Saturday, October 24, 2015

Free Speech and Citizens United: How to Save America

As just about every school kid knows, the American Revolution was fought over taxes. Specifically, over a lack of representation in the British Parliament (although given the quality of our public school system in this country, I wouldn't bet the farm on it). Great Britain was trying to recoup some of its money for coming to our aid in the French and Indian War a few years earlier. The tax was also a concession to the East India Company for lost profits as well. So, in effect, this was a corporate tax sanctioned by His Majesty, King George III's Government, to be levied on us colonialists. Therefore, one could argue that our revolution was waged against a corporation which was defended by the British Empire and foreign mercenaries (Hessians). Kind of reminds me of the Citizens United misruling a few years back by the no-so-supreme Supreme Court.

As hopefully many of you will remember, this ruling established that money was, in reality, a symbol for free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment, but it went further. Much further. This "supreme blunder" also said that corporations were, in effect, individuals just like you and I and therefore, should be protected just like every ordinary flesh and blood Joe and Jane. Well, with a slight exception. You see, federal and state campaign finance laws restrict how much "free speech" you and I can give to a campaign. After all, no one wants somebody else being able to "out talk" them. That wouldn't be fair would it? However, when it came to these new "Frankenstein" corporate/people, an exception was needed. Whereas you and I remain restricted in our "free speech", these soulless creations and legalistic fictions were free to donate to their artificial heart's content all the money they want. It seems that they were suddenly entitled to have more of a say than us mere mortals as ordained by those nine black robed high priests on the hill.

Not only that, but their financial "free speech" also serves as a defacto endorsement of a campaign. An endorsement made not just in the name of the corporation, but by implication also of its employees and stakeholders---with or without their approval. I guess that isn't too surprising since corporations aren't democracies. They are by their very nature, "kingdoms" of a sort with a quasi feudalist form of governance. What the President/CEO and board decide usually goes regardless of what the employees think or support. So, what's an employee to do? Well, one could complain but that would just tag you as a "troublemaker" or make you standout in a highly unflattering way to management, which could damage or even kill a career. Another option would be simply to quit. However, given the lack of well paying jobs these days makes that option pretty unlikely. The only other realistic alternative would be to simply make your own small donation to the campaign of your choice. You also have the option of volunteering to help out, however, you'll most likely need to separate the two in order to avoid ruffling any feathers.

While the Citizens United ruling can make independent donations from it general treasury without the need to create a separate political action committee, it cannot donate directly to the candidate or the candidate's committee. It was also disclose its name if it sponsored any advertising on behalf of the particular campaign or "PAC". Previously, under the "McCain-Feingold" Act or "Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2003 (BCRA for short), neither unions or corporations could make any direct contributions to campaigns, and as a result, had to set up a specific political action committee. The Supreme Court ruling also removed the cap for contributions while still restricting us ordinary voters. Obviously, this gave corporations an unfair advantage.

So, what to do? The American Voter can demand an amendment which redefines the nature of corporations and thus circumvent their protection under the First Amendment, which is unlikely since all campaigns run on money and whoever saw a politician willingly walk away from money? Those types are as rare as unicorns! Nevertheless, if you could somehow corral one of those "unicorns" and persuade him or her to sponsor such an amendment or introduce a bill which would restrict the flow of money into campaigns, they would still likely be unsuccessful since there are few politicians who would support serious campaign finance reform despite any public statements to the contrary. The next best thing would be term limits. While the money would still flow, at least their term in office would be briefer and we'd stand a better chance at getting some fresh ideas back into the mix. However, other than the few challengers looking for a rhetorical "hook" into office, few if any would willingly limit their time at the public trough.

Gerrymandering, as most of us know, has made it all but impossible to remove an incumbent since the districts are drawn to the advantage of the office holder. There was a rather famous observation made about gerrymandering back in the 1980's which stated that there was a higher rate of turnover in the old Soviet Politburo than in the US Congress (I wonder, dear friends, who ended up with the better representation). In fact, did you know that the United States was alone of all democratic nations in allowing self-serving politicians to solely govern the redistricting process? It's just one more factor in why the US ranks in the second tier of the most personally "free" nation (as of 2015, the US ranked 20th in the world). Nevertheless, a few states have sought to create a fairer system by reassigning the redistricting process to non-partisan commission; states like California, Washington, and Arizona while Rhode Island and New Jersey have created ad hoc committees for that purpose. Meanwhile, the remaining states continue allow the state legislatures control of redistricting. How quaint.

So, there you have it friends. We fought one revolution over the issue of taxation without representation (which benefited a corporate entity as much as a national government), and now we have corporate dominance over our political system and a political system which doesn't reflect the best interests of a majority of its citizens thanks to the flow of corporate money, unlimited terms of office and stacking the deck through gerrymandering (and none of this even takes into consideration the influence of corporate lobbyists over politicians. When was the last time voters were represented by a lobbyist? The answer is never). Of course, there are many more issues to consider such as government and corporate surveillance and inroads corroding 2nd Amendment rights, personal freedom of speech, our loss of national sovereignty and control over our borders, the usurping of our national traditions, culture, or even our acceptance of English as our accepted language, or even who "owns" the rights to our own DNA among others. Something has gone wrong with America. I'm not naive enough to believe that America was ever "Mayberry", but we have lost our collective sense of national identity, not that there wasn't some truth to image of the "Ugly American". We, as a nation, have stuck our nose where it wasn't wanted or welcomed all because we disagreed with the outcome (such as overthrowing popularly elected governments because the winner was a socialist and install brutal military juntas who went on to torture and murder millions or provided the muscle for corporations who stripped nations of their natural resources), but we have also done a lot of good too like providing food, medical aid, technology, schools, and so forth.

Schools are for education and teachers are there to teach, not as overpaid babysitters. They should not have to deal with misbehavior and they should never be afraid of being in their students. If a student doesn't want to learn, great. Then let's create public work projects which requires nothing but a strong back and put them to work doing something constructive and away from gangs, drugs, and violence. Of course, there's always the military. They're always in need of "cannon fodder". We need less focus on sports and more on critical learning skills as well as civics. Not every job requires a college education. Let's re-emphasis technical, trade and vocational education which prepared students for the workplace, and there's nothing wrong with blue collar jobs. Blue collar men and women---union and non-union---built this nation from ground up.

It's time that we find our national roots again and reassert our right to self-governance and economic fairness. Political correctness has run amuck. Enough with what divides us. Let's emphasis what unites us for a change. Not everything we do or think is the government's business, and certainly not the business of corporations. We need to re-establish our borders and re-affirm English as our national language. Corporations are not people. They are artificial entities---legal fictions. As such, they should not be treated as flesh and blood people. Politicians should be subject to immediate recall when they fail to follow public mandates (like opposing the bailout of banks and other financial institutions due to their greed and mismanagement, and then using public bailout money for pay raises and bonuses). We should ensure public representation through publicly financed elections and/or prohibiting corporate funding of campaigns, as well as through term limits. No more military ventures for the benefit of corporate greed or political influence. We need to get back to basics; to what made us strong in the first place. That's how we will save this country of ours.

History Channel: Tea Act

Thanks to the Roberts Court, Corporations Have More Constitutional Rights Than Actual People

End Gerrymandering

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