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Friday, 16 December 2011 02:59

Moyers: Why 'We The People' Must Triumph Over Corporate Power

Written by  Bill Moyers | AlterNet

Bill Moyers reminds us that repairing American democracy begins with reasserting that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as citizens.

(Editor's note: The following is the foreword to Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, by Jeffrey Clements, a new book from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.)

arely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five conservative members of the Supreme Court handed for-profit corporations the right to secretly flood political campaigns with tidal waves of cash on the eve of an election, they moved America closer to outright plutocracy, where political power derived from wealth is devoted to the protection of wealth. It is now official: Just as they have adorned our athletic stadiums and multiple places of public assembly with their logos, corporations can officially put their brand on the government of the United States as well as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the fifty states.  

The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission giving “artificial entities” the same rights of “free speech” as living, breathing human beings will likely prove as infamous as the Dred Scott ruling of 1857 that opened the unsettled territories of the United States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not. It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws. God spare us civil strife over the pernicious consequences of Citizens United, but unless citizens stand their ground, America will divide even more swiftly into winners and losers with little pity for the latter. Citizens United is but the latest battle in the class war waged for thirty years from the top down by the corporate and political right. Instead of creating a fair and level playing field for all, government would become the agent of the powerful and privileged. Public institutions, laws, and regulations, as well as the ideas, norms, and beliefs that aimed to protect the common good and helped create America’s iconic middle class, would become increasingly vulnerable. The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow succinctly summed up the results: “The redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful.” In the wake of Citizens United, popular resistance is all that can prevent the richest economic interests in the country from buying the democratic process lock, stock, and barrel. 
 
America has a long record of conflict with corporations. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy to democracy, but wealth armed with political power — power to choke off opportunities for others to rise, power to subvert public purposes and deny public needs — is a proven danger to the “general welfare” proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution as one of the justifications for America’s existence.
In its founding era, Alexander Hamilton created a financial system for our infant republic that mixed subsidies, tariffs, and a central bank to establish a viable economy and sound public credit. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson warned Americans to beware of the political ambitions of that system’s managerial class. Madison feared that the “spirit of speculation” would lead to “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty.” Jefferson hoped that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and [to] bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Radical ideas? Class warfare? The voters didn’t think so. In 1800, they made Jefferson the third president and then reelected him, and in 1808 they put Madison in the White House for the next eight years. 
 
Andrew Jackson, the overwhelming people’s choice of 1828, vetoed the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States in the summer of 1832. Twenty percent of its stock was government-owned; the rest was held by private investors, some of them foreigners and all of them wealthy. Jackson argued that the bank’s official connections and size gave it unfair advantages over local competition. In his veto message, he said: “[This act] seems to be predicated on the erroneous idea that the present stockholders have a prescriptive right not only to the favor but to the bounty of Government. ... It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” Four months later, Jackson was easily reelected in a decisive victory over plutocracy. 
 
The predators roared back in the Gilded Age that followed the Civil War. Corruption born of the lust for money produced what one historian described as “the morals of a gashouse gang.” Judges, state legislators, the parties that selected them and the editors who supported them were purchased as easily as ale at the local pub. Lobbyists roamed the halls of Congress proffering gifts of cash, railroad passes, and fancy entertainments. The U.S. Senate became a “millionaires’ club.” With government on the auction block, the notion of the “general welfare” wound up on the trash heap; grotesque inequality and poverty festered under the gilding. Sound familiar? 
 
Then came a judicial earthquake. In 1886, a conservative Supreme Court conferred the divine gift of life on the Southern Pacific Railroad and by extension to all other corporations. The railroad was declared to be a “person,” protected by the recently enacted Fourteenth Amendment, which said that no person should be deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Never mind that the amendment was enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves who were now U.S. citizens. Never mind that a corporation possessed neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned (or saved!). The Court decided that it had the same rights of “personhood” as a walking, talking citizen and was entitled to enjoy every liberty protected by the Constitution that flesh-and-blood individuals could claim, even though it did not share their disadvantage of being mortal. It could move where it chose, buy any kind of property it chose, and select its directors and stockholders from anywhere it chose. Welcome to unregulated multinational conglomerates, although unforeseen at the time. Welcome to tax shelters, at home and offshore, and to subsidies galore, paid for by the taxes of unsuspecting working people. Corporations were endowed with the rights of “personhood” but exempted from the responsibilities of citizenship. 
 
