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.
The Zionist ruling clique of Canada, through their front-man Stephen Harper, is seeking to beef up the already-existing Orwellian “hate propaganda” law which has been primarily used to curtail criticism of Zionists and Israel.
The conspicuous change is buried in the Harper government’s proposed cyberbullying law, Bill C-13.
The existing law in Canada’s criminal code makes it illegal to “promote hatred” (whatever that means) of people “distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation,” explained The Chronicle Herald, but Bill C-13 intends to expand that category to include age, sex, mental or physical disability, and most disturbingly, “national origin.” In other words, you cannot criticize anyone for any reason at all!
This means, say, if you condemn Israelis for their inhumane treatment of Palestinians, you could find yourself in court facing down the self-appointed thought police and commissars of political correctness.
The … law against “hate speech” is illegitimate and ridiculous to begin with. The idea of allowing a government to legislate against opinions and feelings is patently absurd – it is pulled right out of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984.
British Columbia native Arthur Topham has felt the wrath of Canada’s censorious establishment. In November 2012, at the instigation of the Zionist society of B’nai B’rith, Topham was charged with a ‘hate crime’ for publishing anti-Zionist articles on his website Radical Press.
One of the items on Topham’s site that made the Zionists convulse and contort with unrestrained anger and rage was a satire called Israel Must Perish. The text was nothing more than a spoof of a 1941 book authored by a Zionist … named Theodore Kaufman entitled Germany Must Perish! In that text Kaufman called for “a final solution” of German extinction. Topham merely substituted the words “German,” “Germany” and “Nazi” with “Israel,” “Jew” and “Zionist” throughout the text. Despite writing a clearly-worded preface explaining the satirical nature of the text, Topham was arrested by the RCMP and now faces the possibility of spending up to two years behind bars for violating Zionist sensibilities.
Many will recall the sad saga of German-Canadian publisher Ernst Zundel. In the mid-1980s Zundel was charged with “spreading false news” after he published a book, Did Six Million Really Die?, which questioned some aspects of the official “holocaust” story. In the ensuing show trial, Zundel and his team of revisionist historians as well as his indefatigable defence lawyer Douglas Christie brought the holocaust lobby to its knees with facts and information refuting many claims made by Zionists about Germany’s WW2 concentration camps.
Over the span of three decades, Zundel was dragged from courtroom to courtroom, from jail cell to jail cell, merely for expressing a viewpoint deemed verboten by the … Zionist establishment – the self-appointed architects of public discourse, the self-declared arbiters of truth and morality, the self-proclaimed “chosen people” whose faults are unseen and whose character is unimpeachable.
Zundel, a self-described pacifist with no criminal record, was physically assaulted on numerous occasions by Jewish Defence League thugs. His Toronto home, which also housed his publishing and graphic arts businesses, was bombed and torched by Zionist terrorists. He received death threats on a daily basis from members of the “chosen race of God,” but the Toronto Police did almost nothing to prevent any of it and was entirely uninterested in pursuing the criminals and thugs responsible for the campaign of terror against Zundel and his associates.
Zundel’s story is a testament to the power and control of Jewish extremists in Canada, whose agenda is anything but altruistic and whose disposition is more racist than the Klan.
In the “New World Order” being imposed on us by self-interested, ethnocentric megalomaniacs, no man has the right to explore, investigate and come to his own conclusions about history — that is the sole responsibility of the tyrannical monarchs of the NWO, who tell us what and how to think; free thought be damned.
Brandon Martinez is a freelance writer and journalist from Canada whose area of expertise is foreign policy, international affairs and 20th and 21st century history. His writing is focused on issues such as Zionism, Israel-Palestine, American and Canadian foreign policy, war, terrorism and deception in media and politics. Readers can contact him at email@example.com.
We recently visited Egypt leading a delegation of lawyers to observe the situation of human rights in that country. We were troubled by what we saw and heard. We are also troubled by the United States’ support for a government installed by a military coup.
