Thursday, January 21, 2010

American Psycho

OK...raise your hand, everyone here who thinks that those poor, voiceless little waifs, those sadly neglected and ignored stepchildren of the American Dream, the American corporations, have too little say in our political process. Just rai...anyone? Hello? Can I see a hand here? Is this thing on? Hello?

You would think that the last thing any human with a functioning brain that had spent a month or two of waking moments in this United States would want to see is more, and stronger, corporatism in the U.S. electoral and governing process. Or a fiercer embrace of the legal fiction that Xerox and I.G. Farben and Microsoft are "people", with all the legal rights and powers you have, only with a fucking gajillion more dollars and about an entire phalanx more attorneys. Especially given the kinds of "people" we know that corporations would be - the skeevy neighbor who is always out trimming the hedge when the nubile teenage daughter is out sunbathing. Fuck, we all know how that's gonna end.

Well, thank goodness for our Supreme Court, who knows better than you goddam commie corporation-hating bastards. Here's Dalia Lithwick on Justice Stevens concurrence:
"While Stevens is reading the portion of his concurrence about the "cautious view of corporate power" held by the framers, I see Justice Thomas chuckle softly. (Scalia takes on this argument in his concurrence.) Stevens hammers, more than once this morning from the bench on the principle that corporations "are not human beings" and "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires." He insists that "they are not themselves members of 'We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established." But you can plainly see the weariness in Stevens eyes and hear it in his voice today as he is forced to contend with a legal fiction that has come to life today, a sort of constitutional Frankenstein moment when corporate speech becomes even more compelling than the "voices of the real people" who will be drowned out.
Free at last, free at last, thank God All-Wal-Mighty, they're free at last!

Update 1/22: Glenn Greenwald has a contrasting view here. And I tend to agree with him that this isn't a huge structural change. The ugliness is in exposing the open corporatism of the central four conservative Supremes. Greenwald makes a good point here, too:
"But on both pragmatic and Constitutional grounds, the issue of corporate influence -- like virtually all issues -- is not really solvable by restrictions on political speech. Isn't it far more promising to have the Government try to equalize the playing field through serious public financing of campaigns than to try to slink around the First Amendment -- or, worse, amend it -- in order to restrict political speech?"


  1. Well, given that a corporation is a person should they not also get the franchise? After all, they might pay taxes too!

    Give corporations the vote!

    In fact, why not let them stand for office? Or how about the Supreme Court?

    Oh .. too late.

    (cross commented at GFT)

  2. Well, first you blame the congress and the president who signed up for this legal fiction. That's who made this possible. The Supremes, clowns that they are, will always tell you that they are exceedingly respectful of the other two branches—both of which enabled the fiction.

    So the deck is stacked. By lawyers, of course. Always remember we're a nation of laws, not men. Also consider that this is truly a bipartisan ruling: Labor unions, George Soros, any old Hollywood movie star, all benefit. There is just as much money on the left as on the right.

    Ridiculous? Of course. The whole corporate-person fiction flunks the real-world test, but then, law and real-world is an oxymoron. Years ago, when I was tabbed to serve on a jury for a felony trial, like any good American, I tried to get out of it, citing issues with my business. The judge, a nice lady, told me that she would let me slide, but that I would absolutely have to serve the next time—which would be very soon, and that it might not be so simple a trial. So I did it. Three-day trial, with me elected as foreman. We convicted the dude in short order. Afterwards, the judge said, "Well, it wasn't that bad, after all, right?" I told her that I didn't mind doing my duty as a citizen, but why was it jurors couldn't ask questions of witnesses? I noted that it was clear all of the witnesses—cops and defense alike—had lied and that I would have liked to have gotten the full truth. She said, "well, that's how the system is." I said, "well, that's why we normal folks have contempt for your system and try to stay as far away from it as possible. When you actually start valuing the truth, we might be more willing to participate."

    The law is indeed an ass.

  3. Come friends why the long faces?
    Let us gather and toast this momentous occasion!

    I know the longing in your heart for freedom from the burdens of war, economic concerns, and hopes for a health care system that attends to all with equanimity, but today is a day to celebrate!

    Toast with me this momentous of occasions for today the pretense of democracy has been dispensed with in these United States, and the revelation of our governments yielding obsequiousness to their corporate masters has been given free rein.

