Saturday, April 01, 2017

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Young Feminist Activists Find Solidarity Abroad - Alec Ash, author of “Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China,” writes in Vox that despite the recent repression of civil society and dissent in China, he finds cause for hope among China’s younger generation. He writes: But there is another, contrasting trend that is much more promising: While the Chinese leadership is repressive, Chinese society is becoming increasingly liberal. That is especially true of the younger and urban generation, which I have been following, befriending, and writing about since I first arrived to live in Beijing in 2008, fresh out of college. Their lives sketch a different picture: one of a population more receptive to new ideas, while firm in the conviction that China’s interests are paramount; of a society that is steadily more progressive, as the countryside gives way to the cities; and of a generation with radically different aspirations and attitudes than those of their elders — including those who happen to be running the country. It’s far more a desire for reform than for revolution, whether the goal is free speech or greater equality. And it has never been clearer that the system does not want to be reformed in a more liberal mold. But generational shifts, while slow, are inevitable. Which means that while the repressive bureaucracy of China that we know today won’t be going away anytime soon, the longer-term future may look very different. [Source] One area where Ash sees youthful voices becoming more active is women’s rights. An article by Alice Liu in City Weekend looks at the rise of China’s feminist movement and the corresponding crackdown, and talks with Li Maizi, an activist who was detained along with four others for campaigning against sexual harassment in March 2015: What had women done to make them a sudden, potential threat? Li Maizi tells City Weekend: “At the time when the five of us were detained, I was pretty surprised; I just couldn’t figure out why on earth we were in there. In the end I had an answer: By persisting in feminist activities and ideals, I had become an undesirable.” The “Occupy Men’s Toilet” activity had become sensitive; protesting on the streets is not a normative way of engaging in politics in China, but women’s issues hadn’t been on the public agenda for discussion before. Now they were. “Politically, economically, culturally, [and] socially, women are behind women in the West now,” Li tells me. “Because, as history shows, without democratization and gender equality, the power of early women revolutionaries did not translate to actual power, and unlike in Europe and the U.S., the feminist movement did not develop on a large scale.” The word “feminism” is still not widely used in public or mainstream media, and commenters prefer using nüxingzhuyi rather than its harsher—but truer—form nüquanzhuyi. Nüxing means “women” whereas nüquan has the affix “power” after “women.” But there is a women’s movement, with a recent groundswell of support for redefining a woman’s position in society, mostly played out on social media. “Straight-man cancer,” or zhinanai—a term that pokes fun at patriarchy and the men who don’t check their privilege—has made itself popular online and offline, hinting that far from being over, China’s war of the sexes is just beginning. [Source] Within China, this nascent feminist activism is under tight government scrutiny, especially since the detention of Li and her colleagues. Didi Kirsten Tatlow writes about these restrictions in the New York Times: Feminist activism blossomed here as recently as 2015, but today it is in a deep freeze, placed there by a Communist Party government that says it supports women’s rights yet is determined to enact a patriarchal, Confucian-inspired vision of “harmony” that is intolerant of dissent. […] By now, intimidation of independent feminist activity is routine. Last November a small group of women abandoned a plan to walk in public wearing bruiselike makeup to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, after warnings from security officials. So like a flock of birds sensing danger, Chinese feminists have taken off, leaving Beijing for provincial cities or other countries, while those who have stayed have kept a low profile. [Source] Li Maizi is among those who have gone abroad. Tamara Micner at Broadly spoke with Li about how she is joining forces with women activists around the world: Sporting a short asymmetrical haircut and undercut, Li is both joyful and serious about her activism. She leads chants along the march, despite having a cough from the pollen in the air (though Beijing’s air pollution doesn’t affect her), and gladly shouts into a microphone in Mandarin and English when offered it by volunteer stewards. She is highly active on social media, using WiFi and friends’ mobile hotspots while abroad, and likes to pose as Rosie the Riveter in photos. At last year’s Gay Pride parade in New York, she went topless. During her detention, the international campaign that drew support from activists from the US to UK to South Korea showed Li the importance of solidarity—which she in turn has shown, most recently, toward Irish activists campaigning for abortion rights. (Pro-choice campaigners there recently went on strike, inspired by women in Poland.) “Even though we’re based in different contexts, we still can keep in solidarity,” she says. [Source] © Sophie Beach for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to del.icio.us Post tags: activism, feminism, Free the Five, Li Tingting, women's rights, youth, youth cultureDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall31 Mar
Australia Debates Extradition Treaty as Academics Protest Professor’s Travel Ban - Last weekend, Sydney-based professor Feng Chongyi was repeatedly prevented from boarding flights from China back to Australia. Feng, a Chinese citizen and Australian permanent resident, has vocally criticized China’s expanding influence in Australia, and was in China conducting research on its ongoing crackdown on rights lawyers. Though not detained, he has repeatedly been questioned and told that he was suspected of threatening state security. On Thursday, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson confirmed to reporters that “in order to safeguard China’s national security, the relevant departments took measures in accordance with law against Chinese citizen Feng Chongyi to prevent him from leaving the country.” The remarks did not appear in the official press conference transcript. Also on Thursday, Feng’s daughter in Sydney begged the Australian public and academics not to “let this issue go away,” expressing fear “that this will be drawn out and we don’t get an indication of when he can come home.” (The daughter of detained Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai has expressed solidarity on Twitter.) More than 80 scholars from Australia and around the world have responded to Feng’s situation with an open letter to the Chinese leadership: Dear President Xi and Prime Minister Li, We the undersigned are members of the global China Studies community. We are deeply concerned by the travel restrictions recently placed upon Professor Feng Chongyi of the University of Technology Sydney, which have prevented him from departing the People’s Republic of China and returning to his workplace and family in Sydney since last week. Professor Feng is an internationally respected scholar of intellectual and political developments in modern and contemporary China. He is the author of a number of groundbreaking books, and a frequent commentator on issues of importance in the Australian media. He is, furthermore, a vital contributor to the global China Studies community, and his presence in Australia has significantly enhanced its learning and research environments in Chinese Studies. We are disturbed that a fellow researcher, who has dedicated himself to promote the understanding of and interest in China, has been prevented from returning to his home and workplace for no reason other than his conscientious work as a China Studies scholar. Such actions make it difficult for the rest of us to be confident in the research environment in China today, and do not contribute positively to the continued construction of open and productive higher education collaboration between China and the rest of the world. In light of China’s commitment to expanding international scholarly engagements, we respectfully request that Professor Feng be released and permitted to return to his workplace and home in Sydney. [Source] A separate initiative by the New York-based Scholars At Risk “calls for emails, letters, and faxes respectfully urging the appropriate authorities to investigate the situation and to lift any travel restrictions against Professor Feng or, pending this, to explain the circumstances of any restrictions on his travel and to ensure his access to counsel throughout any investigative proceedings.” University World News’ Yojana Sharma reported fears of self-censorship and chilled academic exchanges as a result of the restriction on Feng’s movements: “All China centres in Australia and perhaps more broadly will be paying close attention to this case, and his [Feng’s] treatment,” said Anthony Welch, a professor of education at the University of Sydney. “At the moment it’s a matter of wait and see for most China watchers and China scholars.” “It has hit a nerve. There is a lot of concern among my colleagues and friends here in Australia, given that Feng is a PRC [People’s Republic of China] citizen and was willing to stick his neck out,” said James Leibold, an associate professor at Melbourne’s La Trobe University and an expert on China, who admitted he was now more fearful of visiting China, despite years of travel there for research purposes. “Clearly, under President Xi Jinping there has been a growing distaste for anyone who does not toe the Party line so we have seen an incredible strengthening of propaganda controls that reach everywhere from the state-run media all the way down into universities. And now, clearly, overseas. China is using its increased powers to exceed its borders, to the extent that with academics like Dr Feng who come to China, they intimidate them, they detain them and even imprison them in some cases,” Leibold told University World News. […] “This is unfortunate at a time when we need to understand China more and China needs to understand the world; it means less interaction between Chinese and foreign academic colleagues,” Leibold said. [Source] The Australian’s Primrose Riordan and Rachel Baxendale reported a similar reaction from Rory Medcalf at Australian National University: Professor Medcalf said he was worried about the effects of Dr Feng’s detention on academia and the Chinese-Australian community, considering Dr Feng was outspoken on the Chinese govern­ment and democracy. “The clear signal is one of intimid­ation towards Chinese-Australian voices that are critical of Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia,” Professor Medcalf said. “It is indirect interference in Australia’s domestic affairs and I think it appears to be an indirect attack on Australian academic freedoms.” Professor Medcalf warned it would have a “harmful effect” on Australia-China relations. [Source] One immediate result of Feng’s predicament may have been to help force the Australian government’s cancellation of a parliamentary vote on the ratification of a decade-old extradition treaty with China. Extradition agreements are highly prized by Beijing, especially as tools in Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption campaign. They are highly controversial elsewhere, however, as reactions to a Canadian announcement of negotiations showed late last year. (Two former directors of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service also expressed reservations about the planned deal this week.) Critics argue that the corruption drive has doubled as a political weapon, and that even legitimate targets should not be placed at risk of serious abuses during the extra-legal investigations conducted by the Party’s internal disciplinary apparatus. A lengthy recent exploration of this shuanggui system by The Globe and Mail’s Nathan VanderKlippe described forced and scripted confessions; deprivation of food, sleep or appropriate medical treatment; the use of stress positions, beatings, and cigarette burns; and death threats or threats against family members. Similar abuses have been reported elsewhere in both politically sensitive and ordinary criminal cases. The deal’s ratification faced a last minute surge of opposition over these and related human rights concerns, which Feng’s case likely exacerbated. Kevin Boreham of the Australian National University described the objections at The Conversation. Boreham noted that the treaty does bar extradition in political or discriminatory cases, or those involving double jeopardy or likely torture or execution. The Australian government also emphasised that the Extradition Act contains a general discretion to refuse surrender. This enables consideration by the decision-maker (the attorney-general or the justice minister) of human rights concerns, including whether an extradited person would have access to a fair trial. However, the Law Council of Australia has assessed that the assurances regarding this right provided inadequate protection. This is because they relied on the discretion of the decision-makers in each country, and the process could be “influenced by a wide range of factors”. The treaty contains a discretionary ground for refusal of an extradition request where extradition would be: … incompatible with humanitarian considerations in view of that person’s age, health or other personal circumstances. However, the treaty did not add to this provision the words “unjust or oppressive”, which are contained in ten other Australian bilateral extradition treaties. The attorney-general’s department was unable to explain to the parliamentary committee why these words had not been included. It stressed that each extradition treaty is unique. [Source] An editorial in The Australian prior to the vote’s cancellation argued: Ratifying an extradition treaty with China amounts to a vote of confidence in its legal system. That endorsement is premature, to say the least, and the Senate is entitled to block the treaty when it has the opportunity this week. Our government cannot guarantee that Australian citizens will not be sent to China on trumped-up charges or denied a fair and open trial. As we report today, Tony Abbott has come out against ratification but he is far from alone. Figures from across the political spectrum have concerns, as does the legal fraternity. […] China singles out corrupt officials who have fled abroad as likely targets for extradition. But the treaty also could allow the extradition on false charges of a business figure who has fallen out with a well-connected Chinese partner. And China could contrive charges to pressure its critics among the Chinese-Australian community. Under the treaty, China does not have to provide evidence to prove its charges. China’s legal system is not transparent and the rule of law does not apply. For 10 years the extradition treaty has been stalled, yet to be ratified. There are good reasons for caution. [Source] But the paper’s economics editor David Uren argued on Friday that Australians “cannot turn our backs on China’s new world”: China is a difficult global partner; it is not democratic and, under President Xi Jinping, it increasingly is autocratic in the exercise of state power. China is a nuclear force and a potential adversary, a reality taken into account in Australia’s military planning. The Chinese security forces’ barring of Chinese academic Chongyi Feng returning to Australia, where he has lived for two decades, was an unwelcome reminder of China’s disregard for what Australians consider as a human right to freedom of movement. But China is also the world’s second largest economy and by far the most important economic partner that Australia has had since it cut the umbilical cord with Britain after World War II — and we need to respond to that reality. […] China’s influence now reaches far beyond the resources sector into every crevasse of the Australian economy. In the past year 1.5 million tourists from China and Hong Kong visited Australia, more than from any other nation, while about 500,000 permanent Australian residents were born in China. There are 70,000 Chinese students at our universities and colleges. The intensity of this inflow of people makes it extraordinary that we have no extradition treaty to formalise bi­lat­eral management of criminal affairs. [Source] Australia’s former high commissioner to Canada Greg Wood commented at The Globe and Mail: When it comes to China, the tension in Australia between morals and mammon is omnipresent, as are tensions between our trade and strategic interests. Still, it was unexpected that a treaty of importance to China would be shot down. For Mr. Turnbull, it was yet another political miscalculation. […] The government majority on the parliamentary committee predictably gave its approval, though through gritted teeth. It welcomed “… the human-rights safeguards provided … but … cannot dismiss concerns over the lack of transparency of Chinese justice system, allegations of the ill-treatment and torture of prisoners, and the continuing imposition of the death penalty.” The opposition Labor Party rejected signature at least until the legislative framework to govern Australia’s extradition policy is comprehensively reviewed. If this happens, the treaty will probably need to be re-negotiated, something China is unlikely to accept. Australians get regular reminders of the workings of the Chinese justice system. The courts and the Communist Party work in lockstep. Currently, 15 employees of an Australian casino operator of varying nationalities are in jail, as yet not charged. When they are, they will be convicted of whatever. […] [Source] A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded to the cancellation of the ratification vote by maintaining that the treaty “would serve the interests of both sides,” and urged both Australia and Canada to “proceed from the bigger pictures of bilateral relations.” Though it continues to push for the treaty’s ratification, Canberra has taken other steps in recent weeks to challenge Beijing over rights issue. It was one of eleven nations to sign a letter expressing “growing concern over recent claims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in cases concerning detained human rights lawyers and other human rights defenders.” (Yaxue Cao summed up the “extraordinary” reaction by “seriously rattled” Chinese authorities at China Change this week.) In Singapore two weeks later, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made what Human Rights Watch described as “unusually sharp” comments on “liberal democratic institutions [as] the most successful foundation for nations seeking economic prosperity and social stability,” citing China in particular as a country where they are lacking. © Samuel Wade for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to del.icio.us Post tags: academic freedom, academics, Australia relations, extradition, extradition treaty, Feng Chongyi, Xi anti-corruption campaignDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall31 Mar
Detentions at Major Tibetan Buddhist Site Continue - Larung Gar in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, is home to a Tibetan Buddhist academy that is believed to be the largest in the world, once home to thousands of monks and nuns. Last June, authorities ordered the population of the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy to be substantially reduced to 3,500 nuns and 1,500 monks, after which the destruction of monastic dwellings at the institute began and many monastic residents were to leave. While rights groups loudly called for an end to the destruction at Larung Gar, state media presented the destructions as part of a “renovation” project. Earlier this month, state media again refuted claims of evictions while reporting on further “renovations,” claiming they were being done in the name of public health and increased safety. Human Rights Watch this week reported on continuing demolitions and evacuations at Larung Gar and nearby Yachen Gar, providing evidence of the harrassment of former monastic residents after they were forcibly sent back to the Tibet Autonomous Region, and again calling for the the demolitions to end: Chinese authorities should halt the expulsion and political re-education of monks and nuns from a major Tibetan religious institution, Human Rights Watch said today. According to a statement by an abbot of the institution, Chinese officials announced on March 12, 2017, that 3,225 homes at Larung Gar, the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institution, would be torn down by April 30. Many of the monks and nuns already expelled from Larung Gar and the nearby religious community at Yachen Gar, both in Tibetan areas of Sichuan province, have been forced to return to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and subjected to exceptional restrictions on their liberty and to degrading treatment. In November 2016, the authorities forced at least one group to undergo political re-education and apparent public humiliation in Nyingtri (Linzhi in Chinese), in southeastern TAR. “China is aggressively dismantling religious freedom along with religious life at Larung Gar by subjecting many expelled monks and nuns to forced re-education,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The restrictions imposed on former residents should be removed so they can exercise fully their rights to religious practice, including freely joining religious institutions and observing religious rituals.” A senior abbot said in a speech to the community on March 23 that the monks and nuns “who have left had never wanted to leave… And whether or not they had some place to go, they still had to leave.” He added that “the demolitions and expulsions come from the policy of the senior levels of government, and cannot be discussed” and called on all monks and nuns to “show great forbearance and not react with protest, suicide and the like.” […]  [Source] Human Rights Watch also posted video footage of young women believed to be former nuns from Larung Gar chanting an official propaganda song declaring the genetic and cultural homogeneity between Tibetans and Han Chinese, and described another video showing 12 nuns dancing on a stage for an audience of officials to another Mao-era propaganda song celebrating the “liberation” of Tibet. The abbot’s comment dissuading protest and suicide comes amid a wave of Tibetan self-immolations in protest of Beijing’s policies in Tibetan regions of China, with 147 cases since 2009. At Radio Free Asia, Lhuboom reports further on the senior abbot’s call for calm, noting that the call came ahead of a provincial official’s inspection of the site this week: “Tomorrow [March 30, 2017], the head of Sichuan province is coming to review the demolition work begun on March 24 by Chinese government workers and laborers,” the abbot said in a March 29 talk to his followers, a recording of which was obtained by RFA’s Tibetan Service. “Since most of the members of our community are young, you should all concentrate on your religious practice and studies and remain peaceful,” the abbot said. Following the expulsion in 2016 and early this year of over 5,000 Larung Gar monks and nuns and demolition of their homes, about 2,000 dwellings are left to be destroyed, with work scheduled for completion by April 30, sources said in earlier reports. “These have been tough and hard years four our monks and nuns, both mentally and physically,” the abbot said in his remarks. “We have only a month left to go now, so all must be very careful and remain patient and tolerant.” [Source] Last month, the New York Times reported on a UN statement condemning the official actions at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar as “severe restrictions of religious freedom,” and asking Beijing to provide justification for the purported renovation project and descriptions of resettlement efforts. The recent Human Rights Watch report notes that the UN claimed that China did respond, and also called for that response to be published. In recent months, Beijing has made a series of moves to situate its controversial pick of the Panchen Lama, the second highest-ranking cleric in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, in a higher profile. Beijing’s Panchen Lama has also made recent public comments promoting patriotism and love of the Party to Tibetan monastics. Some believe the increased official attention and state media promotion of the controversial cleric may be an indication that China will attempt to have their Panchen Lama fill the traditional political role of the Dalai Lama after the exiled and aging spiritual leader’s death.   © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to del.icio.us Post tags: monks, nuns, religious persecution, Sichuan, Tibet, tibetan buddhism, Tibetan protests, TibetansDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall31 Mar
