It’s all over the internet. The Obama administration is talking up the possibility of using presidential clemency powers to release some undetermined number, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of federal prisoners without wealth or political connections from their unjustly long drug sentences. But hold your hosannas, don’t get your hopes up. Though the precise numbers are unclear at this time, what’s unmistakably evident is that this is in no sense whatsoever the beginning of a rollback of America’s prison state. The releases, as the attorney general and government officials are describing them, will not represent any significant or permanent change to the nation’s universal policy of mass incarceration, mainly of poor black and brown youth. Here, in plain English are 6 reasons why.
- The Obama administration’s expected releases will use the president’s clemency powers. Presidential clemency amounts to forgiveness after the fact. Clemency does not change a single word or phrase in any of the galaxy of state and federal laws which have already sent literally millions to prison for absurdly long sentences for what authorities call “non-violent drug offenses,” and under which hundreds of thousands are currently serving those same sentences and hundreds of thousands more are awaiting trial and sentencing. Clemency leaves those laws in place, so that the places of those released will soon be filled again.
- Presidential clemency will set no legal precedents that current or future defendants in federal or state drug cases, their attorneys or sentencing judges can use to avoid the application of unjust existing laws, including harsh mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines. Like the unjust statutes, the unjust legal precedents which have helped filled state and federal prisons to bursting will also remain intact.
- Presidential clemency will have no effect on the predatory conduct of police and prosecutors on the state or federal level. Police departments will remain free to conduct their “war on drugs” almost exclusively in poor and minority communities. Prosecutors will still be able to coerce defendants into accepting plea bargains, and threaten them with longer sentences if they go to trial. If only one in twenty defendants across the board and even fewer in federal court currently go to trial, what does that say about the ability or the willingness of our courts to even try determining guilt or innocence? Federal prosecutors have publicly thumbed their noses at Eric Holder’s feeble questioning of the war on drugs, stated their intention to continue filling the prisons and jails, and local prosecutors in the US are elected officials accustomed to running for office based on how many people they can lock up for how long.
- Presidential clemency can only be applied to federal prisoners, who are a mere 190,000, or 11% of the roughly 1.7 million currently serving time. (Another 600,000 are awaiting trial on all levels or serving misdemeanor time.) If we’re talking about federal prisoners serving drug related sentences, the universe shrinks to only 100,000, or 5% of the nation’s 2.3 million prisoners.
- There are more former prisoners than current ones. For the rest of their lives, former prisoners and their families are viciously discriminated against in a host of ways, in the job and housing market, in education and public services and in access to health care, all legally. That won’t change. Even the few that get this clemency won’t be protected from that.
- The federal government will NOT even be screening all federal drug prisoners to determine who is eligible for clemency. Attorney General Holder has instead announced that criminal defense lawyers and organizations like the ACLU are being asked to bring to the government’s attention to cases they imagine are most deserving of clemency. Don’t they have, you know, a Department of Justice for that? Depending on private organizations and attorneys to come up with the cases for possible clemency turns the whole thing into an exercise in philanthropy, not the fundamental change in governmental policy that people need, want and demand. It means that prisoners serving unduly long sentences who don’t have vigilant private attorneys and advocacy organizations on their case will remain unjustly imprisoned, while those with outside friends have a chance at early release.
The bottom line is that an act of presidential clemency, while good news for the lucky hundreds or thousands of families involved, will leave no legal footprint and make no institutional impact upon the universal policy of mass incarceration. For this reason, it’s exactly NOT a first step that can lead to something more. It’s a dead end. At the rate the pipelines are pumping them in, their cells will be refilled in a month or two, no problem. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this clemency initiative is nothing more than a lazy, cynical and nearly empty gesture it hopes will buy some black votes and good will in 2014 and beyond.
Is it better than nothing? Yes, of course. It’s just not that much better, and we definitely DO have a right to expect much, much better. There are millions locked up. A couple thousand may be released. But a million is a thousand thousands. The dead end of presidential clemency for a handful on the federal level simply does not scale even to the beginning of changing the institutional policies of mass incarceration. On that level it’s bogus. It will free not one state prisoner a day earlier and initiates no processes or lasting precedents that ever will. It will help none of the hundreds of thousands of families of former prisoners and won’t affect any cases in the pipeline, which will refill the slots of those who receive clemency in weeks, and it doesn’t change what police or prosecutors and courts do either.
This is not the result of some soaring vision of justice, and cannot lead to any lasting institutional change. It leaves the prison state completely intact, just giving the most hopeful and the most cynical something to talk about in the months leading up to another mid-term election, when the administration, and Democrats need the black vote.
It didn’t have to be this way. During the first two years of the Obama presidency, when his party had a lock on both houses of Congress, the president and congressional Democrats had a chance to write retroactive revocation of tens of thousands of sentences into its so-called Fair Sentencing Act. Despite this being a matter of desperate concern to the constituency that elected them, it was not a priority for the first black president or for the black political class at the time. Every year since, the Obama Department of Justice has had the chance to rewrite the way it distributes federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to discourage mass incarceration. Every year the president had the ability to close some of its notorious federal supermax prisons, or find ways to deny funding for such things on the state level. None of this happened. In fact, while a broad citizen movement in Illinois, the president’s home state finally closed a state supermax prison, Obama’s latest Bureau of Prisons budget has the feds buying another unused Illinois prison for conversion into a federal supermax, ADX Thomson, or Gitmo North. The federal prison budget has grown every year president Obama has held office.
Sophisticated apologists for the president will of course chide folks who find “better than nothing” insufficient for being naive and foolish. Are they? Were the tens of millions who elected Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 foolish for imagining that they have even the right to demand better? What about the many, many thousands of activists who gave freely of their time and efforts year in and year out to make the careers of the black political class possible, the people who called house meetings, union and church meetings? Were the folks who went door to door, who rallied and registered voters and more to elect black aldermen, sheriffs, county commissioners, mayors, legislators and finally a black president — the people who DID imagine and DID tell their children and their neighbors that this would make things better — were they all just unrealistic chumps?
