Monday, October 19, 2009

why should corporations be considered people?

This is a very big deal and there is a lot of information out there on the subject.

For more background, go here, and also Google Citizens United v Federal Election Commission

In the recent argument before the Supreme Court one of the issues was how corporations differ from human beings. I am not sure that is germane to the public policy reasons why a corporation should be treated differently under the law this purpose or for that one, but it took up a significant part of the time during the argument.

Here is an interesting comment from Justice Scalia

"Most corporations are indistinguishable from the individual who owns them, the local hairdresser, the new auto dealer -- dealer who has just lost his dealership and -- and who wants to oppose whatever Congressman he thinks was responsible for this happening or whatever Congressman won't try to patch it up by -- by getting the auto company to undo it. There is no distinction between the individual interest and the corporate interest," Scalia said. "And that is true for the vast majority of corporations."

A number of fallacies in that but the questions it begs for me is this: if there is no distinction between the individual interest and the individuals who own them why should the individuals who own them care, one way or the other, whether those corporations are more limited in their political rights than they are as individuals?

Why would the individuals who own those corporations not be satisfied exercising their own political rights and be seeking, instead, to exercise them through a corporation?

One answer of many, I think, is that some of those who control larger corporations (as opposed to those who "own" them) have access to a lot more money through that control than they have to money as an individual. Unions are often criticized for spending members' money to support candidates that this member or that member do not support. Why should corporations be able to support political candidates with the money that belongs to shareholders who might not favor that particular candidate?

Recently there was quite a stir that Rush Limbaugh might be part of a consortium of investors who will bid to buy the St Louis Ram football team. If he became a stockholder in that corporation how would he feel about the fact that, between 1989 and 2009, more than 98% of the political contributions of the Rams (and anyone identified as earning income from the team on campaign reporting documents) have gone to Democrats?

Would Rush think it was unfair that a pot of money in which he has an equity interest should be supporting a socialist, fascist, Democrat party intent on destroying America?

Would it be fair to force him to put up with that?

I have to give the Lily to Justice Scalia, with a shout out to Justice Roberts and Thomas for the cynical way in which they are analyzing this issue.

Corporations exist to give groups of human being "super powers" and "super protections" in the economic realm. Corporations can do things that human beings cannot. There are all kinds of good reasons, from an economic standpoint, to "be" a corporation--as well I know. But no one should have super powers or super protections in the political realm, should they?

Well, of course they do. That's why this situation is just one more iteration of the basic problem: spending money is not exercising political speech--not withstanding the contortions of Buckley v. Vallejo. The fact that one can think it is the same just indicates how beguiling analogies can be, and how much they can distort reality.

The fact that the way campaigning is done these days (spending huge amounts of money to manipulate masses of people through the media) means that the more money one spends on campaign contributions the more valuable one is as a supporter to someone running for office.

If I can make a captive audience of a politician--say I find out that the person in the center seat next to me on the airplane is a member of Congress--and talk to them for longer and even more persuasively than anyone else does on a particular issue am I going to have more influence on how they vote on that issue than if I give them more money than anyone else to run for office while mentioning how I see that same issue?

Money is far more powerful as a means of persuading people locked into this current cash intensive way people run for office.

The answer would be to amend the Constitution to say that only individual human beings can contribute to political campaigns and that those human beings are limited to a modest sum of money (say $100 at the most) so that in a real way every one is equal (or almost so) in the eyes of the politician.

Why would the opinion of a CEO of a health insurance company get more weight than mine if, dollar for dollar, the two of us were equal? A politician would then, in determining how to vote, be forced to consider which of us made the most sense on the issue.

Could one run for office the way that's done now if the flow of money to politicians was restricted in the way I suggest? Of course not. And that would be a good thing. The appeal to people's emotions through manipulation of symbols through the mass media would be far less effective (although it would not, of course, disappear) than it is now. Candidates might have to do more personal contact (themselves or through people motivated to work for them by something other than money) with voters. They might have to...

