Tories, underscoring a long-standing political fault line between north and south. Many Scots, while having personal ties with the US, were furious at what they saw as former prime minister Tony Blair's support of U.S. President Bush and his foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Sources: Reuters News Service, reporters Tully Fitzsimmons and Ian MacKenzie, and editior Michael Roddy )


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Urgent Appeal from Students in Québec

Tully's Page has received an Official Statement from the student group 'CLASSE' in Montréal, and is posting it in full. [For full story of the protests, see this article.]

Sisters, brothers,

We write you during a dark time for democratic, human and associative rights in Quebec with the following appeal for your help and solidarity. As you have no doubt heard, the government recently enacted legislation that amounts to the single biggest attack on the right to organize and freedom of expression in North America since the McCarthy period and the biggest attack on civil and democratic rights since the enactment of the War Measures Act in 1970. Arguably, this recent law will unduly criminalize more law-abiding citizens than even McCarthy’s hearings and the War Measures Act ever could.

Among other draconian elements brought forward by this law, any gathering of 50 or more people must submit their plans to the police eight hours ahead of time and must agree to any changes to the gathering’s trajectory, starttime, etc. Any failure to comply with this stifling of freedom of assembly and association will be met with a fine of up to $5,000 for every participant, $35,000 for someone representing a ‘leadership’ position, or $125,000 if a union – labour or student – is deemed to be in charge. The participation of any university staff (either support staff or professors) in any student demonstration (even one that follows the police’s trajectory and instructions) is equally punishable by these fines. Promoting the violation of any of these prohibitions is considered, legally, equivalent to having violated them and is equally punishable by these crippling fines.

One cannot view this law in isolation. In the past few months, the Québec student movement – inspired by Occupy, the Indignados of Spain, the students of Chile, and over 50 years of student struggle in Québec; and presently at North America’s forefront of fighting the government’s austerity agenda – has been confronted by precedent-shattering judicial and police repression in an attempt to force the end of the strike and our right to organize collectively.

Our strike was voted and is re-voted every week in local general assemblies across Québec. As of May 18th, 2012 our committee has documented and is supporting 472 criminal accusations as well as 1047 ticket and penal offenses. One week in April saw over 600 arrests in three days. And those numbers only reflect those charged with an offense, without mentioning the thousands pepper sprayed and tear gassed, clubbed and beaten, detained and released. It does not mention Francis Grenier, who lost use of most of an eye when a sound grenade was illegally thrown by a police officer into his face in downtown Montreal. It does not mention Maxence Valade who lost a full eye and Alexandre Allard who clung to life in a coma on a hospital bed for days, both having received a police rubber bullet to the head in Victoriaville. And the thousands of others brutalized, terrorized, harassed and assaulted on our streets. Four students are currently being charged under provisions of the anti-terrorist laws enacted following September 11th.

In addition to these criminal and penal cases, of particular concern for those of us involved in the labour movement is that anti-strike forces have filed injunctions systematically from campus to campus to prevent the enactment of strike mandates, duly and democratically voted in general assemblies. Those who have defended their strike mandates and enforced the strike are now facing Contempt of Court charges and their accompanying potential $50,000 fines and potential prison time. One of our spokespeople, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, will appear in Superior Court under such a charge for having dared say, on May 13th of this year, that “I find it legitimate” that students form picket lines to defend their strike.

While we fight, on principle, against this judicialization of a political conflict, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the struggle on the streets has been, for many, transferred to the courtroom and we must act to defend our classmates, our friends and our family. This defense needs your help. Many students have been denied access to Legal Aid to help them to defend themselves. This, while students filing injunctions to end strikes have been systematically granted Legal Aid. While sympathetic lawyers in all fields of law have agreed to reduced rates and alot of free support, the inherent nature of the legal system means we are spending large sums of money on this defense by the day.

It is in this context that we appeal to you to help us cover the costs of this, our defense. Not only must we help those being unduly criminalized and facing injunctions undermining their right to associate, but we must act now and make sure that the criminalization and judicialization of a political struggle does not work and set a precedent that endangers the right to free speech and free assembly.

If you, your union, or your organization is able to give any amount of financial help, it would make an undeniable difference in our struggle. In addition to the outpouring of support from labour across Quebec, we have already begun to receive trans-Canadian and international solidarity donations. We thank you for adding your organization’s support to the list.

