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  (Source: Tristar Pictures)
Lobbyist bribery goes to waste for once, as Rep. Smith is forced to "postpone" SOPA indefinitely

UPDATE: PIPA is "dead"/postponed too... details at the end of the piece.

Over the weekend U.S. President Barack Obama's (D) cabinet hinted that he might veto the pending House's "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) (H.R. 3261) and Senate's "PROTECT IP Act" (PIPA) (S.968) out of concern that the bills Orwellian takedown provisions could damage the legitimate internet economy.  

I. The Rat Returns

With the support of politically enemy-turned-friend House Oversight Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Eric Cantor(R-Virg.) was compelled to promise to shelve any potential vote in the Republican-controlled House in terms of passing SOPA.  It was finally over -- the months of populist protest online, media criticism, and criticism from the online industry's top innovators like Google Inc. (GOOG) had paid off.  They had won.

Or so they thought.  On Monday support SOPA rose up from the dead, after Rep. Lamar Smith (R- Tex.) -- the bill's author in the House of Representatives -- said he would bring the bill to the floor for minor revisions and a February vote.  That led to the largest online protest that America has ever seen with tens of millions of Americans taking to the internet to post protest message, email their representatives, call their representatives, and sign petitions.

The bold populist outcry seemed to work.  First some Congresspeople jumped ship.  Then more did.

But even yesterday Rep. Smith -- whose office had done its fair share of copyright infringing -- was quoted as dismissing his constituents protest as a "publicity stunt" and vowing to ignore the people and bring the bill to vote.

II. Cornered, SOPA Meets Its End (For Now)

But on Friday afternoon a weay Rep. Smith took to the internet, tail tucked and admitted defeat, agreeing for the first time to shelve the bill.  The key word is he used is "postponed".  So it's fair to say SOPA is dead, but if you've ever played Resident Evil or watched South Park SOPA is a bit like Wesker or Kenny -- it may be dead -- but it will likely return next episode.

Rep. Smith ears shut
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) has finally listened after purposefully ignoring the criticism about SOPA for so long. [Image Source: Know Your Meme]

In his statement Rep. Smith writes:

The problem of online piracy is too big to ignore. American intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs and account for more than 60 percent of U.S. exports. The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs.  Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while American innovators and job creators are under attack.

The online theft of American intellectual property is no different than the theft of products from a store.  It is illegal and the law should be enforced both in the store and online.

The Committee will continue work with copyright owners, Internet companies, financial institutions to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property.  We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem.  The Committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.

The numbers are debatable, but Rep. Smith is right on one key issue -- online piracy is an issue that needs to be addressed in some form.  Whether it should be big media finding easier ways to distribute content legally online, such as challenging Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) exclusivity contracts and bullying, which limit the number of legal distribution outlets, or the government finding a way to balance the rights of intellectual property holders with the people's right to reasonable justice, there's certainly cause to look for level-handed solutions in the public and private sector.

But at the same time Rep. Smith's statement is problematic as it couples two very different issues -- domestic piracy (sharing copyrighted works illegally via torrents, P2P, streaming, etc.) and foreign piracy.  

Foreign piracy is already a vast sea to navigate on, as it includes everything from stealing proprietary chipmaking technique from American fabs or engine part design from American fighter jets to your everyday bazaar merchant selling phony DVD copies of popular American films.  These kinds of abuses needs to be addressed, but in recent years Congress and the White House have essentially meekly bowed to China -- arguably the biggest single infringer of American goods -- afraid to speak up against it.

So when Rep. Lamar Smith talks about fighting foreign piracy, that's great but SOPA and Congress's past actions have done scant little to challenge infringer nations like China.  What they have done a whole lot to impose Orwellian takedown on the internet and punitive punishment on the American people.

III. Federal Bribery Must be Stopped

All of the piracy debate also overshadows a far greater base issue -- the allowance of blatant bribery in American federal politics.

