Thursday, July 1, 2010

Where I Part Ways with the ACLU


The Denver Post editorial header this morning was blunt and to the point : 'Reject Attack on Political Speech'. In the editorial, Democrats are admonished to respect the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling now known as "Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission" in which corporations were awarded the power to take down any president or party they want to, if they have enough money to fund their "political speech".

In its wake, more than one commentator has recoiled, noting we have passed from any semblance of a democracy to a plutocracy- a government controlled by money. As one articulate Denver Post writer (Buie Seawell) put it soon after the ruling: "The Republic Jefferson and Madison gave us no longer belongs to most of us, it belongs to the rich and the corporate".

Is this just exaggeration? Not really! The ruling essentially overturned years of case and federal law that conceded that awarding unlimited spending rights to corporations - for political campaigns- amounted to the undermining and de facto censorship of citizens' speech. This is really a no -brainer and one doesn't need a Harvard Law degree to see it.

With unlimited spending thresholds vast corporations, especially multinationals like Monsanto or BP - are capable of purchasing thousands of hours of political commercial time on radio and tv, whereas the average citizen (even if in a group) would be able to barely afford one - commercial, not hour. It would be tantamount to being shouted down on every stage or forum.

Some apologists have claimed the "little people" can still "have their say" - and I agree, on blogs like this, we do, and maybe in the occasional letters to the editor, or just standing on a street corner. But how vast is our influence compared to a multinational that - come this fall - will be able to purchase literal HOURS of prime time tv space? It's like comparing Barbados military might to that of the U.S. and insisting that in a square off, little Bim would still have half a chance, say to resist a full-fledged invasion!

People also lack the insight to see that "free speech" cannot be extended to money! Money is no more free speech, than a stock share or a bond. It is a medium of transaction for goods and services, but when spent on political advertisements, it can assume a power that diminishes the freedom of the rest of us. Much of this is tied to the "personhood" origin of corporations, making them de facto equals of all flesh and blood citizens.

The first vehicle to do this was the 1886 Santa Clara decision of the Supreme Court to award corporations the rights of citizens, and extend to them special definitions as "persons" under the 14th Amendment.

This is the same one that established rights for emancipated slaves, and was specifically intended for that purpose. This legal bastardization of the meaning of 'person', in conjunction with the perversion of the 14th Amendment occurred despite the fact it countermanded any sensible definition, or interpretation. (Since practically every semi-conscious human knows that a corporation is a legal-business artifice, not any flesh and blood 'person' with "rights".)

The egregious Santa Clara ruling, then, legally created an instant class of 'supercitizens' - and de facto 'super persons'. Unlike the normal person-citizen, these were able to live forever, or as close to that sublime state as de-regulating laws allowed. They could live in multiple places at once (branch offices), and even transmogrify themselves via mergers, etc. or 'amputate' themselves into smaller companies bearing the same overall identity, and run by a single interlocking directorate.

These 'corporate persons' were (over time) also able to access a host of special rights and privileges - not afforded ordinary flesh and blood citizens. These included: special tax-write offs, government and state subsidies, as well as deductions.(Like 'tax deferred benefits' packages for CEOs). And, in the late 20th century, a generous form of government subsidy known as 'corporate welfare' - which extracts, on average, $1,991/year from each taxpayer to fund and underwrite corporate profits and projects. The ostensible reason to 'create jobs', but of course this is a rank myth. (Most corporate job creation is only temporary, and comes when a community virtually sells itself down the river to appease them with tax write-offs, subsidies and other extortion. Then when these vultures leave - often after three years or so, the jobs are gone but the costs, e.g. pollution, remain to clean up or pay for.)

In effect, the stage had been set for endemic and anomalous political and economic imbalance that was built into the very legal system, and manner of governance. That imblance has now reached a critical mass with the Citizens United ruling, since it essentially paves the way for corporations to succeed citizens as the inheritors of this nation, and - based on their already vast lobbying and legislative influence (please refer to the "Medicare Modernization Act") thtat over time will reduce us all to serfs or indentured servants.

