America is going completely mad. We have a Democrat president who is right wing in most of his approach, but is called a socialist and the Antichrist. We also have a Republican Party which has lost its way so fundamentally its main candidates to challenge the incumbent next year are outright, batshit crazy morons who campaign against gay people and call climate change a lie. The country is screwed. I’m not really in any doubt that Obama, despite waging war at least as gleefully as Bush, is going to be re-elected next year, but you’d have to wonder, given the way these nutjobs have strangled the political system around him, why he’d want to.
In a salutary reminder that written Constitutions and Supreme Courts don’t necessarily do what they’re supposed to do (guaranteeing the rule of law, protecting minorities from the majority) the US Supreme Court, long understood to be fundamentally right wing, has made a fundamental attack on democracy:
With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.
Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.
As a result of Thursday’s ruling, corporations have been unleashed from the longstanding ban against their spending directly on political campaigns and will be free to spend as much money as they want to elect and defeat candidates. If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest, its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.
It’s a terrifying if unsurprising ruling, yet corporations have been understood for over a century, indeed by the Supreme Court, to be people:
So it’s hardly a stretch for the US Supreme Court to then rule that these ‘people’ have the same rights as individuals to spend to guarantee their political interests. Or is it?
The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.
The majority also makes the nonsensical claim that, unlike campaign contributions, which are still prohibited, independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” If Wall Street bankers told members of Congress that they would spend millions of dollars to defeat anyone who opposed their bailout, and then did so, it would certainly look corrupt.
In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that the ruling not only threatens democracy but “will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”
It’s a deeply ideological decision, and one which fundamentally threatens the US political process, but it’s very much the next step in a series of such Supreme Court decisions on the rights of corporations, starting as far back as 1886. From Riki Ott:
The expansion of corporate rights began over 200 years ago as the anti-corporate fervor from the American Revolution began to fade. The U.S. Supreme Court blurred the distinction between “natural persons,” or real living human beings, and “artificial persons” — corporations — in 1886 when it conferred the 14th Amendment right of “equal protection of the laws” to an artificial person, a railroad corporation in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Since then, the Supreme Court has handed out other human rights to artificial persons (corporations), including the battery of First Amendment rights leading to Citizens United.
There were early attempts to reverse parts, but not all, of the trend to give human rights to corporate persons. Specifically, under First Amendment issues, Congress passed the Tillman Act in 1907 to prohibit corporate expenditures in candidate elections to end an era of big money corruption and usher in campaign finance regulation. However, regulating something allows it to happen to the extent allowed by law and laws can change.
Starting in the 1970s, the Supreme Court began to chisel away our election integrity by granting corporations First Amendment rights including: “commercial speech,” as in free speech equals money; “political speech,” as in unlimited corporate spending for ads to overturn citizen initiatives; “negative speech,” as in the right not to speak and disclose harmful contents of products; and “false speech,” as in the right to blatantly lie in advertising under the guise of let the buyer beware. “Robust speech” or unlimited corporate spending on elections is just the next chip to fall from our First Amendment protections. It may be the last chip as there’s really nothing left to protect from corporate usurpation.
Barack Obama is right when he says this ruling strikes at democracy itself. He and America’s other elected representatives really do need to get their act together and develop a legislative response to this crazy decision. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissenting opinion said:
corporations are different because they “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. “… They are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a superstate, Oceania, whose language of war inverted lies that “passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’.”
Barack Obama is the leader of a contemporary Oceania. In two speeches at the close of the decade, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner affirmed that peace was no longer peace, but rather a permanent war that “extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan” to “disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies”. He called this “global security” and invited our gratitude. To the people of Afghanistan, which the US has invaded and occupied, he said wittily: “We have no interest in occupying your country.”
In Oceania, truth and lies are indivisible. According to Obama, the American attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was authorised by the United Nations Security Council. There was no UN authority. He said that “the world” supported the invasion in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks. In truth, all but three of 37 countries surveyed by Gallup expressed overwhelming opposition. He said that America invaded Afghanistan “only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden”. In 2001, the Taliban tried three times to hand over Bin Laden for trial, Pakistan’s military regime reported, and they were ignored.
I think Pilger really should have been in that fantasy dinner party I was asked about on formspring.me last night. It’s a great argument, and one which supposed liberals should be paying close attention to. Was this really the ‘change’ you wanted to believe in? Whilst not remotely supporting the Taliban or their monstrously cruel regime, I remember very clearly that they offered Osama to Bush but were rebuffed. I would argue that rather than merely continuing the Bush neo-Conservative ideological agenda (but with a smiling face) Barack Obama is instead tapping into the current, global compact all electorates have made with their leaders. He gets to make savage attacks on liberty at home (just what is happening to Guantánamo Bay?) and abroad in exchange for keeping the electorate as wealthy as they’ve become accustomed to. It’s why he’s rebuilding the neoliberal economic system exactly as it was, because he depends on it as much as Jintao, Brown, Merkel, Berlusconi, Putin and the rest do; keep us rich enough and we’ll turn a blind eye to your strategic or natural resources wars. Obama doesn’t call for ‘regime change’ or ‘exporting democracy’ but as Pilger says presents war as peace, presents lies as truth, and most of us know exactly what he’s doing and don’t care.
