Supreme Court

Apparently the Citizens United ruling two years ago was not a big enough blow for democracy. The United States Supreme Court just ruled that Montana’s laws placing limits on campaign financing by corporations are unconstitutional, and they have been repealed. This opens the floodgates to corporations and unions being able to contribute as much as they please to any candidate they please, both on the local and national levels. Electioneering is here, and it has been ruled in by our highest court.Supreme Court

This ruling is a huge violation of both states’ rights and individual voting power. States no longer have the ability to decide who can donate how much to election candidates, so large interests are essentially able to influence elections without any oversight in their spending. Individuals will have a hard time getting their voices heard through the constant bombardment of TV, internet, and billboard ads, and so the most-used avenues of communication have been rendered ineffective to us.

So how do we, as private citizens, counter the force of practically unlimited spending? We can only counter it by working together. A march of thousands cannot be ignored, and the internet still allows us to communicate ideas freely via social networks. If you feel strongly about how democracy is changing in the U.S., do something about it.

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Jamie Dimon’s Hearing: Going Through the Motions

Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, had his Senate hearing on Wednesday regarding his bank’s $2 billion in trading losses (which were funded with Federal money). Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone offered a play-by-play of the hearing with his own commentary sprinkled in.

The hearing was a pathetic excuse for enforcement of banking regulations. Jamie Dimon was clearly in charge of the proceedings as senators neglected to ask him tough questions or press further into his bank’s trading practices. Dimon repeatedly avoided the topic of his bank’s losses being caused by hedging versus betting on derivative securities, and senators made no real attempt to extract a damning confession from him.

There is an obvious reason why the hearing was so anemic: the senators on the banking committee were motivated by J.P. Morgan Chase’s campaign contributions, over which Dimon undoubtedly holds much sway. The private banking sector has become completely intertwined with the Federal government through its connections with the Federal Reserve and its influence over political campaigns.

This hearing is simply the latest unheeded reminder of how corrupt our government and banking system has become. Jamie Dimon and his friends at J.P. Morgan Chase will likely not serve a moment in prison for their crimes, although baseball legends are being prosecuted for lying about steroid use. Which of these is a larger crime? How can we have any faith in our elected officials when they are so corrupt that they sit back and watch the deterioration of our country when they have the power to act?

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From Quebec to Egypt: Democracy Silenced

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring a year and a half ago, many countries have undergone major political change. Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Ghadaffi, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali have been ousted from Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia respectively. The uprisings also spread to the Western world in the form of the Occupy protests, which have raised awareness of the inequality gap present in first world nations and revealed a disconnect between the people and authority (see our other articles on the subject).

But the protests are not over yet, and democracy is still being trampled as those in positions of power attempt to exert control. The UN plans to condemn the Canadian government for enacting legislation that infringes upon the fundamental right to protest. UN Watch’s press release also calls attention to a troubling matter: although the UN is criticizing the Canadian government, it is neglecting to mention the enormous violence in Syria and the daily human rights abuses that occur in China. In fact, the UN recently suspended its observation operations in Syria due to the high level of violence there. It was forced to do so after violence escalated and Russia and China blocked the possibility of further intervention. These countries see Western intervention as unwanted influence on their side of the world. Allowing Syrian violence to be diminished could also turn the spotlight back to those countries’ human rights offenses.

Egypt is also in a state of near martial law. Its military recently declared itself to be the major power base in the country; it usurped legislative and budgetary powers, thus diminishing the power of the newly elected president. It seems that the Tahrir Square protests were for naught, and the UN is unlikely to step in to maintain the democratic process.

So the UN is forced to do the only thing it can do – back off of the countries where the real problems lie, and focus on those nations where a condemnation by the UN may have some effect. Canada is still a democratic nation with properly functioning institutions, and a condemnation by the UN may turn enough heads to reverse the draconian anti-protest legislation that was passed. But unfortunately, without a fully united UN Security Council, no real progress can be made in those countries where citizens suffer not only financially, but also physically.

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Putin tightens his grasp over Russian politics

According to Reuters, Russian president Vladimir Putin is tightening his grip on Russia’s political environment. The ex-KGB spy has initiated raids against protest organizers and activists who claim that his regime is illegitimate. Protester’s against Putin’s rule have been using the internet to organize themselves, and thus hard drives and other computer equipment are being confiscated.

Putin uses Russia’s police as a baton to maintain his personal power. Many Russians say that “it is 1937,” a reference to the deadliest year of Josef Stalin’s rule where he crushed political opposition and carried out purges on the populace. The parallel is obvious; during Stalin’s rule, the party line was that allegiance to the Communist party was paramount. During Putin’s rule, maintaining political stability (see: current government) is paramount, and similar tactics are being used to enforce the status quo.