    We are no longer burdened with guessing with nebulous ignorance about the loyalties of our governing dynasties while we groaned under the weight of their malfeasance. So let us drink heartedly lads, and let us cheer the truth that our eyes are open wide as we behold the dissolution of the illusion that we are still a Republic hobbled by incompetent do-gooders, and embraced the clarity that we can finally dispense with the words “representative government.”

  4. Publius: In this case the law - almost 100 years of precedent - allowed the government to regulate corporate "contributions" and other spending with the end of reducing the immense financial power of these entities relative to individual citizens. So at least those lawyers were trying to do the right thing.

    But the five Supremes in this case are straightforwardly calling for increased corporate representation in our government. I cannot imagine how anyone not making 100K/year or owning a major corporation could think that's a good thing.

    The Dems are as addicted to big money as the GOP, but in this case the R's are on the side of the fascists. And I don't use the term casually; Benito Mussolini said "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

    If the American people want that, the the public, not the law, is an ass.

  5. Chief: As I think I made it abundantly clear, I'm in no way a supporter of this bullshit. I'm just sayin'—and listen carefully—the Supremes are passive players. They don't get to do anything until the other two branches have done something that someone doesn't like. In this case, the other two branches came up with the legal fiction of personhood for corporate interests and then made laws to prohibit these different "persons" from exercising the rights real "persons" like you and me would have. Why would we be surprised at this decision? The Supremes would merely say they were protecting the rights of all "persons."

    ISTM that you can pack the court with all of the fascists or communists you like, but if the other two branches are actually, you know, looking out for the people and are doing their duty to pass proper laws, it won't much matter.

    And about proper identification of that ass. As we know, the actual operations of our government and the legal minutiae involved in those operations are not nearly so interesting or exciting as "American Idol" or a given NFL game. I therefore feel pretty safe in estimating that, oh, say, 80% of the American people don't have a clue as to what we're talking about here and don't care. So far as most of our citizens are concerned, the Supreme Court is just a bunch of boring old people who wear weird clothing and talk funny.

    Yep, I'd say we know who's the ass in this particular morality play.

  6. Publius: No, no, I'm not trying to place you on the wrong side of this issue. But I do think there's more blame to apportion here than just swweping up Benito's Buddies (Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas) in the generic "they all do it" net.

    Pretty much every commentator I've read from here to SCOTUSblog observed that this case was really pretty non-generic. The plaintiffs wanted to show the thing in a closed-circuit, pay-per-view setting. The Court could have issued a very narrow ruling permitting that and only that, and most non-corporatist observers felt that they should have.

    This was more than just a case of slapping stare desis in the ass; the Court here went FAR out of its way to unleash the corporate entities' "right" to flood the airwaves and print media with ads. Their decision does more than just open the floodgates, it tears down the entire levee between Big Money and the electoral process. About the only firewall they left in place was the ban on direct "contributions" to elected officials.

    But you've very right that if the Congress wanted, it could put a stop to this very quickly and decisively. It doesn't want to, and that's more ass-ish than the Supremes, who merely cleared the way for the asses to parade.

    Either way, though, not a good day for our "republic".

  7. Guys,
    The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats actually are conflicted and torn between their pocketbooks and their consituents. The Republicans...they have shown that it is their pocketbooks which is important to them, and the constituents...lie to them, ignore them, forget them...once a Republican gets elected he's in with his crowd, and they take care of their own.
    Other than that they are two sides of the same coin.
    But now, with Corporate America the dem's have no reason to be enslaved to their special interests, they are now available on the open market. really changes other than the fact that now we may see Government officials wearing their corporate masters logo's, sign boards in their offices, and their new's conferences plastered with "Brought to you by "General Electric" bringing light to your darkness."

    Oh yeah, we are entering all new territory, and in a way I'm kind of feeling like Dante passing under the sign that says, "Give up all hope ye who enter here."

  8. Yeah, I agree with GG on this for the most part.

    I guess I can't get too excited because I don't think the limitations had much effect anyway. Coporate money never did go away - all that happened was that the restrictions posed some overhead costs to circumvent.

  9. Publius,

    I agree with your sentiment if not your saying "bite me" to the judge -- in words more suitable to her sex and standing of course. It is as you say -- only lawyers can understand the laws, and they no longer know right from wrong.

    I strongly recommend reading The Santa Clara Blues: Corporate Personhood versus Democracy, by
    William Meyers, at:

    I'm not qualified to vouch for its accuracy, but it is well-researched, with numerouos attributions and references.