If you have any questions, please contact us via email legal AT asse-solidarité.qc.ca. Telephone numbers can be given to you in a private message. You can also send you donation directly to the order of “Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante” (2065 rue Parthenais, Bureau 383, Montréal, QC, H2K 3T1) noting “CLASSE Legal Committee” in the memo line.

In solidarity,

Max Silverman
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Volunteer with the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Andrée Bourbeau
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Delegate to the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Emilie Charette
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Delegate to the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Emilie Breton-Côté
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Volunteer with the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Monday, May 21, 2012

New York AIDs Walk: 45,000 Walkers Raise $6 Million

More than 45,000 People and $6 Million Dollars Later, the New York AIDS Walk held this past weekend was simply an unbelievable event. Now in its 27th year, this walk remains the largest one-day HIV awareness/fundraising event in the world, and the energy and camaraderie has to be experienced to be understood.

We set out at about 9 am from our hostel in Chelsea to find the subways a little more crowded than usual for a Sunday morning. As we emerged on 5th Avenue, we could see streams of hundreds of people coming from every direction and every cross street heading for Central Park. As we entered, it was no longer hundreds, but thousands - over 45,000. 45,000 people who became instant friends and co-marchers in an effort to help those affected by the viral scourge of the modern world.

The diversity of the walkers was exciting, humbling, tear-producing, and mind-boggling.

Muslim women in head scarves posed for pictures with bare-chested “Bears.” Blacks, Asians, Whites, East Indians and Hispanics of every possible permutation and combination. Young mothers with strollers, dads with baby slings, and women carrying their babies in their bellies. Saint Bernards and Dachsunds. Senior Citizens walking slowly, steadily, with fabulous blue-sequined shoes, and young kids running the six miles who thought that all of us old folks were walking too slow. Fraternity boys by the score, sorority sisters, and corporate teams with company shirts. Families wearing homemade T-shirts commemorating a loved one lost to HIV or AIDs.

My partner and I were joined by our friend Joe and arrived at the Park as a Team named “BearServices.” Marching bare-chested (as Bears are wont to do), donning suspenders, and carrying teddy bears, we stepped off that morning to a special shout-out by Dot-Marie Jones (the actress who plays Coach Shannon Beiste on "Glee.") From atop her 'perch' above the walkers, she pointed us out proclaiming, "the Bears are here!" and then warned us to "....stay out of the woods!" The photographers surrounded us, clicked away madly - - -and that's how the walk started for us.

It never occurred to us before we started that, in this enormous crowd of 45,000 people, we would run into another group of bears from Long Island with whom we had facebook contact as we rested on a rock outcropping in Central Park (a rock that will forever be known to us now as “Bear Rock!”). Or that we would end up dancing in the street, as only silly middle-aged guys can, to the giggles and cheers of other walkers as music blared out from someone’s boom box. Or that we would stop for some refreshments at a Diner on Broadway and have a wonderful lunch with someone of an entirely different race, gender, and age bracket – who marches every year - and who became an instant friend. And after all the craziness, and sore feet, and chafed thighs, and exhaustion, and four hours under a blazing sun, we would be amazed yet again to run into the woman who registered us for the walk the day before – and who had also become an instant friend when we discovered she lived in the town I was born in.

Yeah, we’re sore today. But what an amazing, wonderful, crazy experience it was. I can’t imagine missing it next year….


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Freedom Lovers: Bring Down Charest Regime in Québec

In a legislative debate that ran overnight,[traduction en français ci-dessous] Jean Charest's Liberal Government adopted the most draconian anti-speech, anti-protest laws in North America in order to deal with the government's fumbling of a student strike over tuition increases.

The sweeping new law outlaws protests that where the police are not notified 8 hours in advance; creates No-Speech zones of 150 feet around university buildings; and outlaws wearing masks of any kind. Fines can be levied on individuals who violate the law, as well as students leaders and groups who support them, in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The Parti Québecois has already announced that if it defeats the Liberals in the next election, it will repeal "Bill 78" as it has been known in sanitized news reports.

The students strike is supported by numerous labor and civil rights organizations, as described in detail on May 8 in this blog STORY

This Blog supports the students 100%, and hopes that voters in Québec will bring down the Liberal Government speedily.