The United States and more than 160 States have agreed to respect and ensure the right to participate in one’s government, for example, by agreeing to article 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Nevertheless, as this right came under serious attack in Egypt, the United States continues to support the Egyptian military as it imposes its will on the Egyptian people. This support should stop until and unless the freely and fairly elected government is restored.
The military coup that took place in Egypt on 3 July 2013 is a serious violation of the right to participate in one’s democracy. It is a violation of the rights of the majority voters in Egypt’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012.
The serious deterioration of human rights in Egypt in the aftermath of the military coup is largely due to the military coup leaders’ unwillingness to allow any significant expressions of dissent and the military coup leaders’ failure to respect the will of the Egyptian people.
During our visit to Cairo we heard reliably allegations of massive, widespread and serious violations of the right to fair trial, to an independent judiciary, to security of person, to the prohibition of torture, and about a policy of violent assaults on women. The level of these abuses is unprecedented in Egypt, a country with which we are familiar for almost half a century.
Grave concerns were expressed by lawyers about the integrity of the courts. The trial of Egypt’s first elected President Mohamed Morsi by the military is a case in point. The procedures that exist in the Egyptian Constitution for trying their President have been ignored. This has resulted in President Morsi being tried by an illegal court that appears to have been created merely to justify removing him from office.
The military coup leaders have been unrelenting in their attack on the peaceful supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In December 2013 the military coup leaders declared the Muslim Brotherhood an illegal entity. They did this despite the fact that the Freedom and Justice Party with which it is associated, won more support than any other party in Egypt’s free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections. This action violates the right to free speech, assembly and association.
Recently, an Egyptian court, functioning under the military coup, sentenced more than 400 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for the killing of a single policeman. At the same time, thousands of Egyptians remain arbitrarily detained and without fair trial.
The dismal state of human rights in Egypt, which we witnessed first hand, should be a concern for us all. The United States should stand with the Egyptian people and not with the leaders of a military coup.
Ramsey Clark was the 66th Attorney-General of the United States.
Abdeen Jabara, Frm. President of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and Board Member of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“Freedom of the Press” and “The Shield Law”: “Protecting the Public” from Independent Alternatives to the Mainstream Media
Currently being debated by the Senate, but rarely discussed on mainstream television, is the Shield Law. While on the surface it may seem to be rather innocuous, some of the language in it and its implications are quite problematic for journalists.
A Shield Law is a law which “provides statutory protection for the ‘reporters’ privilege’— legal rules which protect journalists against the government requiring them to reveal confidential sources or other information.” Generally, this is a positive occurrence as journalists are much more able to conduct their work and bring information to public light if they do not need to worry about having to reveal their sources. While Shield Laws have occurred in the past, they have only been on the state level. This currently proposed Shield Law is the first one to reach the federal level and the main goal is to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources in federal cases.
However, there are certain instances in which journalists will have to reveal sources, such as “(1) The party seeking disclosure has exhausted all reasonable alternative sources of the information; (2) The requested information is essential to resolving the matter; (3) Disclosure of the requested information would not be contrary to the public interest; and (4) In criminal cases, if the requesting party is the federal government, the government must show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has occurred.”
While overall it may seem like a good bill, there are a number of problems with this Shield Law, officially known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013. For starters, this law would “allow the government to seize reporters’ records without notifying them for 45 days – a period of time that could be renewed by a judge 45 additional days – if investigators convince a judge pre-notification ‘would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of a criminal investigation.’” This power of seizing records without notifying reporters was used most recently in regards to the Associated Press, when the federal government seized their phone records in May of last year, with the government only saying that “they were needed for investigation of an unspecified criminal matter.” Oh yes! What transparency and accountability! Infringing upon the First Amendment rights of reporters and then only giving what is essentially a BS, purposefully vague explanation.
