An open letter to the ACLU

For more years than I can count the ACLU has been the foundation of my giving each year. This year will be different, the ACLU will no longer serve as the foundation of my giving. The purpose of this letter is to explain why. My goal is not to convince you, ACLU, that I'm right, rather it is to help you understand my motivations. To the extent that I represent anyone but myself this insight might be useful in understanding at least some portion of your donor base. Or not, I can't really say. But I felt that the changes I'm making required some sort of explanation.
All governments have to deal with corruption. Some people will always try to get what they want, anyway they can, no matter who it hurts. But there is a difference between a low ’background noise’ level of corruption and pervasive corruption that undermines the legitimacy of government. I believe we have reached the point where the super wealthy have corrupted our government in order to allow themselves to:
  • create laws (and programs) that transfer our nation’s wealth away from its people and towards them,
  • exempt themselves from criminal liability for the types of crimes in the tech bubble [A]  [A] The crimes committed during the technology bubble were intended to be addressed at least in part by Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). But given the complete lack of SOX criminal prosecutions it’s hard to take SOX very seriously., mortgage bubble [B]  [B] The crimes committed during the mortgage bubble have taken entire books to explain. But to get a sense there was loan origination fraud, fraudulent bond ratings, grotesque violations of fiduciary duty, frauds upon the court and so on., fixing major markets such as Libor, etc., [C]  [C] Note, btw, that pretty much nobody has been sent to jail for these crimes and the Attorney General of the United States has publicly stated that there really isn’t anything he can do. To see how brazen this corruption is just look at the revolving door at the SEC which amongst other things would appear to have led to the SEC covering up crimes.
  • legalize a hyper concentration of ownership of the media sources that Americans get their news from thus putting up major roadblocks to a meaningful public debate,
  • enable them to commit gerrymandering and voter suppression on a grand scale, [D]  [D] Voting suppression is obviously nothing new in America, the powerful have been stealing the people’s right to vote for a long time. But for a good look at recent efforts see Billionaires & Ballot Bandits by Greg Palast. The book is available free online.
  • terrorize Americans by subjecting them to the largest prison system (both in absolute and per capita terms) in the world (while guaranteeing the super rich profits from the subset of those prisons that they own) and
  • crush dissent.
The end result is a country where the poor get poorer as the rich get richer and the more resources are put in the hands of the super wealthy the better they are able to enrich themselves. I personally see this rot at the heart of our government as the single largest issue that a civil rights organization must confront. The right to self government is the source, in practice, of all our other rights. I believe that turning back this plutocratic putsch requires three parts. Education, palliative care and legal reform. My plan is to put roughly 50% of my giving budget to Education and then 40% to palliative care and 10% to legal reforms.


If the public doesn’t know it’s been had then it can’t play an effective role in fixing the problem. More to the point, an uneducated public, a public without access to strong investigative journalism that is not bent to the needs of the plutocrats, cannot form an effective democracy.
Democracy Now This is my personal go to source for daily news.
ProPublica One of the few organizations still doing investigative reporting.
Greg Palast Investigative Fund A long time investigative reporter who now funds his investigations at least in part through his own investigative fund.
Center for Economic & Policy Research The home of Dean Baker, an economist who analyzes the economy and the news.
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Wields FOIA requests like a spot light to help us learn what our government is doing, they also testify and provide evidence but I personally see their greatest power in their FOIA requests so I put them in Education.
Truthout They are so liberal that I don’t feel comfortable relying on them as my primary source of news but they often have links to good articles
Wikimedia Foundation I’ve lost track of how many times Wikipedia has helped me to find answers to questions and understand the back story to important issues and events

Palliative Care

These are organizations who do critical work but who do not appear to me to really be grappling with the central issue we confront in our society - how to free ourselves from the plutocrats. I still love them and support them for the awesome work they do. Furthermore if we do manage to finally free ourselves from the plutocrats then I expect most of my giving to go back to these organizations. But until then they are in a secondary position.
ACLU The one and only! They have done so much good it’s hard to know where to begin. But if one goes to the ACLU’s ’key-issues’ page one sees a long list of symptoms but no real attempt to address what I believe (and yes, I accept I could be wrong) is the core cause - the plutocracy. Why are we drug testing everyone in sight? Why do we have such insane drug laws? Why do we have so many attempts to remove people’s right to vote? Why do we have so much censorship? Torture? Cui Bono? In most of these cases you can draw a direct line to the plutocracy, either through its financial gain from our insane criminal laws and wars or the need to suppress those who would stop their profit by ending these crimes against humanity. The ACLU just doesn’t seem able to connect the dots. But, I do recognize, that these dots might just be my own. But honestly, I don’t think you need a tin foil hat to see how so many of the issues the ACLU attempts to address from poverty to the criminal justice system are being caused by a Plutocracy trying to profit and protect itself.
Electronic Frontier Foundation When the EFF first started the ACLU completely didn’t ’get’ the Internet and the unique issues it raises. The ACLU has made massive strides since then and honestly I’m not completely sure I understand why we need both the ACLU and the EFF. I recognize that not all of their work overlaps but really that seems more like a bug than a feature. Can’t we all just get along?
Free Software Foundation Free and open source software is, until the clipper chip is inevitably resurrected, one of the last redoubts for secure software and the FSF is the grand daddy of them all.
Verified Voting A fairly specialized animal they watch attempts to put in bad voting technology.
Tor Project In any society you need traffic analysis protection and right now these are the best folks to bring it to you.

