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Forum Post: Political Corruption and Capitalism

Posted 10 months ago on Feb. 2, 2014, 3:39 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Political Corruption and Capitalism

Sunday, 02 February 2014 00:00 By Richard D Wolff, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21559-political-corruption-and-capitalism

Corruption is endemic to the capitalist system and has not been successfully regulated away. Perhaps a system change is warranted?

Nearly daily, mass media report political corruption across the world. Government bureaucrats, from local to national to international, are exposed for having abused their offices for personal gain. That gain is usually financial, but can involve career advancement. Much of that corruption is driven and financed by capitalist enterprises. In that kind of corruption, officials enable tax avoidance, provide subsidies, make purchases and sometimes sales, and decide many other "public" matters (e.g. locating roads, zoning cities, constructing state facilities, repressing strikes, investigating corruption, negotiating international agreements, etc.).

Official decisions are corrupt when they aim (in exchange for personal gain) exclusively or chiefly to benefit individual firms or groups of enterprises rather than any broad social or public purpose. Corruption can be illegal (when prohibitive laws apply) or legal if such laws were repealed or never passed. Political corruption, when not hidden or secret, occurs under a protective cover (or disguise) as if done for public purposes or benefits.

What chiefly drives this sort of political corruption today is capitalism's structure. For many capitalist enterprises, competitive and other pressures exist to increase profits, growth rates, and/or market share. Their boards and top managers seek to find cheaper produced inputs and cheaper labor power, to extract more output from their workers, to sell their outputs at the highest possible prices and to find more profitable technologies. The structure provides them with every incentive of financial gain and/or career security and advancement to behave in those ways. Thus, boards and top managers seek the maximum obtainable assistance of government officials in all these areas and also try to pay the least possible portion of their net revenues as taxes. Boards of directors tap their corporations' profits to corrupt mostly the top echelons of the government bureaucracy, those needed to make advantageous official decisions.

Individual capitalists act to corrupt government officials to serve their enterprise's needs. Grouped into associations, they do likewise for their industries. When organized as a whole (in "chambers of commerce" or "manufacturers alliances," etc.), they corrupt to secure their class interests. When such corruption is not secret, capitalists articulate their demands to corrupted officials as "good for the economy or society as a whole." Such phrases constitute the "appropriate language" that enables officials publicly to disguise and hopefully to legitimate their corrupt acts.

Strict moral codes, regulations and laws have been imposed to prevent individual or grouped capitalists from corrupting government officials. Evidence suggests, however, that neither civic-minded ethics, nor regulations nor laws have come close to ending capitalists' corruption. Countless government courts, commissions, etc., have hardly ended official complicities in that corruption. Mainstream economics mostly proceeds in its analyses and policy prescriptions as if rampant corruption did not exist. Mass media tend to treat capitalist corruption (at least in their home countries) as exceptional and government efforts to stop it as serious. These, too, are further examples of that "appropriate language" with which modern capitalist societies mask systemic corruption.

To reduce corruption from its current high levels requires something more than, and different from, additional laws, commissions, invocations of morality, regulations and so on. It requires basic, structural economic change. Earlier reforms achieved so little success because they ignored the very idea or possibility of such change. They left untouched capitalism's basic incentive structure and capitalists' power to use enterprise profits for corrupt purposes. Capitalists have continued to face all the benefits and gains that corrupted officials can yield (plus the risks and costs of failing to corrupt them). Capitalists have likewise continued to amass ever-larger profits and thus the funds with which to corrupt.

One structural way to reduce corruption would be to democratize enterprises, to reorganize them such that the workers collectively direct the enterprises. Such an economic democratization would render all aspects of the relationship between enterprise and government transparent to all enterprise employees and thereby to a larger public. Hiding and disguising corruption would be much more difficult. Compliance with regulations and laws prohibiting the corruption of officials would likely find at least some support among democratized enterprises' decision makers. Those enterprises would require open discussion and majority decision-making. Minorities could more easily acquire the knowledge needed to criticize and influence decisions and thus to prevent or reduce using enterprises' net revenues to corrupt government officials.