I used to be one of them. They didn’t say – we didn’t say — it was “better than nothing.” We told each other, and often we actually believed electing black faces to high places was a necessary step toward making things better. Were we naïve and foolish to imagine a better world is even possible? Or is our black political class too cynical, too corrupt, too prosperous and too lazy to share the dreams of the ordinary people they supposedly represent?
A lawsuit, filed on behalf of four different men, blames the United States of violating their rights by keeping them on the no-fly list after they declined to spy on local Muslim communities, notably in New York, New Jersey and Nebraska. Some view the move as a punishment, though more likely this is a rigid coercive tool, plaintiffs argue.
“The no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants,” said Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York, adding the practice looks more like an extortion.
The four plaintiffs have different stories to tell, however sharing one common feature: all the four point to US authorities over-policing the local Muslim society.
Awais Sajjad, for instance, a Muslim, lawfully naturalized US resident living in the New York area learnt he was on the no-fly list after he was turned back at the boarding zone at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
At the airport, FBI agents questioned Sajjad, a Muslim, before he was finally released. But later returned with an offer. In exchange for working for them, the FBI could provide him with US citizenship and compensation. To score a deal, the agents reminded Sajjad, it was up to the FBI to decide who was on the no-fly list.
“The more you help us, the more we can help you,” FBI agents said, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Another plaintiff, Naveed Shinwari, hasn’t seen his wife in more than two years, ever since they got married, he living permanently in the US, while his wife being an Afghan citizen. He strongly suspects it’s due to his refusal to become an informant for the FBI.
Returning back from the wedding, before he could even get home to Omaha, Nebraska, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents. These, he recollects, asked if he knew anything about national security threats. A third FBI visit followed when he got home, with the officer wanting to know about the “local Omaha community”, if he knew “anyone who’s a threat.”
Next time he was denied a boarding pass on a domestic US flight as he was to embark on a temporary job in Connecticut. Police told him he had been placed on the US no-fly list, although he had never in his life been accused of breaking any law.
Two more stories slightly varied from the previous ones, in that they contain a certain straight-forward directive, in line with the Muslims’ belief that law enforcement at times considers them a target, particularly thanks to mosque infiltrations and other surveillance practices.
Jameel Algibhah of the Bronx alleges that the FBI explicitly asked him to infiltrate a Queens mosque and pose as an extremist in online forums.
Their case follows at least one other, brought by the ACLU in Oregon, according to which the FBI attempted to leverage no-fly selectees into informants. Most sadly, the agency that’s behind the practice ever since no-fly lists emerged, is uniquely responsible for taking names off them. What all the four Muslims, who have never been convicted of a crime seek for, is to be cleared of the unjust punitive measures.
The FBI refused to comment Tuesday. But the process used to place individuals on the no-fly list has always been considered legal and well founded by officials, who said the practice relies on credible intelligence. Notably, MI5 in Britain openly thanked those Muslims who contributed to spying on others.
Ahead of a two-day Net Mundial international conference in Sao Paulo on the future of the Internet, Brazil’s Senate has unanimously adopted a bill which guarantees online privacy of Brazilian users and enshrines equal access to the global network.
The bill known as the “Internet constitution” was first introduced in the wake of the NSA spying scandal and is now expected to be signed into law by President Dilma Rousseff – one of the primary targets of the US intelligence apparatus, as leaks by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden revealed.
Rousseff plans to present the law on Wednesday at a global Internet conference.
The bill promotes freedom of information, making service providers not liable for content published by their users, but instead forcing the companies to obey court orders to remove any offensive material.
The principle of neutrality, calling on providers to grant equal access to service without charging higher rates for greater bandwidth use is also promoted. The legislation also limits the gathering and use of metadata on Internet users in Brazil.
Approval of the Senate was assured after the government dropped a provision in the legislation requiring Internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook to store data on Brazilian users at home.
The final version bill states that companies collecting data on Brazilian accounts must obey Brazilian data protection laws even if the data is collected and stored on servers abroad.
The demand of the use of Brazilian data centers had been added to the legislation last year after Snowden’s leaks revealed the extent of NSA’s spying network and wiretapping of President Dilma Rousseff communications.
The NSA was also involved in spying on Brazil’s strategic business sector, particularly on state-run oil company Petrobras. In response to US spying, Rousseff canceled a state visit to Washington in October and called on the UN, together with Germany, to adopt a UN resolution guaranteeing internet freedoms.
The adoption of the bill was a top priority for the Brazilian leader as a two-day Net Mundial conference in Sao Paulo is scheduled to open in Brazil on Wednesday.
The aim of the global event on internet governance is to discuss cyber security amid the NSA spying scandal. Safeguarding privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet are among the topics to be discussed according to a draft agenda.
US officials will attend the meeting alongside representatives from dozens of other states.
“All of them should have equal participation in this multi-stakeholder process,” Virgilio Almeida, Brazil’s secretary for IT policy, who will chair the conference, told Reuters.
As part of the discussion, Russia and China have submitted a proposal jointly with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan asking for the UN to develop a code of conduct for the Internet.
“Most participants here want a multi-stakeholder model for the Internet,” Almeida told Reuters. “China wants a treaty at the United Nations, but only governments are represented there.”
The event is not expected to result in any binding policy decisions, but Almeida said it will facilitate a debate that will “sow the seeds” for future reforms of internet governance.
We’ve covered the ridiculousness of the UK’s “voluntary” web filters. UK officials have been pushing such things for years and finally pushed them through by focusing on stopping “pornography” (for the children, of course). While it quickly came out that the filters were blocking tons of legitimate content (as filters always do), the UK government quickly moved to talk about ways to expand what the filters covered.
The pattern is not hard to recognize, because it happens over and over again. Government officials find some absolute horror — the kind of thing that no one will stand up for — to push for some form of censorship. Few fight back because no one wants to be seen as standing up for something absolutely horrific online, or be seen as being against “family values.” But, then, once the filters are in place, it becomes so easy both to ignore the fact that the filters don’t work (and censor lots of legitimate content) and to constantly expand and expand and expand them. And people will have much less of a leg to stand on, because they didn’t fight back at the beginning.
