A crass explanation of Trade (the TPP and TPA stuff)

Trade Agreements are probably the most uninteresting legislative topic imaginable. They are complex legal documents, a field which already makes no sense to anyone who has not attended Law School. I won’t be able to make it more interesting but at least I can articulate everything concisely.

The news has reported on a lot of different bills with the letter “T” in them. They may as well be a T-Virus from Resident Evil for all most people care but unfortunately there are no zombies. Sucks, I know.

TPA, TAA, TPP, TTIP, and TiSA are the bills which are involved in this discussion. The ones most people have heard of are TPA, and TPP. Some may have heard of TAA.

I will make that its own paragraph and give the reader breathing room to absorb more abbreviations than there are government alphabet agencies. It’s unfortunate they are not all the same bill. This is government though and when is government ever simple.

A quick list with broken down abbreviations:

TPA = Trade Promotion Authority (Fast Track)
TAA = Trade Adjustment Assistance
TPP = Trans-Pacific Partnership
TTIP = Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
TiSA = Trade in Services Agreement

The “Fast Track” thing you’ve heard about is another name for TPA, which would be needed to pass TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. TAA is related to TPA and is “intended” to aid those affected by TPP, TTIP, and TiSA.

If I have lost your attention by now I will just write the word “Breast” because there are so many “T’s” here they may as well be “titties.” If they were breasts this discussion would be far less tedious and boring. If each bill was a tit we’d likely be watching an episode of Game of Thrones. So have some more fun… breasts, boobs, busoms, budonkadonks, butts… bean? (The common letter they all have is “T” otherwise I would use the word “penis” as well, to make things gender neutral.)

I really wish I could maintain the humor through this shit, but we need to discuss more of the technical crap of the matter (which obnoxiously barely even includes the texts of any of the bills since no one knows that material.)

TPA (Fast Track) is a procedural step which, while not required, is essential to passing any trade agreement of the kind we are discussing. Basically, if Fast Track were not passed it would provide an immense, and likely insurmountable, hurdle for any trade agreement to pass.

Said passage would become difficult because the purpose of Fast Track is to prevent any additional amendments, constrict congressional debate, and allow only up/down votes to the trade agreement being discussed. All three trade agreements (TPP, TTIP, and TiSA) have been negotiated in secret for close to 6 years, and each has likely involved a great deal of debate amongst those who have access to the text. What would be presented to congress, under Fast Track rules, would be the result of those discussions and negotiations. Should anyone in the United States congress have the opportunity to amend any element of these agreements, those amendments would then need to go back to the other participating countries for their approval on the changes. This would likely fail, thus the 6 years of negotiations would be a waste.

TPP, is one of the trade agreements in question. It stands for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It will involve 12 Pacific Rim countries: Mexico, the United States, Canada, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Peru. This is the trade agreement which has received the most attention in the media. It will affect more than 800 million people and will impact 40% of the global economy.

TTIP is another trade agreement which would affect the European Union and the United States. It stands for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Both trade agreements have the United States as a common participant. TiSA, the Trade in Services Agreement, is yet another agreement which includes 51 countries. Some of which are in TPP and TTIP, some are only in this agreement.

(Note: You can wikipedia all of these agreements to learn more.)

That was a lot of dense material so this will be a courtesy relaxation paragraph. Imagine yourself laying on a beach in some tropical paradise. Listen to the birds and to the ocean. Pick up a shell and put it to your ear. Imagine you are served a nice alcoholic beverage by a very attractive model who suits your sexual persuasion. Happy? Okay back to the Trade Agreements. Sorry. I know it’s like going back to work after a quick vacation, but this is important.

Important to understand: All of the three trade agreements (TPP, TTIP, TiSA) would need to be passed under Fast Track rules.

Originally, TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) went to the Senate and a vote was carried out for Cloture. This first attempt failed as the TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) bill was not attached to it. Once TAA was attached to TPA it passed Cloture, and then the Senate chamber itself.

Now for some lovely and fun-filled description and plot/drama! (Yes, plot/drama)

Cloture is the easiest and it basically means the bill cannot be filibustered in the Senate (the House of Representatives has no filibuster.) A filibuster would have been useful because, had cloture failed, the bill could have been stalled for eternity in the Senate and never passed (like what Rand Paul did for the USA PATRIOT Act.) Thus, President Obama would never have had the opportunity to sign the bill into law.

Cloture was approved though once the TAA bill was bundled to the TPA bill. Once again, TPA is Trade Promotion Authority (Fast Track.) TAA is another bill entirely; Trade Adjustment Assistance. The Senate originally did not want to pass TPA without TAA so as to ensure workers would have a “safety net,” should they lose jobs as result of TPP, TTIP, or TiSA.

The TPA/TAA bill was then sent to the House of Representatives for a vote. At this point, even though the two bills were bundled it was decided they would be voted on individually. A new Democratic strategy was thus conceived: Vote “No” on the TAA bill. If both bills did not pass the House the TPA bill could then be stalled as they were bundled together.

Another, less strategic, reason for the vote against TAA was its source of funding: by raiding $700 million from the Medicare fund. Basically, while job displacement assistance would be provided through TAA, it would ultimately hurt retirees later as medicare would be drained.

So the strategy to stop Fast Track (TPA) in the House of Representatives worked. The TPA bill did actually pass in the House but because it was bundled with the TAA bill (voted down,) the TPA bill was stalled. Thus Speaker John Boehner and President Obama needed to devise a new strategy to pass TPA: Introduce the bills again, but individually.

Note how in the last paragraph it says Speaker John Boehner and President Obama were working together. Miracles can happen!

TPA then passed in the House again (as this had never been an issue.) The Senate still didn’t want to pass TPA without TAA though. So Mitch McConnell said to the Senate Democrats “Trust me on TAA,” and they did, and TPA was then passed in the Senate as a standalone bill (after Cloture was voted down for TPA again.)

All was now good and righteous in the nation’s capitol and the land of government negotiations: Trees were blooming, the reflecting pool had the clearest sky above it, the Washington Monument stood proud, the Smithsonian Museum had a few extra visitors that day. A few extra stoners decided to take advantage of the legal Marijuana in Washington D.C. Even a few buddhist monks took a day off to grab a beer! (Sorry, obligatory relaxation paragraph after about 9 of dense legislative crap. You are all some real troopers for sitting this through. I’m sorry there were no breaks amidst the drama but I hate commercials.)

In order to pass TAA in the House it was attached to another bill for development in Africa. So TPA is now passed and the current concern is what will happen when the TPP is introduced to Congress under TPA rules. Earlier we established the rules of TPA but let’s read them again because we’ve likely all forgotten by now (and who the hell wants to scroll up and find the right paragraph):

Rules:

1. No amendments can be added to any legislation passed under its procedural rules.

2. Both the House of Representatives and Senate can only vote up or down on the bill.

3. Debate is drastically restricted on the bill: Representatives and Senators will have at most 60 days to look at the entire text of the trade agreement. Representatives and Senators will have about 80 seconds each to comment on the bill in congress.

This would all be fine, maybe, if they were involved in the negotiations for the trade agreements. It would also be fine, maybe, if they had access to the text and knew what was in it before it came up for a vote under Fast Track (TPA) rules. The problem is they do not.

Here is a clip of Representative Alan Grayson explaining both the TPA (Fast Track) and TPP.

After a great deal of public criticism the text of the TPP was made public, but only under very restrictive conditions, and to select individuals (lawmakers.) Those who have access to the text need to follow certain protocol.

1. They can only view one chapter of the text at a time though.

2. They can only view one chapter at a time and cannot takes notes on what they read.

3. They are not allowed to bring any staffers with them to view the text.

4. They are required to leave their cell phones outside the room where they view the text.

5. They have limited time to view the text.

6. They cannot disclose any of what they read to the public or other members of congress (even other members of congress who read the text as well.)

Based on the above protocol even experts in law would probably not be able to understand every aspect of what they read. They can’t confer with other lawmakers on it (aside from talking about it to the President, which I believe is okay.) Ultimately, when the trade bills come up for votes under Fast Track procedures (which restrict understanding of the bill even further) lawmakers are basically voting blind.

To be fair, this is not the first time trade legislation has been passed under the Fast Track rules and those earlier instances were no more transparent.

There are certain people with vast access to the text though:

-The heads-of-state of all countries involved (anyone at President Obama’s level of governance in their respective countries.)

-600 corporate lobbyists as well from companies like Bank of America, Halliburton, Monsanto, Citibank, Hollywood production studios, Koch Industries, etc.

TPP, TTIP and TiSA are all being negotiated under the same level of secrecy and the same individuals have unfettered access (no one in congress though and none of the public.)

One might say the best way to combat these agreements would be to call Senators and Representatives to tell them to vote “No” when they come up for vote under Fast Track. The problem though is there was a surprising amount of public opposition to Fast Track itself and it still passed in both chambers of government regardless (likely due to a large, and sudden, influx of corporate cash.) In general Corporate Lobbying has been vigorous for the TPP in general.

Now that you’ve read through all of that, and it’s my hope that you laughed at the interludes, watch Robert Reich talk concisely about TPP:

Now that you’re hopefully more understanding of all the different “T” bills surrounding these trade agreements watch Senator Liz Warren speak. This however is only partially about TPP, or the others. This video is about explains more about the ISDS thing (Investor-State Dispute Settlements,) if you’ve heard of them. You didn’t really think you’d read about all of the abbreviations involved here, did you? Wait, you did? HAH! Sucks for you. Well, at least Senator Warren is charismatic to watch:

Note about ISDS: They basically create a level of legal appeals which is higher than the US Supreme Court.

While the idea of international trade may not sound so bad, and personally I very much support the concept of countries working together to help each other out, these trade agreements are not about trade. They are simply about corporate power grabs, on a global scale to impose their interests on all countries involved in the deals. Very frequently we have heard that if these trade agreements are not passed the United States will not be able to write the rules on trade and China will. Unfortunately, this is a half-truth.

While this agreement will impact China’s influence/power in global trade, to think the United States is writing the rules is false. The US public, and members of congress, will have little access to these agreements to make any attempt to write any rules. These agreements are written by already globalized corporations. They always have been. These three are just the biggest we’ve seen yet. The real people who are writing the rules on global trade are the multi-national corporations (due to Corporate Personhood, corporations [paperwork] are people.)

Here is a quick read over what another Trade bill did for Peru.

Here is an article from CNN on why people don’t like TPP.

A recent setback did occur recently in negotiations. Though it’s doubtful this is really the end and this is likely just a quick stall in the process.

Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders

Occupy Wall Street was an historic moment for the United States of America. To some it was a long-overdue criticism of an economic system that was doomed to fail from the start: Capitalism. To many others it was a simple demand for justice against a cartel of banks which had wrecked the global economy and swindled massive amounts from fraudulent mortgages. For those who came to Zuccotti Park after the first few weeks, Occupy Wall Street was an opportunity to have a media platform for their issues.

What was most interesting about OWS though was how it was regarded idealistically. Many, including myself, viewed it as a movement identifying with the progressive left. There was one video however with a professor from some accredited university who referred to OWS as a conservative movement. In retrospect, this professor was likely the most accurate. Occupy Wall Street was a movement of the conservative left. The definition for “conservative left” being used here is skewed. In this sense “conservative left” refers to those who might be environmental conservationists. Those who want to conserve the environment before humans destroy it and ourselves as a consequence.

Bernie Sanders is the Presidential Candidate equivalent of Occupy Wall Street.

What drove Occupy Wall Street to the forefront of US, and Global protest, was its criticism of Wall Street’s influence in government: Money in Politics.

Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is the belated political involvement of Occupy’s protest 4 years ago. Bernie Sanders is running on a campaign platform of economic inequality, money in politics, rampant unemployment or rampant “underemployment,” the need to protect the environment, and anti/scaled-back wars.

The only new things Sanders is really pushing for are Free Education, Universal healthcare, and Environmental Sustainability. Of those three things only Universal Healthcare is a new concept in the US. Thus, his candidacy is ultimately conservative in nature. Progressive by the standards of the United States in the new millennium but is it so progressive when compared to the issues of the 40s and 50s, the achievements of the labor movement, or FDR’s regulation of Wall Street? Environmentalism isn’t really a new discussion either, it’s just gaining more steam now as the past warnings about Global Warming are coming true.

Many of the first participants in Occupy Wall Street were against capitalism, but that was not the message which resonated with the support its organizers never expected to get. The message which brought nationwide support was simply economic inequality, and Wall Street deregulation/corruption/swindling. This is the message which Senator Sanders is addressing through his Presidential campaign. A very important and needed message but it’s not the most visionary we’ve ever seen. It’s just the most visionary we’ve seen in a while.

To compare him to OWS is complicated because he is a long-time independent running for the democratic nomination, and the Democratic Party did adopt much of the OWS rhetoric for political gain. Occupy itself though, even after the influx of supporters who were not just against capitalism, was never a protest which was pro-Democratic establishment. It was never even a protest which was pro-Democratic, but demanding the party become more left-wing. It really was just a vague leftist protest after a while. One of the reasons it did become such a sought after space was the lack of limitations for the issues which could be addressed through it. While they were certainly important they diluted from the central message. Most new messages could be related to Wall Street corruption but all demanded too much intellectual discussion to arrive at that conclusion.

The broader messages of Occupy Wall Street and Senator Sanders’ Presidential Campaign still were, and are, less progressive than they may seem because both fail to properly address another prevalent issue in US culture: Racism

This is not to mean OWS or Bernie Sanders’ never address racism. The problem is the fight against racism needs to be organized and led by those most affected by said racism.

Occupy was very much involved with the outcries in Communities of Color against the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy. OWS did go to disrupt Mayor Bloomberg’s Public Education Panels which were engineered to close 25 schools in Communities of Color for at least 2 years, consecutively. The Prison Industrial Complex was discussed in OWS, and general Police Brutality was discussed as well. The extents of these discussions were limited though as Occupy was largely a movement of white people who had suddenly struck poverty and were in shock. Thus they could relate, in some ways, to the poverty which exists in Communities of Color.

Occupy was never the proper group to organize for issues against racism though. When it came time for demonstrations against the killing of Trayvon Martin OWS ended up taking over the march, with its messaging, and pissing off a lot of organizers for Black Lives Matters.

