Monday, August 1, 2016

Again, Money Cannot Be Speech - Even In THIS Election!

The recent account (NY Times, July 28) of wealthy financiers, equity "giants" and general Wall Street high rollers at the Ritz-Carlton in Philly for a Clinton fundraiser was depressing, e.g.

For many Clinton donors, particularly those from the financial sector, the convention is a time to shed what one called the “hypersensitivity” that had previously surrounded their appearance at Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raisers or at her political events, during a period when Mr. Sanders repeatedly attacked Mrs. Clinton’s connections to Wall Street and her six-figure speaking fees from financial institutions.

“I think we’re past that,” said Alan Patricof, a longtime donor to Mrs. Clinton, when asked about the need to lie low during the primaries.

In Philadelphia, donors were handed preferred suites at the Ritz-Carlton and “Friends and Family” packages created for longtime Clinton hands — some of them also longtime benefactors. Some were granted time backstage or in the Clinton family box with former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. Blackstone, the private equity giant, scheduled a reception at the Barnes Foundation on Thursday with its president, Hamilton E. James, one of the leading Wall Street contenders for an economic policy post in a future Clinton administration.

This is  germane now given that money, according to several specious arguments by the LA Times' John McGinniss (May 11)  is "still free speech", as per decisions by the Roberts' Court. Of course, this is balderdash.  If the speech is so "free" (and protected under the 1st amendment)  why were all the Clinton high roller donors hiding in a penthouse at the Ritz- Carlton from the screaming Sandernistas below? Truth? They were embarrassed! They knew in their heart of hearts that their monied speech was buying influence that would later be used in a Clinton administration, If not, how or why would Hamilton E. James - president of an "equity giant" - be bruited as getting an "economic policy post"? 

But let's get into it by examining McGinnis'  claims, e.g

"Even as liberals have abandoned their traditional support for free political speech, its protection has become central to Supreme Court jurisprudence under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. At almost every turn, the Roberts court has made sure that campaign regulation is subject to ordinary 1st Amendment principles and doesn’t become, as liberals desire, a law unto itself, justifying restrictions that would be quickly ruled unconstitutional when other forms of expression are involved.'
This is where Roberts and his cohort are wrong. Money is a medium of financial and economic transaction, not speech in the accepted definition. "Speech" implies an individualist aspect whereby a person's unique consciousness is able to assemble specific words to convey an original thought or opinion. By contrast, money-generated campaign ads are one size-fits all "copy and paste" formulaic constructions that in no way resemble any sort of realistic speech. These formulaic 2-3 minute messages are then supposed to embody the "free speech" of millions of individuals. The premise is totally ludicrous.

Further, the ads arrive by means of electronic communications (radio, TV) that are paid for by special interests.
McGinnis babbles:

"The Roberts court’s key insight is that any laws restricting electoral speech must obey “neutral principles.” That is to say, they should be generalizable beyond whatever dispute is at stake and whatever the characteristics of the parties involved. A government-imposed limit on, say, the amount of money a newspaper could spend for investigative reporters would be obviously unconstitutional. Why, then, should money spent on political campaigns be any different?
Well, because money in the latter case is employed as a power-leverage device to infuse nastiness and propaganda that undermines the whole basis of genuine speech. Thus, while a newspaper investigative team's  revelations constitutes a genuine right because it issues from humans, money used to promote secondary, generic political messages does not.
Or,  take a central issue in Citizens United, of whether the right to express views about candidates in a campaign extends to corporations. In finding that it does, the court embraced neutrality, relying on earlier 1st Amendment decisions that upheld the rights of corporations to talk about politics. "
Yes, because of an original egregious ruling, the Santa Clara decision of 1886 which egregiously conferred the rights of persons onto corporations, under the 14th amendment. This is the same amendment 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'.)
 The Santa Clara ruling, however, "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'  (7)- which would extract,  on average - by late 1999- $1,186 from each taxpayer to fund and underwrite  corporate profits and projects. The ostensible reason to 'create jobs', but of course this was a rank myth .

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.  The last nail in the coffin for genuine governance was undoubtedly awarding corporate persons "free speech".  This is exactly why McGinniss is wrong when he writes:
"The 1st Amendment’s text supports corporate speech: “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.” As set down by the framers, the right isn’t limited to particular kinds of speakers but bans the government regulation of speech, period. And if the 1st Amendment protects an individual’s right to speak, then why — if neutral principles are adhered to — shouldn’t a group of individuals, banded together in a partnership or other association, also enjoy that right?"
Well, because a corporation isn't simply an aggregate or group of individuals, say like a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters. NO, it is a legal entity which - as I noted in the previous section- enjoys prerogatives and powers far in excess of any normal groups of individuals, as flesh and blood people.
 And if an association has that right, why would it lose it when it takes corporate form?  Why should it not forego it if it metastasizes to the extent of a political cancer  which attains such a malignant phase that it usurps the actual rights of ordinary citizens?
McGinniss, however, continues with more balderdash:
If the Roberts court majority has been relentless in trying to make campaign-finance jurisprudence consistent with general 1st Amendment principles, the liberal dissenters in these cases have been no less persistent in trying to carve out exceptions to permit the comprehensive regulation of campaigns but as Stephen Breyer said:  "The 1st Amendment guarantees freedom, not equality. Rights are exercised to radically unequal degrees, and the right to speech is no exception."
Here he ignores the substantial interest that politicians have in protecting their incumbency. Also, Breyer was even willing to rethink the meaning of the 1st Amendment, arguing that it’s best understood as in part a “collective right,” with a goal of connecting the nation’s legislators to the true sentiments of the people. In this revised understanding, the 1st Amendment’s purposes are advanced when the government cracks down on speech (such as political donations from the wealthy) that may mislead lawmakers about where popular opinion stands on a given issue.

McGinnis then goes on to advocate the money speech participation of the average citizen, say by offering him "tax credits" for donating to particular causes - to make his views known.  But compared to massive donor infusions of cash such as cited at the top of this post, I regard these as "micro-expressions" or micro contributions.

To be sure, I've no objection to political campaign speech. Let the politicos and their super PACs take over air time on the tube and make their attacks to their hearts' content. Indeed, they can say whatever the hell they want, within limits. But it is foolishness to claim this is the same as personal free speech
The reason is clear: The First Amendment was intended to protect the speech of flesh and blood humans, i.e. in their 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."

The difference( for McGinnis' suggestion) is that once you donate those $$$ to whatever cause, PAC or organization the individuality of your message is extinguished in the interests of the PAC- theme. For example, you may not wish to support a vile attack on a candidate but that's what your money will do once it's mixed into the donation pool.

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.

The lesson for Clinton going forward, if she wants to beat Trump,  is not to belabor optimism too much in the campaign given so many (especially in the swing states) are down and out with no jobs. (See eg. 'Why Hillary Should Fear Optimism', NY Times, Sunday Review, p. SR1). Her optimism is especially egregious if she's considering putting financial hotshots like Hamilton James into critical economic posts.

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