That appears to be happening at an astonishingly fast pace in the UK. Index On Censorship has a fantastic article, discussing how a UK government official has already admitted to plans to expand the filter to “unsavoury” content rather than just “illegal.”
James Brokenshire was giving an interview to the Financial Times last month about his role in the government’s online counter-extremism programme. Ministers are trying to figure out how to block content that’s illegal in the UK but hosted overseas. For a while the interview stayed on course. There was “more work to do” negotiating with internet service providers (ISPs), he said. And then, quite suddenly, he let the cat out the bag. The internet firms would have to deal with “material that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury”, he said.
And there it was. The sneaking suspicion of free thinkers was confirmed. The government was no longer restricting itself to censoring web content which was illegal. It was going to start censoring content which it simply didn’t like.
It goes on, in fairly great detail, to describe just how quickly the UK is sliding away down that slippery slope of censorship. It highlights how these filters were kicked off as an “anti-porn” effort, where the details were left intentionally vague.
But David Cameron positioned himself differently, by starting up an anti-porn crusade. It was an extremely effective manouvre. ISPs now suddenly faced the prospect of being made to look like apologists for the sexualisation of childhood.
Or at least, that’s how it was sold. By the time Cameron had done a couple of breakfast shows, the precise subject of discussion was becoming difficult to establish. Was this about child abuse content? Or rape porn? Or ‘normal’ porn? It was increasingly hard to tell.
And, of course, the fact that the filters go too far, is never seen as a serious problem.
The filters went well beyond what Cameron had been talking about. Suddenly, sexual health sites had been blocked, as had domestic violence support sites, gay and lesbian sites, eating disorder sites, alcohol and smoking sites, ‘web forums’ and, most baffling of all, ‘esoteric material’. Childline, Refuge, Stonewall and the Samaritans were blocked, as was the site of Claire Perry, the Tory MP who led the call for the opt-in filtering. The software was unable to distinguish between her description of what children should be protected from and the things themselves.
At the same time, the filtering software was failing to get at the sites it was supposed to be targeting. Under-blocking was at somewhere between 5% and 35%.
Children who were supposed to be protected from pornography were now being denied advice about sexual health. People trying to escape abuse were prevented from accessing websites which could offer support.
And something else curious was happening too: A reactionary view of human sexuality was taking over. Websites which dealt with breast feeding or fine art were being blocked. The male eye was winning: impressing the sense that the only function for the naked female body was sexual.
But, of course, no one in the UK government seems to care. In fact, they’re looking to expand the program. Because it was never about actually stopping porn. It was always about having a tool for mass censorship.
The list was supposed to be a collection of child abuse sites, which were automatically blocked via a system called Cleanfeed. But soon, criminally obscene material was added to it – a famously difficult benchmark to demonstrate in law. Then, in 2011, the Motion Picture Association started court proceedings to add a site indexing downloads of copyrighted material.
There are no safeguards to stop the list being extended to include other types of sites.
This is not an ideal system. For a start, it involves blocking material which has not been found illegal in a court of law. The Crown Prosecution Service is tasked with saying whether a site reaches the criminal threshold. This is like coming to a ruling before the start of a trial. The CPS is not an arbiter of whether something is illegal. It is an arbiter, and not always a very good one, of whether there is a realistic chance of conviction.
As the IWF admits on its website, it is looking for potentially criminal activity – content can only be confirmed to be criminal by a court of law. This is the hinterland of legality, the grey area where momentum and secrecy count for more than a judge’s ruling.
There may have been court supervision in putting in place the blocking process itself but it is not present for individual cases. Record companies are requesting sites be taken down and it is happening. The sites are only being notified afterwards, are only able to make representations afterwards. The traditional course of justice has been turned on its head.
And it just keeps going on and on. As the report notes, “the possibilities for mission creep are extensive.” You don’t say. They also note that technologically clueless politicians love this because they can claim they’re solving a hard problem when they’re really doing no such thing (and really are just creating other problems at the same time):
MPs like filtering software because it seems like a simple solution to a complex problem. It is simple. So simple it does not exist.
Of course, if you recognize that the continued expansion of such filters was likely the plan from the beginning, then everything is going according to plan. The fact that it doesn’t solve any problems the public are dealing with is meaningless. It solves a problem that the politicians are dealing with: how to be able to say they’ve “done something” to “protect the children” while at the same time building up the tools and powers of the government to stifle any speech they don’t like. To those folks, the system is working perfectly.
The Russian Foreign Minister says the US should take responsibility for those whom they put in power instead issuing ultimatums to Moscow.
“Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” said Lavrov during a press conference with his colleague from Mozambique, Oldemiro Baloi.
All attempts to isolate Russia will lead to a dead end because Russia is “a big, independent power that knows what it wants,” he added
Meanwhile, the Russian FM also criticized statements from Western countries and Kiev’s authorities, which “invent possible and impossible arguments against Russia,” claiming that a large amount of Russian arms in the conflict zones proves Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs.
He called the statements absurd as Ukraine has traditionally used Russian-made arms.
“This statement is ludicrous. Everyone has Russian arms in Ukraine,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, he also said that TV outlets have reported that US arms were also found in Ukraine and illegal armed groups, not the Ukrainian army were in possession of these American arms.
Speaking about the crisis situation in eastern Ukraine and Kiev’s crackdown on the Donetsk region, Lavrov also said that Kiev authorities don’t want or maybe cannot control the extremists who continue to control the situation in the country.
“The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lavrov also said that the Kiev coup-appointed government has violated the Geneva agreements of April 17, after the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine.
“The Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) group has been “running the show” in the streets of central and western Ukraine and is trying to affect eastern regions,” he said, adding that buildings in Kiev seized by the protesters haven’t been freed and the streets haven’t been cleared.
“However, Kiev authorities say that “Maidan” is acting legally which is totally inadmissible,” he said.
Meanwhile, the attack by militants on the checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on Easter Sunday is a crime beneficial only for those who want to derail the Geneva agreements, said the Russian FM.