Ending the capitalist organization of enterprises still leaves the problem of incentives for workers - even in workers' self-directed enterprises - to seek to corrupt government officials. The appropriate step to solve that problem would involve making the democratized enterprises and a genuinely democratized politics (of residence-based government at all levels) interdependent. Governmental decisions would need to be ratified by the democratized enterprises affected by those government decisions. Likewise, democratized enterprise decisions would need to be ratified by the affected democratized governmental institutions.

Then any effort by one or a group of workers' self-directed enterprises to obtain corrupt decisions from officials would activate other workers self-directed enterprises - hurt or disadvantaged by those decisions - to object. And their objections would have effective teeth given the power-sharing relationship between enterprises and government. This is a way to interrupt the social irrationality of corruption - whereby one or a group of enterprises gains a corrupt advantage at the expense of others, who are thereby provoked to do likewise, thereby generating systemic corruption. The end-result is - as capitalism's history shows - an economy that best serves those who can most effectively corrupt and be corrupted.

In effect, legislatures would be reconstructed as bi-cameral - but in a new sense. One chamber would be enterprise-based, while the other would be residence-based. The key checks and balances of such a system could reasonably be expected to reduce political corruption relative to anything so far attempted. Such a structural change could well outperform the long list of anticorruption reforms that were so often smokescreens to avoid the basic economic changes needed.

Copyright, Truthout.

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24 Comments


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[-] 1 points by bullfrogma (448) 10 months ago

I like this idea, but what's to stop enterprises from becoming gang-like? it wouldn't necessarily matter if workers participate when you control the workers. hire them, fire them, seduce them, use their financial desperations to brainwash their ambition, and ta-da, henchmen.

Lets say there is no boss, that enterprises form in the version of coops. What happens to vision and leadership? Sometimes we need leaders to make the hard decisions that go against our comfort zones. Anyone could rally their good ideas, but sometimes the best thing to do is something that nobody else wants to do.

I really like this idea here. I'm just not sure it would stop corruption either. There could be a future of things transformed into warlords.

If capitalism is the problem it's really because anything is up for grabs, such as food, water, energy, etc. What if our vital resources could not be privately owned? What if those things we limited to a truly democratic government, of the people for the people? Separate private affairs and that which is the foundation of everyone.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

In compliment to the Post's title =


The RootsAction.org team :

The State Department's new report, released late Friday, is intended to lay political groundwork for John Kerry to recommend approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. While Obama and Kerry should use facts in the report to reject the pipeline, that is not what the report urges.

Weekend or not, over 25,000 of us have already signed a RootsAction petition to Kerry and Obama.

The petition urgently needs your name -- and the names of everyone you can share this message with.

It's classic. Wait till late on a Friday to announce a reprehensible decision in hopes of minimizing the uproar in response. But the extreme climate crisis doesn't take weekends off. And neither do we.

A State Department report has just declared that the environmental impact of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be acceptable. This clears a path for Secretary of State John Kerry to give his approval to the pipeline.

Click here to tell Kerry and President Obama we will not stand for this project moving forward!

The scientific evidence is clear. Exploitation of the tar sands would be a catastrophe for the climate. This is a planetary emergency -- and right now this is a political emergency.

Take action now!

"Significant impacts to most resources are not expected along the proposed Project route assuming the following," reads the State Department report, before listing a series of improbable assumptions.

No wonder they waited for Friday afternoon!

Please forward this email widely right now to anyone who cares about the future of the earth!

-- The RootsAction.org team

P.S. RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, Frances Fox Piven, and many others.

P.P.S. This work is only possible with your financial support. Please donate.

Background:

U.S. State Department: Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

Michael Mann: Approving Keystone XL Could Be the Biggest Mistake of Obama's Presidency

New York Times: Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline

www.RootsAction.org


What I added:

Prez Obummer your all of the above energy policy/stance?

INSANE

I thought You styled Your-self as a Man of the PEOPLE.

Prove It!!!!

Don't be a corp(se)oRATion Shill. Just say no to KXL and all things Fossil Fuel Expansion.