In addition to this, the government can force journalists to give up information in the name of national security. This is quite worrying as the US government has time and time again been involved in operations of entrapment.[7,8] Due to this, they could potentially have a scenario where they create a case of entrapment, label it terrorism, and then force all journalists to give up information on any and all sources as well as seize their records under the guise of national security.
Yet in this current bill, not only can the government continue to engage in the above behavior, but they are also defining who is and who is not a journalist. Initially, the bill defined a journalist as “a person who has a ‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material’ in order to inform the public by regularly gathering information through interviews and observations” and added the stipulation that “The person also must intend to report on the news at the start of obtaining any protected information and must plan to publish that news.” This seems to be rather fine as it would include mainstream and independent journalists. However, the situation became problematic when in September 2013, an amendment to the bill was proposed that- let’s just say- ‘more clearly’ defined who and who was not a journalist.
Kevin Gostolza of Firedoglake discussed this amendment last year and it would be appropriate to quote him now at some length:
A “covered journalist,” under the amendment, would be the following: an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity or service that disseminates news or information by means of newspaper; nonfiction book; wire service; news agency; news website, mobile application or other news or information service (whether distributed digitally or other wise); news program; magazine or other periodical, whether in print, electronic, or other format; or through television or radio broadcast, multichannel video programming distributor (as such term is defined in section 602(13) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 522(13)), or motion picture for public showing… That person must also have the “primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest.” Or, that person should be engaged in the “regular gathering, preparation, collection, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing on such matters.” A person would also qualify as a “covered journalist” if they had experience in journalism and had “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications” in the past twenty years. As Feinstein said, it would “cover a legitimate journalist such as a Dan Rather who leaves his media entity and takes to publishing freelance stories on the web.” (emphasis added)
Now, let’s begin to take those paragraphs apart and analyze them, bit by bit.
In the first paragraph, the law defines a journalist as “an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity or service that disseminates news or information” and then goes on to define the many mediums by which the news can be disseminated. Some of this language seems to be problematic. What exactly do they mean by “independent contractor?” Do they mean a freelancer? Do they mean someone like myself who researches and writes independently?
In the next paragraph, it adds a caveat to the definition of journalist, stating that the individual in question must also “have the ‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest.’” Well, how do you prove that this is one’s primary intent? Do you just have to state as such? And what do they even mean by the term “primary intent?” Isn’t the main goal of most if not all journalists to disseminate news to the public?
The final paragraph offers an alternative if one is not with a mainstream source by stating that they are covered if “they had experience in journalism and had ‘substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications’ in the past twenty years.” Does this mean that contributing to sites such as Truthout could qualify one as a journalist under this law?
Apparently, in an earlier version of the bill, the law defined “journalists so narrowly that it excludes bloggers, citizen reporters and even some freelancers,” and thus the amendment was added. However, this amendment seems to leave more questions than answers.
In addition to this, many supporters of this bill have been using some rather bellicose language. For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein has been quoted as saying that “real journalists draw salaries” and stating that the First Amendment is “a privilege,” which is rather worrying.
On top of all these other problems, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, has written that this bill would “give judges too much power to decide on their own whether the disclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest and thus not protected.” This means the issue of deciding whether or not information that is being withheld by journalists, say, sources for example, violates the public interest in the form of national security would be decided by judges. If the judges do decide that the information being withheld does violate the public interest, then the journalist would be forced to hand over that information.
While judges do from time to time uphold the rights of the people, they seem to have often sided with the national security state as of recent. For example in 2010, a federal appeals court “ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information,” last year, the US Supreme Court decided to “allow the National Security Agency’s surveillance of domestic telephone communication records to continue.”
This year it was reported that the US Supreme Court “rejected [the Center for Constitutional Rights] lawsuit against Bush-era warrantless surveillance, which “guarantees that the federal courts will never address a fundamental question: Was the warrantless surveillance program the NSA carried out on President Bush’s orders legal?” Thus, it seems that the situation of on whose side the courts would rule in a case regarding national security is rather iffy. This is made all the more strenuous by the fact that if a case were to make it up all the way to the Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of the US government, it has the potential to set a precedent which could only be overturned by an entirely new Supreme Court case.
