A few short weeks ago, I was elected to Chair the US Pirate Party, by the State Advisory Board. So now, I’ll hopefully give us a plan to work forward from here, and leave us, at the end of the year, better, stronger and more productive than before.
In my candidacy, I made a few promises
I want to start us growing again, we have kind of stagnated over the last 2 years, we need to focus more on issues, and getting support, rather than apathy and needless bureaucracy. One of the first things I’d do is finally upgrade the terrible IT infrastructure we have, with help from the PPUK IT team, and migrate to their ‘NewWebPlatform’. I also want to start hammering on key issues, like accountability (especially of the police) surveillance laws, and (a topic very close to my heart, since it came from my work) the Net Neutrality fight, and I also aim for at least 1, preferably two, national TV appearances in the next year
This should not be too hard for us, if it is, then we should just give up now.
I want to reiterate as well what I consider to be the 3 planks of the Pirate Platform
- Government Accountability and Transparency
- Increased Personal Privacy
- Copyright, Patent and Trademark reform.
Perhaps one of the hardest things for us to do is to register at the state level. It’s one of the foibles of the US that unlike just about every other western country, there’s no such thing as a National political party. Instead every state, territory, and Federal District has their own separate set of rules, regulations and requirements for a party. What’s more, in many states there’s two sets of rules, one for the two ‘major parties’, and another for everyone else, with the overall aim that smaller parties have greater obstacles to overcome just to stay on the ballot, because of their lack of incumbency. It fosters the very two-party two-step that has consigned American politics to the gutter it currently languishes in. When you combine that with the fundamentally corrupt practice of gerrymandering, and the disgusting and shameful attempts at voter-suppression through so-called ‘Voter ID laws’ and opposition to independent monitoring; it turns a country that styles itself as “land of the free” and presided over by the “Leader of the Free World” into an election system that a banana republic would look down on.
Yet it’s not only the elected officials that need to face both accountability and transparency, but appointed officials as well. Officials of the government; be they police officers, intelligence “agents”, or members of state agencies, need to follow the law, and be held accountable to the law. If anything, those tasked to uphold the law should be held to a higher standard, with little tolerance for excuses about how ‘difficult’ it will make their job, or that it’ll take more time – if they don’t care to adhere to the laws, they have no business enforcing them.
It is also time that we, as a Nation, grew up, and stopped reacting in panic and fear whenever anything vaguely unsettling happens. It seems that all someone has to do is invoke one of the 4 Horsemen of the Information Apocalypse (terrorists, drug dealers, kidnappers, and child pornographers) and any/all principles go out the window. There is no Digital Boogieman out there, and in throwing the rules out of the window any time someone utters an excuse for unethical or otherwise illegal behavior by quoting one of those reasons, a piece of liberty, of our very freedom dies.
There is also no evidence that the nebulous threat of ‘Terrorism’ has been reduced in any way, despite the massive erosion of our privacy rights. There is a saying that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” For all the intrusions on our privacy, the only terrorist threats that the US Government has been able to stop, are threats they themselves created and nurtured. Of the actual actions (dud or not), the privacy-destroying actions made no difference. So to expect things to improve by just a little less privacy is taking that saying literally, and naught but the sheerest nonsense.
Now if the citizens of this great nation are not permitted their privacy, the opposite seems to be true for the government. Freedom of information requests are stymied frequently, with the FBI seeking to intervene in requests involving a controversial device known as a Stingray. Challenges to potentially illegal surveillance methods are kept from the oversight role traditionally held by the Judicial branch by claims of State Secretes privilege in order to destroy any chance of proving standing. All this while the Senate intelligence oversight committee’s work was interfered in, by the very agency it is supposed to regulate.