    That article leads me to believe that the blame for today's situation rests at least as much on various Supreme Courts. From that article:

    "When the Supreme Court of the United States in Dartmouth College v. Woodward in 1819, ruled that Dartmouth's charter granted in 1769 by King George III was a contract and could not be revoked by the New Hampshire legislature, a public outcry ensued. State courts and legislatures, supported by the people, declared that state governments had an absolute right to amend or repeal a corporate charter. [Richard L rossman and Frank T. Adams, Taking Care of Business, Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation (Cambridge: Charter, Ink., 1993), p. 11-12]

    "Until 1886 corporations were not considered persons. It was clear what they were: artificial creations of their owners and the state legislatures. They were regulated and taxed. They could sue and be sued. They were subject to all of the laws of the land as well as any restrictions placed in their charters. But from 1819 until 1886 the wealthiest business people sought to use the Federal government, particularly the courts, to get their corporations out from under the control of the states and their citizens."

    In 1886, all that changed with the Supreme Court's Santa Clara decision. Read it and weep.

    Since then the other two branches have a better record than the SC. Roosevelt proposed, Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the legislation. McCain-Feingold was passed by Congress and signed into law by Bush II (though at that time he made a telling statement, calling it unconstitutional).

    Chief, you say: "But you've very right that if the Congress wanted, it could put a stop to this very quickly and decisively."

    Exactly how could it do that? Wouldn't that entail passing an undending stream of laws that
    are prima facie unconstitutional?

    It's difficult to pass a Constitutional amendment and it will be even more difficult now that the SC has let the fox into the henhouse.

    Profanity is too weak to describe the 5 justices who did this.



  10. Nice thread.

    I don't consider this decision to be very "bi-partisan" at all, the "fascist" corporations outnumber in ca$h terms the unions and Soros/Hollywood types by what, 10:1? In fact I see this as just the latest in a string of Radical right-wing activism on the part of the USSC going back to the coup of 2000.

    I would include the politicalization of the justice department as part of this Radicalism of the Bush administration as well, which included naming various radicals to the USSC and other judgeships.

    Of course we dare not call them "radicals" since they sport ill-fitting "conservative" masks and we are told constantly that they are "conservatives". although few among this ilk even seem to recall what conservative values entail: "Cosmo" Brown and his "curious handed" wife being only the latest examples.

    As the Weimar Republic should have taught us, liberal democratic systems have no defense against elected or appointed officials who are interested in destroying the system from within. Liberal democratic political theory is all about setting up a voting apparatus and then waiting around for the next election to come. There is only the assumption that the officials running the show will operate according to the rule of law.

    Should they subvert their position and authority, the assumption is that the "checks and balances" of our hallowed system would kick in, but would anyone argue that is happening?

    Obama and the Demos were placed into power with a clear mandate which covered two election cycles, but where is the repeatedly promised "change"? I would refer to it as "more of the same", even legitimizing the worst excesses of Cheney/Bush which is exactly what they were placed into office to roll back . . . and the health care reform swindle? Who benefits exactly from the plan which Obama currently promotes?

    As to the USSC decision, I found this trot analysis worth a careful read . . . funny where one has to go . . .

  11. "Exactly how could it do that? Wouldn't that entail passing an undending stream of laws that
    are prima facie unconstitutional?"

    But you yourself just said that the game changed in 1886 with Santa Clara. Interestingly, the Wiki entry says "The Supreme Court never reached the equal protection claims." and considers the "equal protection" citation of this decision incorrect.

    But, whatever. The solution would be to legally reverse the status of corporations as "persons". That seems eminently do-able, since until the late 19th Century this legal concept seems to have been embryonic, if that. Since corporations do not have the legal responsibility of persons (they cannot vote, hold office, serve on juries) pass legislation that makes corporations a legal entity without the constitutional protections of persons.

    Doesn't seem that hard to me, unless there is some benefit in conflating the two which I can't see.

    But, there, I don't see the value of keeping the Senate, either. So maybe it's just me.

  12. seydlitz: I said at the time that I thought the U.S. political system was too thoroughly permeated with influence for anyone, including Obama, to "change" anything and so it has proven.

    And a glut of internal silver is proving as fatal to the lingering republican characteristics of our system as an application of external lead.


