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Reclaim the Republic

i think this is more than appropriate for a post on independence day:

i have been a big fan of lawrence lessig since i read his books in college on copyright – his insight that a world where everything is copyrighted would diminish creativity made a lot of sense, and i shared his outrage with the sunny bono copyright extension (micky mouse protection) act showing the influence on corporations on unreasonable lawmaking.

what has fascinated me about lessig as a person was that he started out as a young republican, but let the knowledge he acquired shifted his views. he became a ‘liberal’ or more left-leaning scholar and has made great contributions in the area of copyright (or copyleft) law. and he has shifted the focus of his work yet again, and is dedicating 100% of his time on the issue of corruption in politics. if you’ve been reading my blog, you might know that this is one of the fundamental problems i see in the current system.

because he does not only follow his obligation as an academic but also as a citizen, he is working to get money out and people back in to politics with the organization rootstrikers. i encourage you to check it out!

the TED talk is great, because lessig is simply a great speaker whose presentation style has inspired countless others. but lessig’s magnum opus of talks was a lecture he gave when he was appointed professor at harvard.

the lecture honored the memory and work of Aaron Swartz, the hacker, activist and citizen who took his own life on Jan. 11, 2013 at the age of 26 after facing serious charges under the computer fraud and abuse act. i had heard of the incident, but i really didn’t know that much about swartz besides that he was one of the people behind the movement against SOPA/PIPA. lessig provides a fascinating account of swartz’ life and legacy and leaves no doubt that he was another hero of our time. he also warns about a dangerous direction the USA, once the model of freedom and diversity, has taken. so this is my ‘happy fourth of july’ contribution!

check out the inspiring czech artist-activist collective Ztohoven!

for their project moral reform, they got ALL of the czech parliament members’ mobile numbers, and created a “parliamentary drama of 223 persons and 585 lines” by sending them 585 SMS messages during a session that was broadcasted live on TV. but the SMS were sent on behalf of other parliament members and included apologetic messages to each other and called for better behavior and more political decency – which caused a panic! read more about it here.

they have created all kinds of amazing projects, but a lot of information is in czech. wikipedia is a pretty good resource though. there’s also a great arte tracks portrait of them, unfortunately only in german.

i’ll end with the manifesto of the project Občan K., from their website:

Citizen K. / I have returned from places where I beheld myself and realised that it is mainly us that matters! We are all a society, we all create the system and we watch one another. We are all involved in the fear that keeps us at a standstill. For all of us I entered the places that others fear to enter and perceived the vanity, the absurdity of obedience. How frail and how easily abused is that which should serve us. We are not numbers, we are not biometric data, so let us not be mere pawns in the hands of the big players on the game board of these times. If we do not wish to fear our own face, we must save it!

I miss George Carlin. I think he raises a good (possibly the best) point that it doesn’t really matter who you vote for. But I think there’s an important reason to vote, which has gone largely underreported: upcoming nominations of Supreme Court justices.

Currently there are 5 traditionally conservative (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito) and 4 traditionally liberal (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan) Supreme Court judges, with Kennedy occasionally siding with the liberal opinion. The four judges in italic are likely to be replaced within the next years due to their age (over 73 years), with Ginsburg being the most likely candidate.

Why is this important? For starters, there’s the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the endangerment of affirmative action (Fischer v. University of Texas on Affirmative Action in education is to be decided soon) as well as gay rights (DOMA & California’s Proposition 8). But there’s something even more fundamental: the current and former courts’ support of power of corporations over the protection of individual rights.


Conservative Supreme Court Activism

In a 2010 speech, Sen. Al Franken (D) makes the point that right-wing Supreme court activism has strategically strengthened the power of corporations in the last years (It’s a 40 minute speech, but I can highly recommend taking the time to watch).

What conservative legal activists are really interested in is this question: What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation’s right to profit?

And their preferred answer is: None of them. Zero.

He goes on to recount numerous cases in which ‘the Roberts Court has systematically dismantled the legal protections that help ordinary people find justice when wronged by the economically powerful’:

Stoneridge stripped shareholders of their ability to get their money back from the banks that helped defraud them, Conkright made it easier for employers to deny workers their pension, Leegin put the burden onto the small business owners to show that price fixing will hurt competition under the Sherman Act, and Exxon reduced the damages that Exxon had pay for Exxon Valdez oil spill from $2.5 billion to $500 million USD because it could have an ’unpredictable impact on its future profitability’.

He tells the story of Lilly Ledbetter who sued her employer after she found out shortly before her retirement that she had been receiving less pay than her male counterparts. The Supreme Court interpreted the legal requirement to sue within 180 days to refer to the first time she was discriminated against, not the most recent discriminatory check.  Considering she simply did and could not know about it then, this is simply insane (Fortunately, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act loosening those requirements was the first bill Obama signed into law).


Citizens United: Super PACs and 501©(4)s

The most important ruling, however, was the Citizens United decision in 2010, which fundamentally changed campaign finance and essentially created the basis for ‘Super PACs’ – those theoretically independent organizations that can spend an unlimited amount of money on campaigning.