Who am I kidding?

Think about how a Constitutional amendment comes to be. Are the people who are on top of the current system in any way about to do something like this?

I awarded the Lily several paragraphs above. Maybe I should have just stopped there.

Monday, October 05, 2009

because it works

The American political community's cohesion has been seriously compromised by the cynical tactics that makes co-operation and compromise difficult. The huge amounts of money at the disposal of those who use these tactics to gain and maintain control may well be the means by which our Constitutional republican form of government will be destroyed. Money = speech, indeed.

One of these tactics is the smearing of people, getting them fired or forcing them to resign. Once that happens the idea is "reload and repeat"--to move on to a new target. The basis for the attack is always a distortion of an actual situation and the person upon whom the heat is being raised most recently is Kevin Jennings, who works at the Education Department.

The whole right wing propaganda apparatus is repeating the distortion about him over and over, ginning up demand from Congress and the base to fire him. If this plays out as it has in previous situations, the palaver over Mr. Jennings will soon be such a distraction that he will resign (and have his reputation ruined, in the process).

(Note: one of the sites to which I link, above, has had the integrity to correct a crucial, germane and material factual error in its original smear report--congratulations to Fox News--and the other--shame on you--Human Affairs for proving you don't care about truth only about what works to whip up your base--has not.) (Yes, Fox News corrected a factual error that discredits the substance of its report!)

Here is a fact check on the substance of this situation.

But the resignation for which the smear artists are howling will not end the distraction because the distraction is the point. There is a lot of good stuff going on in the Department of Education at the moment and a lot of it is not to the liking of big piles of money that fuel "conservatism" today. All the babble about "homosexual agenda" is a cover for the Obama administration's efforts to strengthen public education--a prime target of the right for economic and religious reasons. The point of all this is to discredit those efforts and slow down change we can believe in to improve education rather than let it disintegrate and be replaced with Christian schools for the lower middle class and classy college prep schools for the wealth (there is no middle class in the right wing vision).

The secondary benefit of all this to right is, of course, to discredit the Obama administration in general.

So, the Lily, today to the New York Times, who can accept the award on behalf of those to whom I linked above and all the rest it it joins in creating the cacophony of distortion that repeated enough times become believed by enough to people to give them the successes they are after--to stop education reform and keep public schools crippled until they die for lack of support and to pull the Obama administration down..

In the long run these "successful" tactics will create, if they have not already, a country that is not governable except by by dictators and the charlatans they employ to keep the lies coming.

When pulling the community apart becomes the means to govern then the republic is dead and the country will have moved into a new phase. We are near that now.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dennis Kneale is either incompetent or ...

Dennis Kneale from CNBC seems as though he might be bucking for a job with Fox.

He went on and on tonight about how the only way "green" energy could become economically viable--and compete with oil-- is if it didn't have government subsidies.

I have to wonder about someone who is an economic reporter and doesn't know how much the primacy of oil depends on all kinds of subsidies and tax breaks from both federal and state governments.

Arguing as though there were some kind of level playing field between oil and "green"--as though oil earns its primacy through free market competitiveness--is either just ignorant or its dishonest.

I know that the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who believe the world is made up of two kinds of people and those who do not, but is there a third explanation for the position he takes?

So, the Lily to Dennis Kneale--who either doesn't know what he is talking about when he portrays oil as independently more viable in the "free market" or who darn well knows that he is demanding that wind and solar and such succeed without subsidy while going up against a heavily subsidized oil industry.

Maybe the subsidies should be removed from both--and maybe the government should subsidized energy sources that are better for the way the planet works and that support independence from foreign oil.

But "economics reporters" need to either say what they know is true about subsidies to various competing industries or, if they don't know it's true, go and learn about how the American economy actually works before the red light of the TV camera goes on.

So, Dennis, congratulations. You win today's "Lily."

"No matter how cynical I get, it's hard to keep up."

Lily Tomlin

Friday, July 03, 2009

Bonnie Tinker

My friend Bonnie Tinker died yesterday.

