The Source of Corporate Power

"If the
First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or
jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in
political speech."

The words
are those of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in
last week's landmark Supreme Court decision marking some sort of
culmination in the long corporate trek to personhood. It's the word
"simply" that gets to me: Exxon-Pinocchio is a real boy now, and has
his opinions, and the government has no right to stop him from "simply
engaging in political speech."

What a
cheap cover story; it's up there with "bringing democracy to Iraq" in
its tawdry manipulation of iconic national values to justify a raw
power grab. The 5-4 decision in the long-awaited Citizens United vs.
Federal Election Commission case overturns restrictions on corporate
spending to influence election results, giving entities with millions
(in some cases, billions) of dollars at their disposal unlimited
license to electioneer for the candidate with the friendliest attitude
toward their interests.

tendency of money and power is to concentrate, of course. The big
trick, from a human perspective, is to make sure our core values remain
pre-eminent, that they are served by the ways in which we concentrate
power. Democracy is the great mechanism for doing so, the hope of the
world, or so we are told, but the wakeup message in this nakedly
cynical ruling by the Roberts Court, with its slim (but sufficient)
right-wing majority, is that the concept of democracy is mortally

As former
Sen. Bob Kerrey wrote recently on Huffington Post: "Instead of doing
the nation's business, elected officials are spending a third of their
time or more dialing for special interest dollars in never-ending
campaigns for re-election.

lobbyists," he goes on, "are helping to write the very bills in
Congress that affect their bottom line, placing private profit ahead of
the public good. Billions of taxpayer dollars are going to benefit big
contributors through earmarks, subsidies, and special regulations."

And as
Chris Hedges explains on TruthDig: "Corporations have 35,000 lobbyists
in Washington and thousands more in state capitals that dole out
corporate money to shape and write legislation."

interests of Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Coal, agribusiness, the financial
sector, the insurance sector and, of course, the military-industrial
complex, have infinitely more clout in government than the collective
popular will and the voices calling for eco-sanity, universal health
care and an end to war. Note: This is already the case.

entities have thoroughly gamed the system, leaving us with little more
than a textbook-democracy facade. What the latest Supreme Court
decision does is legitimize all this, shoving the corruption in our
faces by declaring the absurd: Corporations are people too! They have a
right to weigh in on the candidates just like the rest of us - to get
their billion-dollar opinions out to the public throughout the election

This is an
"activist" judicial decision, that is to say, a decision that serves a
prior agenda, with any principles cited (e.g., the sanctity of free
speech) sheer window dressing in service to a larger, and covert,

As a
New York Times story points out, the case itself - involving a
conservative, not-for-profit corporation called Citizens United, which
was restricted in its ability to distribute an attack film about
Hillary Clinton, "Hillary: The Movie," during the 2008 presidential
primary elections - could have been decided on narrow grounds. The
court chose instead to expand the scope of the case, making it into a
challenge of existing laws that regulate corporate election spending,
most notably the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, a.k.a.
McCain-Feingold, which prohibits corporate electioneering within 60
days of an election. This is what we've lost.

good news is that the decision has generated a huge outpouring of anger
around the country. Within a day of the ruling, the website had garnered some 40,000 signatures (it's now close to
50,000) in support of a constitutional amendment to establish that
money is not speech and only human beings have constitutional rights.
The amendment would also guarantee our right to vote and participate in
elections, and to have our votes count.

A number of
bills and legislative actions are also in the works, attempting to
circumvent the Supremes. The proposals range from patch jobs to cries
for profound change, both of which are necessary in the process of
resuscitating democracy.

No matter
what, though, the Roberts Court has hastened the propagandizing of the
national discourse, mostly through the medium of television, as
corporate interests amp up their thought-control machines in the name
of free speech. I see little hope for a gullible nation that allows the
tube to hemorrhage urgent inanities directly into its consciousness for
18 hours a day. This gullibility is the source of corporate power.
Democracy can only thrive where people think for themselves.

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