Sunday, January 24, 2010

The (not-so) Great Reversal

The Main streeters who propelled Mr. "with all due respect ,it's not the Kennedy's seat or the Democrats' seat but it's the people's seat" Brown into the late Sen. Kennedy's former seat in Massachusetts put the fitting capper on a week that will surely go down in infamy.

They will now have to deal with the fact that it is not their seat, but a Republican seat, and that, in the wake of the Supreme Court's latest piece of rampant judicial activism, that seat ultimately will belong to the corporate interests most interested in keeping the gambling casino we call Wall Street out of the range of their populist anger.

Within a few days of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court, this time a bare 5-4 conservative majority, has perpetrated on the American political landscape one of the worst cases of judicial activism on record, second only to Roe vs. Wade itself. Deeply ironic, in that it comes from jurists steeped in anti-activist court history. I can only wonder what rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, the poster boy for Republican strict constructionists, might say?

As it did in 1973, the court has taken a small case, on which it could have ruled narrowly (and by all that is legally right, should have, given 100 years of legal and judicial precedent) and has overturned an entire body of law that, until this week, prevented corporations from directly funding political campaigns. The parallels with Roe vs. Wade should make it one of the most astonishingly and unexpected political reversals of this century, just as Roe vs. Wade was in the last.

What we now have is this unspeakable dichotomy:

A human, because it is alive and kicking but has the misfortune still to reside in its mother's womb, is not a person, but a corporation, which is a legal fiction for tax purposes, is. A corporation is now accorded full constitutional rights as a human being.

That "person" is now free to spend other people's money (the investors' cash) to promote a politcal agenda without having to ask the investors. Republican Newt Gingrich, with a logic that is best described as tortured, was thrilled by the decision. He defended this state of affairs by saying that all we need is to have corporations report on the Internet how much they spend and for what, and that that would make it fine. Never mind how that would make it fine. Mr. Gingrich imagines a world that will never be. Who will require this of them? The Supreme Court decision makes no mention of reporting obligations. More important, Who would oversee such reporting, ensuring that it is accurate and complete? Any liberal attempt to make the U.S. government the watchdog on corporate political contributions will be shouted down by Mr. Gingrich and his anti-Big Government cohort.

It would be hilarious if it weren't so tragic. And what makes it sooooo tragic is that this is a common sense issue that any preschool kid could rule on: Put before a four-year-old a mother with child and a stack of incorporation papers. Ask the child to examine both. The child will be delighted to put its hand to the mom's belly and feel the strong kicks of the little life within. But she or he will be briefly puzzled, at best, by the stack of paper, in part, because the child can't read, but also because that little pile is so obviously ... lifeless. Asked which is a human being, the baby not yet born, or the corporation represented by the stack of paper, could there possibly be any doubt about what the child will say?

You have to be an adult, and apparently also a Republican, to see it the other way around.

Even John McCain, was moved out of lockstep with his fellow Republicans. He briefly took up his "maverick" persona (so quickly jettisoned after his election defeat) to express worry about the effects the decision will have. Good luck with that. Now the corporate political contribution, like abortion, is a sacred right, protected by the First Amendment, any new law you pass will be struck down as unconstitutional.

You Teabaggers? Guess what? The moneyed fat cats just did an end-run on you. While you were electing your truck-driving, pretty-boy Republican (whose previous claim to fame was that he posed nude for Cosmopolitan magazine), his Republican pals on the highest court were hijacking the electoral process, using the same tactics they've loudly opposed since 1973.

In one 10-day period, the already remote possibility for any meaningful health care reform and the likelihood that any truly meaningful reform of Wall Street banking practices were struck mortal blows by one local election and a single court decision. Gone with them is the likelihood that Main Street can ever again (if it ever could) count on Mr. Brown, Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama or any other politician to truly represent their individual interests.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. You're the same folks who sit everyday with your faces glued to your TV screens, letting the Sean Hannitys, Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks and other talking heads — show-business personalities, for God's sake — define and dictate the terms of public policy debate. You're the same folks who consider Conan O'Brien, who is walking away a very, very fat cat, with his $30 million severance from the Tonight Show to add to the millions he's already made on late-night TV, a folk hero.

Hell, people, don't you get it? Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Conan O'Brien — they're all rich people. They're not Main Streeters. They have a vested interest in keeping money and power to themselves.