  13. Campaign finance laws determine how power is distributed in a democracy.

  14. I think Juan Cole makes some excellent points:

  15. I heard this was coming, someone told me that the SC was essentially going to make a ruling as to whether or not corporations had the same rights as US persons IRT "freedom of speech". As much as the implications of this ruling disgust me, it comes as no surprise. I never figured politics into it, I just knew one simple thing about the law (Charly was right, I do know something about the law). That simple concept is "Precedent". When I hear "US Person", the first thing I think of is the definition of US Person enforced in the SIGINT community.

    "Federal law and executive order define a U.S. Person as: a citizen of the United States; or a corporation that is incorporated in the U.S."

    For purposes of intelligence collection, a corporation incorporated in the US, to include its branches abroad, are protected against warrantless wiretaps. They are "US Person" and have the same rights thereof. So I found this verdict no surprise.

    Disgusting, egregious, maybe even catastrophic, we will see. But not surprising. I really don't even blame the SCOTUS, unless we expect them to make decisions not based on law, but instead based on 2nd and 3rd order effects of their decision. I am ignorant on this piece, do we expect them to take consequences of their decision into consideration, or is that "Legislation from the Bench?"

  16. meant to add this to the end of the last post.

    Seriously, someone set me straight. WTF happened here?

  17. bg-

    I doubt if we ever will really know "WTF happened here", at least to any degree of "objective" certainty.

    Rather at this point I would suggest asking oneself a couple of other basic questions: How could the USSC decision fit within the larger picture, as a piece in the mosaic, as step in the larger operation, or as a single operation in a larger strategy?

    That and who benefits. . . ?


    To all-

    Sorry to go off topic, but I would like to ask a question without launching a new post.

    Of all the news stories since the first of the year, the one that I have followed the most has been probably the CIA disaster in Khost, Afghanistan.

    I was wondering - and maybe I'm just crazy - but does anyone know who made the decision and when to go public with this? I mean it was the Taliban that first reported the disaster, but with "20 CIA dead", and it isn't like they don't make all sorts of wild claims all the time . . . why even respond? Do we or don't we control all the information coming out of Khost?

    It ain't like the CIA has never had diasters in the past. Comparing this to the embassy bombing in Beirut in 1982 is interesting . . . when exactly did it become public knowledge of what had happened to the CIA then? Didn't I read somewhere that covering up their messes was one of the things the Agency was good at?

    Did the WH, or the CIA or Hillary's State Department decide to go public with the news of what had happened on 30 December 2009 in Khost?, or were they all playing catch up the whole time?

  18. Seydlitz,

    The attack happened on one of the biggest FOB's in RC-East, so I think keeping it a secret or cleaning up the mess would be impossible.

  19. bg: No surprise in the overall tenor of the ruling, but unpleasant in the scope. There was no real need to strike down Austin, the circumstances cried out for a much narrower ruling merely covering the conditions the film was planned to be shown - private, subscription-only pay-per-view. The SCOTUS went out of its way to broaden the "rights" of the corporate "persons", which suggests that the four Sith were looking for grounds to enhance corporate power a bit.

    Re: the Khost attack, what I don't understand is telling the whole world the story of the triple-agent-suicide-bomber and pointing up the piss-poor fieldcraft of the CIA...or shall we say Blackwater, since I understand that a pantsload of the people hit were from the U.S.'s modern version of the Bande Nere.

    As Andy points out, it was probably impossible to keep the entire story in the Q.T., but to vomit the details as they did? Seems very foolish to me...

  20. My experience with CIA, and intel community in general, is this. If there is a good secret to be kept, it is kept. If it is a bad secret (or juicy one), it is not. I heard rumors of Abu Gurab in Oct 03 and was warned by a friend to stay away from it. That news broke in Feb 04. Chief is right, it was piss poor tradecraft, and something that many of you may not know about the CIA is that they believe in "friendly competition", what some of us might call back stabbing, they call getting ahead. My bet, the news was released the way it was because it was coming out anyway.

  21. I'm not talking about keeping the whole attack secret, but the specifics which the US military has proved good at in the past, particularly regarding Afghanistan.

    CIA always operates under cover. So why not report the cover as the target as per SOP? They were seven "state department" or "private contractors" involved in "reconstruction" . . . In time the real story, as in what happened to the CIA in the Beruit embassy bombing, would have come out, but with the Agency managing the information at their own pace.

    Instead the CIA was faced with not a leak, but a cascade of negative information which they never were able to get in front of, let alone control. Witness Panneta's woeful Wash Post op-ed on 10 January.

