Archive for November 10th, 2011

30 of your fellow American citizens gather at the Larkspur Cafe in Sitka, Alaska to plan for the 2-year anniversary of the Citizens United decision.

Last night, We, the People mobilized to fight back and reclaim our Constitution and our democracy for its human citizens, the ones who vote in elections and to whom our representatives are supposed to be accountable.

On January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed a roaring torrent of unlimited corporate money into our elections in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. In so doing, they twisted the First Amendment far from its intended, long-understood meaning and undermined the very essence of American democracy.

Yesterday evening, more than 200 groups of Americans gathered in living rooms, university classrooms, interfaith centers, cafes, and more than a dozen Occupy sites to join Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and a coalition of organizations working toward a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s outrageous ruling.

And they did more than listen to the Senator and the others on the live stream. They sat down and began planning how to organize in their own communities, and brainstorming grassroots ideas for a Nationwide Day of Action on January 21, 2012 (the two-year anniversary of Citizens United).

The only word that can be used to describe what we’re feeling here right now at the Democracy is For People campaign is “exhilarated.” Tired, but exhilarated… and inspired.

From Senator Sanders’ determined and inspiring words, to the citizens in Boulder, Colorado and Missoula, Montana, who have already passed referenda challenging corporate personhood (by 3-to-1 margins!), there was a lot of motivation for moving forward.

People are planning and organizing in 42 states across the nation. We’ve heard amazing things about last night’s gatherings already. And we’ll be posting here at CitizenVox.org to update readers on some of them as more reports come in.

Amending the Constitution is a difficult task (as it should be). And as Charles Pierce pointed out last week on his Esquire blog, “thanks to the very decision against which this amendment is aimed, the political process to pass it will be as open to corporate money-bombing as any other political process in this country will be for the foreseeable future.”

Yet Americans, and our democracy, are resilient. It was that resilience and energy that Bill Moyers talked about in his keynote address at Public Citizen’s 40th anniversary celebration last month, noting how past generations of Americans have overcome extreme concentrations of wealth and power that undermined democracy, in the process ensuring reforms and constitutional amendments that made us a more perfect Union.

Moyers closed his address by encouraging us all to “Remember: Democracy doesn’t begin at the top; it begins at the bottom, when flesh-and-blood human beings fight to rekindle the patriot’s dream.” Join us in that undertaking. Together we can amend the Constitution to ensure that corporate money is no longer allowed to dominate our politics.

Let’s get to work.

Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with the Democracy is For People campaign.

“I am not a crook.” Whether you remember it like it was yesterday or you hadn’t been born yet– these words, uttered by President Nixon are infamous. Now, thanks to Public Citizen, more of Nixon’s words will at long last be available to the public."richard nixon testimony" "Public Citizen Nixon testimony"

Thanks to a Public Citizen legal victory, a key piece of Watergate history – the grand jury testimony of former President Richard Nixon – will be made public for the first time today by the National Archives and Records Administration. Sealed since 1975, Nixon’s grand jury testimony before the Watergate Special Prosecution Task Force is sure to raise some eyebrows.

In 2010, Public Citizen filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia requesting, on behalf of historian Stanley Kutler, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Archivists, that the court unseal the transcript of Nixon’s testimony and related materials. Public Citizen argued that the testimony should be released because of the exceptional historical importance of Watergate and Nixon’s legacy, and because the concerns that support secrecy of grand jury records no longer apply to this decades-old material.

Allison Zieve, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, was lead counsel for the petitioners.

Although the Department of Justice opposed the release of the grand jury records, Attorney General Eric Holder proposed in October revising the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to acknowledge that historically significant grand jury records should not be kept sealed forever.

In addition to releasing transcripts of Nixon’s testimony, the National Archives will release segments of transcripts of White House conversations taped between 1971 and 1973 that are part of the grand jury record. Unrelated to the testimony, the Archives will make available 45,000 pages from the collection of Nixon’s chief domestic policy aide, sound recordings of Nixon’s recollections of a visit to the Lincoln Memorial and additional video oral histories.

It’s not the first time that Public Citizen has successfully sought release of records with exceptional historical importance. In 1999, Public Citizen attorneys successfully obtained release of the transcript of the Alger Hiss grand jury proceedings.

For more information and legal documents, visit http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=616. For information about what the Archives is releasing, visit http://www.archives.gov/research/investigations/watergate/nixon-grand-jury/. And to get in touch with one of our experts on this– drop a line to me, Lady Liberty, at engage (at) citizen dot org.

 

Flickr by Galería de Faustino

Most of us assume that the “extend and pretend” mindset stops at the water’s edge in Washington. But lately, we’re seeing the same mindset flourishing in Europe. By refusing to deal with structural deficiencies affecting the global financial system, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are only prolonging the misery that we will suffer and compounding the problems that they will ultimately be forced to reckon with.

In Washington, many people make believe that the tepid attempts to restore financial stability by Congress, the Treasury Department, and the Federal Reserve were sufficient to put us on the road to economic recovery. They maintain that the banks have suddenly become safe and sound, that the housing crisis will eventually turn itself around, and the unemployed will secure decent jobs. Reality indicates otherwise.

In Europe, many people make believe that over-indebted countries’ long-term economic troubles can be cured by imposing drastic austerity measures on those countries and substantial haircuts on their creditors. That’s also wishful thinking. The truth is that such an approach does nothing to solve Greece’s and Europe’s long-term problems. It only buys time for European leaders to figure out how to save French and German banks from a cascade of imminent sovereign defaults. And the near term consequences of imposing austerity measures will be even more damaging than allowing a coordinated default. Such belt-tightening measures tend to slow growth, increase unemployment, and expand the burden on the private sector to pick up where the government has left off.

Without bold action, the United States and the European Union are on a dangerous course.

In the United States, politicians and regulators must finally make the financial system safer. They have the tools to constrain systemically dangerous institutions that pose grave threats to financial stability; they just need to use those tools. Additionally, they must once and for all attack the mortgage foreclosure crisis, requiring principal reductions based on honest assessments of current real estate values. Finally, they must create jobs programs to mitigate persistently high unemployment.

In the European Union, government officials must decide whether they want to stay on the Euro currency. If they don’t want to make the marriage last, they must figure out the most prudent dissolution plan. On the other hand, if they do want to make it last, they must get to the heart of the E.U.’s structural dilemma: there is a unified currency without a unified fiscal policy.

Unlike the U.S., the E.U. does not provide a federal baseline safety net for its member countries. The European Parliament’s budget is less than one percent of GDP (approximately $100 billion). Thus, the lion’s share of government spending is pushed onto the individual member nations, but this requires the member nations to accumulate more and more debt, which raises their borrowing costs and places them in a vicious debt trap. As a frame of reference, this spending dynamic would be equivalent to the United States having an annual budget of approximately $140 billion and requiring states to pay for all government services. That would force states to rack up insurmountable levels of debt and would quickly prove to be unsustainable.

The biggest danger from inaction here and abroad is from a disorderly breakup in Europe or a slew of European sovereign defaults. Either of these scenarios would spark contagion throughout Europe and across our shores. Because our banks are directly and substantially tied to Europe’s financial health through U.S. money market mutual funds and derivatives contracts, it would not take long for calamity in Europe to adversely affect our financial system. U.S. banks’ total exposure to a European collapse could reach $3 trillion. The ensuing fallout from such a catastrophe would easily place us right back into the depths of another global financial crisis.

We cannot afford for our leaders, both foreign and domestic, to continue to kick the can down the road. While preserving the status quo may be convenient, it will not fix our global financial system’s flaws. More fundamental changes are necessary but they are possible.

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