Sunday, 29 April 2012

Secrecy, Surveillance And Sneaky Treaties

beware of the tigerIt's official; our representatives and public servants think it's undemocratic when we gather to protest against their attempts to put us under surveillance for the benefit of Big Content and the other IP maximalists. Are they trolling or what's going on?


There are three things to bear in mind when discussing legislation and treaties; the cronyism, the status quo; and the money involved.


The cronyism



The USTR consults only with industry groups that are part of the Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITAC), a list that includes representatives from the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), the Recording
Industry Association of America (RIAA), and pharmaceutical companies. - Margot Kaminski



If the people behind the laws and treaties that affect us won't include us in their discussions because they only want to talk to their friends about it, what chance have we got to affect it in any meaningful way? Cutting us out makes us mistrust them because we doubt that they've got our best interests at heart, and let's face it, they don't. This is what happens when you turn over policy to big business


The status quo


The idea that this is how it's always been done is often rolled out to justify some of the more egregious attempts to control us or limit our access to information.



Corporate executives have ...learned how to work the system that right-wing ideologues would have us believe is a recent invention of “socialist” Obamaites. For example, the health insurance industry paid billions of dollars to lobbyists since the 1990s to guarantee that any universal health care law would not damage their business. As Ezra Klein writes in The New York Review of Books, this kind of money “gives you an opportunity to shape the way members of Congress think—an opportunity that is not available to those who don’t have $4.86 billion to spend on lobbying.” And so the Affordable Care Act, which has many virtues, does not include a public option. - Michael Kazin, The New Republic



Cutting us out of policymaking is bad enough but limiting their own accountability is anti-democratic and should be challenged all the way to the top. We can challenge it and it does work; when industry supports a bill, it gets passed, no problem, outcry or not. When industry goes against a bill, it dies. The trick to fighting bad law, then, is to contact the companies that support them and persuade them to alter their stance.


The money involved


While writing this blog post I've been involved in an epic argument with a vociferous Republican chap who views dissent as Leftist and flip-flops over the influence of money in politics. It's actually quite funny. See it for yourselves. Anyway, my challenging him to come up with some evidence to support his position has brought up some interesting facts. Did you know that President Obama decided to forego federal funding for his campaign in 2008 because doing so would have capped his donations? Meanwhile, paid-for legislation is causing mayhem in Congress as politicians compete against the public interest for campaign money.



It's hard to assess how much each of these companies spent lobbying Congress specifically on CISPA -- or other hot-button Internet bills -- because many of these companies have a variety of issues they're pursuing on Capitol Hill, but are required to report just one dollar amount covering everything. AT&T, for instance, spent its $7 million talking to lawmakers about 121 separate pieces of legislation. - Open Secrets



This makes the argument I had with that fellow that much more interesting. Politicians need money to pay for adverts to get their message across to potential voters, but without a cap on expenditure or some regulation of party finance they are vulnerable to corporate influence and, as I pointed out, beholden to their donors. Since corporations tend to have more cash than the rest of us the politicians are more likely to listen to them and pay lip service to us. Ron Paul failed to vote for or against CISPA, after all. And don't get me started on the revolving door between Congress, the Senate, and lobbying companies.


Conclusion


The prevailing idea among authoritarian idealogues and venal money-grabbers is not so much a trolling "No, you!" attitude, but a fear of having their cozy little setup interfered with. The democracy they speak of simply doesn't include the people they're supposed to represent because we don't pay them enough to be considered worth listening to. The successes enjoyed by the Pirate Party in European countries is beginning to demonstrate that we, the people, can indeed make our voices heard by voting for people who will actually listen to us. Mind you, that's probably because they haven't got rich corporate supporters.

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