Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Evil That Bush Did Lives After Him

With this week’s decision by the Supreme Court on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the conservative extremists Bush II appointed to the Supreme Court finally had a chance to completely destroy any semblance of balance between the interests of big business and real flesh-and-blood “people.”

By holding that corporations—as in big banks, big oil, and big pharma—had rights to “free speech,” the Court managed to drown out any and all voices ordinary citizens might raise in protest of having their own rights and interests ignored.

Why should an ordinary citizen contribute a small sum to a candidate of choice when big companies can use their billions to buy and sell their own politicians? Why bother to be informed about issues of public policy when they can all ultimately be decided by a few rich and powerful CEOs? Why bother to vote when—as in Iran and other countries where one entity holds all the power— no real democracy exists and elections are just for show?

I’m still speechless. And if something isn’t done quickly, we’ll all be “speechless”—in more ways than one.

As if the current administration didn’t have enough damage to try to undo.


Idna said...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

This is the First Amendment. I am amazed that you, Jane, especially being an author, would prefer to have censorship of political speech. McCain-Feingold played favorites as to who could have free speech and who could not. There were plenty of "corporations" who were exempt from censorship. And huge political groups like could spend as much money as they wished.

Please re-read the first five words of the Amendment: Congress shall make no law

Those are very important words. The Amendments set limits on the government. Are you really against free speech?
PS: Thank God that Bush appointed people to the Supreme Court who understand and uphold the Constitution. The only surprise is that 4 of the Justices actually don't support the First Amendment.

Anonymous said...

One corporation that contributed unlimited free advertising (same thing as a cash donation) to the Obama campaign was GE Corp., through its subsidiary NBC. No questions asked. How many millions was all the Obama praising and McCain/Palin bashing worth. The truth would be it is priceless. And don't say that Fox counters it. At least both sides are presented on Fox and their reach is tiny compared to network NBC. Palin was given a colonoscopy and Obama was given a passby NBC.

With this ruling at least now other corps. can contribute something towards balanced free speech.

What was in it for GE you ask? Research all the GREEN contracts they have gotten from stimulas. Billions!! Obviously payback.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Tarquin said...

I actually think that the Citizens United ruling was the correct one. Freedom of Speech can't be arbitrarily abridged based financial status. To say that the wealthy or corporations speaking their minds is going to pollute democracy seems, to me, to both underestimate people's abilities to self-determine and also to miss the point of having free and open discourse in a democracy.

This doesn't, at all, "drown out" voices. Free speech is not a zero-sum game. Just because corporations get to voice views doesn't mean that you don't, also.

Citizen Jane said...

Greetings, Tarquin!

I think our main point of disagreement hinges on what you call "people's abilities to self-determine." No have NO faith in the American population at large to know the difference between information and propaganda. When you talk to people about current events, few have the slightest notion what the issues are about, much less the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions. They're easily swayed by emotional sound bites that may be, and often are, out-and-out lies--"death panels" as just one recent example. The entity with the power to forge good propaganda and to repeat messages ad nauseum wins on every issue, hands down.

The other problem with this decision is that corporations are not people. The CEOs and ad departments of major banks and businesses shouldn't have unlimited power to speak collectively, even for their own employees--who may not dare disagree publicly with the "corporate" line at risk of their jobs.

I'm a great believer in free speech for people. But for collective entities like corporations, unions, and PACs, there have to be limits.

Catlover said...

C. Jane

One of my favorite topics, please allow me to go through your last comment back to Tarquin, with a few questions.

"NO faith in the American population at large to know the difference between information and propaganda"

Quite an elitist statement. I use elitist not in a good way. May I assume you had plenty of FAITH in the American people 14 months ago when the people elected Pres. Obama. Why the sudden change?

"few have the slightest notion what the issues are about, much less the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions"

I see you are in education. What a damning statement on the state of your industry. Have not even a few gotten through the ed. system with any knowledge? How would you improve our ed. system? Please to not say spend more money. Again, did the American people have enough knowledge when they elected Pres. Obama?

"corporations are not people"

Sorry, there are decades of court decisions ruling that corportaions are like people. That one is easily researched.