We Have Viable Alternatives. We Have The Utmost NEED to IMPLEMENT THEM. Be a Man a real Leader of the American "PEOPLE" - say no to KXL!!!

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 months ago

The Surveillance Blitz

Sunday, 02 February 2014 10:06 By John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21604-the-surveillance-blitz

Our privacy is getting hit from two sides - from corporations as well as the government.

Some years ago when I was fielding complaints from authors through the National Writers Union — about not getting paid, about their work being spiked — I received a phone call from an irate woman. She told me that her best ideas were being stolen. She’d be watching television and a favorite drama would suddenly follow a plot line that she’d devised. Or she would go out to see a movie and hear the actors delivering her punch lines.

“Do you have any proof that you’ve been sending your scripts to these places?” I asked. “Do you have postal receipts, for example?”

“Oh, no!” she said indignantly. “These are ideas that I haven’t even put down on paper yet. They ‘ve obviously bugged my room and can read my mind!”

We have all laughed at the people who don tin foil hats to prevent the neighborhood telepaths — or the CIA or the Venusians — from invading their brains and stealing their secrets. “Paranoia: the destroyer,” as The Kinks put it so succinctly. But soon we all might feel compelled to start wrapping our heads in aluminum, or the Internet-age equivalent.

You’ve probably heard by now the story of the father from Minnesota who reamed out Target for sending his high-school daughter coupons for baby-related items. Was the retailer encouraging teenage pregnancy? He later had to apologize. Target, through its new statistical marketing tools, had determined from the young woman’s purchases that she was pregnant long before her hapless father had been informed of his impending grandfatherhood.

Or perhaps you’ve come across the more recent story about protestors in Kiev who received text messages that read: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot.” The Ukrainian government was trying to scare protestors into going home, but it only managed to heighten their concerns about government surveillance. Our cell phones have become like those ankle monitors that people on parole must wear so that the authorities know where they are at all times.

Maybe you’re thinking that it’s only governments of an authoritarian bent that engage in such data collection. By now, I would hope that Edward Snowden has disabused you of this quaint notion.

Since 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting information on all phone calls by all Americans. On a more selective basis, it has been looking at the content of emails and tracking cell phone locations and tapping into the data hubs of Google and Yahoo. It has installed bugs on 100,000 computers all over the world. As David Cole writes in The New York Review of Books, “Snowden’s disclosures portray an insatiable agency that has sought to collect as much information as it possibly can, most of it relying on secret interpretations of law, often exploiting the fact that the law has not caught up to technology.”

Supporters of the surveillance methods have tried to downplay their intrusiveness by pointing out that the NSA does not monitor the content of the phone calls (though it can, and it has). This “metadata” covers whom you call and where you call from — as opposed to the actual words you utter during the phone call. Sound innocuous, even misleading, like judging a book by its cover? Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, is much more candid. “Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life,” he says. “If you have enough metadata you don’t really need content…. [It’s] sort of embarrassing how predictable we are as human beings.” The statisticians at Target could testify to that.

President Obama has sought to reassure the public that the NSA is not some vast Orwellian entity. In a speech on January 17 — the 53rd anniversary of Eisenhower’s famous warning about the military-industrial complex — Obama portrayed surveillance as American as baseball and apple pie, constructing a self-serving version of American history that linked Paul Revere, the Union army, and World War II code breakers. We have been, in other words, a country of spies all along. (The difference is, of course, that all of those snoops were collecting information on adversaries and not their fellow citizens). The president went on to pledge greater presidential oversight, greater transparency, and additional safeguards for programs such as the bulk metadata collection.

But as James Oliphant points out in The National Journal, not very much has changed at all. “What President Obama has announced will have little operational effect on the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ data. And, significantly, the administration has attempted to dodge some of the biggest decisions, passing the ball to Congress, which will likely do nothing if recent trends hold.” In short, metadata will still be collected, it will still be searched, and the FBI can issue its “national security letters” to collect business records without a court warrant.

