Archive for November, 2010

The Era of Corporate Rule: Why Corporate Personhood is Wrong

November 25th, 2010

Corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution. During our first century, the U.S. Supreme Court consistently ruled that corporation are not persons. This changed in 1886 when the Supreme Court recognized corporations as “persons.” The Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad ruling open the door to applying the Bill of Rights and the Equal Protection Amendment to corporations.  The Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that: States [shall not] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This protection was now being applied to corporations. The court’s decision was not debated publicly or in the halls of congress. This society-changing decision was made by the Supreme Court (though some have doubted that even the Supreme Court made this decision). It is one thing to give corporations the right to enter into contracts with other persons or corporate entities, or to limit the liability of its owners, but it is another thing to grant a corporation the rights of a living person, especially when corporations act nothing like a normal person.

In 1933, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called corporations “Frankenstein monsters” capable of doing evil. Joel Balkan pointed out that, “The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue , relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others…The corporation is a pathological institution,  a dangerous possessor of the great power it wields over people and societies” (source, p. 1-2). The corporation could be seen as manifesting the characteristics of a sociopath, with no regard for the harm its actions may inflict to individuals and communities (think BP, Massie Energy, Enron, Humana).  When real people act like this, their rights are taken away and they are locked up. In this sense, corporations are given greater freedoms than individual citizens.

The case against corporate personhood is not a criticism of responsible entrepreneurs who create healthy competition for goods and services. The free market can have very positive outcomes for our society. But some segments need to be heavily regulated or even taken over by government for the sake of transparency and removal of the profit-motive (healthcare is one example where the profit-motive can harm people while increasing profit for corporate owners and managers). Regulations are designed to force corporations to pay for the costs that would otherwise be forced onto society and the environment (source, p. 150). To minimize harm, the corporation simply needs to be limited in its reach. Without effective regulations, the free market self-implodes (as we saw in the Great Depressions and again in 2008), and it can produce unintended and harmful consequences to individuals and communities. If unchecked, it can also destroy democracy.

“Whatever one thinks of government, they’re to some extent publically accountable, to a limited extent. Corporations are to a zero extent. One of the reasons why propaganda tries to get you to hate government is because it’s the one existing institution in which people can participate to some extent and constrain tyrannical unaccountable power.”

-Noam Chomsky

(source, p. 152)

Corporations now have a disproportionate influence on our political system. OpenSecrets.org pointed out that, “the 2010 midterm elections will be remembered for spawning a new breed of political animal — the ‘super PAC,’ officially known as ‘independent expenditure-only committees,’ which are legally allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions to expressly advocate for or against federal candidates.” When the Supreme Court removed the ban on election spending earlier this year, in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, it opened the flood gates for corporate control of elections. This is a serious threat to democracy. When corporations are declared “persons,” and given freedom of speech, and money is called “speech,” we have a broken system. Barbara Steisand said it well when she called the ruling a “corporate coup d’état of America’s Democracy.” She went on to say, “By reversing well-established election law, their judicial activism has set the stage to possibly erode the very fabric of our country” (source).

New York Times editorial noted, “The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election” (source). Jonathan Alter called it the “most serious threat to American democracy in a generation” (source). » Read more: The Era of Corporate Rule: Why Corporate Personhood is Wrong

Paul Ryan’s Road Map to Disaster

November 21st, 2010

In a previous column, we looked at the Republican agenda. Knowing how Republican’s plan to govern as they take control of the House next year should be of interest to every U.S. Citizen. Specifically, our column looked at the Republicans’ “Pledge to America.” The Pledge is one of two recent Republican platform proposals. The second document is Representative Paul Ryan’s (R – WI) “A Roadmap for American’s Future.” The Roadmap continues the conservative fear-mongering about deficit spending, which we have also addressed in a previous column.

See this Critique of Paul Ryan’s “Road Map by economist Dean Baker; and this report. Dean Baker found 20 inaccuracies and 4 references to raiding Medicare in the Road Map. See also Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman’s critique of the Road Map. He points out that Ryan’s plan would reduce federal government revenues by $4 trillion over the next decade, which would add significantly to the current deficit (something Republicans see to worry about on the surface). Krugman goes on to state that, “the Road Map wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich…even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.” The Road Map assumes zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending (including energy, education, the courts, etc.), but, outside of Medicare, he does not say specifically what specific programs he would slash.