" CEOs and ad departments of major banks and businesses shouldn't have unlimited power to speak collectively"

The above mentioned GE Corp. is a good example. Where are your posts decrying GE's, via NBC, unlimited influence on the election of Pres. Obama?

In summation "shall make no law" covers it all. Any governmental control of political speech is very dangerous. Free Speech is all that keeps us free. I would please hope you would rethink this one. Remember, Sarah Palin might some day try and control the speech of a corporation of her choice. You would not like that.

Thanks for your time. Great Blog. Keep it up!!

Six said...

I take the side of the ACLU on this one.

Frankly, I believe this ruling will have little if any impact on the elections. This is pretty much a non-issue beyond reinforcing what the First Ammendment says.

And by the way, Bush has been out of office for more than a year now... there is an overwhelming majority of democrats in office unlike anything we have seen in recent history - this is Obama's country now, enough with the Bush hating already.

The Tarquin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Tarquin said...

CatLover: I second your statements. I'd also like to point out that even the law that was being struck down exempted some corporations, i.e. media corporations. So apparently SOME corporations were "person-like" enough to have First Amendment protections, but not others?

On a slightly unrelated note, I would also would like to add that this is a good Libertarian overview of the Citizens United ruling:

Money quote: "Corporations have the freedom to communicate what they want. But the people still have the ultimate right: the right to say no."

(Reposted after editing for clarity.)

Sue said...

As a "dyed-in-the-wool" independent, I am a strong believer in free speech -- for all -- individuals and organizations!

Jane, you seem to have a very jaundiced view of corporations. There are, in fact, some significant constraints on corporations when it comes to spending "their billions" to support any cause: they're called shareholders. And whether those shareholders are individuals or mutual funds, they do NOT want money going to things that will not help their bottom line (i.e. dividends). Plus, you suggest that all large corporations are going to be on the side of the same candidate/issue. Highly unlikely. There are way too many positions and nuances to keep that from happening -- even if corporations took a very narrow view of their own good. In fact, the majority of corporations strive to be "good corporate citizens" and do what is best for their customers and shareholders. This includes the economy, the environment, education, and yes, politics.

In addition, other entities (unions, for example) have been spending large amounts of money for years to influence voters. Allowing corporations to do the same is not eliminating the balance. In my view, it enhances it by allowing voice to all interested parties.

Then there's the question of what this decision actually allows -- spending money. Given the recent communication-related developments, I'm not sure that money is going to have all that much impact in the future. As we've seen in the recent past, some candidates spend millions of their own money on political campaigns; some get elected, some don't. In the 1960 presidential campaign, it has been extensively documented that television was the deciding factor between Nixon and Kennedy, but not because Kennedy had the big bucks to spend. It was because he made a better impression on the voters than his opponent did -- in other words, he looked better on TV. In the most recent presidential campaign, television had a limited influence on voters compared to the Internet presence of the Obama supporters. Much of this campaigning was done at little or no cost. It's a tool that allows everyone pretty much equal access and a free exchange of ideas that probably approximates the freedom of speech that the founding fathers intended. People are not disenfranchised by the Supreme Court ruling when they can disseminate information (or disinformation) using such a powerful tool. Your blog site is proof of that.

Finally, I'm glad that we've finally gotten back to a Supreme Court that APPLYS the constitution rather than arbitrarily INTERPRETING it to achieve their own political/social agenda. The Constitution is an extremely powerful document. It should be handled conservatively if we want it to be relevant for the next 200 years.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Bush only nominated 3 of the 9 justices. I don't think he deserves all that much blame.

Citizen Jane said...

Hey, this is great! Thank you all for your comments! (Although I might say that you progressives out there--some of whom I know by name--could put in a word now and then!)

Clearly this post touched a nerve and highlights what is probably the biggest issue separating the two sides of any debate in American politics: whether to trust business or the government. I opt for government, which in a democracy, is under the direct control of the people. We shall definitely be discussing these issues more in the weeks to come!

Meanwhile, a word about your comment, Catlover. My distrust in the American voter is based on the fact that most of us are busy--too busy to do the kind of reading and research needed to understand many of the issues that face us. It's too easy to be swayed by propaganda or misinformation when you haven't got the time to delve deeply into every topic that hits the headlines.

