Posts from February 2010

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

It’s Sunday night. Late, I know. But on a night like tonight, it is never too late. A night of love. A night of rage. A night of Shamelessness.

You know the deal. What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.

Anarchist Communications: Mutual Aid for the A-library infoshop in Estonia

Received in my inbox yesterday.

From: A-raamatukogu
Subject: Solidarity with infoshop in Estonia
Date: 25 February 2010 6:57 AM

An anarchist infoshop in Estonia needs your support to survive the harsh winter

The ‘A-library’ (‘A-raamatukogu’, http://www.araamat.org) which is an anarchist/alternative infoshop in Tartu, Estonia (Eastern-Europe) needs your help. The winter of 2009/2010 has been exceptionally cold and our heating expenses have been way bigger than expected. Since we don’t receive funding from any organization, foundation or institution, and depend on individual donations from the local scene to pay for utilities and rent, for now our monetary resources have been exhausted. We are eager to keep A-raamatukogu functioning but for that we need to pay our bills. You can help us out by making a solidarity donation to following bank account:

  • Local account code: 17001364482
  • IBAN account code: EE32 1700 0170 0136 4482
  • SWIFT bank code: NDEAEE2X
  • Currency: EUR
  • Recipient: INDEPENDENT ACTIVE MTÜ
  • Explanation: ‘Donation for A-raamatukogu’

All donations go fully to the use of A-raamatukogu and their proper and purposeful use can be verified from the bookkeeping of NGO Independent Active (http://www.indyactive.net). All work done to maintain A-raamatukogu has been and continues to be voluntary and non-paid.

What is this A-raamatukogu anyway?

A-raamatukogu is an anarchist/alternative infoshop in Tartu, Estonia, currently located on the third floor of the Culture Factory in Tartu (Pikk street 58/60, http://www.tartu.kultuuritehas.ee/). Estonia is a small ex-Soviet country in north-eastern Europe, located between Finland, Russia and Latvia. The A-raamatukogu is situated near the downtown area of Tartu, the second biggest city in Estonia which is known as the university town of the region.

A-raamatukogu is operated by about fifteen young activists (mostly university students), most of us are connected with PunaMust (a small Estonian anarchist network that is gathered around the web page http://www.punamust.org/ ) and Estonian animal rights group Loomade Nimel (‘In the name of animals’, http://www.loomadenimel.org/). We are also closely linked with the squatting scene in Tallinn (the capital of Estonia, about 180 km northwest from Tartu).

We don’t have any formal or bureaucratic structure. Formalities (e.g. rent contract, book-keeping and bank account) are handled through a friendly NGO called Independent Active (http://www.indyactive.net/ ), but we find it important to point out that Independent Active is not the ‘owner’ of A-raamatukogu. Decisions are made directly by the people involved in running the place and everybody can take part in it.

The main goal of A-raamatukogu is to promote anti-authoritarian ideas, introduce alternative social, cultural and political movements and to create a space where activists and groups can gather, communicate, share information, prepare for actions or just hang out.

A-raamatukogu was first opened on June 1st, 2009. We have been regularly opened (four days a week) since September 2009. We have organized movie screenings (topics ranging from food industry and climate change, to anarchism and the Spanish Civil War), community dinners (vegan food for an optional small donation), Really Really Free Markets, info events… A-raamatukogu is a meeting ground for a local Animal Rights activists and anarchists, we have hosted poetry events and organized workshops (stencil art, creative writing, etc). All the events in A-raamatukogu have been free of charge.

In the beginning of March 2010, A-raamatukogu is moving from the Culture Factory to a ‘youth house’ called Lille Maja ( http://www.lille.tartu.ee ) which is closer to the downtown of Tartu. Rent and utility prices are also cheaper there but we still have to settle unpaid heating bills from the Culture Factory. Also, the moving process and preparing the new place takes some monetary resources.

This winter has been extraordinarily cold - temperature has been constantly in range of -20 to -10 C (that’s about -4 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) for the past few months, dropping sometimes to -30 C (-22 F). Since we only had the possibility of using electric heating, unexpectedly cold winter has brought nasty heating bills. In addition we’ve been hit quite hard by the economic crisis – Estonia has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe (15,5% in February 2010), which especially affects young and uninsured people.

In preparation for moving, our library has been closed in February 2010, but events scheduled earlier are still taking place. We will be regularly open again from sometime in March 2010 in Lille Maja (Lille street 9, Tartu). If you are interested in any kind of cooperation, you can contact us via e-mail: info@araamat.org. If you happen to visit Estonia, you’re very welcome to drop by – we can offer you accommodation or host your project/lecture/performance.