She was at the Gathering of Friends General Conference, where she went to teach her class on non-violent communication with The Other--all those Others we encounter. It is a class about transformation of both self and the Other.

I was going to be with her, as I was last year, as her elder, her support person as she taught the class. Last minute complications arose and I could not go.

Both of my girls sought to console me, last night, as though I might be thinking that I should have been there, that if I were this might not have happened.

But I was not her bodyguard, or her guardian angel. I was not with her every minute last year and would not have been with her this year any time she was on a bicycle.

"What about that butterfly thing?" my youngest asked, "the butterfly in the Amazon who beats its wings and that causes..."

I told her that was a notion, something we can never know, something that even if it's true our wondering about it cannot improve our condition or anyone else's.

Then I told them what I did know, stuff that the wondering about could improve our condition. .

I told them that working with Bonnie Tinker changed me--changed us, because they were along much of the time.

Sometimes I dreaded a call from Bonnie because she was involved with hard, hard stuff and was calling to involve me and my family in it. And I knew we had to be there, that we wanted to be there; it's just that it was so hard, what she took on, it demanded so much. Sometimes I wasn't strong enough (yet?) to be responsible--to respond as I wanted to--to her call. And sometimes I was.

Bonnie's example, her support and her encouragement constantly reminded me of my potential to do the things that I really wanted to do--the things I knew I was supposed to do but was afraid I never could. I do my best work under the supervision of responsible women.

It was, and is, just so hard.

She also showed me how to face opposition--from whom I would expect it and from whom it was a betrayal--with a love that put me standing in a place where none could ever hurt me.

I am one of many who will miss Bonnie.

I am also one with whom her spirit will never stop working.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Two-fer Day

The other day I heard a commentator say that it was stupid to say that harsh rhetoric in the media and elsewhere in the political discourse of the Republic was "dangerous to our democracy."

She went on to say words the effect that "no one would object to the fact that political debate sometimes gets sharp and contentious."

I was in the car at the time and, although the speaker could not see me, my hand shot into the air.

I object to sharp and contentious political "debate" such as we have seen, for example, around the latest Supreme Court nomination. In fact, I object to sharp and contentious debate anywhere.

This kind of stuff locks people up, freezes them into opposition, makes it difficult if not impossible to do business with one another.

The danger, here, is that the discourse that allows people to call one another "murderers," and "traitors," and all kinds of other stuff of that ilk is so divisive that it makes the give and take of a self governing republic difficult to do.

The inability of the political parties to compromise with one another, on both the state and national levels, has created a gridlock that has left serious problems unaddressed for the better part of a decade. Who, after all, can compromise with "murderers" and "traitors" and expect good results. Who can even talk, let alone listen, to such people?

The rough and tumble of such things as "Tiller the baby killer" isn't harmless. The words matter.

And I think that some people who defend this kind of discourse, and dismiss it as "political correctness" or some such shibboleth, know full well what they are doing. There are those who are positively dis-interested in a "give and take" type of government. They want to rule as the Bush Administration did: going into power on a razor's edge (or perhaps no edge, at all) of a "mandate" they governed as though they won five votes to one.

I supported Mr. Obama because he said that wasn't a way to go about things and he has been trying to change that culture. In the end I know he will use the votes if he has them to get health care and climate change legislation--even if not one Republican supports it. But I admire his effort to compromise and bring some along some Republicans, to try to change the culture of overpowering opponents without any concern about their positions.

So, the Lily is for people like Rush Limbaugh--he is one of those who knows darned well that he is using language in a dishonest way to overcome those with whom he disagrees without any accommodation toward them, at all.

No compromise. Compromise is, apparently, now un American.

not rooting? not encouraging?

So, the idea is that Dick Cheney isn't really hoping that the United States will be attacked, again, so as to justify the illegal and inhumane treatment that the Bush Administration used to get information from people they believed had it (or, as some people would have it, to get false information about an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection out of people who could credibly be characterized to know of such a thing).

