Posts Tagged ‘Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission’

Drawing Credit: Freakout Nation

[previously published at Examiner.com 3-14-12]

A conversation I had with an old friend yesterday should strike fear in the hearts of all Democrats.
“Hey, what’s with this Obama guy?” my friend asked.

“What do you mean?” I replied, trembling. I was reasonably sure if I heard one more usually apolitical friend spouting Republican talking points my brain would explode.

“You know, I used to like Obama,” my buddy explained, “but he wants to force everybody to buy health insurance.”

Obama the Tyrant

Fighting the urge to bury my teeth in his neck, I calmly explained to my friend that the mandate for everyone to purchase insurance was necessary to get insurance companies to agree to insure people with preexisting conditions. It was also the only way Obama and the then-Democratic majority in the legislature could get insurance companies to stop un-insuring people when they get sick and/or leaving them high and dry when their medical bills got too big. In other words, in order to persuade the insurance companies to operate their businesses in an ethical manner, the government had to promise them a whole bunch of new premium payers — that is, every adult in the country.

I looked my buddy in the eye and said, “Obama’s mandate was the only politically viable way to prevent 46,000 Americans per year from dying of lack of insurance and to reduce American bankruptcies by 60 percent — without denying insurance CEOs their polo ponies and summers in the Hamptons, of course.”

“Oh,” said my friend, clearly surprised by my pushback. “I guess I don’t really know that much about it.”

Repeat the Lie Long Enough…

In fact, until that moment, the only thing my buddy “knew” was that “this Obama guy” was tyrannically forcing Americans to buy insurance — whether they wanted it or not. Why? Who knows? It’s just the kind of thing tyrants do.

I suppose after months of Republican presidential contestants on TV repeatedly characterizing Obama and “Obamacare” as the Devil and the Devil’s work, respectively — repeatedly characterizing the Affordable Care Act as a government takeover, job killer and fast-track to Socialism — it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of the rhetoric managed to ooze through a few Americans’ “Wait, this makes no sense” barriers. The expected overturning of the law by five-ninths of the Supreme Court probably didn’t help much either.

But here’s the kicker: My intelligent, talented and usually reasonable friend also happens to be a quadriplegic. Due to a decade-old medical condition, he was one of those unfortunate, uninsurable souls with a preexisting condition when he fell and broke his neck three years ago. Needless to say, his finances were quickly reduced to zilch by subsequent operations, therapy and round-the-clock care. So today, Medicare and Social Security pay for his board and care at a convalescent/rehab facility in the Valley.

That my friend’s opinion of Obama and the Affordable Care Act — a law with such dramatic influence on his life — had been informed by the ravings of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry is disturbing. That these soundbites might even have influenced his vote this November and prompted him to side with the party that has repeatedly vowed to straight razor the very safety nets that are keeping him alive — well, I’m hoping that our little talk will keep him from leaping off that particular bridge.

Citizens United

But if Romney, Santorum and friends were able to plant the Obama-as-tyrant idea in my friend’s head with just a few months of Republican primary news coverage, what will a sustained campaign of Citizens United-fueled, anti-Obama TV and radio commercials do?

This will be our first presidential election since the landmark Supreme Court decision made a present of our democracy to corporations and other special interests. It will be interesting to see how democracy holds up.

Already, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are planning to spend $500 million to defeat Obama. Who knows how much money large corporations and other “one-percenters” are planning to contribute to the same end?

The Great Equalizer

Although Mitt Romney may very possibly be the least appealing, most gaffe-prone, no-there-there presidential candidate in modern American history, there’s no telling what kind of equalizer a half-billion dollars shouting, “Obama is an American hating, communist-fascist-despot-sissy-foreigner” over and over again for six months might turn out to be. Toss in a sluggishly recovering economy, a disappointed left and a weird, vestigial racism simmering in a disgraceful number of American hearts and it’s easy to see that this election will be no cakewalk for the president.

The big question in our new Citizens United world is how on earth do real, individual human beings fight back?

I don’t know.