“The fact that extremists started to shoot at unarmed civilians is unacceptable,” he added.
Meanwhile, he also criticized the attitude of Kiev to foreign journalists in Ukraine as journalists in the country are being arrested and the authorities won’t let them into the regions for them to observe what is happening.
He also stressed that one of the Geneva agreement’s points is to amnesty political prisoners and participants in the protests.
“Instead of releasing the Donetsk governor, Pavel Gubarev, Kiev authorities continue to arrest activists in southeastern Ukraine,” said Lavrov.
According to Lavrov, the Kiev authorities are still spinning out the implementation of constitutional reform in the country.
“Why were they waiting for so long to speak about the necessity of constitutional reform? Why are they spinning out the process?” he asked at the conference.
Lavrov also stressed the necessity of restoring order in the crisis-torn country. By this he meant stopping extremism and religious intolerance, starting constitutional dialogue and disarming the illegally armed groups.
The media refers to the document that emerged out of today’s four party talks as an “agreement”. This is not strictly correct. The text of the document is here.
As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document.
A number of points:
1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday;
2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014;
3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond;
4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document. There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time. That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground. The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan.
5. The referral to the OSCE as the enforcement and mediation agency between the regime and its opponents gives Russia a formal role in the process since it is a member of the OSCE. By contrast the negotiations which took place before 21st February 2014 were negotiated and mediated by the EU of which Russia is not a member;
6. The reference to the fact that in the negotiations concerning constitutional changes there should be “outreach to all the Ukraine’s regions and constituencies” (note especially use of the word “constituencies”) gives a role to the protesters in the east in the negotiations and not just to those formal official bodies currently recognised by Kiev.
This document on its face therefore represents a shift towards the Russian/east Ukrainian side. Indeed it basically sets out principles Russia has been arguing for ever since Yanukovitch was deposed on 22nd February 2014.
Unfortunately that does not mean this road map is going to be successfully followed. Already Kiev is trying to argue that the “anti terrorist operation” it has ordered is somehow exempt from it (it isn’t) whilst the US is threatening to impose more sanctions on Russia if following the weekend Russia fails to impose pressure on the eastern Ukrainians to evacuate buildings they occupy without the US undertaking to put any corresponding pressure on its clients in Kiev (shades of Syria here). It is very easy to see how the US and its allies could then blame Russia for the failure of the road map whilst having caused that failure themselves.
However the Russians do have a number of strong cards to play of their own:
1. The growing unrest in the Donbass, which will almost certainly spread to more regions of the eastern Ukraine unless some serious concessions are made. The events of the last few days have exposed Kiev’s difficulties in suppressing this unrest. Significantly no further step in pursuit of the “anti terrorist operation” seems to have been taken today as Kiev reels from the military defections of yesterday;
2. Russia as Putin pointedly reminded everybody in his television marathon today can always refuse to recognise the results of the Presidential elections on 25th May 2014 if the negotiations are failing to make progress and also has authority from the Federation Council to send troops into the eastern Ukraine if the situation there deteriorates further. A refusal to recognise the results of the election will further undermine the legitimacy of whoever is elected. It is now clear that there will be no significant military resistance from forces loyal to Kiev if the Russian army moves into the eastern Ukraine. If that happens the likelihood is that Kiev will lose the eastern Ukraine forever (note Putin’s pointed reference to “Novorossiya” in his television marathon today) – a nightmare scenario for both Kiev and the west though not one Russia is pursuing at the moment;
3. It is now clear that without Russia’s assistance the possibility of stabilising the Ukraine’s economy quite simply does not exist. The last paragraph specifically refers to the importance of the Ukraine “financial and economic stability” to “the participants” and says “the participants…. would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented”. The most important of the “participants” in this regard is Russia. It bears repeating (as Putin has recently pointed out) that Russia is the only participant so far providing any economic assistance to the Ukraine at all. The US is only offering $1 billion in loan guarantees and the EU is offering just 1.6 billion euros none of which have so far been provided. What this document in effect therefore says is that whilst Russia is prepared to assist in the stabilisation of the Ukraine’s economy its help is conditional on the fulfilment of the provisions of the road map;
4. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is growing resistance within the EU to further sanctions against Russia. The fact that a process has now been launched to settle this crisis will redouble European reluctance to introduce more sanctions and will increase pressure within the EU for the process to be treated seriously so that it can succeed.
In conclusion, we are not out of the woods or anywhere close. This is not the beginning of the end of the crisis. But we may be a small step closer to that point. A lot will depend on what happens next and the key decisions will be made on the ground in the Ukraine itself.
The first-ever scientific study that analyzes whether the US is a democracy, rather than an oligarchy, found the majority of the American public has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” compared to the wealthy.
The study, due out in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, sets out to answer elusive questions about who really rules in the United States. The researchers measured key variables for 1,779 policy issues within a single statistical model in an unprecedented attempt “to test these contrasting theoretical predictions” – i.e. whether the US sets policy democratically or the process is dominated by economic elites, or some combination of both.
“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University wrote.
While “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association,” the authors say the data implicate “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
The authors of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” say that even as their model tilts heavily toward indications that the US is, in fact, run by the most wealthy and powerful, it actually doesn’t go far enough in describing the stranglehold connected elites have on the policymaking process.
“Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups,” the researcher said.
“Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”
They add that the “failure of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy is all the more striking because it goes against the likely effects of the limitations of our data. The preferences of ordinary citizens were measured more directly than our other independent variables, yet they are estimated to have the least effect.”
Despite the inexact nature of the data, the authors say with confidence that “the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”
“We believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened,” they concluded.
The New York Police Department is disbanding the unit that mapped New York’s Muslim communities, their places of worship, and businesses they frequent – based on nothing but their religious beliefs and associations. To this we say: Good Riddance.
But the end of the Zone Assessment Unit – better known by its former, more apt name, the Demographics Unit – doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the NYPD’s unconstitutional surveillance of New York’s Muslims.
