America gets best ‘Demo-crazy’ money can buy!

"Democracy means government by discussion but it is only effective if you can stop people talking."

- Clement Attlee, Anatomy of Britain (1962)

The easiest way to try to at least understand the weirdest thing that happened in America recently is by resort to sporting parlance: the US Supreme Court last month played God and, surprisingly, God lost.

What I was taught from the time I was that high is elementary enough even for kids my age to accept unquestioningly: God created man, then – to stick with the sporting metaphor - He created woman because, in His infinite wisdom, He figured man needed a playmate. And here’s the clincher: God made both man and mate in His own image!

But thanks to what some see as the US Supreme Court’s audacious jerrymandering with the nation’s system of jurisprudence, this human ‘man-woman’ combo, until now presumed to be the ultimate expression of God’s creative genius, has to cope with serious competition from man-made corporations that have suddenly been endowed with ‘life’ and declared the ‘equal’ of God’s creation in that country.

It would seem that, as though suddenly waking up to the Almighty’s inexplicable oversight, the Court played God, usurped His creative powers and decreed that, in the US at least, corporations were the equal of human beings, quite unmindful of the founding principle that ‘natural persons’ and ‘artificial persons’ were separate and distinct entities under the law, with the former holding historical priority in America’s constitutional framework. [That distinction got seriously blurred, even rendered meaningless by a 2008 US Federal District Court ruling that Blackwater USA, the world’s biggest and most notorious private military company "is a person . . .".]

Randall Amster, Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association, in an Op-Ed piece on the Truthout website commenting on the Supreme Court’s ruling said: "If Blackwater is a person, I want out. Indeed, this suggests a strategy that ‘natural persons’ might take in embracing the implications of this unrestricted corporate world. If a corporation can become a person, then by implication a person can become a corporation. I am thus advocating a new doctrine of ‘personal corporatehood’, in which we should all avail ourselves of the enhanced rights granted to ‘artificial persons’ in our system. People should begin taking steps to incorporate themselves immediately."

In a silent acknowledgment of George Orwell’s dictum, the US Supreme Court ruling ensured that corporations were not just equal to, but also more equal than humans, at least when it came to campaign contributions to politicians; the former can now donate without limit, or till it hurts, whereas citizens of the US are restricted by law to a maximum donation of US$2,300 each, no more.

The Nation editorially noted that the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts and a Supreme Court majority of conservative judicial activists was a dramatic assault on American democracy, overturning more than a century of precedent in order to give corporations the ultimate authority over elections and governing. "The Court’s rejection of the ban on direct political spending by businesses, industry associations and their surrogates, and of limits on the amount of money they may spend on campaigning, "sets up a dystopia in which our elections - including this year’s critical Congressional and state contests - could become little more than Super Bowl games, with corporations spending whatever it takes to sell their products, er, candidates."

Already the American Chamber of Commerce, as a direct consequence of the Court’s ruling, is promising to unleash the "largest, most aggressive" election-season spending spree in the organization’s history. Chamber officials, in a carrot-and-stick approach, promise to "highlight lawmakers and candidates" who toe the corporate line and "hold accountable those who don’t."

It was a Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, who was so worried about the power of the trusts that he called for public financing of elections and told Congress, "All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law." Roosevelt did not get as much reform as he wanted or as was needed, but in 1907 he signed the Tillman Act, which banned corporate donations to federal campaigns.

Corporations and their political handmaidens have maneuvered for a century, the Nation noted, often with considerable success, to get around that law and later reforms, such as the McCain-Feingold bill of 2002, which the Court’s decision partly overturned. "But few imagined they would ever be given the sort of blank chque the Court has now provided with its ruling that, to Senator Feingold’s reading, says corporations "can just open their treasuries [and] just completely buy up all the television time, and drown out everyone else’s voices."

The brazenness of the Court’s decision, and its apparent goal of expanding corporate power’s grip on our politics and society, prompted Alexander Cockburn, co-editor of CounterPunch magazine to comment that the US Supreme Court had, by "striking down ancient laws and precedents and giving corporations their First Amendment rights to have nine fingers on the nation’s political windpipe instead of eight – which was the status quo ante which editorialists bizarrely lament as a Golden Age of electoral probity, only now destroyed by Chief Justice Roberts and his black-hat gang of judicial activists. There’s doleful talk of a ‘return to the era of the Robber Barons’. I thought we had the Barons’ Homecoming a generation ago, though [the Court’s ruling] does, even more brazenly than usual, blare the message that in America corporations rule and that the Supreme Court is their errand boy."

Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned during oral hearings on the case that "a corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights", an observation that was all but dismissively cast aside by the majority, as was her very first concern – the danger of foreign money pouring into US political campaigns via ‘mega-corporations’ owned by foreign governments. This prompted Wisconsin’s Senator Russ Feingold, chair of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee to describe the Court’s ruling as a "lawless" one.

Well, the tragic turned somewhat comic when the man who campaigned promising to make Washington lobbyists go the way of the proverbial Dodo, then filled his Administration with so many of them that one could be forgiven for mistaking it to be a serious Oval Office effort to save the species from extinction, chose to put his two-cents’ worth. Without batting an eye-lid, Obama commented: "I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington . . ." [The Supreme Court majority would doubtless have had a quiet chuckle over that one.]

Tara Malloy, attorney with the Campaign Legal Center of Washington D.C. noted that under the new dispensation, hedge fund billionaires, for example, who typically operate through dozens of corporate vessels, may now give unlimited sums through each of these ‘unnatural’ creatures.

Which drew this comment from Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: "So it’s not just un-Americans we need to fear but the Polluter-Americans, Pharma-mericans, Bank-Americans and Hedge-Americans that could manipulate campaigns while hidden behind corporate veils. And if so, our future elections, while nominally a contest between Republicans and Democrats, may in fact come down to a three-way battle between China, Saudi Arabia and Goldman Sachs."

Come 2012, Obama need no longer fret over a renewed challenge from Hillary.

It’s Wal-Mart he’ll have to beat at the hustings.

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