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John Buchanan taking on the funeral industry

A friend wrote the other day to ask if my dad had been on the Blacklist.

My friend had been reading about America’s waltz with fascism during the 50s when demagogic politicians and rightwing zealots attempted to ruin the lives of show folk, teachers and other public figures — sometimes with great success– for being a little too free in the Land of the Free. Dad was a professor and locally high-profile lefty political organizer/activist, and my friend figured my father had at some point endured the wrath of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s merry band of commie hunters. He hadn’t. Dad did have problems with cops and feds later on, but in the 50s he was still in his pre-activism stage, just settling into his new job teaching at Pacoima Junior High in the San Fernando Valley, going to grad school and helping mom raise my sister and me.  The activism that would become central to his life was still a few years off. My buddy’s email got me thinking about my father’s life choice, though. What changed? What inspired this mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Mr. Chips-type academic to become a full-throated crusader for peace and social justice?

The Bandleader and the Bastard

Though dad and I never talked much about his political awakening period, I’m pretty sure it began during the civil rights era. I was about six years old when I began hearing dad talk about the plight of Negroes. Even at my tender age I noticed that TV images of Dixie cops and clan types beating up dark-skinned people would send my father into a funk. He would get very quiet. Then he’d talk to my sister and me about how immoral it was to mistreat people because of their skin color. He told us that we should always stand up to bullies of all kinds, whether they were attacking us or others. To illustrate his point he would often tell us about the time during World War II when he and mom went to see the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in mom’s hometown, Great Falls, Montana. While the band was playing, someone in the audience yelled “nigger” at Dorsey’s only black musician. Dorsey stopped the orchestra mid-song and the crowd went silent. He called out into the microphone, “You! Hey you. Yeah, you in the yellow tie.” The heckler was trying to scamper away into the crowd but couldn’t get around the throng in front of the bandstand. He finally looked up at Dorsey, who was shaking with anger and pointing down at him like a vengeful god with a trombone. Unfortunately for the yellow-tied bigot, the black trumpeter happened to be a good friend of Dorsey’s and had just returned from duty in the Pacific, where he’d been wounded. According to dad, Dorsey went crazy, yelling into the microphone about his friend’s heroism, then verbally filleting the bigot, whom he called a stupid, un-American bastard. At the end of his rant, Dorsey ordered the guy out of the dance hall and refused to continue the show until he left. Whether for noble cause or the fact that the crowd was ready to jitterbug and had shelled out good money to see Dorsey’s whole show, many in the audience sided with Dorsey, booing and hissing the guy out of the dance hall. The show went on. Though the full meaning of the tale was over my 6-year-old head, I never got tired of it. I loved hearing dad do the Tommy Dorsey parts. “Yeah, you with the yellow tie,” dad’s baritone rumbled, as he pointed at some imaginary racist in the living room. I also got a bang out of hearing dad say the word “bastard,” a word rarely heard in our house–a word I probably assumed meant bad man in a yellow tie. For my sister Pam and me, the story was a great example of someone using his position to stand up to a bully. For dad, who knows? Tommy Dorsey’s wrath might have been an important inspiration. After all, it was the kind of thing dad would soon be doing full time, only on a larger, relentless scale, against bullies ranging from Richard Nixon to the funeral industry. Inspiration or not, by the time the 60s started, dad was taking on the bullies of the world with a vengeance.

