Corporations are not merely looting the public and attacking its rights, they are attacking its ability to know anything about what they are doing. The title of this diary, then, merely modernizes Madison:
A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.I just read Flash Boys, Michael Lewis's expose of the un-prosecuted cesspool of front-running that is today's stock market. In the book, the term "Dark Pools" came up to describe private stock markets. This was the reference that broke the metaphorical back for me.
I have heard the words "dark", "black", and "private" one time too many lately. Come below the orange Ptolemaic epicycle for an enlightened public discussion of the problem.
How did it come to pass that citizens have no privacy while corporations and billionaires operate in secrecy? The citizenry are constantly propagandized that "privacy is over" by corporations with a stake in that being true - like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Corporations know everything about you; but you know less and less about them, because the corrupt SCOTUS has given them personhood and the right to privacy - a right they can afford to enforce with phalanxes of lawyers.
Meanwhile, more and more vital public information is being taken off-line. By off-line, I am not referring to the consolidated, monopoly, self-censoring corporate media, which refuse to report embarrassing facts. I am referring to facts that never make it to the public view, facts that are disappeared.
1. The Stock Market
These disappeared facts are most obviously on display in the stock market, where there is "smart money" and "dumb money" - the distinction being that the smart money has paid for the right to front-run the dumb money's trades. The smart money trades inside "dark pools"
Dark pools were another rogue spawn of the new financial marketplace. Private stock exchanges, run by the big brokers, they were not required to reveal to the public what happened inside them. They reported any trade they executed, but they did so with sufficient delay that it was impossible to know exactly what was happening in the broader market at the moment the trade occurred. Their internal rules were a mystery...The amazing idea the big Wall Street banks had sold to big investors was that transparency was their enemy(italics in original).run by banks like Goldman Sachs. This front-running (disingenuously termed "arbitrage") is so lucrative that some "high risk" High Frequency Trading (HFT) firms post a profit every single day of the year, with no losses whatsoever.
- Michael Lewis, Flash Boys.
...as a trader he had always been able to look at the screens on his desk and see the market. Now the market as it appeared on his screens was an illusion...(he) would hit a button to buy or sell a stock, and the market would move away from him. "That's when I realized the markets were rigged."You want more details, try these DKos threads:
- Michael Lewis, Flash Boys
2. Intelligence complex
Now, we are all aware of the more violent and anti-democratic uses of secrecy - the various agencies funded by our $50 -$80 Billion black budget - the NSA; the CIA; the DIA; and, less obviously, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which has been front and center in fomenting civil disorder in Venezuela and Ukraine. We have heard about CIA black sites, where prisoners were tortured. We are aware of private mercenary armies, given a big boost by the Bush-Cheney gangsters. And of the increasing outsourcing of intelligence operations to private contractors. The MIC has always been at the forefront of finding ways to hide information from its supposed overseers.
3. Campaign Finance
But, this secrecy is metastasizing throughout our democracy, and other Anglo-Saxon democracies. In the US, we have the Citizens United and McCutcheon decision which have opened the floodgates to secret contributions routed through layers of front organizations (see any story about the infrastructure of the Kochtopus). This money is often called dark money.
4. Trade agreements
Electing corporate-owned officials is not enough, however, to ram through obviously harmful laws such as the TPP or its European twin TTIP. That's why these treaties are being negotiated in secret; and demonstrators against it, including European parliamentarians are being arrested while exercising their free speech rights.
5. The dismissive label of "conspiracy theorist"
Here, at the cutting edge of public protest, we meet another insidious kind of darkness: blaming the victim for speculating in the absence of information. From the article just linked:
with little information about what exactly is happening behind closed doors being released to the public...This has naturally forced those excluded from the inner circle to speculate about what might be going on -- and, inevitably, to fear the worst. According to EU Commissioner responsible for TTIP, Karel De Gucht, that's unacceptable:In short, we aren't going to tell you; and if you try to find out or do find out, we will label you a conspiracy theorist.
The ambassador and commissioner agreed that NGOs and civil society organizations were spreading disinformation about TTIP through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. De Gucht said that a number of campaigners were "spreading rumours on false grounds."That's interesting not just for the refusal to admit that it's lack of transparency that is creating this void
Gardner added: "There's a void [in information]. The void is being filled more and more by social media."
