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.