Our USRESIST NEWS outstanding team of reporters and analysts have recently put forward a series of Policy Proposals for the New Congress. These are proposals, based on our work and experience, that we believe are important for the new Congress to enact to help move our country forward. They include the following:
– Civil Rights: A Request for Congress to Ask the Federal Communications Commission to Regulate the Use of Social Media
– Education: A Request for Congress to Enact Legislation that Reverses the Education Department Rollback of Obama-era Anti-Discrimination Policies
– Immigration: A Proposal for Congress to Mandate Improvements in Immigrant Translation Services and Practices
-Foreign and Defense Policy: A Proposal for Congress to Request a Reduction of $300 billion in Defense Spending
– Health Policy: A Proposal for Congress to Enact New Regulations that Protect Women’s Healthcare Rights
-Gun Control Policy: A Proposal for Congress to Regulate the Same of Guns
We urge you to review our proposals, and let us know what you think what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
USRN Civil Rights Policy Proposal for the New Congress: Congress Should Ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to Regulate the Use of Hate Speech on Social Media
By Rod Maggay
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” This clause has been interpreted to apply only to actions undertaken by the federal government, which later went on to include state government action.
This clause has become a vital focal point because of the widespread usage of social media accounts in today’s modern society. With more and more people using social media accounts and websites from the Internet that permit a personal user to post comments and interact with other users who post comments, an environment has been created that has allowed threatening, abusive, harassing and intimidating behavior to flourish. Topics and articles about politics and current affairs are the most common sites to find threatening, abusive, harassing and intimidating behavior although other topics and websites are not immune as they have had their fair share of these behaviors. At first glance, the obvious solution would be for the technology platforms to limit or ban abusive hate speech or even ask the government to step in and regulate the material that is being posted online with federal statutes and state and local ordinances. But both of these approaches have proven to be problematic.
Most of the major technology companies have tried to address the problem of hate speech on their online platforms by implementing policies that try to cover all potential forms of hate speech. Yahoo!’s Oath Community Guidelines prohibits various hate speech content that “directly attacks a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, disease, age, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.” The Oath Community policies also prohibit harassment, bullying, shaming, impersonation or the intimidation of others. YouTube has a similar policy but also includes prohibitions that “promote or condones violence.” Facebook and Twitter also have similar accounts although those policies have some ambiguity that makes monitoring and enforcement difficult. In the past year, many of these companies have struggled because they have been called on to censor some posts and tweets simply because the content has been deemed uncomfortable to a segment of users. These social media companies often tout their platforms as places where free expression can thrive but when social media companies have to monitor and censor online speech, it becomes harder to believe that the online platforms are true places of free expression. The problem in monitoring the content of speech online is that these tech companies and online platforms are becoming something known as “thought police.” This situation becomes tricky because it becomes probable for tech companies and social media platforms to censor and ban content that is uncomfortable and even unpopular but completely legal (such as content about American Conservatism, Black Lives Matter and criticisms of the State of Israel in the Middle East).
From a legal standpoint, hate speech is problematic because hate speech is constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment. While tech companies, as a private group and not a government entity, are permitted to decide what can be published on their platforms and what can be censored without running afoul of the First Amendment, there is a strong policy rationale to encourage speech and expression of all kinds and minimize and reduce incidents where tech companies and social media platforms are censoring online posts, comments and speech. Every post that is censored or removed undercuts the argument that tech companies and online platforms are supportive and encouraging of free speech online. In the United States, hate speech in cases involving the Ku Klux Klan, funeral protesters and other groups have been held protected speech under the First Amendment. The only exception where speech can be prohibited is if it becomes likely that imminent lawless action is likely to occur as a result of the speech. This is the problem created by online hate speech. Hate speech posted online is simply something said online and does not seem likely to incite imminent violence because an online speaker is not in close physical proximity to another person where a physical confrontation could occur.]