The message of Economic Inequality does relate to Communities of Color though and this is how Bernie Sanders has primarily focused on racism in his campaigning. He has very effectively addressed employment racism in the US just by saying “The government will tell you unemployment is at 5%. Real unemployment is at ~11.5%. African American youth unemployment? Off the charts.” He has discussed the need to change how policing is carried out, he has referenced what happened to Sandra Bland and how it would likely not have happened the same way to a middle-class white woman. Sanders expanded on the story of Sandra Bland by demanding the need to change our system of Criminal Justice. Nevertheless, his addressing of this issue is just a matter of stressing the important issues which need to be in the national conversation.

The Sanders approach to the subject of racism is not nearly the same as that of Black Lives Matters. It’s probably best he does not address that issue differently because the conversation of racism needs to be spearheaded by those most affected by it, not just by those who can sympathize. Important to note, Sanders was a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) organizer when he was younger and he did march on Washington with Dr. King. Racism is not just a talking point for him.

He still does fall short of addressing the extent of systemic racism in the US. It’s also not politically acceptable just yet for a mainstream campaign, and he is an old white guy. His ability to relate to the issue is limited.

In my perspective, its worth giving Sanders the benefit of the doubt on issues of Civil Rights because he is running a campaign for economic equality. He does have a strong record as a Civil Rights activist, and it’s very easy to combine Civil Rights and economic inequality as People of Color (specifically black people) have always been at the bottom of the economic ladder in the United States.

For a protest, Occupy Wall Street was started by a group of anarchists who happened to have a message that was widely relatable due to its vagueness, and the general economic situation of the United States. For a Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is easily the most relatable left-leaning candidate in the race. He has more than rhetoric to back up his stances. To be fair, on some issues his stance is far more centrist than many would like.

In general scope, there is no other candidate in the Presidential race who represents anyone but the wealthy. On the Republican side we basically have a bunch of Fox News talking heads running for office, few of whom have any chance, all of whom are pumping out the same message of hate and encouraged countrywide self-destruction.

On the Democratic side Senator Hillary Clinton has pledged to raise $2 billion, has not given a clear answer about the TPP or they Keystone XL pipeline, is using OWS’ and Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric, has said she would not break-up big banks or reinstate Glass-Steagall (the overturn of which allowed for the 2008 crash to occur,) etc. She also has private prison industry lobbyists involved with her campaign. Pretty much the only benefit to having Senator Clinton as President would be her ability to appoint left-leaning SCOTUS justices. Even Wall Street has said it would be content with either Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton.

Senator Sanders is a registered Independent, and the longest-serving one as well. So it begs the question of why Senator Sanders is running for the Democratic ticket as opposed to trying to build a third-party infrastructure. A few theories come to mind:

1. It takes time to set up the infrastructure for a third-party to be a contender for high office in the US.

2. Congress would need to vote for a bill that allowed for a third-party to become as powerful as the Democrats or Republicans. Both parties are quite content with the money they make as the only real options in the current system.

3. If Bernie ran on the Independent ticket no one would take him seriously. At the moment the media barely even reports on Sanders in the first place. People in mainstream America take him seriously though because they know there is no other party with a chance to win the Presidency. Running for the Democratic Nomination in the US, unfortunately, is the only way a leftist candidate will be taken seriously. Did you know Jill Stein is running on the Green Party ticket? Do you know who Jill Stein is? Do you know anything about the Green Party?

It is entirely possible the entire Democratic strategy right now is to invigorate people to vote Democrat in the end, by using Bernie Sanders. It’s also possible Bernie has considered “#3″ above, and is using the Democratic ticket to spread a larger message to mainstream America; knowing the odds are against him. Possibly this is the case but if this disappoints anyone they missed the entire point of his campaign. The same way they missed the point of Occupy Wall Street, a demonstration many also questioned for a Democratic shill. The point is to organize, work together and become collectively involved in the political system by voting and/or organizing. To accomplish a lot of things in the long-term regardless of the political party in power.

Regarding the ultimatum of voting for Senator Clinton, or someone else, in the event that Bernie doesn’t get the nomination and endorses Clinton. The only difference between voting or not would be that something different happened in the election. More than half, if not 60%, if not more of the US populace already doesn’t vote. So a pledge to not vote at all on election day, should Sanders not receive the Democratic Nomination, really just puts a large number of people back in the group which doesn’t vote anyway. Nothing will have changed.

In fact if the Bernie Sanders campaign is a Democratic shill the masterminds have already factored in the people who don’t go out and vote, in general. They are further adding the people who pledge to not vote at all, in the event of an ultimatum, to the demographic of non-voters. They further could not give more of a damn about that demographic.

Both Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sanders campaign stress organization. Another thing both have in common is the use of the internet. Occupy Wall Street received no media attention until mainstream media entities could no longer ignore it while still claiming integrity. With the Sanders campaign, reports have stated mainstream entities hardly even mentioned Sanders was running for a few days after his initial announcement. Twitter and Facebook meanwhile are frothing at the mouth over the Sanders campaign and livestreams have been used frequently for his appearances.

The Sanders campaign is basically the first political representation of what Occupy Wall Street said to mainstream America.

Still, while extremely important neither can really be considered more than conservationist in nature because neither addresses the issue of racism in the US, directly. The Black Lives Matter movement is therefore the real progressive movement. The most obvious element of the Black Lives Matter movement is the constant killing of People of Color by the police. The reality of it goes far deeper than that. People being killed by the police is just the easiest aspect to see. The Black Lives Matter movement touches on mass incarceration, economic inequality, the drug war, police corruption, political corruption, education, housing and gentrification, healthcare, and more. The other reason the Black Lives Matter protests are the more progressive is because they are led and organized by members of the most marginalized communities in the US.

The Black Lives Matter campaign addresses an issue which has existed in the US since slavery, but has been largely ignored by White America. Tying everything back to economics, I suppose we can all thank the trade agreements Senator Sanders is fighting during his campaign. Without said trade agreements, the US would not have equalized its poverty and given the people common ground.

No matter what the protest movement, or political campaign, organization is the crucial point here. In the case of protesting, as much as it is fun, it has serious limitations if there is no organization and community building to accompany it. The purpose of any good protest is to point out problems but also to meet other like-minded people and try to think of solutions to the problems as well. Be those solutions creating cooperatives, writing up a petition, organizing another protest, creating different messaging, getting someone elected to office, or pressuring candidates already in office is irrelevant.

One very serious issue which Senator Sanders will need to deal with, should he beat the odds and get elected, is he needs a congress which will work with him. For the past 8 years President Obama has had a wildly obstructionist congress with the goal of destroying his Presidency. Obama was accused of being a communist and a socialist repeatedly. Senator Sanders is a proudly self-described Democratic-Socialist. The electorate can rally around Senator Sanders all it wants and it can even succeed in getting him elected. If there are no efforts to get anyone elected to any other seat in congress a President Sanders may see just as much gridlock as President Obama has.

In the United States there is too much focus on the Presidency. The Presidency has the power to elect Supreme Court Justices and sign Executive Orders, past that the real power in the United States government lies within the congress. If there is no public focus on who is being elected to congress the Billionaire Class will be very content to pump money into congress or to fund political campaigns to elect puppets to serve their interests. Senator Sanders discusses the need for a political revolution. This is what he’s talking about. The United States government works very well for those who are paying the most attention to it. If the public doesn’t pay attention, Wall Street will. That is why it was Occupied in 2011.

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Livestreaming, its inherent dilemmas, concerns… and a “How to…”

It’s important to begin this post with two acknowledgements;

The first, universal:

Regardless of the event being livestreamed but especially if it is a demonstration in a public space, everyone present always runs some risk of something negative happening to them. In some cases this risk is extremely minimal as was the case in the permitted Millions March in NYC. In other cases this risk is extremely high as was the case during Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Risk is always present from or to anyone at a demonstration: protesters, random passersby, police, lawyers, legal observers, journalists (photographers, writers, livestreamers, livetweeters)… even judges (police accosted some during Occupy protests.)

If you do not acknowledge the assumed risk present at every demonstration, stop reading this post now… and for what it’s worth you should probably never attend a demonstration ever again… but that’s another issue.

The second, personal:

I am writing this with a great deal of livestreaming experience but also as a resident of New York City. Protest cultures differ from place to place, city to city, and country to country. Nevertheless, I believe this is a good discussion to set groundwork in the field of livestreaming.

For the past three years I have been a livestreamer covering demonstrations and teach-ins. The issue of how livestreamers interact with protesters is an issue which has risen previously but was never something I responded to. My position always was, and still is, if someone tells you they do not want to be on camera you do your best to keep them off camera. People have their reasons and you must respect that to the best of your ability.

I need to acknowledge how before I started livestreaming I considered myself a protester *not* a reporter, media personnel, or anything else. I was a proud activist present at Occupy Wall Street to learn about issues, and nothing else. I went to the demonstrations as a disgruntled Democrat. Here and there I did film marches but for the most part my function was “participant.” When I was asked to be a livestreamer my feeling was as follows:

“I studied Communications, Mass Media in school. I know how monopolized all the media we watch is. I am fully aware of how much our media lacks in its diversity of perspective. Having spent the time I have at Occupy I have learned a very different narrative (supported by facts) about the world in which I live. With this knowledge, and streaming, I can provide another point-of-view on the issues.” It was not an attempt to manipulate people or create my own narrative, but merely to regurgitate information I’d learned at Occupy Wall Street and from watching Noam Chomsky videos on YouTube (as well as relay personal experiences, ethical and critical thinking.)

So I started livestreaming and fell into a repetitive pattern of doing so for everything because it was very easy and I felt I had more of a function at demos.

Since Occupy Wall Street some have come to talk about livestreaming as a tool to film the police… and nothing else. While livestreaming is an extremely useful tool in filming police, to say that is its only use in activism is to say the only proper form of protest is sleeping on a sidewalk.

The real purpose of livestreaming is to capture events, in real-time, unedited for a very honest perspective of what is taking place. Note, this does not necessarily mean that everything happening will be filmed. Certain situations, while they may occur at a demonstration, really don’t need to be shown. They don’t help anyone to understand what is happening better and can actually hinder the viewer’s understanding of what is taking place, and the issues related to the event.

Two personal instances of these distractions were during the Kimani Gray protests in East Flatbush. I was present to stream the community’s outrage over the death of a 16-year-old black youth. There was a moment in the demonstration when, as the protesters marched along the street two participants began screaming at each other. Immediately, I pointed my camera to ground and continued with the march. I didn’t do this to censor the event but rather because two community members fighting at a demo is nothing more than a distraction from the issue at hand. That issue being, a 16-year-old kid had been killed by police. Also during the march was a moment when some demonstrators knocked over a garbage can. I made a point to not stream this because it was yet again another distraction. I filmed the can on the ground afterward, to show it had been knocked over, but focusing on it would have been a distraction from the issue of a 16-year-old kid being killed.

Another instance was when I streamed a northbound march for Mike Brown on the West Side Highway. Here, members of the community began yelling at each other again. Though I’m sure it ended up being recorded on audio I moved the camera away from them because the point of the march was to call out the injustice of a decision not to indict Darren Wilson. It was not to film community members fighting.

Every community, regardless of their color and race will fight sometimes. Fighting is human. Arguing is human, and quite natural, especially when life is already frustrating to you. There is no need to document it when the demonstration taking place does not have any relevance to their argument whatsoever.

Those were some of the easier instances when I could opt to not stream certain things. The choice is not always so easy though. In these uneasy moments when things are completely unpredictable, dilemmas arise.

There have been times when livestreamers were called “informants” for the authorities. Truth be told, I understand the origin of this concern. As a livestreamer I’m fully aware of the fact that everything I film does get sent to a server. Every person present at a demonstration could at some point pass in front of my camera which means every person filmed is documented on my channel, in real time. This is another reason why I made those choices (explained earlier) during the Kimani Gray and Mike Brown marches. My problem with the piece though is how it absolves the protester of all responsibility for being in protest situations in the first place.

During my broadcasts I have had smaller and larger numbers of viewers watching. I would not be surprised if there were some police officers, on duty, watching the stream (maybe even mirroring and archiving the footage.) Such is the nature of our rapidly changing world of technology and surveillance where there are few laws being enforced/governing the oversight and accountability of data collection.

During any demonstration, unless there is a speaker addressing the crowd it is my general style to walk in the front or back, to try and film banners and signs, to film around, to get an overhead visual, and to walk through or let it march around me. I am trying to give someone a very full impression of what is taking place. Doing so can only help to add to my commentary about the demonstration as the protest is never just about what I am saying as a reporter. I have my point-of-view which I always try to make as representative as possible of the demonstration. The best way to go about this is to film signs and the people present, as well as the number of people present, and the general mood of the demonstration. I never want to film someone doing something which could land them in legal trouble. At the same time, people should think twice before doing certain things when it’s common knowledge, thanks to Edward Snowden, that nothing is private and everything is being watched.

Suppose at the beginning of a demonstration, or other another event, an individual approaches a livestreamer and says “I don’t want to be on camera.” As a matter of respect I would usually do my best to account for this person’s preference. A problem could arise later though if no one else said anything to me before the march. What happens if I am walking through the demonstration and the person who made the request for privacy passes by for a moment. It’s a situation of both myself and the person being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s it. I am not trying to disrespect their wishes but people walk around. It’s a public demonstration, in a public space. People end up on camera sometimes. It’s not the fault of the streamer or the person. There is a limit to how much a streamer can avoid or even see that person in a crowd (and vice versa for the person with the request to remain off-camera.)

What happens if 10 people say they do not want to be on camera, and nothing else. Then a livestreamer is near 3 of them when they are being arrested. Logic would dictate that one should stream the people for the sake of legal issues. In most cases one should stream them for legal purposes. What happens though if the person literally meant they do not want to be on camera at all, ever. Should I betray their wishes and livestream their arrest? Should I stop the broadcast entirely during a mass arrest to accommodate for those 10 people amidst 200 others? These may seem like silly questions but in the utmost respect for a person’s wishes, and a streamer’s lack of knowledge of the arrestee’s personal life, you never know.

The easiest thing to tell someone who does not want to be on camera, should they request it, is to advise them to stay towards the perimeter of the demo, and keep a very close eye on where I am. It’s much easier to pick out a livestreamer than it is for a livestreamer to keep knowing the location of individual people in a demonstration. In extreme cases like the Kimani Gray demonstrations, I had been previously instructed to only film the backs of people’s heads and the police unless there was a police-protest confrontation to demand otherwise. I obliged. At panel discussions I usually don’t film the audience because the camera spinning may become annoying to the viewer, but also because it’s easiest to just not ask the audience about their camera presence.

Note: As a matter of principle and to enjoy myself more as I film, I usually avoid streaming discussions when march organizers are deciding where they want to go. For the sake of their planning it’s more respectful that I don’t stream these discussions. For the sake of unpredictability, it’s not fun to know where the demonstration will go.

