January 25, 2010
Let’s first of all line up the players in this outrageous decision. In favor of it, we can count Bush-tilting appointees: Court Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision. Against it, we can count Justices Stevens, (who wrote the dissent), Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor. Scalia, you may remember, gave the tie-breaking vote 5-4 vote on Election Day 2000 to stop counting Gore votes, handing Bush the victory. The day after his son John was named to join the Greenberg Traurig Law Firm as a partner. G-T’s most notable clients were George and Jeb Bush. Miami-based Greenberg Traurig, as sourcewatch.org tells us, is 1350-lawyer, full-service, international law firm. So the Scalia family did well that year.
Now that we have sprayed the air with the stink of corruption, let’s move forward, not backwards. The ruling in question is a rollback of the 2002 law, named after its bi-partisan creators, the McCain-Feingold act. It bans the broadcast via cable, satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 day run-up before presidential primaries and in the 60-day run-up before general elections.
McCain-Feingold was narrowed by another Bush-court decision in 2007, which applied to communications that were “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”
The ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, overruled two precedents: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 decision that upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates, and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, a 2003 decision that upheld the part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. These facts come from the New York Times’ Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit, which is not only the title’s article but the Court’s bottom line.
In doing so they have given corporations, et al, “personage” (treating them as individual persons), free to spend as much money as they please to whomever they chose to give it, members of Congress for campaigns, lobbyists, including for Big Oil, Big Pharma, Wall Street Financial firms doling out their huge bonuses while still on the government stimulus’ dole, and so on. As CNBC’s Keith Olberman suggested, now the members of Congress, the House and Senate, can wear baseball caps with a logo of the firm they represent, i.e. United Health Care, AIG, Microsoft, etc. to make it easier to recognize their constituency. In fact, I believe they would have many hats to wear for the various interests feeding most of our duly voted Congress.
To say that this is the final stab in the back of democratic process, putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse’s protection, to act as if they were individuals, persons, something human, with real conscience and consciousness is an understatement. This is a push into the grave for democracy, such as it is. This would also entitle “advertisements” like Hillary – The Movie, a ninety-minute film and hit piece produced by the Republican Citizens United [united presumably to trash Hillary Clinton], to reclaim their right to show the movie on cable video-on-demand, in theaters widely (more than the six cities it was originally shown in), and to remain available on DVD and the Internet.
If you hadn’t noticed, this also is a hatchet job to any longer-length legitimate journalism. All gloves are off now. Lie as freely and as often and at whatever length you please. The only stipulation is to disclose the spending and/or run a disclaimer with your “advertisements,” sort of like those speed-talking resumes of symptoms that come with the endless drug commercials, including everything from death to a four-hour erection, plus a handbook of symptoms and potential damage to your system. The rolling back of media restraint is a death-blow to our political system, bought and paid for from a politicized court.
I suppose the Repuglican Hillary-the Movie was a riposte to Michael Moore’s films, from Roger and Me to America: A Love Story. Yet Moore’s films, like public television’s reports of Bill Moyers Journal and Frontline, all make legitimate criticisms against real political abuses. Moore favors humor to lighten the bitter taste of the pills we have to swallow. And PBS’ work has a “serious,” more dramatic tone to it. Yet, they all make legitimate critical points. And it is important to emphasize the difference between serious criticism versus agit prop, propaganda, Swift-boating, smear tactics and outright lying.
Somehow this woke Obama momentarily from his rhetorical somnambulism to promise a spate of overdue restrictions against banking offenses, including a revisit of the Glass-Steagall act, which separates savings banks from investment banks, and whose mere mention drove the Dow Jones Average down 333 points in two days. But, Obama has finally called Paul Volker to the battle, to take the financial industry to the mat, for once. Let’s see if Obama sticks to his promise on this one and Tim Geithner and the now invisible Larry Summers don’t try to sabotage Volker’s efforts.
Yet, as necessary as reigning in the criminalized banking procedures is, it doesn’t mitigate the effect of unleashing corporate spending, like a cyclone of corruption on the American political landscape, to wipe out everything in its path.
This spending rollback has been called the worst decision of the Supreme Court since the Dred Scott case (1799- 1858). Scott was a US slave who sued unsuccessfully for his freedom in 1857. In essence, “The United States Supreme Court ruled seven to two against Scott, finding that neither he, nor any person of African ancestry [his wife], could claim citizenship in the United States, and that therefore Scott could not bring suit in federal court under diversity of citizenship rules. Moreover, Scott’s temporary residence outside of Missouri did not affect his emancipation under the Missouri Compromise, since reaching that result would deprive Scott’s owner of his property.”
So Scott was a non-person, a piece of property, with no human rights let alone legal rights whatsoever. Read the Wiki link to see how low our Supreme Court can go. About as low as they have currently gone. Their action had no small part in leading to the Civil War, which I often feel we are steadily rolling towards again, though this time it will be the citizenry against corporate fascism.
Unfortunately, the second aberration we faced this week was the election of the from-nowhere Scott Brown, Republican state senator, who drove his 200,000 mile pick-up truck (ala Joe the Plumber) to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, past Brown’s spotty career as a nude male model. Who will they find next? Of course, it didn’t help that the Democratic “shoe-in” candidate, Martha Coakley, went on vacation for two weeks in the middle of the campaign, and presented a mere shadow of the passionate defender of health care that Ted Kennedy was for so many years.
But the GOP Senate Victory Stuns Democrats, the Times said, as well it should have. It may remind them that their President’s campaign agenda has been more or less abandoned to favor the financial sector, additional wars, Big Oil, the gutting of Medicare, the continuance of THEPATRIOTACT, the retention of torture, and a lack of any conviction re Yes, We Can and the promise of Change. Maybe this slap, with the Court’s, will wake him up. Unfortunately, those waking him up don’t present any more of a real solution than some populist discontent. But then, those are the fault lines of tectonic plates creaking towards earthquake in this society.
But lest I sink into any apocalyptic prophecies, let me take the bull market by the horns here and assert it is time for all good men to come to the aid of their country, seek the truth, and avoid partisan politics. Avoid it in favor of what their intelligence and conscience tells them is the best direction for America, not based on fear of “big government” as opposed to “huge corporatism,” but on what’s right. After all what we are living is the real deal, our lives, and the decisions we make can make them joyous or horrible, extend them or end them, and our children, families, and extended family of the human race as well. Activism carries its own burden of responsibility and right action.
What you saw this week from the Supreme Court was the opposite of that. Instead, the five justices that rolled back campaign spending claimed it in the name of “free speech,” “defending the first amendment.” They are as shallow as judges as their conclusions. The only free speech that will be impeded will be of the voices in the wilderness calling for justice, even when it’s unpopular, an end to war when the cause is under-funded, and an end to weapons of financial destruction when they are propping up Wall Street, an end to Global Warming when the big money is freezing out the opposition.
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