A possible solution could be a campaign to emphasize the philosophical and policy justifications of the First Amendment and have Congress encourage the tech companies to tailor their policies in accordance with these First Amendment and Free Speech rationales. In Supreme Court case law, the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment was determined to “protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate” and that Free Speech is essential to “a free and open discussion in a democratic society.” As a proposal, a three – point First Amendment Free Speech emphasis campaign undertaken by tech companies or a Congressional committee could be tailored along these suggested guidelines.
- All of our online products and platforms are places that encourage every kind of free speech and free expression including speech and values we cherish and speech and values we find repugnant.
- We discourage all personal and group identity attacks. However, instead of removing these posts, we encourage users, if they choose, to respond with reason and fact – based arguments as a rebuttal to hate speech.
- We will encourage a zero-tolerance policy to speech that promotes an imminent physical harm to another person based on geographical proximity and only those posts and accounts will be subject to removal.
In addition, the House Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary can choose to get involved by utilizing the powers and jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Both committees can promote government involvement in this issue because both have subcommittees that has jurisdiction over constitutional issues and also over the internet and technology. Under the House Committee on the Judiciary are the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet and the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. And under the Senate Committee on the Judiciary are the Subcommittee on the Constitution and the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.
In an April 2018 article in The Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy, James Dail proposes that social media platforms should be classified as a public utility and regulated under the rules of the FCC. This seems possible since social media platforms, when acting to provide news to their users, can likely fall under the legal definition of a public utility because they “provide a necessary service to the public” and “operate as a monopoly.” The FCC also has jurisdiction over cable services. And, under the consumer guides section regarding broadcast rules of the FCC website, the Commission lists rules that permit them to “prohibit false information that causes substantial public harm” and “false content during news programs.” Under either jurisdiction classification, it is clear that there is an option for Congress to regulate social media platforms. Users on social media platforms with more than a minimum number of users (e.g. 10,000 followers) or those profiles classified as news or public service accounts would have to abide by FCC regulations or the social media platform would risk fines or punishments for not censoring or deleting accounts, as is the case under FCC broadcast and cable rules now. And those users under the minimum threshold of followers or not categorized as news would be exempt, thus protecting free speech rights of private individuals.
These three points and the suggestion of enlisting the FCC to take a larger role in regulating social media is just a starting point to start a discussion on combatting online hate speech that poses a threat of substantial public harm on social media platforms. The First Amendment and Free Speech was not meant to be used to remove objectionable content, censor unpopular opinions or favor one viewpoint over another. Free speech was meant to promote and generate more speech in the face of unpopular speech in the hope that reason and common sense would prevail after the merits of the speech is tested in the marketplace of ideas. It is understood that people may have varying expectations and even misconceptions about what Free Speech and the First Amendment permit and protect. But instead of going so far as to ban unpopular and even disgusting opinions online, it might be better to align online policies with how speech is treated in the real world, such as with FCC regulation of broadcast news programs and cable services and construct online policies along these lines to combat online hate speech that sometimes are promoted as news.
Based on this framework, online policies used by tech companies should be constructed in this manner as a foundation for future policies.
(In order to help move this important issue forward, citizens are encouraged to contact their Congressional representative working on the issues of constitutional free speech and Internet and technology. Based on the committees with jurisdiction over those issues, those members who chair the subcommittees are listed below along with their congressional website information.)
USRN Education Policy Proposal for the New Congress: Congress Should Seek to Reverse the Trump Administration Rollback of Obama-Era Education Anti- Discrimination Policies
By Erin Mayer
“…The administration is delaying our progress towards addressing the systemic challenge of racial discrimination, and it is allowing the disparities in the ‘school to prison pipeline’ to continue.”
- Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA),
ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Over the past two years, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has gone out of her way to roll back federal regulations, completely in tow with the Trump administration. Shortly after President Trump took office, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights released a statement to agency investigators. The memo stated that the office would no longer recognize “systemic” bias in regard to individual claims of discrimination in schools, but instead they hoped to roll through individual cases at an even quicker speed than the previous administration. For civil rights activist it raised red flags, but many were left remotely unconcerned. However, today, we now know this was indication of the agency’s overall future approach toward issues of racial discrimination and civil rights execution.