The Art of Activism

The first piece of dad’s activism I remember–helping a black family move into our whites-only neighborhood–was relatively small-scale and personal. For months after the Holmes moved in, it was dad’s job to protect the house from vandals when the family was away. There wasn’t much he could do about the rocks thrown through the Holmes’ front room window during the night, or the cross burned on their lawn one very early morning. But during dad’s watch, just the sight of him sitting on the Holmes’ front porch, grading his students’ papers, was all it took to keep the Bubba brigade off the property. I don’t know how long dad had been at it before I realized that threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and flat tires from tacks and nails scattered on our driveway weren’t part of everyone’s hearth and home, but I gradually came to understand that dad’s dedication to fairness was not shared by everyone. As for the 3 AM phone calls, we discovered that the cardboard stick from a Sugar Daddy sucker made a terrific telephone bell dampener when jammed through the proper hole in the phone’s access plate. My contribution to the struggle, of course, was to eat the Sugar Daddy. Ah, the sacrifices of activism. Sometimes dad’s protests verged on street theater. During his quixotic run for the California Assembly in the mid-60s he delivered a campaign speech at a local shopping center while stomping a bathtub full of grapes. This might have been a fine way to draw attention to the farm workers’ strike and grape boycott raging at the time, but the sight of dad in the tub, wearing his trademark Petrocelli business suit with the pant legs rolled up for the fruit-stomp, did not sit well with my teenaged notion that parents should always strive to be invisible. For weeks after, I was known to my rotten buddies as “Grape.” To dad’s supporters, though, it was a beautiful sight to behold–and it worked. Lots of people gathered to see the lunatic in a bathtub, and wound up learning why they should support Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers and stop eating grapes. Dad lost the Assembly race in a rout, of course, but his son’s embarrassment over his father’s unusual forms of activism soon morphed into pride and admiration. His low-key protest of the Vietnam War was particularly memorable. Every day during his lunch hour he would set up a card table full of anti-war literature next to the college flagpole. For that hour he stood silently next to the flagpole wearing an armband featuring the number of GIs killed that week. For two years.

Dad’s Final Years

Dad started in the 60s and never let up. He was still active in the Memorial Society — a consumer activist group — well into his 80s, fighting the good fight against the predatory practices of the funeral industry. A 1992 L.A. Times interview about the Memorial Society found dad in top form.

“You have to look at death as part of life,” Buchanan said. “‘If people looked at it that way, they wouldn’t need the limousines, the caskets and the tons of flowers, the embalming and all the other barbarities that go on at a so-called traditional funeral.’ ‘The hoopla is undignified,’ he said. ‘The other indignity is putting so much emphasis on the body, which is not a person.’ Buchanan has not made the trip to his mother’s gravesite in Spokane, Wash., in years, he said. ‘That grave site does not mean anything,’ he said. ‘What does mean something is that the dead still live in our minds,’ he added.”

“The hoopla is undignified” and “…all the other barbarities…” Dad had a way with words.

*

I’ll never know whether a big band leader’s outburst in the 40s inspired dad to help save the world. But damn, it was inspiring to hear him tell that story. Actually, there wasn’t a lot about John Buchanan that wasn’t inspiring. Though less active, dad still followed the news during his final years. I wish he had been spared America’s rightward drift during the 90s and new millennium and all the intentional unfairness it has thus far meted out. Mercifully, he wasn’t around to see the bully renaissance in full flower. If he were still alive, news of such bad-guy victories as the passage of voter suppression laws and the Citizens United ruling would have put him in a funk. He would have gotten very quiet…for a while.

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[originally published in OpEd News]
Actually, there is no pat meaning or definition for the phrase “family values.” Like obscenity, I guess you just know it when you see it. 

Often used by social conservatives to conjure up a mythical America of yesteryear, the phrase evokes an era when everyone’s lawn was green, thick and well manicured, kids were obedient, and “Lassie” had no genitalia—long before liberals turned us into gay, pot-smoking abortionists, before minorities and women got so noisy and before movie stars said naughty words on screen.

Today many Republicans use the term as a weapon against same-sex marriage, legal abortion, the decriminalization of marijuana and a zillion other issues they find unacceptable.

To clarify our terms, I suggest we define “family values” as “valuing the American family.” “Republicans” will mean “the movers and shakers of today’s dynamic GOP.”

Valuing the Family… the Republican Way

To be fair, I think Republicans do value families — but only their own. Everybody else’s family is either trying to stay in the country illegally, getting rich and lazy on welfare, undeserving of a living wage, a terrorist cell, or immorally trying to become a family while being gay.

