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I'm sorry, but this has to be said:

The White House doesn't owe you shit.

They set up this petition system to expand the illusion that somehow the system is working for its constituents. It is not, and it was not designed to. The system makes decisions so you don't have to. It's better this way.

The fact of the matter is that these prosecutors were doing their job, which is to apply as much pressure as needed to achieve a negotiated prison term (a win), and they did it a little too well for our comfort. The White House will not speak against these actions because these actions benefit the White House in the vast majority of cases.

If you want things to change, change the system. Lobby against the CFAA. Lobby for rules to enforce ethical use of prosecutorial discretion. Protest. Volunteer for candidates that oppose these practices. Don't think that clicking a "Like" button is going to change anything, because if the White House petition system actually changed anything, it wouldn't exist.

If you want to change the system, don't ask the system to change. Change it yourself.




Sorry, but this misses the point entirely.

The White House does in fact owe a response to the petition. That's the deal they set up themselves. They owe it to the people to live up to it.


And that response will be as meaningless as most of the responses they've given. So what? What will it do or change? Will this response prevent another Aaron Swartz incident?


You miss the point.

Getting the law (or even policies on prosecutorial practices) changed to prevent another such incident is a VERY HARD task. Taking small steps toward that task is NOT "meaningless".

The victory to be celebrated here is NOT that the problem has been solved. It is not even that the White House now has to help work to solve the problem. The victory to be celebrated here is that the White House actually has to say something. (And they DO have to... if not, then the press coverage will increase until reporters demand an answer on their own. Heck, refusing to comment would be GREAT for our cause.)

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make the White House at least make a statement about your issue? It is something powerful lawmakers and world-spanning corporations often find themselves unable to accomplish.

Now, that's not much: the White House's response may consist of meaningless blather. But it is not nothing: the White House has been forced to respond. And it helps to increase the momentum toward taking some kind of REAL action.

The petitions at WhiteHouse.org don't fix problems, but when something is NOT being discussed by lawmakers, this kind of thing can help get that conversation started. Belittling it isn't helping.


And they DO have to... if not, then the press coverage will increase until reporters demand an answer on their own.

No, the media coverage will the same as it has always been since Obama announced his candidacy: fawning adoration, mixed with just enough mild skepticism to create the impression amongst themselves and others that they really do perform some sort of journalistic function and that what we see in the media really is "news" and not just propaganda.

Poke a Mainstream Media "reporter" deep enough and you'll always touch MSNBC.


What a skewed view of the world - I hardly think you will find MSNBC by poking FOX reporters, NYT reporters or Christian Science Monitor reporters (not to mention al-Jazeera, BBC, RT, etc.) And Obama has gotten plenty of bad press.


I hardly think you will find MSNBC by poking... NYT reporters or Christian Science Monitor reporters (not to mention al-Jazeera, BBC, RT, etc.)

I assume this is a joke, particularly the NYT. And I'm not seeing ABC, CBS, NBC (owned by GE, which has gotten massive "green energy" subsidies from Obama), PBS, the former Current TV, not to mention almost every newspaper in the US, anywhere in your list. Kinda lopsided, huh?

As for the foreign media organs, the BBC, al-Jazeera, and RT are all famously anti-American. Obama still manages to get much better press that any Republican. They hate America and they like Obama. Odd.


I suspect that _just signing_ a petition almost creates no impetus for change. The whitehouse response, while it might get some attention, is just that - a PR response. if everyone who signed the petition instead wrote a letter to their respective congressman/woman , it might've affected some more changes.

I don't want to belittle the petition, but it makes it look like change is being afected, while in actual fact, it is nothing more than managing PR for the whitehouse.


I agree 100% with this.


This is an interesting question, and the answer is not as obvious as you seem to think.

Given that absurd amounts of discretionary power have been placed in the hands of civil servants, and that this power is not likely to be removed anytime soon, the root of the matter is this:

Will future civil servants temper their actions because they don't want to find their names in the middle of another shitstorm like this?

It's a psychological question. It's personal.


Not only that. Just last month Carmen Ortiz was being talked up as a serious candidate to be the next governor or AG of Massachusetts. [0]

Now she is extraordinarily unlikely to ever hold elected office. I know that I -- a committed Democrat -- will cheerfully send money to any opponent in a primary and even an odious Republican in a general election running against her. The local tech scene is full of people who feel the same and can organize the state's most productive industry.

One US attorney on the verge of greatness has seen the career consequences of serious misbehavior. We can only hope more will see them because the nation's prosecutorial culture is nasty, vicious, anti-democratic, brutal, and out of control.

0 - http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/30/1183402/-As-Gov-Pat...


Will future civil servants temper their actions because they don't want to find their names in the middle of another shitstorm like this?

I would agree with this statement if you changed it to read 'temper their actions against well connected individuals'. I'm still unsure if this is a net gain.


