We’re All People Now

Before the Civil War, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) helped perpetuate slavery and thus ensure that people were property. Now they’re working the other side of the street and ensuring that property is people. SCOTUS yesterday mended the last tiny hole in the fence separating people from corporations when it issued its ruling on the Montana Supreme Court case.

This is the case about the legitimacy of a Montana law written 100 years ago to keep the copper barons from overtly buying (essentially free market, auction block buying) of politicians. Actually worked pretty well, all things considered. Worked well enough to get the attention of the lawyers pimping for the oligarchy, so a challenge was issued in the state courts. The Montana Supreme Court, evidently the offspring of this law, in that they actually don’t appear to have been bought off, amazingly upheld Montana law and said No, corporations are NOT allowed to buy politicians.

Well, our corporate masters couldn’t let this ride. Enter the SCOTUS, black robes flapping like the ravens come to pluck the liver from Prometheus for daring to bring sunlight to a dark world. Their decision in the case was 1 paragraph long—or one paragraph short. Brief by any legal standard but probably pretty representative of the amount of time they took to think about it. Here’s the gist:

“A Montana state law provides that a “corporation may not make…an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party”…The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does.”

Yep, just in case anyone was wondering whether the SCOTUS had any second thoughts about Citizens United after seeing the real-world results, the answer is in and it’s a resounding “NO.” Now we and the corporations are all just one big happy people family. And we know who gets to be the daddy.

Voting With Dollars

Well, John Huntsman has jumped out of the clown car for the last time, finally announcing he is leaving the GOP race to be not-Obama (see today’s NYT article). I would think the Republican Party should be pretty concerned to have lost the only relatively rational and human-appearing being in the race and to be stuck with the current disturbing mix of phony, greedy, ignorant buffoons (I leave out demonically possessed, as Michelle Bachmann has already given up).

So why did Huntsman leave? Obviously, it had to do with his performance in the polls (face it—coming in behind Stephen Colbert in SC is not a good sign). But let’s think about this. Why should these “polls” matter one whit? After all, elections are the real polls, and we’ve had only 2 of 50 so far (or maybe only 1 ½, as the Iowa caucuses aren’t even real elections)—that’s 4% of the states and, given their relatively low population, likely even less than 4% of Republican voters.

Oh, Rob, you just don’t understand. It’s all about the money (hmmm, where have we heard that before?). Poor performance in polls (and in a few trial-run elections) mean that a candidate isn’t “strong” and thus probably wont win. And thus people with lots of money wont donate any of that money to the candidate. Leaving aside the negative feedback nature of this system (which means that small perturbations of an initial state amplify themselves, usually to destruction) that creates self-fulfilling prophecies, what does this really mean for “democracy?”

Well, it means this: We actually have 2 separate, parallel elections. The first election uses not votes, cast one per customer, but dollars, cast many per customer (but only from customers who have lots). Now of course the dollar election doesn’t occur on just one day, or even 50 separate days. The dollar election is every day, and the dollar tallies are reported religiously by the media. As candidates rise in dollars, they spend them on ads. The ads help them rise in the polls. And the polls help them get more dollar votes. This is now a positive feedback amplification—the winners of the dollar vote become strong, and the losers drop out of the race. Hence Huntsman. Does anyone think Huntsman (or other departed candidates with a national following) would’ve dropped out if each of the candidates had the same sized pool of funds? Of course not. They would’ve stayed in and let the real vote (not the dollar vote) play out and we could all see who the most voters in the whole country wanted.

But that doesn’t happen. Because the dollar vote has had its destructive effects long before most people votes take place, we-the-people are left to choose only between the winners of the dollar vote. Is this so bad (rhetorical question; if I have to explain this to you there’s no hope)? Yes,Columbia, it is. Reason being that it’s not “one person, one vote.” Some people (now including corporate people, thanks be to SCOTUS) are able to cast lots and lots of dollar votes. But a great many people who can cast their single person vote just fine can’t afford to cast any (or very many) dollar votes. This means that the winners of all national and state-level elections have already been pre-elected by the dollar vote. Whomever the people voters choose, of whichever party, has already been elected by dollars, dollars that come from a tiny subset of the electorate. And this subset has its own agenda, which is not shared with the rest.

So why do we want moneyed people and corporations to have this outlandish, outsized, outrageous control of our electoral process? Well, people (and corporations) need to be free to do what they want with their money. After all, that’s democracy.

Corporations Are People, My Friend!

Yes, as Mitt Romney so happily reminded us, thanks to numerous court rulings, including most recently, Citizens United, corporations really are people. At least as far as having the right to spend money on politicians. No reason a corporation isn’t entitled to the most favorable legislation money can buy, just like the rest of us. At least, those of us who have lots and lots of cash.

Now I do admit to a certain sympathy with the concept of corporate peoplehood. Like, say if we were to reinstate the draft. Then we could draft General Electric—he wouldn’t even have to change his name—and put him to work building a new electric power grid (yeah, I know they don’t have anything to do with electricity anymore). Although, maybe we don’t want to make General Electric a general (he has enough power as it is), maybe just a private—one who does lots of push-ups. Corporations would go along with this draft, of course, because they know that along with their rights as people come responsibilities. Including the responsibility to serve their country, which is what people have to do from time to time. What’s that? They wouldn’t? They don’t buy into that part of peoplehood? Oh, they’re not really people people. They’re fictional, financial-type people—people for the purposes of buying and selling things. Well, I guess that’s all right, because as financial-type people they could at least participate by helping support the country financially. You know, like by paying taxes. So how has private General Electric done there? Well, according to ABC news, General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010. And according to Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) in a March 2011 press release, over the past 5 years, GE made $26 billion in profits and got a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. I think General Electric owes us some serious KP (oh, that’s right, we don’t have soldiers on “kitchen patrol” anymore because we outsource food services to private companies).

Well, there’s always one piece of something rotting in the fridge. Maybe it’s just GE that doesn’t pay taxes and all the other big corporations pay the 35% “confiscatory” rate that conservatives love to rail about. Not according to Sen. Sanders. Some other culprits (I mean “financial wizards”) include ExxonMobil, with $19 billion in profits in 2009 and a $156 million rebate, Bank of America with $4.4 billion in profits in 2010 and a $1.9 billion refund, Carnival Corp with $11.3 billion in profit over 5 years and paying 1.1% tax, and Chevron, with $10 billion in profits and a $19 million refund (serious problems in Chevron’s accounting department. Only a $19 million refund? Somebody’s looking for a new job). So anybody can pick and choose. Oh, yeah, over the last 5 yrs, Boeing 4.5%, Southwest Airlines 6.3%, Yahoo 7%, Prudential Financial 7.6% (NY Times). What about all corporations? According to Reuters, a Govt. Accounting Office report in 2008 said 57% of US companies paid no income tax for 2 or more years in the period between 1998 and 2005. Hmmm, more than one bad apple in the fridge.

Hey, so what if corporations buy politicians? I mean, somebody’s got to, right? How else can candidates pay for all those tv ads and trips and robocalls? A little favorable legislation here, a few contracts there? That’s just fair trade. The voice of the marketplace. Wonder what it would be like if our elected “representatives” didn’t have to spend half their time begging for money and the other half passing legislation to “pay” for that money? I do. Maybe it’s time for public financing of political campaigns!