Legal Reforms

I believe that we need fundamental changes in our system of laws if we are to have any hope of dealing with the plutocrats. I am absolutely sure that violence won’t work. So anyone pushing for a bloody revolution is kidding themselves. First of all the plutocrats have built the United States into the leading suppliers of violence in the world. There is simply no chance that American civilians can withstand the full force of the American police and military (although the difference between the two becomes smaller each day). But even if they could they shouldn’t. Violence has its own inherent logic. To be effective it must be focused and to be focused it requires command and control. You can’t be both a democratic and a violent organization, you must pick one or the other. Violence requires hierarchy and absolute control in order to be effective. So those who use violence are molded by it. Inevitably the same hierarchical structure used to enact effective violence is then used to create the next ’free’ government. That is why so many revolutions seem to just replace one set of plutocrats with another set of plutocrats.
So if we are to free ourselves it must be through non-violent struggle where we effectively rally the majority of Americans to change their society from the bottom up. This has happened before, even if it seems to be erased from our history books. See A People's History of the United States for numerous good examples. For me the unions and their achievements in work pay, safety and hours is iconic.
I don’t see any of the organizations listed in the previous section really helping to make this peaceful revolution happen at the grass roots. The ACLU, for example, has had its greatest victories in the court room. But in reality if we see any court room victories against the plutocrats it will only be because the courts are afraid of being impeached en masse if they don’t stop kowtowing to the plutocrats and start upholding their oaths to the people. Again, it’s dangerous to make generalizations with an organization as broad as the ACLU. They do plenty of grass roots work and they form alliances with lots of people. But I don’t believe they will be able to effective against the plutocrats until they clearly and unambiguously identify the problem publicly and make it the center of their work. I don’t see that happening. So I have to look elsewhere.
Below is the list of organizations I am giving to. They are all new so it’s extremely difficult to determine how effective they really will be. This is why they only get 10% of the budget instead of a larger sum. Also I still suspect that education is more important than even what these organizations will do so that’s why I give education 50% of the budget. To the extent that the organizations below demonstrate their effectiveness the increase in my giving to them will come out of the palliative care budget. To put it more bluntly, if I thought these organizations ’had it together’ they would be eating straight out of the budget I give for the ACLU (who absolutely dominates my donations to palliative care organizations).
Move To Amend This is a coalition of groups that want to amend the constitution to make it clear that corporations are not people and money is not speech. I have no idea if they have an ice cube’s chance in hell of succeeding but of all the groups I looked at who are trying to amend the constitution they seemed to be the one that most had its act together.
Represent.Us Another coalition of sorts they are pushing for the passage of a bill called the American Anti-Corruption act that will make a lot of types of lobbying and revolving door jobs illegal as well as introduce citizen financed elections. I see their efforts as being complementary to Move To Amend but I don’t know if they can survive a Supreme Court challenge without Move To Amend. Yes, I know, Represent.Us has an explanation for why they believe their bill is constitutional but it’s unclear to me how much the constitution has to do with the Supreme Court anyway.
Rootstrikers This is Lawrence Lessig’s organization. I have enormous respect for Mr. Lessig and have been a huge fan for many years. In his Ted talk he really goes to the heart of the issues we face in America. I honestly don’t have a clue if Rootstrikers will be meaningfully successful. I don’t see them building up much of a grassroots outside of the net and people clicking on the occasional petition is not a grassroots base. But given Mr. Lessig’s background I’m willing to put some money their way.

3 thoughts on “An open letter to the ACLU”

  1. >For more years than I can count the ACLU has been the foundation of my giving each year. This year will be different. The purpose of this letter is to explain why.

    BTW, this sentence reads like you are going to stop giving to ACLU and this blog post is to explain why (I guess it’s not original intention).

    On the topic: my giving so far is rather simple: EFF and Wikipedia. Thanks for additional options to consider!

    1. Thanks for the comment, I changed the intro so hopefully it’s clearer that I’m still giving to the ACLU but not in the amounts I used to.

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