Monday, July 5, 2010

Franken Kicks Supreme Butts

Helping to kick off the 2010 ACS National Convention, Sen. Al Franken criticized Republican efforts to scuttle the Obama administration's nominations to the federal courts and numerous administration positions. 
"Tonight, we celebrate the rise of a new generation of progressive legal scholars and jurists," Franken said. "Look to your left. Look to your right. Odds are, at least one of the three of you will someday be filibustered by Senate Republicans. Speaking of which, I'd like to give a special shout-out to all the filibustered nominees we have here with us tonight. The Republican obstruction that is standing between you and the work you've agreed to do for your country is unacceptable. And we will continue to fight it."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

How's That Recessioney, Oily Thing Working Out For Ya?

For OpEdNews: David Michael Green - Writer
Let's be honest: We live in stunningly, jaw-droppingly, ridiculously absurd political times.

Here's the story in a nutshell: A far-right predatory overclass has spent the last thirty years undoing the hard-fought gains of the mid-twentieth century, which had produced a robust middle class and vastly more economic and social justice in America than the country had ever known before. These regressives used every kind of deceit imaginable to persuade unsophisticated voters to choose candidates whose real agenda was to assist their plutocratic puppetmasters in fleecing the very same people who voted for them.

Such candidates ran on issues like the death penalty, immigration, bogus wars, gay marriage and abortion. But what they really were about as legislators was exporting jobs to where workers are dirt cheap and politically neutered, crashing organized labor, shifting the tax burden onto the mass public, deregulating industry to allow unhindered profit-taking on the upside and socialized public responsibility for risk on the downside, and locking in a Supreme Court majority that would never blanch at even the most outrageous rulings enhancing corporate power in American society.

If the product of this slow and silent coup wasn't so bloody and so ruinous to so many lives, you'd really have to hand it to these guys for their political acumen and patience. It took a while, and it required the building of a broad and robust infrastructure, spanning from mainstream media to talk radio and TV to think-tanks to Congress, the presidency and the judiciary, to the GOP and now to the Democratic Party as well, but they have pretty much completely succeeded in grabbing all the levers of power in our society. They dominate its discourse entirely, and they have been almost completely successful to date in securing all the elements of their legislative, regulatory and jurisprudential agenda, at least to this point (how far they ultimately intend to go isn't clear the US as Honduras, perhaps? but it's unlikely to be pretty). Perhaps the only major exception to that rule was their 2005 failure to privatize the vast pool of public money sitting in the Social Security coffers, which they lust over lasciviously, like teenage boys inhaling online porn by the bucketful.

The product of these efforts has been precisely what one would expect. Corporations and economic elites have grown fantastically more wealthy than they already were thirty years ago. Their tax liabilities are now negligible and sometimes less than zero. Massive national debt, the product in part of those tax gifts to the rich, plus huge bills for interest on that debt (this alone is one of the largest items in the federal budget each year), is now owned by the mass public, who got nickels and dimes worth of tax cuts, in exchange for which they will now have to literally work years of their lives to pay down the taxes the rich escaped. Working people across the country get less and pay more for everything today. College is becoming increasingly out of the financial reach of average Americans. The minimum wage, which actually often isn't the minimum, is far from a sustainable salary for one person, let alone a family. As of 2004, the richest one percent of Americans possessed sixty percent of all wealth in the country, while the bottom forty percent accounted for a whopping two-tenths of a percent. Between 1979 and 2004, after-tax income for the top one percent of Americans rose by 176 percent, while for those in the bottom 20 percent that figure rose only six percent. And those figures are for six years ago, during what by current standards was flush times for working people. Now jobs are disappearing, with the inevitable effect of driving wages down further, not to mention all the obvious effects on prosperity, security, health, mental health and sheer longevity.

Meanwhile, just the approach to regulation alone has produced three monstrous attacks on American society as a direct result. First the recession-starting-to-become-a-depression and all its devastation, then the recent mining disaster, and now BP's WMD attack on the Gulf Coast states. What all of these have in common is a government regulatory apparatus that over time transitioned from a public service mission into deference to those supposed to be regulated, and then from deference for the corporate sphere into constituting a straight-out satellite office of the corporations themselves, literally having business supposed "regulatees' fill out their own monitoring forms in pencil, to be inked in later by the planted shills in government. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been wiped out by these actions and the public is paying for its own thrashing through bail-out funds. I'm sorry, but in what sense is this not treason?

Okay, so far so bad. Nothing particularly Alice-In-Wonderlandy or especially novel about rampant greed, is there? But what's really bizarre to the point of being becoming a fully hallucinogenic experience that really should come under the supervision of the Controlled Substances Act is the effect that this has had on politics. Could there ever be a moment when right-wing "economics' have been so thoroughly and manifestly repudiated? Could there ever be more overt examples of corporate greed gone nuclear? Could the repercussions of these policy decisions ever more clearly have wrecked the lives of economically insecure ordinary Americans?