Amoureux de liberté : Réduisez le régime de Charest dans Québec

Au cours d'une discussion législative qui a fonctionné durant la nuit, le gouvernement libéral de Jean Charest a adopté l'anti-discours le plus draconien, lois d'anti-protestation en Amérique du Nord afin de traiter tâter du gouvernement d'un étudiant que la grève au-dessus de l'instruction augmente.

La nouvelle loi rapide proscrit les protestations qui là où la police n'est pas annoncée pendant 8 heures à l'avance ; crée des zones d'Aucun-Discours de 150 pieds autour des bâtiments d'université ; et hors-la-loi portant des masques de sorte. Des fines peuvent être prélevées sur les individus qui violent la loi, aussi bien que les chefs et les groupes d'étudiants qui les soutiennent, dans les dizaines de milliers de dollars.

Le Parti Québecois a déjà annoncé que s'il défait les libéraux dans la prochaine élection, il abrogera « Bill 78 » comme on l'a connu dans des rapports de nouvelles aseptisés.

La grève d'étudiants est soutenue par des organismes de nombreux travail et de droits civiques, comme décrit en détail le 8 mai dans cette HISTOIRE de blog

Ce blog soutient les étudiants 100%, et espère que les électeurs dans Québec réduiront le gouvernement libéral rapidement.

Friday, May 18, 2012

In Québec, Charest Gov't Attempts Anti-Speech & Protest Laws

In an effort to stem growing student protests in Montréal over tuition increases, Québec’s Liberal Premier Jean Charest is resorting to tactics that would make George W. Bush proud. Pointing to a need for security and ‘order,’ Charest ‘s government debated today draconian measures to squash public speech. These measures include no-protest zones, fines in the tens of thousands of dollars, and a requirement to inform police of protests 8 hours in advance.
One student leader called the move a "declaration of war" and the head of the protest group CLASSE group said protesters might defy it.

"When laws become unjust, sometimes you have to disobey and we are now thinking seriously about that possibility," Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois told a joint news conference with major union leaders. "Police repression never scared us. The demonstrations will continue tonight, I believe, every night if necessary."

Known as “Bill 78,” the proposed legislation would require student protesters to maintain a 50-metre buffer zone around schools and require any protest group of 10 people or more to contact police eight hours in advance of a demonstration or risk fines. Individuals face fines of up to $5,000. Sanctions are much stiffer for student leaders, running up to $35,000. The student associations could be on the hook for $125,000 if they break the law. Student groups that merely “encourage” blockades could also have funding and even office space rescinded.

Charest said the government had no choice but to reduce the pressure on schools that had been targeted by sit-ins and crippling blockades. His government has accused student leaders of failing to compromise during talks about the seven-year, $1,800 tuition hike that sparked the strike on Feb. 14. In actuality, the student leaders did compromise, but student bodies all over Québec rejected the deal after government officials were caught boasting in public that they had ‘won’ in the negotiations. Education minister Line Beauchamp, largely responsible for that debacle, resigned earlier in the week.

All three of Québec's main unions said the law was draconian. CSN Labour Federation headquarters in Montreal was draped with a huge red flag emblematic of the student movement against tuition hikes. National Assembly member Amir Khadir, leader of the separatist party Québec Solidaire, called on the public to find ways to disobey the special law.

"Civil disobedience is a noble thing," Khadir said in Québec City. "In my democratic perspective and that of my party, civil disobedience, when justified and morally right and commendable, it is politically appropriate."

The president of the FEUQ, which represents university students, said her association will challenge the law in court.
"The government has made a declaration of war against the student movement," Martine Desjardins told a news conference.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Federal Judge: NDAA may violate 1st, 5th Amendments; Issues Injunction

A federal district judge...Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York, issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the highly controversial indefinite holding provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act ("NDAA"), enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last December. This afternoon's ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by seven dissident plaintiffs -- including Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Brigitta Jonsdottir -- alleging that the NDAA violates "both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

The ruling was a sweeping victory for the plaintiffs, as it rejected each of the Obama DOJ's three arguments: (1) because none of the plaintiffs has yet been indefinitely detained, they lack "standing" to challenge the statute; (2) even if they have standing, the lack of imminent enforcement against them renders injunctive relief unnecessary; and (3) the NDAA creates no new detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF already provides.