According to ProPublica’s examination of approximately 40,000 civil rights cases, a mere fifteen months after President Trump took office, the department of education, closed over 1,200 Obama-era, civil rights investigations, lasting at least six months each. The closed investigations ranged from issues from discriminatory punishments to sexual assault. Under Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, the policy changes had allowed the dismissal of over 500 disability rights accusations, by this past April. The changes from one administration to the next were night and day. Under President Obama’s administration nearly 70 percent of cases of discrimination toward students with limited English skills were upheld versus the 52 percent under the current administration. In general, the number of cases confirmed regarding the individualized educational needs of disabled students has dropped from 45 percent under the former administration to 34 percent this year. Sexual harassment and violence cases have also dropped by ten percent each.
Sadly, DeVos may be moving forward without much fuss as only 3% of Americans rank education at the top of their list of concerns our country faces. The silver lining of the year is that Democrats have assumed control of the House of Representatives as the result of this year’s midterm elections, for the first time in eight years. Democrats’ won the House, but the Senate and White House are still remaining under Republican power. Therefore, it is doubtful that there will excessive changes in policies carried out by DeVos. Nevertheless, with control of committee chairs, there is much anticipation of House Democrats utilizing their overseeing authority to compel DeVos to change direction in the upcoming year. In fact, a number of newly elected chairs have specifically indicated intentions to examine DeVos’ policies, using their oversight authority, giving many Americans hope the new year will welcome changes in how Washington manages education, especially the execution of civil rights for our children country-wide.
Americans can expect much debate over how DeVos has handled civil rights issues, primarily from Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia. Rep. Scott, a former civil rights attorney, has made clear his determination to clearly answer whether the Department of Education is upholding its responsibilities to defend the civil rights of students throughout the United States. Currently, Scott serves as the Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Previously, Scott has taken great initiative opposing the administration’s decisions on issues of racial bias in schools, overall civil rights and how investigations into systemic bias and discrimination have thus far been handled.
Under Scott, the House Education and the Workforce Committee should be expected and held responsible to look into whether state plans to implement the successor to Every Student Succeeds Act, No Child Left Behind and to make sure any modifications are complicit with the law. The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce should focus on rectifying the Department of Education’s disproportionate recognition, placement, and punitive treatment of students of color with disabilities in order to correct further wrongdoings of occurring in the future. Many civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have argued that some of the plans implanted by DeVos do not live up to Every Student Succeeds Act’s protections for at-risk children. One can hope in times to come, the committees may hold oversight hearings correcting the department’s approval of, noncompliant plans. Without this type of input from the committees, the current administration could continue to keep a firm grip on the millions of historically marginalized children to a low-quality education. However, it will be unlike as with potential changes coming from House, states may no longer be able to overlook the obligation of accountability that hold all schools responsible for the performance of all children, regardless of race, background or disability.
There is no doubt DeVos is facing considerable pressure begot from oversight, but this does not necessarily mean that DeVos will handle issues of civil rights in our school systems any differently than she has in the past. Thus far the Secretary has kept on the path of her and President Trump’s agenda, regardless of public opinion or setbacks. The president’s very open support of DeVos’ decisions may bolster the Secretary of Education, but the change in the House, especially in respects to Rep. Scott’s mission, will undeniably shake up issues and leave DeVos in a position of heaviness, as if the sense of equality, well-being and education of millions of children depended on it.
USRN Immigration Policy Proposal for the New Congress – Mandate Improvement in Translation Standards and Practices for Immigrant Services By Kathryn Baron
Translators and interpreters play a critical role in helping to support access to justice and due process for immigrants by providing document translation services for legal declarations and assisting in interviews. Though most of these services are volunteer based and verbal translations performed in the moment to help clients in situations such as meetings with their lawyers and at interviews with immigration officers. In addition, to having a high level written and/or oral fluency, translators/interpreters are required to possess familiarity with language access standards and be aware of their client’s cultural background. While these factors are very important, it appears to be very basic. Translators must have a high level written AND/OR oral fluency – for documentation it would seem appropriate to require both.