Peter Tatchell asks whether Barack Obama really has the will to repeal the US armed forces’ ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) ban on openly gay people serving:
What’s holding back Obama? His reticence to lift the military ban can’t be due to public opposition. More than two-thirds of the American people want it lifted, according to a Gallup poll in May. Is the president afraid that straight soldiers will resign if the restrictions on gay service are repealed? That’s what some British top brass feared when the UK allowed gay soldiers, but the resignations never happened.
The truth is that the gay ban is underming military efficiency. It often allows homophobic harassment to pass unchecked and this harassment damages unit cohesion and morale. A study this year by Cornell University also found that gay personnel ordered to hide their sexuality perform worse than those who were not ordered to do so.
To optimise military recruitment and effectiveness, General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, now believes that gay people should be allowed to serve openly. Even a former hardline opponent, ex-US Secretary of State Colin Powell, has come out in favour of reviewing the gay exclusion policy.
I know Paul was more supportive in his earlier post about Obama’s position on gay equality issues, but I really do wonder. He, like Clinton, knows how to talk to the talk, but is remarkably retiscent about walking the walk. What is holding him back? He could have ended it by Executive Order by now. The armed forced don’t care. The American public doesn’t care. Pretty much all other developed countries’ armed forces have rescinded similar bans, so why even continue to pursue court cases which discriminate against desperately needed LGBT service personnel? Of course the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party will fight this tooth and nail, but they’re fighting against healthcare because they think Obama’s a Nazi for goodness’ sake. A president who truly gives a damn about human rights really needs to move now.
As always, perfect sense from Rachel Maddow on Obama’s Nobel – it echoes my feelings about the shock announcement.
Michael Moore has more to say on exactly why Obama desrves the Nobel.
During the campaign for the Democratic nomination Obama gave one interview to an LGBT publication in which he said the following:
Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit — I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, “Wait your turn.” I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” where he says to the white clergy, “Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom.”
Here’s my tweets as I listened to his speech.
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner “I love you Barack” “I love you back”
pauloCanning:#hrc dinner Obama: “It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady GaGa”
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner He’s referencing Stonewall as ‘inspiring’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner simple message “here with you in that fight”
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘it’s not for me to tell you to be patient’ – as with civil rights – now I’m teary
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘you know – and I know – we don’t want to be defined by one part of us that makes us whole’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘Do not doubt the direction we’re heading +the destination we will reach’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘we will put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘we’re pushing for a employee non-discrimination bill. we’re ging to put a stop to it.’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘we are rescinding the ban on entering US based on HIV status’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘I will end DADT, that’s my commitment to you’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘I’ve called on Congress to repeal DOMA’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘It’s about our common humanity, our ability to walk in someone else’s shoes’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner now he’s talking about PFLAG ‘that’s the story of America’
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner ‘tonight somewhere in America a young person … ‘ THAT’S leadership
pauloCanning: #hrc dinner brilliant rhetoric, worried by the look on his face
The speech was amazing. Historic.
Like the audience, who spent most of their time on their feet, I was really moved to hear a US President say what he said. His last flourish, which stuck progress of LGBT equality firmly into the mainstream of the ‘American dream’, I couldn’t capture quickly enough. It was his classic rhetorical end flourish and he stuck it firmly onto the LGBT cause.
But, but … perhaps that’s why I noticed the look. He wasn’t smiling. He knew that outside the cheering crowd he faced weren’t just pissed LGBT at the lack of actual progress on issue after issue but a mountain of opposition to everything he’d pledged.
Remember, this was the day on which he’d been awarded the Nobel. On what he represents he’d got that acknowledgment and that’s a f*cking heavy burden.
I wish I’d captured that exact look as he walked off the stage because it seemed to me one of a man who believed what he’d said, every word, but understood fully what ‘change’ actually means.
A bitter, bitter fight lies behind “don’t tell me to wait for my freedom”. As always, it’s accompanied by the background/backroom faint (to some) buzz accompanying it in the LGBT movement between those who would be inside and those who’d be outside, demanding.
Tomorrow’s LGBT march on the Capitol is for the demanders and something tells me Obama is with them.
Alex Massie at the Spectator has Obama’s Nobel win down about right:
What is mystifying, however, is Obama’s decision to accept* the award. Better by far to have quietly told the Nobel organisation that, while generous, their award was presumptious and, by any reasonable standard, premature.
Accepting a prize of such magnitude in return for little in the way of real achievement makes Obama look foolish. He’s not a latterday political messiah and, despite what some people, including some in the White House, seem to think it’s not all about him all the time. That being so, it would have been wiser to decline awards that reinforce the notion that it is.
Expecting politicians to be embarrassed by adulation is, in many ways, a mug’s game. And no-one has ever accused Obama of being without ego. Nevertheless, while the Nobel Committee are free to behave like King Canute’s courtiers**, it would have been better for all concerned if Obama had shown the wisdom of Canute and refused this preoposterous bauble.
*Perhaps he still can turn it down. He certainly should.
He has accepted a $1.4 million prize for having achieved nothing of note in 9 months. Guantanamo is still open. Drone attacks are continuing to kill significant numbers of innocent people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Torturers have been protected; domestic surveillance defended and extended. He may want to rid the world of nuclear weapons and to get nice and cozy with Iran, but their nuclear programme hasn’t ended, despite the abortive uprising in June. Does this make Obama the new Kissinger?