26 April 2016

Clinton Campaign Gets Facebook to Temporarily Shut Down Grassroots Organizing Efforts for Bernie Sanders

On the evening before five very important primary elections were to be held on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, supporters of Bernie Sanders noticed something quite strange taking place on Facebook: groups advocating support for Bernie Sanders, which have been a primary vehicle for disseminating information and mobilizing support for actions, were disappearing.

According to Lauren E Stafford, a social media consultant and administrative assistant, many of the affected Bernie Sanders Facebook groups have more than 50,000 members. "At least ten such very well-known and popular groups were removed during Monday evening's attack, leaving hundreds of thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters in the dark," she claimed.

Evidence implicating a coordinated effort by Hillary Clinton's campaign and/or her supporters was quickly uncovered as some Clinton supporters, such as Casey Champagne, bragged about being part of that effort in the "BROS 4 HILLARY #GiveEmHill" Facebook group:

Other Clinton supporters cheered him on. Chris and Brian Swain-Mabry stated that they constantly report content posted by Sanders and his supporters with a 50% success rate at having the content removed. When one user suggested that Champagne take down his post because it could be seen by anyone, he responded that he didn't really care:

Whether the attacks were conducted at the behest of Clinton's campaign or her paid online supporters is unclear at this time, although online analyst Kagen Aurencz Zethmayr believes the purpose itself to be clear:
We don't know for a fact that they were paid but there has never been such a concerted attempt to take down multiple high-profile Bernie Sanders support groups at once. This was a massive attempt to hobble our communications capability, especially as regards the election-day issues and obstacles which have become endemic to this Democratic primary season.
The timing speaks for itself, though certainly no paid or recruited troll would say as much as to their specific tactical motives. As the saying goes, in politics there are no accidents.
The participants in these attacks included Nyssa M. Cruz, a pledged delegate for Hillary Clinton, who admitted to participating in this coordinated attack via what appears to be a post on Facebook. As indicated by the user who uncovered Cruz's post, many of Bernie's supporters responded to these attacks by making a small donation to his campaign.

Ken Kevilus, an administrator of other Bernie Sanders Facebook groups, was alarmed by this recent attack against Bernie's supporters:
[Clinton] and the DNC are destroying the Democratic Party. This campaign of censorship is part of her 'win-at-all-costs' method of campaigning, with which we're all too familiar. Flashbacks of Clinton losing to Obama in 2008 must be increasing her panic, as her campaign only recently realized how powerful the groups supporting Bernie have become. Her supporters have been increasing their attacks against Bernie's Facebook groups quite a bit recently, especially after he won all those states in a row.
The ten affected groups all disappeared from Facebook between 8 - 9 pm EDT, and were fully restored to all users between midnight and 1 am EDT. Stafford, a member of some of the affected groups, described how Clinton's supporters were able to take down the top Sanders groups on Facebook:
They came into the groups and posted objectionable and disgusting content that violates Facebook's TOS, such as child pornography. They then reported that content, en masse. This triggered Facebook's automated reporting algorithms, which track these reports and automatically remove the offending content if the number of reports crosses a certain threshold.
Michael J.D. Warner, CEO of ThunderReach, a strategic social media consulting firm, explained how Facebook's reporting system operates:
Facebook employs an algorithm that automatically shuts down affected content—whether it be a post, a user, or a feature of Facebook such as groups, pages, or apps—once a certain threshold in negative reports has been reached.
The shutdown remains in place until a human can review the situation, which often can take hours. Once this trigger has been activated, it does not appear that there is any effort by these algorithms to elevate the priority for human review.
This raises serious questions about Facebook's reporting feature and its functionality. 
Warner observed that the wording of the response Facebook provides after submitting a report would cause one to presume that a human being reviews the reports, which is true. However, it sometimes can take hours for a report to be looked at, and Facebook's own infographic states that most reports are looked at "within 72 hours."

Facebook Reporting Guide Infographic
"This type of situation has the potential of leaving Facebook in a rather negative light as being complicit in or implicitly allowing users to interfere with political operations or censoring political speech of people they disagree with," Stephen Pipenger, an attorney who practices in New York, added. He further advised, "They need to figure out a better system that protects both users as well as the content owners, especially when it comes to political speech."

After being alerted to this situation a Facebook spokesperson responded, "A number of groups were inaccessible for a brief period after one of our automated policies was applied incorrectly. We corrected the problem within hours and are working to improve our tools."