As of now, there are conflicting reports about whether or not Chuck Shumer (D.-N.Y.) has the votes to pass the bill in the Senate, with Schumer saying he does and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) saying he doesn’t. However, if it does pass, there is no doubt about it going into law as Obama has already voiced his support for it.
By essentially giving the government the power to define what a journalist is, it has the potential to hurt independent media when it is needed now more than ever. The mainstream media consistently sits on stories to please the US government. It was reported in 2006 that the New York Times made a decision to “[withhold] a story about the Bush administration’s program of illegal domestic spying until after the 2004 election.” More recently, the US media reported again and again that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Ghouta and that the UN report confirmed it, when in reality, the question is still up in the air as new information has come to light that puts the official narrative in doubt.
We need independent alternatives to the mainstream media like Corbett Report, Citizen Radio, and Black Agenda Report to allow people to get a glimpse behind the wall of misinformation that permeates much of the mainstream and get an idea of what is truly going on in the world. If this law gives the government the power to define who a journalist is, we may just lose that.
1: Society of Professional Journalists, Shield Law 101: Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.spj.org/shieldlaw-faq.asp
2: Rem Reider, “Media Shield Law Moves Forward,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/09/12/senate-judiciary-committee-approves-media-shield-bill/2807045/ (September 12, 2013)
3: Chris Palmer, Josh Stearns, “The Journalism Shield Law: How We Got Here,” Free Press, http://www.freepress.net/blog/2013/08/06/journalism-shield-law-how-we-got-here (August 6, 2013
4: Steven Nelson, “Holes in Media Shield Law Worry Opponents, and Even Some Supporters,” US News, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/09/18/holes-in-media-shield-law-worry-opponents-and-even-some-supporters (September 18, 2013)
5: Roger Yu, “Feds Seize AP Phone Records For Criminal Probe,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/05/13/justice-department-associated-press-telephone-records/2156521/ (May 13, 2013)
6: Zoë Carpenter, “Flawed Media Shield Law Goes to the Senate Floor,” The Nation, http://www.thenation.com/blog/176166/flawed-media-shield-law-goes-senate-floor (September 13, 2013)
7: Alex Newman, “FBI Celebrates Foiling Its Own Terrorist Plot, Again,” The New American, http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/crime/item/13263-fbi-celebrates-foiling-its-own-terror-plot-again (October 18, 2012)
8: Glenn Greenwald, ”The FBI Again Thwarts Its Own Terror Plot,” Salon, http://www.salon.com/2011/09/29/fbi_terror/ (September 29, 2011)
9: Tim Cushing, “Sen. Feinstein During ‘Shield’ Law Debate: ‘Real’ Journalists Draw Salaries,” Techdirt, https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130807/13153224102/sen-feinstein-during-shield-law-debate-real-journalists-draw-salaries.shtml (August 8, 2013)
10: Kevin Gosztola, “Media Shield Law, Which Aims to Protect Only ‘Real Reporters,’ Moves Onward to the Senate,” Firedoglake, http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/09/12/media-shield-law-which-defines-covered-journalists-moves-onward-to-the-senate/ (September 12, 2013)
11: Free Press, (August 6, 2013)
12: Morgan Weiland, “Why Sen. Feinstein Is Wrong About Who’s a ‘Real Reporter,’” Electronic Frontier Foundation, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/08/why-sen-feinstein-wrong-about-whos-real-reporter (August 9, 2013)
13: Mark Whitney, “Dianne Feinstein First Amendment Is A Special Privilege,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bywtn9RIDRw
14: Jacob Gershman, “Mukasey: Beware the Proposed Media-Shield Law,” Wall Street Journal, http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2013/12/02/mukasey-beware-of-the-proposed-media-shield-law/ (December 2, 2013)
15: Charlie Savage, “Court Dismisses a Case Asserting Torture by C.I.A.,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/09/us/09secrets.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (September 8, 2010)
16: Bill Mears, “Supreme Court allows NSA to continue looking at telephone records for now,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/18/politics/supreme-court-nsa-phone-records/ (November 8, 2013)
17: Kevin Gosztola, “Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case That Would Have Challenged NSA Warrantless Surveillance of Lawyers,” Firedoglake, http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2014/03/04/supreme-court-declines-to-hear-case-that-would-have-challenged-nsa-surveillance-of-lawyers/ (March 4, 2014)
