Thursday, January 21, 2010

Corporate Campaign Financing - the Supreme Court opens the floodgates (to Hell?)

Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court that corporations can no longer be restricted in spending on political campaigns should come as no surprise – for two very related reasons.

First, corporations enjoy a unique legal status – that of discrete persons.

“Corporations gained personhood through aggressive court maneuvers culminating in an 1886 Supreme Court case called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific. Until then, only We the People were protected by the Bill of Rights, and the governments the people elected could regulate corporations as they wished. But with personhood, corporations steadily gained ways to weaken government restraints on their behavior—and on their growth. After steady progress over the decades, they made huge strides in the 1970s through Supreme Court rulings that awarded them Fourth Amendment safeguards against warrantless regulatory searches, Fifth Amendment double jeopardy protection, and the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. These blunted the impact of the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Act, which were enacted to protect workers, consumers, and the environment.

They also won court battles that awarded them First Amendment guarantees of political speech, commercial speech, and the negative free speech right not to be associated with the speech of others. On the surface, when the big corporations and We the People have the same rights, they are equal, and the playing field is level. But disparities of scale tip the field toward the corporations at a steep pitch. If a nation-sized corporation with its huge treasury and squadrons of lawyers wants to exercise its free speech rights in a shouting match with a citizen who is exercising her or his free speech rights, can this be a fair fight? “

This long legal record clearly shows that, once America decided that an individual human and Exxon were equivalent under the law for certain rights, it became ever easier for the corporations to gain ever more influence. Thus, contrary to what some commenters are already saying, the ruling striking down the campaign finance restrictions are not unprecedented. Just as the Supreme Court could be expected to grant broad speech rights to actual humans, it must also grant those same (or VERY, VERY similar rights) to the legal persons known as corporations.

Second, the current Supreme Court has a 5-4 conservative majority made up of justices who were put in place by pro-corporation Republican Presidents. Time and again, they have stood up for corporations, and in effect said that what’s good for these behemoths is good for ordinary persons too. So if anyone really expected this Court to rule another way, they need a long vacation so as to reconnect with reality.

More to the point, however, is the question of how Democrats will ever again be able to accomplish anything politically in this country. If you really think about what Democrats (and many Progressives) want to push as part of the political agenda, those issues are anathema to corporations. Does anyone really believe that, freed from the campaign finance restrictions, we won’t now see issue and attack ads from Insurance companies, or coal companies, or vehicle companies all designed to preserve our too big to fail, too stupid to succeed corporate culture? Will Bank of America now wade into Congressional fights and seek to punish those that spoke out against them during the bailout process?

And here's a direct question for my conservative interlocutors: How is what the Supreme Court did yesterday DIFFERENT then the "judicial activism" that judges appointed by Democratic Presidents are accused of?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Civil Liberties in the Post 9/11 world - why I STILL don't trust my own government

Like it or not, once you open Pandora's box, there's no putting Pandora back into it. So a news report today in the Washington Post that the FBI illegally requested and received thousand's of phone records for non-existent terrorism emergencies comes as no surprise. What will be a surprise is if any of the agents or directors involved receive disciplinary action or are prosecuted.

But never mind about all that. It's in the past. We shouldn't look back. No one will EVER do anything that threatens civil liberties here in the U.S. And by God they are keeping us SAFE!

The FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records, according to internal bureau memos and interviews. FBI officials issued approvals after the fact to justify their actions.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the need to get information quickly and connect the dots was considered paramount throughout the federal government. The failure to obtain timely and actionable information has been a recurrent theme in the U.S. counterterrorism effort, up to and including the recent shootings at Fort Hood, Tex.

Before 9/11, FBI agents ordinarily gathered records of phone calls through the use of grand jury subpoenas or through an instrument know as a national security letter, issued for terrorism and espionage cases. Such letters, signed by senior headquarters officials, carry the weight of subpoenas with the firms that receive them.

The USA Patriot Act expanded the use of national security letters by letting lower-level officials outside Washington approve them and allowing them in wider circumstances. But the letters still required the FBI to link a request to an open terrorism case before records could be sought.

UPDATE: As if we need MORE evidence that the Obama Administration is leading us down a similar path - one that leads to less democracy and the weakening of the rule of law - Glenn Greenwald brings light to Scott Horton's continued investigation of the "suicides" at Guantanimo Bay that were, based on evidence gathered so far - a cover-up for deaths due to torture. Two points here - the first is that Glenn and Scott continue to do yeoman's work in making sure the torture abuses of our government are well documented, so that no one can say "We were never told." Second, by NOT investigating and prosecuting these heinous crimes, the Obama Administration is an accomplice to them. That should DISGUST and OUTRAGE Democrats and Progressives, especially since the Obama Administration isn't delivering on many other of its promises.

