Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

The Corrupting Influence

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I, like, many people to the left of the Democratic party tend to caucus Democrat, vote Democrat and become active in the Democratic party. It’s the closest thing this country has to a populist party (as counterpoint to the Republicans’ party of money) and as such tends to have the most representative of this nation’s representatives – especially considering its checkered past with ward politics, xenophobia and racism amongst the different factions of the working class.

But having largely gotten past those hurdles, what I see destroying the Democratic party is co-option with the GOP. The Democratic party still attracts the same people, but I see vibrant New Yorkers full of spit and anger – Al Franken, Andrew Cuomo, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer – either turning into politically-debauched players – Bill Clinton, Barney Frank, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd – or thrown out of the proceedings altogether – Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean – based on how willing they are to play to money.

I see the same with Barack Obama: His fantastic rise is marred both by the decimation of liberals in his cabinet like Van Jones (and the shocking influence Goldman Sachs has over the US Treasury) and by the nagging worry that even then – even with all the compromises – he may be Jimmy Carter’d for attempting to push what little regulatory reform he is still working on.

Not that any of this is new. Anybody who’s been alive in the last 40 years knows this narrative. What gets me is how, like conservatives have declared racism ‘dead’ because we elected a Black president (forgetting all the shit we talk about him now), it’s almost immediately become passe to point out the raging class war going on – as if we’ve made a U-turn in the 90’s and ended up back in the 80’s again, where ‘liberal’ is a bad word – because Democrats are in office and thus classism cannot exist. It’s hard not to be cynical in witnessing the denigration of what is and by all rights should be a historic movement in American history.

It is unfathomably depressing how we went from gloating that the Republican machine that gave us the deregulators and short-sighted neo-cons was all but dead to now, with unlimited power for money to get its message heard (and the amazing ability for the electorate to believe anything they’re told), watching the Republicans – with their barefaced alliance with money and in spite of their utter inability to govern – diligently continue to bury what chance this country has of digging itself out of ruin.

And it all has to do with what keeps people in office. Bogged down by lobbyism, media propaganda and overall poor education, I don’t see a progressive means for lifting ourselves, vibrant as the new Democrats are, out of this dysfunctional hellhole: It’s a Democratic majority but it’s a Republican system; still the very same one they’ve worked on and perfected all these past 40 years. Their hubris got them voted out (but not before destroying the country) but their system is still in place, giving anyone still willing to play their game immense powers over those doing it honestly. If reform comes (-if-), it’ll be excruciatingly slow; a gradual process that will take decades, and that angers me.

It’s at times like this that it’s not hard for me to want Obama to use the extended executive rights of his office (granted to his office by the Republican machine, natch) to by decree shut the flow of money down, damn the consequences: Declare an emergency – a national crisis of faith! – and bring in international inspectors to determine that elections are held free and without the taint of farce.

That’ll be the day.

Speech? What speech?

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I’ve been wrestling with a rebuttal to Gleen Greenwald’s views on the Supreme Court ruling banning any campaign finance regulations. He’s decidedly liberal and takes no prisoners on either side of the debate, which is why it surprised me that he would defend the rulings that, in my view, threaten to destroy once and for all any vestige of democracy our Republic has. Clearly, I believe he has it wrong; specifically, that framing the argument as a constitutional one based on the First Amendment is the wrong way to go at it. It’s not a speech issue – even if the specific reason for the First Amendment was to protect political speech – it’s a commerce issue.

Luckily, Lawrence Lessig, professor of Law at Stanford and formerly Harvard took him down a notch on the Huffington Post, arguing that he’s gone down a dangerous line of reasoning in his zeal. I’d argue, though, that claiming corporations and other corporated organizations like unions and political parties are considered “people” because they are protected from government search and seizure is a disastrously liberal (in the small ‘l’ version of the word) interpretation of corporations as legal entities. They have protections for property and legal liabilities for debt: They do not speak, especially not politically. Their constituents speak, and have protected speech, but they do not.

The argument for Free Speech flies straight in the face of what Greenwald and everybody else who has a brain pretty much understands: That what this ruling entails is taking the kid gloves off for corporate oligarchy, destroying the political Free Speech of the great vast majority of the US population and thus destroying our collective Human Rights. Simply put, either we should all have equal time on the airwaves or none of us does, else we should drop the pretense of egalitarianism when it comes to speech. As it stands, what we have is a situation where the only “message” that gets out – and Karl Rove would be proud of this – is the one whose purveyors have the economic means of conveying it. Money isn’t necessarily speech, but it becomes the gatekeeper to speech.

Arguably, the Founding Fathers accepted this, considering the United States’ original restrictions on voting to land-owning white males, and as such this current monetary restriction – namely, who can afford campaign ads – is not without precedent, but it is certainly regressive in the extreme. But that said, this is not a speech issue. This is a commerce issue. This is the protection of property run rampant: When property is so encompassing as to include media rights, and its protection so immutable in the eyes (and guise) of the legislature, democracy falls hollow. The fundamental human right to Speech has fallen before the commercial right to Opportunity.

The corporations have bought themselves so many human rights they’re the only humans actually recognized.

Just a Teensy Hint

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If you want to retain the Best and the Brightest in public service, probably the worst thing you could do is cover up their flagrant corruption or pardon their egregious lapses of judgment and humanity as a “perk” to the office. It’s really quite simple to get who you want:

Pay them more.

It worked under FDR. Hell, it worked until the Reaganite Revolution slashed budgets at the same time it detoothed industry regulators, thus making lobbying more rewarding than actually serving the country.

But y”know what; why do I even have to say this? Why is this even on the table? What mad world do we live in?

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