    If you follow the articles as I did from about 1 January, it was clear within 24 hours who, how many and where the attack was, all coming from "US government sources". Within 36-48 hours the word was all about "failed tradecraft". By 4 January we knew pretty much the basics of what had happened included the name and history of the bomber, the Jordanian connection . . .

    My question remains. Who made the decision to go public with this and so quickly?

  22. and "why" so quickly? In a time of war?

    Our own HMS Barham gets torpedoed and blows up and we tell the world the next day?

  23. Seydlitz, that did strike me as very strange, so much detail, so quickly.
    Look at how long the Tilman debacle took to unfold... how many untruths were told before the general public got the full story.

  24. Well, since we seem to have delved into two threads...
    Done is done lads, and the pretense is over. We just have to accept that our elections and the people running in them are just commercials now.
    As I said up thread, our representative democracy is over now. The Republic is dead.
    Big business won, and so the U.S. political and social landscape will begin to reflect the change.

    Re: CIA.

    CIA with competency.
    Specifically, they would um...oh to put this delicately...they would actually believe Chicken Little with out vetting, and then follow the Village Idiot over the cliff.

    So, my analysis, free of charge, and without a contract number to bill...

    They, the CIA gent's handling their man, f~cked up in such an extravagant way that it's a wonder they didn't get iced sooner.
    No leads, no tails, no tracking, no nothing. Criminy sakes, local law enforcement doesn't even trust their own rats...why would CIA?
    But, hey, they flip the guy through all sorts of heinous methods and then deceive themselves into thinking he's a loyal tool bag to the "Good o'l Murican cause!"????
    So, in short, what happened with the CIA is that they got caught red handed with their joy hand in their pants while the bad guys came in with guns a blazing; and the reason why they spilled the beans is because scuttlebutt amongst the local troops, loaded with a "version" of the truth from the enemy tends to take on a life of it's own if not directly countered with a "version" of the truth that is closer to the bulls eye.
    Information control.
    Just like what is going to happen with our upcoming elections now that Big Business has been unfettered, so too here with the CIA.
    In the CIA's case, release a closer "version" of the truth so that the "mystery" doesn't linger in conversation, or in media.

  25. Sheer,

    I think you overestimate the power of advertising. The product that advertising supports matters a great deal and in a two-party system there are usually only two "products" to choose from. For example, I doubt there is any amount of money that could be spent which would get this guy elected in 2008.

  26. BTW, Seydlitz, I can't answer your question since I haven't followed it closely. I suspect, however, that bureaucratic rivalry may have something to do with it, however.

  27. Andy,
    I see your Brian Moore, and raise you...

    Anything can be sold to the American Public, including a rock because all you need is a product, solid marketing with a solid slogan, and a gullible audience...
    And Voila!
    George W. Bush!

  28. Sheer,

    The idea of "fads" in politics is interesting.

  29. Andy,
    My sons, who are unashamedly snarky, told me once with total dead pan faces while I was trying to be "hip" with them, "Dad, your information is new and exicting, tell us more."
    I don't know if you were doing the same, but you did get a chuckle out of me.
    Anyway, something from TPM

    Key paragraph to focus in on as it will pertain to the future of our country...

    "Rich Masterson, a Republican political consultant whose firm, CampaignGrid, develops internet ad campaigns, said his phone had been ringing off the hook with potential clients whose eagerness to develop campaigns for the 2010 election was given a major boost by Thursday's ruling. Many of these corporate players can now "accelerate their planning," he said, describing the mood as "cautiously optimistic." That's especially true of corporations in heavily regulated industries --the financial sector, for instance -- who have a lot to gain or lose from what happens in Washington."

    It's good to have money to peddle influence, buy congressional friends, and continue to rape the economy at will.

  30. wourm-

    Thanks for your comment, since by agreeing with me the probability increases that I am not actually crazy.


    I would include the current nature of our domestic politics in addition to service/bureaucratic rivalry as a cause.


    Thanks for allowing me "squatter's rights" to your thread, since I couldn't think of a better title or place than "American Psycho", which seems to cover the subject of my question well.


    Finally one last comment in regards to the subject of the Khost disaster and its handling. Our NATO and local allies in Afghanistan have a long history of dealing with the CIA and know its strengths and weaknesses. I would have included the agency's ability to control the information concerning both its successes and disasters as a strength. That obviously is no longer the case in regards to disasters and it is interesting to consider what the fallout may be. Just another example of the lack of credibility in regards to US actions/promises/abilities/capabilities which can only negatively affect joint strategy formulation.