18: Fox News, Schumer: Senate Has Votes for Media Shield Law, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/21/schumer-senate-has-votes-for-media-shield-law/ (March 21, 2014)
19: Hadas Gold, “Cornyn: Schumer Doesn’t Have Votes for Shield Law,” Politico, http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/03/cornyn-schumer-doesnt-have-votes-for-shield-law-185862.html (March 27, 2014)
20: David Jackson, “Obama backs ‘Shield Law’ for Reporters,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/05/15/obama-schumer-associated-press-shield-law/2161913/ (May 15, 2013)
21: Barry Grey, David Walsh, “A Damning Admission: New York Times Concealed NSA Spying Until After 2004 Election,” World Socialist Web Site, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/08/nyti-a22.html (August 22, 2006)
22: Bill Chapel, “U.N. Report Confirms Chemical Weapons Were Used In Syria,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/12/12/250572623/u-n-report-confirms-chemical-weapons-were-used-in-syria (December 12, 2013)
23: Matthew Schofield, “New Analysis of Rocket Used In Syria Chemical Attack Undercuts U.S. Claims,” McClatchy, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html (January 15, 2014)
Devon DB is a 22 year old independent writer and researcher. He can be contacted at devondb[at]mail[dot]com.
By act of Congress, the first Thursday in May is set aside for the National Day of Prayer (NDP), and this year’s event takes places on May 5. Government officials issue proclamations urging people to gather for prayer, and religious events often take place at the seats of local, state and federal governments. Many of these events are coordinated by a private group, the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of Religious Right broadcaster James Dobson.
This year, the National Day of Prayer has been in the news thanks to a recent federal appeals court ruling dismissing a legal challenge to the event. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 14, 2011 that the Freedom From Religion Foundation lacks “standing” – the legal right to sue – to block the NDP.
Events are going on across the country this year. But this does not mean the National Day of Prayer is a good idea. Many believe a government-backed call for prayer and religious worship violates the separation of church and state.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State raises the following objections:
Americans don’t need the government to tell them when or how to pray.
Americans have the right to pray for whomever they want and in what manner they like. But we don’t need an officially designated government proclamation to do that. Our people are free to engage in worship whenever they want. Allowing government to set aside certain days for prayer and worship implies that the state has some say over our religious lives when it does not. It is simply not the business of government to advise when, if and how people pray.
The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked by the Religious Right, which uses it to promote religious bigotry.
In recent years, most NDP activities have been coordinated by the “National Day of Prayer Task Force,” an organization based in Colorado Springs and run by Shirley Dobson, wife of Religious Right radio broadcaster James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.
The National Day of Prayer has become a vehicle for spreading misinformation about American history and society.
In years past, the Task Force has used the NDP to promote bogus “Christian nation” history and advocate for erroneous claims that fundamentalist Christians are being persecuted in the United States or denied their right to spread their faith.
The National Day of Prayer is not historical.
The NDP is of recent vintage. It was created by Congress in 1952. The scheduling of the event used to change, but it was codified by Congress in 1988 (after pressure from the Religious Right) as the first Thursday in May.
The National Day of Prayer Is Unnecessary.
America does not need an official, government-mandated “National Day of Prayer.” Religious individuals who feel strongly about the country are free to pray for it at any time. They do not need to be directed or encouraged by government.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State | April 4, 2014
Government officials in Phoenix are violating the law by compelling individuals suspected of prostitution-related offenses to participate in a program administered by religious groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.