Do you really still think that the Republican party cares a fig what you think?

This is the party that controlled Congress and, for eight years, the White House, during the time that your Main Street jobs were exported to Mexico, China and Malaysia by corporations.

This is the party that resisted with all its might any effort to develop alternative energy technologies that could be creating millions of new jobs right now had President Reagan not defunded the research back in the 1980s. ("Drill, Baby, drill" was the "maverick" Republican position in the last Presidential election, so we can only guess what diehard Republicans and their oil & gas corporation pals might have been shouting). Oil companies are among the largest of the corporations that will hugely benefit from the Supreme Court's decision!

This is the party who calls the Obama Administration's extensive and largely successful effort to encourage an effective multi-lateral campaign, so far, against the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan "soft on terror." President Bush, for all his trying, couldn't do even that in eight years.

This is the party that, for those eight years under Mr. Bush, quietly privatized a good deal of U.S. military capability. Blackwater (recently in the news because several of its operatives were suspected of murdering civilians in Iraq) and other private contractors now conduct roughly half of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. These corporations now collect billions of dollars from the U.S. defense budget. (You didn't know that, did you? Sorry, it's quite true.) Anybody care to guess what might happen if some of those billions are spent influencing the electoral process? Do we really want a political process in which the military (public or private) can buy an election?

This is the party that still believes Republican President Herbert Hoover's "do-nothing" economic policy would somehow have prevented the Great Depression when, in fact, the banking crisis of 1932 (just like the banking crisis of 2008-2009) was a direct result of government inaction?

This is the party that has made its single policy goal in 2009 the failure of the American presidency.

This is the party that, this month, finally betrayed its true allegiance for all to see, using one of the most egregious examples in American history of what it for so long rightly decried as "legislation from the bench" not to protect your interests, but to sell them out to the folks you swore in Mr. Obama just one year ago to oppose. How convenient. What a self-betrayal. It's truly stunning. One cannot overstate the enormity of it.

Now corporations won't just control the elected officials with its phalanx of lobbyists who bribe, blackmail and sleep with Senators and Representatives inside the Beltway. They'll control the elections themselves. The beauty of it is, they don't even have to control them all. As Mr. Brown's victory this week in Massachusetts demonstrates. they just need to make a few examples. The insurance industry, for example, could go after a single high-profile U.S. senator favorable to a provision they didn't like. They spend a pot of money to fund thier own candidate and drown out the incumbent's campaign with attack ads. They only need to take out one long-standing committee chair. A Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. A John McCain. The rest of the Senate gets the clear message, and votes accordingly.

And if you remain as guileless and gullible as you are now, my Main Street Teabagger friend, they'll control you, too.

One thing's sure. Things are looking up:

Your taxes will go up, because the corporations aren't going to be too wild about shifting the tax burden from you to them.

Your health insurance premiums will go up, and the number of uninsured will continue to climb, probably at a much faster pace, because corporations will make sure they're unburdened from the trouble of supplying you insurance as a benefit.

The number of companies "too big to fail" will go up, because the larger the corporations become, the easier it will be for be for them to dictate state and local legislative changes that will tip the competitive playing field in their direction. Ultimately, inconveniences like anti-trust legislation will go by the boards. If the corporate execs can't get Congress to overturn it soon enough — in the very unlikely case that some legislators actually grow backbones and oppose them — they can always just hit the delete button with a first amendment ruling from the high bench. How soon we forget that had it not been for populist legislation like the Taft-Hartley Act, we'd long ago have had the corporate hegemony that the Supreme Court just made possible. (Teabaggers claim to be following in the footsteps of a great movement in U.S. pre-history, but precious few of them seem to be at all acquainted with that history.)

The cost of the next bailout will go up, and there will be one, because there will be nothing to stop Wall Street from designing inventive ways to tempt investors to gamble with money they can't afford to lose and corporations who were too big to fail this time will be even bigger. The bubbles will continue to come and burst, and you Main Streeters will foot the bill for the clean-up, one way or another.

And your cost of living will go up, because, of course, corporations have to protect their investors by showing profitable quarterly reports, so you'll soon see those few corporations that gobble up their weaker competitors and come to dominate the economic landscape inch your prices up, ensuring that you're ever in debt — and more to the point, in their debt.