This whole event is going to cast a pall on one prosecutors' political aspirations and serve as a warning to others. What kind of response will make you happy?


As you say, many responses have been meaningless, but this contradicts your point: it is indeed a force if they express a preference on the issue, and their lack of stance on many topics reveals that words have consequences. There's nothing wrong with calling Obama out on this, even if not much results, because the population will realign if Obama takes the opportunity to advocate for a difference from the status quo.


Not to mention that the Whitehouse is the world's great bastion of representative democracy. Like hell they don't owe their own citizens a response. That's why they setup the petitions system.

The first comment so totally missed the point that it curved around and nearly smacked the author on the head.


"world's great bastion of representative democracy" and kill lists and 100 mile Constitution-free search & seizures and signing bills without Congress having read them and ignoring immigration laws and on and on


Yep. Still the bastion of democracy.


I see that are you still believe in "democracy". Please do some serious research and follow the money. Let us know when you finally realize that you live in a plutocracy.


You are assuming I live in the United States.


That said, it's not been that long since Carmen Ortiz had this petition aimed at herself: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/remove-united-stat...

As you can see, the petition reached over twice the required amount(and when it reached 25k, there was a discussion about raising the required amount to 100k). The site's been criticized several times now, because of this reason.

I personally think they should add a tab for petitions that reached the requirement, so that these petitions aren't lost, which would make it easier for people to see which petitions still require an answer.


The White House says they established this petition system to increase the level of communication between them and the public. Shouldn't we take them at their word? If they fail to come through, then call them out on it (as some other threshold-breaching petitions already have).

Now, they've said that they are swamped with petitions and so have increased the threshold to 100,000. That's not an impossible number, it just requires a broader base of participation - more than say, just the readership of HN and Reddit.

I realize this petition system is widely seen as a gimmick, but it's a public gimmick. As the WH fails to properly respond per its own rules, the independent (and perhaps, foreign, but probably not mass-) media can easily write obnoxious stories calling them out.

As for the other calls to action: certainly.


"Shouldn't we take them at their word?"

Is there some reason we should trust the Obama administration to follow through on its promises? They have repeatedly failed or only half-kept their promises. Like most of America's high-ranking major party politicians, Obama and his administration will say whatever they need to say in order to get votes, and will then turn around and do whatever their wealthy corporate sponsors demand.

"As the WH fails to properly respond per its own rules, the independent (and perhaps, foreign, but probably not mass-) media can easily write obnoxious stories calling them out."

The media outlets that actually matter are too busy promoting the illusion that the Democrats are a liberal party and that Obama is a liberal president to bother with such things.


All they're promising to do is start a dialogue around the issues their citizens feel most strongly about. It sounds like a good use of technology, and an excellent strategy to stay connected to the people who ultimately decide whether you stay or go.

Better than focussing more attention on behind the scenes corporate lobbying at least.


...and they fail to start such dialogue, unless the issue is shallow and pedantic (yes, that is a nod to Seth MacFarlane). When people asked for a response to Chris Dodd's remarks following the SOPA protests, what did the administration say? "No comment!" The response to legalizing marijuana was an outright lie -- a claim that the administration's policy was "balanced," when in reality the Obama administration set a new record for paramilitary raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, having engaged in more raids in just two years than in all eight years under Bush.

If the administration wants to engage in dialogue with the people, they should do so -- without lying, without avoiding tough questions, without trying to divert our attention to irrelevant distractions.


The White House is like any political body--they want to give the illusion of listening to the people without having to actually do what anyone else wants of them. Online petitions are perfect for this.

Their "word" is that 100,000 people sign an online petition, and some junior staffer writes an official response restating the administration's position. So in exchange for 100,000 people getting their slacktivism on and having a false sense of accomplishment, the White House gives up maybe an hour of time from their staff. It effectively reduces their accountability to the public by encouraging this false sense of accomplishment.


You miss the point: the White House isn't going to govern by petition, but the petition provides a useful organizing nexus. And these petitions have, if nothing else, put a serious damper on the prosecutors' professional goals and potential political aspirations.

Not nearly enough, but I don't think anyone's argument is that "all we need to do is get one or two prosecutors fired and then we're done." The only question is, what's next?


Then why not skip the farce and actually organize a movement? You know, like they used to do when "separate but equal" was a thing?


What's the potential civil disobedience movement? Refusing to participate in the federal court system?


There's the type where you disobey unjust laws, and then actually go to prison when you get caught in order to demonstrate the injustice.


What is interesting is that if we all do what Aaron did and refuse to take the deal, the courts would eventually be unable to handle all the cases. The USA simply arrests too many people each year for everyone to exercise their right to a trial. I suspect that if hundreds of thousands of people flagrantly committed felonies and demanded a jury trial, it would be one of the most effective forms of civil disobedience in the history of our country.