Xinjiang Law Bans Beards, Veils, Refusal of State Media - Lawmakers in Xinjiang this week passed the first region-wide legislation aiming to combat “religious extremism” in the violence-prone area, with a wide-ranging list of 15 types of behavior that as of April 1 will be banned. Reuters’ Christian Shepherd and Ben Blanchard report: China will step up a campaign against religious extremism in the far western region of Xinjiang on Saturday by implementing a range of measures, including prohibiting “abnormal” beards, the wearing of veils in public places and the refusal to watch state television. […] Workers in public spaces like stations and airports will be required to “dissuade” those who fully cover their bodies, including veiling their faces, from entering, and to report them to the police, the rules state. It will be banned to “reject or refuse radio, television and other public facilities and services”, marrying using religious rather than legal procedures and “using the name of Halal to meddle in the secular life of others”. “Parents should use good moral conduct to influence their children, educate them to revere science, pursue culture, uphold ethnic unity and refuse and oppose extremism,” the rules say. […] [Source] This new legislation comes amid an ongoing, steadily escalating, nationwide “people’s war on terror,” launched in 2014 in response to increasing incidents of violence in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. The campaign has focused mainly on the Xinjiang region, and has recently included new surveillance and GPS tracking measures, massive military rallies (believed by some to be an attempt by Xinjiang Party chief Chen Quanguo to increase his chances at national level promotion later this year), and a hardening of top level anti-terror rhetoric that included President Xi’s call for a “great wall of iron” around Xinjiang. On Twitter, Amnesty International’s William Nee commented on the new legislation in context of the ongoing crackdown: Appears to be the broadest attempt yet to legitimize sweeping violations of freedom of religion & expression in XUAR https://t.co/GNw5FT6BnJ — William Nee (@williamnee) March 30, 2017 Amid the long-running campaign, individual localities within Xinjiang have earlier enacted bans on some of the religious behaviors on the new list, such as wearing long beards or Islamic face-coverings. The new rules will significantly expand the forbidden behaviors and apply them across the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Coverage of the newly passed rules from the South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan cites Xinjiang expert James Leibold who warns that the expansion of the restrictions on Uyghur religiosity could backfire against authorities: James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic issues at La Trobe University in Australia, said the law was part of a broader trend aimed at legislating the government’s existing practices in the ­region. Some local officials had been enforcing many of the law’s restrictions for years, but adherence and enforcement had been patchy, Leibold said. “By creating a [region] wide regulation, the new regime of Xinjiang party secretary Chen Quanguo is seeking to strengthen [Communist Party] control and root out any acts of non-compliance,” he said. “In the process, however, many aspects of Uygur cultural and religious life are now being deemed ‘abnormal’ and ‘manifestations’ of extremism, and thus subject to punitive ­enforcement.” Leibold warned that forcefully imposing Han-defined norms on the Uygurs was likely to “increase their sense of cultural insecurity and thus ultimately undermine the party-state’s attempts to create a more social cohesive and stable society in Xinjiang.” [Source] Uyghurs in Xinjiang have traditionally observed a moderate form of Sunni Islam. In recent years, conservative practices such as full-face veils have increased, which some see as a subversive response to the increasing state regulation of Uyghur’s religious observance. Early in the “people’s” anti-terror campaign, moderate Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti was handed a surprisingly harsh life sentence for separatism, another official move that drew criticism for its potential to further enflame ethnic tensions in Xinjiang. Ilham Tohti’s daughter Jewher Ilham, who has been ceaselessly lobbying on behalf of her father since his sentencing, earlier this month spoke with Radio Free Asia. In the newly published interview, she expressed optimism that her father would not spend the rest of his life in prison, and hope that that Beijing would realize the mistake of the harsh sentence: RFA: What do you say to your father in jail, assuming he will somehow be able to hear this? Ilham: Hang in there. You’ll be out. You know it, right? RFA: And what would you say to the Chinese government? Ilham: Too many things that they’re not going to want to hear. To the Chinese government: I don’t think you really think my dad did something wrong. I know you might need somebody to stay in there and it happened that you chose my dad. I hope you can realize that it was a big mistake to lock him up and please release him. You will not regret it. [Source] Beijing has received a steady stream of criticism for exacerbating the spread of extremism in Xinjiang with its harsh policies in the region, and Beijing has regularly dismissed such claims and denied the imposition of ethnic or religious persecution—as the Foreign Ministry did following the announcement of the new restrictions yesterday. At the East Asia Forum, Michael Clark suggests that the rapid reinforcement of Xinjiang’s security state has similarly allowed for the internationalization of Uyghur terrorism—a self-fulfilling prophecy of sort, as Beijing has long claimed a connection between Xinjiang violence and the global jihad movement. A propaganda video released last month by the Islamic State featured militant Uyghurs threatening to return to China to “shed blood like rivers and avenge the oppressed.” The juxtaposition of these three events [the IS video, the recent military rallies in Xinjiang cities, and the February Pishan attack] suggests that Uyghur terrorism is now a trans-national challenge for Beijing. Ironically, this may in fact be a product of China’s own actions with respect to Xinjiang. Xinjian[g]’s history of autonomy and geopolitical position astride the crossroads of Eurasia has always made Beijing vigilant about Xinjiang’s security and apt to respond with a heavy hand to the sporadic outbursts of anti-state violence and unrest. The region plays a key role in President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, making stability in Xinjiang a strategic imperative. President Xi asserted that ‘long term stability of the autonomous region is vital to the whole country’s reform, development and stability, as well as to national unity, ethnic harmony and national security’. This has resulted not only in China’s focus on combating ‘terrorists’ through the kinetic means on display during February’s anti-terror rallies but also the development of a ‘security state’ in Xinjiang since the July 2009 Urumqi riots. […] […] Post-9/11, China has also consistently blamed two externally-based militant groups — the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) — for attacks in Xinjiang. […] But since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis TIP’s capabilities have grown. As Al Qaeda itself developed a presence in Syria from 2012, so too did TIP. TIP now has a well-documented presence on the Syrian battlefield, fighting alongside Al Qaeda’s affiliates. […] [Source] Read more about Xinjiang and global jihad, via CDT. See also Fei Chang Dao’s translation of a local Xinjiang court’s 2016 ruling to imprison Tian Weiguo for three years for “inciting ethnic hatred,” which cited his use of a virtual private network (VPN) to post details of Xinjiang violence on overseas websites. For more on the Great Firewall, or the comparatively tight information controls in Xinjiang, see prior CDT coverage. © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to del.icio.us Post tags: islam, religious persecution, state media, terrorism, Uyghurs, Xinjiang, Xinjiang violenceDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall30 Mar
Reclaimed Insult of the Week: Donkey People - The Word of the Week comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness. lǘ mín 驴民 Meme showing a “donkey person” successfully toppling a “bus” (Source: Unknown user/Weibo) An insulting term reclaimed by netizens to deride authorities for holding the common people in low esteem. Very similar to “fart people” (pì mín 屁民), with the additional implication that the donkey-like masses are stubborn, stupid, and tend to overestimate their capabilities. This term originated after the 2016-2017 Shandong “dishonored mother murder case” (辱母杀人案件). In April 2016, Yu Huan (于欢), a 23-year-old resident of Liaocheng, Shandong, was arrested for attacking a group of loan sharks with a knife, killing one. The standoff came after Yu’s mother Su Yinxia (苏银霞) failed to keep up with usurious interest payments on a loan of over 1 million yuan, having already paid off the principle. The loan sharks reportedly restrained and abused the two in the reception lobby of Su’s workplace, with the group’s leader Du Zhihao (杜志浩) exposing his genitals and suggesting the mother resort to prostitution if unable to pay. A passerby reportedly witnessed the detention through the window and notified public security officials, who came to the scene but quickly departed. After they left, Yu grabbed a kitchen knife and injured four of the captors, including Du Zhihao. Du drove himself to the hospital, but died before receiving treatment. On February 17, 2017, the Liaocheng Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Yu Huan to life imprisonment for “intentional injury.” On March 24, the influential Southern Weekly newspaper attracted public attention to the case with an article titled “Stabbing to Death The Mother Disgracers.” The article examined Yu’s actions in context of self-defense and filial piety, and also called into question police negligence. With public opinion tilted firmly in favor of the imprisoned Yu, China’s top state prosecutor on March 26 decided to review Yu’s controversial life sentence. Amid a heated online debate about the case, the official Weibo of the Jinan Public Security Bureau, in Shandong’s capital capital city 100 km east of Liaocheng, posted the parable of the donkey versus the bus: Of the world’s many wonders, one is the donkey resenting the bus Donkey: I will not accept you, let’s fight! Bus: I will fight you a thousand times, and each time you’ll end up an injured donkey! 世界多奇葩,毛驴怼大巴 毛驴:不服来战! 大巴:容你战我千百回,受伤的驴总是你啊! [Chinese] (Source: Weibo/@济南公安) The post led to wide condemnation, with many interpreting it as a castigation of the successful lobbying of public opinion that appeared to bring about a legal review of Yu’s case. In this interpretation, the “donkey” represents the common people, and the “bus” the substantially more powerful security state and police. The Jinan PSB deleted the weibo and issued a disclaimer: “This Weibo does not represent any official point of view, and was the result of staff acting without instructions. On-duty staff maintaining the account are not police officers.” Some sample responses included the newly coined “donkey people” in context of other antagonistic official remarks that have been reclaimed by the masses: JiushiFenlan (@就是芬兰): Aha, so you originally thought of us as the diao people, but now realize we are the donkey people. 原来以为自己是刁民,现在才明白原来是驴民啊。 BingxueFeiHan (@冰雪非寒): Originally I mistook us all for netizens, and after realized we’re really fart people. Now I discover that actually we’re not fart people, we’re donkey people. Heartfelt thanks to the Jinan Public Security Bureau for telling us the truth. 原来我以为我们都是网民,后来知道了我们是屁民。再后发现自己连屁民也错了,我们是驴民。感谢济南公安给人民说了句实话。[Chinese] Netizens also created graphic memes explicitly showing who the “donkey” represents in the above parable, depicting masses of donkeys banding in solidarity around a bus, or even toppling one over. ​ See also fart people. Can’t get enough of subversive Chinese netspeak? Check out our latest ebook, “Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang.” Includes dozens of new terms and classic catchphrases, presented in a new, image-rich format. Available for pay-what-you-want (including nothing). All proceeds support CDT. © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to del.icio.us Post tags: fart people, injustice, Jinan, legal justice, Netizen Voices, netizens, online public opinion, Shandong, word of the weekDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall29 Mar
Books, WeChat Posts Behind Taiwan Activist’s Detention? - Taiwanese NGO worker Lee Ming-che disappeared ten days ago while traveling to mainland China via Macau. His disappearance comes amid tightening control over civil society and mounting concerns over treatment of foreigners and dual citizens in China, and extraditions of Taiwanese criminal suspects from third parties to the mainland. Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Lee’s former employer, said last week that China’s refusal to disclose information on his case had “caused the family anxiety and panic,” raising doubts about mainland authorities’ willingness to “effectively protect human rights and not increase the risk of Taiwanese people traveling to China.” According to reports on Tuesday, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council had shared “indirectly” obtained confirmation of Lee’s detention with his wife, but there had still been no official word beyond an acknowledgement that he had crossed the border. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the mainland State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office confirmed his “understanding” that Lee had been detained on suspicion of endangering national security. As the Associated Press’ Ralph Jennings reports, Lee’s detention may have resulted in part from political discussions he had held on Tencent’s WeChat messaging service: Lee Ming-che, 42, disappeared after clearing immigration on March 19 in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Macau and never showed up for a planned meeting later that day with a friend across the border in the Chinese city of Zhuhai, according to Chiu Yi-ling, secretary general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, where Lee had been a volunteer. Cheng Hsiu-chuan, president of Taipei’s Wenshan Community College where Lee has worked for the past year as a program director, said it’s likely that Lee attracted the attention of Chinese security last year after using WeChat to “teach” an unknown number of people about China-Taiwan relations under the government of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. “For China, the material he was teaching would be seen as sensitive,” Cheng said. WeChat has millions of active users and is hugely popular as a means of communication in China. [… I]n mid-2016 Chinese authorities shut down Lee’s WeChat account and confiscated a box of books published in Taiwan on political and cultural issues, Cheng said. [Source] The New York Times’ Chris Horton also reported on Lee’s activities last Saturday: Ms. Cheng, the director of the community college, said on Saturday that Mr. Lee had not been directly involved with civil society work in mainland China. But she said his wife, Lee Ching-yu, had told her that he had weekly chats on Chinese social media about “some of Taiwan’s experiences with democracy and transitional justice” with mainland friends who wanted China to move in a direction similar to Taiwan’s. […] Mr. Lee met with some of those friends during visits to the mainland about once a year, Ms. Cheng said. “It’s not any kind of formal activity; it’s just catching up with friends,” she said. She added that he also delivered donated Taiwanese books to the family of imprisoned rights lawyers in China and had planned to seek medical advice for a relative during this month’s trip. [Source] Distribution of political books from Taiwan and Hong Kong was at the center of two recent convictions for “illegal business operations” in Guangxi. Concerns about official monitoring of WeChat date back to the early days of the service. In 2012, activist Hu Jia reported that Domestic Security Department officers had been able to quote messages back to him verbatim. (Around the same time, state broadcaster CCTV voiced different privacy concerns about criminal exploitation of the service and its location features.) In 2013, Tibetan poet Woeser wrote that “in the propaganda film made by CCTV about the self-immolations in Tibet, most of the Tibetans that were arrested and sentenced were caught by the local authorities and severely punished because they had sent out messages about self-immolations through QQ or WeChat.” Between this and other kinds of remote surveillance and physical inspections, she added, “the mobile phone has become the embodiment of fear” in Tibet. Also in 2013, CDT translated an anonymous journalist’s account of being contacted by police after discussing a planned protest in a WeChat group. The Wall Street Journal’s Li Yuan reported a similar incident earlier this month in an article on the lack of privacy that left many Chinese unmoved by revelations of American surveillance. She quoted a friend who described the feeling as like “running naked”: By “running naked,” he said he means: “At any minute, all my personal information is being collected and leaked. All my online trails are saved and used without my permission. All of this is driven by strong business and political interests. Running naked is a condition in which it’s impossible to be protected.” That sentiment captures how many Chinese feel about the state of their online privacy: unprotected, with little to be done about it. […] The “Big Brother” nature of China’s authoritarian government is at the root of the predicament. Few Chinese believe anything can be hidden from the government. Some of my closest friends—businesspeople, professionals and academics—say they assume that the government knows everything about them. It is just a matter of whether the government is paying attention, they say. Wang Ying, a retired businesswoman and a vocal critic of the government’s lack of political reform and tolerance, said in an interview in 2014 that after some foreign journalists contacted her on WeChat a few years ago to arrange interviews, her secret police minder soon showed up at her door, asking her to decline the requests. She said “no.” [Source] Li goes on to discuss the widespread black market sale of personal data, which was the subject of a Southern Metropolis Daily report in December. Meanwhile, the rollback of FCC restrictions on the sale of personal data by internet service providers has brought renewed urgency to such privacy concerns in the United States. © Samuel Wade for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to del.icio.us Post tags: Internet surveillance, NGOs, privacy, surveillance, Taiwan, Taiwan relations, tencent, WeChatDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall28 Mar