In Journalism, the only difference between photojournalists, writers, on-scene TV news, videographers, and livestreamers is: livestreamers will film the most of any of the aforementioned parties. Photojournalists, writers, on-scene TV news, and videographers all run the exact same risk of being “informants” at a demo. Writers can quote people or take an audio recording; photojournalists take still frames with clear images of faces; videographers can easily post their edited content to YouTube and expose people too; on-scene TV news is just as unedited as livestream but it captures less. So basically, every person who is reporting on a demo has the risk of being an informant. Truth be told, unless demo organizers want no media exposure whatsoever, they will need to have some “informant” present.

It is certainly the job of the media personnel to ask, when possible, if someone wants to be documented. Before an interview certainly, before a teach-in it’s easy. However, when you attend a demo with 1000 people (some leaving and some joining midway through the event) it’s impossible to ask every person if they are comfortable being on camera. Earlier in the piece I discussed the reality of potential risk to every individual present at a demo. This is one of those risks. In a crowd of 1000 people there are a lot of people who have the intention of taking part in activism; wherever that particular march may take them, and regardless of whatever media entities record their presence.

It is very doubtful the person who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square was asked if that moment was okay to document. There is an image of a Ferguson protester throwing something at police, while holding a bag of chips, and wearing a t-shirt with an American flag. I seriously doubt that photo was staged. It made history though.

The purpose of livestreaming is not to just hold police accountable. Some people may use livestream for this reason which is fine (in which case you need an entirely different article addressing many other concerns to explain how to livestream,) but there are many more valuable uses for it. On the Ferguson livestreams there were times when the community would come out and stand in the middle of the street to defy a curfew. They did nothing besides stand there, and were tear gassed as a result. Had the livestream not been there to document the lack of provocation to warrant tear gas, who knows how those interactions would have been seen by outsiders looking in. The Mainstream Media kept playing up the rioter narrative. If you watched vines, livestreams, YouTube or even just saw photos it was obvious the rioter narrative was false.

If there is a moment when someone does consent to give an interview on a livestream camera and then someone else walks into the background and writes “Hands Up” on a building, is it still the livestreamer’s fault for not asking the other person’s permission first? To show it’s not only livestreamers who run this risk of exposing others… Watch this possible drug deal in the background of a live Fox 25 broadcast.

The purpose of livestreaming is to give a full picture of the event taking place. While filming a person in the background doing graffiti is something I, as a streamer, would prefer not to capture I will not stop an interview just for that. To stop would be disrespectful to the subject who gave consent. Sometimes giving a full picture may capture something unwanted. For the record, that same situation can arise if the person filming is using a non-live video camera as well.

Everyone present at any demonstration always shares some responsibility for their actions in that situation. On a personal note, I happen to love graffiti/”Street Art” and I don’t think any populated setting is complete without it. It’s still illegal though and should someone post graffiti in the background of a livestream, of something completely different (but consensual,) is it still the livestreamer’s fault?

Note: If a livestreamer is with a small group and is told not to film temporarily but does anyway, that’s not cool. The group can also tell the streamer to mute the feed for a more private conversation if needed, and the streamer should oblige. (Btw, if the group tells the streamer to mute the feed and then goes into a bigoted rant, the group are a bunch of cowards.)

Sensitivity is crucial as a livestreamer but responsibility at a demo must be shared by all those present.

Once, in 2012, I streamed a demonstration outside a Presidential Campaign fundraiser in Times Square. The aim of the demo was to call attention to the corrupting influence of Money In Politics. As the march approached the location there was a moment when the police wanted to discuss the march’s path with a pacer. I immediately went to livestream the discussion. As soon as I did the officer said to me “Hey. Come on, man!” My response to this was to address the march pacer and ask “Are you okay?” The pacer responded that the situation did not need to be streamed. As the pacer had taken responsibility for the moment and the interaction, I allowed them their privacy.

Discussions have risen about whether or not livestreamers should narrate the location of a demonstration. The problem though is this narration is always criticized based on the idea that it would tell the police where the march is. It might. At the same time, over the past three years of streaming demonstrations I can only remember one time when the police were not following the march. As such the need for the police to have the streamer “tell them,” where the march is doesn’t exist. There could also be under cover officers in the march who report back to headquarters somehow. They could very easily text-back a location with their phones.

Suppose the march manages to confuse the police and separate from them. While this coordination in itself would be quite an impressive feat for a large march, the police could find the march by using the GPS coordinates of a thousand different phone numbers which happen to be in the same place and moving in the exact same path. We live in the age of NSA surveillance. Building on that argument should the police want to they don’t even need to use the livestreamer to overhear conversations between protesters. If they really cared enough they could just hot-mic every phone on the march and eavesdrop, which basically makes every person who has a smartphone with no removable battery (iPhones) a “snitch.” (Note: I’m pretty confident the authorities have the capability to find your GPS coordinates even if you have turned them off. Generally speaking, all the authorities need is some kind of signal access to your phone and they can hack it if they really want to.)

If they don’t want to use phone hacking techniques the police could very easily just use their knowledge of the area and predict where a march may end up. They could also just ask their surveillance helicopters or they could look up one of their aerial surveillance drones (if they have those.) It’s also possible any officer assigned to monitor the social media accounts of people who do Tweeting and Facebook updates could look at the geotag on the post to determine locations. They could also just watch their street surveillance cameras if the demo is in New York or any other place with security cameras at every corner.

To call a livestreamer a snitch gives us way more credit than we deserve.

Finally, just on a point of general security culture. Don’t organize, comment, make event pages, or RSVP to any events… on Facebook. There is no site with more surveillance on the internet.

A livestreamer’s duty is to document an event while being as respectful as possible to its participants. At the same time, it is very unfair to say the livestreamer bears all the responsibility for another individual’s media presence, and actions at a demo.

Finally, how many Mainstream Media outlets would make a point of filming and praising a demonstration which, in the midst of blocking traffic, suddenly parts like the Red Sea to allow an ambulance to pass through?

A quick… or lengthy… how to…

Livestream is a new and “hip” technology, but not as new as you may think. Livestream has already been used for national broadcasts of the State Of The Union address. CSPAN has been livestreaming for a while. The Concert for New York, after 9/11, was livestreamed. How long has Saturday Night Live been running? Livestreaming in protests is the exciting part. Livestreaming from a smartphone is the innovation.

Livestreaming itself isn’t too complex. You basically just need a smartphone, an external battery, a data plan, and a streaming account.

For an operating system, iOS and Android will usually suffice (I don’t know about other operating systems.) Visual quality usually depends on what app you use and how good the phone lens is. An external battery is crucial as a livestream broadcast can drain the battery within a half hour. I have an EasyACC battery (5 hours charge), and an Energizer XPal (12 hours charge.) The energizer battery itself charges quickly, the EasyACC can take a day (both can be purchased on Amazon.)

The data plan is probably the most expensive part of streaming. Remember though, most people will not stream for more than a few hours at occasional events (this makes data much more affordable.) If streaming collectives can be formed different people can take turns streaming, learn from one another, and prolong the period of broadcast time while saving on overall data costs.

As far as streaming services, I use Ustream primarily. Other services are Bambuser, and Livestream. On all services the account is free and all you need to do is download a streaming app to your phone and sign in. (Other streaming apps and streaming infrastructures are always being developed.)

(Note: While Livestream, Ustream, and Bambuser are the platforms of choice in the US, should you find yourself in Latin America: Twitcasting is the platform of choice there. I believe Livestream works in Latin America too.)

(Also note: Should you use Twitcasting remember to stream holding your phone vertically *not* horizontally as you would with Ustream, Bambuser, and Livestream.)

You can also connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts to your streaming account and then Tweet, or Facebook, when you go live. When you have your account connected to Twitter and Facebook remember to use the important/trending hashtags so that your stream will be more easily found by others. Also remember to include the twitter handles of other media entities in your tweets when you go live so these entities can then tweet about your stream as well. Livestreaming is always about the community, it is never just about the action, or the person streaming. Viewers often enjoy when they can interact with the livestreamer via the chat (IGNORE THE TROLLS, DO NOT RESPOND TO THEM. Select people you trust to moderate the chat and block the trolls.) Viewers can also help disseminate your stream to their followers and friends. Regarding use of social networks, you can post to Facebook but don’t rely on it for circulation. It’s best to just say your stream will be available in the event page and on a few other organizing threads. Use Twitter instead.

It is always a good idea to let the livestream continuue for half a minute or so once you’ve finished a broadcast; just in case you lose footage or something else happens at the event. It’s also important to remember to archive your streams once every 45 minutes to an hour. This makes the archived file play more smoothly. Remember to click “save” at the end of your broadcast just in case.

It is important to download and save your videos after you record them so as to ensure the content is not lost via deletion. Ustream and Livestream delete videos after a certain period of time lapses (30 days usually.) I do not know if Bambuser deletes videos. Open an account there and experiment to find out!

Comparing Ustream to Livestream the biggest difference, to me, is the ability to take photos and post them to your chat in Livestream. I use Ustream primarily, regardless (I also have a backup phone I take photos with.)

When you stream always remember to be respectful of those you are filming. With the acknowledged risk of being at a demo taken into account, it’s still always the best practice to try and accommodate any requests of privacy from those present. Of course, sometimes things happen. You do your best.

Remember, while livestreaming does not only exist to film and make the police look bad it is also not just there to show burning buildings, people breaking windows, anyone doing anything illegal, property destruction, or looting. Someone else will likely show the violence so does the livestreamer really need to as well. If a store is broken into or set on fire the MSM will certainly publicize it. As such does the streamer really need to put out more content of that moment. Maybe just film the building burning after the fact while giving a commentary of what social circumstances led to the building being burnt (people don’t usually set fire to buildings for no reason.) From a completely different perspective it’s probably best to not film someone looting or burning a building anyway. They might not like being on film and might break your camera or steal it. Yet another inherent risk at a protest.

In many places people don’t want violent actions on livestream. In other places I’ve streamed the Black Bloc did not mind an independent streamer showing them smashing a window or throwing rocks at one. Before I knew how the Black Bloc felt I stood on the other side of the street. Something could be seen in the background but barely. Once I saw other media filming it I went a little closer. I was very cautious though to ensure those in the act had their faces covered. While certain things are inevitable to catch on camera, the livestreamer should always do their best to prevent incriminating someone. At the time I faced this decision I was in Brazil so I was even more cautious of their privacy (all things considered) as Brazil was a military dictatorship 30-40 years ago. The police in Brazil make US police look like the antithesis of brutal (they use percussion bombs solely to disperse crowds… of media.)

General filming techniques: Just try to keep the streaming device as steady as possible. Buy a monopod (“selfie stick”) if you can. Try not to turn very quickly or the image will “bleed” (everything becomes a blur on the viewing end.) Be very mindful of how you hold the camera and keep your fingers out of the way of the lens. The viewer doesn’t want to see fingers obscuring the view but also… this way the NSA can’t use its facial recognition software to scan your fingerprints into their database.

Interacting with police

My position always is: Streaming is not there just to film cops hitting people. Nevertheless, some people choose a more confrontational approach than others. Always remember: so long as you are in a public space everyone present at a demo, the police included, are subject to being filmed. No matter what any police officer says, when you are in a public space you are allowed to film your surroundings. Certain buildings, courthouses in NY for instance, have restrictions against filming within them (unless you have proper credentials.) Outside the courthouse, on the street, in public, is fair game though unless publicly searchable legal documents say otherwise.

When interacting with the police, or just documenting them, your phone is your own private property and therefore cannot be taken from you legally. If an arrest is taking place it is always best to remain approximately 15 feet from the arrest procedure. Get creative with your shots to see what is happening (phone held high, film low on the ground, etc.) If an officer tells you to “get back” when an arrest is taking place, do so. The purpose of a stream is to capture the arrest. It is not to piss off a cop and risk your own arrest. For better or for worse they do their job, you do yours. If the arrest is unconstitutional, your footage can help prove that later… in court. Streamers should not get physically involved to dispute an arrest with the arresting officers. (Note: In New York City, at least, merely touching a police officer is grounds for arrest under the charge of “assault.” They can be very particular about this. At the same time, there have been times when I was streaming while walking backward and accidentally bumped into an officer. Nothing happened, I had no interactions with the officer past this momentary contact, I was not arrested and I continued documenting.)

It is very important to remember only one streamer is needed to film an arrest (if possible accompanied by a legal observer.) If there is already a livestreamer documenting an arrest, other streamers should continue with the march. Too often when an arrest takes place the march stops and the demonstrators begin screaming at the police. This makes a situation even more volatile as now the police have justification to arrest more people since pedestrian traffic is blocked by a bunch of demonstrators who don’t realize screaming against an arrest is useless. This is not really something a streamer has control over but as soon as this happens the streamer should look for the nearest possible exit to ensure they are not in the middle of a crowd. Again, you are always allowed to be on the sidewalk, so when the aforementioned situation happens, get out of the crowd, stay with it (and hope the march continues), but make sure you are to the side and can film without obstructing the path of passersby. One is welcome to shout, curse, lecture, chat, make jokes, or explain the purpose of the demo to the officers present. Personally, I never see any point in this though, so I don’t do it. Others may have different styles, there is nothing illegal about it. In some cases, though they don’t respond, if you explain the purpose of the demo they may learn something. You never know how receptive or dismissive an officer may be. They are not all thoughtless robots. Don’t get your hopes up though to see them to drop their badges or switch sides. Mutiny only happens in the movies. A small interaction with one protester or livestreamer won’t give a police officer an epiphany.

The time of day you are streaming also factors into the demo. Police usually adopt a more hands-on approach as the sun goes down. Depending on the location of the demo, and how many people are present to see (bystanders specifically,) the more aggressive officers may be called out. The LRAD was only used once in NY (as as weapon) and it was late at night by Madison Ave and 58th street. Riot cops may be called just to intimidate protesters. When Ray Kelly was NYPD Commissioner police tactics were quite reactionary. Since Commissioner Bill Bratton was reappointed a combination of bad PR and a new, more “leftist” NYC mayor, have led to more relaxed police-protest interactions. (i.e. disorderly conduct arrests for dancing on a sidewalk or laying down/sitting down on a park bench have no longer been carried out at demos.)