Of course, that means organizing hundreds of thousands of people and convincing them to put their lives and livelihoods on the line.


...and commit some sort of federal offense, to boot. At most you could take out a victimless crime that conscionable people would violate, but you wouldn't change the whole system.

They could even use prosecutorial discretion to ignore the federal offenses committed purely out of civil disobedience.

Also, you can't say what Aaron would or would not have done in response to the still-in-negotiation plea bargaining that was happening in his case. He could have chosen a plea bargain, or he could have chosen to go to trial, but he took a far more tragic third option.


The problem is, most people don't have the money for it.


Let alone the spare time.


That's a whole lot more feasible when you're worried about misdemeanor being-black-and-on-a-bus-or-drinking-from-a-fountain, vs. 10+ year federal felony convictions (and thus ~lifetime ban on ~most employment).


Yes, because black people in America certainly only had to worry about which seat was reserved for them on the bus, and not lynchings, beatings, rapes, flaming crosses, police dogs, high-pressure fire hoses, or white juries as peers of their white attackers.

P.S. Felony convictions are not a lifetime employment ban, especially for "white-collar" felonies.


If I had to choose between, on the one hand, being physically assaulted, and on the other hand, being prosecuted by federal prosecutors and imprisoned for ten years, I would not hesitate for one second to choose to be physically assaulted. Aaron Swartz literally chose to "lynch" himself over the alternative. Ask any prisoner serving a multi-year sentence in any prison whether they would wrestle a police dog if it meant they could have a clean record and go home.

The government learned from the civil rights movement. They learned how to avoid it. Hitting people with a fire hose or burning a cross makes the targets righteous and sympathetic and makes the stupid Klansmen look like stupid Klansmen. Hitting people with a federal felony prosecution makes the targets powerless and penniless and lets the prosecutors paint themselves as the heroes doing battle with nefarious criminals.


Are you suggesting death is preferable to six months in prison and a felony conviction? Would that it were--we'd save a fortune on federal prisoners by executing them all!

Otherwise, we'd have to say Aaron Swartz was not entirely rational when he killed himself.


>Are you suggesting death is preferable to six months in prison and a felony conviction?

If I had to guess, he wasn't weighing it against the plea bargain, he had already decided not to take the plea bargain on principle and was weighing it against the cost of taking charity and bankrupting all his friends and family to fight it and even after all that still possibly losing and going to prison for multiple years. In other words, taking the plea would have had the additional cost to his integrity, which even in this day and age still means a lot to some people.

I don't know if I would go so far as to say that the decision was rational (and I know the suicide prevention people hate it when people talk about stuff like this), but I can see the road he took to get there. Being human isn't always rational and we have to make policies under the understanding that people will have feelings and principles rather than making all decisions as rational automatons.

>Would that it were--we'd save a fortune on federal prisoners by executing them all!

No we wouldn't. It costs more to execute someone than imprison them because of the cost of all the appeals and safeguards we have for death penalty cases.

But even though you're kidding, I think it raises a pretty reasonable point: Why do we even have prisons at all, other than as detention facilities for pending death penalty cases? If someone commits a sufficiently serious crime (or re-offends sufficiently many times), put them to death. If their crime was less serious than that, make them pay back their ill gotten gains, subject them to a fine or make them do community service 20 hours a week for however many hours or years. What good does it do to imprison someone if you ever intend to let them back out again? Prison costs the state money, it takes the convicts out of the economy and makes them parasites, and when they get out they have no skills and no job history which is one of the many reasons the recidivism rate is so high. Prison is a profoundly broken institution. I think there is a very strong argument for just getting rid of it as a method of punishment.


> I think it raises a pretty reasonable point: Why do we even have prisons at all, other than as detention facilities for pending death penalty cases? If someone commits a sufficiently serious crime (or re-offends sufficiently many times), put them to death.

That's a great insight.

I would point out that prison is still an acceptable in-between for community service and death. E.g. what happens if the convict simply doesn't show up for their community service?

Depriving someone of their own free use of their time is a powerful motivational tool (just ask anyone who's ever had to "hurry up and wait" in the military).

However any possible positive effect you would get from prison, either for rehabilitation or non-recurrence, would be had within the first year, two at the most.

Any prison sentence beyond that and you have to wonder what the marginal additional value is (I would think none).

I'm not sure if you're entirely serious about the death penalty for sufficiently serious crimes, but the normal argument is that even if that were acceptable in theory, that it's been proven not implementable in practice, and we'd rather optimize for not accidentally putting something to death who is innocent.

