Marcus Versus the SCOTUS

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Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post has written a nicely succinct critique of the recent Supreme Court decision that protects corporations from laws prohibiting unlimited spending for political advertising. Here are a couple of paragraphs dealing with the censorship and “corporate personhood” issues-

First, the majority flung about dark warnings of “censorship” and “banned” speech as if upholding the existing rules would leave corporations and labor unions with no voice in the political process. Untrue. Under federal election law before the Supreme Court demolished it, corporations and labor unions were free to say whatever they wanted about political candidates whenever they wanted to say it. They simply were not permitted to use unlimited general treasury funds to do so. Instead, they were required to use money raised by their political action committees from employees and members. This is hardly banning speech.

Second, in the face of logic and history, the majority acted as if there could be no constitutional distinction between a corporation and a human being. Untrue. The Supreme Court has long held that corporations are considered “persons” under the Constitution and are therefore entitled to its protections. For more than a century, Congress has barred corporations from making direct contributions to political candidates, with no suggestion that it must treat corporate persons the same as real ones; that prohibition stands, at least for now. The “conceit” of corporate personhood, as Stevens called it, does not mandate absolute equivalence. That corporations enjoy free-speech protections does not mean they enjoy every protection afforded an actual person. Is a corporation entitled to vote? To run for office?

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

The SCOTUS Endorses Sociopathic Elections

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The Supreme Court Of The United States today reversed decades of precedent, deciding that corporate spending on political advertising cannot be regulated. They apparently decided this on the grounds that corporations are legally treated as persons that have first amendment rights, the first amendment guarantees free speech, and a corporation’s spending money on election ads is equivalent to a citizen’s expressing his or her political opinion. One could certainly take issue with the purported equivalence, but a more serious problem, it seems to me, is that corporations are legally bound to make the generation of profits for their stockholders their controlling priority; corporate leaders are legally forbidden from being guided by what they consider to be in the best interest of any other group (including the general citizenry of the United States or of the world).

The 2004 documentary “The Corporation” examines the history of this institution, and argues that if corporations are persons under the law, they are (by legal mandate) sociopathic persons, albeit very rich and powerful ones. The documentary illustrates this conclusion by focusing on the economic crises of the day (e.g., Enron, Worldcom, etc.). Of course, these corporate-driven crises pale in comparison to those of the 2008 meltdown, but the principles of corporate greed remain the same. If the documentary’s argument is cogent, then given that elections are often decided by small margins of voters who can be swayed by distorted election advertising, and corporations are now free to spend huge amounts of money on such advertising, it appears that many of our elections from now on will be decided by sociopaths.

I was surprised to discover that “The Corporation” can now be watched on YouTube in its entirety. Here’s the first part-

This documentary is itself a polished piece of propaganda, of course. Might such agitprop distributed through the internet help to mitigate the effects corporate spending on political advertising? Let’s hope so.

UPDATE- Here’s another option: to amend the constitution…

Massachusetts Votes, Blog Here Now Quotes…

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“In a democracy, people get the health care insurance and the health care costs they deserve.” -Alexis de Herzbergville

As the ironies pile up higher than NFL linemen on a fumbled ball, and the various media-spins cancel each other out to a wobbly rightward rotation, the question appears to be: will the House Democrats have the fortitude to hold their noses and vote for the Senate bill? Or will a year’s worth of work go down in huge bonfire flames, over which the Republicans can brew tea for at least the next three years?

I don’t have a lot hope for the former option, but stay tuned.

Late To “The Wire” Party

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I’ve always avoided watching television series, particularly those billed as “dramatic”, since the writing is generally shallow, the directing formulaic, the editing frenetic, and the acting rarely more than passable. But I recently started renting the DVDs of HBO’s “The Wire” series to distract me during my winter treadmill hours, and I have to admit I’m impressed. I just finished the first two seasons, and I’m looking forward to getting on to the third.

David Simon’s dystopian view of contemporary Baltimore starts from a microscopic study of drug pushers in the projects and gradually telescopes out to encompass all sorts of social and political corruption. The show sets out to convince naive middle-class viewers (such as myself) that the corrupt economy of the street is but a pale reflection of the corruption infecting more “respectable” social institutions. But for all its pessimism about the state of the nation, its characters are never one-dimensional; even the worst (and some are very, very bad) are never portrayed as merely bad. Business is business, and the game is the game, at all levels of society; the players did not make the rules. Not that this lets them off the hook, though: they still make their choices, however circumscribed their situations may be. And a few – mainly the better cops – manage to come across as moral exemplars, if only by finding ways to minimize their compromises.