The A-raamatukogu collective

Contact: info@araamat.org (please write in English)

You can find more information about A-raamatukogu from our webpage: http://www.araamat.org

Please forward and spread this call.

Friday Lazy Linking

Seven and a half things you can do to resist mass incarceration

Here’s a good article from a while back in The Nation (which I’m mentioning now because I just recently saw it, thanks to the November Coalition listserv). In these days, I’m not surprised to see that it was written,[1] but I am (pleasantly) surprised to see that it got published in a prominent place in an organ of the official Left. In any case, it’s right-on, and well worth reading.

Well, in the parts I haven’t crossed out, anyway. The article was originally called Ten Things You Can Do To Reduce Incarceration, but, well, we’ll see what becomes of that.

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Criminologists have found that when too many people are incarcerated the crime rate actually increases. Imagine if we spent some of the $60 billion a year prisons cost on education, job training and healthcare. (0) Paul Butler, a law professor, former federal prosecutor and author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice suggests ways to undo the damage caused by overincarceration. If you have state specific resources send them to nationtenthings@gmail.com.

1 Do your jury duty. If you are a juror in a non-violent drug case, vote not guilty. Jury nullification—an acquittal based on principle—is perfectly legal. The framers intended jurors to be a check on unjust prosecutions and bad laws. Click here for more information. (1)

2 Pay a kid to graduate. A report by the RAND Corporation found that paying students to finish high school prevented more crime than the toughest sentencing laws. Dropping out of school creates a high risk of ending up in jail. Work with your community group or place of worship to create a program to pay at-risk students to graduate from high school.

3 Come out of the closet about your drug use. War on drugs propaganda says users are bad people. Let your fellow citizens know the real face of the American drug user. Don’t be scared. Barack Obama admitted he used marijuana and cocaine during his youth, and he got elected president!

4 Hire a formerly incarcerated person. Every year about 600,000 people get out of jail. The odds are against their landing a job, which is a huge factor in why more than half will be re-arrested within a year. Go to Hired Network. Go here if you are formerly incarcerated or visit Reentry Policy.

5 Vote for politicians who are smart on crime. (5) Tougher sentences aren’t the answer. In the US criminal sentences are twice as long as those in England, three times those in Canada and five to ten times those in France. And yet crime rates in US cities are higher than in those nations.

6 Just say no to the police. When cops request your consent to pat you down, peek inside your backpack or purse or search your car, you have the right to decline. When they have a warrant or other legal cause to search, like at an airport, they don’t have to ask. Too many Americans—especially in communities of color—are scared to death of the police. Go to ACLU “Know Your Rights” or the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement to learn your rights if stopped by the police.

7 Don’t be a professional snitch. If you have information about a violent or property crime, call the police. Witnessing is fine. But snitches get paid either in cash or a break in their own prosecution for tattling. They make untrustworthy witnesses. Snitches are responsible for almost half the wrongful convictions of people who were later found to be innocent.

8 Talk up the trades. Retail drug selling pays about as much as working at McDonald’s. As the book Freakonomics pointed out, that’s why most drug dealers live with their moms. Many dealers would prefer a more lucrative—and safer—line of work. People who don’t see themselves as “college material” and might otherwise end up on the street should be encouraged to get training for a blue collar trade. Click here for more information.

9 Let accused people discover the evidence against them. There are very few discovery requirements in criminal law. Many defendants in criminal cases don’t learn who the witnesses are—or even get copies of police reports—until the day of the trial. “Open discovery” laws like one Ohio recently introduced will enable criminal defendants to see the state’s evidence against them before trial. (9)

10 Listen to hip-hop. No other aspect of pop culture has considered as carefully, and as personally, the costs and benefits of the American punishment regime. Members of the hip-hop nation often come fr om the most dangerous communities and have a vested interest in safety . They help us understand that treating people who have messed up with love and dignity is, for law-abiding citizens, an act of self-interest and community safety. Visit AllHipHop.com or Hip Hop Caucus to learn the political side of hip-hop.

Here’s the quibbles from along the way.

(0) Well. If we were free to spend some of that $60,000,000 robbed out of our pockets on education, job training, healthcare, or any of the other infinite needs of civilized beings, that would indeed be something to imagine. Unfortunately, I expect that the other means the special kind of “we” here (the kind that means they, a political bureaucracy that ordinary people like you and me have no effective control over). If they spend the money on government education, government job training, and government healthcare, I expect that it will work out as well as anything else government does at propping up big corporations, corralling kids against their will, and otherwise maintaining business-as-usual and the social and economic status quo. Oh well.