The American public is similarly not convinced. In a Pew Center poll, more than 70 percent of respondents said that the changes would neither protect the privacy of Americans nor make much different in the fight against terrorism.

The ethics of surveillance aside, the NSA program has proven to be a wastefully expensive search for a needle in a silo. Two separate studies have concluded that the metadata program has not done anything to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. According to the New America Foundation, the NSA program resulted in a single arrest — of a cabdriver who sent money to a terrorist organization in Somalia. A White House-appointed panel came to the same conclusion and recommended a reversion back to traditional legal methods of obtaining data.

We are constantly being profiled. On the corporate side, we are willingly — though often unwittingly — giving up our information to the “predictive analytics” departments of Target, Amazon, the U.S. Postal Service, and so on. The government, meanwhile, is also interested in predicting our behavior to anticipate acts of terrorism.

In honor of the upcoming Super Bowl, imagine the situation this way. Each one of us is a quarterback. We’ve taken the snap. But two very large linebackers — the government and the corporations — have easily gotten around the blockers. This is the blitz. And suddenly we’re getting hit from two sides, and our privacy tumbles out of our hands as we go down. The linebackers pounce on the bouncing ball.

So far, the government and the corporations have only coordinated their assault on our privacy in a selective way, with agreements between the NSA and the phone companies and Internet providers. But imagine what it might be like if the FBI calls us in for a chat one day based on a profile constructed out of our Amazon purchases (Chomsky), Target receipts (bullhorn and posterboard), and Google Chat (about the illegality of drone strikes)? What if the Amazon recommendation system offers subtle entrapments: “you liked the Koran, why not try Sayeed Qutb’s Milestones and the Complete Book of Explosives?”

The linebackers are bulking up, and the blockers are getting thinner by the minute. How do we defend against the blitz? Cancel our Facebook accounts? Break out the aluminum foil?

On the government side, we should turn back the clock. As Michael Ratner writes at Truthout, “Warrantless surveillance should be stopped altogether, and metadata should only be collected and retained on an individual basis by a court order under the Fourth Amendment, with a standard of probable cause.” Takes too long, you object? In that single example of terrorism prevention, the NSA shared the phone number of the cabdriver with the FBI and it took them two months to begin their investigation.

On the corporate side, we can “opt out” of information sharing in many of our interactions — on line, through the postal service, with the telephone company. It’s not just about blocking junk mail and robocalls. It’s about donning a hazmat suit when venturing out into the Internet.

We have become all too comfortable opening up our lives to the scrutiny of others. Privatization is still all the rage in the economic sphere. How about a campaign to privatize privacy?

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 months ago

Cut Off the NSA's Juice

Sunday, 02 February 2014 13:01 By Norman Solomon, Norman Solomon's Blog | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21615-cut-off-the-nsas-juice

The National Security Agency depends on huge computers that guzzle electricity in the service of the surveillance state. For the NSA’s top executives, maintaining a vast flow of juice to keep Big Brother nourished is essential -- and any interference with that flow is unthinkable.

But interference isn’t unthinkable. And in fact, it may be doable.

Grassroots activists have begun to realize the potential to put the NSA on the defensive in nearly a dozen states where the agency is known to be running surveillance facilities, integral to its worldwide snoop operations.

Organizers have begun to push for action by state legislatures to impede the electric, water and other services that sustain the NSA’s secretive outposts.

Those efforts are farthest along in the state of Washington, where a new bill in the legislature -- the Fourth Amendment Protection Act -- is a statutory nightmare for the NSA. The agency has a listening post in Yakima, in the south-central part of the state.

The bill throws down a challenge to the NSA, seeking to block all state support for NSA activities violating the Fourth Amendment. For instance, that could mean a cutoff of electricity or water or other state-government services to the NSA site. And the measure also provides for withholding other forms of support, such as research and partnerships with state universities.

Here’s the crux of the bill: “It is the policy of this state to refuse material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency which claims the power, or with any federal law, rule, regulation, or order which purports to authorize, the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place, and thing to be searched or seized.”