Also to keep in mind about police. Most of them do not care about their presence at the protest. They are paid to go to a demo and stand around in case something happens, or they receive orders to do something. They really don’t care about the protests and probably don’t even care about what’s being said. Not in a bad way, they just don’t care about the event usually. Sometimes a conversation is possible with them. One is welcome to ask them questions on stream but don’t expect an answer unless you want their name and badge number (which they still may remain silent about.) Sometimes you get lucky and find an officer who responds. There was one time I filmed a discussion about communism with two officers and some Occupiers in Zuccotti Park (post-eviction.) The conversation lasted about 30 minutes and was really interesting.

(Note: There is a general rule of precaution to just never talk to the police. At the same time, for example in my aforementioned experience, I said a respectful “hello” to those same officers at a later action and they responded the same. I’m certain their behavior and interaction on that stream was considered good PR by the NYPD higher-ups.)

Back to the info to “keep you safe”… blah…

The safest place to stream in general is from the sidewalk. There is the least risk of arrest when livestreaming from here. If arrests are taking place in the street, be careful. There is no guarantee a streamer will be arrested (based on the situation and circumstances) but the risk is always greater for anyone in the street. Again the purpose of streaming is to document, not to get arrested. Do what you can but be mindful of who you are, where you are, and don’t try to show off.

Use your situational awareness in tense situations. Do not be afraid of going to the sidewalk, or the pedestrian area. If you think the march has no idea what it’s doing go to the sidewalk. If there is a tense situation between police and protesters, and you can film from the sidewalk (or a midroad median) do so. There is always a risk of being arrested or attacked on the sidewalk, but at least the sidewalk is where you have legal justification to be.

Again, a quick reminder, I am writing this from the perspective of a New Yorker, and more broadly, a US citizen. I have experience livestreaming under NY State and City laws and the general laws established by the Federal Government. Should you be reading this in a different state of the US, or a different country altogether, read up for a basic understanding of the laws for where you are.

Example: The tactics for repression of protests in Mexico and Brazil are generally far more brutal than anything you might find in the US. For instance, in the US it is legal to curse a police officer. In Brazil, merely insulting a police officer is a felony and makes you subject to arrest.

Always have an understanding of the laws for where you are. Call your local NLG chapter (or do a Google search) to find out what you need to know depending on where you are. Police may harass and intimidate you, they may also lie to you and tell you that you need to give them certain information.

Know your rights!

Commentary

The only other thing to discuss is what to say while you are livestreaming. When I started streaming I approached it with an attitude of keeping the viewers’ attention. My interest was never in just streaming riot porn and conflict with cops. Truth be told when I did film that stuff it was only out of obligation. Here and there streaming confrontations can be a lot of fun but the viewer doesn’t really learn anything from watching them (it just reinforces a negative opinion of the police.) My interest was to give people another perspective on the content.

The problem though is keeping the viewers’ attention when there is very little happening. You can do an interview here and there but after a while I get tired of interviews. Having watched a lot of TV though and listened to many radio broadcasts I remembered a trademark phrase from the radio: “The loudest sound is silence.” It doesn’t matter how interesting the broadcast commentary is or how catchy the music being played is; if that audio goes silent for even one second everyone takes notice. As such, there needs to be constant stimulus on a livestream. Sometimes that could mean repeating the same things over and over again, or paraphrasing.

We all know how the Mainstream Media will portray things. We all know how they usually view leftist protesters. Sometimes I have been able to relate the protests more than other times. Occupy Wall Street was very easy to explain and relate to. A march for Medicare For All was easy to explain and and relate to. A march against the Democratic/Republican National Conventions were easy to explain and relate to. I cannot discuss what it is like to live as a Black person in the United States. In streaming Black Lives Matter protests my attitude was to give background on what happened and the basic facts of the case. I could also discuss related issues: the Drug War, the Prison Industry, who gets targeted most in the volunteer military recruitment system, the basic statistics of Stop and Frisk, Broken Windows policing, and what I’ve read about basic interactions between the police and Communities of Color. While these things may not seem related to one instance of an 18-year-old black youth being killed in Ferguson, or a man dying from an illegal choke hold in New York, they are things which effect the black community every day.

There were times early on, when I would stream demonstrations and friends would tell me that my commentary was like a “Play-by-Play.” They could walk away from the stream with the sound on and it would be like a radio broadcast. They knew exactly what was happening due to narration. I don’t always do this anymore. Sometimes when you’re in the moment you can just shut up, walk with the march, and there is no commentary needed at all. Some people generally prefer to talk less. It’s very style-based.

Avoid going on tangents if you can. Keep your narrative concise and to the issue of the event. It is a good idea to listen very carefully to the people you interview. Don’t press the subject of an interview if they seem uncomfortable on camera (even after they have given consent to being streamed.) Many people go to events with a lot of passion but limited knowledge of the issue. They might go on tangents and talk about issues that make no sense. Know about the issue you are broadcasting. Be fair to all demonstrators at the event when you decide with whom to prolong an interview, and when to move on.

When the TV news puts people on broadcast they have gone through a lot of different people and are choosing the exact responses they want. Livestreaming doesn’t have that luxury/opportunity to manipulate, so it is the job of the streamer to ensure the people at the event are represented fairly. If the subject of the interview says something you disagree with don’t dispute it outright, let them finish their point. They are the voice of the people at the event and livestreaming is a people’s media. Discussions and heated debates are nice to have, but be sure they have their chance to speak. You are interviewing a cross-section of the public.

Regarding screaming, don’t do it. It creates too much feedback for the viewer. If you do scream, hold the phone far away from your mouth.

Riot Porn

One thing you will learn when you’re livestreaming is what kinds of people are watching. This lesson will only come when there is heavy confrontation (riot porn.) The three people are those who want to watch protesters stand up to police, those who want to see police beat up protesters, and those who just want to see things getting smashed or people bleeding and getting hit. Views will usually skyrocket when you stream an arrest or a confrontation or serious traffic blockage. Not all viewers always care about the demo though. Conflict sells (this is also the easiest content you can sell to MSM, should you choose to) but only because it gets a viewer’s adrenaline pumping, not because the viewers are necessarily in agreement with the protest.

Don’t get too carried away in what viewers are saying or what they “suggest” you do as you are streaming. You are in the moment, not them. You have the situational awareness, not them. Don’t get arrested trying to look like a badass streamer to the viewer.

Oh yeah… Be brave and have fun!!

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Water Crisis in São Paulo, Brazil

Report on the water crisis in São Paulo, Brazil:
“Drinking water starting to taste like earth. We have a water filter with 2 filters and it’s still starting to taste funky, I’ll definitely have to start buying bottled water soon.”

See a link with photos of what one of their reservoirs (the Cantereira) looks like:

From BBC:

Brazil drought crisis deepens in Sao Paulo

The following article is from 5 days later of the same water system (The article is in Portuguese but it has pictures):

Água pode acabar em novembro, diz presidente da Sabesp
(Translation: Water will stop in November, says the President of Sabesp)

Mid-November there will be NO water left in this reservoir.

One reason things have become so bad is because 2014 was an election year; and thus sensitive regarding issues which could threaten Gov. Geraldo Alckmin’s tenure in office. Any discussion of a water crisis could be troublesome, and thus the reality of the situation was not given much thought. This unfortunately created a further crisis where what little water the reservoir did have was poorly managed.

Typical Politics…

São Paulo is home to 16 million people, and is the largest commercial city in the Southern Hemisphere. They are entering their rainy season but I doubt that will solve the problem of an empty reservoir. Other reservoirs do serve São Paulo but a dry reservoir this large will certainly cause problems for many. When I traveled to Brazil for the World Cup it was their Winter and there were already notices of water shortages. Now Brazil is having their Spring and they have already dealt with heat waves. Brazil is notoriously hot and humid in the summer (a tropical climate having the Amazon Rainforest in the northern side of the country). São Paulo is in the South but rising temperatures will certainly affect this drought and the people of the city.

What we are seeing are the early, and comparatively small, effects of Global Warming.

In the United States, California has been suffering from a drought for more than a year and in some parts of the state there is no longer any water to flush toilets. Also, in California there has been contamination in their reservoirs by toxins from Fracking (Hydraulic Fracturing) making what water they do have even less drinkable.

It is very possible the State of São Paulo may have to start importing water if this natural crisis (exaggerated by human Global Warming) is not averted during the rainy season. It may have to import from private corporations who have purchased the rights to water resources, a speculative cash cow. Many people may have to move out of the city or change where they are living within it. Time will tell.

The worst part is, so long as our current use of fossil fuels increases, the problem of general resource scarcity will only grow more dire. Also to note, Brazil’s continued deforestation of the Amazon rainforest will only harm the global ecosystem more, leading to warmer global temperatures, and likely less rainfall in other parts of Brazil. There are times when you are sarcastically envious of investors who think ahead to exploit the needs of populations by way of purchasing public water rights.

Water is slowly becoming the new oil…

How to make an issue viral…

Having been in Occupy Wall Street, having documented some of the Kimani Gray protests; having seen the Justice for Trayvon Martin protests explode; having seen the Ferguson protests make national attention; having seen the Eric Garner chokehold get international attention; and having seen the huge clash of opinions during Israeli Operation Protective Edge: I can very safely say that I have noticed a pattern in what it is that makes a certain issue take off from a non-status quo perspective…

You need well organized independent media and public, but that’s only a small part of it. You need a sound narrative put out by independent media, but that’s not it either. It certainly helps to have some state violence being imposed upon people (riot porn does wonders for viewership), but that’s not it either.

All of those little things can come together but without one specific detail none of these things would have gained much steam…

Simply: The corporate media has to not be paying attention to the particular issue. The corporate media has to not think the issue will attract attention. The corporate media has to neglect the issue, aside from the casual report, in the hopes it will go away. Only with the corporate media ignoring and trying to brush it off, can a well-organized independent media clog social networks with a different, less-controlled narrative, to then force the corporate media to cover the issue… begrudgingly. Corporate media’s coverage ultimately makes something go mainstream. Corporate media still has the strongest influence, as it is the most organized and has the most resources. Nevertheless, it will only cover particular issues if it has to.

It will only have to if the issue is being discussed so publicly that they will lose credibility if they ignore the issue further. They will of course present their narrative but the conversation will already have been started by that point.

Allegory… continued.

Plato’s allegory of the cave is about introducing someone who is quite content within a cave to the world outside of it. Then the question is where that person will choose to stay once being introduced to that other world, be it better or worse.

I want to go one step further…

Plato’s allegory is still the basis but the question I now pose is the following:

This person/these people has/have seen the outside of the cave (be it better or worse). They decide to remain in the cave for longer just to contemplate things…

The cave begins to show signs of decay… Pieces of its ceiling begin to fall to the ground. The cave is still inhabitable but it is growing worse. Anyone in the cave can see it is not a sustainable place to live. They do not leave though. For reasons of repetition and a familiar environment some may leave or start talking about leaving but most do not yet. Many still do not want a change so drastic. Regardless of their feelings though, the cave will only become less inhabitable over time.

It is obvious the cave will not be sustainable but most are in denial. After a certain point no one will be able to leave the cave at all as all exits will be destroyed by the gradual deterioration of the cave (yet another observation which is very clear to those within). Any cave inhabitants will be locked inside and doomed to death.

The question now is if you knew all this would you opt to leave the cave and take your chances elsewhere or enjoy the repetition you are accustomed to?

Strangely enough, in many cases, many people will not leave the cave and will only decide they want to when the option is no longer possible…

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): A Global Corporate Coup

How does one ensure their voice is heard and represented in government? What are the barriers in place which prevent the government from acting in the best interests of its people? How do we overcome these barriers? How do we achieve democracy? How do we hold our politicians accountable? How do we know what they are doing behind closed doors? Whose voices and interests are really represented in government? What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

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Corruption aside, an ideal government is made up of representatives elected by public vote and a court system with justices appointed by the President (in the US) and approved by elected representatives.

In the United States, the outline of the above system is still in place. The mechanics however, have been greatly co-opted and inverted. How have they been co-opted? We still have public elections, don’t we? Those elections aren’t rigged, are they? The public can still pick the candidate whom it feels will best represent them in office, can’t they? So how has the system been co-opted?

Monetary influence in government is one answer, but it goes far deeper than that; and the co-option is clever to the point where the extent of it is barely realized even by those who just want money out of politics. The co-option and inversion extend to those who control the Mass Media; A communications system, controlled by 5 major multinational corporations, which theoretically is supposed to keep the public informed about their country and the general world in which they live.

Have you ever heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? If your answer is “no” or “very little;” this communications system is failing in its theoretical mission.

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In actuality, the purpose the media primarily serves is one of reasserting the main interests of those with real power in government. Secondly, it is to restrict the narrative of public discourse to one preferred by those with real influence in government. Thirdly, as it is the means through which the public hears about their choices for people to elect, it ensures only those people with the ability to raise the proper multitudes of funding can afford promotion on these communication networks.

Aside from the heads of the Mass Media itself, who hold plenty of vested interest in the current system, one can also look to the fossil fuel industry executives; or the conservative masterminds behind groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); or the CEOs of banks like JPMorgan Chase, or Bank of America, or Citibank, or Goldman Sachs; or the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry; or the heads of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple; or the CEOs of weapons manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Electric; or the CEOs of the Prison Industrial Complex. The list of behind-the-scenes players (and their lobbyists) goes on forever. These are the same players involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and with it they want to expand their influence.

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We have public elections. They are not rigged (in the traditional sense) and the voter is never forced to vote for any candidate. The beauty is how these things aren’t needed with the current co-option and inversion.

What we do have is far more clever, manipulated, subtle and as described before, the power in the United States’ democracy is far more spread out and resides in the hands of individuals far less in the public eye. The individuals being discussed here are those who have the money to fund the election campaigns of candidates they feel will represent their best interests after a public election to government office. They are the ones who can keep pumping money into government after elections to ensure the candidates they just helped get elected continue to legislate properly. Finally, they are the ones who can publicly and relentlessly shame a politician for not supporting their interests; by bringing out the dirt they have acquired on the individual.

The elections may be public but the politicians themselves are chosen carefully and then marketed. Thus we are given the illusion of choice as those with real power never really lose hold of the reins of our democracy. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership they may be able to sidestep even this.

There is a curious element to the above which probably seems hopeless and impossible to overcome: In order for the above described democratic inversion to exist those with real power need to use a public electoral system to maintain their control as their control is based on the illusion of public choice. Even more curious is how under this inversion, should the public be self-organized around the important issues which actually threaten those at the top, the inversion can easily be undone.

