Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Shift From Democracy To Corporate Dictatorship And The Tragedy Of The Lack Of Push Back

American Commentary Blog

While our country has had many dark periods whereby it did not adhere to the founding principles produced in its documents and democracy and freedom has been a struggle for many, especially African Americans who suffered so long and greatly from the darkness of slavery to an apartheid type of government in the Jim Crow laws and segregation of the south, women who couldn’t vote, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the slaughter of the native people of North America, and so forth, the United States moved towards a more perfect union domestically since World War II.

Then, through great legal movements, America started becoming a nation of laws to protect both the guilty and innocent in a just system of laws such as the great example at Nuremberg abroad when a great threat was defeated (which now has been erased by the G.W. Bush Presidency in its “war against terror” much to the horror of legal scholars) while at home, equal protection under the law for Americans was starting to advance. We had Teddy Roosevelt to bust up monopolies that threatened competition and entrepreneurship as well from corporate take over of state (commonly called fascism since the 1930′s). We had Franklin D. Roosevelt give us Social Security so as we aged, we could avoid poverty and rules for our financial markets and banking system to put the United States on sound economic footing instead of the rampant unregulated greed and power that led us to the Great Depression.

President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, a single payer health care system for seniors despite years of Republican run ads using Ronald Reagan declaring it would lead us into a socialist dictatorship (sound familiar?). Civil rights for all its citizens and equal protection of the law began to assert itself at home through the heroism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and determined governance. We enacted environmental laws to protect our water and air from pollutants of industry, a labor movement and laws emerged and produced a middle class from the ravages of the past Robber Baron era and the Gilded Age from a society stratified into rich and the impoverished. These struggles seem to have been forgotten today in a society with no memory beyond what happened the week before and the news media has been turned into entertainment looking for ratings rather than real information. As we have entered the 21st century, much of this forward movement has come to a resounding end, and not only that, but a rapid reversal. In fact, the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a culmination of decades of assault on the principles of western democracy and the concepts enshrined in our founding documents of self governance by the people.

So how did we get to this point and a horrible decision that makes corporations super “persons” by declaration of the Supreme Court that money is “free speech”, money that breathing live persons cannot match thus rendering their right to free speech less? Can this be really what the founders had in mind when they conceived the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? No, it had to begin with poor application and interpretation of law. In “Personalizing the Impersonal: Corporations and the Bill of Rights” by Carl J. Mayer as published by Hastings Law Journal, Hastings College of Law at University of California, March, 1990; Volume 41, No. 3 was written the following:
The Constitution does not mention corporations.
To claim legal status, nineteenth century lawyers argued that corporations should be considered “citizens” or “persons” for application of various constitutional provisions. …
Most of these cases were decided early in the nineteenth century — before significant government economic regulation — and involved the corporation’s right to sue or be sued.
Two competing visions of corporate personality influenced the Court’s nineteenth century decisions, and to some degree still underlie modern opinions. The first and most traditional notion was the “artificial entity” theory viewing the corporation as nothing more than an artificial creature of the state, subject to government imposed limitations and restrictions. This theory had its origins in English corporation law, and in antebellum legislatures’ practice of considering incorporation a special privilege, awarded by the state for the pursuit of public purposes. Under this view, corporations cannot assert constitutional rights against the state, their creator.
The second vision was the “natural entity” or person theory. This theory regards the corporation not as artificial, but as real, with a separate existence and independent rights. It is associated with continental theorists who, at the turn of the century, wrote about “group” or “corporate” personality in an effort to challenge individualism and to come to terms with institutions of modern society such as corporations, trade unions, universities, and professional associations. This understanding of the corporation most favors corporate constitutional rights.
But still, it would have to take more than that, it would have to take something ideological and political to end up with the current aberration. It would take a plan to turn Democracy and Constitutional protections designed for living and breathing citizens on its head in order to concentrate power and laws to huge corporate entities and their monied few for their benefit. It would have to be a plan to do an end around the founders’ intentions of investing governance, liberties, and rights intended for living people of the United States and the branch of government they invested with insuring this governance by the people through their representatives and thus in such matters, the Congress, and in particular, the House of Representatives.

Such a plan, or rightwing manifesto if you will, emerged in 1971 and was written by a corporate lawyer who would become an appointee to the Supreme Court, Lewis Franklin Powell Jr. , now called The Powell Memo, written two months before his nomination by President Richard M. Nixon. This memo was titled, “Attack of American Free Enterprise System” and was sent to his friend Eugene Sydnor Jr., who at the time was Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. states:
The Powell Memo did not become available to the public until long after his confirmation to the Court. It was leaked to Jack Anderson, a liberal syndicated columnist, who stirred interest in the document when he cited it as reason to doubt Powell’s legal objectivity. Anderson cautioned that Powell “might use his position on the Supreme Court to put his ideas into practice…in behalf of business interests.”
Though Powell’s memo was not the sole influence, the Chamber and corporate activists took his advice to heart and began building a powerful array of institutions designed to shift public attitudes and beliefs over the course of years and decades. The memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.
The memo itself was a reflection of its time, a time of social change and growing resistance to war in Southeast Asia. But what it was, was a blueprint for corporate power taking control of American institutions.