The NYPD’s discriminatory spying program has many components, of which the Demographics Unit was just one. (The ACLU, along with the NYCLU and CLEAR Project at CUNY Law School sued the NYPD over the program – read about our case here.) Before we celebrate the end of bias-based policing, we need to ensure that the other abusive tactics employed by the NYPD meet the same fate as the unit. For example:
- Use of informants: A wide network of NYPD informants have infiltrated community organizations, mosques, restaurants, bookstores, and more to monitor, record, and take notes on innocent people and innocuous conversations. This needs to stop.
- Designation of entire mosques “terrorism enterprises”: The NYPD has used “terrorism enterprise investigations” against entire mosques to justify the surveillance of as many people as possible. That unmerited designation has allowed the police department to record sermons and spy on entire congregations.
- Discriminatory use of surveillance cameras: Cameras have been set up outside mosques and community events – even weddings – to record community members’ comings and goings and collect license plate numbers of congregants and attendees.
- Radicalization theory: The NYPD must disavow its debunked “radicalization” theory, on which discriminatory surveillance is based. This misguided notion, which we’ve described in detail here, treats with suspicion people engaging in First Amendment-protected activities including “wearing traditional Islamic clothing [and] growing a beard,” abstaining from alcohol, and “becoming involved in social activism” – meaning, basically, anyone who identifies as Muslim, harbors Islamic beliefs, or engages in Islamic religious practices.
- Discriminatory surveillance by other units: The Demographics Unit’s discriminatory mapping activities shouldn’t be carried out by other parts of the NYPD and its Intelligence Division.
The Demographics Unit has sown fear and mistrust among hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers – creating “psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York told the New York Times. Shutting it down is a welcome step, but it’s only the first one. New York’s Muslims — and all its communities — deserve more and better from their police force than bias-based policing.
Translator’ note: Liliany Obando is a sociologist, documentary film maker, and single mother of two children. She was serving as human rights director for Fensuagro, Colombia’s largest agricultural workers’ union, when, on August 8, 2008, Colombian authorities arrested her. A week previously, Obando had issued a report documenting the murders of 1500 Fensuagro union members over 32 years. Prosecutors accused her of terrorism and belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
After 43 months, Obando left prison on March 1st 2012. She remained under court jurisdiction, because she had not been sentenced or convicted. Eventually, in 2013, a judge, accusing Obando of serving on the FARC’s International Commission, convicted her of “rebellion.” She was sentenced to five years, eight months of house arrest and fined 707 million pesos, ($368,347 USD). The charge against Obando of handling “resources relating to terrorist activities” was dropped.
On April 3, 2014, Obando learned that the Supreme Court had rejected her appeal. Her fine stands. She must serve one more year of house arrest. The government’s case against Obando and other prisoners rests on files taken from computers of FARC leaders seized during a military attack on a FARC encampment in Ecuador on March 1, 2008. In 2011 the Colombian Supreme Court invalidated the legal standing of such material. Obando and her family continue to experience police surveillance, harassment, and media slander. – Translated by W. T. Whitney Jr.
Although we Colombians, especially those of us who belong to social, human rights, and political organizations and labor unions, are used to carrying out our work in risky situations, sometimes things get worse. This is one of those unlucky times. It coincides with the pre-election contest.
In a cycle that repeatedly sends us back to a repressive past – one they don’t want to close down – we are witness to a perverse return to obscurantism and forced unanimity, to dissident thinking being considered subversive, to social protest having to be silenced at whatever cost, and where opposition guarantees are only a chimera. These are practices far removed from the duty of a state, especially one proclaiming itself as the continent’s oldest, most solid “democracy.”
Many years ago, and in tune with the U. S. obsession for transforming the idea of security into state policy, one outcome being anti-terrorism, the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez during his first term (2002-2006) instituted in Colombia the politics of “Democratic Security.” That gave rise to a series of actions damaging to the right to liberty, to guarantees like equality, legality, and judicial norms, and, generally, to an international framework for human rights.
The strategy of arbitrary detentions imposed under the pretext of maintaining security of the state, and for “good citizens,” has its origins there. The modalities used were illegal interceptions, the network of informants, the Law of Justice and Peace and its accusers, and intelligence reports – or battlefield reports. They fueled judicial set-ups.
During 2002-2004, this strategy of the Uribe government entailed the practice of massive incarcerations carried out nearly always within the context of military operations or joint operations involving the attorney general, the police, and military forces. Primary backing came from Decree 2002 of 2002 relating to internal upheaval and also from an attempt at constitutional reform. In the beginning, these incarcerations were confined to supposed “zones of rehabilitation and consolidation.” Their boundaries were set through Decree 2929 of December 3, 2002. Then they spread the length and breadth of the national territory.
Later, from 2004 on, in a change of strategy, massive detentions were converted into selective detentions against specified sectors of the population: unionists, defenders of human rights, social and populist activists from academia, and/or opposition militants. These people were considered dangerous to the state politics of “Democratic Security” then being advanced as part of a return to the dark era of Turbay Ayala and his “Statute of Security.” (1)
That’s where all this recent wave of stigmatization, persecution, criminalization, judicial processing, and incarceration came from. It’s directed against social, labor, and human rights organizations, and opposition political parties. Their members, leaders, and activists at the base are pointed to as being little else but the activists, “civilian guerrillas,” or at least collaborators of the insurgencies, that is to say, their social base. As regards these last, Uribe disregarded their political character and classified them as “terrorist” groups. Once more the concept of political crime was being manipulated.
Juan Manuel Santos, as defense minister in the Uribe government, first made his mark chiefly by implementing “Democratic Security.” Now as president he continues it. He will be able to change its form, but not its essence. Indeed, Santos has turned to acknowledging that armed conflict does exist in Colombia and also, on that account, that the insurgencies have a political character, although he doesn’t say it openly. If it were otherwise, the current process of peace negotiations in Havana would have been inconceivable. Yet he has not altered the treatment of politically – oriented persons facing prosecution, nor does he accept the very existence of political prisoners.