Representative Ryan’s proposal, if implemented, would be a disaster for the economy, for working families, and would essentially redistribute wealth upward. Ryan is really proposing the same destructive policies that have been pushed bu Republicans for the past thirty years, usually with painful result for low-income and middle class families. In 2012, voters will have a choice about whether they want to live in a society of massive inequality and increased vulnerability for the majority of hard working Americans, or the more-centrist approach that Obama and the Democrats are pushing for. To read excerpts from Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, click the “more” button. » Read more: Paul Ryan’s Road Map to Disaster

Obama – A Model President

November 15th, 2010

Obama…the very model of a modern U.S. president:

Deficits Don’t Matter?

November 7th, 2010

In a moment of honesty, Vice President Dick Cheney told a reporter, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” (source). Yet, more often the Republicans and their fringe backers, Fox News and the Tea Party, have made the public debt a source a public anxiety and anger. The reality is that deficit spending is required for a healthy economy, and we have been in much more debt in the past (i.e., during WWII) and we experienced the greatest boom and largest middle-class in our history (source). This is not an endorsement of “welfare for the rich, capitalism for the poor.” I think it is a crime when the government bails out corporations who have been irresponsible, and the public gets stuck with the bill. No, I strongly disagree with what went on during the Bush and Reagan years: Redistribution of lower-income/middle-class wealth to the rich, through corporate welfare (i.e., tax cuts/loopholes/shelters, no-bid contracts, bailouts, deregulation, privatization of public resources, etc.). But being against welfare for the rich does not mean all deficit spending is a bad thing. In fact, it may actually be essential for a thriving economy.

(Rick Seaman of Portland, Oregon, made this chart from data he found on TreasuryDirect.gov.)

Republicans seek to spook the population into balanced budget spending, but then they go on a spending spree when they are in power (see the chart above). Keynesian economics have proven over and over, and history bears this out, that during economic downturns government spending is essential for recovery. Some economists even insist that ongoing deficit spending is required for a vibrant economy, and deny that there is a downside. Republicans pose as the “fiscal conservatives” who are for “fiscal responsibility,” but this is a ridiculous claim. It is Democrats that have been the fiscal conservatives, and have tried to balance the budget during economic booms.

Joe Conason of Salon.com wrote that, “In our time, the Republican Party has compiled an impressive history of talking about fiscal responsibility while running up unrivaled deficits and debt. Of the roughly $11 trillion in federal debt accumulated to date, more than 90 percent can be attributed to the tenure of three presidents: Ronald Reagan, who used to complain constantly about runaway spending; George Herbert Walker Bush, reputed to be one of those old-fashioned green-eyeshade Republicans; and his spendthrift son George “Dubya” Bush, whose trillion-dollar war and irresponsible tax cuts accounted for nearly half the entire burden. Only Bill Clinton temporarily reversed the trend with surpluses and started to pay down the debt (by raising rates on the wealthiest taxpayers)…Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise, although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source).

According to their own stated standards, Republicans regularly commit the unpardonable sin of massive deficit spending. If we buy-in to their fear-mongering about deficit spending (even during recessions) then we must give Republicans very poor ratings. It is worth mentioning that when Republicans implement deficit spending, the spending usually ends up in the hands of the ultra-rich, who tend to save; whereas Democrats typically channel deficit spending to the middle-class, who are likely to spend, which leads to a stronger economy. There is a big difference between awarding no-bid military contracts to Haliburton and Blackwater, and on the other hand, extending unemployment benefits. Only the later actually ends up helping the economy.

Conason also points out that, even though deficit spending is an essential part of sound fiscal policy,”Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise,although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source). Tax rates in the U.S. are among the lowest of industrialized countries (only Mexico, Turkey, South Korea and Japan have tax rates lower than ours), and we spend more on our military than all other nations combined—if our deficit become a real problem, we could easily make some changes in these areas, without cutting “entitlements,” and wipe our our debt in a decade. Ron Paul has said, “Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple.” Perhaps there is truth to this. However, take a look at countries that have higher taxes. For example: Denmark. » Read more: Deficits Don’t Matter?

Party Like It’s 1994!

November 3rd, 2010

The Republicans have tried their best to make 2010 the new 1994.  In 1994, after 46 years of Democratic control, the Republicans finally won the majority in the House. They remained in control of the House for 12 years until 2006, when the Democrats took back the House. From 2002-2006 the Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch. During that time they had the opportunity to implement everything important to them. What they did do (and didn’t do) is telling: They started an unprovoked war in Iraq. They tried to privatize social security (and failed), but did nothing to expand healthcare to millions of uninsured citizens. They did nothing to improve government transparency, but rather, they allowed illegal wiretapping. They did nothing to rein in unchecked spending, but instead set spending records and allowed no-bid contracts to private contractors such as Halliburton and Blackwater. When the Republicans now claim to want to fix healthcare, create transparency, and rein in spending, why would we believe them. We need to look closely at the Republican agenda. Why would we give them power, when in fact their agenda is against the interests of most Americans?