As for the DOJ's first argument -- lack of standing -- the court found that the plaintiffs are already suffering substantial injury from the reasonable fear that they could be indefinitely detained under section 1021 of the NDAA as a result of their constitutionally protected activities. As the court explained (h/t Charles Michael):
In support of their motion, Plaintiffs assert that § 1021 already has impacted their associational and expressive activities and would continue to impact them, and that § 1021 is vague to such an extent that it provokes fear that certain of their associational and expressive activities could subject them to indefinite or prolonged military detention.

The court found that the plaintiffs have "shown an actual fear that their expressive and associational activities" could subject them to indefinite detention under the law, and "each of them has put forward uncontroverted evidence of concrete -- non-hypothetical --- ways in which the presence of the legislation has already impacted those expressive and associational activities" (as but one example, Hedges presented evidence that his "prior journalistic activities relating to certain organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban" proves "he has a realistic fear that those activities will subject him to detention under § 1021). Thus, concluded the court, these plaintiffs have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statute notwithstanding the fact that they have not yet been detained under it; that's because its broad, menacing detention powers are already harming them and the exercise of their constitutional rights.

Significantly, the court here repeatedly told the DOJ that it could preclude standing for the plaintiffs if they were willing to state clearly that none of the journalistic and free speech conduct that the plaintiffs engage in could subject them to indefinite detention. But the Government refused to make any such representation. Thus, concluded the court, "plaintiffs have stated a more than plausible claim that the statute inappropriately encroaches on their rights under the First Amendment."

Independently, the court found that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the NDAA violates their Fifth Amendment due process rights because the statute is so vague that it is virtually impossible to know what conduct could subject one to indefinite detention. Specifically, the court focused on the NDAA's authorization to indefinitely detain not only Al Qaeda members, but also members of so-called "associated forces" and/or anyone who "substantially supports" such forces, and noted:
Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on their vagueness challenge. The terms upon which they focused at the hearing relate to who is a "covered person." In that regard, plaintiffs took issue with the lack of definition and clarity regarding who constitutes an "associated forces," and what it means to "substantially" or "directly" "support" such forces or, al-Qaeda or the Taliban. . . .

The Government was unable to define precisely what "direct" or "substantial" "support" means. . . .Thus, an individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.

Perhaps most importantly, the court categorically rejected the central defense of this odious bill from the Obama administration and its defenders: namely, that it did nothing more than the 2001 AUMF already did and thus did not really expand the Government's power of indefinite detention. The court cited three reasons why the NDAA clearly expands the Government's detention power over the 2001 AUMF (all of which I previously cited when denouncing this bill).

First, "by its terms, the AUMF is tied directly and only to those involved in the events of 9/11," whereas the NDAA "has a non-specific definition of 'covered person' that reaches beyond those involved in the 9/11 attacks by its very terms." Second, "the individuals or groups at issue in the AUMF are also more specific than those at issue in § 1021 of the NDAA; that's because the AUMF covered those "directly involved in the 9/11 attacks while those in § 1021 [of the NDAA] are specific groups and 'associated forces'." Moreover, "the Government has not provided a concrete, cognizable set of organizations or individuals that constitute 'associated forces,' lending further indefiniteness to § 1021." Third, the AUMF is much more specific about how one is guilty of "supporting" the covered Terrorist groups, while the NDAA is incredibly broad and un-specific in that regard, thus leading the court to believe that even legitimate activities could subject a person to indefinite detention.

The court also decisively rejected the argument that President Obama's signing statement -- expressing limits on how he intends to exercise the NDAA's detention powers --- solves any of these problems. That's because, said the court, the signing statement "does not state that § 1021 of the NDAA will not be applied to otherwise-protected First Amendment speech nor does it give concrete definitions to the vague terms used in the statute."

The court concluded by taking note of what is indeed the extraordinary nature of her ruling, but explained it this way:
This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution. However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights.

I've been very hard on the federal judiciary in the past year due to its shameful, craven deference in the post-9/11 world to executive power and, especially, attempts to prosecute Muslims on Terrorism charges. But this is definitely an exception to that trend. This is an extraordinary and encouraging decision. All the usual caveats apply: this is only a preliminary injunction (though the court made it clear that she believes plaintiffs will ultimately prevail). It will certainly be appealed and can be reversed. There are still other authorities (including the AUMF) which the DOJ can use to assert the power of indefinite detention. Nonetheless, this is a rare and significant limit placed on the U.S. Government's ability to seize ever-greater powers of detention-without-charges, and it is grounded in exactly the right constitutional principles: ones that federal courts and the Executive Branch have been willfully ignoring for the past decade.