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We’re not at that point yet though; and might be about to get a whole lot worse…

Enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This is a deal being negotiated in complete secret and has been in development for around a decade now. Those with access to and influence in its negotiations flaunt it as a “free trade” agreement. This is deceptive though as only 5 of its total 29 chapters have anything to do with trade.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is actually a massive corporate power grab which involves a great many of the countries bordering the Pacific Rim. Those it will not involve, initially, are being provided for as the TPP will include a “docking” agreement to allow for others to join later. Any country involved in the deal will be obligated to follow a set of economic and legal rules which further benefit a handful of corporations. Even without the TPP these involved corporations are already the most influential in the US government and the rest of the world. If passed the TPP will affect 40% of the global economy.

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a complete secret certainly from the public, but also a complete secret from the United States congressional representatives who will eventually be voting on it. It’s hard to get more undemocratic than that.

Possibly the most difficult part of explaining the Trans-Pacific Partnership is conveying the idea that it’s real, and not a giant conspiracy theory…

The TPP can only be described as a Global Corporate Coup.

The “Neo-Liberal Model”

The idea of a Global Corporate Coup is eccentric to say the least. It sounds like extreme left-wing propaganda, truth be told. Nevertheless, the TPP can also be categorized under something else called the “neo-liberal model.” This is something which has been underway for several decades. It is also an idea which is somewhat unknown to US citizens. In fact, in the US it doesn’t have a name because the US doesn’t recognize that it exists (neither the media, nor politicians ever discuss it). In America the “neo-liberal model” is just thought of as being pro-business. And what’s wrong with business, right? It’s good for the economy! It creates jobs! You can’t go wrong! Nevertheless, this “model” is something which is a recognized agenda in just about every other effected part of the world.

How does it work…

Basically, corporations (the big fat cats, not small-businesses like “mom and pops”) attack the only two institutions that have any possibility of counter-balancing their power: unions and government.

It’s effect on unions is to reduce the number of them, reduce the cost of labor, increase productivity and globalize.

The attack on the government is very obvious, especially in the US: Decrease taxes on the wealthy, decrease social spending, deregulate environment, deregulate trade, deregulate labor and deregulate politics (i.e. citizens united, etc). You also privatize government jobs.

How bad is US economic inequality? How bad is our poverty rate? Where do you think these two symptoms come from?

The neo-liberal model is promoted by saying: if you help us in our attack on unions and government our profits will increase, investment will increase, jobs will increase, wages will increase, our quality of life will increase, we’ll have a trade surplus and we’ll go hand-in-hand into the sunset.

What’s really happened: We have an economic crisis, we have an environmental crisis, and we have a political crisis. It all stems from this neo-liberal model, long underway, which is essentially a corporate power grab.

(Harris) <--This is an end-note to a video link at the bottom.

NAFTA, on steroids

As established, The TPP is not the first of its kind. Rather it’s just the next step in the “neo-liberal model.” Furthermore, it is being based on another corporate power grab; one called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In fact the TPP has been nicknamed “NAFTA, on steroids.”

Under NAFTA national sovereignty was blurred. How?

Under NAFTA companies cannot sue their own governments in international investor-state dispute resolution tribunals. In English, this means a company cannot sue its own government for violating rules established in an international trade agreement. There are ways around this though… Offshoring.

Example: The Canadian company Lone Pine (headquartered in Alberta, Canada) wanted to frack in Canada but was not allowed to because of a Canadian moratorium against fracking. As such they wanted to sue the Canadian government for an investor-state dispute resolution. You can’t sue your own government under international trade agreement rules, though… so, what did they do? Simple; they used the offshore corporate haven in Delaware (that’s the US) where they were incorporated and thus claimed to be a United States company; easy enough.

(Doleck)

Lone Pine’s notice of intent: “Lone Pine is suing under NAFTA for the arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the enterprise’s valuable Right to Mine for oil and gas underneath the St. Lawrence River by the Government of Quebec without due process…” (Soloman)

Note how they actually sued for their “Right to Mine.” Apparently, they can do that using trade agreement rules. A similar instance happened when another company wanted to use toxic chemicals which had been banned in Canada. They sued under NAFTA rules in the same investor-state dispute resolution tribunal… and won. They were in turn awarded settlement money, allowed to use their toxic chemicals and they were actually issued an apology from the Canadian government as well. Doleck full talk at Columbia

Arbitration boards

Multinational corporations use the flimsy rules in place for incorporating in different countries. They then turn around and say they are a corporation from that country and can then sue whatever government they need to. Mind you, there is no limit to the number of countries a corporation can be incorporated in (this is how they become multinational, with no allegiance to any country at all).

These law suits do not take place in the traditional court system of any country either. They take place in international tribunals where they appear in front of arbitration boards where the rules of trade agreements are adhered to more than the laws of any country. One such arbitration board is called the ICSID. Countries which sign on to use these arbitration boards to settle disputes get to appoint judges to the board. The US, for example, is a big country so they can appoint a lot of judges. 7 of the 8 judges they appointed to ICSID are corporate lawyers who specialized in representing corporations in disputes against governments. The other judge is a trade lobbyist who works for an international business organization that specializes in a lot of things for these trade agreements.

As can be expected, based on the the way these arbitration boards are set up and what set of rules they follow; Corporations invariably win all the time. In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars have been awarded to corporations and there have been over 200 cases heard by ICSID. Of those only two have been open to the public.

(Doleck)

Understand; the idea of a free-trade agreement is to expand as much trade as possible to maximize profit. The idea of the investment chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is to encourage as much foreign investment as possible.

Some things offered in the chapter are a “guarantee to a minimum standard of treatment,” and “fair and equitable treatment.” These are both extremely vaguely worded provisions included in NAFTA and other trade agreements as well. These and other provisions essentially function as standstills on regulations. Any new law or policy, such as a regulation to the natural gas industry, can be claimed to violate the predictable regulatory environment of an investor. Basically, an investor expects certain profits from wherever they have put money in speculation. Any new law or policy which negatively influences their speculation will violate the predictable regulatory environment of their speculation. They can then sue for this infringement.

Thus when an investor claims this standard has been violated they are then offered this investor-state dispute. They are then able to sue the government in a private tribunal which follows the rules of the trade agreement (under whose rules they are suing) for unlimited cash compensation. Investors have claimed this time and time again; and they have won.

(Soloman)

Now the obvious question: how could any country be forced into this position? What about their national sovereignty? You can’t just walk in and use some flimsy rule to claim you’ve lost money at the expense of government’s laws. That’s ridiculous! True; but national sovereignty is overruled once the country has signed a law into the books which infringes on their sovereignty. When a country signs a trade agreement chances are there is something in that agreement which will infringe on their sovereignty. The next question is: how does it get voted into law? That answer comes later. Here’s a hint though: fast-track (making things even more undemocratic).

(Doleck)

NAFTA on Mexico and jobs

TPP is being called “NAFTA, on steroids” so now it’s time to discuss NAFTA a little bit. NAFTA is a trade agreement which includes, Canada, the United States and Mexico. NAFTA was sold to the American people as a way of fixing cross-border problems with Mexico. They said it was something that would stabilize the economy on both sides of the border; in addition to the flow of immigrants. Watch a debate on NAFTA between Al Gore (in favor of NAFTA) and Ross Perot (opposed to NAFTA).

NAFTA, in fact, did nothing but exacerbate the problems mentioned above. For starters keep in mind Mexico’s economy was one based, in large part, on farming. As a result of NAFTA, imported corn became cheaper than Mexican corn putting Mexican farmers out of business. It made subsidized agriculture, and subsidized tortillas (so people could eat), illegal in Mexico. Farms collapsed and you had tons of people with nowhere to go. Some went to the cities, some to the Maquiladora region, some to produce goods to ship across the border. Many though came to the US to work as undocumented workers.

“Between 1985 and 1989 approximately 80,000 immigrants came to the US from Mexico annually. Between 1990 and 1994 approximately 260,000 immigrants came across annually. Between 1995 to 1999 400,000 came across annually. Then grew to 485,000.”

(Side note: if you want to fix the problems with immigration from Mexico to the US you don’t institute band-aid immigration reforms in the United States. You help Mexico’s economy as NAFTA devastated it. Undocumented workers don’t come to America because of the prosperity or for the “wonderful country” it is. Undocumented workers come to America to send money home to their families because their economy was destroyed by a trade deal our politicians encouraged. Also note; the border became militarized after NAFTA because more cross-border issues were expected.)

NAFTA cost the US 700,000 jobs.

(Clayman)

Jobs, the TPP and Globalization

Let’s discuss minimum wages now. The US minimum wage is $58/day; in Malaysia (who is in TPP) it is $8.70/day; in China (not in TPP, yet): $4.59/day. Vietnam though takes the cake with $2.23/day. Vietnam is one of the most important countries in the TPP partially because, they are the low wage alternative to China. That’s right, exploitation is such a hobby for these corporate fat cats there is actually a “low wage alternative” to $4.59/day, China; which is $2.23/day, Vietnam.

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(For quick perspective: In China there is an assemblage plant for Apple products called Foxconn where the workers labored under such horrible conditions and such horrific pay they actually started committing suicide rather than continue working. Foxconn would not have this though. Did Foxconn improve conditions? Did Foxconn give them better pay? No. Foxconn instead placed suicide nets around the exterior of the building to catch workers attempting suicide to keep them alive and then get them back to work.)

(The corporations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership think the workers at Foxconn are paid too much and would prefer the wages given to the workers exploited in Vietnam.)

Why is Vietnam so low? In Vietnam, workers have no labor rights and no right to form independent unions. There are restrictions on strikes as well. Vietnam’s communist party code allows for strikes but imposes strict and cumbersome conditions that must first be met; effectively nullifying the strike. This is the case even if you are in a state workers’ union (a workers’ union tied to the communist party there). This was reported by Human Rights Watch.

In Vietnam, goods are produced by child and forced labor, especially in the Apparel export industry (the largest export sector in Vietnam; second largest exporter to the United States after China). If you are trying to form an independent union in Vietnam expect to be jailed, sent to the education camps, harassed and more. It is one of the worst places in the world to try and organize independent unions.

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Through TPP Vietnam will be used to export our jobs to and reduce our wages.

Another country entering the TPP is Japan; a highly industrialized country. In our trade deficit from ’09 to 2012, Japan increased. This meant 130,000 US jobs were lost.

A study was done to forecast what would happen when the TPP goes into effect. It looked at what the impact of reduced tariffs was and what currency manipulation will do… (Japan is manipulating its currency). Ultimately, the impact will be 91,500 jobs lost just in the auto and auto parts industry alone. This was discovered by way of observing how the value of the Japanese yen has decreased by 30% in the last 8 months. As such in the last 8 months goods we export to Japan were 30% more expensive and goods they export to the US were 30% cheaper. This change in price is incentive for corporations to change where they create jobs to produce their goods. The fact that this overseas job creation means a loss of jobs for workers in one country is secondary to corporate profits.

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Back to the neo-liberal model; we produce more but pay less. We’ve had a clear decline in union representation. This is a direct result of corporate attacks and globalization. The difference between the wages we earn now and the wages we would have earned if jobs and wages increased with productivity since the 70’s, is more than $500/week=$2500/worker (avg).

That extra 500 has gone towards profits. Since the 70’s is when we’ve seen union membership drop, it’s also when we see the US go from a surplus in trade to a country with a deficit (we became a debtor). There was a major deficit especially following NAFTA as well. From 1999-2010 there was a change in US multi-national corp jobs as multinationals reduced US employment by 1,000,000 and increased employment in controlled foreign affiliates by 3,000,000.

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Entering China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) cost the US 2.7 million jobs (net).

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TPP will exacerbate our economic crisis, our democracy crisis, investor-state disputes will undermine everything we’ve worked for in labor, in environment, in health, in safety, and in the effectiveness of our democracy.

People are opposing TPP all around the world.

(Harris)

(Also note: In the 2008 financial crash one of the reasons it was felt so globally was because of restrictions which had been imposed on Capital Controls through Free Trade agreement Globalization. To explain briefly Capital Controls are measures in place which regulate the flow of currencies across borders from one country to another. One of the reasons China was not hit as hard by the 2008 crash was because of the Capital Controls they had in place. Now with regards to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the author of the book In Defense of Globalization joined with a great deal of other economists who were originally in favor of free trade to speak out against the lax rules on Capital Controls in the TPP. This means the author who “wrote the book” on globalization, along with many other economists, spoke out against certain elements of the globalization involved in TPP).

Overview of TPP itself

Who has access to the text of TPP? The corporations do, of course. How many of them though? All of the over 600 corporate advisors who can benefit from it for certain. Some of those include Pfizer, Monsanto, National Coal Council, Halliburton, Chevron, GE, etc. Who doesn’t have access? The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are kept in the dark. The Obama administration does have access to the text as the Obama administration is pushing for it.

Does congress have access to the text? They will be voting on it so they should have access, right? No. Only one congressman has managed to gain access to the text, and that’s because he made a stink about it: Representative Alan Greyson. The problem is he was not allowed to take notes about it, he was given a limited amount of time to read it, and he couldn’t say anything about it besides “this is a punch in the face to the middle class.” Other congressman have no access and recently starting showing their discontent. Also read this.

And check this:

Obviously the public has no access either.

Which countries are involved in the TPP: the United States, Australia, Brunai, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Japan wants to join, if they have not already by the time this blog was written, and The United States wants China to be involved as well.

What’s in the TPP?

Earlier it was discussed how the TPP and other Trade Agreements are really just corporate power grabs. Corporations use free-trade agreements as back-door mechanisms to make sure they can get these things approved. When corporations realize they have lost in local, state, and federal governments they turn to trade agreements to get those things through.

“TPP is a trojan horse for non-traditional polices, many of which are rejected in state legislatures, and in congress.” – Alisa Simmons

“What I see is a bunch of non-trade stuff, specific to public services, the corporations want to take over. Of the 29 chapters only 5 actually deal with trade matters.” – Alisa Simmons

The only traditional trade things in TPP are market access for foods, customs, trade expropriation, capacity building, and trade revenue subsidies. Other topics discussed in the “non-trade” chapters of TPP are things like government procurement, investment, services, financial services, intellectual property, visas, temporary movement of natural persons (which sounds like immigration in a trade agreement), regulatory coherence, competition policy, labor, supply chains, the environment, transparency…

(Simmons)

From a different perspective, as this is being poised as a trade deal (and 24 of its 29 chapters don’t deal with trade), the TPP can actually be viewed as a trade agreement made up primarily of earmarks to destroy the public sector, democracy and 40% of the global economy.

“On top of all the things we know aren’t really about trade there are 3 mystery chapters they wont tell anyone about. They wont even tell us the titles of it. They wont list them anywhere!” – Alisa Simmons

There’s also an Intellectual property chapter in TPP which impacts medicines and is also a backdoor method to get parts of SOPA passed and destroy internet freedom.