Warner noted how social media has played a significant role in the political process around the globe:
Social media continues to play an ever-increasing role in social, economic, and political reform movements and struggles throughout the world. Greater measures must be taken to protect freedom of speech in social media, as recent events in Turkey, China, Syria, and Hong Kong have demonstrated.
The Sanders campaign did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication (I will update this article if they do). Clinton's campaign declined to comment.

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Disclaimer: The author is a strong supporter and unpaid volunteer of the presidential campaign for US Senator Bernie Sanders, which is calling for a political revolution.

24 April 2016

No, Mr. President, We Do Not Need to Learn How to Compromise

At a youth town hall in London, England on Saturday, April 23, 2016, President Obama said that activists—specifically Black Lives Matter activists—need to be willing to compromise. He also claimed that the tone of some activism can turn people off to its message.

"You have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable," Obama told the crowd.

But achievable by whom, and in whose eyes?

People wonder why I'm no fan of this POTUS. Where would the Marriage Equality movement be in this country if we in the struggle to achieve marriage equality in all 50 states "learned to compromise"? Some may recall the amicus curiae brief Obama's DOJ filed in Windsor v. United States, which advocated for a ruling in favor of Edie Windsor but limiting the scope to that particular plaintiff—a breadcrumb, if you will.

That brief further argued that each state should make up its own mind on the issue of marriage equality. Indeed, had the Supreme Court followed that line of thought, we'd be battling it out in the states for the next fifty or so years—or more—a piecemeal approach, to be certain.

Anyone who has studied progressive social justice movements knows that "compromise" is a way for the power elite and the establishment to maintain their power and to prevent real reform from reshaping the power structure. It's a means for those in power to remain in power, giving people just barely enough to keep them from launching a full-on revolt.

Real change, real reform, real progress, on the other hand (you know, that thing that Bernie Sanders is fighting for in calling for a political revolution), requires unyielding and unrelenting demand. In fact, that's what happened with the marriage equality movement. Grassroots activists responded to the establishment's offering, through Obama, with a demand for full marriage equality in all 50 states—and they won!

In fact, it wasn't the establishment that supported a 50-state marriage equality strategy. And it certainly wasn't the Gay, Inc. organizations like the Human Rights Campaign—they opposed taking marriage equality cases to the SCOTUS as they didn't believe we could achieve a favorable ruling. It was activists at organizations like Marriage Equality (Cathy Marino-Thomas, Ron Zacchi, Brian Silva, Esq., Hon. Michael Sabatino & Robert Voorheis), the ACLU (Anthony D. Romero, Esq., James D. Esseks, Esq., et al.), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (Kate Kendall, Esq.), along with private attorneys (Roberta Kaplan, Esq., et al.)—all at the grassroots—who organized, organized, and organized...and then organized some more.

These grassroots leaders brought people together, and together they stood up to demand full federal equality for marriage. I was there for those struggles. I saw how Gay, Inc. jumped on board only after the winning decision was handed down in Edie Windsor's case. I saw how HRC rushed to pass out their branded merchandise at the rally held at the renowned Stonewall Inn just after the announcement was made, and not beforehand.

We truly owe our victory in marriage equality to these grassroots leaders and the efforts they undertook. Perhaps an acknowledgement in a footnote somewhere to Gay, Inc. for jumping on board the full marriage equality train once they saw it steamrolling into Victory Station is due but I digress, if ever so slightly....

As Bernie Sanders reminds us in many of his speeches, the only time real change has taken place is when people are brought together, rise up, and demand it.

Compromise is what Bernie Sanders's opponent (and the political establishment) wants us to do. If we compromise, they'll throw us a breadcrumb every decade or so. And if we wait a few centuries, we might just be thrown enough breadcrumbs to garner an entire mouthful of bread.

Bernie Sanders is bringing people together to rise up against this system, the status quo, the establishment, and to effect real change in our nation and world. He doesn't fight for glory, ego, honor, or any of those intangibles. And he certainly doesn't fight for the political and economic establishment or wealthy campaign donors. Rather, he fights for US.

There was one bit of advice Obama gave during his appearance that I can agree with, "I think it is so important for all the young people here to seek out people who don't agree with you." He rightfully pointed out that those who only spend time in the company of others who agree with them become even further entrenched in their positions (a practice in which many supporters of Bernie Sanders's opponent engage—e.g., many friends I have known for years chose to block me on Facebook rather than engage in respectful dialogue or debate).