6. Intellectual property
Expanding intellectual property(IP) rights has been at the heart of all these trade deals. Newer IP laws are ridiculously inclusive of IP rights. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act declares that looking at someone else's code that is hidden behind even a trivial layer of encryption is a major crime. DMCA has basically declared the time honored practice of "reverse engineering" to be a violation of corporate privacy rights.
In the world of DMCA, corporations can put anything they want to inside a black box and no one else is allowed to even look inside it. By bundling more and more products and services behind this IP wall, citizens and consumers are rendered blind and helpless.
7. Electronic voting
One of the first uses of the DMCA was to justify the outrageous privatization of electronic voting machines, so that companies owned by religious fanatics and allied with the GOP can never be investigated about rigging (there's that word again) elections. In keeping with my theme, one of the early anti-e-voting websites was called Black Box Voting.
8. Political lobbying
While readers of the political boards may have heard of ALEC, the average voter is clueless. Meanwhile, ALEC, meeting in secret with its corporate supporters, designs model legislation and rolls it out in state legislatures across the country. Its worse than we suspected about corporations actually writing the laws; they strategize about which laws to weaken next.
9. Net Neutrality
The biggest lobbying campaign today is the latest fight over net neutrality. With a former corporate lobbyist for the cable companies appointed to head the FCC by corporate-friendly Obama, we are once again looking at a privatized internet. The kind of transportation/ communications monopoly that harkens back to the days of the railroads and Standard Oil - kickbacks, destroying your competitors with fees and delays.
The obvious fix, that the Internet is a public utility, subject to common carrier rules that proved effective for over fifty years (and was even suggested by Antonin Scalia in the case that started this latest go-round) is rejected by the lobbying interests.
10. School privatization
One of the top priorities of ALEC (and, sorry to say, the Obama administration) is to destroy the public school system and replace it with unaccountable, for-profit charter schools. This is personified by Arne Duncan, the anti-education secretary and his vile Race To The Top coercion to force "teach to the test" as the only mode of education in this once-great country. The Charter School racket is a twofer. First the Wall St. hedge funds supplying the money for this will get to rip off taxpayer assets (the schools, the taxes for the school budget) for pennies on the dollar; and, second, education will be further degraded so that the population is even less able to fight the growing darkness.
11. From secrecy to book burning
Just in case people aren't getting stupid enough fast enough, right wing thugs in Canada and Australia are defunding climate scientists and gagging them. In Canada, they have literally destroyed environmental research libraries that took decades to compile. If you can't keep it secret, then destroy it. That is the logical next step.
Conclusion: When everything is privatized, democracy will have be destroyed
We are currently in the process of destroying the USPS by an outrageous pension pre-funding rule, applied to no other organization in the country. Once again, it is merely a trial run. If this Constitutionally-mandated government agency can be privatized, any part of government can.
The bottom line of privatization is to remove any accountability to the citizenry. (Any monopoly rent creating by single-source privatization is merely gravy.) You certainly can't fight city hall if it is a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund (like the one that owns the city of Chicago's parking meters). Even if you could get your hands on these absentee landlords, they have all the rights of an individual. They have inflated the right to earn a profit to the level of national security. Anything can be declared a competitive secret and then hidden.
In closing, the politics I'm seeing isn't politics. It is "rigged" (EW has this right.) Poll after poll shows majorities against policies that "somehow" wind up either enacted as laws or promulgated as policies or pushed into law by a reactionary activist SCOTUS.
As with the stock market, trying to get a slightly better deal by going with an inside trader will simply make me part of the problem - getting my take of the crooked deal.
If (big if) we are going to have any chance to preserve our democracy, we must restore open, fair, and honest access to legitimate public information. Otherwise, we are on our way to being a giant open-air prison, some sci-fi dystopia.
We need politicians who actively work for transparency, open information, fair communications practices, an end to the money primary, limits to revolving door lobbyists.
This stuff should be motherhood and apple pie; but it is not. We are on our last legs as a democracy. We are going quietly into the darkness.