And From Andrew Sullivan:

18 Jan 2010 09:04 am
Three Corpses In Gitmo: The Very Worst Seems True

We have been told for so long that "enhanced interrogation techniques" are just "aggressive questioning"; that the ancient waterboarding technique is not torture; that Guantanamo Bay is a model prison facility where detainees are, if anything, molly-coddled (in fact, Rudy Giuliani recently opined that "Guantanamo is better than half the Federal prisons.") We are also told routinely on Fox News that the United States has not and never would torture prisoners; we are told by the New York Times and NPR that use of the word "torture" is too biased; we have been told by many that to argue that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are war criminals is such an extreme position it disgraces anyone who states it, and marginalizes them to the fever swamps of leftist haters and hysterics.

These are all lies. They are pre-meditated lies. They are attempts to lie about some of the worst crimes committed by a president and vice-president of the United States in history. Anyone with their eyes open and their mind not closed knows this somewhere deep inside. And the only reason we do not know more about this is because of the criminal cover-up under the Bush administration and the enraging refusal of the Obama administration to do the right thing and open all of it to sunlight.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Harold Ford, Capitolism, and the death of American Protest movements

Once again the inestimable Glenn Greenwald nails the national character up for all to see:

Indeed, given the extraordinary disparity between the government-enabled Wall Street bonanzas and the government-caused financial suffering for most everyone else, it really is somewhat mystifying that there's not only so little populist rage, but no outright disruptive protests. There probably are many reasons why that is so, beginning with a citizenry trained to accept its own helplessness and impotence against a seemingly omnipotent financial and political elite, but this is exactly the sort of gaudy pillaging and resulting wealth inequalities which have produced serious disorder in the past. {emphasis mine}

Interestingly, jalb seems to be on a similar track:

Many Republicans have stated that they are in their positions because it is part of "God's plan." Aside from being an obvious attempt to pander to the evangelical religious, more importantly, I find this just an attempt to remove themselves from responsibility over their own actions and words. After all, it's not you but rather God that is making thus and such happen. For a party that ostensibly prides itself on taking responsibility and claims that Democrats are irresponsible and always passing the buck, this is very tell-tale. It show these individuals are simply two-faced liars who don't want to own up to what they say and do while simultaneously giving them an excuse to say and do the most vile, unChristian nor God-like things.

You see, when a society arrives at a point where it's supposed leaders don't accept responsibility for their actions - much less the consequences of their actions - then its really easy for ordinary citizens to do the same. You don't have to invest your personal energy in a politicla system where ther's no responsibility after all, because if you do, then you have made a decision to be responsible for something, and that just gets you into trouble. Someone else will take care of ti for you - especiallly if you just donate $10 more this week.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Defending science : Again and Again

My latest defense of science is up in the comments at The Intersection. I just have to say that it IRKS me beyond belief that so many people think "science" is some sort of massive conspiracy to waste money. Anyone of my carefully vetted readers want to help me out?

Let me close with this:

Science will never AGREE 100% with anyone’s personal or political worldview or beliefs. NEVER!

Nor should it. That doesn’t make sceince “bad” or “wrong” or “suspect.” Rather, that makes science an independent path to understanding how the world works. For that reason alone it should continue unfettered and fully supported. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t have eradicated polio, learned how to prevent skin cancer, or discovered the caridac healing properties of red wine. If science was always constrained by politics, you wouldn’t have smoke alarms, or reusable coffee mugs, or windshield washer fliud that can dissolve ice.

Of course, maybe you don’t want such things.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Here's a short, and unusually frank look from National Public Radio at the Obama Administration's terrorism policies.

When I heard this on the way to the Metro station today, I have to say I was impressed. Most of the "mainstream media" won't touch this glaring contradiction - though Glenn Greenwald has cerrtainly done their background work for them for quite a while.

The best quote, IMHO, is this one:

"The issue of course is, is this a good policy?" Martin says. "It makes it
very difficult to have the kind of public conversation we need to have, about is
this a wise policy, is it working, in what direction does the United States want
to move, because [the debate] has been so politicized."

See, I have thought this exact thing for some time. Mr. Bush clearly believed in armed, aggressive assault - no matter the political, strategic, or human consequences. Mr. Obama claimed just the opposite mantle when he campaigned, but time has shown him to be at best reluctant to step away from the irrational Bush/Cheney doctrine.

I would have loved to see a more in depth piece from NPR - and I'd much rather see this on CNN or ABC News. But its a start, and for that we should be grateful.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why do they hate us? And does that make them terrorists?

One has to wonder why five young men, enjoying all the fruits of American Democracy, would shed all of the supposed benefits of our society and travel to Pakistan to fight against American soldiers next door in Afghanistan. What does that say about us, as a nation? What does that say about our actions in the world around us? And when will we start looking inward at the causes of Nigerian banker sons boarding planes in Amsterdam and trying to kill innocents?