No, no and no. All this is as obvious and predictable as sunrise. And yet... Here we find ourselves in this remarkable and remarkably absurd position where the folks who not only created this monster, who not only have worked assiduously to prevent any solutions to the destruction they've wrought, and who now also promise even more of the same these very folks are poised to win resounding electoral victories in November. And the folks who will be voting for them will once again become victims of their predations. And the folks in Congress and the White House they'll be voting against supposed socialist-fascists (whatever strange Janus-faced zoological beast that would look like if it actually existed) are in fact just about the most pro-plutocrat government imaginable. But they're going to get stomped by voters for being socialists.

How on earth did this happen?

Well, to start with, it happened because it was intended to happen. As described above, this is the product of a broad, concerted and patient effort by the radical right to capture and control American government, and it has worked remarkably well, especially when one considers the sheer amount of deceit required to pull it off. It's like trying to sell a cocktail of Dirt Drink mixed with Sawdust Soda to a man dying of thirst. But it can be done, and we know that because the process is now all but complete. When even John McCain refers to Congress "the best government that money can buy" you know you're really hurting, pal. As for that Trotskyite socialist in the White House, well he's staffed his economic team directly out of Goldman Sachs' boardroom, he bails out mega-banks one hundred cents on the dollar without even requiring that they loan money, he wrote a health care bill that forces thirty or forty million Americans to buy a product from bloated thieving insurance companies whether they want it or not, and he has dramatically increased spending on an already astonishingly distended military, while remaining essentially silent about (meager but essential) unemployment benefits right now in the process of terminating for millions of Americans. Yeah, baby that socialist. "Workers of the world unite" is definitely what they rap about at White House cabinet meetings. Geithner, Summers, Gates all those revolutionary syndicalists can't talk it up enough. Then they sing "The Internationale".

Clearly, the political branches of the US government have been fully captured by monied elites. Perhaps scariest of all, however, is the newly emboldened ultra-radical majority on the Supreme Court (that description is not reckless hyperbole used for effect look at what they've done in cases like Bush v. Gore, Ledbetter and Citizens United, and watch what they do in the coming years it will be astonishing in its scope, radicalism and hypocrisy). After decades of histrionic lies about supposed objections to judicial activism (what they really hated was the impudent offense of an elite court handing down liberal decisions and siding with mere mortals in American society, period), they have now kicked out the jambs to expand the practical definition of the "activism' term beyond all recognition. Lori Blatt, former attorney in the Solicitor General's Office, put it best: "They are fearless. This is a business court. Now it's the era of the corporation and the interests of business." No case underscored this tendency better than Citizens United, of course, where the regressive majority was so blatantly activist that they literally told the stunned litigants to go home, come back in a month and reargue the case around a far, far bigger question than was at stake for the parties involved, and then sweepingly cast aside long existing law in order to blow blitzkrieg-size breaches in the barriers that had previously controlled corporate influence of elections. The only case that can rival this one for utterly transparent activism seeking a regressive outcome is Bush v. Gore, in which the right-wing bloc simultaneously violated three of their own cardinal tenets judicial restraint, states' rights, and hostility to civil rights principles in order to require vote counting be stopped (say what?!) and to crown the mentally deficient dauphin as king. It could hardly be clearer that the Roberts Court ominously completes the troika of the right-wing governmental coup.

But there are other reasons we're in this state, as well. Think about Barack Obama and the Democrats for a second, and then try applying Ms. Blatt's phrase, "They are fearless", to those folks. Now pick yourself up the floor. Change the underwear you just soiled from laughing so hard. Wring out the hanky you just soaked from sobbing so relentlessly. Part of why we're in this mess is that Democrats wouldn't know what guts looked like if they were all board-certified gastrointestinal surgeons. But, of course, to complain that "the people's party" lacks sufficient courage of their convictions assumes that they have any. The good news is that they do, as a matter of fact. The bad news, however, is that those convictions can be reduced neatly down to two: serving themselves and serving the nice folks who donate money to get them elected. It's a bit of a problem when the gang who are meant to protect us from the crimes of the GOP are nearly indistinguishable from Cheney's thugs, apart from stylistically. Democrats are happy to give you a little kiss on the cheek before they screw you. Republicans prefer to just get on with the assault.