Though many Democratic leaders share the blame in the Great Stacking of the Deck Against American Families, these Democrats tend to be of the sneaky, corporate shill variety who are often at odds with American families’ wishes and their own party’s positions (see Public Option). Republicans, however, are very open about their willingness to throw the American family under the bus in the name of big business, bigotry, big business, bad judgment and big business.

There is really no reason—or enough room on my hard drive—to go into all of the sordid, headline-grabbing family values hypocrisies of such Republican pillars of wholesomeness as Sen. David “Escort Service” Vitter and Sen. Larry “Strokin’ in the Boys Room” Craigs. Though these indiscretions do highlight the dilemma of a party that professes to love America but can’t tolerate how Americans live, they are not the result of official party policy, as far as I know. Rather, it’s the official, loudly-touted policies of today’s lockstep GOP leadership that amply demonstrate the party’s disregard for the majority of American families.

With the possible exception of a proposed Wendell Willkie postage stamp, every major item on the GOP wish list would prove disadvantageous or downright devastating to most American families if ever put into effect.

Here are a few:

Deregulation

As homeless shelters burst at the seams with newly impoverished families, and old folks wonder how on earth they’re going to get through their golden years now that their 401(k) is in tatters and their home is worth borscht, Republicans are clamoring to let the Wall Street robber-barons who drove our economy into a ditch continue to speed along with even fewer rules of the road.

Rather than offering to commit public seppuku for creating the Reagan-Gramm deregulation free-for-all that made the Wall Street greed orgy and collapse possible, Republican enablers like Sen. Mitch McConnell and others call Obama a socialist for wanting more governmental oversight of the industry, whining in chorus that such intrusion into the private sector would kill jobs and stifle innovation.

Yeah, we saw the kind of “innovation” Wall Street is capable of.

By the way, whenever you hear a sentence containing any form of the words “job” and “kill” spoken by a Republican, remember who was steering the ship of state when the jobs began to die. You’ve got to admire Republican testicular strength, though—if nothing else—for even mentioning “deregulation” and “jobs” in the same sentence.

Anti-Unionism

For the last thirty years Americans have watched their wages shrivel while CEOs have increasingly taken home salaries and bonuses that would make the Sultan of Brunei blush. According to a University of California Santa Cruz study, the top 20% of households owned 85% of all privately held wealth in 2007—leaving the rest of us 80% to divvy up the remaining 15%.

Oddly enough, it was also during this time that Republican policies, votes and propaganda made it more difficult for workers to unionize. Organized labor has gone from representing one-third of America’s workforce in 1950 to just 11.9% in 2010. Union membership in the private sector is down to a feeble 6.9%. It’s no coincidence that Americans’ earning power accompanied that decline. Where did America’s middle class go? It committed suicide in the voting booth.

Yet Republicans continue to paint unions as enormously powerful bogeymen and have even ramped up their union bashing. Why? As organizations of and for working Americans, unions tend to favor Democrats. Republicans know if they can get rid of unions completely Democrats will lose the financial support and organizational strengths unions have historically given to Democratic politicians and issues. In the end, Republicans would have the support of Big Business and all the votes corporate money can buy while Democrats would be out on the street with a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey.

Incredibly, Republicans have managed to get a surprising number of American workers—low skilled through professional—to swallow this anti-union codswallop. For these Americans, the image of collective bargaining has morphed from Woody Guthrie rousing a union hall with his guitar into Vito Corleone spraying the room with a sub-machine gun.

Apparently, these Americans have forgotten where living wages, worker safety, tolerable conditions and decent hours came from in the first place. Those who think these advances for American workers and their families came from the goodness of corporate hearts should be made to write “British Petroleum” 100 times on the blackboard, or at the very least, read this little heart-warmer about two high-level Massey Energy executives and their descent into the Upper Big Branch coalmine immediately after the mine’s deadly explosion. Heroic rescue attempt or an attempt to destroy evidence and rescue themselves from criminal indictments and billions in fines and civil judgments?