In 2012, Santos, mocking his given word, blocked international oversight of prisons and verification of the situation of political prisoners as called for by the group PeaceWomen Across the Globe. The government had agreed to accept the FARC’s handing over the last prisoners of war they were holding in return for that group’s good offices. (2) The opportunity ended once more with an official denial that political prisoners exist in Colombia.
Judicial handling of persons criminalized under the strategy of “security” and anti-terrorism changed substantially, much to the disadvantage of people being porosecuted. Indeed, a person being investigated for supposed ties with insurgents used to be processed for the political “crime” of rebellion. Beginning with Uribe and then Santos, however, they are now being handled under the logic of anti-terrorist struggle. As a result, members of the social and political organizations who face prosecution are now being blamed for one or more NON – political crimes having to do with terrorist activities. That’s over and above their being judged as rebels. This signifies, primarily, that for persons being prosecuted under this approach, guarantees like due process, legitimate defense, technical defense, and presumption of innocence – among others – amount to very little.
Consequently, we attend audiences of our comrade detainees in specialized courtrooms, not the ordinary ones. In these special sessions, investigations are carried out directed at very serious crimes, thereby removing the allegations from the area of “political crime.” And more: investigation and trial periods end up being extended over a long time and sentences are more onerous.
And as a matter of fact, Colombian justice applies the presumption of guilt, not of innocence. At the start, those involved in such processes are classified as “dangerous for society.” Therefore, having been charged, they know beforehand they are going to prison for a long time and there have to prove their innocence. But inside prison and incarceration establishments, they are treated just like those who have already been convicted. This is contrary to international law dealing with prison populations, which in Colombia is a dead letter. One must not forget, furthermore, that Colombia is one of the countries in the world that most abuses preventative detention. As a result, many people in this situation choose to accept charges against them and thus reduce their time in dark Colombian prisons and not have to wait long years while they prove their innocence.
And as if that were not enough, the institution that, by definition, should keep watch on the state so it fulfills its mandate to guarantee respect for citizens’ fundamental human rights, that is to say, the attorney general, acts in a perverse way. That office has switched over to being an inquisitorial entity that persecutes even public functionaries already absolved through having served their prison terms. Their political rights and rights as citizens are seriously affected.
By way of putting a face on this political tragedy, here are some of the leaders and activist members of social and political organizations who have recently endured judicial processes and are imprisoned: Unionists – Campo Elías Ortiz, Héctor Sánchez, José Dilio, Darío Cárdenas, Huber Ballesteros; From the Patriotic March social and political movement - Wilmar Madroñero; Professors - Francisco Tolosa, Carlo Alexander Carrillo, Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas, Fredy Julián Cortés, William Javier Díaz; Students – Erika Rodríguez, Xiomara Alejandra Torres Jiménez, Jaime Alexis Bueno, Diego Alejandro Ortega, Cristian Leiva Omar Marín, Carlos Lugo, Jorge Gaitán; Human Rights defenders – David Ravelo Crespo, Liliany Obando.
The number of political prisoners in Colombia – prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war – exceeds 9500. The worst of it is that there is no calm after prison. The trailing, the threats, the stigmatization continue until many of those who are released – if they are lucky – have to leave the country. And many others remain marginalized and no longer part of their previous social and political organizations, which is regrettable. So too is that purpose of the overall strategy which is to weaken social organizations and the political opposition, and dismember them.
Such are the perverse effects of politics in Colombia centering on judicial processes and criminalization of critical thinking, social protest, and political opposition. We are called upon actively to confront politics like these if we want to put a check on such abuse of power.
Silence is no alternative, nor is inaction.
Freedom for Colombian political prisoners!
Long life for butterflies! (3)
1. Julio César Turbay Ayala was the Liberal Party President of Colombia in 1978-1982.
2. The international women’s group facilitated the unilateral freeing of ten soldiers and police by the FARC in 2012 through the women’s promise they would visit political prisoners in Colombian jails.
3. The reference, used in connection with recent conferences and mobilizations in Colombia on behalf of political prisoners, commemorates a movement for freedom for political prisoners that developed in the Dominican Republic in 1959. The expression does honor to the Mirabel sisters there who were jailed and murdered.
Liliany Obando, Political prisoner, under judgment (subjudice) Defender of Human Rights, Colombia, April, 2014.
New documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer.
EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.
What is NGI?
NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.
The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. By 2012, NGI already contained 13.6 million images representing between 7 and 8 million individuals, and by the middle of 2013, the size of the database increased to 16 million images. The new records reveal that the database will be capable of processing 55,000 direct photo enrollments daily and of conducting tens of thousands of searches every day.
NGI Will Include Non-Criminal as well as Criminal Photos
One of our biggest concerns about NGI has been the fact that it will include non-criminal as well as criminal face images. We now know that FBI projects that by 2015, the database will include 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes.
Currently, if you apply for any type of job that requires fingerprinting or a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in its civil print database. However, the FBI has never before collected a photograph along with those prints. This is changing with NGI. Now an employer could require you to provide a “mug shot” photo along with your fingerprints. If that’s the case, then the FBI will store both your face print and your fingerprints along with your biographic data.
In the past, the FBI has never linked the criminal and non-criminal fingerprint databases. This has meant that any search of the criminal print database (such as to identify a suspect or a latent print at a crime scene) would not touch the non-criminal database. This will also change with NGI. Now every record—whether criminal or non—will have a “Universal Control Number” (UCN), and every search will be run against all records in the database. This means that even if you have never been arrested for a crime, if your employer requires you to submit a photo as part of your background check, your face image could be searched—and you could be implicated as a criminal suspect—just by virtue of having that image in the non-criminal file.
Many States Are Already Participating in NGI
The records detail the many states and law enforcement agencies the FBI has already been working with to build out its database of images (see map below). By 2012, nearly half of U.S. states had at least expressed an interest in participating in the NGI pilot program, and several of those states had already shared their entire criminal mug shot database with the FBI. The FBI hopes to bring all states online with NGI by this year.