Shandong Case Sparks Debate Over Negligence - The Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s top prosecutor, over the weekend decided to review a controversial life sentence handed down to 23-year-old Shandong man Yu Huan for “intentional injury” last month after public outcry over what many saw as a miscarriage of justice based in police negligence. At Reuters, Ben Blanchard reports the background of Yu’s case: Yu Huan, from Liaocheng in the eastern province of Shandong, was sentenced to life in jail in February after he used a knife to attack four of his mother’s creditors who exposed themselves to his mother while demanding a debt be repaid last April, according to state media. One of the creditors died. Yu’s mother Su Yinxia borrowed more than 1 million yuan ($145,342.50) in 2014 and 2015 and verbally agreed to 10 percent monthly interest, the state-run Global Times said, citing an initial court verdict. When four of the loan sharks went to the office to demand repayment, police were called but left without arresting anyone, the report added. After the police left, the dispute escalated leading to the death, it said. […] The case has been widely discussed on Chinese social media, and is the number two trending topic on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, with many people saying a life sentence was not justified and criticizing police inaction. [Source] Coverage from Sixth Tone provides more details on the alleged abuse the loan sharks inflicted on Yu and his mother, and surveys some of the public and media outcry over the initial verdict: “If you don’t have the money, you can become a prostitute,” Du [Zhihao, reportedly the head of the lending gang] said [while restraining Su and Yu in the reception room o a factory], according to a witness quoted in the Southern Weekly article under the pseudonym Liu Xiaolan. “I’ll give you 80 yuan for each go.” The witness said Du then took off his pants and exposed his genitals. […] So far, users on microblog platform Weibo have been quick to defend Yu’s actions and condemn the court’s verdict, even calling it an insult to justice. “Yu Huan fought back for his mother — he was courageous, and yet he must shoulder the responsibility!” wrote one user. “[The thug] who insulted the woman in front of others has no humanity. He deserves to die!” A social media account affiliated with Party newspaper People’s Daily echoed the public’s disappointment in the initial police response, as the officers neither detained the thugs nor freed mother and son. “The court has selectively neglected whether the officers’ actions played a part in Du’s death,” it read. A commentary in The Beijing News, meanwhile, questioned whether the judicial system had any room for compassion in its verdicts: “If a court decision contradicts public opinion in such basic dimensions as kindheartedness and justice, then those involved in the case have some soul-searching to do.” […] [Source] Reporting on the public debate surrounding Yu’s case, the South China Morning Post’s Alice Yan relays opinion from Chinese legal scholars and lawyers: [You Wei, director of the Justice Research Centre at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai] conceded it was possible that “public opinion” could influence a court’s handling of prominent cases and he was “100 per cent” certain the attention the top prosecutor was now giving the case was the result of the intense interest the saga was receiving online, he said. Yin Qingli, a lawyer from the Hebei province-based Ten Power Law Firm who is representing Yu in the appeal case, told the state-run news agency Xinhua: “In the upcoming second trial, I will definitely insist on justified self-defence. […] “I think Yu’s actions are within a reasonable scope,” [Beijing lawyer Xu Xin] told the Post. Xu said Du’s death was more the result of him seeking treatment on his own and delaying medical attention. However, You, the Shanghai professor, said he was worried about the loss of judicial independence amid the public uproar. “What I am most concerned about is whether judges will be affected by public opinion and upper-level authorities.” [Source] In January, China’s top judge Zhou Qiang urged members of the Supreme People’s Court to “resolutely oppose the influence of Western […] harmful ideas,” including the notion of judicial independence, a concept he had previously rallied against. Public faith in law enforcement in China was battered last year following the highly-publicized case of Lei Yang, a young Beijing man who died after being beaten by police while detained for allegedly visiting a prostitute. The death of Lei—an educated professional and family man—and the lack of prosecution against the officers involved stoked middle class anxieties over sometimes brutal law enforcement tactics. More recently and in stark contrast to the officially sanctioned opacity that surrounded Lei Yang’s death,  authorities in Henan released a public notice that a municipal public security bureau was suspected of using torture on a detainee who had died in custody. © josh rudolph for China Digital Times (CDT), get_post_time('Y'). | Permalink | No comment | Add to del.icio.us Post tags: injustice, legal justice, loans, murders, online public opinion, Procuratorate, protests, public opinion, Shandong, Supreme People's Procuratorate, trialsDownload Tools to Circumvent the Great Firewall28 Mar

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View from the Left: Studies in patriotism—Sally Yates v. Paul Ryan - The Russia investigation and apparent White House cover up swallowed Washington whole this week as everyone from Donald Trump to House Intelligence chair Devin Nunes to Speaker Paul Ryan sought desperately and unsuccessfully to contain the sordid narrative. The flurry of activity—which included welcome and seemingly sane appearances from the Senate Intelligence Committee—was absent one voice: former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. It became clearer by the day this week that almost all the Russian investigation news was driven by an effort to silence Yates, who was set to testify on Monday before the House Intelligence Committee. That didn’t happen after Nunes hastily shut down that public hearing and ground his committee’s investigation to a halt. Notably, the ranking Democratic member of the committee seems to think Yates has some pretty explosive information. xThe public should learn a lot more about WHY General Flynn wants immunity when Sally Yates testifies before the House Intelligence Committee https://t.co/F6mjRbjUby— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 31, 2017 For the moment, we can only speculate on what that information might include, but former national security adviser Michael Flynn was indeed seeking immunity to testify with no luck as of Friday. Flynn “certainly has a story to tell,” his lawyer advertised, dangling his client’s juicy testimony before the FBI and intelligence committees. Getting immunity wouldn’t entirely insulate him from criminal prosecution, but it would make a prosecutor’s job much harder. Although Trump backed Flynn’s come-on to the intelligence community Friday morning, the former national security adviser’s failed advance might just be the first step in an “every man for himself” stampede. As for reading into Trump’s “this is a witch hunt” tweet seeming to support Flynn testifying, we must always remember how “ignorant of his own ignorance” our unfortunate pr*sident is, bless his heart, as they might say in the South. 45 min
Betsy DeVos compares education to Uber or Lyft, but it's what's missing that's most disturbing - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos showed just how much she hates the very idea of public education in a major speech on “school choice” at the Brookings Institution. DeVos either doesn’t understand or refuses to acknowledge that if the United States is going to educate all of its kids, not just the lucky ones, we need to think about education as a public good, not a series of fragmented, privatized pieces. DeVos drew a comparison that tells us a lot about how she sees education—and what she doesn’t want to see: How many of you got here today in an Uber, or Lyft, or another ridesharing service? Did you choose that because it was more convenient than hoping a taxi would drive by? Even if you didn’t use a ridesharing service, I’m sure most of you at least have the app on your phone. Just as the traditional taxi system revolted against ridesharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice. In both cases, the entrenched status quo has resisted models that empower individuals. Notice what’s missing there? Any form of transportation that isn’t for profit. Call it … public transit. DeVos sees education as each of us hiring a private service and getting into an individual car to get where we’re going. That may work on an individual level for a billionaire like DeVos—her parents had no problem paying for her to go to private school and she had no problem paying for her kids to do the same—but it doesn’t work for the United States as a whole, and it certainly doesn’t work on the level of government funding Donald Trump, DeVos, and other Republicans envision for education.  This is a vision of education that would leave millions of kids out in the cold, and it’s coming from the person in charge of federal public education. 11:04
All the ways Trump can sabotage a totally not exploding Obamacare - Former Obama administration officials Gene Sperling and Chris Jennings have a primer on the various ways the Trump regime can work to undermine Obamacare and how to determine if he's laying the groundwork for destroying it from within. The problem for Trump, they argue, is that if he is "seen as purposely seeking to destroy the ACA to try to make his claims come true, he will destroy the trust he needs for any chance at future bipartisan legislation." So he's going to need to be sneaky about it. If that's possible. First off, they say to watch for what the regime does with the pending lawsuit House Republicans brought several years ago to halt federal subsidies to insurers to help lower-income individuals pay their deductibles and copays. Two powerful House Republicans now say that Congress should appropriate the money for those subsidies. The easier move—since passing anything to make Obamacare work is going to require Democratic votes—for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump would be to withdraw the suit. So Sperling and Jennings say that the "critical test for the president will be whether he can work with the Congress to move to withdraw the House's lawsuit and ensure ongoing funding for cost-sharing, and do so before the court-imposed deadline of May 22. The second big question is whether Trump will enforce the individual mandate, the core of the law which requires everyone who can afford it to have insurance or pay a penalty. Trump’s first executive order, though, asked for all parts of his government to “minimize the burdens” of the ACA, which many feared could result in a refusal to enforce the individual mandate. […] So while Trump’s executive order did not by itself weaken the mandate, it did send a message that the tax penalties used to incentivize mandatory health coverage are not likely to be strictly enforced. The second major test to determine whether the President is choosing sabotage over governing will be if he directs his administration not to enforce the current individual-mandate provisions within the ACA. Related to the mandate, the next thing to watch for is whether the Trump regime will make any attempt to encourage enrollment, or whether he'll discourage it. We saw the first attempt at discouraging enrollment when the regime tried to cancel the advertising the Obama administration already had in place for the last few weeks of open enrollment. "If the Trump administration declines to match the effort and resources the Obama administration dedicated (and, instead, substantially reduces them), it will be a clear indication that it is choosing sabotage over governing." 10:01
Democratic small-dollar fundraising is booming ... and it needs to stay that way - Republicans hold the White House, both houses of Congress, and most governors mansions and state legislatures. That gives them a huge fundraising edge—anyone seeking access to power will direct their money to Republicans. But a surge of small-dollar contributions—thanks, Donald—is keeping Democrats financially competitive. It’s not just Jon Ossoff, running in the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, who has the advantage of immediacy—the election is April 18, with a likely June run-off—as well as running to replace one of Donald Trump’s Cabinet members. Other Democrats are joining Ossoff in exceeding small-dollar fundraising expectations: In February alone — and just online — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a top GOP target in 2018, brought in over $212,000 in donations of under $200 through ActBlue. That’s over four times as much as she raised in small donations across all platforms — online or through more traditional fundraising means — in the first quarter of 2011, the comparable period in her last reelection campaign. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, meanwhile, raised at least $637,000 in small online donations last month — over six times more than she raised in total small-dollar contributions in the first quarter of 2011. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy has been informing his constituents that he’s getting close to receiving as many individual contributions as he did during his entire 2012 campaign, when he got 64,704. He received nearly $650,000 online in February. That’s fantastic. Democrats need the money to go up against Republicans and their billionaire backers in 2018, and the more reliant on small donors the party is, the better. But there’s a but. 09:00
Team Trump wants to lead on 'tax reform,' but House Republicans aren't about to let him - Donald Trump has reportedly been irritated that the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare was taking time away from his own pet issue: cutting taxes for the filthy rich. Team Trump says they have big plans for tax "reform.” They want it to be "their" issue. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this week that President Donald Trump is “driving the train” on tax reform, a move that goes against the grain of recent history. Guess what? House Republicans aren't interested in Trump's plans. They've got their own plans, and in their minds Trump can sod off. Worse, House Republicans are worried that Team Trump piping up with their own, ahem, “ideas” will crater the whole effort. They’ve been working on their own tax-reform proposal for more than a year and, after countless hours of work, don’t want to suddenly give up those designs just because the administration is now working on its own plan. Some worry the White House could drop a policy bomb in their midst just as reform seems within reach for the first time in decades. They're not wrong to think so; Team Trump's policy chops have so far resulted in a "travel ban" that was a fiasco and healthcare "negotiations" in which nobody in the Republican Party could quite figure out which side the White House was on and who they were negotiating with. So House Republicans want Trump to scuttle whatever he imagines his own ideas to be, and just support whatever House Republicans want to do. 08:01
Voting Rights Roundup: Maryland Dems pass redistricting reform, but only if nearby GOP states do too - Leading Off Campaign Action ● Maryland: Democrats recently rejected Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s redistricting reform plan, but they used their state Senate majority to approve an alternative version that would essentially apply the ideas behind the National Popular Vote Compact to redistricting (see our Connecticut item below). Maryland is one of the few states that’s home to a Democratic-drawn gerrymander, but as we’ve previously detailed, that crazy-looking map shown above is surprisingly not that extreme of a partisan gerrymander compared to many Republican-drawn maps. Maryland Democrats recognize that unilaterally passing reform without Republicans joining in will only make the existing national bias toward Republicans even worse. Consequently, the Democratic-supported bill would only create a redistricting commission if five other East Coast states do so, too. Those include New Jersey and New York, which already have redistricting commissions (though both commissions in New York and New Jersey allow officeholders to play a role and have serious flaws). Importantly, it also includes North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, whose maps were all Republican-drawn at the congressional level after 2010. If Democrats can hold together in the state House, they could pass this bill over any potential Hogan veto. While Republican legislators in those nearby states are unlikely to agree to an interstate reform compact, this proposal is still far fairer at the national level than a piecemeal reform in just Maryland alone. 06:59
Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Incompetence and Chaos at the White House - Dan Drezner/WaPo: Fewer than a hundred days into the Trump administration, there are two, actually three, competing narratives about how the government is being run. The first narrative is the Trump administration’s claim that things are running so, so smoothly. A brief glance at the poll numberssuggests that not many people are buying this, so we can discard it quickly. The second narrative, made by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board among many others, is that America’s system of checks and balances turns out to be working pretty well. President Trump’s more egregious moves have been checked by federal courts and even by the court of public opinion at times... There’s a lot to this argument. But if I may, I’d like to proffer just a sampling of the news stories that have broken in the past 24 hours to suggest a third and more troubling narrative: the president and his acolytes are beclowning the American state. Michael Gerson/WaPo: Trump’s failing presidency has the GOP in a free fall This is a pretty bad combination: empty, easily distracted, vindictive, shallow, impatient, incompetent and morally small. This is not the profile of a governing party.... It is now dawning on Republicans what they have done to themselves. They thought they could somehow get away with Trump. That he could be contained. That the adults could provide guidance. That the economy might come to the rescue. That the damage could be limited. Instead, they are seeing a downward spiral of incompetence and public contempt — a collapse that is yet to reach a floor. A presidency is failing. A party unable to govern is becoming unfit to govern. And what, in the short term, can be done about it? Nothing. Nothing at all. 05:30
Open thread for night owls: Protest groups plan massive actions nationwide on May 1 - Aaron Morrison at Mic writes—Protest groups to unite as "The Majority" for massive actions across the country on May 1: Protest groups to unite as “The Majority” for massive actions across the country on May 1 Activist groups are uniting as a broader coalition they’ve dubbed “The Majority,” an idea inspired by the Movement for Black Lives — a collective of organizations in the Black Lives Matter movement — organizers first shared with Mic on Thursday. More than 50 partners representing black, Latino, the indigenous, LGBTQ, refugees, immigrants, laborers and the poor will collaborate from April 4 through May 1, International Worker’s Day, when they’ll launch massive protests across the country. The action will “go beyond moments of outrage, beyond narrow concepts of sanctuary, and beyond barriers between communities that have much at stake and so much in common,” The Majority states on its BeyondtheMoment.org website, which officially launches Thursday. [...] “Even though the election results showed one thing, the reality is that the majority of us are under attack and this is a moment for us to step into something together,” Navina Khanna, director of the Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Labor Food Alliance in Oakland, California, said in a phone interview. HEAL is a part of The Majority. “This is about really learning to see our issues as one, and our struggles as one.” The “Beyond the Moment” initiative kicks off April 4 with “serious political education with our bases,” according to the website. In the weeks leading up to the mass mobilizations on May 1, they will hold public teach-ins and workshops nationwide. The desired outcome is a “broad intersectional, cross-sectoral” and influential unity on the left, activists said. The idea for Beyond the Moment was derived from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, in which he spoke out against racism, materialism and militarism — all broader and more-inclusive themes than his earlier anti-Jim Crow campaigns. The coalition said it chose April 4 as the kickoff for political education because that is date that King delivered the speech in 1967 and the date on which he was assassinated a year later. An Activists’ Calendar of Resistance Events QUOTATION OF THE DAY “I put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power. I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”                       ~Thomas A. Edison, 1931, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, and Charles Lindbergh  TWEET OF THE DAY xScientists have made the blackest shade of black ever and it’s trippy as hell. It literally eats lasers: https://t.co/KtXUsUFTuQ pic.twitter.com/eQZGWc7eAr— VICE (@VICE) April 1, 2017 BLAST FROM THE PAST At Daily Kos on this date in 2010—AR-Sen: Why we're fighting: Lincoln led the fight against the public option. She's led the fight against regulating greenhouse gasses. She's led the fight against unions. She calls groups like the League of Conservation Voters "extremists." There's no reason for Lincoln to be in our party. She's a sure loser in November anyway, having alienated virtually everyone in her state. The national party may stick with her out of misguided loyalty, but Bill Halter aims to rescue the Democrats from themselves, and we can help offset the big corporate backing Lincoln is getting. HIGH IMPACT STORIES • TOP COMMENTS On today’s Kagro in the Morning show: Will Flynn flip? Steven K. (G) Bannon, International Man of Mystery! No fixed address. Hot tub full of acid. And a “right hand woman” from Beverly Hills who hates coastal elites. The Russian Laundromat. Trump has stopped announcing troop deployments. x Embedded Content  YouTube | iTunes | LibSyn | Support the show via Patreon or Square Cash 31 Mar
Legislator tells colleagues Iowa women should be forced to carry dead fetuses indefinitely - Here's Iowa state representative Shannon Lundgren, aRepublicanOfCourse, explaining during a committee hearing on new anti-abortion legislation that yes, perhaps in the new republic of Gilead your daughter may be forced to carry an already-dead fetus inside her until the point at which it begins to rot and her own life was in serious jeopardy, but that's her tough luck because Rep. Shannon Lundgren don't care. “Rep. Forbes, this bill wasn’t written for the intent to protect or govern, on the side of the woman. It was written to save babies lives,” Lundgren said, adding, “I would concur that — in that instance — if your daughter’s life is not in danger, that yes, she would have to carry that baby.” Lundgren was wrong about the text of the bill (she's the bill's manager, but apparently at no point in her religious zealotry thought to read it): It does allow doctors to remove dead fetuses. It's also unconstitutional, which may or may not be rectified when after national Republicans stock the Supreme Court with more far righters themselves. But here's an Iowa state representative telling her colleagues that yes, she absolutely supports forcing women to carry dead fetuses for as long as it takes until it becomes life-threatening, because her bill wasn't written to "protect" those women, only "babies." The whole f--king party is a cult, at this point. There's no other word for it. This isn't the sort of thing a sitting legislator should say, this is the kind of freakism you'd get from asking your Guyana compound leader what Conservative Jeebus wanted. 31 Mar