In TPP there are provisions to give greater property rights to foreign firms and put limits on financial regulations. There are also provisions which would ban “Buy American” and “Buy Local.” On top of that the food we eat will be impacted as well. Most US food that’s imported doesn’t meet standards already. About 1% of the food that comes in actually gets inspected. We currently get food from countries which we know have really bad histories when it comes to exporting their food. Vietnam has one of the worst records for food safety and all of a sudden we’re about to get a whole bunch of shellfish in from Vietnam, that food is going to be coming into a system that is already under-regulated.

(Simmons)

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Chilling effects of TPP and Trade Agreement lawsuits

Earlier the idea of investor-state disputes was discussed. Arbitration boards and the use of the offshoring was discussed and how corporations become multinational through flimsy requirements for incorporation. To get a little more in-depth these investor-state disputes take corporations and raise them to the level of actual countries. How does it do so? Well, a person can’t sue for lost profits or lost potential profits. Corporations can under trade agreement rules. Furthermore, when a corporation sues a country for the profits they lost because they can’t do something they take our tax dollars to fund their profit because they don’t want to abide by that country’s laws.

(Simmons)

“Around the world over $3.5 billion in taxes globally have been given to corporations who don’t want to obey health laws, and environmental laws primarily.” – Alisa Simmons

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Remember the US-based/Canadian-based company which sued Canada for a moratorium that infringed on their “Right to Mine” in a Quebec town. Under NAFTA it’s established this can happen again and again. Once you open this up to many other countries around the world however, the implications of lawsuits are frightening.

The same impact would be seen from GMO labeling. In many states there are growing movements to label foods. Eventually, one of them will pass a bill and labels will start appearing in stores. Logically, most people will not choose the GMO food if the two options are sitting next to each other and the price difference is not large. This will likely result in a lawsuit from Monsanto. True, in some of these lawsuits the plaintiff would win and in some they would lose, but it would also have a chilling effect:

If these governments realize they will be sued for passing said bills they may become reluctant to pass a bill even if the public wants it because they don’t want to hurt the economy.

(Beauchamp)

Expansion of exports of Natural gas

The first 5 mins of this talk center around the threats of fracking under NAFTA and TPP.

(Beauchamp)

After hearing so much about investor-state disputes it’s logical to assume any discussion of Natural Gas exports and the TPP would have to deal with corporate retaliation against bans and moratoriums on fracking. Though that is something to consider, the issue here is actually with the Department of Energy’s requirement to do a Public Interest Determination prior to any exportation of natural gas.

What is a Public Interest determination? This is a process where the Department of Energy must weight the economic and environmental impacts of natural gas exports. Furthermore, it is really critical to being able to build and deliver energy policy. Regardless of how effective the procedure is (as they have approved of the first export terminal), having the process is important.

“Consistent with the free-trade model (which is deregulation), US law states that this whole process of doing a Public Interest Determination (just an analysis to look at the implications of natural gas exports) is waived for any country with which the United States has signed a free-trade agreement that calls for something called ‘multinational treatment for trade and gas.’ We understand the TPP includes this.” – Ivana Soloman

As such exports are automatically deemed in the public interest and it becomes illegal to condition, deny or delay any permit requirement. This is even more important when discussing TPP because Japan is the largest natural gas importer in the world. Ultimately, this could create enormous strain for more exports as there are also plans to build a great deal more export terminals across the United States.

Even from a non-legal perspective, consider the implications of the greenhouse effects from this and the ramifications of pipelines from this (which could leak).

(Soloman)

Prescription Drugs

We can end the AIDS pandemic in the next 30 years:
“If we get a cohort of people who are HIV positive onto particular medications, it will be almost impossible for them to spread the virus, and if they can’t spread the virus, then eventually we bend all curves. Deaths go down and so do new infections. In about 30 years if we get enough people onto these medications we can actually see AIDS as something like Polio. There will be a couple thousand cases around the world of people living with AIDS but we will have more than enough money to provide treatment to them and there will be no new infections.” The cover of The Economist (June 2011) provides proof of this. – Jennifer Flynn

The above is true but it’s dependent on one key issue which is threatened under TPP; The availability of generic medications which cost significantly less than patented medications.

“Getting medications to developing countries is an issue dependent entirely on price. We have medications that can treat AIDS and people don’t have access to them just because of the price. You may have heard other reasons like ‘people don’t know how to adhere to them’ or ‘there are supply issues in some countries.’ Don’t believe this. The driver is price.” – Jennifer Flynn

(Flynn)

Let’s compare the prices shall we…

AIDS medications first-line treatment started out over $10,000 per patient per year. Through generic competition, over the span of a decade, that price dropped by 99% to an estimated $140 per patient per year. Second-line treatments are more than two times the cost of first-line treatment. The lowest price for a third-line regiment is $2000, as compared to $140 on the first-line treatment. When looking at the newest medicine the price is about 14 times the primer.

For a detailed explanation of what “first/second/third-line treatments” are check this link. Basically, a second-line treatment is a treatment which comes out when the first-line treatment has failed. Accordingly, third-lines come out when the second-line has failed. Furthermore, as they are new drugs coming out when the previous version failed it makes sense that the newer version will cost more money. More research goes in, a higher price comes out.

Developing and poorer nations depend on generic medications. Many major international treatment providers rely on quality, affordable generic medications. Lower prices are not as profitable, though. Enter patents and other intellectual property barriers to keep medical prices high.

(Reid)

What is a patent?

Essentially it’s government-inferred monopoly on a drug and they currently last 20 years. This means the price remains high and out of the hands of poor people for 20 years. One example of a generic drug is Acetaminophen, the cheaper generic version of Tylenol (the only difference is the name).

(Quick point: The United States has a long history of limiting access and keeping affordable medicines out of the hands of poor people. Think about how the privatized insurance system of the United States has worked thus far. If you can’t afford healthcare you’re screwed. Can’t afford a life-saving operation? You’re stuck with medical debt (that is if you are even granted the procedure). Mind you 62% of all bankruptcies in America are due to medical debt. Furthermore, America is the only developed nation in the world where the concept of medical debt even exists,. All other developed nations have some form of Universal Healthcare. If you are poor in America you don’t have good healthcare if you even pay for it in the first place. Also note, “Obamacare” or the Affordable Care Act is NOT Universal Healthcare AT ALL.)

We hear about the importance of intellectual property. We hear about the importance of protecting the pharmaceutical industries in their ability to continue developing medications. We hear about their need to make enough profit so as to continue to research and develop new types of medications which save lives. These are lies. Most new drugs are actually made by the government or universities; those entities are just bad at marketing so big pharma is given them instead to get them to the masses.

(Flynn)

The TPP has provisions to seriously restrict generic competitions. Even scarier the TPP is being billed as a model for future trade agreements and is being negotiated with developed and developing countries. It also sets up standards which could be applied to other developing countries. The policies when taken together represent the most restrictive ever seen in a trade agreement and it’s horrible for access to medicine.

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership rolls back internationally agreed upon public health safeguards already enshrined in multilateral agreements in the current standard of the Truth Agreement; and numerous other standards agreed upon by the US and by other negotiating countries.

One example of a rollback is in regards to pre-grant oppositions, which is any challenge by a third party to a patent before it’s been awarded. Second-line regiments are about twice as expensive as first-line regiments for HIV drugs. Prices for them have come down due to competition which has been secured through measures like pre-grant opposition. All countries have patent laws and patent systems and they have flexibility to apply that law as suited to their national context. Pre-grant opposition is extremely important to public health as in some cases fighting a patent is essential to supply the poor with affordable medications.

(Reid)

TPP will deny people the right to oppose patents before they are granted. Meaning, if you’re in a country and you need access to a medicine and you find out that country is about to issue a patent, you can’t go and protest the government. You can’t sue or make a case.

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Currently, patents can last up to 20 years before the trial stage is done and medications become available for generic competition. Through a process in the TPP though called “ever greening” a small change to a drug can give a company the right to ask for another 20 year patent. With loopholes and clever uses of language like these you could end up having an 80 year patent on a drug.

The TPP would also make clinical trial data (discovered during the duration of the patent) corporate property for 12 years automatically, and that data itself would receive a patent. This is called Data Exclusivity. The TPP would also let drug companies sue government agencies that set reimbursement rates for public health programs if drug companies don’t like them.

(Flynn)

Summary and What To Do

Now that we’ve explored all of these above issues (which are devastating in themselves) it’s important to realize this is just what we know from the small amount of the Trans-Pacific Partnership which has been leaked; and what we know from observing the effects of other trade agreements and international policies. Again the TPP is a 29 chapter-long trade agreement where only 5 of them actually deal with trade.

Now, how could the Trans-Pacific Partnership be stopped. You call you representatives and demand they vote “no” on “fast-track.” Why fast-track and not tell them to vote “no” on the TPP itself? Telling them to vote “no” on fast-track would be like throwing a wrench into the system.

Fast-Track is a method of passing a bill which is used when a bill would have no chance at passing were it sent to congress normally. Fast-Track gives members of congress 90 days to read over a bill and then has them vote “yes” or “no” on the bill. As they vote they are *not allowed* to edit ANY of the text within the bill AT ALL. Keep in mind this means they would be blindly voting on this bill with no prior knowledge of its contents as it has been negotiated in complete secrecy from them. If you thought the secrecy surrounding the bill made this undemocratic, fast-track makes it even less democratic.

President Obama, some other leaders of 11 or so countries and 600 corporate representatives have spent the last 8 years negotiating this bill in secret.

Should pressure be placed on congress by the public to vote “No” on Fast-Track the Trans-Pacific Partnership would then be sent through Congress and Congress would have the opportunity to adjust the bill to their liking. After they adjust the bill to their liking those adjustments would then have to be approved by every other country involved. After 11 years of negotiations it’s doubtful any new changes would be approved.

Also note, NAFTA was passed via fast-track and it’s not just a one time thing. If fast track is approved by Congress any bill which is then voted on can be passed through congress via fast-track. NAFTA was passed by fast-track, but fast-track remained in effect for at least 5 years, and the way bills were voted on under fast-track did not change. Note, not all legislation passed while fast-track is in effect is voted on with the fast-track rules. Some bills are voted on normally while fast-track is in effect, it’s just not used in those cases.

Click here to see the report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership by DemocracyNow!

Click the following links to learn more:

http://www.exposethetpp.org/

http://www.flushthetpp.org/

https://www.citizen.org/tpp

DemocracyNow! covers TPP a second time. (full transcript included)

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Source talks for information discussed in the content of the blog:


Alex Beauchamp, Food and Water Watch

Roger Clayman, Long Island Federation of Labor

Pete Dolack, author of It’s Not Over

Jennifer Reid, researcher Doctors Without Borders

Full TPP talk in Manhasset

Alisa Simmons, Public Citizens Global Trade Watch

Kent Harris, Communication Workers of America

Ivanna Soloman, Sierra Club

Full TPP talk by hunter (Note: scroll to the end of this talk for one last speaker whose information I couldn’t fit into this blog. It is discussion on trade agreement influence in South America.)

columbia:
invest rights

threats to banks mult corps

TPP rundown

Full TPP talk at columbia

Talk in the slope

Adam Weissman on harmonization

Jennifer Flynn, Healthgap

On Armed Revolution

Who wants to load up on some guns, bring your friends, march on the capital and overthrow the United States government? I think it sounds like a grand idea and I’ll buy the ammo!

Actually I think it’s a really stupid idea but apparently a lot of people seem ready to do it. See this article from RTTNews.com which contains a study also referenced in Salon.com which says Nearly a third of Americans think armed revolution might be necessary.

This study was conducted shortly after the recent push for Gun Control (or as I prefer to call it, “gun regulation”)

“Overall, fifty percent of registered voters, including 73 percent of Democrats, support new gun control laws, while 39 percent, including 65 percent of Republicans, are opposed to new laws.”

“The poll found that just 18 percent of Democrats think an armed revolution may be necessary, compared to 44 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of independents.”

The numbers are upsetting because they indicate where the priorities of a third of this country lie. Some seem ready to overthrow what is currently in place and start anew. We also seem to think we’d be successful which is funny in itself.

Nearly a third of our country’s voters think we may need an armed revolution. Put in perspective, this study was done back in May when the “threat” of gun control was at peak media hype and we were saturated with propaganda about the dangers of, or our 2nd-Amendment right to have, guns. The gun lobby was never so patriotic. Nevertheless, if those people have since calmed down you wonder if they are still ready to embark on a 2nd-Amendment shopping spree. It’s important to stock up before the government cracks down and takes away a brand-new purchase.

Let’s face the facts though, we need to be prepared to fight back with both defensive and offensive measures to find freedom in revolution. It’s the only natural and sensible course of action at this point. As such guns are forever our protectors. Guns make us feel safe. Guns are our only defense against fascism. Without our guns we would be no where. Guns make us whole.

“This is my rifle. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.”

Oh… excuse me. I got so carried away with my devotion, appreciation, and obedience to my guns (and my right to bear arms) that I remembered a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. You know the one where the drafted soldiers pledge their love for their guns, as instructed by their drill sergeant before going to sleep? The national obsession with guns to save our country really reminds me of that scene sometimes…

For some the entire system is faulty at its core and a new one must be created in order for any progress to be made. Others still see some good in what currently exists (and what was originally created) but that it’s run astray. I’ll offer the idea that blaming theoretical systems is an evasion of the real issue. Furthermore, no matter what theoretical system is in place it is the people in power and more importantly the public which resides in the country who are most responsible for the direction of the country. Do I think the US government represents the public any longer? No. It only got to this point though because the public believed what it was told and rarely questioned with masses.

As far as theoretical systems, I’m not sure how much I like the conceptual basis for the American economic system (capitalism). This however, is not something which can be addressed overnight. Regardless, when our priorities revolve around protecting our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, to the point where nearly a third of the country thinks armed revolution might be necessary… Well, I get skeptical of our ability to accomplish anything even in the short-term.

Do I think our personal liberties are being threatened? Very much so. The 1st Amendment right to free speech has been very much in jeopardy as can be viewed easily through the many arrests at peaceful protests over the past two years, certainly, and probably much farther back for other arbitrary and flexible reasons. The 4th Amendment has been crushed as we have learned of domestic spying in the recent NSA scandal and the documents Edward Snowden leaked, but also from this “Supreme Court Erodes 4th Amendment Protections- Eases Ability For Police To Enter Your Home Without Warrant.” The 5th Amendment has been infringed a bit as well as we learn from this article.