In a letter sent today to city officials, attorneys with Americans United assert that the program, Project ROSE, clearly violates the First Amendment. Project ROSE consists of a partnership between Phoenix police, Catholic Charities and a local Christian church.
Those arrested in the city’s twice-yearly sex-work stings are forcibly taken to Bethany Bible Church and escorted into the church in handcuffs. They are then given the option to avoid criminal prosecution by participating in a sectarian program.
“Phoenix is essentially telling criminal suspects that they can go to church or go to jail,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The government has absolutely no right to force anyone into a position like that. These suspects shouldn’t be coerced into participating in a program that might not reflect their own beliefs.”
Under the program, suspects must authorize Catholic Charities to enroll them in its Prostitution Diversion Program in a section of the church marked by a sign with a Latin cross, the Project ROSE logo and the words “Prosecutor’s Office.” There, a city prosecutor informs them that if they wish to keep their arrest off the books, they must complete Catholic Charities’ program.
If the suspects don’t agree, a police report is submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office, and they are charged with prostitution. A conviction carries a mandatory sentence of 15 days to six months’ imprisonment, in addition to a fine.
“The city is coercing individuals to participate in religious activities and programs, under pain of criminal prosecution,” reads AU’s letter. “The city is conveying its endorsement of religion generally and Christianity in particular. And the city is using taxpayer money and law-enforcement resources to aid religious institutions.”
- Sex workers in Arizona given choice of therapy in church or arrest
- Project ROSE Is Arresting Sex Workers in Arizona to Save Their Souls
To U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and the other four Republican justices, the right of wealthy Americans to give maximum donations to as many political candidates as they wish topped the right of average Americans not to have their voices drowned out by the influence of money.
So, on Wednesday, the Court voted 5-4 to overturn federal law setting caps on how much a person can give in each election cycle, a decision that the reform group Public Citizen called “a devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy.” Dennis J Bernstein discussed the ruling with Public Citizen president Robert Weissman.
DB: Let’s begin by explaining exactly what was decided [by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday].
RW: Well, the short version of what was decided is that the super-rich, according to the five-vote majority of the Supreme Court, have a constitutional right to spend at least $5.9 million in direct donations to candidates, parties and political committees every two years. That is in place of the current limit of around $123,000. …
This is empowering the 1 percent, except that’s a little bit misleading. Because it’s not really a case about the rights of the 1 percent, it’s a case about the rights of the .0001 percent. There are only a few hundred people who are going to write multi-million-dollar checks following this decision. But they are going to have an absolute stranglehold over elections and policy-making in this country.
DB: I want to ask you to talk a little bit more, in detail, about the logic. What was said [in the majority’s decision] and the logic of the decision coming out of the court. What are they saying? Why is this a move towards “democracy”?
RW: Well, it’s a little bit hard to articulate the, so-called, logic. But, here goes. The system, before today, involved both limits on how much a person can give directly to candidates, just $2,600 in the primary and $2,600 in the general election. And comparable, or similar limits, in what an individual person can give directly to political parties and to political committees. It also involved a limit on the total amount a person can give in a two-year cycle, totaling, like I said, around $123,000.
And the court today upheld the limits still on what you can give to a particular candidate, but they said the total aggregate limit, the limit on how much you can give in total, is unconstitutional. They said “Well, we see why there might be … maybe, there’s a reason to preserve the restriction on donations to particular candidates, but we don’t see why you should be limited in the number of candidates you can give the maximum contribution to. We don’t see why you should be limited in the number of political party committees you should be able to give the maximum to, or to the limit of the political committees you can give the maximum to.”
And if you say okay, well, what does that mean? Then they can give the maximum to all of them, that number $123,000, magically turns into $5.9 million. And there might be some impediment to doing that if you had to write, if you were a rich enough person to make that level of donation, you had to write, you know, 435 checks to candidates for the House of Representatives in the primary, and 435 checks in the general election.
