The Idea of Open-Source Politics and Crowd-Sourcing Leadership

OccupyCongress17JAN2012FlickrJBrazito.jpgThe hallowed halls of a once respected US government are now filled with the hollow promises of an impotent governing class. In a political landscape riddled with indecision, political pageantry and growing despotism, the people are hungry for a leadership that represents them. Instead, we are faced with a corporatocracy – one hellbent on the consolidation of wealth and power rather than the proliferation of freedom and justice.

Believe it or not, there was a time when representative government worked on behalf of the people, but those days have long succumbed to the political distortions of misguided leaders. Thus, the age old questions remain: If it is possible to revitalize the self-governing power potential of the ‘We the People’, then what might be a viable alternative or how might we augment the current system to provide the infrastructure for a change of guard? Perhaps by looking to the revolutionary ideas of the internet and the co-creative force of its users and developers we can begin to find the answers.

One of the groundbreaking ideas that the internet has provided is that of open-source development, which promotes the universal access to a product’s design as well as redistribution of that design. This developmental model set by programmers and software developers exemplifies the highest order of free trade, and serves to utilize the best ideas for the overall benefit of the system. If we are to apply a similar model as the framework for government, we begin to see parallels between open-source programming and the ideas put forth by America’s founding fathers.

Unfortunately, the fundamental ideology of the US political system has been absent from view for quite some time. The growing disconnect between the people and their representatives has led to a lag in public representation, thus resulting in a severe lack of people’s interests and ideas being properly expressed by US legislation.

A recent example of this contrast is illustrated in the debate over the legalization of marijuana, where an overwhelming public support for legalization has not been echoed by the government, nor the legislation regarding the issue. However, the ‘War on Drugs’ is only one of many examples which illustrates the delay we are experiencing in our current democratic process.

In a world where efficiency and speed are essential to human progress, it’s unfortunate that our legislative powers have become cumbersome and inefficient. However, the internet’s crowd-sourcing concept could provide us with the possibility to facilitate some level of autonomy, where the average individual has the ability to exercise their right to self-representation.

The idea of crowd-sourcing was first referenced by Jeff Howe of Wired magazine, and can be best understood as the purposeful re-appropriation of resources for achieving a particular goal by an indeterminate group of individuals. Much like open-source programming which relies upon a multitude of contributors, so too does crowd-sourcing rely upon the involvement and contributions of the collective.

There are many examples of crowd-sourcing being used throughout the internet today.  Chemists have crowd-sourced protein folding techniques, YouTube has done so with entertainment, Facebook with different language versions of it’s site, while politicians and artists alike have crowd-sourced funding for their campaigns and projects. If this is a successful tool for science, entertainment and finance, couldn’t it also be possible to apply crowd-sourcing to politics?

Endless possibilities could present themselves once we focus the “spare processing power of millions of human brains” towards the evolution of political representation. For example, a truly participatory system could unfold which no longer relies upon single individuals to represent the will of many, but instead allows all people to become micro-leaders in a process of collective representation. Although this idea may seem farfetched, it’s not far from the framework that helped to build this country’s political ideology.

The founding fathers believed that public office should be held by its citizens, to act as contributors as well as beneficiaries in an effort to provide society with a fair and just governing body. As we continue to evolve socially and intellectually, it’s the hope that our leadership would incorporate the enlightened ideas of the past as well as those that propel us into the future. If they don’t, ‘We the People’ can and will find ways to represent ourselves through active participation in the political process.

As more and more people wake up to the corruption of the current system and the lack of political reflection on a federal level, passive acceptance of oligarchical rule will end, soon to be replaced by an active contribution in the political progress of this country, and ultimately, the world.

Written by Justin Blush for Media Roots

Photo by FlickrJBrazito

The State of Surveillance and Our Fight for Freedom

The United States surveillance state has grown to a level never witnessed before in history. Following the revelations of Edward Snowden, the world is now privy to the lengths to which the U.S. government has been watching every single one of us in the global community. International governments caught off guard by the breadth of the United States spying program are now questioning to what extent they want their internet traffic funneling through U.S. servers and ISPs.

In all aspects of the global contemporary life, the U.S. government has found its way into the far reaches of personal space. From NSA email and phone spy programs, to FBI surveillance drones, the airwaves are filled with the prying eyes of our so-called protectors. These discriminating eyes which have creeped their way into every facet of our lives continue to intensify their surveillance efforts across the planet.