If the windup of that long sentence has a familiar ring, it should. The final dozen words are almost identical to key phrases in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In recent days, more than 15,000 people have signed a petition expressing support for the legislation. Launched by RootsAction.org, the petition is addressed to the bill’s two sponsors in the Washington legislature -- Republican Rep. David Taylor, whose district includes the NSA facility in Yakima, and Democrat Luis Moscoso from the Seattle area.

Meanwhile, a similar bill with the same title has just been introduced in the Tennessee legislature -- taking aim at the NSA’s center based in Oak Ridge, Tenn. That NSA facility is a doozy: with several hundred scientists and computer specialists working to push supercomputers into new realms of mega-surveillance capacities.

A new coalition, OffNow, is sharing information about model legislation. The group also points to known NSA locations in other states including Utah (in Bluffdale), Texas (San Antonio), Georgia (Augusta), Colorado (Aurora), Hawaii (Oahu) and West Virginia (Sugar Grove), along with the NSA’s massive headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. Grassroots action and legislative measures are also stirring in several of those states.

One of the key organizations in such efforts is the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, where legal fellow Matthew Kellegrew told me that the OffNow coalition “represents the discontent of average people with … business-as-usual failure to rein in out-of-control domestic spying by the NSA and other federal departments like the FBI. It is a direct, unambiguous response to a direct, unambiguous threat to our civil liberties.”

In the process -- working to counter the bipartisan surveillance-state leadership coming from the likes of President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, the House Intelligence Committee’s chair Mike Rogers and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chair Dianne Feinstein -- activists urging a halt to state-level support for the NSA include people who disagree on other matters but are determined to undermine the Big Brother hierarchies of both parties.

“By working together to tackle the erosion of the Fourth Amendment presented by bulk data collection,” Kellegrew said, “people from across partisan divides are resurrecting the lost art of collaboration and in the process, rehabilitating the possibility of a functional American political dialogue denied to the people by dysfunction majority partisan hackery.”

From another vantage point, this is an emerging faceoff between reliance on cynical violence and engagement in civic nonviolence.

Serving the warfare state and overall agendas for U.S. global dominance to the benefit of corporate elites, the NSA persists in doing violence to the Constitution’s civil-liberties amendments -- chilling the First, smashing the Fourth and end-running the Fifth.

Meanwhile, a nascent constellation of movements is striving to thwart the surveillance state, the shadowy companion of perpetual war.

This is a struggle for power over what kind of future can be created for humanity.

It’s time to stop giving juice to Big Brother.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit

In January 2010, numerous homeowners in San Antonio, Texas, stood baffled in front of their closed garage doors. They wanted to drive to work or head off to do their grocery shopping, but their garage door openers had gone dead, leaving them stranded. No matter how many times they pressed the buttons, the doors didn't budge. The problem primarily affected residents in the western part of the city, around Military Drive and the interstate highway known as Loop 410.

ANZEIGE In the United States, a country of cars and commuters, the mysterious garage door problem quickly became an issue for local politicians. Ultimately, the municipal government solved the riddle. Fault for the error lay with the United States' foreign intelligence service, the National Security Agency, which has offices in San Antonio. Officials at the agency were forced to admit that one of the NSA's radio antennas was broadcasting at the same frequency as the garage door openers. Embarrassed officials at the intelligence agency promised to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, and soon the doors began opening again.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

aaAHHAaahahaha - sad - pathetic really - the lack of intelligence in the neointelligence agencies.

[-] 0 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

Yep, they are not happy-at all.

I found an interesting little interview.I'm going to make a thread though.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

Sending Kerry to smooth things over - HeH - for all the good it will do - they might as well place a shovel in a suit and run audio through an external speaker - wonder if anyone would notice the difference?

[-] 0 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

Prolly not, lol.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

On a brighter - and completely different subject - I see where the Tax Exempt NFL may be pushing for medical marijuana.

[-] 0 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

...........

[-] 0 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

Still need Congress to alter the law.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

Ooops - My Bad Edit - scratch one and two from the list and add marijuana fruit loops and water

Yep - Those Bastards

Instead?