The FBI worked particularly closely with Oregon through a special project called “Face Report Card.” The goal of the project was to determine and provide feedback on the quality of the images that states already have in their databases. Through Face Report Card, examiners reviewed 14,408 of Oregon’s face images and found significant problems with image resolution, lighting, background and interference. Examiners also found that the median resolution of images was “well-below” the recommended resolution of .75 megapixels (in comparison, newer iPhone cameras are capable of 8 megapixel resolution).
FBI Disclaims Responsibility for Accuracy
At such a low resolution, it is hard to imagine that identification will be accurate.1 However, the FBI has disclaimed responsibility for accuracy, stating that “[t]he candidate list is an investigative lead not an identification.”
Because the system is designed to provide a ranked list of candidates, the FBI states NGI never actually makes a “positive identification,” and “therefore, there is no false positive rate.” In fact, the FBI only ensures that “the candidate will be returned in the top 50 candidates” 85 percent of the time “when the true candidate exists in the gallery.”
It is unclear what happens when the “true candidate” does not exist in the gallery—does NGI still return possible matches? Could those people then be subject to criminal investigation for no other reason than that a computer thought their face was mathematically similar to a suspect’s? This doesn’t seem to matter much to the FBI—the Bureau notes that because “this is an investigative search and caveats will be prevalent on the return detailing that the [non-FBI] agency is responsible for determining the identity of the subject, there should be NO legal issues.”
Nearly 1 Million Images Will Come from Unexplained Sources
One of the most curious things to come out of these records is the fact that NGI may include up to 1 million face images in two categories that are not explained anywhere in the documents. According to the FBI, by 2015, NGI may include:
- 46 million criminal images
- 4.3 million civil images
- 215,000 images from the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC)
- 750,000 images from a “Special Population Cognizant” (SPC) category
- 215,000 images from “New Repositories”
However, the FBI does not define either the “Special Population Cognizant” database or the “new repositories” category. This is a problem because we do not know what rules govern these categories, where the data comes from, how the images are gathered, who has access to them, and whose privacy is impacted.
A 2007 FBI document available on the web describes SPC as “a service provided to Other Federal Organizations (OFOs), or other agencies with special needs by agreement with the FBI” and notes that “[t]hese SPC Files can be specific to a particular case or subject set (e.g., gang or terrorist related), or can be generic agency files consisting of employee records.” If these SPC files and the images in the “new repositories” category are assigned a Universal Control Number along with the rest of the NGI records, then these likely non-criminal records would also be subject to invasive criminal searches.
Government Contractor Responsible for NGI has built some of the Largest Face Recognition Databases in the World
The company responsible for building NGI’s facial recognition component—MorphoTrust (formerly L-1 Identity Solutions)—is also the company that has built the face recognition systems used by approximately 35 state DMVs and many commercial businesses.2 MorphoTrust built and maintains the face recognition systems for the Department of State, which has the “largest facial recognition system deployed in the world” with more than 244 million records,3 and for the Department of Defense, which shares its records with the FBI.
The FBI failed to release records discussing whether MorphoTrust uses a standard (likely proprietary) algorithm for its face templates. If it does, it is quite possible that the face templates at each of these disparate agencies could be shared across agencies—raising again the issue that the photograph you thought you were taking just to get a passport or driver’s license is then searched every time the government is investigating a crime. The FBI seems to be leaning in this direction: an FBI employee email notes that the “best requirements for sending an image in the FR system” include “obtain[ing] DMV version of photo whenever possible.”
Why Should We Care About NGI?
There are several reasons to be concerned about this massive expansion of governmental face recognition data collection. First, as noted above, NGI will allow law enforcement at all levels to search non-criminal and criminal face records at the same time. This means you could become a suspect in a criminal case merely because you applied for a job that required you to submit a photo with your background check.
Second, the FBI and Congress have thus far failed to enact meaningful restrictions on what types of data can be submitted to the system, who can access the data, and how the data can be used. For example, although the FBI has said in these documents that it will not allow non-mug shot photos such as images from social networking sites to be saved to the system, there are no legal or even written FBI policy restrictions in place to prevent this from occurring. As we have stated before, the Privacy Impact Assessment for NGI’s face recognition component hasn’t been updated since 2008, well before the current database was even in development. It cannot therefore address all the privacy issues impacted by NGI.
Finally, even though FBI claims that its ranked candidate list prevents the problem of false positives (someone being falsely identified), this is not the case. A system that only purports to provide the true candidate in the top 50 candidates 85 percent of the time will return a lot of images of the wrong people. We know from researchers that the risk of false positives increases as the size of the dataset increases—and, at 52 million images, the FBI’s face recognition is a very large dataset. This means that many people will be presented as suspects for crimes they didn’t commit. This is not how our system of justice was designed and should not be a system that Americans tacitly consent to move towards.
For more on our concerns about the increased role of face recognition in criminal and civil contexts, read Jennifer Lynch’s 2012 Senate Testimony. We will continue to monitor the FBI’s expansion of NGI.
Here are the documents:
- 1. In fact, another document notes that “since the trend for the quality of data received by the customer is lower and lower quality, specific research and development plans for low quality submission accuracy improvement is highly desirable.”
- 2. MorphoTrust’s parent company, Safran Morpho, describes itself as “[t]he world leader in biometric systems,” is largely responsible for implementing India’s Aadhaar project, which, ultimately, will collect biometric data from nearly 1.2 billion people.
- 3. One could argue that Facebook’s is larger. Facebook states that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos. However, Facebook never performs face recognition searches on that entire 250 billion photo database.
Palestinian journalist and political activist Majd Kayyal
Israel’s security services secretly arrested Palestinian activist-journalist Majd Kayyal. The arrest is under gag order
I received an urgent message from Jamil Dakwar of the ACLU that Palestinian journalist and political activist, Majd Kayyal, age 22, was arrested on his return to Israel from a trip to Lebanon and Jordan. I’ve checked with an Israeli source who tells me he was arrested as a national security suspect. The combination of his trip to Lebanon, where he attended an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of As-Safir (considered a pro-Hezbollah publication), his participation in a 2011 flotilla voyage to break the Gaza siege, and his activist role in Adalah (where he was the website editor) and Balad (Hebrew), made him a ready target.