It’s curious though how the one Amendment not yet infringed upon is the 2nd Amendment. Even in the last Gun Control/Regulation debate the issue in the bill was background checks. Something which only would have impeded some people’s ability to get a gun. Furthermore, the legislation (had it been passed) would never have taken away any guns; if you owned a gun it would have been “grandfathered” in.

There are corruptions in the current law which may have unjustly taken away someone’s right to a gun once a background check was run. Depending on the nature of the background check it’s entirely possible someone serving time for a marijuana sentence may not have been allowed a gun. Nevertheless, I can understand the importance of background checks in the regulation and distribution of guns. It’s not an issue of restricting people. It’s an issue of making sure someone with a history of mental illness, for example, has (at least) a great deal more trouble getting a gun. Also note: it’s cheaper and easier to buy a gun in the United States than it is to receive treatment for mental health problems.

This is another reason the obsession with our guns, and some people’s desire to just take down the whole system with revolution is unnerving. Many people jumped to the conclusion narrated by media propaganda which stated “OUR GUNS WERE GOING TO BE TAKEN AWAY!!” That was never even a concern if you’d known what the bill said. So… that means that our armed-revolution-hungry people obsessed with clutching their guns when they sleep… didn’t read.

That’s comforting.

Not only did they not read the contents of the bill but they also played right into the hands of the gun lobby as gun sales skyrocketed under the propagandized threat of the government “taking our guns away.”

Yet I still need to ask why the need for guns is so high in our priorities anyway. For the past few months I’ve seen protesting occur in Turkey and Brazil. Egypt as well but that’s far more complex and nuanced. All of those protests have called for an end to government corruption, and true democracy, and unless I’m mistaken those protesters didn’t use guns. Those protests have also faced far more government oppression than anything we’ve seen in America; still our guns are what we get upset over.

It’s very disconcerting.

Also, clutch your guns and dream of “taking back the government” with armed revolution all you want. Just keep it a fantasy… The reality is any real revolution of that sort would be quashed within a week by the military if the threat to government was legit. By the way, the time frame of a week was generous. There is no way household artillery could stand up to the weaponry of the US armed forces. Is it worth mentioning the fact that there would be no escape considering the number of surveillance drones likely to be deployed in such a situation (in addition to the NSA’s surveillance)? Why not go one step further and say those drones might be weaponized. But yeah, sure… enjoy the fantasy…

Should I ask why we don’t just organize around what we need and then pressure the government with the support we’ve built through organizing for a cause. A common response to that might be “But organizing and pressuring government is useless. They won’t listen. They don’t care.” Well it’s true, they don’t, but they do care about their country having a strong economy, and protests and economic boycotts do a lot to send a message that the public is pissed off. Oh yeah, you don’t only protest against the government… You protest their corporate masters as well.

The idea that the government would serve the people of their own accord, is absurd. In the face of public pressure though, things can be accomplished. Case and point was the recent fight in Texas against an anti-abortion bill. A fight to stall a bill which would have closed 90% of the abortion clinics in Texas.

Senator Wendy Davis filibustered the Texas Senate for I believe 11 hours before she was stopped by the GOP. Then her fellow democrats stalled a vote on the bill until about 11:45. They were running out of steam and then an exasperated Democratic Senator Leticia van de Putte put it plainly:

“At what point must a female senator raise her hand, or her voice, to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

Once she said this the public gallery erupted in cheers which prevented a vote for another 15 minutes at which point no vote could be taken as it was after midnight. This didn’t stop the Senate Republicans from trying to fake the passage of the vote. Thanks to social media, and livestream coverage, the senate killed the bill as the global public and 20,000 livestream viewers witnessed and would have contested the cheated bill had it been accepted into law. Then on July 1st the Texas Senate tried to pass it again. Governor Rick Perry was determined this time but as protesters flooded the building, and appeared in the thousands outside it, the bill was recessed after about half an hour and the next session was scheduled for July 9th.

Public support accomplishes a lot when it’s organized and determined.

Now that I’ve just laid out the importance of social media in Texas I can also use the same story to exhibit the power of social media, and why there have been efforts to control the internet as a whole. Simply put; the public can affect legislation, and has a new source of information not produced by special interests to use, to achieve progressive outcomes.

Now lets watch Aaron Swartz’s talk on how he helped stop SOPA by way of organizing public support around an important issue (it wasn’t just Google and Facebook and other sites going dark which stopped the bill; that spin just made the big monopolies look good in the face of “big government” SOPA):

Highlighting those above examples it seems obvious the things a well-organized public can accomplish?

It’s funny to even say this next thing with the amount that lobbyists writing legislation, but government is the only thing keeping corporations in check; even in the most minimal sense.

If not for government, corporate interests would have free reign to do anything they wanted; and they could do a LOT more. They would have already started exploiting the resources of federally protected national parks. If not for government, fracking would already be poisoning the water in New York. If not for government there would be no sewer or public sanitation. If not for government the clean water, clear air, and clean drinking water acts would have been done away with long ago in the interests of corporate profits and cheaper waste disposal. If not for government there would be no social security or it would already have been privatized. If not for government the shitty educational system in this country would be even worse.

Let’s have some examples, shall we:

First we have this article which discusses potential plans for National Parks to begin corporate licensing agreements for the exploitation of the parks. Guess what currently protects National Parks, at least to some degree, from being totally mowed over and destroyed by corporate interests seeking profits from these beautiful and untapped resources? Government. Granted a corporation may find loopholes in the laws to do things, or they may lobby government excessively for their favor. They still need to deal with government first if they want to do anything.

An easy case and point of that pesky governmental hurdle can be illustrated with what recently happened during the government shutdown. The EPA is a government agency. The shutdown took a lot of field workers off staff, if not all. Did this mean that oil companies had to stop drilling because the EPA wasn’t watching them? Did this mean the oil companies were good little polluters and stopped their drilling and activity in some of the most beautiful exhibitions of nature on the planet?

Hate the government all you want; that shutdown gave a huge free pass to a great many things which might normally have been a little more difficult.

Or how about we look at what recently happened to a Mayan pyramid in Belize when a company needed more bricks to build a road. I don’t know how bricks are made but it’s certainly cheaper to just gut a long-standing artifact displaying the remnants of what used to be a thriving culture. No, screw it. They needed to build a road to ensure modern business could flourish, and they needed to do it cheaply and with the use of a bulldozer. (Note: The article, from May 2013, says charges may be filed)

This is all irrelevant though, keep clutching our guns and prepare for the only option left: We need to fight back and defend the homeland from our fascist “big government” overlords! Any thoughts on how to create a new government when that moment comes? Like it or not there’s a lot this corrupted system gives us that we take for granted.

This article contains a long list of things which are provided to the public by the government. The article is actually addressing people (Tea Partiers, specifically) who complained about taxes. Regardless, the article is a very good list of things which the government provides for the public. A list which is a real wake-up call. Do I agree with everything it says? No. Do I think some of the benefits it puts forward are no longer there? Certainly. Overall however, the list is a very good breakdown of things which people who live in developed countries take for granted.

So, all things considered what are we going to base the new system on if we just anticipate the inevitable and prepare with nothing more than artillery? What framework? Would we just regain control of what we currently have and make it more efficient? Would we create an entirely new system? Completely abandon even the good parts of what is currently in place? Mind you, America is a developed nation so to completely abandon what we currently have would likely hurt a lot of people. This is especially the case if we completely abandoned what we currently have with absolutely no alternative structure in mind. With no alternative in mind there would be even more poverty. Whatever is now left of Social Security wouldn’t even be there and our seniors and disabled people would be on their own. Say goodbye to food stamps. I can’t even imagine the child poverty rate…

Now for what we’ve ignored for decades… Where was this gun rights anger when education was being cut? Why hasn’t this gun rights anger been put into creating a National Healthcare system? Where is the anger when it comes to the need to drown the wealthy in taxes so the public has money for needed social services? Where is the equal outcry for jobs, or for infrastructure repair, or for an end to endless war, or for income equality, or for the Voting Rights Act? No. The first thing people panic over is whether or not we’ll be able to have and keep our guns.

With regards to taxes, back during the 50’s and 60’s the economy and educational system of this country were quite efficient. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself benefitted from these things too. Why was that? I think FDR’s New Deal legislation taxed the wealthy 90% of their income, no? FDR also instituted Social Security, which is now being threatened with privatization. How did FDR manage to do all of these things though. It wasn’t on his own. There was something called public support for public services which he was answering to. People were organized.

Now to address another lesser thought-of element. The US army generally does have a code they run by; what about private mercenary armies though? They are undoubtedly smaller than the US army but they have a different code they operate under: Corporate profit. They answer to the groups who are currently corrupting a government that’s supposed to be run by the people. They step in when the US army finishes or when a corporation needs something; or when there needs to be a covert government operation.

Check out an article discussing the US troops in Afghanistan who have been replaced by an outsourced army.

Or check out this article about private paramilitaries who guard Wisconsin mining sights from protesters.

With no government, corporations can do whatever they want and will have mercenary armies to help further their interests. There are a lot of mercenary armies.

Now let’s reflect on representative government and just how we view our elected representatives. First off, they should never be referred to as “leaders.” They shouldn’t be given this title because that puts them in a position superior to their constituents. Forgive me for sounding like an “anarchist” but I don’t really think elected officials are superior to those who elected them. I just think they are people, whom a bunch of other people have decided can be trusted, to fulfill a logistical convenience (i.e. government). Meaning, a large group of people think elected officials have enough sense in their heads to work within a body, consisting of individuals sent by other corresponding bunches of people, to decide how the country should conduct itself.

They are not leaders. Calling a congressman, or a senator, or a mayor, or a governor, or a president, or anyone else a leader is anointing them with a default status of superiority. They are not superior; at all. They are people; just like any of their constituents. They are corruptible; just like any of their constituents. They are manipulable; just like any of their constituents. They are impressionable; just like any of their constituents. They need money to live and eat; just like any of their constituents.

The only way elected members of government really differ from their constituents is the amount of time which they have to devote to how their country should be run. Their constituents have jobs. Their constituents are likely interested in particular issues which government will have to consider but they have many other responsibilities as well to address.

Individuals elected to government do not have those other responsibilities (outside of taking care of their families and eating). Elected individuals therefore have a lot more time on their hands to carry out some tasks which can be extremely demanding:

Knowing about what goes on in their country; in the foreign affairs of their country; understanding the evolving and changing public opinions and consciousness of their country; knowing the inner workings of the government of their country. Oh, they also need to spend a lot of time fundraising because of the necessity to promote themselves so the masses think they are worth a vote.

As people though, elected individuals are really no different from their constituents in most ways. They may be better public speakers… Statistics show; people who strive to be in elected office are actually more corruptible than others as well. This makes sense, you have to be a special kind of crazy to think you have what it takes to be in a specific body which controls a country and dictates the laws which govern the public. Either you are special kind of crazy… or you have spent a lot of time working to become fluent in the issues and you really have innovative ideas to the point where you are confident enough to say “I should be there because I know what’s best for everyone else! I’m serious!”

Thus, to me, the idea of having elected “leaders” is kind of eccentric in itself. Elected representatives to carry out the will of the public? Yes. Elected “leaders” to run the country? No.

So who runs the country then and who is being represented by elected individuals? Well, the people who live in the country and vote for an individual during an election. But if they are voting for other people to represent them in government office, where the government is theoretically run, how is the electorate supposed to run the country from where they are… a position lacking of any recognized power? By organizing to create public support and pressure around issues.

Generally, when an individual runs for public office they have only three goals in mind. To get elected, to get re-elected, and to remain elected once in office. Past this point they are supposedly just doing their best with what they have at hand. The problem is: how do they get re-elected if the public is not self-organized around issues and interested in government? How do they get their name in the public eye if they want to get elected and try and make a difference (as many probably do when they start)? If the public is not self-organized and knowledgeable on the issues it seems the individual striving for elected office will need money to make sure the public knows who he/she is. Where will the money come from? Well, at this point in, at least the United States, big businesses, banks, and corporations. The only problem is, once they take money from those entities, they become beholden in the favor game. Rest assured, the favor will be repaid by laws passed which benefit those who paid for the political campaigns. Usually, laws which are passed favoring those entities do not favor the public very much at all.

There is a way to counteract the monied influence though… the public must organize and become knowledgeable about the issues and the politicians, and then pressure the elected individuals to act in their interests. Ultimately, whether there is money in the electoral cycle or not it is a public vote which will decide who gets elected. The playing field of politicians is just far more legitimate when there is no monied influence.

Therefore, I feel the idea of voting is just a gratuity done towards the system to serve a logistical convenience. The problem comes when the public votes for a candidate and actually trusts them to act in their favor. The politician should never be trusted by default. If the public doesn’t care enough to organize around the issues that matter to them, why should a politician either?

“Organize, Agitate, Educate, Must be our war cry” – Susan B. Anthony

Don’t scream about guns if you can’t fix your problems in a more sensible and creative way.

Also, stop watching the fucking TV.

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Press Release from the CUNY students in response to recent police aggression. (VIDEO)

NEW YORK, 17 September — Six students were arrested this evening in a brutal, unprovoked police attack on a peaceful protest by City University of New York students and faculty against CUNY’s appointment of former CIA chief ex-General David Petraeus. Students were punched, slammed against vehicles and against the pavement by police captains and officers, after the NYPD forced them off the pavement and into the street. The demonstration was called by the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY.

“As students were chanting ‘War Criminal Petraeus Out of CUNY Now,’ I was shocked to see several police officers grab and brutalize one of the demonstrators,” said City College student Yexenia Vanegas. “This was completely unprovoked, as demonstrators made clear that they were there to defend our university in a peaceful protest.” The attack occurred in front of CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, where Petraeus has been appointed to teach a class on public policy.

“Protesters were marching in a circle on the sidewalk and chanting, but the police forced them into the street and then charged. One of the most brutal things I saw was that five police officers slammed a Queens College student face down to the pavement across the street from Macaulay, put their knees on his back, and he was then repeatedly kneed in the back,” said Hunter student Michael Brian. The student was one of those pointed out by “white shirt” officers, then seized and brutalized. A Latina woman student was heaved through the air and slammed to the ground.

The arrested students were released Wednesday evening, and although they have sustained injuries and missed classes, they still resolved to carry on the campaign. All defenders of students’ basic right to protest are urged to support them in their protest of Petraeus’s classes, next Monday September 23.