Then there's the media in this country which is, of course, beyond hopeless. Watching Rachel Maddow the other month throwing a few medium-speed hardballs at Rand Paul only served to remind me just how rare it is for any of these pathetic hacks to actually do their job, as opposed to doing the cash-driven bidding of those in power, especially tough-guy Republicans who must get plenty of laughs out of how easy it is to bully the Washington press whores er, sorry, I mean press corps. There's nothing quite so self-made as the disasters of Election 2000 and the Iraq invasion of 2003, and the absence of any sort of serious media scepticism in those cases simply illustrates how utterly worthless the press truly are. Except, of course, as excellent public relations specialists for plutocrats. These days it seems like the only outlet doing anything approaching serious journalism is Rolling Stone. As to what it says about American society and journalism that you have to wade through cover photos of Lady Gaga's full-on unclad posterior to find out the lies our government is telling us, well, I'll leave that to you.

But clearly the neutering of the obedient profit-motivated media has worked spectacularly. One of the key fronts in this class warfare conducted by the wealthy in America has been with respect to framing. For three decades now, all we've heard is how government is a screw-up and how heroically efficient are the captains of industry in the private sector. The way regressives trash our own government in a democracy would certainly have seemed traitorous in another day. Just imagine if you said the same things about the military, which seems to miraculously escape the right's attention as the biggest and most famously wasteful government bureaucracy of all. Moreover, looking back over Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, not just a small bit of the curtain has been pulled back from the notion of the military's supposed infallibility. It's been two-thirds of a century since the United States won a big war against a serious adversary, and even then the Russians did the heavy lifting, at least in Europe. Somehow we never hear much about big, incompetent government in that context, though.

But, hey, forgive my little flight into logical analysis there. We really cannot have that in these times. For a minute there, I forgot to forget. It won't happen again, Mr. O'Brien, I assure you. From now on, up is down, black is white, war is peace, government is bad and corporations are purveyors of Happy Meals (happy, that is, unless you happen to be a cow, like having small businesses around, have a problem with obesity, don't want your planet to catch fire, or object to the creation of massive great lakes full of animal waste). Yep, big business is good! That's why we need to apologize to BP for our government "shaking them down" and forcing them to be slightly-barely-kinda-nominally-sorta responsible for their ecological and economic epic disaster in the Gulf. Get it?

But the other sad truth is that, at the bottom of this roll call of nefarious predators under every Cheney and Obama and Brian Williams and Lloyd Blankfein doing (his green) god's work, is a great big stinking pile of yahoos better known as "Us". We'll vote Republican this fall because we utterly lack the intellectual curiosity to investigate other options. We'll vote Republican because we're greedy and lazy and willing to step on anyone's throat to get our little slice of prosperity back. We'll vote Republican as if we weren't only two years ago just absolutely counting down every second until the previous government packed up and left town. You know, the er, uh, Republicans.

But I have just one question for my fellow Americans before they step into that voting booth. The truth is that what ails us now is exactly what y'all have been voting for over the last three decades. The truth is that if you vote Republican in November it will all only get worse. The truth is that you're living the regressive dream just now, right as we speak.

We've let corporations run wild. We've decimated the government whose function it was to regulate them in the public's interest. We've shifted a very large pile of your money into the hands of the richest one percent of us, and given you and your kids loads of government debt to pay off in exchange. We've shipped your job off to China or India. We've completely immunized all branches of your government from any form of influence other than from rapacious plutocrats.

So my question is, fellow Americans, now that we've all had a nice heaping helping of what regressive politics means for us real people down here below the stratosphere, "How's that recessioney, oily thing working out for ya?"


Behind the Corporate Curtain

I'm reading Thom Hartmann's latest book Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" and How You Can Fight Back, 2nd Edition, wherein I have learned some startling things about the reasons that "our" government "of, by, and for the people" has become, instead, of, by, and for the corporations.

Wonder why your liberties are shrinking, your vote not counting? You better read this. Think "big government" is the total cause of your affliction and misfortune? You're part right...and part wrong. The main reason it's gotten SO big and controlling is that corporations have basically taken it over. The recent Supreme Court decision, which tossed out corporate campaign finance limits, is just the latest in a long string of judgments that have steadily eroded people rights and created huge inequalities.

The first Tea Party revolt was, as some seem to have forgotten, against transnational corporate domination of the early American economy by the East India Company. Modern Tea Partiers owe it to themselves to understand this fundamental truth and to rechampion the same cause that birthed the American Revolution and our nation.