This itself could be fleshed out further though... governments all the times do things (or don't do things) that may indirectly lead to fatalities later on. Things as simple as redirecting a road away from a cliff face to prevent people from driving over the edge at night can save lives, but we as a population generally accept that there is an economic reality that government can't pay to completely prevent all foreseeable accidents. So could you argue from there that if we already let people drive off of cliffs because it's cheaper, that we could let government accidentally execute innocents if it had a net positive outcome?

I don't know... even I'm pretty leery of that logic. Personally if I were to be fradulently convicted I'd rather a lifetime of prison than to be put to death (assuming I could still read, program, etc.)


You can let someone out of prison if they're later proven innocent. You can't let someone out of the grave. That's the main reason.

It's possible he rejected the plea bargain out of hand, though Thoreau, Gandhi, King, and Mandela would all question the assumption that going to prison diminishes the integrity of someone with a noble cause. If he thinks his integrity was better preserved by hanging himself in his apartment and leaving his body there for his girlfriend to discover, he wasn't really thinking clearly at all, was he?


I agree it was worse for them then, but they chose (correctly) to initially confront law abiding adversaries like bus companies vs. protesting to the cross burning violent people. When confronting the federal court system, every single part of it has the ability to shoot you for non-compliance when taken far enough, or lock you away for years.


I thought Aaron was supposed to have been confronting law-abiding adversaries like JSTOR and other academic journal holders.

I wasn't aware that his activism had anything to do with the Federal justice system per se.

Either way, they don't have the option of simply shooting you on a whim (except insofar as anyone could theoretically decide to do that) or locking you away for years either (a jury is also required for this).


Because it would require getting off the internet, and really, who has time for that.


Let's not forget that downloading JSTOR articles was itself an act of civil disobedience.


Civil disobedience entails publicly flouting the system and then accepting punishment in order to demonstrate the injustice of the system. Aaron Swartz never got around to the second part, tragically.


Why must a violation of an unjust law in protest always come with acceptance of the unjust consequences? If you're an activist trying to change an unjust law, why not flout the law, and then very publicly try to avoid the unjust penalty?

For that matter, what arbitrating body is responsible for deciding what is and is not a "valid" act of protest?


You could do that if you want, though I don't see how it's supposed to be effective or principled, but it's a fair disagreement to have. In any case, that's not what civil disobedience is. Thoreau coined the term and he was the one who influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and they're generally the main referents for the concept of civil disobedience. Breaking the law and trying to get away with it isn't civil disobedience. It might be something else, it might even be valid, but it's not civil disobedience.


Civil disobedience is just the refusal to co-operate with an unjust law. What you do after that is just tactics.


Much of what you say is correct, but I see no reason not to use every tool in the toolbox. Public perception is a powerful weapon, and these petitions can be used effectively to that end.


Yeah I'm afraid this may just go the way of several other petitions regarding judicial cases, in which the response was basically "here is why we aren't going to respond".

In this case I feel some sort of real response is deserved even if I think it is highly unlikely that they can or will do anything as serious as firing people.


Why do we deserve a response from the White House? What can the White House possibly say to appease us if they cannot or will not do what we ask?


Uh, we deserve a response because they agreed to give us one?

I am not expecting a response that pleases me. We nevertheless deserve what they have agreed to give.


"What happened was a tragedy. We cannot comment further as the investigation into the incident is ongoing."

There, I saved you all the anguish and the time wasted writing up Forbes articles on how we deserve a "response" from the White House. Now what?


I realize you're annoyed by what you perceive as a farce, but it's already had an important effect: some politicians are moving to tap into a fresh source of voters by proposing legislation to "get tough" on a heretofore unrecognized group of offenders, namely prosecutors.


I know you don't believe it, but that would be better than silence. I don't think we deserve a good response, just a response.

Also, nobody thinks the response is the end game...


Er, because the White House works for us and is theoretically accountable to us for the decisions it makes?


They could explain why they cannot or will not do what we want, on the record. I have little hope that they actually will though.


> because if the White House petition system actually changed anything, it wouldn't exist.

Reminds me the saying "If voting made a difference, it would be illegal".

> If you want to change the system, don't ask the system to change. Change it yourself.

I'm a fan of Bucky too.


"Let the people think they govern and they will be governed." - William Penn

One of my favorite quotes, and completely true in this situation.


Agreed. We owe it to ourselves not to worry about what the government is going to feed us. Every one of us is smart enough to know what needs to change.

Back away from the keyboard for a second. Take a deep breath. Get out there and work for change until you are exhausted.

Don't ask any system a question you already know the answer to. It will break your heart.


If what you write is true, then it would be in their best interest to respond so that they could maintain the "illusion." So while maybe the "White House doesn't owe you shit," that does not mean that it is not in their best interest to keep their promise.


Actually, the petition site is a clever way to harvest email addresses which the administration can then use to market it's policies back to constituents.


Nice job, HN. The one person who gives a realistic, grounded response gets downvoted.




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