Scholar: Moscow Sees Hypocrisy in Allegations After U.S. Interfered in Russian Elections in 1990s - In the 10 weeks since President Trump was sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, he has faced a growing crisis over allegations his campaign colluded with Russia ahead of the 2016 election. On Thursday, reports surfaced that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is seeking immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony to the FBI and congressional investigators. Meanwhile, The New York Times revealed one of Flynn’s former aides was one of two White House officials to secretly meet with Republican House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes last week on the White House grounds to show him secret U.S. intelligence reports. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing Thursday on the issue. "If we want to understand Russia’s point of view, President Putin and those around him—and of course we do—whether or not we agree with it, we need to understand how our adversaries see us, how all other nations see us, through their eyes," says our guest Robert David English, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. "If we do that, we realize very quickly that their frame of reference has a lot to do with the mistakes and, yes, the U.S. interference in Russian politics in the ’90s, when we directly intervened in a presidential election to boost a losing candidate into a winning position—that was Boris Yeltsin."31 Mar
You As Creator - Join me this spring for my 4-session live webinar series for writers. More information at the bottom of this email. The power of our perceptions to alter reality is a theme that runs through lectures I’ve given at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and more than 50 other universities and to over 3,000 executives at various conferences and summits, ranging from investment bankers and CEOs of communications conglomerates to heads of human resource departments. Religion, culture, legal and economic systems, countries, and corporations are determined by perceived reality. When enough people accept these perceptions or when they are codified into laws, they have immense impact on objective reality. Breakthroughs in modern science indicate that changes in human perceptions not only govern human behavior; they govern – everything. This past month (February) I was teaching at Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. My time there overlapped with two highly respected scientists who had just published a book about the powers of perception. Dr. Deepak Chopra is a cardiologist by training who has gained world-wide fame as a deep thinker, philosopher, and advocate of new ways to look at medicine and the world. Dr. Menas Kafatas is a physicist who specializes in cosmology (the science of the origin and development of the universe), quantum mechanics, and climate change. As we sat at meals together, we had many fascinating discussions about the impact of human consciousness on economics, politics, life in general – and the entire universe. In my lectures at the ashram, I discussed the relationship between perceived and objective realities and the idea that consciousness involves an awareness of the ways these impact each other, all of us, and our entire planet. Deepak and Menas gave lectures that were based on their newly released book You Are the Universe. They explored the idea that the very universe itself is a function of human perceptions. In the Preface to their book, they state: The most distant star, billions of light-years away, has no reality without you, because everything that makes a star real – its heat, light, and mass, its position in space and the velocity that carries it away at enormous speed – requires a human observer with a human nervous system. If no one existed to experience heat, light, mass, and so on, nothing could be real as we know it . . . [T]his is a participatory universe that depends for its very existence on human beings. There is a growing body of cosmologists – the scientists who explain the origin of the cosmos – developing theories of a completely new universe, one that is living, conscious, and evolving. Such a universe fits no existing standard model. A conscious universe responds to how we think and feel. It gains its shape, color, sound, and texture from us. Therefore, we feel the best name for it is the human universe, and it is the real universe, the only one we have. As pointed out in their book, scientists have discovered that when photons, electrons, and other sub-atomic particles are not observed by humans they act like waves that are constantly moving. However, once they are observed, they act like particles in a pinpointed location. This phenomenon, known as the “observer effect,” which seems to defy common sense suggests that the tiniest particles respond to human observation. In other words, those particles have consciousness about what is happening around them. You Are the Universe takes this idea to another level. It says that the entire universe responds to – in fact is created through – consciousness. Whether or not human consciousness creates the universe, there is no doubt that it has created the current crises that threaten life as we know it on this planet. Or that we humans are waking up to the realization that, in order to survive, we must rise to a higher level of consciousness. As I’ve written many times in previous newsletters, we are at the frontier of a revolution that may turn out to be the most important one in our species’ history – a Consciousness Revolution that will redefine relationships between perceived and objective reality and the impact we humans have on both. By way of example: As most of you know by now, one of the nonprofits I founded, Dream Change organizes “Love Summits”. These are – perhaps to your surprise – conferences aimed at instilling in business leaders the need to change their perception of what it means to be successful. The goal of the Love Summit is to bring to light why love is good business—how acting from a place of compassion not only benefits society and the environment, but also our businesses and other institutions. Love can be the motivation behind business planning and work relationships, instead of fear and scarcity, the current underpinnings of a suffering economy and environment. The Love Summit demonstrates how we can: Build purposeful, heart-centered business models that contribute to the greatest interest of people and the planet. Use individual and collective action to transform our economic system into one that is based on a life economy instead of a death economy. Inspire a global culture of love in business and throughout the world. The Love Summit is just one example of actions we can take to change reality by altering perceptions. Whether or not you help create the universe, there is no doubt that you create your universe, your life and you play a big role in creating the world we will pass on to future generations. Upcoming Event: May 30 – June 20, 2017 How to Write a Bestseller in Times of Crises: Using the Power of Story to Accelerate Change If you are a writer, you have an incredible opportunity to spread important messages, share thought-provoking ideas, and inspire revolutionary change through the power of story. Join me this spring in my exclusive 4-session webinar for writers, where I will help you improve your skills, get published and reach large audiences. Limited to just 24 participants, this webinar will be both intimate and participatory. Secure your spot today. 2 Mar
This Spring: A Special Webinar for Writers - How to Write a Bestseller in Times of Crises: Using the Power of Story to Accelerate Change By John Perkins We’ve entered the greatest revolution in history: The Consciousness Revolution. People around the world are waking up to the fact that we are facing huge crises. We must change. What is your role in this revolution? If you are a writer, you have an incredible opportunity to spread important messages, share thought-provoking ideas, and inspire revolutionary change through the power of story. Fiction and non-fiction. In addition to doing my own writing, I decided to create a small community of writers who intend to use their medium to accelerate change. We will come together in this Spring’s webinar: How to Write a Bestseller in Times of Crises: Using the Power of Story to Accelerate Change. Limited to just 2 dozen participants, this course is uniquely designed to help you hone your skills through writing exercises and discussions in an intimate salon. As a New York Times bestselling author, I will share my experiences of decades of writing bestsellers to help you improve your skills, get published, and reach large audiences. The webinar will take place every Tuesday evening over the course of one month, making it easy for you to journey into this portal of writing your bestseller. You will learn how to: Hone your skills to inspire, entertain, and motivate audiences; Open your heart and soul to the muses of writing; Utilize effective techniques to captivate audiences – as well as agents and publishers; Learn the pros and cons of marketing tools, including the use of publicists and social networking; Work with an intimate salon of talented writers; and Much more. You will have the option of breaking into smaller groups to discuss and critique each other’s work and spend an additional hour-long session with me. At the end of the course, you will also have the opportunity to arrange to join me in private mentoring sessions. Session Dates & Times: Session 1: Tuesday May 30 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST Session 2: Tuesday June 6 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST Session 3: Tuesday June 13 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST Session 4: Tuesday June 20 – 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM EST This webinar is for people who want to be part of a powerful salon of writers and who intend to channel their passions and skills into articles, books, and blogs that will inspire transformation. If you are such a person, please sign up now. Space is limited. Cost:  $780 for all 4 sessions. To see the course syllabus and purchase your tickets, click here. 9 Feb
How to Be a Democracy Under Trump - I watched President Trump’s inauguration from an airport TV in Guatemala. I’d just finished leading 22 people on a pilgrimage to live, study and participate in ceremonies with Mayan shamans at sacred sites. For me, it was the first leg of a two-month working-journey. I am still in Latin America, teaching and speaking at a variety of venues. In the days since that inauguration, I, like so many, have felt the horror of the emerging Trump policies. Latin Americans cannot understand why so few of us voted in the last election and why so many who did, voted for Trump. A larger percentage of people vote in most Latin American countries than in the US; in several countries, voter turnout exceeds 90%. Many of these countries have a history of brutal dictatorships. Once free of these dictatorships, they revel in their rights to hold democratic elections; they see their ability to vote for their leaders as both a responsibility and a privilege. They wonder why such a relatively small percentage of voters would elect a potential dictator. And moreover, why those non-voters did not vote against him. The participants on the Guatemala trip ranged from successful business executives to community organizers and healers – with lots of other professions in between. They came from Canada, Ecuador, England, France, Indonesia, Italy, the United States, and Guatemala. Many – especially those from the US – arrived in Guatemala feeling disenfranchised, disempowered, depressed, and – yes, horrified – by the election. However, as we moved through the shamanic ceremonies, they grew increasingly convinced that the election is a wakeup call for Americans. We have been lethargic and allowed our country to continue with policies that hurt so many people and destroy environments around the world (including Washington’s involvement in the genocidal Guatemalan Civil War against the Mayas that raged for more than three decades). This election exposed a shadow side. It stepped us out of the closet. Many people expressed the realization that Americans had failed to demand that President Obama fight harder to end the wars in the Middle East, vacate Guantánamo, reign in Wall Street, confront a global economic system where eight men have as much wealth as half the world’s population, and honor so many of the other promises he had made. They recognized that he was up against strong Republican opposition and yet it was he who continued to send more troops and mercenaries to the Middle East and Africa, brought Wall Street insiders into his inner circle, and failed to inspire his party to rally voters to defeat Trump and what is now a Republican majority in both houses. We talked about how throughout the world, the US is seen as history’s first truly global empire. Scholars point out that it meets the basic definition of empire: a nation 1) whose currency reigns supreme, 2) whose language is the language of diplomacy and commerce everywhere, 3) whose economic expansions and values are enforced through military actions or threats of action, and 4) whose armies are stationed in many nations. The message became clear: we must end this radical form of global feudalism and imperialism. Those who had arrived in Guatemala disillusioned and depressed now found themselves committed to transforming their sense of disempowerment into actions. At the end of WWII, Prime Minister Churchill told his people that England could choose the course of empire or democracy, but not both.  We in the US are at such a crossroads today. For far too long we have allowed our leaders to take us down the path of empire. President Franklin Roosevelt ended a meeting with union leaders by telling them that now they knew he agreed with them, it was their job to get their members to force him to do the right thing. FDR understood that democracy depends on We the People insisting that our leaders do what they promise to do. We failed with our last president. Let’s not repeat that mistake with the new one. It is extremely important that We the People force Trump and his band of corporatocracy henchmen to keep the promises we heard in his inaugural address.  Let us hear “making America great” as “making America a true democracy!”  Let us hear “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People” and “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow” as an echo of Prime Minister Churchill’s contention that a country cannot be both a democracy and an empire. It is up to us to insist upon democracy. It is essential that we continue to demonstrate and march, to bombard Trump and our other elected officials with tweets, posts, phone calls, and emails; to rally, clamor, and shout; and in every way to get out the word that we must end the wars, feudalism, economic and social inequality, and environmental destruction; we must become the model democracy the world expects of us. When General George Washington was hunkered down with extremely depressed troops at Valley Forge in the bleak winter of 1777, he ordered that an essay by Thomas Paine be read to all his men. Some of the most famous lines are as applicable today as they were then: These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he who stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.  .  . A generous parent should say, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace” . . .I love the man who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.  By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious future. We have arrived at such a time again. We must each do our part. Let’s here and now commit to taking positive actions. I commit to writing and speaking out at a wide variety of venues. I commit to supporting the Love Summit business conference, a powerful event that is committed to bringing love and compassion into business and politics, to transforming a Death Economy into a Life (Love) Economy. What are your commitments? We have arrived at a time that tries our souls. We must gather strength from distress, grow brave by reflection, and know that by perseverance and fortitude we can achieve a glorious future. Let’s make sure that the combined legacies of Presidents Obama and Trump will create the opportunity – indeed the mandate – to show the world how a country can be a true democracy. These are the times. . . Featured Event: Writing a Bestseller: How to Tell & Sell Your Story with John Perkins 4 Sessions | May 30-June 20, 2017 | Limited to 24 Participants | Register Here31 Jan

National Post

Watch The Best Democracy… Movie Right now! - Right now, this minute, you can watch The Best Democracy Money Can Buy on Amazon from $2.99, or if you prefer get a lifetime stream from Vimeo. Or better yet, get a signed copy for a tax-deductible donation. See the Film that Jesse Jackson is bringing to 200 churches before election day. “Hilarious and heartbreaking. The most important movie — and the most entertaining. Standing ovation!” - John Perkins, author, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man Follow me as I bust the New Klux Klan – the billionaire bandits that are behind a scheme to purge one million voters of color on election day. The Hysteria Factory is in full effect. Trump says a million "aliens" are swimming the Rio Grande to vote for Hillary. Fox News —even NPR— are peddling stories about dead voters, ghost voters, double voters and other berserk claims of fraudulent voting. But it’s just the cover to STEAL THIS ELECTION, to swipe the Senate. Watch the Hysteria Factory Clip from the Movie  With the help of Willie Nelson, Rosario Dawson, and detectives Ice-T and Richard Belzer, I track down the secret billionaires behind Donald Trump and the guys who are gaming our voter rolls and funding this voter fraud Hysteria Factory. * * * * * * Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, now out as major motion non-fiction movie. Donate to the Palast Investigative Fund and get the signed DVD. Download the FREE Movie Comic Book. Rent or buy the film from Amazon or Vimeo. Check for Movie Screenings in your area. Visit the Palast Investigative Fund store or simply make a tax-deductible contribution to keep our work alive! Or support the The Palast Investigative Fund (a project of The Sustainable Markets Foundation) by shopping with Amazon Smile. AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your purchases to the Palast Fund and you get a tax-deduction! More info. GregPalast.com The post Watch The Best Democracy… Movie Right now! appeared first on Greg Palast.20 Mar
March 15 Fundraiserto support Greg Palast’s new investigation of Trump’s Billionaires - Join Jackson Browne to honor Greg Palast and his team’s new investigations of Trump’s billionaires and the plan to fix the vote of 2018 With discussion of the attack on voting rights by Joy Reid of MSNBC and the need for investigative reporting    WHEN: Wednesday, March 15 at  6:00pm PTWHERE:  Santa Monica, CA Wine and Buffet Performance by Jackson BrowneRock & Roll Hall of Fame "Lives in the Balance" | "Running on Empty" We are facing a democratic emergency: Our purpose is to expose and prevent the theft of the election of 2018—and the billionaires who have turned The White House into a profit center.  $100 per person or $175 per couple Very limited space. Get your TICKETS now. All proceeds are tax-deductible and benefit the Palast Investigative Fund (checks and credit cards accepted) If you are unable to attend but wish to support our work, and have your support acknowledged by Greg and Jackson, you can donate here. Trump has claimed that millions of Americans vote illegally.  The Palast team's investigation for Rolling Stone, Al Jazeera, and BBC TV proved that this claim was the excuse for "anti-fraud" measures that, in fact, blocked 1.1 million citizens of color from casting their votes in the swing states of Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida in the last election. No, Trump did not win – and Palast has showed how, in cruel detail. Palast says, "While our work has been lauded and applauded for exposing mass vote suppression, our goal now is to expand our research and investigations while also coordinating with the Civil Rights Law Center of Washington to insure that this information is in the hands of voting rights litigators, progressive legislators, church and front-line organizations to prevent the theft of the 2018 election.'' Our film on the suppression of the vote in 2016 The Best Democracy Money Can Buy has been viewed by more than one million Americans and has become the source of fighting facts from People For the American Way to Rainbow-PUSH Coalition to the Potomac Coalition. "What Greg Palast has done is heroic, invaluable, and must be seen by every voting rights advocate in America." - Voting rights attorney Barbara Arnwine Help us win this next battle for democracy * * * * * * Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, now out as major motion non-fiction movie. Rent or buy the film from Amazon Vimeo. Support The Palast Investigative Fund and keep our work alive. Or support us by shopping with Amazon Smile. AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your purchases to the Sustainable Markets Foundation for the benefit of The Palast Investigative Fund and you get a tax-deduction!More info. GregPalast.com The post March 15 Fundraiserto support Greg Palast’s new investigation of Trump’s Billionaires appeared first on Greg Palast. 7 Mar