It all begs the question, what is it they are so afraid of? Why the need for such an extensive surveillance program? What threat do “We the People” pose to the powers that be? The proliferation of these programs began with the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping and the FISA amendments act of 2008, and has continued on through into the Obama administration who renewed those changes in U.S. surveillance law in 2012.

Government officials from all sides have attempted to defend the programs by rationalizing the need for added security in a post 9/11 world. Former NSA director Michael Hayden earlier this week on Sunday spoke from the pulpit of a previous generation of politicians, a generation whose ideas of government revolve around secrecy and political ambiguity. He defended the United States’ “militarization of the World Wide Web” and spoke out against the anonymity of the internet and the tension it creates “between security and Liberty.”  A tension that has been over inflated by the misguided fears of the United States Government.

Those fears became apparent when Edward Snowden leaked sensitive documents to the Washington Post and The Guardian earlier this year, giving us a peek into the NSA spying efforts of PRISM. A program whose legal justification found its roots in FISA and began with a marriage between the NSA and tech giant Microsoft on September 11, 2007. A relationship which would mark the first in a long stream of technology titans finding their way into the bed of the NSA, including prominent companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Apple and others.

Although the Snowden documents implicate these companies first hand knowledge of the program, many of them have argued that they knew nothing of the PRISM program and the extent of the government’s surveillance activities. In an attempt to win back the trust of their users, many have now begun campaigns to prioritize the privacy of their customers.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has warned the U.S. government that its venture into voyeurism will only lead to bad business on the international level, initiating further apprehension from international customers.  Zuckerberg went onto say that “the more transparency the government has, the better folks would feel.” How convenient are the campaigns of these companies to prioritize privacy when previously they showed no interest. Their efforts to protect the people look more like a concerted effort to protect their pockets and the positions of power and influence they currently hold.

With the assistance of their corporate cohorts and their control of the majority of the world’s servers, the United States has been granted the responsibility of gatekeeper of a global information network – a network which grants them access to some of the most intimate aspects of human interaction. From 2007 onward the NSA and the United States government would become the proud owners of some of the world’s most sensitive information, the information of the People, both foreign and domestic.

From this moment forward, intelligence gathering would no longer be focused primarily on the criminal activities of state enemies but would encompass the whole of internet communication. Unsuspecting and in many cases, innocent global citizens would now become the focus of government inquiry without the need of court permission. While incrementally dissolving the people’s right to privacy the government has simultaneously relinquished the trust of the American people and the people of the world.

An inherent distrust was implied when our government implemented a surveillance program of this magnitude – a distrust which is reciprocated by the people in the form of resentment and ultimately anger. If it is true that the anonymity of the internet is such a threat to freedom as they say, then let us also recognize that the anonymity of U.S. surveillance programs is an equal if not greater threat to the preservation of a free society.

Unfortunately, it has been our government’s decision to give precedence to “security” while neglecting our long honored tradition of freedom. It’s a decision which exemplifies the despotism that has grown throughout the hallowed halls of a once respected United States government. This despotism is forged through the partnerships of corporations and government leadership that seek to solidify their positions of power instead of leading a nation of free people.

Fortunately, the internet has provided the people a platform to stand shoulder to shoulder with the titans of modern society and profess their beliefs and ideas in an equal forum for all to hear. This free forum will continue to give rise to people power movements the world over, despite government attempts to quiet public dissidence. Edward Snowden along with Barrett Brown, Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks are just the beginning of people power representatives, that in a reciprocating effort, will continue to expose the secrets of despotic governments in the same way they seek to expose the secrets of the people.

No longer are the governments of the world free from the watchful eye of public discourse. So long as the United States government continues its pursuit for a surveillance state, “We the People” will stand in opposition to that state, in our fight for freedom.

Written by Justin Blush for Media Roots

Incarceration: a New American Pastime

In 1984, a newly formed company Corrections Corporation of America acquired the United States’ very first corrections facility contract for the state of Tennessee. This was the first time in American history that a private, for-profit corporation would control and care for the nation’s incarcerated.

Over the next 28 years, the power and reach of the privatized prison system consumed over half of the country’s prison institutions and, in turn, led to a six-fold increase in prisons and inmate capacity in the U.S. The number of correctional facilities and unwarranted incarcerations in America will continue to increase so long as the corporate takeover of U.S. prisons is driven by a corporate philosophy that revolves around perpetual profits and growth.

