Under the Reading Lamp — 1/22/2012


Does US Senate Commit Treason with NDAA Bill?

Jeanine Molloff, Op-Ed: “December 1st, 2011, the US Senate accomplished the unthinkable–with the nearly unanimous passage of the National Defense Authorization Bill of 2012–they committed treason. Written and planned in secret by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the newly minted NDAA contains three sections which collectively sanctions indefinite detention of alleged terrorists or ‘terrorist sympathizers’–anywhere in the world including the US– and designates the military the duty to arrest, imprison and interrogate without benefit of counsel,’ accused civilians here on Main Street.”


After ‘Citizens United’: The Attack of the Super PACs

John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, Op-Ed: “Citizens United’s easing of restrictions on corporate and individual spending, especially by organizations not under the control of candidates, has led to the proliferation of “Super PACs.” These shadowy groups do not have to abide by the $2,500 limit on donations to actual campaigns, and they can easily avoid rules for reporting sources of contributions. For instance, Super PACs have established nonprofit arms that are permitted to shield contributors’ identities as long as they spend no more than 50 percent of their money on electoral politics.”


Corporate Rule Is Not Inevitable

Sarah van Gelder, Op-Ed: “You may remember that there was a time when apartheid in South Africa seemed unstoppable. Sure, there were international boycotts of South African businesses, banks, and tourist attractions. There were heroic activists in South Africa, who were going to prison and even dying for freedom. But the conventional wisdom remained that these were principled gestures with little chance of upending the entrenched system of white rule. ‘Be patient,’ activists were told. ‘Don’t expect too much against powerful interests with a lot of money invested in the status quo.’”


A Credit Union to Bail out People, Not Big Banks

Judith Scherr, News Report: The Occupy Movement condemns the banks’ role in predatory lending and the foreclosure crisis, the high-interest student loans they say enriches the bankers and impoverishes college students, bank investments in private prisons and more. But protesting isn’t enough for Occupy San Francisco activist Brian McKeown. He says a bank should be a transparent institution whose mission is to help people. And so, with like-minded partners, McKeown is putting together a plan for the People’s Reserve Credit Union (PRCU).


Boehner Threatens to Hold Payroll Tax Holiday Hostage to Approval of Keystone XL

Zack Ford, Video Report: On Fox News Sunday this morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told Chris Wallace that “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the Keystone Pipeline is approved.” When Wallace pressed him whether Republican leadership would make the pipeline a condition for extending the payroll tax holiday, Boehner admitted, “We may,” adding (several times) that “All options are on the table.” Proponents of the pipeline have dwarfed opponents in lobbying spending, inflated the actual effect it will have on job creation, and spread various myths designed tocircumvent its environmental impact.


Bernie Sanders: We Must Stop This Corporate Takeover of American Democracy

Bernie Sanders, Op-Ed: “Two years ago, the United States supreme court betrayed our Constitution and those who fought to ensure that its protections are enjoyed equally by all persons regardless of religion, race or gender by engaging in an unabashed power-grab on behalf of corporate America. In its now infamous decision in the Citizens United case, five justices declared that corporations must be treated as if they are actual people under the Constitution when it comes to spending money to influence our elections, allowing them for the first time to draw on the corporate checkbook – in any amount and at any time – to run ads explicitly for or against specific candidates.”


How the Republicans on the FEC Are Making Citizens United Even Worse

Josh Israel, News Analysis: “Three Republican appointees to the Federal Election Commission may be as responsible as anyone for the lack of transparency of post-Citizens United political spending. Two years ago, when the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling, one bright spot was that the majority explicitly endorsed the constitutionality and necessity of disclosure rules that inform voters who paid for the political ads they see. ‘Disclosure is the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations,’ they affirmed.”


The Green Economy, Boon or Menace?

Emilio Godoy, News Report: In its study “Who Will Control the Green Economy?”, published Dec. 15, 2011, the ETC Group argues that the development of a green economy will primarily benefit large corporations, unless changes are made to the current models of production and consumption of goods and services and international governance. It reveals that large transnational corporations in the energy, pharmaceutical, food and chemical industries are already forming alliances to exploit biomass and grab control of natural resources like land and water.