Millions of fraudulent voters, my a**! Palast follows The Donald’s money - A Facebook Event  Get the non-fake info with investigative reporter Greg Palast. Palast says, "It’s no joke—and it’s far more sinister than a mere "lie." "The US press has done a good job exposing President Trump’s looney-toons claim that millions of votes were cast against him. "But what’s missing is what’s behind Trump’s claim — and it’s not just his cranky, whining ego looking to erase the embarrassment of losing the popular vote. "We are witnessing the crafting of a systematic plan to steal the 2018 midterm election." And that’s not all: Did anyone notice that in the middle of Trump’s psycho-drama of a press conference, he said, "…I want to thank Paul Singer for being here and coming up to the Oval Office." Those are the most dangerous words Trump has uttered since Inauguration Day. Get the facts (and watch the cartoon!) during this special Facebook Live event. And Palast lets you in on the follow-up to his Rolling Stone investigation. He’s digging, and the worms are crawling up the shovel. And we’ll talk about how YOU can take part in the investigation. We have a lot to talk about, and a lot to expose. * * * * * * Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, now out as major motion non-fiction movie. Rent or buy the film from Amazon Vimeo. Support The Palast Investigative Fund and keep our work alive. Or support us by shopping with Amazon Smile. AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your purchases to the Sustainable Markets Foundation for the benefit of The Palast Investigative Fund and you get a tax-deduction!More info. GregPalast.com The post Millions of fraudulent voters, my a**! Palast follows The Donald’s money appeared first on Greg Palast.22 Feb
Join NAACP Voter Fund for Facebook LIVE broadcast of my film on How Trump Stole It - I have a simple request. I’m asking that, this Thursday, at 8pm ET/5pm PT, you join the NAACP-National Voter Fund, Rainbow/PUSH, Josh Fox of Climate Revolution and many, many more–and “share” the Facebook LIVE broadcast of my documentary–the film that exposes exactly how Trump and his cronies attacked the voting rights of a million minority voters to steal the White House. That’s all we are asking: Between 8pm and 9pm Eastern, on Inauguration Eve, you “share” the live-stream with your Facebook followers. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, follows my crew’s undercover investigations for Rolling Stone and BBC-TV. "...Mainstream journalism has often struggled to cover the manipulation of data and the distortion of reality driven by billionaires like the Koch brothers or even Donald Trump... Palast slices through all the B.S.”- The Village Voice Pass this on to your friends, your organizations, and anyone who wants to get un-stupid about the theft of the 2016 election. I’ll be leading an online discussion right after the broadcast: What do we do now? Starting now you can share the trailer on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/GregPalastInvestigates/videos/10154917384607128/ And share the trailer on Twitter simply by retweeting this tweet:https://twitter.com/Greg_Palast/status/820218502405619712 Please also indicate that you are "going" to our virtual event on Facebook — and share it with your friends: https://www.facebook.com/events/980244978772589/ On Thursday, January 19 at 8pm ET, go to https://www.facebook.com/GregPalastInvestigates/. (If you’re late, you can scroll back to the beginning.) The film (with the help of my friends Rosario Dawson, Shailene Woodley Ice-T, Willie Nelson and more), tells the story of the GOP’s weapon of mass vote destruction – and exposes the billionaires behind Trump and the vote trickery. The film was updated just this week. I guarantee: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll get revved up to resist. Trump didn’t win––his billionaire backers swiped it. We can take it back. Will you join me? - Greg Palast and the investigations team Make a tax-deductible donation to our Stolen Election Investigation *  *  *  *  * Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, now out as major motion non-fiction movie.Rent or buy the film from Amazon or Vimeo. Support The Palast Investigative Fund and keep our work alive. Or support us by shopping with Amazon Smile.AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your purchases to the Sustainable Markets Foundation for the benefit of The Palast Investigative Fund and you get a tax-deduction! More info. GregPalast.com The post Join NAACP Voter Fund for Facebook LIVE broadcast of my film on How Trump Stole It appeared first on Greg Palast.17 Jan
The 2017 Guide to Detecting Homegrown Violent Extremists - A graphic from the 2017 National Counterterrorism Center handbook on indicators of mobilization to violence among homegrown violent extremists depicts a man watching a video of Anwar al-Awlaki. The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) has released a 2017 version of their handbook for spotting indicators of mobilization to violence among homegrown violent extremists (HVEs).  The guide was originally intended for distribution among public safety personnel and is not intended for public release, but has since appeared on several publicly accessible law enforcement mailing lists and conference websites.  In 2014, the NCTC’s Office of National Intelligence Management formed an Interagency Analytic Focus Group with members from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, FBI, NSA, as well as representatives of state and local law enforcement.  The focus group “collaboratively developed the list of behavioral indicators and ranked them into three tiers of diagnosticity,” eventually developing a list to distribute to law enforcement personnel.  The 2017 handbook released by NCTC is a version of that list updated with new indicators observed since the handbook was last published. Intended to provide “a roadmap of observable behaviors that could inform whether individuals or groups are preparing to engage in violent extremist activities,” the handbook is a slick 36-page publication with colorful graphics depicting dozens of behavioral indicators that an HVE is mobilizing to violence.  These behaviors are divided into three groups based on their overall diagnostic capacity.  Group A includes indicators that are “very diagnostic on their own” and thus require little else to indicate mobilization to violence.  These indicators include “preparing or disseminating a last will or martyrdom video/statement” as well as “planning or attempting to travel to a conflict zone to fight with or support an FTO.”  Group B includes indicators that are “moderately diagnostic, more so when observed with other indicators.”  These include more common activities that may not directly indicate an imminent threat of violence, such as “posting terrorist icons/flags/prominent figures to social media” and “expressing acceptance of violence as a necessary means to achieve ideological goals.”  Group C includes indicators that are even more common and thus are “minimally diagnostic on their own,” requiring the “presence of other indicators to gain diagnosticity.”  This group includes “unusual purchase of military style tactical equipment” and “blaming external factors for failure in school, career, or relationships.” A graphic depicting the scale of threat levels assigned to various behavior indicators of mobilization to violence among HVEs. The guide also introduces a scale for evaluating the overall threat level of indicators by ranking: how diagnostic they are in positively identifying mobilization to violence; how dependent they are on other indicators to positively diagnose mobilization; how easily observable the indicators are; as well as whether the indicators present a long-term, near-term, or imminent concern.  For example, someone “disseminating a last will or martyrdom video/statement” is ranked as highly diagnostic, independent of other indicators, and observable, presenting an imminent concern.  An indicator like “surveilling potential targets” is moderately diagnostic and observable, but is highly dependent on other indicators and only presents a near-term concern. While some of the initial indicators in Group A seem plainly apparent as being indicators of mobilization towards violence, many indicators in the Group B and C are broad and at times confusing in their origin.  One indicator in Group C is “inappropriate use of what an individual perceives as ‘doctrine’ to manipulate the behavior of parents, co-workers, close friends and family.”  The guide offers examples of this indicator including “criticism of parents’ clothing choices, reading material choices, musical preferences, religious practices, interfaith friendships.”  Another broad indicator in Group B is “use of encrypted media applications to engage with unknown overseas individuals.”  Several indicators in Group C also relate to communications privacy, such as “utilizing communication security techniques” and “discussing operational security.”  Many of these indicators are rated as being dependent upon other evidence “pointing to terrorism and intent to take violent action” and the guide makes clear that “many of these signals or indicators—some of which might involve constitutionally protected activities—may be insignificant on their own.”  If any public safety personnel receiving the guide “reasonably believes” based on the information contained in the guide “that an individual may be mobilizing to violence “they are encouraged to “inform LE agencies with investigative authorities via mechanisms like E-Guardian or Suspicious Activity Reporting.” 26 Mar
(U//FOUO) NCTC Homegrown Violent Extremist Mobilization Indicators for Public Safety Personnel 2017 Edition - (U//FOUO) The indicators of violent extremist mobilization described herein are intended to provide federal, state, local, territorial and tribal law enforcement a roadmap of observable behaviors that could inform whether individuals or groups are preparing to engage in violent extremist activities including potential travel overseas to join a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The indicators are grouped by their assessed levels of diagnosticity—meaning how clearly we judge the behavior demonstrates an individual’s trajectory towards terrorist activity. The list also includes additional information concerning what the behavior could indicate, identifies likely observers, and provides a probable timeframe between behavior and an ultimate violent act. Some of these activities might be constitutionally protected and may be insignificant on their own, but, when observed in combination with other suspicious behaviors, may constitute a basis for reporting. Law enforcement (LE) action should not be taken based solely on the exercise of constitutionally protected activities or on the apparent race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion of the subject. BACKGROUND (U//FOUO) By law, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) focuses on international terrorism. Senior Intelligence Community officials judge that violent extremists inspired or enabled by the self-proclaimed Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qa‘ida, including their allies and affiliates, are among the most lethal international terrorist threats to the Homeland. This product focuses on the threat from those actors. (U//FOUO) In 2014, NCTC’s Office of National Intelligence Management (NIM) formed an Interagency Analytic Focus Group, including experts from DCTC, DHS/I&A, DOE, FBI, NCTC, NSA, and cleared representatives of State and local law enforcement, who collaboratively developed the list of behavioral indicators and ranked them into three tiers of diagnosticity. The focus group created this list with law enforcement, homeland security, and public safety officials in mind. The focus group updated the list for 2017 based on new indicators observed since the publication of the original booklet. GROUP INDICATORS (U//FOUO) GROUP A Indicators are very diagnostic on their own. (U//FOUO) GROUP B Indicators are moderately diagnostic, more so when observed with other indicators. (U//FOUO) GROUP C Indicators are minimally diagnostic on their own and require the presence of other indicators to gain diagnosticity. (U//FOUO) Nothing in this list of indicators is intended to confer additional authorities to law enforcement beyond that which is provided by federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Officers who believe individuals are exhibiting significant mobilization indicators are encouraged to immediately contact the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. … (U//FOUO) WHAT IS A HOMEGROWN VIOLENT EXTREMIST? (U//FOUO) A Homegrown Violent Extremist (HVE) is a violent extremist of any citizenship who has lived and/or operated primarily in the United States or its territories, and who is acting independently of the direction of a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). Because HVEs are acting to further the goals of an FTO, they are considered foreign intelligence threats under the authorities of both the Intelligence Community and domestic public safety entities. (U//FOUO) WHY WAS THIS BOOKLET CREATED? (U//FOUO) We face a heightened threat environment in the United States as HVEs heed the call to violence from ISIL and other global jihadist groups. • (U//FOUO) The rise of ISIL and an uptick in extremist travel and unsophisticated attacks—inspired in part by ISIL—prompted us to reexamine a set of violent mobilization indicators originally published in 2011. • (U//FOUO) Recent HVE attacks in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas have added urgency to publishing this booklet. (U//FOUO) We published this booklet to inform our federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement (LE) and private sector partners about what signals—or indicators—we judge HVEs, particularly those inspired or enabled by ISIL or al-Qa‘ida, might display that could potentially be detected by first responder personnel and other people. We emphasize that many of these signals or indicators—some of which might involve constitutionally protected activities—may be insignificant on their own. However, when such signals or indicators are observed in combination with other suspicious behaviors, they may constitute a basis for reporting. LE action should not be taken solely based on the exercise of constitutionally protected activities or on the apparent race, ethnicity, national origin or religion of the subject, or on any combination of any such factors. (U//FOUO) WHO IS THE BOOKLET’S TARGET AUDIENCE? (U//FOUO) We tailored this booklet specifically for first responders, including LE, homeland security, and public safety officials. These officials are on the front line in their communities, are well positioned to notice suspicious behaviors outlined in the booklet, and have the potential to maintain regular engagement with members of their communities who may also witness indicators mentioned in the booklet. (U//FOUO) If members of the public suspect—based on these indicators—that an individual is mobilizing to violence, they should contact LE. (U//FOUO) HOW WAS THIS BOOKLET DEVELOPED? WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘DIAGNOSTICITY?’ (U//FOUO) NCTC conceptualized this booklet with the help of an interagency focus group, including officers from the FBI, the DHS, cleared representatives of state and local LE agencies, and subject matter experts. We decided to broadly publish it for public safety officials, to address the obvious need to inform those on the front lines of the effort to detect violent extremists in the United States. (U//FOUO) The group determined that the ideal manner of listing indicators would be by diagnosticity—the extent to which behaviors indicate violent mobilization – instead of by measuring how often the behaviors have been reported in past cases. The highest tier of behaviors would most likely indicate mobilization, behaviors in the middle tier would indicate mobilization when observed with other indicators, while the behaviors in the lowest tier would only  likely indicate violent mobilization when combined with multiple other behaviors. • (U//FOUO) An example of a Group A highest-tier behavior or hard indicator is the potential observation of an individual preparing and posting a last will or martyrdom video or statement to the Internet. The group judged that this behavior would be diagnostic on its own and may be observable if shared with or otherwise discovered by family, friends, and bystanders, and online and social media contacts. • (U//FOUO) Examples of Group C lowest-tier behaviors or soft indicators would be those that on their own do not suggest mobilization, but when taken together would become more diagnostic. None of those behaviors, by themselves, conclusively signal violent mobilization. • (U//FOUO) The behaviors noted in the booklet were based on a review of information derived from dozens of FBI terrorism investigations over the past three years and brainstorming sessions by focus group members.26 Mar
FBI Cyber Bulletin: Cyber Criminals Targeting FTP Servers to Compromise Protected Health Information - The FBI is aware of criminal actors who are actively targeting File Transfer Protocol (FTP) servers operating in “anonymous” mode and associated with medical and dental facilities to access protected health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII) in order to intimidate, harass, and blackmail business owners. Threat Research conducted by the University of Michigan in 2015 titled, “FTP: The Forgotten Cloud,” indicated over 1 million FTP servers were configured to allow anonymous access, potentially exposing sensitive data stored on the servers. The anonymous extension of FTP allows a user to authenticate to the FTP server with a common username such as “anonymous” or “ftp” without submitting a password or by submitting a generic password or e-mail address. While computer security researchers are actively seeking FTP servers in anonymous mode to conduct legitimate research, other individuals are making connections to these servers to compromise PHI and PII for the purposes of intimidating, harassing, and blackmailing business owners. Cyber criminals could also use an FTP server in anonymous mode and configured to allow “write” access to store malicious tools or launch targeted cyber attacks. In general, any misconfigured or unsecured server operating on a business network on which sensitive data is stored or processed exposes the business to data theft and compromise by cyber criminals who can use the data for criminal purposes such as blackmail, identity theft, or financial fraud. Recommendations The FBI recommends medical and dental healthcare entities request their respective IT services personnel to check networks for FTP servers running in anonymous mode. If businesses have a legitimate use for operating a FTP server in anonymous mode, administrators should ensure sensitive PHI or PII is not stored on the server.26 Mar
U.S. Army Worldwide Equipment Guide 2015 Update - Volume 1: Ground Systems 658 pages 15,550,306  bytes  FD2C566BB002FD5D7CAE1754AE11619A803B90AECEE1890DBA8BC8450535DB27 Volume 2: Air and Air Defense Systems 490 pages 8,633,454  bytes  957E099E8E63975DB197EBD1FDEF27B70AA9BB61B09A923E85096091FE7AE769 Volume 3: Naval Systems 69 pages 2,781,746  bytes  46972E3456364C4F010F139283801A6A1A7B676D3DDC47E2084539EB100712DA 1. In today’s complicated and uncertain world, it is impossible to predict the exact nature of the next conflict that may involve U.S. joint forces. We must be ready to meet the challenges of any type of conflict, in all kinds of places, and against all types of threats in all Complex Operational Environments. As a training tool, the opposing force (OPFOR) must be a challenging, uncooperative sparring partner capable of stressing any or all warfighting functions and mission-essential tasks of the U.S. force. 2. The Army Training Circular 7-100 series describes the doctrine, organizations, TTP, and equipment of such an OPFOR and how to combine it with other operational variables to portray the qualities of a full range of conditions appropriate to Army training environments. 3. The WEG was developed to support the TC 7- 100 series and all OPFOR portrayal in training simulations (live, virtual, constructive, and gaming). The equipment portrayed in the WEG represents military systems, variants, and upgrades that US forces may encounter now and in the foreseeable future. The authors continually analyze realworld developments, capabilities, and trends to guarantee the OPFOR remains relevant. 4. Published in three volumes, (Ground; Airspace & Air Defense Systems; and Naval & Littoral Systems) the WEG is the approved document for OPFOR equipment data used in U.S. Army training. Annual updates are posted on the ATN website. Therefore it is available for downloading and local distribution. Distribution restriction is unlimited. This issue replaces all previous issues. … 11 Mar
U.S. Army Threat Tactics Report: Boko Haram - Boko Haram is a relatively new organization, having begun serious military operations against the Nigerian government in 2009. Abubakar Shekau leads a confederation of sub organizations with commanders who mostly control their own day-to-day operations. Shekau’s legitimacy comes from his position as deputy to the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf. Boko Haram primarily conducts offensive raids, assaults, and ambushes against thinly-stretched and poorly-resourced Nigerian security elements and civilians in northeastern Nigeria. Influence from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to whom Boko Haram recently swore allegiance, can be seen in an improved and increasing Boko Haram social media presence. The Nigerian military counterinsurgency campaign begun in 2013 has reduced Boko Haram’s freedom of maneuver within Nigeria, causing it to setup safe havens in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon utilizing hundreds of unguarded border transit points. Due to a campaign of violence against civilians and businesses, Boko Haram has lost both Nigerian civilian support and recruits, causing it to look to disaffected and poverty-ridden areas in border countries, particularly Cameroon. Boko Haram’s violent attacks have alienated it from much of the Nigerian population. … The primary goal of Boko Haram is to institute an Islamic state throughout Nigeria based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law with an inevitable regional expansion. The founder and spiritual leader of Boko Haram, Muhammed Yusuf, and his followers originally believed in a peaceful transition and made what the current Boko Haram leadership considered illegitimate concessions to and compromises with secular and government leaders. The group has since adopted a takfirist ideology—the belief that less than a strict adherence to Salafist Islam makes a Muslim an “apostate” equal to infidels and, therefore, a legitimate target. Boko Haram has targeted and killed a number of prominent Muslim leaders who have been critical of the organization. Boko Haram considers any support of Western or secular ideas, such as schools based on Western influence, heretical and worthy of attack. The movement is not without provocations which have contributed to the escalation of its use of violence in pursuit of its goals. Decades of resentment against corruption, poverty, and perceived inequality have given Boko Haram its trajectory toward becoming an ever more violent organization. The reintroduction of sharia criminal courts in northern Islamic states failed because of the general perception of unfairness by the population. Police brutality, extrajudicial killings by security forces, and disappearances of people taken into custody have bred general distrust, animosity, and resistance to the Nigerian government that has not fully investigated and prosecuted offenses. Despite being Africa’s largest economy with great natural resource wealth, it has one of the poorest populations with a large percent of people living on less than $1 a day. The disparity in distribution of that wealth is stark in its inequitable concentration with 72 percent of the North’s population living in poverty compared with 27 percent in the South and 35 percent in the Niger Delta. The population in the North is caught between two violent and contesting forces, Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces. … 11 Mar