Anti-streaming lobbyists paid an estimated 10 percent of all active U.S. Senators' combined election costs ($86M USD) and an unspecified amount (like in the high tens to low hundreds of millions of dollars) to the U.S. Congress, according to extensive research.  It's nice to see this kind of blatant bribery attempt fail for once.

But the real issue here is that if the bribery was smaller and the "bought" legislation didn't involve dramatic erosions of rights and free enterprise that SOPA did, the American people probably would have ignored it -- in fact that's what they been doing for a good couple decades now, as lobbying has grown into a flourishing mega-industry in the capital.

bribery pays
It's hard to get anything done in Washington these days without a bribe.
[Image Source: Google Images]

The end result is that while the American taxpayer and small business labor slavishly to pay their tax debt, the corporations with well-heeled lobbyists enjoy "tax holidays" and government grants.  These are kickbacks for bribes, plain as day, but politicians pretty them up with softer speak.

A recent peer-reviewed research study by the University of Kansas' business school showed that for every $1 spent bribing politicians in Washington D.C., corporate donors get an estimated $222 USD in tax exemptions and other financial kickbacks.  This bribery must be recognized and must be put to an end.  It is anti-innovation.  It is anti-freedom.  It is anti-American.

It is a huge problem that Americans must address, as they look back on their victory over SOPA and big media special interests.

UPDATED:

PIPA, written by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (very similar to the House's Republican-written SOPA) is also dead or delayed ("postponed").  In a press release Sen. Reid echoes the words of his Republican colleague, Rep. Smith, writing:

In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act.

There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved. Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices. We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.

I admire the work that Chairman Leahy has put into this bill. I encourage him to continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet. We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.

The only major difference between Sen. Reid's and Sen. Smith's commentary seems to be little tidbits of party-appropriate rhetoric, designed to pander to their base's sensibilities.

Sen. Reid's uses a "union" analogy, in an effort to sway Democrat voters, while Sen. Smith's focus on "foreign" threats and his vow to "work with... financial institutions" buzz words he clearly hopes will please his voters.

Sources: Lamar Smith, Harry Reid, NPR [$1 lobbyist = $222 tax breaks]



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RE: Here here
By Ryrod on 1/20/2012 5:56:34 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
but if it's gotten to the point that we have to cut our Constitution in half and split the country up between "us" and the "corporations"


Can you elaborate, please? I'm confused as to what you mean by this statement.


RE: Here here
By Reclaimer77 on 1/20/2012 6:02:42 PM , Rating: 1
Just seems like it would lead to a lot of prejudicial situations. Let's say I'm rich because my parents left me a huge inheritance and I want to give a candidate or Congressman $10 million dollars for something, whatever. I'm not affiliated with a corporation in any way. So legally I could do that, but a Corporation couldn't? And what's to stop a Corporation from hiding a money trail and doing the same thing though a third party?

It just seems like a HUGE mess to me. A them vs. us mentality.

Not to mention you guys are REALLY cranking up the class warfare, which grates me for some reason because it's intellectually dishonest. Money is NOT the root of all our evils.


RE: Here here
By JasonMick (blog) on 1/20/2012 6:35:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Just seems like it would lead to a lot of prejudicial situations. Let's say I'm rich because my parents left me a huge inheritance and I want to give a candidate or Congressman $10 million dollars for something, whatever. I'm not affiliated with a corporation in any way. So legally I could do that, but a Corporation couldn't? And what's to stop a Corporation from hiding a money trail and doing the same thing though a third party?

You're right, but that's what investigative journalism is for.

It seems you're essentially admitting that corporations purchasing favors is bad, but you're saying it's too hard to stop.
quote:
It just seems like a HUGE mess to me. A them vs. us mentality.

Only among the clueless/thoughtless.

Some corporations don't exploit the system for tax breaks. But when it's so easy, many do.

I have nothing against corporations as a business entity, but I do have serious objections to corporate bribery.

Corporations are all about the bottom line, which means they're only as evil as you let them be. If you let them bribe, they will bribe.