It so happens that politics is my hobby. I read about it at the expense of other things I might read, talk about it to the exclusion of other things that interest me. Other people have other priorities.

We need professional politicians whom we can trust to think deeply, listen to other points of view, and speak honestly. We all know they don't all measure up--but to disparage all politicians is to weaken the only people in the country who can support a strong government to balance the desires of big money and special interests.

I'm not for an all-powerful government at the expense of business; I'm for a balance of power between government and business. The subject of this post was a judgment by a right-leaning Supreme Court (three members of whom were appointed by Bush) which threatens that balance.

Catlover said...

C. Jane

Catlover here, back to try again. I know you are very busy, but I am just so curious about your thesis that Americans are so uneducated on the issues they need the government to control where they get there information, i.e. political speech.

Would you please square for me why you think the unwashed masses were plenty educated 14 months ago to elect Pres. Obama, but now they are back to being uneducated and need limits on where they get their information. For any thesis to have merit it has to apply in all cases. If you can spare the time please comment.

Some points on the U.S. Supreme Court that might help: Reading the decision you will learn it is not just about allowing all (not just media corps.) coporations to have free speech. It is meant to allow the individal citizen free choice as to where they get there political information.

For example, there may be one dolt out there that only wants to hear the the corporate side of any issue, thats it. If the government restricts his access to the corporate view, through force of law, then that law is unconstitutional. So, the decision was as much about what one can hear, as well as what can be spoken. Even the ACLU agrees, one does want to keep in sync with them. Hope that helps.

We survived 200 years without such a restriction (McCain-Feingold is only 20 years old) we can survive some more.


Are you one to ever post about a change in your opinion, if you were ever so disposed? Or, would you let us all wonder?

The Tarquin said...

Two quick comments:

1.) CJ - "...professional politicians whom we can trust to think deeply..." I firmly believe that this is an oxymoron. The incentives and rewards of career politicians run counter to thinking deeply. Thinking deeply (and having principles for that matter) are almost always a losing strategy for life-time politicians.

2.) Catlover - I largely agree with you, but reading into your last comment a little, I think you underestimate our gracious hostess here. You seem to imply that she's being disingenuous.

She may be a Big-Government type, but she's an honest one. If she changes her mind, I'm sure she'll let us know. I think the problem will be convincing her.

I think you'll find that most, if not all, of the disingenuousness you seem to read into her post is really a result of a different notion of what the country should look like rather than real duplicity.

That's all a long-winded way of saying that CJ's problem isn't honesty or smarts; she's got both in spades. The problem is her Social-Democratic Liberalism.

Citizen Jane said...

Catlover, I think your question is fair and important. I've actually been thinking about it since you first asked: Why do I distrust the American voter to make informed, rational decisions?

It would take a book to give that question the complete answer it deserves. There are two issues at work that particularly concern me when it comes to political decision-making in America. One has to do with the nature of group dynamics, which has been too little discussed and is little understood. The other has to do with unique aspects of the American character.

In the next two posts, I will address each of these issues in turn. Meanwhile, regarding your remarks about the recent Supreme Court decision, I refer you to the dissenting opinion of Justice Stevens:

Idna said...

The people who don't like the Supreme Court decision keep saying (as Obama did in his SOTU speech last night) that the court had “reversed a century of law.” No exactly.

The law that Congress enacted in the populist days of the early 20th century prohibited direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. That law was not at issue in the Citizens United case, and is still on the books. Rather, the court struck down a more complicated statute that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries — as opposed to their political action committees — on television advertising to urge a vote for or against a federal candidate in the period immediately before the election.

Hardly something to get hysterical about.

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Idna,

I think you may have a point about how important the Court's ruling may ultimately prove to be-given the many ways that special interests were already finding to circumvent the letter and the spirit of campaign financing laws. Perhaps in the long run, shining some light on this issue might turn out to be a good thing.

Regarding the "century of precedent" in favor of limiting corporate contributions, that figure dates modern campaign financing legislation from passage of the 1907 Tillman Act, which prohibited corporations and banks from contributing directly to candidates for public office. Taken together with other historic laws and judicial decisions, that indicates a long history of concern about the meddling of business in public affairs.