(Adapted from an original by Glenn Greenwald)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dallas Fed: Banks turned "Malevolent;" Break up Chase, others

With JP Morgan-Chase bleeding $2 Billion in losses this week from risky ‘investments,’ it is scary to note that more than half of the banking deposits in the United States are now held in JP Morgan and just 4 other "Too-Big-To-Fail" banks: Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp.

In other words, the entire “too big to fail” fiasco is worse now than at the outset of the financial crisis of 2008.

And one of the nation’s most historically conservative financial institutions – the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank – has just released a report calling for the breakup of the nation’s largest banks – a position this Blog has held since the origin of the crisis.

A readable 20-page essay entitled “Choosing the Road to Prosperity - Why We Must End Too Big to Fail—Now" appears in the recently-released 2011 Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Written by Harvey Rosenblum, the head of the Dallas Fed’s Research Department, the essay lays out the failure of the bailout approach, as well as toothlessness of the Dodd-Frank Act that was supposed to reign in the banks.

“You need not be a reader of Adam Smith to know the power of self-interest— the human desire for material gain. Capitalism couldn’t operate without it. Most of the time, competition and the rule of law provide market discipline that keeps self-interest in check…When competition declines, incentives often turn perverse, and self-interest can turn malevolent. That’s what happened in the years before the financial crisis.”

The essay concludes:

Banks have grown larger in recent years because of artificial advantages, particularly the widespread belief that government will rescue the creditors of the biggest financial institutions. Human weakness will cause occasional market disruptions. Big banks backed by government turn these manageable episodes into catastrophes. Greater stability in the financial sector begins when TBTF (“Too Big To Fail”) ends and the assumption of government rescue is driven from the marketplace.

A financial system composed of more banks, numerous enough to ensure competition in funding businesses and households but none of them big enough to put the overall economy in jeopardy, will give the United States a better chance of navigating through future financial potholes and precipices.”

And finally, in language plain and clear:

“The Dallas Fed has advocated the ultimate solution for TBTF—breaking up the nation’s biggest banks into smaller units.”

We Agree.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Montréal: Student, Labor and Citizen Protests Grow

It started three months ago as a student-initiated protest against university tuition hikes.

By American standards – in fact, even by Canadian standards – the tuition that Québec students pay is very low. But the protest is not about the actual tuition figure, as much as it is about the principle of what education means in Québec society. The province’s notoriously low tuitions were instituted during the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s as a means of ensuring greater accessibility, especially among the francophone population that had long lagged behind the rest of Canada. Borrowing from the pages of America’s “Occupy” movement and the “Arab Spring” halfway around the world, the protests have come to embrace a wide spectrum of causes….and is coming to be known as the "Printemps Érable,” the “Maple Spring.”

And it is a movement that was launched by students – and by all measures, its growing.

Last week, the government negotiated an agreement with student leaders in an effort to end the 13-week walkout that included at $250 increase in tuition. But across Québec, the students who have been asked to approve the agreement are rejecting it in overwhelming numbers. As the possibility of finishing this semester looks less likely each day, students are delivering a message to the governing Liberal Party that they are not going to settle for a poor deal.

“I am surprised to see the impact on the semester is not the major preoccupation of students,” said Léo Bureau-Blouin, President of the Fédération Étudiante Collégiale du Québec (The Québec College Student Federation) “I didn’t realize how far they were willing to go to solve this crisis. Students are ready to make real sacrifices.”

Observers blame Education Minister Line Beauchamp for extending the crisis by not responding more quickly to concerns that were raised about the agreement. Worse, students say that government officials bragged that they had won on the tuition issue, which outraged students who had negotiated in good faith.

As the protests grow, they take on more of the look of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Signs have appeared opposing oil sands drilling, supporting gender equality, opposing the privatization of public services, and opposing the government’s plan to extract resources in the northern Québec wilderness (“Plan Nord”).