Russia is today practically a corporacratic state. Putin is essentially the CEO of a corporation equipped with a powerful military and enormous energy resources. The corporation’s goal is also, like all others, profit. Putin craves economic growth that will further grow Russia’s military and help it to regain its former power. United States analysts note that Russia is a “virtual mafia state” due to Putin’s control over paramilitary forces and energy infrastructure that allows him to maintain power by keeping others in power. The Russian government is also notoriously corrupt. Russia took #143/183 on Transparency International’s corruption index .

So, Communism is gone but Russia is still an oppressive state run by a near-dictator. Who would have thought that repression came from a personal hunger for power despite the political allegiances of tyrants?

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Scott Walker’s Robo-Calls: Attempts at disenfranchisement

The Ed Show has some disturbing news. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s under-recall governor, is having his campaign make robo-calls to Wisconsin voters who signed the recall petition or voted against him in the previous election. These robo-calls tell voters that they do not have to vote today because they already registered their vote against Walker. In reality, voting is still very much required to make one’s voice heard. Walker’s campaign is actively trying to disenfranchise voters by spreading misinformation. I don’t know who his PR manager is, but s/he is not doing their job.

To those readers in Wisconsin: Remember to vote; the election is still on!

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Burn Pits and the lack of accountability

According to The Washington Post, forces in Afghanistan have taken to disposing of the trash produced by the Afganistan war in the cheapest, most environmentally unfriendly way possible. The “millions of kilograms of waste” produced by the war effort are being destroyed by burning in huge pits next to military bases, dubbed “Burn Pits.” These pits are filled with “plastic water bottles, Styrofoam food containers, mangled bits of metal, paint, solvent, medical waste, even dead animals.” The waste is simply doused with fuel and set aflame without any care for which way the wind is blowing or what materials are being released into the air by the burning. This disposal method sounds like something that the villainous Taliban would do, and it brings back memories of Saddam Hussein’s burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields in the first Gulf War. But this is the method employed by the U.S. military, the most advanced military force in the world.

Aside from the obvious environmental harm that large-scale outdoor waste burning causes, it also contributes to serious health concerns for American personnel. Many servicemen and women have contracted rare forms of cancer in Afghanistan that may be linked to these burn pits. Military officials say open burning was often the best — if not the only — option for getting rid of huge amounts of trash. No trash-removal system existed; incinerators are expensive and take time to install; and the military lacked the time and space to build landfills on bases. These statements seem ludicrous given the size and funding of the military; the idea that administrators had planned for the construction of these installations without a suitable method  for waste disposal indicates gross incompetence and mismanagement of resources.Who will be responsible for this mess? Who will pay the medical bills of the people who inhaled the toxic fumes of the pits, and how will the mess be cleaned up? For all of the military’s emphasis on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghani people, it seems that it has a very long way to go. Burning trash in open-topped pits with plumes of poisonous fumes wafting over the supposed liberators hardly seems like a good image to show to the local populace.

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Retired Philly Police Captain Arrested at Occupy Wall Street

It has somehow only just surfaced that on November 17th retired Philadelphia Police captain Ray Lewis, 60, was arrested at Occupy Wall Street in his old uniform (The rest of this paragraph is a summary for the lazy). He was chastised by Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and the Fraternal Order of Police after being arrested in Zuccotti Park. Lewis has not let the incident deter him. On Monday, he arrived at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, wearing his uniform as a symbol of his dedication to the police force. Standing by a stone engraved with the First Amendment, Lewis told a crowd that “I will not idly stand by while law enforcement is administered only to the poor and disenfranchised while the rich flaunt their immunity.”

A protester adjusts the hat of Ray Lewis at an Occupy Philly event in front of Independence Hall.

This is what we need. Those who oppose the Occupy movement will point out the counterculture-esque sleeves of the person adjusting Lewis’ hat. But the photo above reflects an apparent shift in the usual paradigm between protester and police. Most of the photos we see of Occupy protests depict the teargas bombardments in Oakland reminiscent of Greek riots, or college students being casually pepper-sprayed as they sit in silent civil disobedience. Maybe the image of a man who was dutifully employed for 26 years as a police chief seen standing with the protesters will finally shake the opinions of the “only unemployed hippies protest” crowd. The lack of care for such an obvious, widespread, and needed movement in the country is downright frightening. What is needed is not more bongo drums, but more people like Mr. Ray Lewis.

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