(1) This really is an awesome idea, as far as it goes: if you have the opportunity to free an innocent drug-user or drug-dealer through jury nullification, of course I think you ought to take the opportunity. But how often are you likely to get the chance? Given how narrow the context is, this is really important for the individual life you can save, but it’s only going to be something that reduces incarceration in aggregate if it becomes part of a large-scale culture of non-cooperation with the state. In which case (1) really just depends on the kind of cultural change discussed in the other points. Anyway, call it half a thing you can do.

(5) Oh, come on. Really? Of course, I agree that the government’s crime policies are foolish and destructive. But that’s only a reason to go around voting for smarter politicians if voting for smarter politicians changed anything about crime policies or the War on Drugs. Call me back when that starts working for you.

(9) There’s nothing wrong with this proposal, as a procedural reform. But it’s not something you can do to reduce incarceration — changing government laws is something government could do. But if you somehow managed to accumulate the political connections to make the government do what you want it to do, you probably aren’t the kind of person who cares about this sort of thing; and for the rest of us, the you here is really just they, filtered through the illusion of democratic control. In which case, this is something that they could do to reduce incarceration. But of course there’s no reason to expect that they will.

Anyway.

That done, with those items crossed out, this is a really solid list, and does a great job of stressing the importance of moving beyond stupid, stupidifying political reform campaigns, and encourages you to make a real difference for your own life and your neighbors’ lives, by practicing solidarity on the ground, engaging positively with criminalized cultures and criminalized communities, refusing to collaborate with government cops and prosecutors, coming out of the closet, standing up for yourself and your neighbors, and generally working to shift the terms of the debate, to change the culture that fosters sado-statist mass incarceration, and the creation of positive alternatives that change the material condition faced by criminalized people, primarily by means of practical solidarity and person-to-person grassroots mutual aid.

Call it a solid seven and a half. That’s pretty awesome.

[1] Conventional libertarians who don’t know anything in particular about the Left or how it works are rarely aware of how radically anti-state many people of color on the Left really are. There’s a huge practical divide within the Left, roughly between the liberal politicos and white Progressives, on the one hand, and black, Latin@, and other people of color on the other, with the latter putting out all kinds of really amazing, often deeply radical critiques of government policing, surveillance, prisons, drug laws, border laws, papers-please police statism, etc. The white professional-class Progressives and the liberal politicos typically react to this stuff with some nominal agreement, an ill-conceived weak-tea reformist scheme for monitoring the racial demographics of traffic stops or something, without actually reducing any police powers, and then try to move the conversation along to something they really care about, like electing more Democrats or forcing everybody to buy corporate health insurance. But for many Leftist people of color, especially those who identify culturally and politically with Hip Hop, opposition to this kind of racist, classist, law-n-orderist state violence is their primary political concern and their main motivating reason for identifying with the Left. Anyway, if you think that there’s just not any prominent faction on the state Left that you can make any real headway with using libertarian arguments, or if you’re surprised to see articles coming from activistas who identify with Hip-Hop culture calling out mass imprisonment, and calling for jury nullifcation and concerted efforts to refuse cooperation with the police as a solution, you probably haven’t been paying as much attention as you should have.

Wednesday Lazy Linking

  • Giving Up On Patents. ongoing by Tim Bray (2010-02-23). "Not so many years ago, even as I was filled with fear and loathing of the hideous misconduct of the US Patent & Trademark Office, I retained some respect for the notion of patents. I even wrote what I think is an unusually easy-to-read introduction to Patent Theory. But no more. The whole thing is too broken to be fixed. Maybe it worked once, but it doesn’t any more. The patent system needs to be torn down and thrown out. . . . And here are a few words for the huge community of legal professionals who make their living pursuing patent law: You’re actively damaging society. Look in the mirror and find something better to do." (Linked Tuesday 2010-02-23.)
  • Happy Birthday, BBS! Scott Merrill, TechCrunch (2010-02-17). WWIV, Wildcat, Celerity — these hallowed names represent the best of a golden era of communication, back when “getting online” meant tying up the family phone line, remembering arcane Hayes AT codes to maximize performance out of the 9600 baud modem your dad borrowed from work, and TradeWars was the... (Linked Tuesday 2010-02-23.)
  • For Your Own Good. cherylcline, der Blaustrumpf (2010-02-23). Well, this is horrifying.  From Slate.com, the story of how federal officials not only outlawed alcohol, but poisoned industrial alcohols as well: Doctors were accustomed to alcohol poisoning by then, the routine of life in the Prohibition era. The bootlegged whiskies and so-called gins often made people sick. The liquor... (Linked Tuesday 2010-02-23.)