And now, political parties and labor unions have joined the students. Concordia political science professor Bruce Hicks described it this way:

“There has been an element involved in the student strike all along that I think grew out of the Occupy movement….the student protest movement has tapped into outrage over the economy and society and government from more moderate individuals, creating a sort of hybrid between an anarchist movement, but also a socially progressive protest vote.” (Precisely the sometimes uneasy but purposeful alliance that has characterized the American movement).

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson for CLASSE, the largest and most militant of the three student federations orchestrating the strike, stated from the beginning that students’ fight was with Québec’s “greedy elite,” and that the strike would lead to a “much deeper, much more radical challenge of the direction Québec has been heading in recent years.”

Two major parties - the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire - have endorsed the student protests. Québec unions have donated C$60,000 to the student groups. The Ontario branches of the Canadian Union of Public Employees gave an additional $30,000.
“They can continue to count on our support in the future, we are against the tuition increase,” said Louis Roy, president of La Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN), one of the province’s largest unions.

Roy said his union, along with the Fédération des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Québec (The Worker’s Federation of Québec) and the Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ), have been working with the students for more than 18 months. The unions and the student federations are part of a group called the Alliance Sociale, which was formed in the fall of 2009 to oppose the Liberal government’s budget.The unions have also provided sound systems for demonstrations and organizational support.

Roy applauded the student’s negotiating skills with the government.

“Their ability to communicate is very good. They are young, but they are not children. They don’t need to be held by the hand.”
They also know how to leverage Montréal’s transit system.

Just as Twitter, Facebook, and text messages have become communication catalysts, the Métro has become the student’s trump card for physical movement. Police complain that protesters are able to shift their actions from one part of the city to another more quickly than police motorcycles or squad cars can move through city streets.

The Police have responded by posting helmeted transit security agents at the Métro station entrances and exits, donning riot gear, brandishing nightstick, and holding police dogs. But tens of thousands of Montréalers who use the line for commuting have grown disgusted – not with the students, but with police lines deployed at each station.

Insp. Alain Larivière, head of the Montréal Police Dept.’s Métro division, claims that Police are merely protecting commuters from protesters.

“The métro may be open, but we can’t just let (passengers) go out while a demonstration’s been declared illegal, while there’s an intervention in progress by the officers or the cavalry…”

Larivière later admitted that all of the demonstrations that have taken place within the Métro have been peaceful. In fact, of the 190 demonstrations staged during the protests, not once has the subway system’s operations being disrupted by the students.


Sunday, May 06, 2012

France Elects Socialist Hollande, Echo "Occupy" Values

By a vote of 52% - 48%, François Hollande has become the first Socialist to win the Presidency of France since François Mitterand held the post from 1981-1995. More than 80% of the nation’s voters cast votes.

Jubilant Hollande supporters gathered at La Place de la Bastille in Paris (see picture), the iconic symbol of both conservative state oppression under the Monarchy, and its overthrow as it was stormed by citizens on July 14, 1789 during the French Revolution. It has become a traditional rallying site for French leftists.

Hollande’s victory follows a pattern unfolding throughout Europe:

All 17 nations in the Eurozone (those using the Euro as a common currency) are struggling to bring government debt under control and make good on existing debt (with Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Spain feeling the crunch the hardest). In response, the largely centrist and conservative governments throughout Europe have been in slashing spending and curtailing government programs.

Citizen opposition to these measures has taken two forms: on the left there has been a call for more government stimulus spending and economic justice (echoing the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States); on the right there has been a frightening rise in an anti-European, anti-immigrant nationalistic neo-fascism. While polar opposites in philosophy, both groups have found common ground in their desire to oust sitting governments. Just two weeks ago, the neo-fascists in the Netherlands under Geert Wilder forced the collapse of that government, which will hold new elections in just under four months.

France holds two rounds of voting; in the first round, which took place on April 22, incumbent center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy won 27% of the vote, carrying the northern and eastern sections of the country; Socialist François Hollande carried just under 29% of the vote, carrying the southwest part of the country and the Brittany peninsula; and Marine LePen, the far-right candidate, shocked observers by polling almost 18% of the vote. The remainder of the vote was scattered between seven other candidates, none of whom polled more than 11% of the vote. Under the French electoral system, if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a runoff is held between the highest two candidates, which took place today.

And with today’s vote, France has spoken: they have elected a candidate who has promised a top tax rate of 75% on those earning more than one million euros annually, a renegotiation of Europe’s austerity measures, and the hiring of 60,000 additional teachers, providing a European version of the American “Occupy” movements’ message.


