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Our Supreme Court Has Lost Its Mind
By Terrell E. Arnold
In a leap that Justice John Paul Stevens called "profoundly misguided" the US Supreme Court has written a decision that may well be the final undoing of American democracy. To see that, it is necessary to take on board the main trend in the distribution of wealth and power in this country.  Today the spread between rich and poor is as broad as it has ever been.  As of 2000, one percent of the people owned 40% of the nation's wealth.  That gap has been creeping up; probably as of  2010 one percent of the people now own more than half of the wealth.  In addition to that, a goodly chunk is owned by foreigners.  Thus the democratic base, meaning that 99% of the people may be net owners of little more than a third of our country's wealth.
Link that set of numbers to the fact that it costs more and more to run for public office in this country.  It was a shocker that the candidates in the last presidential election were working with war chests of upward of half a billion dollars.  In fact, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama raised and spent roughly $730 million, while John McCain raised and spent about half that amount.  Obama avowed that he did not take lobbyists money, but that budget did not grow on small trees, even though it was only $2.50 for every man, woman, and child in the country.
The point is that leading candidates were able to raise that kind of money while the decades old constraints were in place on corporate America.  In fact, with Thursday's decision the Court overturned its own 1990 ruling that barred corporations from using funds from their general treasuries to buy political advertising.
Now the cat is truly out of the bag.  In principle, corporations can now spend as much of the treasury as shareholders will allow on such political ads.  This means that every decision maker in a corporation has contribution and voting rights equal to anyone on the street, while the firm may blast away with treasury funds to bolster management preferences.
Put in these terms, the issue is not, as the Court majority averred, about freedom of speech.  Every corporate officer and employee is free to exercise complete freedom of speech along with everybody else.  What the Court said was the corporate treasury now has an independent voice, with a megaphone as large and loud as its human managers are prepared to buy. The decision is not about freedom of speech; it is about being able to add large, loud megaphones.
When corporate America already has acquired such a commanding voice in US decision making, providing the megaphone is overkill.   In the past several decades America has moved steadily away from democracy toward oligarchy. Washington pays a great deal more attention to lobbyists inside the Beltway than it does to public opinion.  Among other things, that is why the federal budget focuses so heavily on military spending.  But the US has no enemies likely to be defeated by military attack.  We are not at war with any country (Afghanistan and Pakistan do not count in this equation because the enemy there is not a country and the numbers are miniscule), but we are spending nearly as much, maybe more, on the military budget as it cost us to run World War II.  That is because the oligarchs are making decisions that serve their financial interests, not the interests of the country.  The Supreme Court has just given corporate America a giant force multiplier.
The decision requires a distorted definition of person.  Our constitution only guarantees freedom of speech to people.  That definition is entirely consistent with the concept of a democracy. There is simply nothing in the constitutional language to suggest that a corporation, as an entity, is entitled to be treated as a person for voting in an election. As an entity a corporation is licensed to do business. It is not licensed to vote in any election, and corporate charters do not guarantee such a privilege. Of course, corporate officers are privileged, as citizens, to vote in any election and to vote for laws or regulations that serve corporate and/or personal interests.  However, nowhere is it specified that a company with six officers has a seventh vote for the company. In the voting booth, the company as such is mute.
I go beyond Justice Stevens who said that the court was "profoundly misguided." The Court has been careless in suggesting that the corporate entity has a voice apart from the people who run it. By this decision the Court certified that our democracy is for sale to the highest bidder.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He studied constitutional law at Union University Law School in Albany, New York. He will welcome comment at
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