Just about everything imaginable is listed. The list includes the following: Colleges and intellectuals (always the bogey man of far right movements and governments), high schools, graduate schools, television, radio, the press, advertisements, pamphlets, etc.. Today with the proliferation of the rightwing think tanks, rightwing media, free trade agreements and cheap overseas labor, the near decimation of organized labor, and the unregulated business sector, and multinational corporations with off shore accounts and addresses to escape taxation, one would have to say the plan was executed exceedingly well. And it’s, of course, always the generated fear of Marxism. Someone needs to inform them there is no Marxist movement of note in the United States. There hasn’t been any liberal economic theory (what they call liberal) practice in the United States since the days of Nixon. Someone needs to also inform them regulated capitalism, government programs to promote the general welfare, legal protections for the citizens of the United States, isn’t Marxism, it’s called civilization.

In responding to Paul Krugman’s New York Times op-ed titled “All the President’s Zombies” of August, 2009, Henry A. Giroux wrote in a piece called “The Powell Memo and the Teaching Machines of Right-Wing Extremists ” at truthout,
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, echoing the feelings of many progressives, recently wrote in The New York Times about how dismayed he was over the success right-wing ideologues have had not only in undercutting Obama’s health care bill, but also in mobilizing enormous public support against almost any reform aimed at rolling back the economic, political, and social conditions that have created the economic recession and the legacy of enormous suffering and hardship for millions of Americans over the last 30 years. Krugman is somewhat astonished that after almost three decades the political scene is still under the sway of what he calls the “zombie doctrine of Reaganism,” – the notion that any action by government is bad, except when it benefits corporations and the rich. Clearly, for Krugman, zombie Reaganism appears once again to be shaping policies under the Obama regime. And yet, not only did Reaganism with its hatred of the social state, celebration of unbridled self-interest, its endless quest to privatize everything, and support for deregulation of the economic system eventually bring the country to near economic collapse, it also produced enormous suffering for those who never benefited from the excesses of the second Gilded Age, especially workers, the poor, disadvantaged minorities and eventually large segments of the middle class. And yet, zombie market politics is back rejecting the public option in Obama’s health plan, fighting efforts to strengthen bank regulations, resisting caps on CEO bonuses, preventing climate-control legislation, and refusing to limit military spending.
Unlike other pundits, Krugman does not merely puzzle over how zombie politics can keep turning up on the political scene – a return not unlike the endless corpses who keep coming back to life in George Romero’s 1968 classic film, “Night of the Living Dead” (think of Bill Kristol who seems to be wrong about everything but just keeps coming back). For Krugman, a wacky and discredited right-wing politics is far from dead and, in fact, one of the great challenges of the current moment is to try to understand the conditions that allow it to once again shape American politics and culture, given the enormous problems it has produced at all levels of American society, including the current recession.
Part of the answer to the enduring quality of such a destructive politics can be found in the lethal combination of money, power and education that the right wing has had a stranglehold on since the early 1970′s and how it has used its influence to develop an institutional infrastructure and ideological apparatus to produce its own intellectuals, disseminate ideas, and eventually control most of the commanding heights and institutions in which knowledge is produced, circulated and legitimated. This is not simply a story about the rise of mean-spirited buffoons such as Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage. Nor is it simply a story about the loss of language, a growing anti-intellectualism in the larger culture, or the spread of what some have called a new illiteracy endlessly being produced in popular culture.
As important as these tendencies are, there is something more at stake here which points to a combination of power, money and education in the service of creating an almost lethal restriction of what can be heard, said, learned and debated in the public sphere. And one starting point for understanding this problem is what has been called the Powell Memo, released on August 23, 1971, and written by Lewis F. Powell, who would later be appointed as a member of the Supreme Court of the United States. Powell sent the memo to the US Chamber of Commerce with the title “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System.”
Indeed, you can see the puzzlement in Krugman’s words,
Call me na├»ve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming. …
There’s a lot to be said about the financial disaster of the last two years, but the short version is simple: politicians in the thrall of Reaganite ideology dismantled the New Deal regulations that had prevented banking crises for half a century, believing that financial markets could take care of themselves. The effect was to make the financial system vulnerable to a 1930s-style crisis — and the crisis came.
Later, Krugman seems to answer his own questions,
Part of the answer is that there’s a lot of money behind them. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — “depend upon his not understanding it.” In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr. Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation.
Of course, a major part of the problem also is that after two terms of Ronald Reagan and a term of H.W. Bush, the Clinton victory came with something called the “New Democrat” movement, the party’s own version one might say, of Reaganism. In fact, two major victories of Reaganism came in this period, the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (repeal of Glass-Steagal Act) and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which allowed Clear Channel to put Rush Limbaugh and other propagandists and hate speakers in nearly every community.

With the last few Congressional elections and the election of Obama, Democratic voters and activists didn’t get the Powell Memo. They thought they were getting the old Democrats they were most familiar with, not the “New Democrats”. They were voting for change.

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