Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 8:10 pm

When you’re in three dimensions, Left and Right don’t tell the whole story; or, Not quite as overlooked as he thinks

More than six years ago, on the occasion of my 20th anniversary in the newspaper bidness, I wrote, among other things, the following:

  • One of the two biggest battles of the 21st century will be defining the role of the corporation in our society.
  • The other will be liberal democratic values vs. medievalist religion.
  • This week, Barry Ritholtz, a tad late to the party but with a far larger audience, concurs:

    The new dynamic, however, has moved past the old Left Right paradigm. We now live in an era defined by increasing Corporate influence and authority over the individual. These two “interest groups” – I can barely suppress snorting derisively over that phrase – have been on a headlong collision course for decades, which came to a head with the financial collapse and bailouts. Where there is massive concentrations of wealth and influence, there will be abuse of power.  The Individual has been supplanted in the political process nearly entirely by corporate money, legislative influence, campaign contributions, even free speech rights.

    This may not be a brilliant insight, but it is surely an overlooked one. It is now an Individual vs. Corporate debate – and the Humans are losing.

    Consider:

    • Many of the regulations that govern energy and banking sector were written by Corporations;

    • The biggest influence on legislative votes is often Corporate Lobbying;

    • Corporate ability to extend copyright far beyond what original protections amounts to a taking of public works for private corporate usage;

    • PAC and campaign finance by Corporations has supplanted individual donations to elections;

    • The individuals’ right to seek redress in court has been under attack for decades, limiting their options.

    • DRM and content protection undercuts the individual’s ability to use purchased content as they see fit;

    • Patent protections are continually weakened. Deep pocketed corporations can usurp inventions almost at will;

    • The Supreme Court has ruled that Corporations have Free Speech rights equivalent to people; (So much for original intent!)

    None of these are Democrat/Republican conflicts, but rather, are corporate vs. individual issues.

    If slavery was this country’s original sin, then what sold us into bondage far from the lands of our fathers was the 1886 Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The substance of the case is a mundane tax matter. But because of a clerk’s note (follow the link for details), corporations ever since have been treated in American law as having pretty much the same 14th Amendment rights as human persons … and even fewer responsibilities and obligations. True, corporations cannot vote. But neither can they be forced to kill or die for their country, not can they really be held accountable for the crimes they commit. And when, as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, it’s now legal for corporations to effectively buy congresscritters, voting seems gratuitous.

    Next year will be 125 years since Santa Clara, and we remain in bondage with no Moses on the horizon. It is theoretically possible that we could remove our yoke by amending the Constitution to restrain the rights and privileges of corporations, but in the universe we actually inhabit, the likelihood seems exceedingly small.

    Ritholtz concludes:

    But the battle lines between the two groups have barely been drawn. I expect this fight will define American politics over the next decade. Keynes vs Hayek? Friedman vs Krugman? Those are the wrong intellectual debates. Its you vs. Tony Hayward, BP CEO, You vs. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO. And you are losing . . .

    Actually, I think there are at least two more likely scenarios than the decade-long battle Ritholtz predicts.

    In one, the battle goes on much longer, as I predicted six years ago.

    In the other, with Citizens United decided, the battle is already over and the corporations have won.

    And these days, I fear the latter is closer to truth.

    Friday, February 19, 2010 11:44 pm

    Bill Moyers on money and politics

    Worth watching:

    Over the course of a long career in journalism, I’ve covered this story of money in politics more than any other. From time to time, I’ve been hopeful about a change for the better, but truth is, it just keeps getting uglier every year.

    Those who write the checks keep buying the results they want at the expense of the public. As a reputedly self-governing democracy, we desperately need to address the problems that we’ve created for ourselves, but money makes impossible the reforms that might save us.

    Nothing in this country seems to be working to anyone’s satisfaction except the wealth machine that rewards those who game the system. Unless we break their grip on our political institution, their power to buy the agenda they want no matter the cost to everyone else, we’re finished as a functioning democracy.

    In this I am sympathetic to the people who show up at tea party rallies asking what happened to their jobs, their pensions, their security — the America they believed in. What’s happened, says the political scientist Sheldon Wolin, is the increasing cohabitation of state and corporate power.

    This is why I find the supreme court ruling so preposterous and ominous. Five radical judges have taken a giant step toward legitimating the corporate takeover of democracy. “One person, one vote” — stop kidding yourself. As I once heard a very rich oilman tell congress after he paid $300,000 to the democratic party to get a moment of President Clinton’s ear, “Money is a bit more than a vote.” The huge sums of money that already flood our elections will now be multiplied many times over, most likely in secret.

    Just this week, that indispensable journalistic website Talking Points Memo.com reported that an influential Washington lobbying firm is alerting corporate clients on how to use trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce as pass-throughs to dump unlimited amounts of cash directly into elections. They can specifically advocate or oppose a candidate — right up to election day — while keeping a low profile to prevent “public scrutiny” and negative press coverage. We’ll never know what hit us, and like the Titanic, we’ll go down but with even fewer lifeboats.

    “The increasing cohabitation of state and corporate power.” There’s a word for that, and it’s right on the tip of my tongue …

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 2:37 pm

    Odds and ends for 2/7

    First things first: The Super Bowl: I grew up a Baltimore Colts fan and, in particular, a Johnny Unitas fan. The Saints weren’t even on my radar until the Panthers came into the league and the Saints became one of their divisional rivals. But Johnny U. died a long time ago, the Colts left Baltimore even longer ago than that, and the Colts have a Super Bowl win in their recent past while the Saints have never been until now. Add to that the question of who needs this win worse: Indianapolis, home to some of the worst elements of Big PhrMA that are robbing the country blind, or Nawlins, which the country pretty much allowed to drown and then abandoned after Hurricane Katrina? Go, Saints.

    Fox News to the contrary, there’s nothing “new” about the teabagger movement: It is straight-down-the-line GOP, right down to requiring candidates to support the Republican National Committee’s platform. (Interestingly, the party hasn’t got its platform posted at the moment, allowing a much vaguer, less offensive “what we believe” page to suffice.) If people want to support the Republican Party, more power to ’em, but no one should join the Tea Party movement under the mistaken impression that it’s going to lead to reform. It will lead, instead, to more of the same stuff that got us into all this trouble in the first place.

    Slapfight! Alien v. Predator! Teh Crazee v. Teh Stoopid! Or, you know,  Joe Farah v. Andrew Breitbart. This is one where you not only don’t want anyone to win, you want them both to leave the game with season-ending injuries.

    He said it, I didn’t: The American Enterprise Institute’s Gerard Alexander is on to those of us who happen to think Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a Very Bad Thing: “It follows that the thinkers, politicians and citizens who advance conservative ideas must be dupes, quacks or hired guns selling stories they know to be a sham.” Well, let’s see: Supply-side economics? Sham. Global-warming denialism? Sham. Bankster bailouts? Sham. Post-9/11 air quality in lower Manhattan? Sham. Creationism? Sham. WMDs in Iraq? Sham. I could go on, but these items are only supposed to be a few lines long. Just sayin’.

    And because the last thing you want is a poisonous snake in the midst of a nicotine fit, Po the viper gets his daily smokes:

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