This week, they took the House, and picked up seats in the Senate. Commentators are trying to make sense of the shift. It can’t be the Tea Party, because very few of those candidates won. It isn’t a “mandate” of their agenda or a “referendum” on Obama’s party because a number of Democrats won, such as Cuomo as New York Governor, and Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Rather, the shift was a predictable change that comes with most mid-term elections for a first-term president. But this time around, voters are disgruntled about the slow progress of the economy, and they took out their frustration at the polls. The problem with giving Republicans another chance at fixing the problems that they created is that they don’t have a different plan from what they have done in the past. That is, their plan  is to do what they have always done over thee past several decades.

Since the 1980s, the Republicans have basically used their “Starve the Beast” strategy. This strategy is basically to cut taxes (i.e., revenues) so that we can’t afford government programs. The ultra-rich are given special tax cuts, breaks, credits, loopholes, etc. Military spending is increased to suck up most of the federal budget. With less tax revenues they drive up the deficit, blame the Democrats, and scare the public about the mounting deficit. Once voters throw them out of office, Republicans happily leave behind a huge mess for the Democrats to clean up. Democrats now have to make the tough choices about spending and reviving the economy. While out of power, Republicans sit on the sideline and criticize anything the Democrats do to fix the mess, and even try to block anything that might help people, such as extending unemployment benefits. Republicans do everything they can to cut social programs that actually help people and create a middle class, and to cut taxes that would actually help us pay down our debt. They turn the public against Democrats with their rhetoric about “tax-and-spend-liberals,” and throw in a few words about abortion and gay marriage to please the religious right (but do nothing on these issues while in office). And then they bet on public amnesia to try to regain power in subsequent elections. This strategy has worked for them over the past several decades, but it has harmed our country.

Now that Republicans have reclaimed power in the House, what will be their agenda? » Read more: Party Like It’s 1994!

Rally to Restore Sanity

November 1st, 2010

On Saturday, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert teamed up for the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.” It was an entertaining, and inspirational, rally on the Washington Mall. The rally included Cat Stevens (AKA, Yusuf), Ozzy Osborn, Roots, Sheryl Crow, Karim Abdul Jabbar, and Anderson Cooper’s tight black tee-shirt. (You can watch the entire rally here.) When I compare this rally to the Glen Beck’s recent rally, “Restoring Honor,” the differences could not be greater. Beck’s rally felt contrived and was nothing more than a propaganda fest focused on Beck’s patriotic greatness. The Stewart/Colbert rally was fun, sincere, and made me proud to be an American. Stewart ended the rally with a sincere, and mostly-serious, speech. His entire concluding speech is included below.

jon-stewart-photo-3.jpg

“I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.

Unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems and illuminate problems heretofore unseen, or it can use its magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous-flaming-ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and tea partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rich Sanchez is an insult — not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put forth the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more.

The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything we eventually get sicker. And perhaps eczema. Yet, with that being said, I feel good. Strangely, calmly good, because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a funhouse mirror, and not the good kind that makes you slim and taller — but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass like a pumpkin and one eyeball.

So, why would we work together?  Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster?  If the picture of us were true, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable.  Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?  We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe — torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do.  We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.

Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or liberals. Most Americans live their lives that our just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often it’s something they do not want to do, but they do it. Impossible things get done every day that are only made possible by the little, reasonable compromises.”

[Stewart then plays a clip of cars merging before entering the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey]

“These cars — that’s a school teacher who thinks taxes are too high…there’s a mom with two kids who can’t think about anything else…another car, the lady’s in the NRA. She loves Oprah…An investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah…a Latino carpenter…a fundamentalist vacuum salesman…a Mormon Jay Z fan…But this is us. Everyone of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear — often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river…And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go — oh my god, is that an NRA sticker on your car, an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s OK. You go and then I’ll go…”Sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare and he is scorned, and he is not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together and the truth is, there will always be darkness.  And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey.  But we do it anyway, together.

If you want to know why I’m here and what I want from you I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me.  You’re presence was what I wanted.  Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder.  To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine.  Thank you.”

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart – Moment of Sincerity
www.comedycentral.com

Watch the entire rally at C-Span here.