Joint Staff Strategic Assessment: Options to Facilitate Socio-Political Stability in Syria and Iraq - Key Observations There was consensus among SMA researchers and observers that: • Da’esh represents a compound threat: it is both the organization and the violent extremist idea it represents. • Da’esh battlefield loss in Iraq/Syria theater will not bring about an end to the salience of the extremist ideology that it represents. Rather, the “ideological battle” is likely to continue over the coming years with potentially unacceptable tolls on Western societies. • The effort to mitigate the threat should be compound and comprehensive: addressing the regional conflict as a whole, not Da’esh only, using targeted kinetic options along with complementary messaging and other non-kinetic options. The observations, research findings and implications presented below summarize the contributions of the separate research efforts included in this paper. They represent a three-pronged approach for encouraging support for regional stability by: • diminishing the global allure of the jihadist ideology that Da’esh presents; • attending to the underlying and persistent drivers of regional conflict; • shaping and influencing narratives to minimize Da’esh appeal. Analytic Findings and Recommendations Diminish Allure, Stem Spread of Ideology OBSERVATION: There are at least eight inter-related militarized conflicts in the region. US focus on Da’esh in Iraq and Syria has weakened Da’esh but, by not addressing other regional conflicts, has allowed extremist ideology to become further entrenched. OBSERVATION: Da’esh’s caliphate-state concept, the appeal of jihadism, and terrorist tactics are unlikely to disappear in the near term. However, we may be able to impact their appeal to aggrieved populations and diminish their lethality. RESEARCH FINDING: Violent and repressive counter VEO efforts increase the incidence and lethality of VEO responses; non-violent approaches appear to make groups less lethal (See Asal, Rethemeyer and Young, page 22). IMPLICATIONS: • Defeating Da’esh the organization with overt kinetic and violent means will at best diminish a portion of the threat and leave the region in persistent turmoil. • Efforts to neutralize Da’esh should be done in a way that reduces the possibility of AQ resurgence or emergence of other VEOs, including: • separating references to Islamist/ caliphist political thought in US narratives and strategic communications from the violent means associated with it; • addressing and working to mitigate the negative psycho-social dynamics in Iraq and Syria that impact both civilians and combatants many of whom are living with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); • building trust with elite/ leader networks in secret, over time, using rewards, and withholding punishments in order to accommodate acceptable elements of the larger movement of which Da’esh is part. Underlying and Persistent Drivers: Shift Emphasis to Avoiding Civil War in Iraq RESEARCH FINDING: Based on the range of interests (i.e., economic, social, domestic, etc.) of regional actors, Da’esh eventually will be defeated regardless of US efforts in Syria. The interests of regional actors that possess the relevant capabilities to impact the fight against Da’esh show high resolve for defeatist defeat in Syria and even more so for Da’esh defeat in Iraq. RESEARCH FINDING: Whether Iraqi tribal elites and Sunni factions perceive that there range of interests are better served b the Government if Iraq (GoI) or living under Da’esh/jihadist rule is determined by what they believe about the security conditions that each would bring. RESEARCH FINDING: Given their range if interests, the benefit Kurdish groups derive from continued civil conflict in Syria and Iraq (e.g., wealth, prestige, territory) can be countered with economic arrangements, and enhanced international and domestic influence. RESEARCH FINDING: GoI and Shi’a hardliners in Iraq have high resolve (political will) to avoid making substantive post-conflict political reforms that increase the stature of Sunni voices in the Iraqi government. Two conditions however change the decision calculus of each groups to preferring to make these reforms: 1) outbreak of full-scale civil warfare in Iraq; or 2) Iranian backing for such reforms. IMPLICATIONS: Now is the opportune time to shift policy towards conflict transformation – avoiding civil war in Iraq; begin engaging all parties in publically visible dialogue regarding their views and requirements for post-Da’esh governance and security. • Engage Sunni factions on security guarantees and requirements for political inclusion/power; • Engage Kurds on economic and international and domestic political influence requirements; • Incentivize Iran to back off on proxy funding, diminish stridency of Shi’a hardline easing way for GoI to make substantive overtures, open governance reform talks. Underlying and Persistent Drivers: Restabilize Saudi-Iranian Competition for Dominance; Use of Proxy Forces RESEARCH FINDING: The regional system will remain unstable; defeat of Da’esh decreases system conflict only marginally. RESEARCH FINDING: Saudi, Iranian use of proxy forces can quickly reignite hostilities in the region. Although direct confrontation is very costly for each, the chances of unwanted escalation are high. RESEARCH FINDING: Iran may be incentivized to limit proxy support by international efforts to 1) recognize Iran as a regional partner, 2) mitigate perceived threat from Saudi Arabia and Israel, and 3) expand trade relations with Europe. RESEARCH FINDING: There are few potential levers incentivizing Saudi Arabia to limit proxyism, although it may respond to warning of restrictions on US support if not curtailed. IMPLICATIONS: To be effective, efforts to address the underlying sources of regional instability should include a shift from a narrow focus on Da’esh toward the multiple active and latent conflicts in the region, most notably the Saudi-Iranian, Sunni-Shi’a rivalry. Activities should include open dialogue with Iran, Saudi Arabia and regional actors to quell the intensity of Saudi-Iran rivalry and mutual threat perceptions. Underlying and Persistent Drivers: Address Disaffected Populations OBSERVATION: The regional population is traumatized and wrought with PTSD. Both civilians and combatants are physically and psychologically wounded. OBSERVATION: Regional actors are using the fight against Da’esh as an excuse to fight others with whom they have long-standing animosities. OBSERVATION: As populations continue to be disaffected, Da’esh gains empathy, nationstates find avenues to either directly assault or use proxies to undermine adversaries, and US interests are curtailed. IMPLICATIONS: Address population grievances, not jihadist ideology independent of context. Sincerely addressing disaffection of regional populations – physical, social and political — makes conditions unfavorable for both the Da’esh organization and the ideology. It also sets the context for diminishing the allure of violent extremist ideology, civil conflict, and ultimately regional stability. Activities should include instituting immediate humanitarian relief for disaffected population will help ease trauma and facilitate overdue care for those wounded by all warring parties in this conflict, and development of long-term plans for dealing with IDPs, refugees and returnees. 5 Mar
(U//FOUO) DHS-FBI-USSS Joint Threat Assessment 2017 Presidential Address to a Joint Session of Congress - (U//FOUO) This Joint Threat Assessment (JTA) addresses threats to the 2017 Presidential Address to a Joint Session of Congress (the Presidential Address) at the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on 28 February 2017. This assessment does not consider nonviolent civil disobedience tactics (for example, protests without a permit) that are outside the scope of federal law enforcement jurisdiction; however, civil disobedience tactics designed to cause a hazard to public safety and/or law enforcement fall within the scope of this assessment. (U//FOUO) This product is intended to support federal, state, and local government agencies and authorities in identifying priorities for protective and support measures against terrorism and other existing or emerging threats to Homeland security. Information in this assessment is current and accurate as of 10 February 2017. (U) Key Findings (U//FOUO) As of 10 February 2017, the FBI, DHS, and the United States Secret Service (USSS) have no information to indicate a specific, credible threat to the Presidential Address or related activities within the National Capital Region (NCR). We assess the Presidential Address is an attractive target for violent extremists, as there will be a large gathering of senior US Government officials and members of Congress. There will also be a large presence of global media outlets, making it likely that any significant incident would garner widespread international media coverage, which is a common objective in terrorist attacks. We remain concerned about unaffiliated lone offenders, homegrown violent extremists (HVEs), and domestic extremists targeting the Presidential Address, as well as the sustained interest of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) in attacking gatherings, landmarks, and critical infrastructure within the NCR. (U//FOUO) Although the FBI, DHS, and the USSS lack reporting to show a specific interest by FTOs in the Presidential Address itself, we remain concerned about the sustained interest of some terrorist groups—such as core al-Qa’ida, the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), and their affiliates—in targeting gatherings and public locations within the NCR, given its status as the nation’s capital. In addition, these groups continue to call on individuals to conduct independent attacks in the United States using vehicle ramming, edged weapons, improvised explosive devices, and small arms.27 Feb
Multinational Capability Development Campaign Military Strategic Communication Handbook Draft - Cell phones, smart phones, the Internet, and GPS are increasingly available and are changing the nature of conflict, even in remote areas. Information can now reach out in new ways to global audiences because of the revolution in Information Technology (IT), particularly using cell phones and smart phones. The revival of hybrid warfare manifested in recent developments in the international security environment – such as the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian crisis, the rise of Jihadist-Salafist terrorism, and the European migrant crisis – demonstrates the power of communication, broadly based on IT advantages: messages and perceptions become predominant of physical engagements and strongly impact the behaviour of people. Orchestrated activities carry messages and have a crucial effect on 55 public opinions, decision-making processes, and domestic support. From a communication perspective, military operations are part of a vicious circle (see Figure 1): they  result from political decisions, are part of state-funded activity, and are under constant observation of the media who strongly affect public opinion, which in turn influences political discussion and decision-making. Military success can be either directly aided or challenged by activities in the Information Environment. Military communicators need to convey the message that operations are in line with political decisions and serve the interest of the involved nations and their populace. In this respect, they may act as guardians of the political Narrative, ensuring that political will is reflected in words and deeds throughout operations planning and execution. Today’s military operations are also challenged with a fragmentation of communication capabilities and insufficient integration of communication with operations planning, resulting in fragmented Information Activities by multinational partners, insufficiently harmonised for achieving objectives in the Information Environment that support common strategic objectives. In the last decades the multinational community of communication practitioners struggled to overcome this challenge by introducing coordination mechanisms. For instance, the military Info Ops function and later StratCom were designed to provide an analysis, advice, coordination and oversight capacity for communication capabilities at various levels. However, relying solely on the coordination of capabilities and actions treats the symptom more than it constitutes a solution to the underlying problem. In addition, there is still a lack of consideration of the comprehensive scope of non-media activities that may help to create desired effects from a communication perspective. Coalition partners need to be able to gain enhanced situation awareness in the Information Environment; develop and issue timely, relevant and feasible communication guidance; implement communication plans in a consistent, transparent and flexible manner; and take emerging communication practices and technology into account. All this finally led to the concept of integrated communication and communication management – an approach to adequately respond to and shape developments in the Information Environment from a multinational coalition and comprehensive approach perspective. … 25 Feb
Today in OpenGov: A California budget data upgrade, big donors boosting Trump, and more - In today's edition, we look at a potential upgrade to California's budget data, investigate the wealthy donors preparing to boost President Trump, find savings at the FEC, and more… States and cities   California may publish state budgets as downloadable spreadsheets. "A Senate committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would require future state budgets be available in a downloadable spreadsheet format — an effort to bring more public scrutiny to state expenditures." (Government Technology) Driving data innovation in small cities. "As cities like Syracuse have demonstrated, being able to leverage ideas from peers is a key component of driving innovation and adopting data-driven strategies." (Mark Headd) Carl Malamud took on Georgia over access to the state's laws. Ars Technica digs deep into the open-records activist's fight to improve access to Georgia's state code and related annotations. It's a complicated story, worth reading in full, but the story so far doesn't end well. "Now, the case has concluded with US District Judge Richard Story having published an opinion (PDF) that sides with the state of Georgia. The judge disagreed with Malamud's argument that the OCGA can't be copyrighted and also said Malamud's copying of the laws is not fair use."  (Ars Technica) money & politics & ethics & corruption   Wealthy donors are planning a media blitz to boost President Trump. In the wake of "the failed effort to repeal Obamacare a group of wealthy backers is launching a media blitz to pressure Democratic senators to support" the President. (Bloomberg) Gorsuch responds in writing to Citizens United question… and the answer did not impress Rick Hasen at the Election Law Blog. He writes: "Well Sen. Leahy followed up in a written question, and Judge Gorsuch continues to insist on spending limits being possible upon proof of quid pro quo corruption (which I think is essentially foreclosed by both Citizens United and the follow-up American Tradition Partnership)." (Election Law Blog) …while Democrats push for him to help find out who is behind dark money supporting his nomination. "Just in: Senate Dems write Gorsuch calling on him to help find out who donated $10m+ backing his nomination – currently secret" (Ari Melber) The Federal Elections Commission's new website will save $1.2 million annually. The FEC teamed up with 18F to launch the new site, which includes new features and increased scalability. Savings will come from internal systems that will be retired.  (Nextgov) Elsewhere in washington   Thinking of becoming a whistleblower? There's a lot to consider. "We all like to think that given the opportunity to blow the whistle on something illegal or immoral, we would do the right thing. But whistleblowing is rarely, if ever, black and white and often entails significant legal, ethical, financial, and personal challenges." (Government Executive) Intelligence agency hackathon targets food security. "A team of students from the University of Southern California won the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s most recent hackathon in Los Angeles for creating a different approach to facilitating food security in Morocco through a proposed solution that optimizes the transportation of fish. The hackathon is one of many ways the agency is trying to find new approaches to its complex problems — and recruit talent when competing with the fast-paced, high-paying tech industry." (FedScoop) Trump administration to pursue criminal charges against leakers? "Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated Thursday evening that the Trump administration would pursue criminal charges to end alleged leaks from U.S. agencies." (The Hill) Democrats in Congress not getting answers from the Administration. "The lack of response to congressional letters is part of a pattern. Virtually every day, Democrats write the Trump administration demanding answers on a range of issues. And every day they are met with the sounds of silence." (ProPublica)   Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to todayinopengov@sunlightfoundation.com. We would love your feedback!   31 Mar
Today in OpenGov: New hope for open data, grim news for Internet privacy, and more - In today’s edition, we note Ivanka Trump’s new job title, take a look at France’s open government plans, celebrate new open data legislation, read the 28 counts against Steve Stockman, and more… A new hope for open data The OPEN Government Data Act is back in the House. We’re thrilled that it was reintroduced in a bipartisan manner and hope Congress moves forward with it soon. As we said last year when the Senate passed it, this legislation would codify an expectation into law that the Sunlight Foundation has been advocating for since we were founded a decade ago: Public data created with taxpayer dollars should be available to the public in open, machine-readable forms when doing so does not damage privacy or national security. Congress targets U.S. Code for much needed modernization. “Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Dave Brat (R-Va.) have reintroduced the Statutes at Large Modernization Act, a legislation reform bill that would make all federal laws ever passed available and publicly searchable on Congress.gov in an open, non-proprietary data format.” (Federal Computer Week) Acting U.S. CIO highlights reliance on legacy systems as a major problem. “As agencies look to free themselves from their dependencies to outdated, legacy systems, acting U.S. CIO Margie Graves wants to make sure the federal government doesn’t find itself in this predicament once again decades down the road.” The government should focus on developing more modular, portable, and flexible systems moving forward. (FedScoop) Around the world A new generation joins anti-corruption protests in Russia. “Not only did young people turn out in large numbers at the demonstrations last weekend, but they’ve also invigorated Navalny’s anti-corruption campaign by challenging educators in classrooms and sharing footage of teachers and administrators trying to indoctrinate students against political activism.” (Global Voices) France looks online to build next Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. “On March 15th, France released an online platform to initiate the development of its next national action plan. Open to public administrations, civil society organizations and other stakeholders, this platform will gather contributions in order to build up ambitious and transformative commitments to be endorsed by the next government.” (Open Government Partnership) Six key themes for digital democracy. “Last month NESTA published a paper called Digital Democracy: The tools for transforming political engagement.” The report highlighted six key themes including “don’t engage for engagement’s sake; be clear about who you are engaging and why; digital should always complement traditional engagement; digital should not be seen as a cheap and easy fix and use tools that are useful and useable for your users.” (The Democratic Society) money & politics & ethics & corruption Congress votes to roll back Internet privacy rules after heavy telecom lobbying and spending. “The vote to dismantle the rules is seen as one of the more brazen examples of pay-to-play politics in recent memory. It’s a massive win for giant ISPs; especially those like AT&T and Verizon that are pushing hard into the Millennial advertising business.” (DSL Reports) The Verge has a breakdown of Members of Congress who voted for the bill and how much money they have taken from the telecom industry in campaign donations. Former Rep. Steve Stockman indicted on 28 charges, accused of misusing up to $1.25 million. “Former Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman was formally indicted Tuesday evening on fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges, the Justice Department announced.”(Roll Call) State Department employee allegedly shared information with China in exchange for gifts. “A veteran State Department employee who held a Top Secret clearance and did three tours in China is facing criminal charges for allegedly covering up tens of thousands of dollars in gifts she and an associate took from Chinese agents.” (POLITICO) Trumpland Ivanka Trump will officially join White House staff after conflict of interest questions. “Ivanka Trump said she will become an official unpaid federal employee after Democratic lawmakers said her previously unspecified role advising her father, President Donald Trump, raised questions about how she’d avoid conflicts of interest.” (Bloomberg) Secretary of State brings two pool reporters on trip to Europe… “Two pool reporters are traveling with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his current trip to Turkey and Belgium after Tillerson blocked pool reporters from his first trip to Asia earlier this month.” Reporters from other outlets that want to cover the trip will fly commercial. (POLITICO) …while State Department briefing room goes dark amid spokesperson search. “For at least two weeks, officials at the State Department will not hold a public briefing, according to officials with the department. After that, it is unclear if briefings will resume immediately and what form they will take. In the meantime, the State Department have been briefing reporters on background only, which means officials cannot be quoted by name in any news stories.” Sunlight’s Deputy Director Alex Howard weighed in, calling the lack of briefings “an unfortunate continuation of what we’ve seen from the very top of this administration.”(ABC News) Air Force nominee’s contracting work under fire from ethics watchdogs. “Independent ethics watchdogs urged members of Congress this week to probe why President Trump’s Air Force secretary nominee, former Rep. Heather Wilson, was paid by nuclear weapon contractors to do consulting work for which she refused to provide a detailed accounting.” (Center for Public Integrity)   Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to todayinopengov@sunlightfoundation.com. We would love your feedback! 30 Mar