Mitt's Nightmare: Ron Paul supporters take over State Conventions

Ignored by the mainstream media and cheated out of wins in the Republican primaries and caucuses, Ron Paul supporters are getting their revenge.

We reported in February that Romney supporters in Iowa announced Romney’s supposed win prematurely, and later had to admit that Santorum had won.

Then, a week later, we broke the story as to how Maine Republican leaders announced that Romney had won that state’s caucuses without waiting for Paul’s strongholds in Waldo and Washington County were counted.

Now, in both states, Paul supporters have taken control of the state parties. Even more embarrassing for Mitt, they have taken over his home state Massachusetts delegation as well.

At the Massachusetts’ state convention less than half of Romney’s 27 chosen delegates were formally elected to attend the national convention. Paul supporters won all of those slots instead. That means that while the state’s delegates are technically committed to vote for Romney, they also choose the state party chairman, vote their conscience on the official platform and procedural votes, and can support whoever they want for VP nominee.

In Maine yesterday, Brent Tweed, a York County state committee member and Paul supporter, defeated party-favorite (and one-time Gubernatorial candidate) Charles Cragin for the post of state party chairman by a vote of 1,118 – 1,114. Paul supporters also successfully elected Ron Morrell as the state party secretary.

Paul backers in Alaska were elected as party chairman and co-chairman. Paul supporters are now a majority in the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee, and he’s set to claim a majority of the state’s delegates despite finishing third in the caucuses. They took over the Louisiana caucuses, carrying four out of six congressional districts with a tie in a fifth. That means 74 percent of the state’s convention delegates will be Paul backers. In Minnesota, Paul won 20 of 24 delegates allocated at congressional district conventions, and he’s expected to take more at the statewide convention. Paul supporters teamed up with backers of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in Colorado to get 13 delegates.

The candidate has also picked up small delegate gains in states where Romney won big — for example, five delegates in Pennsylvania and four in Rhode Island. And in the upcoming convention, it’s a good bet that Paul will capture that delegation as well.

Mitt may have done well getting the entrenched establishment pronounce their support,  securing donations from Wall Street buddies, and purchasing votes and media adulation....but he is having significant trouble with his ground game, and may find that the national convention in Tampa may be more of a headache than he expected.


Thursday, May 03, 2012

9 Rights Groups to Attorney General: "Protect Occupy Reporters"

Earlier today 9 different organizations suporting the First Amendment's Freedom of the Press delivered a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that his office investigate the jailing of more than 70 citizen-journalists during Occupy Wall Street Protests, and the intimidation of dozens of others. The groups termed police actions since the September 17 Occupy protests began a "suppression of speech as a national problem that deserves your full attention."

In August of 2011, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico) ruled in Glik v. Cunniffe that citizens have a Constitutional right to film police in the course of their duties Full Text.

Glik was arrested for using his cell phone’s digital camera to film several police officers arresting a man on the Boston Common. The charges against him for violating a state wiretap statute and two other offenses were eventually dismissed. Glik sued the officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that his arrest for filming the officers violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

The court held that the officers were not entitled to immunity from prosecution. First, a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital and well-established liberty protected by the First Amendment. Glik was exercising clearly established First Amendment rights in filming the officers in the Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States. Additionally, the officers arrested Glik without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The full text of today's letter:

Dear Attorney General Eric Holder:

The First Amendment has come under assault on the streets of America. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, police have arrested dozens of journalists and activists simply for attempting to document political protests in public spaces. While individual cases may not fall under the Justice Department’s jurisdiction, the undersigned groups see this suppression of speech as a national problem that deserves your full attention.

The alarming number of arrests is an unfortunate and unwarranted byproduct of otherwise positive changes. A new type of activism is taking hold around the world and here in the U.S.: People with smartphones, cameras and Internet connections have been empowered with the means to report on public events. These developments have also created an urgent need for organizations such as ours to defend this new breed of activists and journalists and protect their right to record.

Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of access to information are vital whether you’re a credentialed journalist, a protester or just a bystander with a camera. In the digital age, these freedoms mean that we all have the right to create and share information using all manner of devices and lawful means.