We must be willing to hold discussions with those on the other side of our issues. We should listen to their views and try to see things from their perspective. And perhaps doing so will alter not the end result but the road that leads us there.

There are anywhere from one to three steps to the process of change, depending on how effective one is: the first is to demand, and if demands aren't met then the second step is to negotiate. The third step takes place only if one cannot achieve one's goals through the first two, and that is to compromise.

We have got to change the political culture in America. We need a political revolution.
Taking advice from a President who incorporates compromise at the beginning of the process—even before negotiating or demanding—results in half-assed so-called accomplishments such as the Affordable Care Act healthcare quagmire we now have, instead of a Medicare-for-all universal healthcare single-payer system.

So no, Mr. President, we will not yield, we will not waver, and we will falter. Fuck that compromise bullshit feeding us breadcrumbs to placate us approach, especially as has been proven time and time again that we can have the whole loaf (and ladies can have their whole damned dollar, as well). And fuck that whole working within the system crap. The system is corrupt and rigged; there is no working within such systems, especially when implementing real change. President Obama must have forgotten his 2008 self, when the Democratic Party called for real change at his behest.

Jared Rice, a member of the New Rochelle City Council, says it best:
"The word compromise should not be used as a one-size-fits-all solution to all of today's issues. While there are times that we may need to compromise, there are certain instances of having an injustice so great that compromise can not be an option."
Give us the real change our nation—and our world—needs, NOW! Support Bernie Sanders and the political revolution he is leading for us, to make OUR lives better. It doesn't have to be the way things are now. We can—and will—create a better future for us all.

Support US, because WE deserve better! Vive la révolution! #StillSanders #NotMeUs #FeelTheBern #TPUWNBD

Disclaimer: The author is a strong supporter and unpaid volunteer of the presidential campaign for US Senator Bernie Sanders, which is calling for a political revolution.

08 April 2016

Bernie Sanders New York Democratic Primary TV advert: America

Bernie Sanders just released his TV advert for the upcoming New York Democratic Primary election, which will be held on April 19th!

Bernie Sanders New York Democratic Primary TV advert: America

Come see Bernie speak at the April 13, 2016 rally in NYC: 6pm @ Washington Square Park!

04 April 2016

EKAJ: More Than a Movie

It's not often that I write movie or book reviews, and for good reason: I struggle to come up with meaningful insight that portrays the essence of the medium, and my thoughts and feelings about it, without giving away any spoilers. I was asked to review a new, independent film made by friends of a friend, and I reluctantly agreed.

It has taken me over two weeks to put my thoughts together because I honestly didn't know where to start. The film completely blew me away, in pretty much every aspect. There is just so much I want to say about it ... but I found it difficult to start because I didn't know which of the myriad thoughts floating around in my mind should be brought up first. I also worried about how I could do justice to such an important work of art that does what all great artistic masterpieces do best: provoke and trigger public discourse.

To review the film, I was given a private link where it is hosted on a password-protected server—and no, I'm not giving out that info. You can, however, view the film's trailer:

Ekaj, a film currently touring the festival circuit, is difficult to fit into a single category. It is a profound, educational, and almost surreal examination of life, with specific exposure of issues surrounding LGBT individuals, youth, addiction, homelessness, gender identity, mental illness, suicide, HIV/AIDS, parenting, and poverty, focusing on a lost soul searching for his place in the world.

It has been described as a love story but I disagree with that classification. While love certainly plays a pivotal role in the story, it does so more as an object of desire for which the main character, Ekaj, seeks to find acceptance, companionship, and belonging—in other words, love. Ultimately, the film follows Ekaj on his quest for love in a relationship, and his ability or inability to succeed in his desires is paramount to the angst directing his choices in life.

The decision by director Cati Gonzalez to use "real people" (as opposed to seasoned actors) who parallel the lives of the film's characters offers an unvarnished glimpse into the graphic reality of a subject often talked about only in generalized terms. The window into Ekaj's life we, the viewer, are exposed to is perhaps the most realistic depiction of the brutal plight that far too many in the LGBTQ community—especially our youth—experience: having to survive on the streets after being kicked out of their homes due to being LGBTQ.