A broad range of CUNY students, faculty and staff members have been carrying out a campaign of “protest and exposure” against the Board of Trustees’ appointment of Petraeus, whose documented actions as Iraq/Afghanistan war commander and CIA chief include drone attacks upon civilians, and the creation of torture centers and death squads. When Petraeus was setting up special police commandos, the “dirty tactics” that were used included the use of white phosphorus, a chemical weapon, against the population in Fallujah. “Petraeus’ man” Col. James Steele, who organized death squads in Central America, had been brought to the area to organize death squads there.

With the NYPD being sent to brutalize and arrest CUNY students on behalf of a certified war criminal, organizers state that this blatant use of police brutality against peaceful protesters will not intimidate or deter those who expose the truth about the actions of David “Death Squad” Petraeus and oppose attempts to turn the City University into “a war college.”

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A sober look at the 50th anniversary of “I Have A Dream.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

50 years ago on August 28th, 1963 estimates of 250,000 people attended the rally and march on Washington, D.C. where Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. Both his speech and the march have become staples in American history and the civil rights movement of the era.

On Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 an anniversary rally was held to honor the occasion and to reflect on our nation’s history. President Obama spoke on the 28th as well; likely as a symbol of the institutional progress America has made since the historic day 50 years ago.

While the event on the 28th marked the anniversary of the original march in 1963, another march and rally took place on Saturday, August 24th, calling for organization, mobilization, and action. This was the more important day of the two. Mainly because this event highlighted the reality of present-day America. Truth be told there was an obnoxious, but not surprising, political motive behind this march: To vote for the Democrats in the coming election. This element of political posturing likely induced an eye-roll or two but no one at the march was misled about the institutional digression which has taken place since 50 years ago.

Issues discussed at this rally included Voting Rights (in light of the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn the Voting Rights Act of 1965), Trayvon’s Law, the Prison Industrial Complex (also sometimes referred to as “The New Jim Crow”), ALEC (or the American Legislative Exchange Council) which was influential in getting Florida’s Stand Your Ground law passed, the need to raise the minimum wage… and much much more.

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Let’s address the above issues quickly. First, the overturn of the Voting Rights Act. Have a look at the “literacy” test Louisiana gave black voters in the 1960s. Things like that were ruled unconstitutional due to the Voting Rights Act. Before the Voting Rights Act was passed people may have had to recite the preamble to the US Constitution from memory to vote. It reads as follows:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

While the above is certainly a notable literary passage it’s hard to see how memorizing it would be crucial to your ability to vote on the issues of the day; or for candidates who would vote on the issues. Nevertheless, for some in North Carolina, it was required prior to the VRA of 1965. The most recent instances of voter suppression in North Carolina (which were also discussed at their weekly event, Moral Mondays) include the removal of one week of early voting and the end of Sunday voting. Sunday voting is a serious attack on blacks and other minorities because very often church groups in those communities organize people to vote on Sundays after church. There was also a poll tax placed on students in North Carolina. If a student wants to vote in a district by their school which is not the same district as their parents, the parents will have to pay $2,500.

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Learn about Trayvon’s Law which calls for an end to racial profiling, a repeal of stand your ground-type laws, law enforcement accountability through effective police oversight, improving training and best practices for community watch groups, and mandating law enforcement data collection on homicide cases involving people of color.

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The Prison Industrial Complex was addressed as well…

The United States houses 5% of the world’s total population. It also houses 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Put in perspective there are around 7 billion people on the planet now; of those 7 billion about 8.8 million are incarcerated worldwide; of those 7 billion worldwide 300 million reside in the United States; of those 300 million in the United States 2.2 million are incarcerated. Of those 2.2 million about 70% are minorities and people of color. Put in perspective there are more black men now in prison, or under the watch of the criminal justice system, than there were enslaved in 1850. The Prison Industrial Complex has grown to the point it has due to the profits which can be made from it. Yes. You can actually buy stock in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and watch your money grow as more prisons are built, more people are incarcerated and more production is derived from prisons and its prisoners.

“The New Jim Crow” primarily refers to the mass incarceration of people of color; and Latinos to a lesser degree. The drug war is another component of The New Jim Crow. For marijuana alone there are 800,000 people in prison. This is more about race than anything else though. Statistically, more whites in suburban areas do drugs than blacks or Latinos in urban areas. The drug war though is international so the Prison Industrial Complex (mass incarceration) is the largest domestic component of The New Jim Crow. Poverty is also included in The New Jim Crow.

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was another issue at the march…

The existence of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law (pushed by ALEC) has made people more aware of ALEC. It is important though to understand the influence of ALEC, in general. ALEC is a non-profit organization where corporate members and legislators come together as equals, and members of ALEC, to debate on policy. Public and private members vote separately on policy after joint debate. As ALEC facilitates policy manipulation and no laws are actually passed, debated or adopted during this process; there is no lobbying which takes place.

“Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization.” (Source)

Following is a list of some of ALEC’s work:

Electricity Freedom Act
Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline
Voter ID Act
Arizona’s SB 1070 Immigration Law: “No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act”
Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act
Intrastate Coal and Use Act
Stand Your Ground

The original march in 1963 drew about 250,000 people. The march on the 24th drew the same number if not slightly more. Furthermore, the diversity in terms of age, race and gender was remarkable. There is no question that a call to action has been recognized to address inequalities and injustices which have now spread to a very diverse swath of the American public. Important to note is how socially, there has been progress over the past 50 years in how the different sects of the public in America live together and relate to one another. Unfortunately, from an institutional standpoint those who originally found themselves fighting for civil rights back in 1963 have been subjected to increased prejudice since then.

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Nevertheless the march on August 24th was very inspiring and the number of people in attendance certainly rivaled the original march 50 years ago.

Here is a reaction to the crowd from activist Lisa Fithian.

Here is a very positive reaction to the march from an attendee referring to herself as Queen Mother. In this clip, to say the least she is overjoyed but she is also very motivated to work to bring the youth together as she mentions the upcoming Million Youth March, in Harlem.

Another protester was asked this to comment on the institutional digression. In this clip the protester discusses primarily the cuts made to education and the resulting integration of schools.

To expand briefly over the past 2 years, in New York, 20 schools have been closed in primarily underprivileged areas. Philadelphia has been subjected to this as well as Chicago which closed 49 of the recommended 54 schools this year. The students belonging to those schools then get sent to another building where two schools are co-located. When this happens those students end up having to readjust to a new social environment while they are getting their educations. Not only this but the teachers as well have to adjust to a larger student body who is also adjusting to a new group of classmates. The only thing that really doesn’t readjust is the space provided for education after co-location.

Usually the justification for closing the schools is a lack of resources, a deficit, or poor student performance. At the same time though Chicago found the money to build a multimillion dollar sports complex the same year as the closings. Also, in general this country spends 10’s of thousands of dollars to pay for prison inmates, for example. Far less money is put towards educational systems which could keep said kids out of trouble and out of prison (and we’ve established the Prison Industrial Complex houses mostly Black and Latinos, who are most affected by school closures). Also, a failure to tax the wealthy will often result in a deficit. When you have a deficit and don’t fund education properly you very often end up with poor student performance as they are not given the resources they need. All together it makes for a very convincing argument that education is just not working and there is legitimate reason to close schools and invest in privatized education. “The kids just aren’t learning!”

Needless to say a call to action had been recognized and the crowds proved it. Watch footage of a march led by the NAACP.

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A helicopter flies overhead (as it passed over the crowds underneath would wave to it).

A helicopter flies overhead (as it passed over the crowds underneath would wave to it).

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Read a summary of the march here…

Dr. King’s legacy was one of non-violence. It was not a legacy of non-violence because King did not believe in standing up for oneself (the entire civil rights movement was about standing up for yourself). It was a legacy of non-violence because at the time no matter how much black people were beaten, if there was even the slightest retaliation, the retaliation would be what made the news. Today, we look back and see the virtues of non-violent civil disobedience as a sign of love, and a peaceful redress of grievances. Back then it was much more strategic.

To honor Dr. King’s legacy the NYC Light Brigade went down to D.C. to take part in the march on the 24th but also to remember the civil rights leader, in their own way, the night before. In addition to attending in support of the anniversary the Light Brigade had a slightly different message to show. The absurdity of what they ended up dealing with highlighted even more of the institutional digression which has taken place throughout America for everyone.

The NYC Light Brigade joined the Light Brigade Maryland and the Veterans for Peace by the Lincoln Memorial. While both Light Brigade groups proceeded to the steps of the Lincoln memorial for a light show; the Veterans had speak-outs of a sensibly anti-war nature… but there was another element to them…

Introductory talk from the Veterans for Peace.

Veteran Tarak speaks and compares President Obama to Dr. King.

Next a woman addressed the group and read a poem.

Following the speak-outs as the Veterans proceeded to the Vietnam memorial the Light Brigades were already putting on their light shows…

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Following the display at the Lincoln Memorial the Veterans and the Light Brigades made their way to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. All they wanted to do was spell the phrase “We Have A Dream.” They were not allowed and as such speak-outs were held to voice discontent.

They did eventually get into the memorial though…

Here is an account from Athena of the NYC Light Brigade:
“After we were told by an assault rifle-armed park officer that we were not allowed into the MLK memorial with our letter panels, we realized that taking any shots of our Light Brigade messages in front of the MLK statue would be next to impossible. But we did not just go away. Rather we stood, with our message all lined up in our allotted space: the 3′ wide sidewalk between the water and the monument grounds. Martin Luther King was in fact behind us, but good luck getting back far enough to get any sort of all-encompassing shot. All we needed was to stand a few feet into ‘monument grounds’ to get the shot we needed: Our letters spelling out I HAVE A DREAM and Martin Luther King solemnly looking out over them. There we persisted, trying any calm tactic we could think of: singing ‘We Shall Overcome’, trying to level with the guard (“come on man, just one picture”), individuals going up and talking to him one-on-one.”

Watch a scene from the confrontation with the US Park Service.

A US Park Service guard. Note the assault rifle. They apparently carry those normally.

A US Park Service guard. Note the assault rifle. They apparently carry those normally.

The Light Brigade could only stand on the left side of the line here.

The Light Brigade could only stand on the left side of the line here.

A US Park Service member.

A US Park Service member.

US Park Service members discussing how to deal with the protest.

US Park Service members discussing how to deal with the protest.

The Light Brigade standing in their allotted space preparing to leave the MLK memorial in letter sequence.

The Light Brigade standing in their allotted space preparing to leave the MLK memorial in letter sequence.

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It’s worth noting how the harassment the NYC Light Brigade received at the MLK Memorial may have been related to this anti-protest bill.

The next stop was the White House…

Read an account from Light Brigade member Marilu:

“In the van on our way to the next location, I mentioned how much you can get away with if you are saying that you are making a video, a movie, or a commercial when it has nothing to do with anything relevant, and are even allowed to go into private areas. When we arrived at the White House, we were told that we were allowed to stand on the street; if on the sidewalk, then we had to keep moving; and to not lean on the fence. It was nighttime, and not many people were around the already unlit White House. As we noticed a group of drunk tourists leaning on the fence without being disturbed, we approached the sidewalk and started to assemble for the picture… ‘What are you guys doing?” one of the policemen asked as he approached us. “We are Art students!!’ I instinctively yelled out, loudly, so that everyone could hear and maybe follow… ‘it’s a thesis project (minding our ages), we brought helpers, been working on it for a while, thanks!’ The policeman responded ‘Oh!, heh, OK!… As long as y’all are not protesting or anythin’ like that! heheh.'”

“I could not believe, how, in front of the President’s abode itself, the security was letting us do what we peacefully intended to do in front of the statue of MLK Jr. because we said we were art students. In front of a statue of Dr. King though, we were not allowed to assemble and take pictures like tourists would; they knew we were protesters and activists, not drunk tourists, or art students making their thesis project, or filming a commercial… so we were harassed.”

“What school are y’all from???” The other guard came up to ask defiantly. “Pratt!, in Brooklyn” I yelled, thinking of how one of the people in our group (Athena) had just told me she went to Pratt and majored in painting. “We came all the way here!”

“So the policemen stood there and watched us take the picture in the sidewalk, with the drunk tourists helping us to hold up the letters as we engaged the small crowd to help us. Some of the younger ‘helpers’ started asking me what we were really doing; and as I started explaining the message and that they were helping the Light brigade with their messaging, they would fill up with pride and smile with their letters.”

The first message the Light Brigade displayed was the following…

wake up and dream kyle

The second one they displayed was done so that they could make the following for when Barack Obama would speak on Wednesday at the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

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That photo was included in a twitter storm for “#IHaveADrone” which went into action as President Obama was speaking on the 28th.

Here are some tweets:

@YourAnonNews
#IHaveADrone that one day all the children of the world will be able to join hands and not be blown up by flying killer robots.

‏@jamiekilstein
You know what is more disrespectful than #ihaveadrone ? Having Clinton on stage who’s welfare reform destroyed POC.

‏@medeabenjamin
Obama bemoans shrinking economic pie. Cut #drones from budget and save billions. #IHaveADrone

Khaled Z (‏@der_bluthund)
The Secret Drone War (BBC Documentaries):

Khaled Z (‏@der_bluthund)
#IHaveADrone Obama, claims that drone strikes are precise and only target terrorists. But 98% of those killed by drone strikes are civilians

Remi Kanazi ‏(@Remroum)
Obama: Because of civil rights movement society changed. Because of me: Wars expanded, spying increased & corporations thrived. #IHaveADrone

Peaceful Terra-ist ‏(@CyMadD0x)
“One who condones evils is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it.” -MLK. Obama is the perpetrator & condones it #IHaveADrone

Peaceful Terra-ist ‏(@CyMadD0x)
A nation that continues yr after yr to spend more $ on military defense than on social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. #IHaveADrone

RadicalMedia_ (‏@UnToldCarlisle)
MLK 2013: Focus on the task at hand not on the past. From #IHaveADream to #IHaveaDrone is NOT acceptable. #RiseUp

K. Flowers ‏(@Katherine34481)
What would Dr. King say about the murder of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki? K. Flowers ‏(@Katherine34481)
The #IHaveaDream of Martin Luther King to #IHaveaDrone Obama! Return the Nobel Peace Prize pic.twitter.com/swA4ANgtMd

The idea behind this twitter storm, and the juxtaposed photo above, was to critique President Obama for speaking to honor a civil rights leader who stood for peace; all while he carries out what is essentially a global assassination campaign, involving lots of collateral damage and violations of international airspace.

The only thing left to post is Dr. King’s most underrated, most unknown (and possibly his best) speech; which also critiques the country which still has the same war mongering mentality it did during Vietnam.

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