Some people believe that this is a set up: Cheney comes out and says that the Obama administration is "dismantling" the structure that "kept us safe" after the attack on September 11 in the hopes that "if it happens" it will be a boon to Republican electoral fortunes.

Does Cheney hope that will happen?

The other theory is that Cheney is selling the "we got useful information out of torture" idea as a prophylactic against indictment and conviction (of himself and those who, apparently, followed his orders) for the illegal program, or selling that idea so as to influence public opinion.

I don't know what, if any of these things, Cheney has in mind. It's entirely possible that he really believes what he is saying and he is trying to influence decision making to stop what he sees as eroding our security structure. Less likely things have, in my experience, turned out to be true.

But I do know this. If the parties were reversed, here, the entire right wing chorus would be singing in four part harmony about how comments like these were going to encourage those attacks and make them more likely to succeed in the same way disclosing blue prints of nuclear power plants would.

Cheney's remarks, made by an Al Gore, would be said to be telling the "enemy" that we are weak and vulnerable and therefore are encouraging (I believe the word the right favors in such situations is "emboldening") them to take a crack at an attack.

Remarking that a Republican administration was acting in such a way as to endanger national security would be called "treason" if it were done by a Democrat or non-partisan person.

How do I know that? It's not like I have to speculate. That's what they said, and the people who read their talking points in the media, said any time anyone objected to or ever questioned something proposed (or done in secret) by the Bush/Cheney administration.

No Lily, here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Eight Is Enough for Court "Balance."

It's about integrity...

So, the Republicans want to give due attention to the solemn task of advising and consenting on a Supreme Court nomination and they want to spend as much time as they think it takes to review the record of Sonia Sotomayor . They say there are so many cases that it's unfair to rush the confirmation hearings. They didn't care to do that for nominees from President Bush, but a lot of things they did for President Bush are now not the right thing to do, anymore.

Do't think that's true? Well, aside from running up huge public debt there is the insistence, now, that war funding bills not carry funding for anything else as they did back in the day when it was conservative pork being carried...I digress. It's hard to focus on one example of a lack of integrity when so many others have their hands waving in the air to be recognized.

Back to the Supreme Court nomination...

Some in the media believe that the delay insisted on by Conservatives is a part of fund raising. Both sides will do it but the Conservatives need to shake down their base, at this point, more than the Progressives do. Others think that the Party of No is just dragging its feet to keep other things from getting done as they try to run out the clock til the next election when they hope, through the Fox style propaganda they are developing, they might win a few more seats and more power to frustrate change.

I wonder, though, in my own little cynical, bottom of the barrel corner of the world, if that's all there is to it.

If Justice Souter is gone and the court cranks up operation in October one justice short won't that work to the advantage of the "strict constructionalist" who also hold to the modern and radical doctrine of original intent of the founders (quite to the contrary of the intent of the founders)? It may cause a number of 4-4 ties. These in some cases will work out to the advantage of the Right, and in some may prevent them from denying things like redress of grievances for wage discrimination and the like.

I don't know for sure but if the retiring justice wasn't one of "theirs" might they not think it worth it to create an albeit small period of time in which the court can hear and make decisions in which there is one fewer justice who was not a safe vote for them, anyway.

So, there it is, in my view--a Lily Award for Senator Sessions and the gang.

Remember what Lily Tomlin, our patron saint, here, said: "No matter how cynical you get--it's hard to keep up."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

One more step for Rush...a giant step backwards for us all?

"On March 27, Limbaugh stated of Obama's economic policies: "I have warned you and warned you again: If President Obama succeeds with this, our nation fails. Our nation is unalterably changed for generations."

so the man was quoted by media matters

Note in passing that "unalterably" may conflict with "for generations," and think about it from Rush's point of view, the point of view of those he epitomizes.

If President Obama's leadership takes us away from the capitalism that he holds dear--if people have value beyond their ability to make economic contribution, if liberty comes to mean something other than the ability to make as much money as one can by any means one can get away with, then, indeed, "our" "nation" fails.