Christopher Petrella | Death, Taxes, and Alcatraz

Christopher Petrella, Op-Ed: “Please allow me to introduce some figures that I believe will convincingly demonstrate the scope and depth of our predicament. Although the United States represents less than 5% of the world’s population, we harbor over 25% of those incarcerated. In fact, we’ve incarcerated more people in absolute terms than China, whose population is four times the larger. Despite these sobering figures, few thinkers, however—even those of avowedly ‘progressive’ persuasion— have sharply critiqued the well-worn diptych of ‘crime and punishment.’”


Bad Bankers, Bad Fraud Deals, And The President’s ‘Great Gatsby’ Problem

Richard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: “Investigate the Banks!” Today a coalition of progressive groups handed in a petition with more than 360,000 signatures that demanded exactly that. It calls on the Obama administration to stop pushing a cushy fraud settlement for bankers, to pursue a fair deal for shafted homeowners, and to let criminal investigations against Wall Street crooks proceed. Yet White House officials are still aggressively pushing the very same cushy deal on foreclosure fraud that inspired the petition.


How Payday Lenders Make Billions By Fleecing Americans In Poverty

Tanya Somanader, News Report: “As a growing number of Americans slip out of the middle-class into economic insecurity, they are increasingly vulnerable to predatory lending schemes like the payday loan. Each year, about 12 million Americans incur long-term debt by taking out a short-term loan that’s intended to cover a borrowers’ expenses until they receive their next paycheck. Payday lending takes ‘unfair advantage of lower-income borrowers,’ with most taking out nine repeat loans per year with an interest rate as high as 400 percent.”


Robert Reich | Amend 2012

Robert Reich, Video Presentation: Thanks to the Supreme Court and Citizens United, the same big corporations and billionaires that destroyed our economy and caused millions of us to lose our jobs and homes, are spending obscene amounts to drown out our voices in elections and take over our government. But together, “We the People” can set things right. Stand with Robert Reich and join the movement for a constitutional amendment today.


Kucinich Announces Constitutional Amendment to Publicly Finance Federal Elections

Dennis Kucinich, Op-Ed: On the eve of the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which opened the floodgate of unlimited, shadowy corporate spending in public elections, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced H. J. Res. 100, a constitutional amendment to rescue American democracy from corporate money’s corrupting influence.

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Neutralizing Citizens United Won’t Get Big Money Out of Government

By Carmen Yarrusso, with permission

Neutralizing Citizens United Won’t Get Big Money Out of Government—Greatly Reducing the VALUE of Political Influence Is the Only Way

The Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission is a grave threat to America ‘s already faltering democracy. This ruling essentially legalizes the well-under-way takeover of our government by big corporations. To claim corporations are persons and are thus protected by our First Amendment is an absurd abomination. Many progressive groups (e.g. freespeachforpeople.org, MovetoAmend.org) have organized against this decision. But attempting to neutralize this ruling by amending our Constitution is futile folly.

This well-meaning strategy goes something like this: amend our Constitution to end corporate personhood, which would take away corporate First Amendment rights to unlimited free speech (political spending), which would then allow us to enact legislation that limits big money’s influence in government. This can’t possibly succeed. Here’s why:

It’s highly unlikely such an amendment would pass because big corporations pretty much own our government already and would unleash their immense political influence to prevent it (and Congress would surely be on their side). But let’s assume such an amendment passes. Let’s further assume legislation is then enacted that goes way beyond the McCain-Feingold Act and prohibits most of the current shady political spending by big corporations.

This approach has the same fatal flaw as drug prohibition

Prohibiting the buying of a product in great demand (such as certain drugs) is doomed to fail. It simply creates a lucrative underground industry that will find creative ways to bring eager buyers and sellers together. The only effective way to get big money out of the drug business is to enact policies that greatly reduce the value of the product for sale. Prohibiting the buying of certain drugs is futile folly because it does nothing to reduce the value of the product (on the contrary). The only effective way to reduce the value of prohibited drugs (and thus get big money out) is to end prohibition. But that’s another matter.