When you let them commit to mass bribery, you've essentially put a "For Sale" sign on the White House lawn.

When you let corporations buy the government you're no longer living in a Republic or a Democracy or a Socialism or a Communism... you're living in a oligarchy where the rich rule.

But these rich never get to enjoy their wealth like they did in the old days because they have to perpetually worry about keeping the little guys down.

Rich Americans back in the 1800s enjoyed a much more decadent lifestyle than rich Americans today as they spent their money and lived like kings (hence the "robber baron"). Was it fair? Perhaps not, but life isn't fair. At least it was a whole lot better than today's system where nobody wins.

A system where taxes are high for the SMBs and the people, and hence a system where the wealthy sink their money into corporations and then leave billions in stock options stagnant and untouched, afraid to remove it due to capital gains taxes kept artificially high by the near zero EFFECTIVE corporate tax rate that you end up with once all the tax breaks and loopholes baked across recent legislation fall into place.

The wealthy are afraid to take their money out of the corporation and be taxed, while the poor and middle class are getting poorer as they're paying more taxes that are being funneled into tax breaks for the corp.

Regular apolitical corporations are terrific -- good for the economy.

But when you let lobbyist corporations like GE (who received $3B in tax refunds while making $14 in profit) molest the government, you're essentially dealing with leech -- a creature that sucks up money and whose entire goal is to suck up more money, and over all does more harm than good. The employees and public don't win because competition, good services, and good pay stand in the way of profits. The majority of wealthy investors don't win as much as they could either because corporate taxes stand in the way of corporate profits, so their corp. lobbies and tries to lower them -- too shortsighted to see that low corporate taxes stand in the way of low capital gains and income taxes, which in turn means that even they are screwing themselves.
quote:
Not to mention you guys are REALLY cranking up the class warfare, which grates me for some reason because it's intellectually dishonest. Money is NOT the root of all our evils.

Money is a symbol and object. If you said money was the root of all evils, you would only be half right. Money and the things associated with it -- power, fame, respect, the pursuit of happiness -- are the root of all evil.

After all, if a corp. sends a Senator and their family to the Bahamas, that's not a direct monetary gift, but it will likely help make their case esp. when combined with a donation of good old cash.

Politicians aren't selling themselves to get money, at least not in the short term -- they're doing it for the power, the prestige.

The root of all evil is human selfishness.

Selfishness/greed is okay up until the point where it makes it so others cannot lead normal free, productive, happy lives if they work hard. That's why there's laws against being able to break into your neighbor's house and take his crap.

"Class warfare" is a term invented by the neo-con movement, which is quite humorous because they typically apply it to Democrats, who themselves are big supporters of big business. Do you see your taxes drastically slashed under Obama? He's scaled back troops in Iraq and Afghanistan so we should be seeing billions if not trillions in money pouring back into the federal budget. But no, taxes are as high as ever. Where Bush funneled money to defense donors, Obama is funneling to banks, "green" startups (some of whom pocket the money and then go bankrupt, etc.

"Class warfare" is a myth because a "war" requires two sides. Under the current system of bribery there's one side -- profit-motivated special interests.


RE: Here here
By Reclaimer77 on 1/20/2012 7:01:12 PM , Rating: 2
"Class warfare" was coined by Larry Kramer. Someone who was ANYTHING but a "neo-con" lol.

quote:
It seems you're essentially admitting that corporations purchasing favors is bad, but you're saying it's too hard to stop.


Yeah, pretty much. At least not in our lifetime. You act like this idea is being proposed somewhere man. It's all hypothetical, meaningless words.

quote:
When you let them commit to mass bribery, you've essentially put a "For Sale" sign on the White House lawn.


Jason you've really been hammering this point home in all your articles lately. But I think you can go too far. Do I have to point out that, at least this time, the system worked? A bill was written, we the people backlashed and made our representatives listen to us, and the bill is now dead for all intents and purposeless. All that money didn't matter in the end.