They are required to disclose their donors, but there’s a way around it: The ‘501©(4) Social Welfare Organization’ (which can spend money on campaigning) does not need to disclose its donors or even report to the IRS until after the election (i.e. after the campaign). What’s more, it even enjoys tax-exempt non-profit status, and – get this – it can even donate its money to the Super PAC, which then only needs to disclose a donation by the ‘501©(4)’.


Stephen Colbert has brilliantly dissected this insane change in campaign finance by setting one up himself in a mockery of the process. His lawyer’s answer to what ‘the difference between that and money laundering’ is ’It’s hard to say.’

Here’s an informative interview with lawyer Trevor Potter, a self-declared Republican:

This has led to an enormous rise in campaign spending, with the latest estimates reaching about $6 billion USD (compare that to the previous record of $700 million USD in 2008). Most of which, we’ll never know where it came from. And lot of that money has gone into negative attack ads, leading experts to call this “very likely to be the most negative race since the advent of television” (John Greer).


If I could, I surely would

So the Super PAC / 501©(4) combination seems like the perfect tool for those that according to Carlin ‘own this country’ to influence the election that will most likely determine who will decide upon the future of the Supreme Court. It might even be a major reason that they spend so much money on it. And check out the numbers USA Today posted:

That’s why I think this election matters. A more liberal court might revisit Citizens United, eliminating the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Should Ginsburg and Kennedy be replaced with a more conservative judge however, it’s safe to assume that this outrageous campaign finance game will continue along with the hollowing out of individual rights at the benefit of a corporation’s right to profit.

Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to vote. And I know that Americans don’t particularly like advice from the rest of the world, but if I could, I surely would make use of that privilege.

nice reuters article as well. and germany ranks high on the tax evasion list, in GDP percentage it’s even twice the rate of the US!

reuters:

The corporations that occupy Congress. – David Cay Johnston

inside job, the documentary about what happened in the ‘financial crisis’ in 2008- what an important film. you can watch it in full HD quality for free.

and there are still new insights as to what happened exactly, as some recently revealed FED documents show.

The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates.

The amount of money the central bank [‘the FED’] parceled out […] dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.

cognitivedissonance:

In this photo from The New York Observer, Former Philadelphia police Captain Ray Lewis, sits in zip cuffs after being arrested today in conjunction with the Occupy Wall Street protests. Another photo of Lewis protesting can be found here.

Drew Grant of The Observer writes: “There is simply nothing more bizarre than looking at images of a man in police uniform arrested and handcuffed by people wearing lower-ranking NYPD garb.”

Lewis’ arrest was caputured on video:

Lewis knew his arrest was a possibility. In a rousing speech last night, Lewis criticized the NYPD and its use of force, along with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. An excerpt:

“You should, by law, only use force to protect someone’s life or to protect them from being bodily injured. If you’re not protecting somebody’s life or protecting them from bodily injury, there’s no need to use force. And the number one thing that they always have in their favor that they seldom use is negotiation – continue to talk, and talk and talk to people. You have nothing to lose by that. This bullrush–what happened last night is totally uncalled for when they did not use negotiation long enough.

“They complained about the park being dirty. Here they are worrying about dirty parks when people are starving to death, where people are freezing, where people are sleeping in subways and they’re concerned about a dirty park. That’s obnoxious, it’s arrogant, it’s ignorant, it’s disgusting.  

[The NYPD], they’re trying to get me arrested and I may disappear OK? But as soon as I’m let out of jail, I’ll be right back here and they’ll have to arrest me again. All the cops are, they’re just workers for the one percent and they don’t even realize they’re being exploited.”

Capt. Lewis truly understands what it means to protect and serve the people, and for that sir, I thank you. 

thx, dkomm! today is october 15, join the worldwide protests for #globalchange! this is the plan for berlin action. for the berliners who can’t make it please support the movement online by posting/blogging/spreading the message; there’s also a livestream you can watch.

i’ll leave you with two more videos that have impressed me (even though i don’t agree 100%, there’s a lot of very good points made).

2 years in prison and $10,000 fine. nope, that’s not the sentence for a violent crime. it’s the sentence that climate activist tim dechristopher faces for raising the paddle at a lease auction for oil and gas drilling rights on utah public lands.

in 2008, it seemed as if then-president bush (illegally?) rushed to auction off the environmentally sensitive land before leaving office. dechristopher, an economics student at the time, decided to take action and disrupt this sale of public land to fossil fuel corporations. he joined the bidding, raised the prices for some and was supposed to pay $1.8 million for 13 parcels, which he could not pay of course.

today, dechristopher was sentenced to two years in prison mostly to set an example and deter future activists from taking action to preserve our future. before his sentencing, dechristopher gave some interviews, which can be found here and here.

in his address to the court, dechristopher explained “my intent both at the time of the auction and now was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil and gas industry, to point that it cut into their $100-billion profits.” he said further: “you have authority over my life, but not my principles. those are mine,” and “i’ll continue to confront the system that threatens our future.”

influence explorer is an eye-opening transparency project that visualizes data from e.g. the project on government oversight. you can type in any company, (U.S.) politician, or prominent individual to find out more about their influence on the political system.

the other products also seem to have potential: inbox influence shows you the political contributions of the people that influence your inbox, and checking influence does the same thing using your bank account (i do have some privacy concerns before using it, will look into that).

anybody want to set this up for germany and europe?