Tobacco - schedule one gateway drug.

Alcohol - schedule one gateway drug.

Sugar - schedule one gateway drug.

Chocolate - schedule one gateway drug. ( see also sugar )

Bleached/processed Flour - schedule one gateway drug.

Air - schedule one gateway drug.

[-] 0 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (32295) from Coon Rapids, MN 2 minutes ago

Bottom line - I agree - the Federal Law needs to be changed - as on my above list? Those items on the list above "R" more dangerous than Pot. ↥twinkle ↧stinkle permalink

I don't buy that.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

EDIT

W Virginian's might currently agree - that at least on one of the items being more dangerous as well as people living in the frack lands - plenty more might well agree on the Air being on the list as being more dangerous as well .....

Also sugar and processed/bleached flour are ( can be ) deadly - to diabetics - both can cause a person to become diabetic as well.

Ouch-ahol? Ever here of cirosis of the liver? Or dieing from alcohol poisoning?

Fruit loops - artificial coloring and health problems - even cancer.

Tobacco - is an obvious extreme danger.

Marijuana? Ummm - terminal munchies??? while abusing baked goods loaded with extra sugar ( besides starch that is )? OH I suppose it could also be dangerous as you could go to jail/prison for it and then get beaten to death.

[-] 0 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (32295) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 hour ago

Two families have now moved from Minnesota to Colorado so that their children can get medical marijuana ( seizure treatment ). Hell I would stop at a cash machine - t fuckers. ↥twinkle ↧stinkle permalink


I read about that. But, the thing that I think people have to understand is that if you don't change the law at the federal level then whatever you think you have gained now can be taken away......it's a matter of time. Secondly, all the puff puff pass BS on the collection of taxes went up in smoke because the federal law has not changed.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

Bottom line - I agree - the Federal Law needs to be changed - as on my above list? Those items on the list above "R" more dangerous than Pot.

[-] 0 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 months ago

Even so. Colorado ran into problems because all sales have to be in cash. Unless there has been a change in the last week, you can't use your credit or debit card to buy it because...............federal law.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (23961) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 months ago

Two families have now moved from Minnesota to Colorado so that their children can get medical marijuana ( seizure treatment ). Hell I would stop at a cash machine - t fuckers.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 months ago

Not a Hacker or Whistleblower? Here's How You Can Still Liberate Secret Documents

Sunday, 02 February 2014 12:30 By Daniel Hunter, Waging Nonviolence | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21613-not-a-hacker-or-whistleblower-heres-how-you-can-still-liberate-secret-documents

Forty years ago a tiny group of antiwar protesters picked locks at the Federal Bureau of Investigation offices in Media, Pa. They stuffed briefcases with confidential documents which they later released to reporters. Their act was brazen and planned with meticulous detail.

In fact, recent reports have made it so heroic and harrowing that it appears to be the kind of thing many of us would never imagine doing.

Yet there is much that happens behind closed doors that needs to be made public. And what they had in their action was the necessary direct action spirit: We should act as if the documents are ours to be made public.

The group was successful in uncovering expansive and unchecked spying on civil rights leaders, antiwar organizers, suspected Communists, and activists of many stripes — including the shocking revelation that FBI agents had sent anonymous letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. threatening to expose his extramarital affairs if he didn’t commit suicide and the first public reference to COINTELPRO.

What’s interesting about this story is that it’s wildly atypical — nobody has done something quite like it since. With the increase of security cameras and surveillance technology it’s no wonder.

But another set of tactics have emerged to gain access to documents when whistleblowers leaking documents are nowhere to be found and the courts and politicians are opposed to openness and transparency.

All you need is a group of folks who want access to information — and a willingness to take risks for it. These are tactics available even to people who don’t have advanced computer hacking skills or inside access to become whistleblowers.

Halting the Free Trade Area of the Americas

The release of the FBI documents was truly daring and marked by the utmost secrecy. But in 2001, a Canadian group called Operation SalAMI came up with a very different way to force the government to release closely-guarded documents. Operation SalAMI’s aim was to release the highly-secretive top-level negotiating texts for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, a situation very similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership being negotiated right now.