A fundamental theme in Ekaj's journey is the questioning of his gender identity and sexuality, his role in society, and what he wants out of life. The underlying question of what direction Ekaj's life will take is prevalent throughout the film, as Ekaj's decisions continue to lead him down divergent, and often damaging, paths in his search to find his place in this world.

The film started after renowned photographer Cati Gonzalez bonded with one of the subjects of her photography, whom she took under her wing. She fondly recalls how this project started:
I wrote the film, inspired by this 15 years old kid, Jake Mestre (who plays the lead character of Ekaj), whom I found on Facebook and thought I could discover as a model. As a Fashion photographer for 20 years, I took some pictures of him and brought him to a modeling agency. He did everything wrong: he'd shave his eyebrows, cut his hair, wear make up, get to appointments late, etc. He never listened, and I would have given up but he had such a beautiful face and was so shy, and I became attached to him. After a year or so, I wanted to write a script to draw attention to the plight of LGBTQ homeless youth, and I thought he could be in the film.
Cati says she shaped the film's characters after people from her life, including friends who had died from AIDS. She then adapted the script to Mestre, who came from the wrong side of the tracks, which has only exacerbated the difficulties he's faced in his short but difficult life.

Her 20-plus year career in photography has usually centered around those who live on the edge, who don’t fit in society's norms or expectations. Perhaps that explains why Cati chose to use Mestre (and others), with whom she'd formed a bond, to portray the characters in the film. But doing so was not easy. She ran into numerous problems with Mestre during the filming: “he was having personal problems as well as issues fitting in but he grew and matured as the filming progressed,” she recalled.

“Jake's confidence grew during the filming, and I served as something of a mentor to him,” Cati says. “We are family now,” she proclaims as would a proud mother, “and one of the goals of this film is to provide hope and assistance to other kids, too.”

Filmmakers Cati and Mike Gonzalez embarked on this project to shine a spotlight on the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the discarded, and some of their myriad issues, as well as to give hope to all of the kids who relate to their film.

While not explicit in the dialogue, one of the numerous issues the film deals with is the alarming increase in the number of youth – both teens and young adults – who are contracting HIV today:
“This isn't something that's often discussed because these youth aren't dying from the disease. In a way, however, they feel like the walking dead,” Cati explains. “Their perception is that their lives are ruined because they are forced to rely on a pill for their survival. Yet, current HIV treatments do not guarantee that they will live, and this is a fear they carry with them. As the actor Badd Idea, who plays Mecca, told me once, 'What happens if there is a disaster and I can’t get the pill, what happens then? Do I go back into a bubble?'”
In nearly every respect, the film's goals have been realized. Now, the filmmakers are working on expanding their audience. To that end, a crowdsourced fundraising campaign has been started on Indiegogo to support and pay for costs related to promotion, festivals, screenings, and increasing the film's audience so that the plight of kids like Ekaj, and all of their issues, can be brought to light.

Although there are some resources for these abandoned kids that exist in a handful of major cities with significant LGBTQ populations, such as New York City's True Colors Residence in Harlem  (which is supported by Grammy award-winning vocalist and LGBTQ community icon Cyndi Lauper, through her True Colors Fund) and the Ali Forney Center, such resources are insufficient to meet the demand and needs of this vulnerable and growing population.

More must be done to help our homeless LGBTQ youth, and Ekaj provides an opportunity to show those who can effect such positive change and provide the assistance these kids require why it is crucial to greatly expand and increase the number and level of services that are available to them.

A current schedule of upcoming screenings can be found on their Facebook page, with the next screening taking place at the FILM @ Downtown Urban Arts Festival from 7 – 10 pm this Saturday, April 9, 2016, at the Tribeca Film Center in Manhattan. An after party is being planned in midtown and will be announced on their Facebook page.

If an examination of the naked realities of life for those living in desperate situations, or a look into the search for acceptance and belonging, or following the journey of a lost soul in his quest to find love, or a window into the lives of society's outcasts, or raw, emotionally gut-wrenching storytelling is your thing, this film is a must-see.

Ekaj is more than a movie; it is a groundbreaking exposé of the issues homeless LGBTQ youth face, beautifully told through masterful storycrafting accompanied by visual daggers punctuating the splattered canvas that represents the lives of this film's characters. If you care at all about the plight of homeless LGBTQ youth, you not only should see this film but also donate to the filmmaker's Indiegogo campaign, which will help them promote this amazing work of art and increase its distribution, propelling the plight and issues covered in Ekaj into the public discourse.