Dancing in the Devil’s Playground

I just returned from Washington D.C. where, for the first time in this writer’s life, I experienced and participated in Democracy — Real American Corporate Democracy (amen to that brothers and sisters).

This is not to say that I have not voted, for indeed I have. In fact, I have voted in practically every election I have been eligible to vote in since I turned 18 in 1994. This is not to say that I have not written to my representatives and been a part of organizations that petition our government for reform, for indeed I have. I have taken the steps of a concerned and dedicated citizen given the options afforded to me to participate in the democratic process of the United States of America.

Where has this gotten me exactly? Quite honestly, it has not gotten me far as I do not have the voice and the high-priced lobbyists of the multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporations who have the ability to meet directly with the members of the House of Representatives and the members of the Senate to petition them for enacting or blocking legislation for the benefit of said Corporations.

For two days, I did have that power. By piggy-backing off the coat-tails of a large lobbying group supported by the major internet advertisers — even my antagonist: Google — I was able to roam the halls of various House Office buildings with my lobbyist ‘chaperon’ and meet with actual members of congress, face-to-face (or with their staffers), to lobby them to support legislation — or in this case; block legislation — detrimental to my interests as a writer and publisher. It just so happened my interests on this particular issue coincided with the interests of those large corporations who I often despise and loathe for dictating the course of our Democratic System for their moneyed interests.

Am I a sell-out and a hypocrite for associating myself with these corporate lobbyists? Absolutely! Yet I had real access to Democracy and I made connections with the true power brokers of Democracy that will inevitably help me, my Publishing Corp. and the writers that are employed through my business be able to continue to write articles that are critical of the very same system of which I was a part of.

Access on this level is rarely granted to individuals such as myself; to deny this opportunity that gave me direct access to our system, wretched as it may be, would be foolish not only for my interests, but the interests of those who read my work and read the work of the writers contracted by Curl Publishing. I did indeed sell-out and I slept in the devil’s bed; and I will do it again and again and again because ameliorating relationships with groups and institutions I abhor on issues that we are mutually in unity upon (though for wildly different reasons) is what will alleviate divisiveness and give a ‘radical’ such as myself a voice.

My Corporate Collusion

My plunge into the deep, dark and dirty recesses of Democracy came about through an invitation to attend the 2nd Annual I.A.B. Long Tail Alliance Fly-In Conference. The I.A.B., or Interactive Advertising Bureau, is essentially a lobbying front group for the major players in internet advertising.

As many may or may not know, the reason sites like mine exist — as well as most sites on the internet — is through advertising revenue. Despite my anti-capitalist, anti-corporate and ant-imperialist stances, I too must rely on advertising to continue to put my message out there; hopefully exacerbating a critical dialogue of the issues I find to be most relevant (and specifically those of which I have some degree of expertise) and raising awareness and bringing about proactive change in some degree.

Advertising revenue is especially relevant to my cause now as my business, Curl Publishing Inc., is actually paying writers to provide content to my new site, The Pigeon Post. Like it or not, my ability to survive within the current capitalist marketplace — my ability to bring diversity and critique to that marketplace — exists through advertising. Do I like having to have advertisements on my sites? Of course not. But subscription fees are a death sentence for news websites considering the amount of free content that is available.

The particular issue that the I.A.B. was lobbying against — with my willing participation — is in regard to a Staff Discussion Draft being floated around by Representative Rick Boucher (D-Virginia), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. This particular discussion draft relates to internet privacy, which in and of itself is an important issue and one that has not been adequately addressed through any legislation thus far. However, the wording and intent of this draft would require an opt-out on first party publishers. In essence, when someone visits The Todd Blog — or any other site — they would have to give permission to view the content on that site; and on each page if there is second-party advertising.

As a publisher, in the sense that I publish a website with advertisements, I make sure that any ad that appears is appropriate and is not made to entice a visitor to unknowingly click on an advertisement. If this bill were imposed, one would have to opt-in or opt-out for each advertisement — by agreeing to the terms of the advertisers privacy policy. Not only that, one would have to opt-in or opt-out of my own privacy terms. Just getting to an article could take five minutes of reading and agreeing to privacy terms. Quite honestly, this has the potential to shut down sites like mine overnight.

Obviously the advertisers would lose millions and millions in ad revenue, which is why they are fighting this type of privacy regulation. But even publishers like me — a publisher who despises corporate-dictated democracy — would have our message completely obliterated. I doubt this is the intent of Rep. Boucher and Rep. Waxman (who is co-sponsoring this draft), yet in its current state, I’m screwed (and so is everyone else). We should be able to not have our personal information given to third parties — there are many ways to not give that information — but this draft is so poorly worded and short-sided that everyone loses. Information would be further monopolized by other large Corporations who would be able to lobby for exclusion from these restraints (perhaps with the same lobbyists fighting this particular issue).

Unfortunately, Curl Publishing Inc cannot afford a lobbying front group to advance its issues with the legislative branches of Government. My actual participation and voice in Democracy (even under the guise of my Corporation) is non-existent without money and connections. While speaking with the lead staffer for a very right-wing and conservative Representative from the Midwest (specifically: all eastern parts of Missouri outside of Saint Louis), she stated: It’s like driving down the highway with all the billboards on the side of the road. We can’t remove them, but we can choose to ignore them and move on. It’s a matter of choice. I have no options but to generate revenue through advertisements and my readers can choose to ignore those ads or not visit my site altogether. I have to agree with the ultra-right wing young lady on this issue. In fact, I have to agree with the Advertising Corporations on this as well — even Google (arghhh!!!!).