The FTAA was intended to be a free trade treaty to unite all North and South American countries — except for Cuba — into a single trade zone. Backed heavily by the U.S. government, it was a NAFTA-like expansion that would “level the playing field” for economic growth — in other words, lower the bar for environmental, social and labor protections. It was not the first such attempt at large agreements of this kind. Previous attempts, like the Multilateral Agreement on Investments and expansion of the World Trade Organization, had been scuttled by protesters and Global South nations a few years earlier.

To reduce public resistance, the FTAA was kept extraordinarily secret. No unions or civil society organizations were allowed access to the negotiating texts. Even senators, congressmen and members of parliament were not allowed access. Only heads of state and their staff — plus the heads of a handful of corporations who were involved in the negotiations — were given confidential access to the documents.

The likelihood that Operation SalAMI’s ragtag group would be able to successfully get around the security at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where the texts were likely held, was not high. They could have plunged all their energy into joining the protests outside the FTAA negotiations a month later in Quebec City, but they wanted to stay on the offensive and not allow their opponents to choose the time and place of their actions. And they saw a chance to expose the transparency being violated in a way that would encourage reluctant allies to join.

It was then that one of their leaders, Philippe Duhamel, woke up with an idea.

He was inspired by Mohandas Gandhi’s salt raid of the salt depot in Dharasana. After his famous Salt March, Gandhi had escalated by announcing publicly that Indians would take-over the salt depot. For that, he was finally arrested; but the raid continued and became a turning point in Britain’s international standing.

Philippe’s idea: a citizen’s search and seizure.

The plan was to go to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade building and “liberate” the texts. Completely unlike the successful FBI raid by protesters, the plans’ hallmark would be near complete transparency. Operation SalAMI sent an ultimatum to the Canadian government requiring it to publish the entire document in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese — or the group would have to “retrieve the documents ourselves.”

As hoped for, the ultimatum was controversial. Is that kind of action acceptable? What will happen when they do it? Why are the documents secret? Pressure was building.

When the Canadian government failed to give up the documents on the activists’ timeline, 80 protesters performed the search and seizure operation. Like Gandhi’s salt raid, it was not “play-acting” but open, public defiance as people crossed over police barricades to enter the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade building, which was shut down. Some even dressed as Robin Hood.

That open action — and the months of debate leading up to it — made it possible to attract allies. Even some conservative newspapers and groups swung in favor of the release of the documents. Enough pressure mounted that just a few weeks later the Canadian government buckled and announced it would unilaterally release the negotiating texts.

Under a barrage of attacks on the now-public texts, the FTAA fell apart soon after. But the citizen’s search and seizure as a tactic continued to grow and was carried to completely different movements.

Local development fights

Casino-Free Philadelphia’s situation was completely different — fighting two billionaire-backed casinos forcing their way into the city. Pennsylvania’s governor was dead-set on introducing casinos to the state, orchestrating a middle-of-the-night bill legalizing gambling. He supported the casinos’ development despite the fact that they would be built near schools and even addiction treatment centers.

Casino-Free Philadelphia saw a crack in the solid wall of political opposition: the secrecy of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, or PGCB, which oversaw the casino licensing process. The board had rebuffed over a dozen “right-to-know” requests to obtain information on the proposed casinos legally. Casino-Free Philadelphia sensed an opening.

Like Operation SalAMI, Casino-Free Philadelphia sent an ultimatum to the PGCB’s director Tad Decker declaring that “if the documents are not released by December 1, then we will be forced to release them ourselves.” It upped the ante by doing a media-savvy action each week leading up to the deadline — such as washing the windows of the PGCB “to help them become more transparent,” or performing a practice document search during PGCB hearings, where they grabbed magnifying glasses and asked lawyers and staff to open their briefcases for investigation. (They did not comply). They even encouraged whistleblowers, sending brown envelopes to staff.

By December 1, press attention had grown and political pressure had increased — even the most weaselly politician didn’t want to appear on the wrong side of transparency. The PGCB had even been forced to release a few minor documents.