Similarly, prohibiting any corporate buying of political influence (a product in great demand) is doomed to fail. It would simply create a lucrative underground industry that would find creative ways to bring eager buyers and sellers together. The only effective way to get big money out of government is to enact policies that greatly reduce the value of the product for sale. Prohibiting corporations from buying political influence is futile folly because it does nothing to reduce the value of the product for sale. There would still be great demand, which means, by hook or by crook, corporate money would continue to flow between eager buyers and sellers of political influence.

But if we enacted a simple accounting system that GUARANTEED immediate public exposure of ALL government deceit, this would greatly reduce the value of political influence (since deceit is typically necessary to pass special interest legislation). Here’s why it would work:

Deceit is vital to bought political influence

Take away deceit and bought political influence loses its power. Since members of Congress claim to represent the interests of the American people, they MUST regularly use deceit to hide their efforts to enact special interest legislation. If members of Congress knew that ALL deceit by them would be publicly exposed almost immediately, it would be very difficult to enact special interest legislation. The power of bought political influence would be greatly reduced (thus greatly reducing its value), which would virtually eliminate big money in government.

But how could we GUARANTEE that ALL Congressional deceit would be exposed immediately?

By adopting WikiArguments, a simple system of forced Congressional accountability that would quickly and efficiently expose any and all deceit by our so-called “representatives”. WikiArguments (details here) is an Internet-based (wiki) system that would make Congressional deceit virtually impossible.

Briefly, WikiArguments would provide a secure mechanism for anonymous public (wiki) arguments that expose government deception, but, more importantly, it would also provide a simple system of forced Congressional accountability where our “representatives” could no longer avoid giving us clear, rational justifications for their positions (instead of the evasive, specious claptrap they typically give us now).

WikiArguments would impose just one simple requirement on our members of Congress: they would be required to justify and defend their collective positions on legislation using clear, rational (wiki) arguments (one wikiargument for each side of an issue posted on the Internet so they can be easily scrutinized by the public). That’s it. There would be no other requirement.

If members of Congress could no longer lie to us, they would find it nearly impossible to enact special-interest legislation. Corporations would stop spending big money trying to bribe Congress because Congress could no longer deliver the goods. The extremely lucrative lobbying market of buying and selling political influence would crash because bought political influence would become essentially worthless.

Why WikiArguments can’t be defeated by clever politicians

The effectiveness of WikiArguments doesn’t require the American people to be skilled logicians who can easily recognize subtle deceit in clever Congressional arguments. No matter how clever the deceit in a given congressional wikiargument, some member of Congress on the opposing side will see through the deceit and expose it in clear, simple English (in the corresponding opposing congressional wikiargument).

Even if a clever specious argument fools every member of Congress on the opposing side (a highly unlikely event), or if both sides are in collusion as is usually the case, someone in the public (which includes anyone on earth with an Internet connection) is sure to see through the deceit and could immediately expose it in the corresponding opposing public wikiargument.

Under a WikiArguments system, it would only take one member of Congress or one member of the public to expose any Congressional deceit. Most Americans can easily see (even clever or subtle) deceit if it’s pointed out to them in clear English. It would be virtually impossible for a member of Congress to deceive us with a specious wikiargument because the whole world would be watching, ready to expose the deceit on the Internet.

Conclusion

Amending our Constitution to neutralize Citizens United or using any other means to pass laws to limit corporations from buying political influence can’t possibly succeed. The ONLY way to get big money out of government is to enact policies that greatly reduce the value of political influence. WikiArguments is a simple, efficient, effective system that would do just that.

As long as big money continues to dominate our political system, railing against the countless examples of unfairness or incompetence in our government is just idle chatter. Trying to solve any government problem without first addressing big money is merely hacking at the branches of evil while ignoring the root. Until we solve this supreme political problem, there will be no real hope and no real change. Life on earth will continue to deteriorate.

Author’s Bio: Carmen Yarrusso, a software engineer for 35 years, designed and modified computer operating systems (including Internet software). He has a BS in physics and studied game theory and formal logic during his years with the math department at Brookhaven National Lab. He lives in New Hampshire and often writes about uncomfortable truths.