If limits that used to hold the predatory materialism that Rush favors are re-instated then the "nation" of which he sings (a "nation" more in the sense of a people than a particular country--a people comprising a socio economic class--those for whom this predation works primarily because their wealth and power protects them from being its victims) will indeed fail.

I wish it so although I know that it cannot be "unalterably" held in check.

Experience tells me that what Rush fears is what the New Deal did--for generations.

But not forever.

I think Rush "gets it"--he understands how our current system works and what it actually does. The question in my mind is whether he really believes that, all things considered, it creates the greatest good for the greatest number of people, that it's the best way to set things up.

Does he really think that no one has value except in so far as they are able to create economic value?

Hard to get inside someone's head.

The quote of Rush from Media Matters is one of a compilation of quotations that portrays Obama as the worst person in the world--or the United States, at least. These portray him as the enemy of "our" way of life, out to destroy the country and what it stands for.

For all our sakes I hope nothing bad happens to the President.

For Rush's sake, I think he ought to hope so, too.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Does anybody really know what time its? Does anybody really care?

I found this and I shook my head.

"ABC News produced a heartbreaking tale of woe about harried professionals scheming to reduce their incomes to avoid higher tax brackets. A dentist told the reporter she was contemplating cutting “her income from her current $320,000 to under $250,000 by having her dental hygienist work fewer days and by treating fewer patients.”

"Neither she nor the reporter appeared to have any idea how marginal tax rates work. To wit, she’d pay the higher 36 percent rate only on income above $250,000. The current rate is 33 percent. Hence, Dr. Happy-Tooth’s brilliant plan would save her exactly $2,100 in taxes at a cost of $67,900 in foregone income.

"No wonder people like her vote Republican."

And for Democrats, I might add.

People who report and comment on the news are smart enough to figure this stuff out and at the same time it's entirely possible that they really don't get it.

Still, I wonder: ESPN would never send someone out to cover an upcoming three game series between the Yankees and the Red Sox who would say that one team or the other would sweep the series because it had a pitcher against whom the other had not had a hit in seven years. People who cover baseball know the game well enough to know that pitcher could not pitch all three games. That's not how baseball works. Pitchers rarely start games, except in the most dire of circumstances, any more frequently than once every four days.

And baseball reporters know that.

And, by the way, those who play the game know that, too.

So, in the story alluded to, above, we have someone covering the impact of taxes on earnings--and someone paying those taxes--both of whom are ignorant of how taxes work!

One of them is misleading an audience and the other is contemplating a course of action that will cause serious economic detriment to herself.

If this is ignorance or if it is a guileful attempt to mislead others it does not portend well for democracy or reflect positively on the human condition.

I think I'd rather believe that the dentist and the reporter are doing that, rather than believe that they are so ignorant about something so vital to their own well being that they are doing self destructive things as they try to maximize their well being.

I'd rather believe that someone would lie to damage the other side in the ongoing class war, on the one hand, and the war for audience, on the other. Wowsers!

I'd rather believe people are that dishonest than believe they are that stupid. I don't know that I do believe that, but I know that's what I'd rather believe.

I guess that means I get the Lily, today.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oh, Ma...When is my bailout coming?

Congressman Eric Cantor voted for the bank bailout bill, advocated it, as Congress gave the Bush Administration permission to essentially drove its limos past the banks with Hank Paulson hanging out the window throwing money.

Now he is saying that we have a "culture of bailout" and he wonders, apparently but not really ironically, when his bailout is coming.

His wife is a managing director of a bank. That bank has been reported as changing its tax status so that it would qualify for a bailout and received one. So, his wife--his family--has already received its bail out.

I can see him in political black-face (after a verse or two or "Barack the Magic Negro?), on his knees for the big finish...

"I'd cast a million votes,
For (some of those bank) notes,
My (wife's) baiiiiiiiilllllll outttttt!"