When we consider the growth of American industry over the past ten years, we are faced with the fact it has continued to struggle to keep afloat through multiple wars and recession. Conversely, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), like many of the independent prison operators, has experienced considerable growth and profits, with most of that growth occurring over the past decade. This phenomenon is not limited to CCA either—its rival, the GEO Group, has experienced similar growth. In 2003, CCA traded near $6.00/share and it now currently sells near $34.00/share (NASDAQ).

Both companies, CCA and GEO Group reported their total revenue for 2011 at around $1.7 billion, further proving that the private corrections industry is thriving. With their success, these companies have begun to own and operate their own facilities as well. CCA now owns and operates 66 facilities; the GEO Group now has 65 in their possession.  In the recession, both companies have thrived not only on an increased demand for prison capacity, but on a corporate philosophy that places profits above anything else.

The contemporary philosophy in corporate America maintains that perpetual profits and aggressive growth is the only path to success. The current model perpetuates a survival–of-the-fittest, take-no-prisoners attitude, where the success of the corporation is paramount. With the current framework, the goal of benefiting society as a whole becomes secondary to that of the success of the corporation. “Unfortunately, we live in a world of capitalists who thrive on the great Myth of Perpetual Growth, endless growth, ad-infinitum, forever, till the end of time”.

We see this business philosophy every day at department stores as they shill the week’s hot new product. We see it every year at Black Friday when companies try to outdo the previous year’s successes. As a nation run by corporate capitalism, we assume perpetual growth is guaranteed, even though we live in a world of limited resources and consumers. The problem of this philosophy not only exists in department stores, but it also exists in the far reaches of our government as well, and can be seen in the public statements of companies like CCA that tout their constant construction of new facilities and new beds for more inmates. This corporate philosophy of perpetual growth has become a cancer, and exists in all areas public and private, affecting all facets of our society.

At the time the first contract was awarded to CCA, in 1984, there were 903 state-run correctional facilities in the United States, incarcerating a total of 395,309 inmates. In 2005 the number of prisons had doubled to 1,821 facilities and the number of inmates had grown to over 1.4 million. From 2005 until 2010 the number of inmates climbed to a staggering 2,266,832 nearly doubling the number of inmates in a five year period (U.S. Census). In addition to the unprecedented increase in prisons and inmates we have also seen an increase in unwarranted arrests and incarcerations in the United States over the past few years.

The most notable of cases has been in New York, which Mayor Bloomberg has repeatedly touted as the “safest big city in America.” He has been able to claim this due to the increase of arrests throughout the city over the past decade and with the implementation of the highly questionable “stop and frisk” policy. The Village Voice recently helped in bringing to light the truth about how New York City police departments had established an arrest quota for their officers. The officers were given the choice to either abide by these guidelines or risk losing their jobs due to non-compliance. Since this story broke, a plethora of similar  accounts have come to light, such as the recent development of the “Cash for Kids” scandal, where elected judge of Pennsylvania, Mark Ciavarella, received millions of dollars in kickbacks for child convictions to fill the beds of a private juvenile detention center owned by Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp. Cases such as these are only a symptom of a much greater sickness within our corrections system. By continuing to allow the privatization of prisons in America, we contribute to the incremental degradation of our human rights, and further establish a totalitarian justice system which no longer upholds law, but instead does the bidding of its corporate controllers.

Some have argued though, that there is no direct relationship between the privatization of the prison system and the increased incarcerations in America. There is, of course, the possibility that this growth is due to an increase in population and other social factors that led to increased criminal activity. If that were the case, we can conclude companies like CCA and the GEO Group are merely providing the United States with a much needed service. If this logic were true though, other countries struggling with similar population growth, poverty, and social tensions would see a similar rise in their prison populations. As it stands, the U.S. leads the pack, as we incarcerate more citizens than any other country in the world. China, with the world’s highest population and most impoverished people, trails behind us.

The undeniable correlation between the time frame of the sudden increases in size of the U.S. prison system and its inmates, in addition to the creation of the private corrections companies and their government contracts, further establishes that they must be inextricably linked. If we are to take back control of our disproportionate corrections operations, we must first decouple profits from incarceration. Once corporations are not rewarded for imprisoning citizens, then we will have the social space to examine and correct the roots of criminal behavior, instead of just profiting from them.

 Written by Justin Blush for Media Roots