Today in OpenGov: Certifying What Works Cities, reviewing Mar-a-Lago, and more - In today's edition, we head to New York for the What Works Cities Summit, ask some questions about security at Mar-a-Lago, share a congressional wish list, and more… What works cities A number of Sunlighters are in New York for the 2017 What Works Cities Summit. The program, launched in 2015, now includes 77 cities. We are proud to have helped 50 of these cities open their data! The Summit is continuing today and you can follow along on Twitter at #WWCSummit17 Sunlight's Deputy Director Alex Howard shared our story, highlighting some of the work that we have done in cities ranging from San Jose, California to Buffalo, New York. You can view the slides from his presentation here. What Works Cities certification. "What Works designed its newly-announced Certification program to recognize high-performing cities across [a number of] criteria, to create an objective standard of success, and to help cities at any point in the data journey understand how they can improve their practices." The program looks at performance across areas including open data, governance, analytics, results-driven contracting, and more. (Data-Smart City Solutions) The road to open data in Des Moines, Iowa. On February 20th Des Moines, Iowa passed a resolution officially establishing the city's open data program. We were there to help them develop and implement an approach to open data that addresses the distinct challenges faced by city officials and the community they serve. Sunlight's Noel Isama shared the whole story on the Sunlight blog. Trumpland   No one knows who goes to Mar-a-Lago… Turns out there's a clear reason why the White House hasn't released visitor logs for Mar-a-Lago, the "Winter White House" that President Trump has visited regularly in his first few months in office: the Secret Service doesn't keep them and doesn't seem that interested in starting. "Former U.S. Secret Service officials tell POLITICO that the agency isn't equipped — with the time or money — to do the kind of legwork that would be required to produce logs for the president’s clubs. Agents don’t do it when the president goes to a hotel or other events away from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. And they don’t see the benefit in chasing down the names of every person that a member or party host brings in and who they vouch for as a legitimate guest." (POLITICO) …But the GAO might start asking why. "The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will review how President Trump secures classified information when he visits his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., according to a Tuesday Reuters report…It will also look at how the Secret Service screens Mar-a-Lago guests and examine the expenses of government employees who travel to Florida with the president, according to a letter the agency sent to lawmakers on Friday." (The Hill) Trump's FDA nominee will recuse himself in cases involving former clients. "The Trump administration’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration plans to recuse himself for a year from FDA decisions on more than 20 companies, including some drug giants."  (Wall Street Journal) Major news organizations are increasing security amid increased tensions. "Some national news organizations have recently increased their security for employees as tensions continue to run hot toward the media." Newspapers like the Washington Post and McClatchy as well as broadcasters including CNN have begun to take security more seriously with a noted boost in efforts in recent months. (POLITICO) Investigative Reporters and Editors is saving, indexing data in anticipation of Trump tactics. "Under normal circumstances, IRE's database library is a repository for journalists and academics looking to flesh out their stories and research with solid facts. Lately, however, it's become a refuge for records experts who fear that officials in the Trump administration may delete or cease maintaining records." (Poynter) Elsewhere in Washington   National Archives rethinks presidential records for the social media era. "President Donald Trump may be the most prolific Twitter user the Oval Office has seen, but the National Archives and Records Administration is currently grappling with how best to store the vast number of social media postings, emails and digital documents produced by his predecessor's White House." (Nextgov) A legislative wishlist for the 115th Congress. The Project on Government Oversight released a "Baker's Dozen," worth of asks for the 115th Congress with a focus on protecting whistleblowers, reforming contracting and acquisition procedures, increased executive branch oversight, and more. (Project on Government Oversight) Oversight hears that agencies are struggling with IT reform. "Testifying before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Information Technology on March 28, [David] Powner [head of IT oversight at the GAO] pointed to the still-limited management authorities, limited partnering with industry and IT workforce deficiencies as recurring themes of failed IT projects." (Federal Computer Week)  Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to todayinopengov@sunlightfoundation.com. We would love your feedback!   29 Mar
An Iowan Path To Open Data In Des Moines - In a small room in Des Moines, a government worker quietly explained to us how opening up an internal database could improve public safety. Michele Bischof, the superintendent of technical services from the Fire Department of Des Moines, Iowa, said that she’d across a dataset which indicated that chronic diabetes was responsible for a significant number of 911 calls they received. If that data set was open to city workers and the public online, she suggested, it could both help with grant applications and improve public health decisions. It’s exactly the kind of connection between opening public data and improved public outcomes that Sunlight wants to see made in the world. I was in Des Moines to commemorate the passage of a resolution by the City Council on February 20th, which officially established the city’s open data program. During our time in Iowa, we met with the elected officials and the city staff who will be developing the program. We learned that, despite the challenges Des Moines faced in opening public data, like silos in individual departments, the city was determined to open up their data in their own deliberate, “Iowan” way. This program will provide the public and city staff with a powerful tool to exchange information. As Mayor Cownie noted in his remarks after the vote, the program also reflects Des Moines’ commitment to transparency. Confronting shared challenges Like many cities that have developed an open data program, Des Moines is facing a series of challenges. The first barrier was access. As is true of many cities, Des Moines uses several legacy systems that held data in inaccessible formats. Further, agencies were undergoing a significant update to these systems, which hindered their ability to gather data in an organized fashion. The second barrier was capacity. As a smaller city with older systems, Des Moines staff worried that they did not have enough space to store all the data that it collects in one place. While they recognized the value of open data, the means to that end — such as inventorying datasets — seemed daunting and some questioned if the goals associated with program were achievable. The third barrier was human capital. On open data, capacity didn’t just refer to servers, but the ability of city workers to implement the program, given limited resources. The city was anxious about the amount of staff time it would take to get the program up and running and to maintain it. The final barrier was fragmentation. Much of the city’s data was siloed in departments, making it difficult to share internally, let alone with the public. Meeting cities where they are A key part of Sunlight’s Open Cities work is to meet communities where they are to talk about transitioning to a culture of data-driven, evidence-based decisionmaking. Doing our work right means gaining a comprehensive understanding of a city’s resources and goals for open data, and then agreeing on realistic objectives for a given time frame. In Des Moines, this meant taking into account legacy systems, limited IT resources and staff capacity. The city decided to space out the development and implementation of the policy over of a year, beginning with creating an internal governance structure for the open data program. There are distinct advantages to taking this approach. First, it allowed the city to refine its practices around data management with open data in mind. As they update systems, develop new practices and educate staff, Des Moines can build buy-in for the open data program, nurturing a more open mindset toward proactive disclosure and adoption of best practices, like encouraging the use of open formats. Second, Des Moines could manage expectations in the program while working to build with stakeholders through community engagement. As a result, the city is not making promises it can’t keep while it looks for opportunities cultivate its future user base. At the end of our meetings, I left hopeful about Des Moines’ program. Despite some apprehension, city staff were excited about the possibilities open data presented when data is more accessible both internally and externally. We’re proud to have helped Des Moines develop and implement an approach to open data that addresses the distinct challenges faced by city officials and the community they serve. The city should continue to build capacity internally by developing guidance around open data and educate staff. They’re already on that path: Des Moines’ new data governance team is already holding meetings. We look forward to seeing how far they travel in the year ahead. Great day w/ @DesMoinesGov. Congrats for passing resolution establishing their #opendata program. #whatworkscities @SunFoundation pic.twitter.com/8ANUc6TVDJ — Noel N. Isama (@n_isama) February 21, 2017 28 Mar
Today in OpenGov: Open data in Riverside, transparency in D.C., Sunlight on the radio, and more - In today's edition, we talk transparency with Maine Sen. Angus King, highlight Riverside's open data efforts, see how Trump's new innovation office compares with previous efforts along the same lines, and more… States and cities   Sunlight's Katya Abazajian went to Riverside, CA to explore how the What Works Cities city is connecting communities through open data. Whether through apps, passing open data policies, or new channels for collaboration on systemic issues like homelessness, Riverside — which recently passed an open data proclamation — is taking meaningful steps to connect its people to their own data. (Sunlight Foundation) A predictive policing start up released its algorithm and data for analysis and criticism. "CivicScape has released its algorithm and data online for experts to scour" in an effort to avoid  known problems with predictive policing software including a tendency to "disproportionately target minorities." (Quartz) Facebook looks to boost civic engagement with new tools. "The social media company on Monday announced that it is rolling out three new products" to help users identify and connect with their representatives as well as remember to vote in local elections. (The Hill) New transparency bill introduced in Washington, DC City Council. David Grosso, a member of the Washington, D.C. City Council introduced a bill "on Tuesday to foster more open and responsive government by strengthening existing open government laws." The legislation tackles topics like freedom of information, open meetings, and open data. (David Grosso) Money & Politics & ethics & corruption   Sunlight's John Wonderlich discusses transparency with Maine Sen. Angus King. John joined Maine's Independent Senator on WGAN's Inside Maine podcast to discuss "dark money," campaign finance, and transparency. (WGAN) Where are the Executive Office of the President's financial disclosures? Last week, the "Center for Responsive Politics [released] new personal financial data for members of the Trump administration. Collected from reports that executive branch nominees are required to submit to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), the data gives the public an inside look at the financial interests of what is likely the wealthiest cabinet in modern history." However, as of Sunday they were still waiting on "legally required financial disclosures from members of the Executive Office of the President." (OpenSecrets.org) Which official bodies oversee President Trump's ethics? Check out this handy list. "Of course, the media, whistleblowers and the courts are key elements of the accountability ecosystem. A number of agencies or government bodies also have a hand in holding presidents and appointees accountable on ethics and conflicts of interest. But a few play an outsize role — though only some of them have direct purview over the activities of the president." This list highlights congressional, executive branch, and state bodies with power. (NPR) Deutsche Bank in tricky situation over Trump debt. President Trump owes Deutsche Bank around $300 million. This, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a problem, but the bank is running into hurdles as they attempt to restructure some of that debt. "The issue is a personal guarantee Trump gave Deutsche Bank when the debt was negotiated from 2012 to 2015…Since Trump won the presidential election in November, bankers have tried to eliminate the awkward prospect of someday collecting from a sitting U.S. president. If the bank removes Trump’s personal guarantee, critics might accuse it of trying to curry favor with the president. If the interest rate rises as part of any restructuring, it could also risk the scorn of the Trump business organization." (Bloomberg) Billionaire Icahn's dual roles as regulatory adviser and energy investor raise ethics flags. "Since Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor, was named by President Trump as a special adviser on regulatory matters, he has been busy working behind the scenes to try to revamp an obscure Environmental Protection Agency rule that governs the way corn-based ethanol is mixed into gasoline nationwide." The problem? Icahn is a majority investor in an oil refiner that stands to save hundreds of millions of dollars from the rule change. (New York Times)  Data and innovation in trumpland   Trump's shifting stance on official data is cause for real concern. "The danger is that a President who disparages the data might convince his followers that bad economic news is political propaganda, and offer numbers that have no statistical rigor behind them." (The New Yorker) Trump innovation office adds to uncertainty for USDS, 18F. "Right now, it’s unclear what the new group will mean for the federal tech and innovation groups created in the Obama administration, including the White House’s U.S. Digital Service—itself described as a tech troubleshooting SWAT team—and 18F, the digital consultancy housed within the General Services Administration." Jared Kushner, who will lead Trump's new team, has previously expressed support for both USDS and 18F. (Nextgov) Insiders encouraged by innovation office's proximity to Oval Office, potential focus on IT. Numerous federal IT insiders from both parties expressed optimism that the new White House Office of American Innovation could be well positioned to succeed. (Federal Computer Week) Reforming government is more complicated than it appears. "Many presidents have tried to reform government. At best, they have enjoyed only partial success, typically falling far short of highly ambitious goals. The road to changing government, as Trump’s predecessors learned, is filled with political landmines, but there are some guideposts the new administration should follow if it hopes to make headway." (Government Executive)   Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to todayinopengov@sunlightfoundation.com. We would love your feedback!   28 Mar
Riverside connects communities to sustainable open data - On March 7, 2017, Riverside’s City Council passed an open data proclamation. The announcement formalized its commitment to an upcoming resolution to proactively release open data and provide free access to the public. Riverside, California is one of more than 50 What Works Cities working with the Sunlight Foundation to develop an open data policy. Thanks to strong support from Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, Riverside chief innovation officer Lea Deesing has improved the way data reaches Riverside’s residents by leading a team of developers and city administrative officials working side-by-side. Innovation runs strong in Riverside As the “City of Arts & Innovation,” Riverside had a strong foundation for innovating around open data prior to passing its proclamation, which formalized the City’s commitment. It’s no accident that GovTech named Riverside the 5th most digital city in America in 2016 among comparably-sized cities. Riverside is one of just a few cities nation-wide with a municipal apps page dedicated to hosting Android and iPhone apps developed by in-house technical staff. Many of these apps offer easy access to city datasets like 311 requests, geolocated landmarks around town, or public meeting agendas. While many cities use open data portals as a first avenue for disclosure, Riverside has used its technical capacity to go above and beyond. This proclamation and city council resolution to continue Riverside’s open data program will both enhance and prolong this work. In our work with Riverside, we found the city’s staff are dedicated to meeting residents where they are, especially through their Engage Riverside online portal. In conjunction with the recent release of an updated 311 app, Riverside promoted the new app on Facebook, receiving positive feedback, and linked to a YouTube tutorial (above). Today, residents have both improved access to 311 data and new resources to use it. Applying data to help people address problems works Two years ago, Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey accepted President Barack Obama’s call to American cities to take up the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by the end of 2015. Bailey worked with Riverside County to become the first large community to reach “functional zero” for veteran homelessness. Over that time, the city of Riverside worked with a range of community partners, applying intensive human and administrative resources to reach a shared goal of providing housing for 86 homeless veterans over the course of six months. By the end of 2015, the City of Riverside had either housed or allocated resources for every homeless veteran in the city. National Guard Veteran David Oakley, who case managers helped house through the city’s effort, said having his own place was “kind of, to be honest, like a dream come true.” That dream didn’t come to pass on its own. Riverside County, as a partner and the convening organization for larger local efforts to end homelessness, convened meetings to connecting the city to local service providers, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations to improve collaboration across sectors. Volunteers who participated in the resulting efforts used maps generated from the city’s homelessness tracking data to find where homeless individuals were usually found to more efficiently match them with case managers and local resources. Now that Riverside’s open data policy is established, sharing data with volunteers will be more streamlined in the future. Riverside is now working on homelessness prevention as part of a five year plan. A central goal in this plan is to improve the way data on homeless residents is collected for better tracking and apply that data to evaluate prevention services. Cities need strong leadership to commit to collaboration Open data champions play an important role in influencing internal city culture around data and technology. In Riverside, the city’s innovation department is supported by a strong IT team. A dedicated innovation officer and leadership at the mayoral and at the county level ensured that city staff interacted with the right partners inside and outside of City Hall to connect residents and practitioners to municipal data. Riverside’s leadership — and the staff who support them — worked hard to ensure that those most affected by city outreach and service provision weren’t left behind. Residents of the Riverside now have continued, formalized access to city operations and data. Whether through fun apps or through new channels for collaboration on systemic issues like homelessness, Riverside is taking meaningful steps to connect its people to their own data.27 Mar