What the Post (and now the ACLU) is carping about is what's called the "Disclose Act" , recently passed in the House, which aims to exercise some mild control over the no-holds barred insanity of the Citizens United refuse ruling. The aim and reach of "Disclose" ('Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections') is very limited and confined to the most powerful corporations, which would be able to harness the most immense funds during any political campaign. For example, they'd be able - if they so chose- to make an actual film about Obama being some kind of deranged "socialist" or worse, then be content that so many ill informed knuckle-draggers would buy it, hook, line and sinker. Most of these one can already reel off with little effort: the ones ensconced in Big PhRMA, the Health HMO Insurance Consortium, the Oil companies, the large multinationals, and the banking industry - not to mention Wall Street's ever present shylocks.

Basically, then, to use an analogy, with the corporate "person" aiming a gun to the collective head of citizens, the DISCLOSE act at least ensures the "gun" is secured in a trigger lock.

For example, it would ban corporations with 20 % or more foreign control or ownership from making independent expenditures in a political campaign. It would have to be done in conjunctions with PACS which are limited. The act would also ban any independent campaign expenditures from businesses (e.g. defense contractors) that have more than $10 million in contracts with the federal government.

Both provisions amount to basic common sense. By comparison, in Barados - a 370+ year old democracy (oldest in the hemisphere) no corporation is allowed to spend in any political campaign if it even has 1 % foreign ownership. Thus, Texaco, when it operated there, wasn't allowed to spend money in any Bajan elections. This is sensible and also expected, since no one in their right minds wants the influence of a foreign power in their elections - but the Post evidently does, yelping that DISCLOSE "decides which groups are allowed to particpate in democracy".

They then list the exemptions, including: unions, the NRA, Planned Parenthood, PETA, the Sierra Club and others.

Bu they mix chalk and cheese. Because while these are all certainly "special interests" they are together unequal to the power of a vast multinational corporation like BP or Monsanto, or even Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan Chase. It's somewhat like calling out congress for a new pest control law that nails the largest and most deadly pests- like scorpions, Black Widow Spiders, giant centipedes and wasps, but doesn't go after the grasshoppers or harmless spiders.

Meanwhile, the ACLU argues that DISCLOSE:

"would have a chilling effect on political participation" and that the legislation "fails to improve the integrity of political campaigns in any substantial way while significantly harming the speech and association rights of Americans"

Which is fulsome rubbish!

First, the only entities on which it would have a "chilling effect" are the most powerful corporations, including part foreign owned (which tend to be multinationals, some of which now rival the power of whole nations, see William Greider: 'One World Ready Or Not - The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism).

Technically, as "corporate persons" wielding power out of all proportion to citizens, they ought not be allowed in the electoral process, period. As I've noted in earlier blogs, even their lobbying and existing campaign funding needs to be curtailed. They are trumping more and more votes each election cycle and thereby discouraging more and more citizens from exercising their franchise - since those citizens are wise enough to see that lobbying and high power wheeling and dealing trumps votes every time.

Secondly, the legislation does help the integrity of the election process in a SMALL way, and that is better than nothing. What it does is expose to view the highest spenders, who may have the most nefarious investment in undermining a particular party or president. SO all the better to shed light on them! As with the health care reform, in a highly polarized political climate one must move in baby steps.

Thirdly, there is NO "significant harm" to the speech rights or assocation rights of average Americans. There may well be to super rich Hedge fund owners and operators who want to try and get rid of the Democrats in the mid-terms, but I don't care about them, OR the wealthy and powerful corporations that really run most of this country. (Like the odious defense contractors, who with the Pentagon, keep us tied to a futile "war", consuming over a hundred billion dollars a year now, much of it now being stolen. When are the deficit hawks going to look at that?)

As for any average Americans who want to associate and invest in the "political speech" of a multi-national (say via ads this fall praising poor little BP because Obama is "shaking it down", a la that idiot Joe Barton), fine - just don't expect me to support or applaud your siding with the enemy: an artifact devoid of emotion, and based upon a contract that has no innate rights, period.

And don't expect me to endorse your "speech", which I regard as little different from shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater, so long as it enables and assists corporate hegemony.