At midnight Saturday Israel-time, a few hours after his arrest, the security police raided his Haifa home and confiscated his computer and other electronic devices and materials. Jamil reports he has been denied access to an attorney, which is standard procedure for Israeli Palestinian security suspects. A judge will be asked to extend his remand tomorrow and will automatically do so, again as is standard for the Only Democracy in the Middle East. Majd can also expect abuse and even torture from his security service interrogators just as Ameer Makhoul did.
For those with good memories, who’ve been reading this blog for several years, you’ll recall his case. He was also a Palestinian community activist from Haifa who founded the Ittijah NGO. He too returned from a trip to Jordan, where he allegedly met a fellow activist Hassan Jaja at an environment conference. The Shabak made Jaja out to be a key Hezbollah operative, when in reality he owned a landscaping business in Amman. My guess is that Shabak discovered a similar meeting Kayyal had with a suspect individual who the security forces can turn into an Islamist bogeyman.
This persecution is part of the ongoing effort by Israeli secret police to criminalize Israeli Palestinian nationalism. As I’ve reported here, Yuval Diskin, then Shabak chief, said in 2007 that any such political expression would be viewed as sedition and criminally prosecuted by the State. That is what is happening in this case. Nothing more. [...]
This arrest, which constitutes a severe assault on press freedom, since Kayyal is an Israeli Palestinian journalist, is under gag order in Israel. It has not been reported in Israeli media. I hope this publication will poke a hole in the shroud of opacity that favors such assaults by the security apparatus. An international group of activists joined together to fight on Ameer’s behalf. I’ve begun a process which I hope will lead to the same support for Majd.
Ukraine should recognize Crimea’s independence, reform the country’s constitution, regulate the crisis in its eastern regions and guarantee the rights of Russian speakers if it wants to get financial help from Moscow, Russia’s finance minister has said.
“If Ukraine fulfils these four conditions, then Russia will be able to propose further steps on additional help both on financial and gas issues,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said after meeting with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schauble, in Washington.
Deescalating tensions in eastern Ukraine should be peaceful, based on Ukraine’s legislation, “without discrimination against Russian-speaking population, without victims and bloodshed,” Siluanov said.
It is necessary for Ukraine to conduct constitutional reform, hold legitimate presidential elections and “form a government with which one may negotiate,” he said.
Ukraine’s gas debt is now estimated at over $2.2 billion. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin wrote letters to the leaders of 18 European countries, including Germany and France, warning that Ukraine’s debt crisis had reached a “critical” level and could threaten transit to Europe. He also called for urgent cooperation, urging Russia’s partners in the West to take action.
According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel “there are many reasons to seriously take into account this message […] and for Europe to deliver a joint European response.”
In total, Moscow has subsidized Ukraine’s economy to the tune of $35.4 billion, coupled with a $3 billion loan tranche in December. Due to Ukraine’s gas debts, Gazprom revoked all discounts and is now charging $485 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, a price Ukraine says it will not be able to pay.
The deteriorating economic situation is coupled with escalating tensions in Ukraine. The country’s Interior Ministry promised a harsh response to the riots in the east, especially in the “separatist regions” of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkov. The coup-appointed authorities said they would arrest all violators, “regardless of the declared slogans and party affiliation.”
Eastern and southern Ukraine have been showing discontent with the new government in Kiev for weeks. Tensions escalated Monday when protesters in several cities started seizing local administration buildings. Major protests took place in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkov and Lugansk, while smaller actions and some clashes were reported in Odessa and Nikolayev.
After Donetsk activists proclaimed the region independent and demanded a referendum on its future status, Ukraine’s coup-imposed president Aleksandr Turchinov ordered the sending in of armed personnel and armored vehicles to the east.
At least 70 activists have been arrested in the course of the crackdown launched by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry in the eastern city of Kharkov. Most of them remain in prison, with 62 people detained for at least two months.
Sanctions are ‘counterproductive’ for all
At the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Washington, sanctions against Russia’s alleged interference into Ukraine’s affairs dominated the background. While speaking with journalists, Siluanov said that he was against US and EU sanctions against Russian and that the widening of such sanctions would be “counterproductive” for all sides.
In the latest series of sanctions, leading Crimean officials were targeted; those, according to the US Treasury, who were responsible for organizing the March 16 referendum, which led to the peninsula leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.
Among the seven officials forbidden from entering the US or engaging in economic activity with America-based companies are acting Sevastopol governor Aleksey Chaliy, the head of the Crimean security service Pyotr Zima, and Mikhail Malyshev, the head of the electoral commission that oversaw the poll.
Additionally, US-based assets of Chernomorneftegaz, the former subsidiary of the Ukrainian state gas company located on the Crimean peninsula, will be frozen.
The US, the EU and several international groups have imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials. The US also introduced measures including a ban on exporting defense items and services to Russia to pressure Moscow over recent events in Ukraine.
The G7 group has voiced its readiness to introduce additional sanctions against Russia, if Moscow continues to “escalate” the turmoil in neighboring Ukraine, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry and parliament have repeatedly denounced the policy of sanctions as inappropriate and counter-productive.
Some Russian MPs have suggested the possibility of retaliatory sanctions against US businesses, but these ideas have not been implemented as they might harm all the countries.
“Sanctions hurt all countries. We do not intend to introduce reciprocal sanctions,” Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters during the International Eastern Forum in Berlin.
Meanwhile, the meeting between Russia, Ukraine, EU and the US to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine will take place on April 17 in Geneva, the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said. Proposals for Ukraine’s constitutional reforms will also be presented in Geneva. However, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday expressed concern that Ukraine’s southeastern regions were not being invited to take part directly in the discussions on a new constitution for the country.
Siluanov said that similar concerns were voiced on Friday during a meeting with Treasury Secretary Lew.
He added that “Russia is ready to participate in supporting Ukraine together with the IMF and the European Union.” He also told Lew that Russia was concerned about Ukraine’s unpaid debt for supplies of natural gas.