That’s the doctrine picked up and dusted off by the John Roberts Court in its ruling on Citizens United. Ignoring a century of modifying precedent, the court gave our corporate sovereigns a “sky’s the limit” right to pour money into political campaigns for the purpose of influencing the outcome. And to do so without public disclosure. We might as well say farewell to the very idea of fair play. Farewell, too, to representative government “of, by, and for the people.” 
 
Unless. 
 
Unless “We, the People” — flesh-and-blood humans, outraged at the selling off of our government — fight back. 
 
It’s been done before. As my friend and longtime colleague, the historian Bernard Weisberger, wrote recently, the Supreme Court remained a procorporate conservative fortress for the next fifty years after the Southern Pacific decision. Decade after decade it struck down laws aimed to share power with the citizenry and to promote “the general welfare.” In 1895, it declared unconstitutional a measure providing for an income tax and gutted the Sherman Antitrust Act by finding a loophole for a sugar trust. In 1905, it killed a New York state law limiting working hours. In 1917, it did likewise to a prohibition against child labor. In 1923, it wiped out another law that set minimum wages for women. In 1935 and 1936, it struck down early New Deal recovery acts. 
 
But in the face of such discouragement, embattled citizens refused to give up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, “had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that the government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have-nots.” Not content merely to wring their hands and cry “Woe is us,” everyday citizens researched the issues, organized public events to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and exhorted. They would elect the twentieth-century governments that restored “the general welfare” as a pillar of American democracy, setting in place legally ordained minimum wages, maximum working hours, child labor laws, workmen’s safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security and Medicare, and rules to promote competitive rather than monopolistic financial and business markets. 
 
The social contract that emerged from these victories is part and parcel of the “general welfare” to which the Founders had dedicated our Constitution. The corporate and political right seeks now to weaken and ultimately destroy it. Thanks to their ideological kin on the Supreme Court, they can attack the social contract using their abundant resources of wealth funneled — clandestinely — into political campaigns. During the fall elections of 2010, the first after the Citizens United decision, corporate front groups spent $126 million while hiding the identities of the donors, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The United States Chamber of Commerce, which touts itself as a “main street” grass-roots organization, draws most of its funds from about a hundred businesses, including such “main street” sources as BP, Exxon-Mobil, JPMorgan Chase, Massey Coal, Pfizer, Shell, Aetna, and Alcoa. The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber organized a covertly funded front and fired volley after volley of missiles, in the form of political ads, into the 2010 campaigns, eventually spending approximately $75 million. Another corporate cover group — the Americans Action Network — spent over $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in six Senate races and 28 House of Representative elections. And “Crossroads GPS” seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $17 million that NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls,” all determined to water down the financial reforms designed to avoid a collapse of the financial system that their own greed and reckless speculation had helped bring on. As I write in the summer of 2011, the New York Times reports that efforts to thwart serious reforms are succeeding. The populist editor Jim Hightower concludes that today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power. The more you spend on politics, the bigger your voice is in government, making the vast vaults of billionaires and corporations far superior to the voices of mere voters.”
 
Against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would be waiting on our tables and picking our crops, women would be turned back at the voting booths, and it would be a crime for workers to organize. Like our forebears, we will not fix the broken promise of America — the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all our citizens, not just the powerful and privileged — if we throw in the proverbial towel. Surrendering to plutocracy is not an option. Confronting a moment in our history that is much like the one Lincoln faced — when “we can nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope on earth” — we must fight back against the forces that are pouring dirty money into the political system, turning it into a sewer. 
 
How to fight back is the message of this book. Jeffrey Clements saw corporate behavior up close during two stints as assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, litigating against the tobacco industry, enforcing fair trade practices, and leading more than one hundred attorneys and staff responsible for consumer and environmental protection, antitrust practices, and the oversight of health care, insurance, and financial services. He came away from the experience repeating to himself this indelible truth: “Corporations are not people.” Try it yourself: “Corporations are not people.” Again: “Corporations are not people.” You are now ready to join what Clements believes is the most promising way to counter Citizens United: a campaign for a constitutional amendment affirming that free speech and democracy are for people and that corporations are not people. Impossible? Not at all, says Clements. We have already amended the Constitution twenty-seven times. Amendment campaigns are how we have always made the promise of equality and liberty more real. Difficult? Of course; as Frederick Douglass taught us, power concedes nothing without a struggle. To contend with power, Clements and his colleague John Bonifaz founded Free Speech for People, a nationwide nonpartisan effort to overturn Citizens United and corporate rights doctrines that unduly leverage corporate economic power into political power. What Clements calls the People’s Rights Amendment could be our best hope to save the “great American experiment.” 
 