This brings me to the torture report. Some have claimed that it would do nothing but ‘embolden America’s enemies’, but that’s nonsense. What emboldened them was not the torture report – it’s a pile of paper full of words – but the acts of torture themselves. What the report may do is continue to increase anti-US sentiment, but only if the war crimes – and let’s not beat about the Bush here, they are war crimes and ones the US has long been happy to prosecute – are left unaddressed and the guilty parties protected. To date only one person has gone to jail in relation to the torture at Guantanamo Bay, and that man, John Kiriakou, was arrested, convicted and jailed not for his part in the torturing, but for talking to a journalist about the torture.
Kiriakou is just one of many Americans who have attempted to speak out against government policies that are becoming ever-more divergent from democratic ideals and the unspoken will of the populace. Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, Jeffery Stirling, Edward Snowdon; people who have been persecuted and prosecuted not for harming the country, but for harming those that have harmed the country, investigated for revealing the pointless, useless, immoral or illegal acts undertaken in the name of the US, hounded for being a patriotic American and exposing those that prostitute themselves and our nation for their own self-worth.
And yes, I call them Patriots, because Patriots they are. Patriotism is not slavish unheeding devotion and adulation to a country, or focusing so intently on waving the flag and singing the national anthem (or chanting the pledge of allegiance if you prefer) that you render yourself unable to see or hear the misdeeds done in your countries name. Having the pack-minded mentality of a drooling idiot is not good for any country, and by trying to term it ‘patriotism’ a great disservice is done. As has long been quoted “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Under the auspices of sham-patriotism you can commit some egregious acts. Terrible atrocities excused with the claim of “for the greater good”, be it slavery, genocide, or the Japanese internment camps of World War 2.
Now we have a whole new breed of excuses for bad behavior, in the form of police officer activity justifications. While the law enforcement profession does involve contact with criminals, the majority of people they interact with are not. Presumption of innocence is the core tenet of our justice system, and its one that has to be applied at all levels, including by the police. And with the power we imbue law enforcement there needs to come some responsibility as well. That means no more excuses about “split-second decisions” – we all have to make those and live with the consequences. Besides, isn’t that the point of training after all, to ensure that when it comes to split-second decisions the right one is made? Such excuses say one thing to me, and that is the person involved was not adequately trained, and should therefore not have put themselves in that situation. What’s more, if law enforcement officers are afraid of having to justify their actions in an honest and open courtroom, an activity they have no qualms about inflicting on others, then they have no business being in law enforcement. You don’t get to dish it out if you can’t take it.
Not that they’re alone in acting like cowardly hypocrites. Government at all levels is populated with people that claim one thing, but do another, and forget what their job is there to do. It’s not there to represent your pet fringe element, or to try and introduce your own version of Sharia law – Being vociferously opposed to laws based on Islam, but not if you use it to then springboard into essentially the same thing based on Islam’s Abrahamic sibling; Christianity. Religion belongs to you alone, not in public policy, not in laws, and not in exemptions from laws.
Beliefs are more harmful than just ‘small government pro-life’ liars trying to expand government overreach into peoples bodies, while trying to justify killing people and considering huge sections of our population as unworthy of equal protection under the law as provided by the 14th amendment. The national economic policy is currently based on beliefs that have been shown to be utterly false. Not only has ‘trickle-down’ been an abject failure, but the “low taxes spurs economic growth” myth has been completely and utterly busted countless times, with Kansas having to make extensive cuts to essential services to pay for handouts to businesses. Over and over it’s been proven that Reaganomics don’t work, but the beliefs persist and are destroying the infrastructure of this country.
Even if we were to fix this issue, there are other long term problems that may quite literally kill America. Manmade climate change is a reality, not a question, a doubt, a controversy, or even contentious. There is consensus, and instead of actually fighting with facts and intellectual honesty, many in Congress are busy lying to themselves and to their constituents to appease those that finance their campaigns. Often their arguments are akin to claiming gravity is nonsense, because of paper airplanes. Likewise our healthcare system is still an issue. While the Affordable Healthcare Act was a step forward, it was only a small step, and didn’t address the big problems of “healthcare by insurance bureaucrat”. It also doesn’t help that so many of our politicians are busy working for their lobbyist masters, trying to undo what little reforms we have had, on the basis of lies.