In this new environment, we must guard these rights and protect the networks that give so many the means to connect and voice their political beliefs. The First Amendment’s protections must extend to everyone. The right to record is an essential component of our rights at a time when so many of those witnessing public protests carry networked, camera-ready devices such as smartphones. Continuous access to the open Internet and social media — over both wired and wireless networks — is also essential.

We the undersigned call on authorities at the local, state and federal level to stop their assault on people attempting to document protests and other events unfolding in public spaces. We must protect everyone’s right to record.


American Civil Liberties Union
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Free Press
National Press Photographers Association
New America Foundation
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

On May 1 (International Labor Day): Time to Repeal Taft-Hartley

In a broadcast to the AFL-CIO merger meeting On December 5, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said,

“You of organized labor and those who have gone before you in the union movement have helped make a unique contribution to the general welfare of the Republic--the development of the American philosophy of labor. This philosophy, if adopted globally, could bring about a world, prosperous, at peace, sharing the fruits of the earth with justice to all men. It would raise to freedom and prosperity hundreds of millions of men and women--and their children--who toil in slavery behind the Curtain.
One principle of this philosophy is: the ultimate values of mankind are spiritual; these values include liberty, human dignity, opportunity and equal rights and justice.

Workers want recognition as human beings and as individuals-before everything else. They want a job that gives them a feeling of satisfaction and self-expression. Good wages, respectable working conditions, reasonable hours, protection of status and security; these constitute the necessary foundations on which you build to reach your higher aims. “

When Eisenhower gave this speech in the 1950s, more than one-third of all American workers were members of a union. Unions were largely credited with bringing about the 40-hour work week, the 8-hour day, the concept of a “weekend,” health coverage, pension reform, and safe working conditions. But today, union membership in the private sector has fallen to 7.2% While some of that is due to changes in industry structure in the US, the single biggest factor that has contributed to the elimination of union protections and bargaining powers is the Taft-Hartley Act.

Passed in 1947 over the veto of President Harry Truman, the Taft-Hartley Act (often known in labor circles as "the slave-labor bill") has been described by Ralph Nader as "one of the great blows to American democracy…that fundamentally infringed on workers' human rights" -- most importantly, their right to unionize.

The includes the following provisions:

- Authorizes states to enact so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws. These laws undermine the ability to build effective unions by creating a free-rider problem—workers can enjoy the benefits of union membership in a workplace without actually joining the union or paying union dues. Right-to-work laws increase employer leverage to resist unions and vastly decrease union membership, thus dramatically diminishing unions' bargaining power. 23 states are currently right-to-work states, with legislation threatening in New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

- Defines "employees" for purposes of the Act as excluding supervisors. This diminishes the pool of workers eligible to be unionized. The exclusion of supervisors from union organizing activity also means they can be used (and coerced) as management's "front line" in anti-organizing efforts; what's more, employers can fire supervisors who try to unionize.

- Defines "employees" for purposes of the Act as excluding independent contractors. It means that institutions such as colleges can hire staff, often using grant funds, as ‘independent contractors,’ thus excluding them from benefits such as health insurance and pension, and denying them union membership and contractual benefits.

- Requires that election hearings on ‘matters of dispute’ be held before a union recognition election, thus delaying the election; these delays enables management to ‘buy time,’ and has been shown to give management an advantage as over time workers feel coerced into avoiding organizing activities.

- Establishes the "right" of management to campaign against a union organizing drive, thereby eliminating the time-honored legal principle of employer neutrality.

- Prohibits secondary and sympathy boycotts—boycotts directed to encourage neutral employers to pressure a defiant employer with which the union has a dispute. Secondary boycotts had been one of organized labor's most potent tools for organizing, negotiating and dispute settlement prior to the passage of Taft-Hartley.

- Enables the federal government to move in and demand an 80-day cooling off period if it deems a strike to be detrimental to the national interest.

The Act sent a clear message to employers: It is OK to bust unions and deny workers their rights to collectively bargain. Today, union membership is at historic 60-year lows, employer violations of labor rights are routine, and illegal firings of union supporters in labor organizing drives are at epidemic levels.

The advent of unions created a balance in bargaining power between ‘producers’ of labor (workers) and purchasers of labor (employers), providing for fairer conditions overall. The attempted destruction of unions through Taft-Hartley and recent political moves against public employee unions represents a scary step backwards in American history.

It’s time for our Presidential candidates to be forced to take a position – and justify their position – on Taft-Hartley.