Anti-Same-Sex Marriage

By attempting to end these families before they’ve even begun, this Republican position affecting a large number of our countrymen and women may be the hands-down champ of blatant, Republican anti-family-ness. Good lord, fellas, I know this issue whips your Tea Party pals into a white-hot lather, but sometimes, reason, fairness and the U.S. Constitution must win over political expedience…mustn’t it…sometimes?

I really don’t think anyone with the power to reason still believes that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, a  naughty experiment or juicy flaunting of our moral code. No one really thinks that teenagers choose to be slammed into lockers by lettermen clubs, or look happily forward to the day they will tell their parents to “forget about grandchildren from me.”

So, what we have here is a major political party attempting to punish and marginalize a large segment of the American population by trying to prohibit them from doing what comes naturally: fall in love and get married. As gays and lesbians try to lead their lives despite cruel prejudice and religious dogma that holds approximately the same modern relevance as stoning your son to death for being a gluttonous drunkard (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), the Grand Old Party does its level best to keep anti-gay bigotry loud and alive by demanding prior restraint on would-be families with its Marriage Protection Amendment to the Constitution.

Lifting the Assault Weapon Ban

What can anyone say about this Republican wish and its potential effect on American families, other than “Lift the assault weapon ban?

Come November

The Republican Party’s long tradition of siding with big business over the American family continues to chip away at the average American’s earning power and standard of living. However, the damage a Republican controlled Washington could further inflict on American families isn’t limited to economics. When you toss in other family-unfriendly Republican positions on global warming, preemptive and continual war, education, reproductive rights and family planning, and their new jaw-dropper regarding unemployment insurance creating  “lazy” Americans, it’s not too difficult to figure out which party’s policies and worldview promote “family values.”

The truth is, until special interest money is removed from our electoral system, neither party will truly be the champion of the American family. Sadly though, with the Republican majority of the Supreme Court opening the corporate spigots wide with its Citizens United ruling, that heavenly day is likely to be a long, long way down the line.

Forced to choose between the two parties, however, the American family would be wise to go with the Democrats. The Grand Old Party is too darned busy trying to keep people from voting, selling American families to the highest corporate bidders, undermining the Obama presidency at the country’s expense and coming up with new and better ways of converting Americans’ lesser angels of fear and bigotry into political power to even care about how American families are doing.

For a scary trip down the Republican rabbit hole:
2012 Texas Republican Platform: A Frightening Look Inside the New Republican Brain

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Have American taxpayers had enough yet? Are they tired of having to foot the bill for industry-government collusion? Have the double-whammy calamities of the Great Recession and the Gulf disaster finally whipped everyone into a white-hot lather of collective rage, bellowing loudly for campaign finance reform NOW?

Well, not quite everyone.

As Democrats in the House and Senate try to enact the Fair Elections Now Act in time for the bill to affect November’s election, Republicans and big business are doing everything in their power to scuttle it. The bill, and its companion legislation, the Disclosure Act, would simply make it more difficult for corporations and unions to continue unduly influencing America’s electoral process.

Fair Elections Now would give candidates the option of running for office on a blend of limited public funds and a four-to-one match on donations of $100 or less, thus making grassroots support—not moneyed special interests—the new mother’s milk of politics.

The Disclosure Act would remove the secrecy that now enshrouds many large political donations. Under the bill, voters would know if BP Oil or the SEIU happen to bankroll a political cause, organization or candidate.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which, in effect, made a donation of our democracy to wealthy special interests, these bills are the very least—repeat: “least”—Congress should do.

Yet, Republicans are continuing on their well-traveled path of obstructionism by offering only sketchy support for the bills in the House and none in the Senate. Oddly enough, one of the few Republican supporters of the Fair Elections Now Act is the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina.

Whether these bills survive or not, Democrats would be well advised to make political hay out of their opponents’ foot-dragging on clean elections. The next time Michael Steele claims that his party is the party of and for the people—not big business—Democrats should be ready to pounce, waving Republican voting records in front of the cameras.

Why No Contingency Plan, BP?