More remarkable, however, is that the good Congressman did not tell anyone as he cast his vote for the bailouts that he would benefit from it.

OK. A Lily to the good Congressman. It has been said that he recognizes that there is a vacuum right now in Republican leadership and he intends to flow into it. Can a vacuum, however, fill a vacuum? I guess it can, in the party of "No."

"No matter how cynical I get, it's hard to keep up."

Lily Tomlin

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

They will take it but do the bankers need our bailout money?

An interesting comment from Secretary Paulson some months back when suggestions were made to limit the compensation of the people who run the banks. He said that if Congress did that these bankers would refuse to participate in the bailout scheme.

Would not participate?

It was "common sense" at the time that if the bailout money was not given to the banks the banks would go down and along with it the whole economy.

They would not participate?

Could it be that the people who control the banking industry don't care if there is no more bailout money for them?

Would they--wealthy far beyond our commonplace dreams of avarice--be willing to let their banks go out of business to retain the power they have over the government?

Do they care so little for the middle and bottom level employees of their banks, and for the middle bottom and lower level stockholders in the country, to destroy their lives utterly while they sit, in comfort, on their personal wealth in order to bring President Obama and the Democrats to heel?

Will they just refuse to participate in the "recovery" if the terms do not continue to please them, perfectly willing, if the terms do not continue to please them, to retreat into the compounds of wealth until the rest of the country burns down?

Richard Wolfe, a commentator, says that the banks are going to need more bailout money and, while the banks might, do the people who run them? Can they just let the current banking system go down and then move into control of the system that replaces it?

Is it true that banks come and go but there will always be the bankers?

Will they sit on their hands and hire enough Congressmen and think-tank pundits to convince enough people that their behavior is reasonable and necessary to restore prosperity, while the attempts to change "business as usual" in the financial system are misguided fantasy, socialism and, yes, "class warfare?"

These people are wealthy.

They don't need our bailout money.

We need them to need our bailout money. But they don't.

The Lily, today, to me.

Monday, February 02, 2009

bi-partisanship is a four letter word

The Republican Guru Grover Norquist was recently quoted to the effect that "bi partisanship is the equivalent of date rape."

There's an image!

I see his point, though, and I see his point of view. I don't agree with him, but I understand where he is coming from.

He sees the world as black and white, us versus them, we are right and they are wrong. Politics is a zero sum game. If someone else is in power that's unacceptable. They have no right to govern because they are wrong. He is smart, anyone who disagrees with him is not only wrong but criminal or crazy.

Makes complete sense that there can be no reconciliation or cooperation, if that's how one sees the world.

That is not, however, the way the world really is.

It is true, though, that the last eight years were dominated by a continuing "date rape" perpetrated by the Republican Party--even when the Democrats were in the majority, toward the end. A president with the slimmest margin of victory in history (if, indeed, he had any such margin) governed as though he received 80% of the vote and he got away with it.

There was no give and take, during the Bush administration. It was all take--unless you worked for a living and received wages, then you gave, and gave, and gave.

Mr. Norquist seems to be projecting, then. What his "side" did is what he thinks will be done to him because that is what he thinks reality is.

It would be nice if it could be shown that he is wrong--that compromise is possible in which everyone gives a little to get a little.

I don't know if that will happen, but there is a danger even if it does.

It is entirely possible that so many compromises can be made that what is done is ineffective and then the doer will be made to look wrong in the future when the compromise turns out to have sabotaged the mission the legislation set out to accomplish.

The income tax, for example, was so watered down by concessions made to get it implemented that it's not really progressive and there are plenty of ways that middle class tax payers have had the burden of funding government shifted to them (can you say capital gains income versus income on salaries--including social security).

And asking for compromise after compromise after compromise can become a tactic to blunt the effort and so ensure Democratic failure that Republicans can run on in two years.

Date rape. Yeah. If Norquist continues to use that phrase then, like "class warfare," those I hear use it the most will be, in my mind, the most likely to engage in it.

So, a Lily to Mr. Norquist.