Whereas the FBI raid had been merely about getting the documents, the transparent search and seizure used time as a way to drum up interest. Like a good mystery writer, the Casino-Free Philadelphia allies were going to stoke interest by creating a story with an unknown ending. It captured the interest of media, politicians and regular people — exactly what a rally or march wouldn’t have done. People wanted to know what would happen with the search.

A week after the deadline passed, Casino-Free Philadelphia arrived outside the PGCB offices. Two by two they stepped forward and read a citizen’s search warrant. Then the protesters raised their iconic magnifying glasses and headed into the offices. They were stopped immediately by police who, after some confusion, arrested the “Philly Phourteen” — as they dubbed themselves.

But the next day a series of incriminating editorials and scathing articles were published about the PGCB’s treatment of citizens demanding what made sense to most people. Egged on by the promise to keep escalating, the PGCB released 98 percent of the documents that were requested. Of course that was only a first step on their long road to successfully halting the two casinos — but it was a meaningful one unto itself. (I tell that complete story of Casino-Free Philadelphia in my book Strategy and Soul).

The documents are yours

The search and seizure tactic has since been used by environmentalists in the United Kingdom seeking to halt a controversial road building project and unsuccessfully by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in an attempt to fight back against the government’s slow destruction of the public postal system.

It stands as a reminder of the philosophy that it is important in direct action to act out your rights. When there are documents that the public has a right to know about, we have a right to go take them.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 months ago

A Fast Track to Eroding Our Rights

Sunday, 02 February 2014 09:18 By Wenonah Hauter, OtherWords | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21602-a-fast-track-to-eroding-our-rights

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would have disastrous implications for US consumers.

Do you care about having access to local and sustainably produced food or protecting your drinking water?

Are you concerned about corporate influence distorting our elections?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should be worried about legislation Senator Max Baucus and Rep. Dave Camp recently introduced that would grant the Obama administration fast-track authority.

Those measures would allow the White House to quickly push the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and another trade deal with Europe through Congress with a simple up or down vote.

Fast-track authority would give the Obama administration the unchecked power to promote future trade deals. Those pacts would allow corporations to challenge any democratically enacted federal, state or local laws and regulations that would limit their narrow financial interests.

The TPP and the U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement are really corporate power grabs disguised as trade agreements containing provisions that would undermine basic consumer rights, including issues related to our food, water and local sovereignty.

The TPP threatens the very essence of our democratic process by promoting the privatization of public resources and corporate self-regulation. It would give companies the ability to overrule local governing bodies on decisions about fracking, food safety, public health and the environment.

It would have disastrous implications for U.S. consumers.

Think corporate lobbying power goes mostly unchecked now? Under the TPP, things would look far bleaker. If a town council voted to ban fracking, the TPP would enable a multinational oil company to sue the local governing body and overturn the ban.

If American consumers demanded that food products containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled, the TPP would grant a food corporation authority to interfere if the company’s profits were limited as a result.

And all of us who have been demanding more sustainable and locally sourced food could see our efforts challenged when big food companies increase the amount of imported food we receive from countries with a history of food safety violations.

The TPP would make it harder for governments to establish their own regulations to protect the environment, rein in financial interests, protect food safety, and support renewable energy while protecting us from risky practices like fracking for shale gas.

Undermining the democratic process for making decisions that affect public health and the environment, many of these decisions could be challenged in international pro-corporate trade tribunals, allowing financial interests to dictate how we manage public resources or dismantle the system of federal protections we currently have in place to regulate food and water.

Despite the far-reaching implications of these negotiations, the TPP has mostly been negotiated in secret. Over 600 official corporate “trade advisors” are privy to the specifics in the agreements, even though members of Congress, governors, state legislators, the media, and the public haven’t had access to the text.

Well, no access other than excerpts of working drafts on intellectual property and diluted environmental protections that WikiLeaks has released.

It’s deplorable that Congress would consider giving up their oversight role and allowing the White House to push for an accelerated timetable for something as critical and far-reaching as the TPP.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.