Today in OpenGov: Russian corruption protests, the importance of visitor logs, and more - In today's edition, we follow protests against official corruption in Russia, argue for the disclosure of visitor logs at the White House and Mar-a-Lago, ask for more contract disclosure, and more… Around the world   Journalists, opposition leader held in wake of anti-corruption protests in Russia. Hundreds of people — including opposition leader Alexei Navalny — were arrested in Russia over the weekend as protests erupted over allegations of corruption involving Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. (The Hill) "Sunday’s rallies appeared to be the largest since 2012, when tens of thousands came out against the Kremlin over allegations of widespread vote fraud." (Bloomberg) An American journalist covering the protests for The Guardian were apparently among those arrested on Sunday. (Twitter) The EU and U.S. State Department condemned the arrests and called on Russia to release detained protesters (POLITICO, The Hill). Korean prosecutors seek to detain ousted President Park. On Monday, "South Korean prosecutors sought to arrest former President Park Geun-hye over allegations that she abused her powers and colluded with her longtime friend and former aides to get bribes from the nation’s top businesses." (Bloomberg) Portugal takes participatory budgeting nation-wide. Portugal has announced the world’s first participatory budget on a national scale. The project will let people submit ideas for what the government should spend its money on, and then vote on which ideas are adopted.(apolitical.co via Nathanial Heller) Trumpland   Sunlight supports the MAR-A-LAGO Act, visitor log transparency. On Friday, "Sunlight announced its support for the Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness (MAR-A-LAGO) Act. This bill would require the White House to publish the visitor logs that are collected by the Secret Service when members of the public are vetted to enter 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." (Sunlight Foundation) The bill has currently attracted only Democratic co-sponsors (The Hill), but as Sunlight's Alex Howard noted disclosure of White House visitor logs has been a bipartisan issue since the Obama era.  Trump could end FOIA fights, will probably support precedent instead. "President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is fighting against Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits seeking politically-charged Obama-era documents like those linked to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s scandals." Trump could move to end existing secrecy, but he probably won't according to a number of transparency advocates including Sunlight's Alex Howard, who explained that "An administration, even in a change of party, inherits legal positions…It’s not uncommon for it to remain consistent." (The Daily Caller) Watchdogs urge Ivanka Trump to take on official position to avoid ethics issues. "A group of government watchdogs says the White House must give President Trump’s daughter Ivanka an official title or risk conflicts of interest with her business ventures."  (The Hill) Elsewhere in Washington   Bipartisan group urges reappointment of Obama-era Special Counsel. Last week, "Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., a longtime whistleblower advocate who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.," chairs of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus sent a letter to White House Counsel Don McGhan II urging him to reappoint Carolyn Lerner as head of the Office of Special Counsel. "The senators credited Lerner’s office with saving more than $200 million taxpayer dollars that otherwise would have been lost to fraud or mismanagement, and noted that the Judiciary Committee last year had approved her renomination."  (Government Executive) Legislation would provide needed contract transparency. "Last week, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the “Contractor Accountability and Transparency Act of 2017” (S. 651)," the bill is supported by Sunlight, the Project on Government Oversight, and seven "other bipartisan groups…". It will "expand the contracting information available on USASpending.gov (which now only offers summaries of contracts), make the contract information more accessible and readable, and help reduce Freedom of Information Act backlogs." (Project on Government Oversight) Sunlight and friends talk data on Federal News Radio. Tune in to hear Alex Howard's thoughts on the multiple meanings of accessibility, Hudson Hollister on data transparency & Robert Dolan on data visualization. We hope you'll download, comment and share.. (Federal News Radio) Kushner tapped to lead Trump innovation office. The new White House office will work with private sector partners, including "Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff" and is "expected to pull ideas from the business world and may consider privatizing some government functions." (The Hill)   Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to todayinopengov@sunlightfoundation.com. We would love your feedback!   27 Mar
If the White House does not publish visitor logs, Congress should mandate disclosure - Today, Sunlight announced its support for the Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness (MAR-A-LAGO) Act. This bill would require the White House to publish the visitor logs that are collected by the Secret Service when members of the public are vetted to enter 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As we documented in February, the White House removed Obama-era visitor logs from open.whitehouse.gov and has not committed to ongoing disclosure of new logs collected during the Trump administration, despite months of inquiries from members of the media. That’s a mistake. While we continue to hope that this White House would adopt a democratic norm that had been established over the past decade, we strongly support Congress institutionalizing this transparency reform and hope that the Republican leadership will choose to sponsor the bills. “The Obama administration’s voluntary online disclosure of the White House visitor logs provided the American public with a meaningful window into the influence and operations of the White House, despite its flaws.” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, in a statement provided to the Congressional offices sponsoring the bill in the U.S. House and Senate. Given President Donald Trump’s adoption of the “Southern White House,” we also support the extension of disclosure beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “If the Trump administration isn’t going to continue a practice that was widely lauded by leaders across the political spectrum, Congress should mandate disclosure to guarantee public access to the visitor log records,” said Wonderlich. “As long as President Trump continues to conduct public business in his private business, the same standards of disclosure should apply to Mar-a-Lago as the White House. President Trump has brought unprecedented conflicts of interest to the Presidency. The public deserves more sunshine on his opaque estate in the Sunshine State.”24 Mar
Today in OpenGov: Transparency and ethics in Congress, open policy leads to better policy, and more - In today's edition, we explore how open policymaking has worked in Buffalo, get an update on the global open data index,  learn about the President's lease, track talk of transparency and corruption in Congress, and more… States and Cities   The City of Buffalo showed how opening data & policy to the public can make both better. Sunlight's Noel Isama explored Buffalo New York's public approach to building an open data policy and shared advice for other cities looking to learn from Buffalo's example, arguing that their "process can be replicated not just for an open data policy but for other types of legislation or initiatives." (Sunlight Foundation) The Colorado Senate passed a digital open records bill that includes some concerning exemptions. According to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, while the bill "was intended to clarify the public’s right to digitized government records in useful formats, such as spreadsheets," its author is concerned about a "very broad exemption, passed as an amendment, that would protect information on 'critical infrastructure.'" (Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition via NFOIC) Social media helps shine a light on missing kids in DC. Every month around 200 juveniles –almost entirely black or hispanic — are reported missing in the District of Columbia. The DC police cite "a new social media strategy that uses Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to publicize the cases…" for an increase in awareness and attention around them. Similar strategies are taking hold across the country. (Vice) around the world   Updating the Global Open Data Index. Some changes are afoot with the Global Open Data Index including new project management, a more robust public Github account and more. Look for the latest iteration of the index to launch on May 2nd. (Open Knowledge) A strange scandal may affect Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's political future. "The furor has been bubbling away for weeks, after questions surfaced over how the Moritomo Gakuen foundation was able to buy publicly owned land in Osaka for a fraction of its market value. The kindergarten is known for making children bow to portraits of the emperor and recite a 19th century imperial decree on education — practices dropped elsewhere after Japan’s World War II defeat." Abe's wife has been accused of helping the school secure a sweetheart deal. (Bloomberg) Open data helps track deforestation, but strong FOI laws are key. "Laws that protect citizens’ rights to access information and promote transparency may be a key to protecting and sustainably managing the world’s forests. The WRI study, Logging, Mining and Agricultural Data Transparency: A Survey of 14 Forested Countries, finds that not only are Freedom of Information (FOI) laws effective in getting access to forest information, but countries with FOI laws tend to disclose concession data more proactively than countries without them." (World Resources Institute via freedominfo.org) Transparency, corruption, and congress   Congress must honor past commitments, shed light on ALL legislation. Alex Howard argued forcefully against efforts to push healthcare legislation through the House with little notice and less transparency. "This morning, we are faced with the U.S. House that sought to move forward on a health care bill in the dead of night, drafting legislation under cover of darkness and proposing changes to rules that will bring it to a vote before Members of Congress or their constituents have an opportunity to read it." (Sunlight Foundation) House Oversight considers a slate of transparency bills. At a hearing yesterday the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform discussed bills including the DATA Act, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, the Presidential Tax Transparency Act, the OPEN Government Data Act, and more. Coverage of the hearing appeared in Nextgov, Federal Computer Week, and FedScoop.  Rep. Duncan Hunter under investigation for misuse of campaign funds. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is under criminal investigation for allegedly spending tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money on family expenses including trips to Hawaii, private school tuition, and video games. Hunter has already reimbursed his campaign $60,000 to correct "mistaken payments for personal items," but remains under investigation. (New York Times) Former Rep. Stockman may have stolen nearly $800,000 from two charities. "Testimony in a plea deal from a onetime aide to former Texas Rep. Steve Stockman puts the total of money he is accused of taking from charitable contributions close to $800,000." This news comes in the wake of charges against Stockman filed last week alledging $350,000 in misdirect funds. (Roll Call) Trumpland   Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' stake in global shipping company may present conflict. "A Center for Public Integrity examination of Diamond S Shipping’s operations found its vessels sail under Chinese flags, even as Ross is being tapped to take an unusually muscular role shaping U.S. trade policy under President Trump’s "America First" mantra. The company has ties to a major Chinese investment fund, and one of its ships has traveled to an Iranian port." (Center for Public Integrity) The GSA cuts deal with Trump over lease on Washington hotel. "The government agency serving as a landlord for the Trump hotel that sits on federal property in downtown Washington has approved an arrangement where President Donald Trump will maintain a financial interest in the project but agree not to receive any profits or other funds while he serves as president." (POLITICO) The folks at the Project on Government Oversight feel that GSA's decision is "a contorted reading of the lease" and should be challenged. (Project on Government Oversight) Trump team adds some tech talent. "The White House has reportedly hired a veteran Republican strategist to serve as a technology aide to President Donald Trump…Matt Lira…will become the special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives." Lira has a long history on tech in both houses of Congress and the campaign trail. (Federal Computer Week) This looks like a step in the right direction, but we can't help but notice that our government is still lacking a Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, and other key technology jobs.   Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to todayinopengov@sunlightfoundation.com. We would love your feedback!   24 Mar
How opening data and policy to the public online can make both better - In 2017, the City of Buffalo improved their new open data policy by bringing people into a regulatory process earlier on in the process in a way that wasn’t possible before the public was connected by the Internet. Buffalo gathered public comments for its open data policy, using OpenGov Foundation’s Madison tool, an open source platform which enables people to annotate draft legislation or regulations. By putting up their policy online and obtaining feedback, the city engaged residents who would not have been “at the table” otherwise, creating a policy that is more responsive to public needs. Buffalo is just one of the cities Sunlight has worked with through What Works Cities, many of which have used tools like Madison to obtain input from the public about their open data policies. This collaborative “crowdlaw” approach to developing open data policies is a method of citizen engagement that we have been promoting and would like to see applied more. Here’s how other cities can learn from Buffalo’s example. Buffalo’s Road to Open In recent years, Buffalo has been transitioning towards more data-driven decision making and collaborative projects with community organizations to address some of the city’s problems, including projects like Operation Clean Sweeps. With this in mind, Buffalo sought Sunlight’s expertise to help them draft an open data policy, as enhanced transparency was seen as vehicle for better coordination between the city government and community stakeholders. Over a period of a three of months, Buffalo reviewed existing policies from other cities, decided which elements from those approaches were likely to be a good fit for Buffalo, and then crafted a draft policy. As they considered how to improve the policy and make it reflect the needs of future users, the city settled on seeking direct comments from citizens. Once the policy was posted online, a comment left by Prof. Monica Stephens, a geography professor from the University of Buffalo, led to an invitation for city staff to speak to Open Buffalo. Open Buffalo is a civic organization that advocates for equality and justice in Buffalo, with a particular emphasis on using innovative tools like open data to do so. Soon afterwards, more members of the community and outside experts contributed comments, including recommendations like integrating Buffalo’s open data portal with the public records system and adding the ability for the portal to host crowdsourced data from community groups. In later discussions, the city indicated that it would like to add features reflecting both of these recommendations in the future. Collaborative Policy Making Online In providing assistance to Buffalo’s open data policy, we shared many resources for drafting an open data policy, including our Open Data Guidelines and our Public Policy for Public Data. We also helped the city think through ways to improve the policy through public engagement. Specifically, Sunlight offered the city a questionnaire on reaching a target audience when seeking feedback. This helped the city conduct targeted outreach around the policy, finding potential users of the portal and generating demand for their open data. The city also decided to hold public consultation for a few weeks to solicit the view of outside stakeholders. One aspect of making this approach effective, however, was not digital at all. By following up with Dr. Stephens and Open Buffalo, the city catalyzed the potential interest in the policy through personal interaction. The quality of the twenty two comments the draft policy received both rewarded that approach and connected the city to potential users of the portal and the data on it. The Open Data Roundtable Earlier this year, Sunlight participated in a valuable meeting of city government, local community members, and open data experts. Kirk McClean, special assistant to the deputy mayor, and Oswaldo Mestre, chief service officer and director of citizen services, used the public comments on Madison to help shape the discussion. We worked through: Leveraging the local civic community and facility community engagement Creating a space on the portal to showcase the work of outside organizations using city data Allowing the portal to host data from community groups and academic institutions Facilitating the use of community-generated datasets Involvement of outside groups in the open data governance Creating and integrating a centralized public records system into the portal Using anonymization to safeguard datasets that may contain private information Using data and evidence in city decision making We enjoyed a lively discussion on all these topics, as participants weighed how to balance the ambitions present in the comments with concerns about data quality or risks to privacy. Buffalo is already embarking on using the comments to shape their open data program and the experience of other What Works Cities to guide their public communications. For instance, when if Buffalo decides to highlight how outside organizations have used the city’s data on the their portal, they can look to Louisville, which has an gallery of applications that use city data. By taking this feedback and acting on it, Buffalo can focus on developing an open data platform that is dynamic and responsive to the needs of its residents. What Happens Next? This exercise in collaborative policymaking by Buffalo realized the potential of publicly drafting policy and demonstrated that drafting in the open, online, can work. If the city did not post the policy online, it wouldn’t have leveraged the enthusiasm and expertise that was present in the community. Buffalo would have also missed the chance to establish new relationships with residents and civic groups, developing a user base for the portal when the city begins publishing open data. When done correctly — with proactive outreach, facilitating dialogue and following up – drafting in the open can become an useful tool in policymaking. For Buffalo, there were distinct benefits from this approach. The most prominent being the policy will have already have dramatic improvements before it is enacted, instead of having to wait till a problem or dissatisfaction appears. The city was also able to promote its open data programs in an efficient way. By engaging in public outreach, Buffalo built credibility for the program and shaped expectations that reflect the city’s capacity and timelines. An under appreciated benefit of collaborative policymaking lies in its potential to find partners like Dr. Stephens. After making contact, the city found out about open data projects she was working on and established a new avenue for collaboration with the professor and her academic institution. By using the drafting process as an opportunity for public engagement the city is also developing a community of practice, which it can turn to when it engages in special projects around open data. Mayor Brown and his staff shared useful guidance of what other cities can do to maximize the opportunity that collaborative policymaking represents. They recommend: Complete the feedback loop. Follow up on comments from stakeholders, document the response publicly, and thank people for the feedback they provided Encourage city leaders to participate. In Buffalo, the mayor spoke publicly on the policy draft. Elected officials and agency staff may already be familiar with using platforms like Facebook or Twitter and would have equated the open data program to that. In speaking on the draft policy and the comments it received: it showed he took the project seriously and signaled to citizens and staff that they should, too. Meet stakeholders where they are, instead of waiting for people to come to them. In Buffalo, Kirk attended an Open Buffalo meeting after a comment was made by Prof. Stephens once the policy was posted online. Co-creating a new open data policy like this is a victory for the City of Buffalo. This level of engagement by the city makes it a national leader in civic engagement around regulatory processes. If more cities embrace collaborative policymaking in their open data policies, they can also achieve the benefit of a more robust, user centered open data program. This process can be replicated not just for an open data policy but for other types of legislation or initiatives. The comment process for federal regulations, reflects that this approach of engaging stakeholders is present at other levels of government . In the context of local government, an open data policy was a great place to start, due to inherent nature of transparency that is present in open data and the emphasis of using technology to facilitate that. We look forward to seeing how Buffalo’s open data program develops, particularly in how open data is used by local stakeholders. With the collaborative approach that it used to draft the policy, the city is off to a great start in engaging the public via open data.23 Mar

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