Maybe if people were this passionate and aware about EVERY issue....who knows.

The problem is people will agree with it when it suits their ideology. Like turning a blind eye to the insurance companies throwing their wallets at Obama to support his national healthcare agenda. Democrats don't seem to cry about the "rich corporations" when something they agree with happens.


RE: Here here
By Ryrod on 1/20/2012 7:06:02 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Let's say I'm rich because my parents left me a huge inheritance and I want to give a candidate or Congressman $10 million dollars for something, whatever. I'm not affiliated with a corporation in any way. So legally I could do that, but a Corporation couldn't?


A large part of the complaint comes from advantages that corporations enjoy. Corporations are a creature of statute that have the same rights as individuals when it comes to speech, but do not suffer some of the disadvantages associated with being an individual, such as personal liability in bankruptcy. These advantages allow a corporation, in theory, to accrue more money from business activities, due to advantageous legislation, than a sole proprietor or a partnership would be able to accrue.

If you want you could look at Donald Trump as an example. Trump would be broke if his corporations were treated as sole proprietorships or partnerships. The corporate laws saved him from going broke during his financial troubles in the late 80s to late 90s, and allowed him to massively increase his personal and corporate wealth, which he donates to political candidates.

People don't like corporations having a voice because they use laws, specific to corporations, to get ahead and then use the money to maintain laws beneficial to corporations to stay on top. It's one thing to build your wealth as an individual by creating, building, or selling something on the same playing field as everyone else, but when you start adding advantages for some, people tend not to like it. You can call it class warfare and us versus them, but corporations (and their advocates) are the ones who created this us versus them atmosphere when they created laws that helped corporations more than individuals.

quote:
And what's to stop a Corporation from hiding a money trail and doing the same thing though a third party?


Well FECA, and BCRA attempted to stop corporations from doing such a thing. In the case of FECA, many of the provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court in Buckley, while corporations (and to some extent, individuals) came up with PACs to get around the remaining limit on individual donations. In an attempt to stop the PACs, BCRA was enacted, but was neutered by Citizens United. So we did come up with a system that, for all intents and purposes, worked well, but ultimately was shattered both times by the Supreme Court.


RE: Here here
By teacherlee on 1/20/2012 7:37:03 PM , Rating: 2
Nobody is cranking up anything. There has always been class warfare, and the rich have been winning.


RE: Here here
By Fritzr on 1/21/2012 1:13:54 AM , Rating: 2
A corporation is not a US citizen. It is a business license that allows the owners of shares of the business to hire people to run the business.

The ruling that made corporations people for legal purposes changed things.

Before the ruling the shareholders could donate money to campaigns. The people operating the business for the shareholders could donate money to campaigns. Management could send a memo to all employees informing them that the management would appreciate their support of selected campaigns.

After the ruling all of the above AND in addition, the business license can now donate a portion of the business revenue to campaigns and reimburse employees for their donations and fund political campaigns and all other forms of fundraising or support that is allowed to US citizens and Residents.

The big change is that before, you had to get the individual people to take action. After the change, the CEO sends a memo to accounting and the campaign gets a check for whatever the CEO believes will generate 'goodwill' for the company.

Politicians now design their new laws to generate maximum "goodwill" from their largest contributors. Only now instead of people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates who could pay these massive bribes using their pocket money, it is Ford, GM, IBM, AT&T and other non-citizens that are paying the majority of the costs of an election.

Yes the ultra-wealthy have always been able to buy politicians, but a company was favored only if one of these ultra-wealthy individuals took an interest in it. Bell Telephone was such a case at the turn of the 20th century. Railroads and oil were such cases in the 19th century.

This bias towards successful PEOPLE is built in to the system and was considered a 'good thing' by the Founding Fathers who had also considered restricting the vote to those citizens who were successful. Such as "only landowners can vote". You're renting? Sorry, come back when you can present a land title.