Why didn’t British Petroleum have a contingency plan, like the plan other countries insist upon as a precondition to offshore drilling? Because “We, the People” didn’t force them to. Why didn’t “We the People” force them to? Because our representatives were afraid to bite the hand that feeds their campaign war chests.  In the current swap meet known as the U.S. government, voting for tough, loophole-free, safety regulations on Big Oil would have been considered bad-faith dealing, and extremely ungrateful.

BP, AIG, Exxon, Lehman Brothers, oil spills and financial meltdowns—only the names of the companies and types of disasters change; the reasons for the disasters remain the same: Corporate greed and a government on the take.

The Fair Elections Now and Disclosure legislation may be tiny steps, but they are definitely steps in the right direction.

Why doesn’t the GOP think so?

[Update] Open Secrets tells us that as of September 1, “The Fair Elections Now Act has not made it out of committee. And while the House passed the DISCLOSE Act in June, Republican senators have so far blocked it in Congress’ upper chamber.”

These guys know where their bread is buttered, don’t they?

The “Murray Hill Inc. for Congress” campaign was ready to hit the trail running, armed with a dynamic strategy and catchy slogans like “Corporations are People Too!” “Privatize Gain…Socialize Risk,” and the surefire vote-getter, “The People Should Always Come 2nd …or 3rd!”

But, a by-the-book state elections official has rejected the corporation’s voter registration application, effectively ending the campaign before it had begun.

Murray Hill Inc., the first American corporation to openly run for Congress (as opposed to the more traditional “candidate-as-corporate-proxy” model) has had its hopes of corporate candidacy dashed by the Maryland State Board of Elections on a technicality. Even though Murray Hill Inc. did have a “Designated Human”(DH) representative, the Board rejected the corporation’s application on the specious grounds that it was “not a human being.”

Judging by the candidates elected to the 112th Congress, Maryland’s “human being” standard must be one of the toughest in the nation.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections informed the corporation of the rejection after receiving the following instructions from the State Board of Elections:

To the Montgomery Board of Elections:

I am in receipt of a copy of the recently filed voter registration application from the abovementioned corporation attempting to register to vote.  Since it is a corporation that is attempting to register and not a human being, this application should be rejected and not entered into the statewide voter registration database.  A corporation “designating” a human being does not meet the qualifications to register.

Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Mary Cramer Wagner, Voter Registration Division, Maryland State Board of Elections

Murray Hill Inc.’s Response

In a press release posted yesterday at the “Murray Hill Inc. for Congress” website,  the would-be corporate candidate makes it clear that it considers the Board’s decision nothing more than a speed-bump on the road to corporate freedom.

“But this is only the first step in our stand for corporate civil rights.,” says Murray Hill’s Designated Human, Eric Hensel. “We are sure you agree, our campaign is at the forefront of an historic movement that will eventually win all the rights our founding fathers meant for corporations to have.” Murray Hill Inc. is weighing its legal options.

Corporations are People Too!

The inspired—though perhaps short-lived—campaign was one-part publicity stunt for Murray Hill Inc., a 5-year-old Murray Hill, Maryland public relations firm—and three-parts pointed and hilarious response to the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The Court’s January decision overturned 63 years of precedent, giving corporations and unions the same 1st Amendment status as human citizens regarding political free speech and campaign contributions.  In other words, while individuals send whatever they can afford to candidates of their choosing, Exxon Mobil will be free to send whatever it can afford to its favorite candidate or policy initiative.

In a KCRW interview
, Hensel noted that dissenting Associate Justice Stevens’ reference to corporations being barred from voting or running for office was the spark that ignited Murray Hill Inc.’s campaign. Hensel explained how corporations holding office would have the extra benefit of cutting out greedy politicians who have been “eating up” money from corporations in more subtle and devious ways. “We say, eliminate the middle man!”

The “Murray Hill for Congress” campaign has captured the attention (and laughs) of many who find this to be the perfectly outrageous response to the Court’s perfectly outrageous decision. With 10,000 Facebook fans and over 200,000 views of its YouTube presentation so far, Murray Hill Inc. has only just begun its campaign for Congress and Corporate Rights.

Go, Murray Hill!  Bring transparency back to the best government money can buy.

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