Thursday, April 3, 2014
NO! Money Is Not "Speech" - The Five Conservo Supremes Are Off Their Rockers!
"It's not too much to announce that it's over. We - the 90-odd percent of ordinary Americans, have finally lost -- it all this time. And the rich and super-rich have won. What's over are the last vestiges of the dream of an egalitarian democracy. Though never achieved in perfection, past generations have at least tried hard to make it so.
But the final blow came today when the conservative dominated Supreme Court struck down campaign finance limits. Now the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adleman and their ilk, can buy the kind of government that most benefits them and theirs.
We have now officially become a checkbook democracy." - Steve Pizzo, www.smirkingchimp.com
In the course of describing the egregious ruling of the majority conservative faction on the Supreme Court yesterday, Chief Justice John Roberts declared (presumably with a straight face):
"If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades - despite the profound offense such spectacles cause - it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition".
In a landmark judgment in favour of the rights of political donors, the conservative-dominated bench basically ruled that unlimited amounts of money can be poured into election campaigns.
Which makes me wonder what kind of misbegotten law school Roberts attended, that he can confuse and conflate "political campaign speech" with an inert currency exchange medium like money. To be sure, I've no objection to political campaign speech. Let the politicos get up on their soap boxes and spell out their assorted agendas and programs to their hearts' content. Indeed, they can say whatever the hell they want, within limits.
But please don't go on now and also tell me that money is speech and is entitled - in terms of donations to political campaigns - to be regarded in the same First Amendment sense as "funeral protests" (like Fred Phelps and his band of idiots used to stage), or flag burning or neo-Nazi parades.
The reason is clear: The First Amendment was intended to protect the speech of humans, which bears ideological or innately political statements - often in the form of protests, artifacts or parades. Thus, neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, IL as they did back in the 70s was intended to focus attention on their dubious cause. In the same way, flag burning is intended to focus public attention on some manner of outrage for which giving ordinary voice might not have the same effect. Note here too, that the flag is a possession, an artifact....and as one Justice once pointed out - "So long as you are burning YOUR own flag and not someone else's you are exercising your form of speech as protest."
Yes, it's true that on its face the 5-4 ruling seems to be more limited than the outrageous Citizens United ruling several years ago. However, it still leaves loopholes a mile wide through which the money-laden, aka the wealthiest, will be able to drive gigantic trucks through to get the "best democracy money can buy." Which is really ...a corporatocracy.
Douglas Rushkoff, in his superb book, Life Inc. - How Corporations Conquered the World and How We Can Take It Back, has a special chapter on money (Chapter 6, 'To Whom Credit Is Due') and ought to be required reading for every citizen. As he points out: "Money is not a neutral medium - it favors some types of behavior while discouraging others." He goes on to give a detailed discourse (which I will treat in a separate future blog post) on how the rise of "centralized currency" money and the infrastructure that conceived it, was actually responsible for the bubonic plague which killed more than one third of humanity.
At this point, let me simply summarize his thesis by noting that such centralized, interest -bearing currency contains all the instrumental evils in itself that one can comprehend. This instrumental evil is vastly in excess of that manifested in any Nazi parade, or occasional flag burning, because it affects the bulk of humanity (excepting the wealthiest) under its control. Hence, its infernal systematic spread can increase unemployment, hoarding and destitution engendering secondary evils (such as prostitution, drug addiction, burglary, murder and even spread of disease) that Nazi parades and flag burning cannot.
This is precisely why its perverse equivalence to "speech" (hawked by numerous right wing think tanks in the 80s) is as outrageous as it is incorrect. Because money - certainly in our country (and surely many others) is tied inextricably to a centralized currency and banking system, then any occasions wherein that currency is infused (i.e. elections) can be made as corrupted as the centralized system itself. One can even argue that given the already widespread circulation of outside money in politics, to the point of bribery, it was inevitable the nation would descend to a military-corporate gangster state that only appeases the will of the few - while eschewing the will of the many (expressed in the vote).
Rushkoff's point is that this central currency system not only drives political corruption, but also massive inequality, because it is designed to always be even less than a zero sum game. He cites the example of a company that borrows $1 million from a bank, but then this metastasizes to $3m because of interest accrued over time. Where does the money come from to pay the outstanding $2m back - assuming it can be paid back at all? It comes from all those who have property claimed or foreclosed or confiscated because they were at the "losing end" of the banking loan and credit system. At no time, as Rushkoff observes, can that losing end be closed, citizens protected, because otherwise it would mean the elimination of debt - which the centralized system can't tolerate.
In the case of pouring money into political campaigns or elections, then, the money amassed and channeled into these purviews to give specious "voice" to a segment of the populace (the richest)is generally taken from the indebted hides of ordinary citizens. If this money infusion is to be compounded or expanded, it means that debt must increase as the economic inequality sustained by it.
This is totally dissimilar to any "Nazi parade" or "flag burning" which speech can only have a limited effect on the body politic and because of this can't undermine it or destroy it the way money can to the political-electoral system.
If one needs an analogy to forms of disreputable speech to work with - here it is: A motley assortment of drinks is available at a party to feed one's drinking "vice" - maybe gin, bourbon, rum, vodka and scotch whiskey. Partaking of any or all of them will get one's head spinning but that's okay as it's just a social occasion. In whatever case, the effects will wear off. However, if one were to add cyanide to the mix, say in a fruit juice, the social tableaux and exchange upon which it's based would be terminated. All partaking would perish if the cyanide -laced drinks spread. In this sense, the thesis of instrumental evil advanced by Rushkoff and Lars Svendson (' A Philosophy of Evil') equates the infusion of money as "speech" as akin to the infusion of cyanide -in drinks, at a party or social gathering.
The very example here, of cyanide- a known lethal substance - is intended to force the perceptual disconnect to all the other drinks served. In like manner, money (as akin to it) is intended to force the perceptual disconnect that it cannot be the same as other forms of distressing speech.
Thus, Roberts and his 4 conservos have effectively given permission to dump "cyanide" into the political -electoral system which could conceivably complete its destruction - already well underway.
In this sense, the four liberal Justices were quite correct when they objected, noting that the conservative five "misconstrued the nature of the competing constitutional interests and understanding the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions".
Perhaps, Roberts and his motley crew wouldn't have made this error if they had thought of money as cyanide, to the body politic.
Justice Stephen Brier went on to note that the ruling:
"creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or a single campaign"
Justice Brier went on to point out that along with the Citizens United decision, it "eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."
Sen. Bernie Sanders has it exactly correct when he said yesterday, in response to the ruling:
“Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government,”
Sadly, it appears whatever "democratic legitimacy" we may once have had, has now gone the way of the Dodo.