Here’s a Bill Moyers interview with David Simon, but don’t let their explicitly political banter mislead you into thinking that the show has a dogmatically liberal point of view; like all truly insightful fiction, its characters transcend socioeconomic generalizations. And, most importantly, don’t think that the show is humorless; tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin, and the writers of this show know that quite well-

If you’d like to see the second half of this interview, click here.

Literary Excerpt of the Day

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What is it with Dictators and Writers, anyway? Since before the infamous Caesar-Ovid war they’ve had beef. Like the Fantastic Four and Galactus, like the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, like the Teen Titans and Death-stroke, Foreman and Ali, Morrison and Crouch, Sammy and Sergio, they seemed destined to be eternally linked in the Halls of Battle. Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that’s too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like.

Junot Diaz -The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Haiti, I Feel Your Pain

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Haiti Earthquake (APTOPIX)

Haiti earthquake damage (APTOPIX)

After seeing the news reports on the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti yesterday, I found myself remembering the 1994 Reseda (aka Northridge) quake that Cheryl and I endured. Although it registered a mere 6.7 on the Richter scale, we lived only 3.2 miles from the epicenter and, according to Wikipedia, “the ground acceleration was one of the highest ever instrumentally recorded in an urban area in North America”. I vividly remember being awoken at 4:30am by the surreal shaking and a sound that’s very hard to describe, partly because, like some sort of cosmic bass synthesizer, you heard it through your body and not just with your ears – a sort rolling rumbling accompanied by the cacophony of a zillion things tumbling and breaking. The main quake lasted only about 20 seconds, but when it was over it looked as if a tornado had blown through our apartment. Nothing was where it had been a few moments before; the pipes had broken under our sinks; our toilet reservoir had broken in two; a two-story wall with four plate glass windows the size of patio doors had buckled in the middle and was leaning inward at about thirty degrees. Power was out; hundreds of car alarms had been triggered, adding to the ambiance of emergency. I remember the dazed feeling of not having the foggiest idea of what to do, except to try to get out of there before the next tremor hit. Not easy to do when we couldn’t even find shoes to keep our feet from being cut on all the shattered glass, or a flashlight to help guide us through the chaos.

The tremors continued for the next 36 hours every few minutes. Had this been the legendary “big one” that would someday occur along the San Andreas fault? Hearing that it hadn’t been, we couldn’t help but worry that this quake might have been its immediate precursor. I recall sleeping in the back seat of our car that night, being awoken every 30 minutes or so by a large aftershock, when the trauma – which I had managed to keep under raps throughout that first day, when survival seemed all that mattered – suddenly hit home.

We were lucky. Our apartment had been constructed to fairly modern quake-related building codes. Like a big tent, it swayed with the tremors instead of resisting them, and so didn’t entirely collapse. Also, it hadn’t been built atop a parking garage, many of which – like the one below – hadn’t made it through the quake-

1994 Reseda quake damage (USGS)

We were also lucky to live in one of the richest places in the world, where first-responders could relatively quickly provide aid to those who needed it, and there was plenty of food and other supplies in the markets. In those days FEMA was well-managed; I remember receiving a check for a couple thousand dollars only a few days after the event, and based only on our address. That helped to pay for the hotel room we needed for the next couple of weeks, while the damage to our building was being assessed.

I can only imagine what the residents of Port-au-Prince must be going through – the anxiety caused not only by the quake damage, but also by the concern that food, water, and civility might soon be running out. Help them by donating to the Red Cross or text Haiti to 90999 to donate $10 directly to Haiti relief via your cell phone bill.

Pat Metheny & Charlie Haden

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Searching for a Pat Metheny acoustic solo or duet to post on this cold January night, I stumbled upon this curiosity: Pat and Charlie Haden playing “This Is America?”, with an intro by Elvis Costello, and – if that were not enough – Bill Clinton spreadin’ the love as only he can.

By the way, if you like the music, check out Pat and Charile’s Beyond the Missouri Sky.