Chapter 6 provided a surprising list of 19th-century laws, common to most states at the time, regulating corporations. If American citizens (not "consumers" by the way; that's the corporate name for us) still had the powers once provided by these kinds of limits, we would be enjoying a cleaner world, more freedom, and much greater happiness.  Here's that list:

- Corporations were required to have a clear purpose, to be fulfilled but not exceeded.
- Corporations' licenses to business were revocable by the state legislature if they exceeded or did not fulfill their chartered purpose(s).
- The state legislature could revoke a corporation's charter if it misbehaved.
- The act of incorporation did not relieve corporate management or stockholders/owners of responsibility or liability for corporate acts.
- As a matter of course, corporation officers, directors, or agents couldn't break the law and avoid punishment by claiming they were "just doing their job" when committing crimes but instead could be held criminally liable for violating the law.
- State (not Federal) courts heard cases where corporations or their agents were accused of breaking the law or harming the public.
- Directors of the corporation were required to come from among the stockholders.
- Corporations had to have their headquarters and meetings in the state where their principal place of business was located.
Corporation charters were granted for a specific period of time, such as twenty or thirty years (instead of being granted "in perpetuity", as is now the practice.
Corporations were prohibited from owning stock in other corporations, to prevent them from extending their power inappropriately.
Corporations' real estate holdings were limited to what was necessary to carry out their specific purposes.
- Corporations were prohibited from making any political contributions, direct or indirect.
- Corporations were prohibited from making charitable or civic donations outside of their specific purposes.
- State legislatures could set the rates that some monopoly corporations could charge for their products or services.
- All corporation records and documents were open to the legislature or the state attorney general.

Now imagine the country if these laws were still in place. You'll begin to understand why Thom chose the following titles for some chapters in his book...
     Unequal Uses for the Bill of Rights
     Unequal Regulation
     Unequal Protection from Risk
     Unequal Taxes
     Unequal Responsibility for Crime
     Unequal Privacy
     Unequal Citizenship and Access to the Commons
     Unequal Wealth
     Unequal Trade
     Unequal Media
     Unequal Influence

Here's a few reviewer's comments:

"If you wonder why the corporate world constantly lurches from malaise to oppression to governmental corruption and back, Unequal Protection reveals the untold story. Beneath the success and rise of American enterprise is an untold history that is antithetical to every value Americans hold dear. This is a seminal work, a godsend really, a clear message to every citizen about the need to reform our country, laws, and companies."
--Paul Hawken, author, Natural Capitalism

"This extraordinary book combines meticulous historical and legal research with a clear and compelling writing style to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt the incompatibility of corporate personhood with democracy, the market economy, and the well-being of society. Complete with a practical program for essential reform to restore the rights of real persons - including model legislation - it is essential reading and an invaluable reference work for every citizen who cares about democracy, justice, and the human future. Hartmann combines a remarkable piece of historical rersearch with a brilliant literary style to tell the grand story of corporate corruption and its consequences for society with the force and readability of a great novel. I intended to take a first quick glance and then couldn't put it down."
--David C. Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World

"Unequal Protection should be in the hands of every thinking American. If we do not awaken soon, democracy will be replaced by a new 'Third Reich' of corporate tyranny. To be aware of the danger is the responsibility of each of us. No one has told us the truth better than Thom Hartmann. Read it!"
--Gerry Spence, author of Give Me Liberty
"Unequal Protection is a blueprint for revitalizing the spirit of American democracy. Sometimes you have to understand the bad news in order to appreciate the good news. Thom Hartmann connects the dots in a way that is a tremendous gift for our generation of Americans."
--Marianne Williamson, author, Healing the Soul of America

(see more cartoons by this artist at

"Essential reading for anyone concerned about the future of democracy, both here and abroad. With devastating precision and well-reasoned passion, Thom Hartmann shows the reader precisely how the corporate entity gained such a perilously dominant role in the life of a nation whose founders meant for its politics to respond to the concerns of people and communities, not return-seeking corporations."
--Jeff Gates, president, Shared Capitalism Institute, author, Democracy At Risk

"We thought it was only in science fiction that things created by humans could actually take over what is inherently our human heritage. But Thom Hartmann shows how we've already let that happen on a frightening scale - not in Frankenstein's monsters or Kubrick's creeping computer Hal - but in the corporations that present their friendly 'faces' to us as if we have nothing to fear from this ultimate usurpation of our rights as real humans."
--Ed Ayres, Senior Editor at Worldwatch and author, God's Last Offer

"For years, Thom Hartmann has been asking the important questions and inspiring people to act on their solutions. Now he tackles one of the hardest - how democracy in America and worldwide has been eroded by unaccountable corporate power. He looks at the structures that encourage destructive behavior and offers alternatives. Fascinating history told engagingly. We need books like this to find a way forward."
--Paul Loeb, author, Soul of a Citizen

"Hartmann goes where no person has gone before - towards uncovering the true history of how corporations and the wealthy people behind them transformed our law and culture to usurp democracy. This book is an inspiration to all groups and communities and explains why we must rethink our engagement in single issue struggles and move towards the assertion of direct, democratic control over corporations."
--Thomas Linzey, Esq., Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Read this book...please. 
(You can enjoy all of M. Wuerker's latest excellent political cartoons at