Saturday, January 30, 2010

Corpocracy and the Seven

When a legislator no longer represents our beliefs, we can vote them out of office; likewise, when presidents screw up, the people can kick them out the next time they go to the polls (or they can even be impeached by the legislators); but what do we do when the third branch of government messes things up by issuing rulings that will ultimately steer the nation in the wrong direction? Well, if you're Pat Robertson (yes, he of the Haitian deal with the devil quote), you can have a chat with your god to get things changed; if your the Ecuadorian Congress, you can just replace the whole lot; maybe you'll get lucky and they'll be convicted of, "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" deemed serious enough by Congress to constitute impeachment; but most likely all we can do is wait until they retire or die. Almost no matter how bad they mess up, they've got jobs for life.

While this job security is supposed to insulate them from the temporary passions of the public, it has also had the effect of allowing them to assert their ideological beliefs in making decisions which have had disastrous results. Perhaps the most infamous case was that of Dred Scott in which the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS from here on) ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves, were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States. The decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney is regarded as the single worst decision in the history of the court, ruining the reputation of the Chief Justice and leading the nation to the Civil War. As recently as 2000 SCOTUS decided to put an idiot king in the White House, with the same predictable result, war. Ironically, that 2000 decision may have been motivated by soon to be retiring Sandra Day O'Connor wanting to have her replacement named by a Republican president, thus maintaining the conservative composition of the court we still have today. Now that's powerful, better than 4 out of 5 dentist recommend testimonial propaganda! Chief Justice Taney died a vilified, penniless and broken man for his role in keeping the Republic under the control of slaveholders and bitterly dividing the nation; only time will tell if today's Chief Justice, John Roberts Jr. will also go down in infamy as the man who completed the transformation of his nation into a corpocracy.

In a 5-4 decision the court ruled in favor of Citizen United and overturned a variety of campaign finance laws enacted over the past century. For example, it nullifies part of a century-old statute known as the Tillman Act (1907), which barred corporations from using treasury funds to engage in the political process. It also vitiated similar prohibitions imposed on unions after World War II. Moreover, the decision invalidates part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold) that prohibited certain types of ads within 60 days of a general election and 30 days from a primary. (Supreme Court Opinion). Bottom line: Both corporations and labor unions may now use their general treasury funds to pay for unlimited independent expenditures, including advertisements, for or against candidates at any time. Free speechers cheered while civil liberty advocates jeered. The reason that those happy with the ruling are so rests on three premises, all of which we can intuit or show to be false.

One: Corporations are people and are therefore entitled to free speech protection. An odd  transfer propaganda technique but still easy to argue away, both intuitively (duh, um, people die, love, shit, breathe, have a conscience and compassion; corporations, not so much) and legally. The legal basis rests on a ruling made by the SCOTUS in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company in 1886. While the court's actual ruling in the case was uncontroversial, (something about fences along train tracks - seriously) the court reporter added his own thoughts to the headnote. Wackiness, begin your work:

Headnotes are a short summary of the opinions, facts and arguments of each case the court rules on that precede the United States Reports (the books that tell the legal community about the courts decisions). These headnotes are "not the work of the Court, but are simply the work of the Reporter, giving his understanding of the decision, prepared for the convenience of the profession". The court reporter that day, J.C. Bancroft Davis, a former railway president (hellooo? conflict of interest anyone!) wrote in part: "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does." Voila, while the court specifically didn't want to make a ruling on the 14th amendment, any mention of which is absent from the ruling itself, corporations have enjoyed the same rights as people under the 14th ever since. Not being a constitutional scholar maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like a pretty flimsy thin basis for corporate personhood.

Two: Money is speech. Really? Do I have to tell you why it isn't? OK, here goes. It should be enough that it sounds like something an amphetamine junkie like Ayn Rand would say but it goes deeper and unfortunately once again turns on a constitutional SCOTUS ruling. It was 1976 and this time it was Buckley v. Valeo in which the SCOTUS upheld a federal law which set limits on campaign contributions, but ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, and struck down portions of the law. The court also stated candidates can give unlimited amounts of money to their own campaigns (thus your Ross Perots, Michael Bloombergs, Mitt Romneys and their ilk). The suit arose after the first serious attempt by Congress to regulate campaign contributions and spending after the Nixon impeachment passed  despite a Ford veto. The plaintiffs claimed the legislation was in violation of the 1st and 5th Amendment rights to freedom of expression and due process, respectively. The court agreed. Again, easy to show how this is wrong on so many levels.

To those ideologues who would champion this decision as protecting the free speech I can only ask: "What can possibly be the purpose of the First Amendment other than to allow all voices to be heard in the marketplace of ideas?" With their vast resources, corporations will now be able to dominate that marketplace, ensuring that theirs is the loudest voice, effectively silencing opposing voices - precisely what the First Amendment was designed to foil. Even more egregiously, when we're not talking about corporations or the rich the court has no problem limiting speech. In the last few decades, the conservative justices dominating the court have limited speech rights for demonstrators, students, and whistle blowers; you still famously can't scream Rush is a fat, latinboyOxyContinlovingprick in a crowded theater, or fire; while they may be more annoying than political ads, Hare Krishnas had their right to distribute leaflets taken away. Try to exercise your right to speech in America without spending dollars and you'll often times find yourself behind bars. Repeatedly, the court has told us that some speech is more important than others.