It’s not going to be like that. It’s going to be writing one check to what will be called a joint fundraising committee. Maybe two checks to these joint fundraising committees who will take that money and then distribute it. So who’s going to run to the joint fundraising committee? Who is going to be mostly party leaders and political leaders who will be soliciting multi-million-dollar checks and are going to owe their allegiance to those who can write them.
The logic of the court, as I call it, well there’s a First Amendment right, a speech right for people to contribute as much as they want and, so again, the question further is what is the logic there. What they are really saying is the right to give money deserves the same kind of protection, more or less, as the basic right to speech.
And then you say is there an offsetting value where we should weigh against that, that would justify restrictions on how much a person can give in the aggregate? And the answer was, well, the only thing that we look at is whether this might facilitate quid quo pro corruption meaning will it facilitate illegal bribery or the appearance of illegal bribery? And the answer is, it actually will, but the court says no, it won’t because it actually doesn’t authorize illegal bribery, and therefore there’s no countervailing public interest. So, if you ask the question “Well, what was the logic of the court?” That’s how it goes.
Now, there aren’t very many people who think that way. Unfortunately five of the very few people who do, were able to make the decision today. I think regular people would say “You’re talking about the purported rights of a few hundred people as against the rights of the rest of us to have a functioning democracy. That there will be a huge corruption as a result of this, even worse than we already have post-Citizens United.”
Because it’s a whole new form of giving available now to the super-rich. There’s going to be worse corruption, worse tilting of the playing field in favor of the rich, less political equality. In fact, less real political speech because the rest of us who aren’t able to amplify our voices by giving $5.9 million dollars in a single check, or two checks, are going to be shut out.
DB: Alright, and just to be clear, in terms of this $5.9 million, is it a public donation or can they do this in private and not tell anybody?
RW: These donations will be disclosed. This will not increase the dark money that we’ve seen after Citizens United. There will be a different channel of giving. That dark money is all going to outside organizations that don’t have to report their donors. This money is going to go directly to candidates, directly to Republican or Democratic party committees, directly to political action committees that are required to disclose their major donors.
DB: Alright, now just say a little bit more about how this is – I don’t know if this is right – but sort of Citizens United on steroids. Explain how this moves the game with a little more detail.
RW: I think that’s a reasonable characterization of this decision. It’s certainly at that magnitude of Citizens United. So one way to think about Citizens United was it established the rights of corporations. And this is really a decision about the rights of the super-rich. And I can’t emphasize enough that we’re talking about a very, very small number of people who are going to seriously benefit from this decision, in terms of the amount of money that’s going to go in.
Citizens United enabled this unlimited spending by outside organizations that are supposedly not coordinated with candidates. There’s a lot of wink, wink, nod, nod kind of coordination that does go on. But still the money is outside of the direct control of the candidates. Now, that’s got some upsides for the candidates particularly in enabling massive and overwhelming spending on negative, attack advertising. But it’s got a lot of downsides, too, for the candidates because they aren’t able to exert the same kind of control as if the money is in their own coffers.
So this is going to now enable massive increases in the amount of money that goes directly to the candidates. And there will be, I think, a lot of influence on the broad number of beneficiary candidates who get this new money, but the real nexus of influence is going to be between these super donors and the top political leaders and party leaders who are going to be soliciting the giant checks. These are going to be the most important people, the most powerful people in politics. They are going to have a new kind of dependence to and allegiance to the super-rich donors.
DB: Let me ask you to step back a little bit and talk about this in the context of one person, one vote. There’s always been a big to-do about voter fraud, making sure things are clean and done well. But this really changes the whole nature of voting in this country or solidifies a different way of conducting what is continued to be called a democracy.
RW: If you step back from this vision and look at what the Supreme Court has done in the last several years on the voting rights side, particularly with the recent Shelby County decision, where they eviscerated crucial provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the court is making it harder for people to vote, especially people of color, low-income people, making it harder for people to vote, and enabling state officials to make it more difficult for people to vote, that’s on the one hand. And then on the other hand, they are empowering the super-rich and corporations to dominate the election process.