Or take the keystone XL Pipeline. Rather than letting agencies do what they are there to do, like make sure it’s not going to kill a lot of Americans, they believe they know better. Clearly oil industry campaign donations are worth more than expert opinions. Then again, we’re often talking about those that proclaim to be ‘pro-life’ to the point of mandating severe government intrusion into a doctor-patient consultation; but are happy for those fetuses and their mothers to die from contaminated drinking water to appease their masters.
But even if the science and facts conclude that the pipeline is too dangerous, and Congress decides to acquiesce to reality, it’s not over. The Canadian Prime Minister has indicated that the US might face claims under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for essentially intruding on the profits of Canadian companies. Just think about that for a second. The will of the US Government can be second-guessed by a commercial arbiter if that democratic will infringes on the profitability of a company. It’s already happened elsewhere – Australia with its plain packaging tobacco laws, and Canada because they wouldn’t grant a patent for an ineffective pharmaceutical product.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg; more treaties, with more countries are on the way. One of the most mis-contextualised and misquoted statements in modern times is then-Speaker Pelosi’s “pass it to see what’s in it” comment on the ACA from 2010. The actual quote was actually quite different in context, and yet these treaties are exactly what that quote was made out to be. We had the text of the ACA, but we don’t have the text of these new treaties, it’s considered a secret, literally classified. The only ones who do have access to the text are lobbyists for the very industries that may then turn it against this nation. We have to rely on leaks, on Wikileaks, to tell us what’s in a treaty that would supersede federal law. And why is this? It’s because if people knew what was in them, they’d be against it and they’d never pass. To reduce that risk, the President has has asked for “fast track authority” – essentially blindly approve these treaties ‘on trust’ without any of those pesky Constitutional Safeguards.
Personally, I don’t believe that any treaty negotiated in such bad faith, on behalf of the American people, is one that should ever be signed.
That presents us with a problem though, and that problem is Congress. You wouldn’t trust them to walk your dog, but somehow do trust them to write this nation’s laws. They are almost universally despised, and yet they keep being re-elected. If we want to bring this country out of its death spiral of domestic abuse, then we as a nation need to divorce ourselves from these figurative abusive spouses. That won’t happen while they continue to rig the political situation to their favor. We need significant ballot access reform, to allow competent candidates without massive financial backing and insider knowledge to have the chance to run for office without being drowned in red tape. Currently every single state has their own set of ballot access laws, and many are set up to significantly benefit the two big parties. What we end up with are incumbents who face no challenge because of the extreme difficulty for an opponent to get on the ballot.
And while it’s hard to get on the ballot, in many cases the districts represented are designed to pre-determine an outcome by creating safe seats in a process known as Gerrymandering. In most states it’s done by the state government, meaning if one party is in control of that state’s legislature, they can ensure that that state’s Congressional representatives favor their party for the next decade. That’s not democracy. Even non-partisan commissions are not the solution, although they are enough of a threat to the political overlords that in at least one state they’re being active fought. Instead we need to a move to a completely independent system without personal bias, such as shortest splitline districting.
Finally, the most egregious campaigning abuses in recent times has been the corrupting influences of campaign contributions. No longer are legislators beholden to their electorate, but instead they are in the pockets of special interests. They focus on fundraising rather than deal with the concerns of their constituents. Above all else, they’re often afraid to take on lobby groups for fear of alienating campaign contributions, or being targeted by dark-money attack adverts. In a post-Citizens United America, democracy has been put up for sale to the highest bidder. And that is why we much bring about comprehensive campaign finance reform. It is time elected officials remembered that they are there to undertake the will of the people, and it is they that are their paymasters, not lobbyists or those that would buy influence.
It is time that the country that styles itself as the Greatest Democracy on Earth once again becomes a Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.
Andrew “K`Tetch” Norton
Chairman, US Pirate Party