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Post details: We the Corporations

We the Corporations

Democracy is a great system but it has one serious flaw. Political issues have become so complex and multifaceted that it is virtually impossible for average voters to make informed decisions on their own - and remember that by definition most voters are average. Who can truly grasp all the ramifications of the Health Care Bill, or what kind of financial reform will be beneficial to our economy 10 years down the road? You'd have better chances understanding Lehman Brother's balance sheets. But even more importantly, who can see through the smokescreen of boilerplate soundbites and tell which candidate masters the issues best? You can't really make much sense out them without some sort of guidance.

That leaves the door to voters' hearts wide open for sly propaganda and interpretation games. The gray border between right and wrong is seemingly teeming with seamy teams. Either side of the aisle has no qualms kicking the opponents under the table, ripping their utterances out of context and framing them in all the putrid mud they can dredge from partisan bayous. In the world of high politics, truth counterfeiters work round the clock. Democracy was an easy trade to ply in times of Socrates or Washington, but in the era of talking heads and YouTube warriors practicing public governance may warrant some pretty steep information tariffs. Say that you want to take a stand against building an extra school in your district because there is no money in the budget. Your followers can paint you as an uncompromising fiscal hawk who will make sure that public funds do not get squandered on unnecessary projects. But that very same act will prompt your opponents to slice you to pieces for not having a clear vision of well educated population. At the end of the day, your political fate will depend on which side can spin your story more effectively, i.e. which side has more dough to do so.

It used to be "One man, one vote". A John Wayne kind of democracy. But running for public office has become so insanely expensive that it sounds more like "One dollar, one vote" these days. The merry-go-round of public opinion massage therapists, 30 second TV torpedoes, in house mendacity menders and assorted PR flacks requires dizzying sums of money. In the meantime, the underlying political competition has tacitly been reduced to one simple skill - reading the teleprompter. It is not clear whether we still have elections or whether the public offices are given away in carefully scripted auctions. I am not sure what Andrew Jackson's running for the office cost, but I am fairly certain he'd be mad as hell about selling democracy to the highest bidder.

The way our elected representatives waltz with waddles of money from Big Pharma, Military Complex and Wall Street makes you wonder what promises were whispered into their ear on the dancing floor. Scanning the long scrolls of campaign contributions stuffed with future pork and saturated lard could single-handedly push your heart into cardiac arrest, although citizen's arrest would be a more apposite course of action. With hordes of lobbyists swarming the corpse of democracy like a pack of hungry hyenas, you might think it is time to consider a serious campaign finance reform and limit the amount of money gushing into politics.

The Supreme Court, specifically its Republican appointees, would strongly disagree. In a close vote held on Wednesday, they rejected limits that up to that point were restricting corporate spending on political campaigns. Rather ironically, they cited free speech violation as the basis for their decision. That means our spendthrift campaigning habits will be exacerbated rather than mitigated. Rather conveniently this shocking charade happened two days after Scott Brown (R) won Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts and dealt the Democratic supermajority in Congress a lethal blow. Any legislative response to this travesty of judgment will now be as hard as finding a character witness for a recalcitrant donkey.

I think that "free speech" should be limited to entities that have mouths, lips, tongues, vocal chords and other accessories necessary for speaking. That would be human beings. Sure, constituents of private companies, from CEOs to janitors, can still say whatever they want. Just not as corporations. Corporatism is one half of fascism (the other half being nationalism) and I don't think we want to flirt with that historical beast.

Corporations are abstract legal entities whose purpose is to conduct business. Influencing electorate should be none of it. If for nothing else then for a simple fairness argument. Who could compete with Intel, Pfizer or Citigroup? Not charities, not civic societies, not local churches and certainly not private citizens. If this free speech is so important to them, then we should start taxing them in the top bracket - just like regular warm blooded Joes.

Corporations do not have the right to vote directly, so they should not have the right to vote indirectly (through the use of their money) either. Whose interest would they represent anyway? Do we want the Sheikh of Dubai or some Russian billionaire on the board of a multinational conglomerate to partake in our public affairs? And even if the foreign entities were surgically removed, many nagging concerns would remain. What if deep pocketed pharmaceuticals supported candidates going easy on their drug testing? What if AIG sponsored pro-bailout candidates? What if Microsoft wanted to strengthen its virtual monopoly through creative use of politics? How could we compete with their televised weapons of mass instruction?

Today, lobbyists have to deal with whomever we vote into the office. In the future, they could actually have a say in choosing the lot. And you can bet your health insurance premiums they wouldn't go for the principled and incorruptible types.

The Constitution of the United States begins with the phrase "We the People". Please, let's keep it that way.


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