Now part of what they are doing is spending huge amounts of money on negative ads that are intended to deter people from voting. But more generally, they are trying to take control of the electoral process through this expenditure, through these massive expenditures. So it’s kind of a squeeze, from both sides, on electoral democracy. And, you have to say, electoral democracy, at this point, is screaming. I mean this is a really dire situation that’s going to call for a very dramatic response from the American people.
I think there’s no doubt for us after Citizens United about the need for a constitutional amendment to both overturn that decision and other Supreme Court decisions to really restore the functioning of our democracy. But for those who did have doubts about that, I think after today it’s crystal clear that we just can’t have a functioning democracy where these kinds of decisions, where these massive floods from different sources now, of super-rich and corporate money are coming to the electoral process, and just overwhelming what is supposed to be a one person, one vote democratic system.
DB: And, finally, it certainly is, isn’t it, a stunning turnaround in the things that began to happen after the revelations around Watergate and dirty money. It looked like there was going to be some slow movement towards real campaign finance reform and that is all gone, wiped out.
RW: That’s right. I mean we had a pretty rapid reversal of the momentum post-Watergate with the Buckley decision and then also other decisions that established corporate rights to spend, at least in the area first of election referendum, and then increasingly in other areas. So the court took a bad turn starting in 1976, but really in the last several years, this Roberts court is so hostile to the most commonsense kinds of restraints on campaign spending, that it has become very difficult to talk about reform absent a constitutional amendment.
There are small reforms that one might do to try to mitigate some of the harms of [Wednesday’s] decision and we’re going to aggressively pursue those, as will others. But those are so inadequate at this point because the court has created a jurisprudence that makes regulators contort so much to try to comply that it just can’t do things. So that’s going to be true for both the Federal Election Commission and for Congress.
So I think there’s still space for fundamental legislative reform to get in place systems of public financing. But given what the court’s done even in that area, public financing is going to take place against the backdrop of these things. Public financing has to be voluntary, according to the court, and you can opt out and chose to accept these giant contributions, choose to be the beneficiary of giant Citizens United outside spending. So even public financing, which we are strongly pushing in the states and in the Congress, is going to suffer against the backdrop of these decisions.
We really have to sweep them away which is why it’s so important that there’s already been this really fast-growing grassroots movement for a constitutional amendment that I think now is going to pick up enormous steam. … We’ve got 38 states involved in this on the same day and I think that is both indicative of how strong the movement has become in the last four years and how much stronger it’s going to grow in the days, weeks and months ahead. We have a lot of work to do. And we don’t have any choice but to do it.
DB: And I must ask you, what about the politics? Is there any indication that this decision coming right before the mid-term elections is in any way going to help one side or the other?
RW: Well, one of the parties that helped bring this case was the Republican National Committee. So, you know, I think it’s going to help them. It’s going to help generally, by the way, it’s going to help the parties, such as they are, raise more money. Because the parties are going to be able to raise money from very rich people … in amounts that were previously impermissible. So the Democratic Party is going to raise more money as a result of this decision. The Republican Party is going to raise more additional money as a result of this decision. You know, from a partisan point of view it is going to clearly benefit the Republican Party. And the case was driven by Republican Party operatives.
That said, you know, I really think there is really bipartisan opposition to this system, and the poll data is very convincing on this. Overwhelming numbers of Democrats, but also overwhelming numbers of Republicans oppose the giant influence of the super-wealthy and corporations in Washington. They oppose overwhelmingly the big money influence over the election process. They oppose overwhelmingly the Citizens United decision.
As soon as we get poll data on this decision, I’m sure people just having commonsense are going to oppose this as well. And, again, it’s going to be across party lines. The trick is going to be both to mobilize people and convert the public anger about this into meaningful action by our elected representatives who are part of this system that we’re trying to reform.
Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.