In an October statement by Secretary Pompeo in regards to the migrant caravan, there is a sentence at the bottom noting that “this translation is provided as a courtesy and only the original English source should be considered authoritative.” Though legally the US does not have an official language, the top 2 languages spoken in the US have consistently been English – thus there was no need to protect it and make it an official language – and Spanish. Statistically, Spanish has remained the 2nd most spoken language in the US, but the debate about language is rarely about language itself but the people who speak that language. Coining the idea that English is the official language of the US has always been thrown around loosely and essentially been used as common law – which has made for some loopholes in bettering the translation services provided by the US government; or lack thereof. All translations into English can be considered authoritative – for example, a migrant getting their documentation translated into English during the immigration process. There is the option to translate documents from English into other languages, but it is merely just a tool that can be used online since “the English version is the official version” no matter the circumstance.
Despite what appears to be plenty of linguistic help made available, there have been many reports of migrants signing documents they do not fully understand under duress, despite a volunteer interpreter being present. In such a scenario, there are a few flaws and discrepancies between what appears to be available and what is available in practice. In theory, a volunteer who is only orally fluent in a language should at minimum only be allowed to provide services during interviews with immigration officials. However, for the level of technicalities involved in legal documentation, it should only be appropriate that a general legal and systemic knowledge is required in addition to written fluency. If none of these are present, and the translator is the only other person in the room who speaks the client’s native language, there is so much room for error. Without giving benefit of the doubt, the interpreter could be either (1) mis-interpreting or perhaps giving a very basic and inaccurate translation, without facing the repercussions or noticing their mistakes or (2) giving slightly different translations of the same documents than other translators. With this last theory in mind, it would be much more streamlined to have government and legal documents translated into the client’s language – most pressing right now, Spanish, America’s 2nd most spoken language – to avoid discrepancies and make the transaction a bit more official. To simplify things and leave less room for error, there could also be a more concrete set of guidelines for fluency and experience expected of the volunteers; i.e., to make up for different dialects, regional grammatical differences, etc. Many nonprofit organizations have been the backbone of lingual aid during the 2018 migrant crisis, especially upon the arrival of the migrant caravan from Central America. Some nonprofit organizations that have provided many volunteers along the US Southern Border include Translators Without Borders and Interpreters Unlimited (who provides translation services for federal agencies in all 50 states). There is no need for these services to halt, but rather be refined and used as a guide to put pressure on the federal government to implement branches of their own within the appropriate committees/groups (listed below).
A few ideas for how to make this system a bit more stable and reliable include; (1) among the volunteers, the requirements should be bolstered to include both written AND oral fluency, cultural competency, and a general legal knowledge or at the very least extensive experience in translating legal documents (2) within the committees listed below, there should be the capacity for such translators to have tangible, translated copies to review with their client(s) even if the English version is considered authoritative (3) within the committees listed below, there should be government officials with the capacity and responsibility to perform the tasks listed in (2). If the laissez-faire attitude applies to English being the US’s official language, then the same leniency should be applied to the languages that follow – at least for the top 3. Like mentioned previously, debates about language are often about the individuals who speak the language rather than the language itself. Thus, despite Spanish being the 2nd most spoken language in the US, growing xenophobic attitudes and Trump’s exaggerated criminalization of the migrant caravan over the course of this past year have only made this task harder. If an individual from a business owning family in Spain – who speaks Spanish in the most authentic form to some standards – were to attempt to emigrate to the US, it is not outrageous to believe they would be treated with more dignity than Spanish speaking individuals coming up through Central America – given the Trump Administration’s recorded and televised treatment of these groups.