Let Freedom Ring

…and did we tell you the name of the game boy?

We call it: riding the gravy train.

Considering Google is a contributor of the I.A.B. — and a very powerful and significant contributor at that — we were treated to a reception on the rooftop penthouse of Google’s D.C. headquarters overlooking the city followed by a dinner in their cafeteria — not like the one’s from elementary school. Free booze, free food and not a sign of Google other than the logos and banners with their famous multicolored logo pasted around every corner. Google seemed to be a state of mind rather than anything with any type of human connection to it — perhaps by design; perhaps by our tacit apathy.

I departed Google HQ and headed to my chambers, catching four hours of sleep before my true participation in Corporate Democracy would begin. The world of the high-priced corporate lobbyist would be somewhat anti-climactic as I knew what they were about, yet I was shown the human face of those who use connections, money and power to determine the path of legislation to benefit the corporations seeking more control and/or more profit through our Democratic Process.

It was more about the game rather than moral absoluteness. The rush of the deal and bustle of men in suits which cost more than I’ve ever made in a month making hourly rates five times what I make in a week is what this world is about, yet it is a world of humanity despite the devastation that this system ultimately bestows on humanity.

My lobbyist chaperon for the day was a man of about 50 years old, give or take — a man of confidence, knowledge, wit and charisma. I’ll call him John the Lobbyist for the sake of anonymity. John the Lobbyist made no secret of his right-wing leanings, yet was pragmatic enough to know the limitations of his ideologies and the inherent foolishness and hypocrisy of the GOP world of which he was a player of the highest order. Through his time in the trenches of political guerrilla warfare, he knew what the game was all about and why he played it.

We shuffled through the endless corridors and elevators and escalators of the House Office Buildings — a maze of underground walk-throughs between buildings that still tripped up John the Lobbyist, even after years on the go through the same corridors visiting the same players making the same deals for the same sides of perpetual politics.

While not in meetings and walking briskly from one office to another, John the Lobbyist was constantly on his Blackberry re-arranging and re-scheduling and re-shuffling his agenda for the day and days ahead: plotting the next round of the game that so few of us will ever see up close and personal.

John the Lobbyist made his mark as a campaign director for some of the more notable and notorious Republicans of the 90s. Despite his pragmatism and diplomacy, he was much more content being behind the scenes, where the real action exists. Through years of deal-making and muckraking, John the Politico — the behind the scenes maestro of the right — would become John the Lobbyist.

Acting as a hired gun — or a one-man independent consultant if you will — for the corporations and front groups that account for many of the atrocities of Imperialism and Corporatism that I and my leftist brethren have fought to stop, John the Lobbyist spoke of the wheelings and dealings of his past; not with pride or shame, but with an impartial and nonchalant ambiguity that comes with years of deal making and a love of and need for the game. Moral absoluteness is not a part of the equation as John the Lobbyist seemed to be fully aware of the human factor that was the inevitable collateral damage of the career he has made for himself.

As we took a lunch break in one of the house cafeterias, I was able to get a glimpse of John the Lobbyist’s human side. He gave some hints to who he is and why he has chosen the life of his. It wasn’t by any grand design or type of destiny or unwavering self-righteous world view or a delusional theocratic desire to shape the world as God would want; but it was simply by circumstance. He never had any political or ideological inclinations until he happened to find work after college with a GOP campaign, setting in motion the series of events that led to that very moment in that cafeteria.

As John the Lobbyist gently poked at his salad, chatting about his various gigs lobbying for Big Tobacco, Big Oil and the Military Industrial Complex, I scarfed down my large plate of black beans, rice, chicken and asparagus while I spoke of my past and how I came to be sitting at that table at that moment in the cafeteria of that Congressional Office Building. I found that John the Lobbyist and I had similar backgrounds and even some similar core beliefs (contextualized through differing lenses), though our paths were quite divergent; yet our paths ultimately crossed that day.

As we continued our quest through the halls of Democracy, Liberty and Freedom, the black beans and asparagus were creating the perfect storm of flatulent goodness. As we wondered through the corridors of American Democracy, I made it known my need for relief. I let out a few little toots when no one was down wind or up, when John the Lobbyist exclaimed: Let Freedom Ring! I ripped a few large and ferocious freedom farts right there in the halls of Congress; spreading the pungent aroma of Democracy to the amusement of a power broker to the rich, powerful and moneyed interests of Democracy.

I take no pride and no shame in my involvement with John the Lobbyist. I am doing what I need to do — in my own mind; rightly or wrongly — to make a living for myself and support those I love and care about. My path crossed with the path of John the Lobbyist that day by chance; yet for that day, we were on the same side using our voices to fight against legislation detrimental to both our interests. There is a gray area that we all must enter; devoid of morality and absoluteness, to do what we can to advance our cause. There is also most certainly a lingering aroma in the halls of Democracy as Todd the Publisher and John the Lobbyist were united for a common cause — united in the absurdity of our mutual quests, exemplified by the pungent aroma emanating out of my ass.

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—- Here is an article written by Rogers Cadenhead, a fellow attendee of the conference —-

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I'm so hard to see and look angry -- I was just sleep deprived and in need of caffeine