To find out why, read on, and as you read, keep in mind the words of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, who a century ago stood up to the mighty combines of wealth and power that were buying up our government and called on Americans of all persuasions to join him in opposing the “naked robbery” of the public’s trust: 
 
It is not a partisan issue; it is more than a political issue; it is a great moral issue. If we condone political theft, if we do not resent the kinds of wrong and injustice that injuriously affect the whole nation, not merely our democratic form of government but our civilization itself cannot endure.

Link to article from AlterNet
Read 1327 times Last modified on Friday, 30 December 2011 01:26

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    Socialist Wins in France: Two Articles Explain the Historical and Current Context

    "France, Okay, But Could a Socialist Gain Power in the US? Here's How It Almost Happened" by Greg Mitchell of the Nation, and "François Hollande wins French presidential election" by Angelique Chrisafis of the Guardian.

    Written on Monday, 07 May 2012 17:44 Read more...
  • NNU Rally to Tax Wall Street and Heal America
    NNU Rally to Tax Wall Street and Heal America

    Nurses, Robin Hood and the band of merry women and men, and scores of friends
are strapping on their boots and preparing to head to Chicago Friday, May 18.

    Written on Monday, 07 May 2012 16:29 Read more...
  • 9 Swing States, Critical to Presidential Race, Are Mixed Lot
    9 Swing States, Critical to Presidential Race, Are Mixed Lot

    Since the housing bubble burst, Nevada has been plagued with record foreclosures, the nation’s steepest drop in home values and its highest unemployment rate.

    Iowa, on the other hand, may have missed out on some of the boom but was spared the worst of the bust: its housing prices have stayed relatively stable, and it now has the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the country.

    Written on Sunday, 06 May 2012 22:46 Read more...
  • Defense trumps poverty in Republican House
    Defense trumps poverty in Republican House

    American soldiers learned the hard way not to walk down enemy trails in Vietnam — and certainly not twice. But here come the House Republicans, marching into the sunlight by shifting billions from poverty programs to the Pentagon, all within hours of adopting an entirely new round of tax cuts for those earning more than $1 million a year.

    Written on Friday, 04 May 2012 16:50 Read more...
  • McDermott Will & Emery's Pardo discusses impacts of EPA's fracking rule (video and transcript)
    McDermott Will & Emery's Pardo discusses impacts of EPA's fracking rule (video and transcript)

    How will U.S. EPA's oil and gas air rule affect the fracking industry? During today's OnPoint, Jim Pardo, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, discusses the broader impacts of the rule ....

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:19 Read more...
  • One Year After Bin Laden’s Death, Bring the Troops Home Now
    One Year After Bin Laden’s Death, Bring the Troops Home Now

    Today marks one year since the death of Osama bin Laden. The CIA estimates there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since ‘getting Bin Laden’ and defeating al Qaeda were the stated reasons the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, President Barack Obama should use the anniversary to announce the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:12 Read more...
  • Obama's Afghanistan Speech: A Guide for the Perplexed
    Obama's Afghanistan Speech: A Guide for the Perplexed

    President Obama’s dramatic speech from Afghanistan should be parsed as a careful election-year orchestration of his plan to “wind down” the war. It is no accident that the speech came during the first-year commemoration of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the event providing Obama the rationale for ending American combat while placing hawks and political rivals on the defensive.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:05 Read more...
  • End Student Debt!
    End Student Debt!