USRN Foreign Policy Proposal for the New Congress: Congress Should Propose a Defense Budget Decrease of at Least $200 Billion By Colin Shanley
One of the greatest challenges of a progressive movement in United States is reckoning with the massive humanitarian implications of our foreign policy. The military industrial complex has, with bipartisan support, pursued an imperialistic program of perpetual international command over the political and economic conditions of other countries. In return for a consistent flow of wealth extraction and American dominance over the global order, large regions of the world have been trapped in cycles of poverty and instability.
A humane political movement has no choice but to devote itself to the untangling and disengagement of this authoritarian configuration, but an anti-war movement does not fit so neatly among such populist domestic goals such as universal healthcare and the Green New Deal. In the 1960’s and 70’s, a grassroots uprising built widespread dissent against America’s involvement in Vietnam, but much of this outrage was aroused by the thousands of young Americans being killed in an unnecessary war. The recent trend of war via drone strikes and proxy forces allows the subjugation and death tolls to remain overseas, far from the public consciousness of the American political system.
For this reason, the reduction of the Defense Budget needs to be the spearhead issue for a progressive movement hoping to incorporate humanitarian foreign policy with the rearrangement of the economic order of the United States. The 2019 defense budget of $674.4 billion, higher than the 2017 defense budgets of the next 10 highest spending countries combined, only raises the amount of money being spent on trillion dollar projects for still unreliable jets and Trump’s absurd dreams of space conquest. Even during the Cold War, defense spending never rose above $524 billion, adjusted for inflation. Reducing the budget is not without historical precedent, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Obama all left office with defense budgets lower than those they inherited. However, this wasn’t enough to counteract massive increases, such as during the ten years after 2001, and a modern progressive movement needs to call for more drastic cuts. The Right is often handed the opportunity of playing the role of the side opposed to massive deficit spending, but this is because deficit restrictiction mechanisms like the recently controversial “Paygo” rule only focus on mandatory spending and ignore discretionary funding such as the defense budget. By arguing that our current political order is set on spending the money that could fund strong social programs voters on these clearly inefficient and often immoral projects, anti-war activism can be tied directly to the immediate needs of American constituents, and work to delegitimize right wing demands to know where the money will come from every time the left wants to fix a problem. Conservatives must be forced into a position of having to explain why a new weapons program is more important than healthcare, food, housing, and education for Americans if the left wants to win on both the issues of foreign policy and the deficit.
Recommendation: Congress should propose a defense budget decrease of at least $200 billion.
Representative Committees and/or Member of Congress Advocates:
Congresswoman Nita Lowey, the new chair of the House Appropriations Committee holds sway over defense spending now that the Democrats have taken the house.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made waves insisting on the necessity of reducing the defense budget in order to increase social spending.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, known for her role as the only member of congress unwilling to vote in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists measure in 2001, has been a persistent opponent of rampant defense throughout her time in office.
USRN Health Policy Proposal for the New Congress: Congress Should Pass New Legislation to Protect Women’s Healthcare Rights By Sophia Adams
Recent threats from the Trump Administration have threatened the ability of women to choose the right healthcare options for their body. The policies currently in place in many states prevent women from accessing safe and reliable birth control and other sexual health information that is vital to their health and well-being. Additionally, the wording of many health documents and health centers condescend and shame women about health decisions because of religious imperatives around abortion. This policy should involve protecting a woman’s right to choose and empowering her to have access to safe healthcare options—especially around birth control.
Such a policy will greatly lower risks to women, especially poorer women, and empower our educators to hopefully have better conversations around sexual health and access to resources to young women.
USRN GUN CONTROL Policy Proposal for the New Congress: Congress Should Regulate the Sale of Guns By Sarah Barton
Owning a gun should be regulated like driving a car. Just like driving requires training and taking a test to obtain a license, guns should require similar regulation. To own a gun, you should be required to take a safety course and obtain a certified license.
Gun regulation can save lives. This initiative isn’t (shouldn’t be) polarizing or partisan. The idea isn’t to take guns away from gun owners but would require a thorough training and process that informs people about proper gun safety and restricts easy access to those who shouldn’t have guns.
6.3. What Committee should lead it: House Committee on Oversight and Reform