Three: In their ruling, the majority somehow clung to the emperor's new clothes contention that corporate campaign cash has had no pernicious impact on public policy. "Independent (political) expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in the recent ruling. Alice in Wonderland had nothing on this corporations are just plain folks propagandist thinking. While the delusional will argue to the contrary, the evidence clearly indicates that money influences the way elected officials vote, so by giving those with more money the ability to 'speak' in unlimited amounts, they are ipso facto being given a more powerful vote than the poor.

Maybe they didn't notice the whole Wall Street bailout, it was pretty easy when "they [the banks] frankly own the place [congress]". House members who voted for the $700 billion bank bailout received 54 percent more campaign contributions from banks and securities firms than House members voting against the bailout. That is an average of $231,877 in bank contributions received by each House member voting "Yes", $150,982 for each member voting "No." Is there any wonder that big oil is already one step ahead of any sustainable energy project? Want to keep the National Weather Service from sharing the weather forecasts with the people? It'll cost about $7,750 to get a senator to introduce a bill to end "socialized weather" so that private firms like Accuweather can repackage government data and sell it to the public. Wanna influence the health care bill? It's pretty cheap and easy jedi reverse-Reagan name-calling propaganda, with the Cadillac name change from welfare queen to insurance plan. Well, that or about $400 million over the first 9 months of last year would buy you as much influence as the health care lobby. If only we could visually see the influence of 'speech' on the outcome of legislation? Or perhaps we tire of health care, cough, telecom immunity, where House Democrats who flipped their positions to favor immunity for telecom firms received an average of 68 percent more money from ATT's, Verizon's and Sprint's political action committees, compared with Democrats who remained opposed to immunity. That's $4,987 to each Democrat who opposed immunity and $8,359 to each Democrat who flipped positions to favor telecom firms. The brainwashed are sold that this latest ruling will encourage 'transparency' and 'leveling the playing field', some wishful card stacking propaganda, as if by some luck the market will distribute the money to candidates and lawmakers equitably. Or, maybe the Supremes have an ulterior motive: they want to show the world what happens in the extreme case by opening the floodgates to the highest bidder wins in order to how evil it is in order to justify the coming end of business buying government through a constitutional amendment. Yeah, and I've got some real estate in Florida to sell you.

Learn more here and here and here, then raise your voice "NO"

It truly makes one wonder what the effect of 30 years of the Reagan revolution has had on the brain of most conservatives who are lauding this decision as a victory for free speech. It was a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, who was so worried about the power of the trusts (yes, corporations were mere trusts of states then) that he called for public financing of elections and told Congress, "All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law." He didn't get all he wanted but he did get the Tillman Act which has now been gutted. Founder and fourth Chief Justice John Marshall once referred to the corporation as an "artificial being, invisible, intangible"; and Thomas Jefferson, warned almost two centuries ago that America must "crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

In order to catch a glimpse of the Pandora's Box that this ruling has opened, one need look no further than the connections to the case; the people who brought it to the court and what they have done in the past:

And a taste of a couple of the adds these men have made offer a sneak peak of what's to come this November:

Or, this one. Um, I guess we'll call that the fear of our propaganda septet.

So, as we enter the age where we'll no longer have the senator from Iowa or the congressman from North Dakota, but the senator from Wal-Mart and the congressman from Goldman Sachs, a couple more small details. No limits exist to prevent foreign corporations from contributing to the kitty, nothing to prevent one of Osama bin Laden's relatives running any anti-energy self-sufficiency ad they want, as long as it's clearly labeled brought to you by Freemont Group. Lastly, and most ominous of all, what I see happening is that more often than not, corporations won't even have to spend a penny, as the mere threat of launching attack ads will be enough to influence members of Congress to behave like the good patsies they have been paid for to be, legalization of what will in fact become weapons of blackmail and bribery in the hands of the lobbyists of the greedy and powerful. Oh, and before we in the rest of the world begin to feel too smug about the superiority and cleanliness of our democratic systems, a couple of caveats. The Prime Minister of Canada, the one who can't really be as creepy as he appears, Stephen Harper, tried himself to loosen the financial restrictions for political campaigns in the true north strong and free just a few years ago. The rest of us, well, we shouldn't forget that for the past few decades, instead of looking inwards at what's wrong with the country, the US usually looks for scapegoats (usually using the bandwagon propaganda technique to drum up support) and decide that they don't like us practicing our own kind of government. (Sorry, look at me using the glittering generality and seventh technique)

If you made it all the way here, pssst, here's where I got the Dred Scott idea, from where else, duh?


Dingo said...

Great post! Count me among your newest fans.