The right of citizens to tell the government what to do has been destroyed by granting business licenses the status of Permanent Resident (allowed to donate, but not to vote)


RE: Here here
By Reclaimer77 on 1/21/2012 12:00:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The ruling that made corporations people for legal purposes changed things.


The ruling upheld the First Amendment. It didn't make them "people". And you know what, the ruling was correct. We don't just follow the Constitution when it's convenient or when there's no consequences. Barring corporations from political speech was wrong and illegal, plain and simple. Do you realize that's the MOST basic First Amendment principle? That the government has no business regulating political speech.

And all of you seem to be REALLY confused about this ruling. The ruling did not disturb the ban on corporations donating directly to candidates. That hasn't been changed. You people, and the rabid Left in general, act as if this ruling opened up some kind of floodgate of corruption and bribery. Which is absurd and not accurate at all.

This is America, goddammit. If a company want's to spend money running or funding campaign commercials to back a candidate they support, that's PROTECTED SPEECH. Banning that is specifically prohibited in the Constitution. But I suppose you know more about the Constitution than 5 Supreme Court justices?

quote:
The right of citizens to tell the government what to do has been destroyed


????

Okay excuse me but what JUST happened with SOPA? Because I thought, we the people, lead a protest on the Internet and got the entire Congress of the United States to back down and kill a bill. That, let's be honest, otherwise would have went through no problem.

Our rights haven't been "destroyed". The problem is we just don't exercise them enough. Maybe if we got as impassioned about everything as we did about the idea of our free porn and music being hampered, we wouldn't BE in this mess in the first place.


RE: Here here
By Ryrod on 1/21/2012 5:31:41 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And all of you seem to be REALLY confused about this ruling. The ruling did not disturb the ban on corporations donating directly to candidates. That hasn't been changed. You people, and the rabid Left in general, act as if this ruling opened up some kind of floodgate of corruption and bribery. Which is absurd and not accurate at all.


No, it didn't disturb the restrictions against direct contributions, but it did eliminate the restriction saying that a corporation could not use electioneering communications within 30 days of the election. When you say that it did not open up some kind of floodgate of corruption and bribery, you're right. The law didn't open the floodgate, but the floodgate was already open. Candidates are not stupid by any regard. They are well aware of the PACs that air these advertisements in the weeks preceding the election, and who owns the PACs. FECA and BCRA limited donations directly, but that just means that donations are essentially feed to candidates through the third party PACs who use the money to aid the candidates. We didn't eliminate corporate financing of elections, we just created a middle man that is supposed to make everyone feel better about the whole process.

quote:
The ruling upheld the First Amendment. It didn't make them "people". And you know what, the ruling was correct. We don't just follow the Constitution when it's convenient or when there's no consequences. Barring corporations from political speech was wrong and illegal, plain and simple. Do you realize that's the MOST basic First Amendment principle? That the government has no business regulating political speech.


Part of the problem with Citizens United is that we assume corporations are a quasi-persons under the Constitution. The whole idea in Citizens United was that the Court viewed the corporation (or PAC) as a person representing other individuals who actually had a Constitutional right to freely express themselves. I don't think that is correct and I disagree with the decision because they effectively equate a non-profit organization focused on organizing political interests, such as the Constitutional or Communist Party (which is an association of people), with for-profit organizations such as GE and Merill Lynch. Simply creating a PAC and funneling corporate money into it does not change the fact that it is speech by a corporation.

A corporation is not equivalent to a person and shouldn't be treated as such because all corporations, which are a creature of statute, could cease to exist tomorrow, if the people so choose. You can't do the same thing with individuals.

Now I do understand the reasoning of the case, because it would otherwise create three classes of associations with different rules, corporate non-news, corporate news and social. It is sound reasoning, but I still think it is incorrect that they went that route with the decision.

quote:
But I suppose you know more about the Constitution than 5 Supreme Court justices?


The Citizens United case overturned McConnell v. FEC. Furthermore, if this case had been heard back in 2005, it would have gone the exact opposite way and BCRA would have been upheld. So what does that say about the decision itself?


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