    The student loan crisis finally reached center stage in Washington after the House GOP budget called for letting interest rates double on government-subsidized loans (and for deep cuts in Pell grants and other student support). If it passes, students who borrow the maximum will end up paying as much as $1,000 a year in added interest.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 20:13 Read more...
  • Women: Occupy the Left
    Women: Occupy the Left

    Women’s rights have always been a bit of an add-on for the left. At this spring’s Left Forum, only fifteen of 440 panels touched on any feminist issue, broadly understood. New Left Review is famous, at least in my apartment, for its high testosterone content (despite being edited by a woman); ditto Verso, the left’s flagship publishing house, where women authors are as rare as Siberian tigers.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 20:06 Read more...
  • Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist
    Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist

    Desperate for new revenue, Ohio lawmakers introduced legislation last year that would make it easier to recover money from businesses that defraud the state. It was quickly flagged at the Washington headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that views such “false claims” laws as encouraging frivolous lawsuits. ALEC’s membership includes not only corporations, but nearly 2,000 state legislators across the country — including dozens who would vote on the Ohio bill.

    Written on Monday, 23 April 2012 19:50 Read more...
  • Meet the US media companies lobbying against transparency
    Meet the US media companies lobbying against transparency

    Corporate owners or sister companies of some of the biggest names in journalism against FCC order to post political ad data. News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government.

    Written on Sunday, 22 April 2012 15:31 Read more...
  • Former ALEC Supporters Now Find Connection Toxic
    Former ALEC Supporters Now Find Connection Toxic

    With thousands of consumers expressing their concerns about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to corporations across America, even former supporters of ALEC are feeling the heat, and some are rushing to distance themselves from the organization. YUM! Brands (owners of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut) became the 12th corporate member of ALEC to announce it is leaving the organization yesterday.

    Written on Friday, 20 April 2012 15:24 Read more...
  • A Cruel Ethos - Pay Upfront or Die
    A Cruel Ethos - Pay Upfront or Die

    Our acceptance of death for those who can’t afford medical care is unique among the advanced industrialized nations of the world. This ethos allows people who don’t have enough money or enough medical insurance to die everyday. We remain blind to the humanistic healthcare ethos of other nations, that result in greatly reduced costs and superior outcomes.

    Written on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 03:20 Read more...
  • Drug War Nightmare: How We Created a Massive Racial Caste System in America
    Drug War Nightmare: How We Created a Massive Racial Caste System in America

    The drug war has created a new Jim Crow system. Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.”  Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America. 

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 19:15 Read more...
  • How ALEC Is Creating Florida-Style Messes in Other States
    How ALEC Is Creating Florida-Style Messes in Other States

    Wisconsin is a rod-and-gun state, with a hunting history that has fostered traditions of broad gun ownership and respect for the right to bear arms.

    So how did Wisconsin get saddled with a “Castle Doctrine” law that mirrors some of the worst aspects of the Florida legislation that's now at the center of the controversy over the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 17:42 Read more...
  • We Need More Heels Running Around Capitol Hill
    We Need More Heels Running Around Capitol Hill

    "[I]t will come, but I shall not see it ... It is inevitable. We can no more deny forever the right of self-government to one-half our people than we could keep the Negro forever in bondage. It will not be wrought by the same disrupting forces that freed the slave, but come it will, and I believe within a generation."

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 13:31 Read more...
  • The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%
    The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%

    Many on the American Right insist federal actions from the Civil War to recent banking regulations were encroachments on states’ rights and personal liberties, but underlying these claims – in the 1860s and today – is the greed of the richest 1 percent treating the 99 percent as chattel, writes Mark Ames.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 21:21 Read more...
  • Congress Takes a Step or Two Forward, Two Steps Back
    Congress Takes a Step or Two Forward, Two Steps Back

    Watching some of the news coming from Capitol Hill this week, two old music videos started buzzing around in our heads. One was the classic “I’m Just a Bill,” from Schoolhouse Rock, in which a beleaguered piece of legislation sits outside on the marble steps hoping to someday become a law.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 21:15 Read more...

PDA In Your State

Join "Countdown to Coverage" Share TPP with your Daily Newspaper

CWA devised a simple plan for which they were uniquely suited: drag TPP out of the shadows and into the light - one city at a time - using a medium they understand intimately: Daily Newspapers!

Two CWA members - Dave Felice in Denver, CO and Madelyn Elder in Portland, OR have started the ball rolling. We just need to keep up the momentum leading up to a big day of petition deliveries.

Button-ShareTPPWithNewspaper

Step 1 is to send an Op-Ed to your Daily Newspaper.

Sign the TPP Fast Track Petitions

MoveOn.org Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track

Public Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority

MoveOn.org Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership

CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab

 

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of