January 22, 2010, Issue #155
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. CORRECTION FOR LOCAL READERS
2. SUPREME COURT UNDERMINES DEMOCRACY
3. HEALTH CARE COMPROMISES
4. DEMOCRATS BOOSTING RIGHT-WING POPULISM
5. AVATAR'S WORTH VIEWING
1. CORRECTION FOR LOCAL READERS READERS
TIME CHANGE: Saturday, Jan. 23, BEACON: "'Walk, Don't Ride," a play by Peter Manos celebrating Martin Luther King and Freedom Riders in Nashville and Montgomery in the 1950-'60s, will be performed 4-6 p.m. at Beacon High School, 101 Matteawan Rd. We're told that this production has been funded by a donation from Pete Seeger, who is a Beacon resident.
2. SUPREME COURT UNDERMINES DEMOCRACY
On Dec. 12, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the presidential election to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, by denying Vice President Albert Gore a recount of the vote in Florida, which probably would have brought him to the White House.
This was and remains a great shock to many Americans, particularly given the disastrous results of Bush's eight years in office. But the judicial branch of the U.S. government had even greater shocks in store for supporters of democracy.
On Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court — weighted toward right wing Bush appointees — in effect handed future elections to the candidate most slavishly devoted to America's powerful corporate business interests and those who possess extreme wealth.
This historic decision, in the case of Citizens United v. FEC, represents a change in degree, not kind. After all, big business and wealth, through their campaign contributions, lobbying and bribes, already wields disproportionate influence in federal and state elections.
But the new decision removes restraints on corporate funding, amounting to the transformation of an already weakened American democracy into an outright oligarchy, even while maintaining the façade of a two-party system and so-called free elections.
The Supreme Court decided that "the constitutional guarantee of free speech means that corporations can spend unlimited sums to help elect favored candidates or defeat those they oppose." This kind of funding must be spent independently, in support of, or against, a candidate or issue, but not by the candidate.
This ruling destroyed a ban going back to the 1940s that prevented corporations from directly intervening in elections, although they have had great leeway in utilizing indirect means to support pro-business candidates. A 1990 Court ruling upholding restraints on corporate spending and much of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act — limited as it was — are also now unconstitutional.
In order to grant corporations the legal right to decisively control the U.S. political system, the reactionary Court disinterred and elaborated upon the legal precedent established 125 years ago when incorporated businesses were granted the same rights as people, this time in terms of participation in elections. Thus, if people have free political speech, and can individually make campaign contributions, so can corporations.
Under the Court decision, unions now also have the right to independently spend funds directly supporting or opposing candidates, but the sum of corporate profits available for political investment and the money spent by unions from membership dues is hardly comparable.
Said Justice John Paul Stevens in dissent, "At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people.... While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."
In the words of a New York Times editorial Jan. 22, "With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding."
President Obama said the ruling had "given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for Big Oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans."
Commented New York Sen. Chuck Schumer "The Supreme Court has just predicted the winners of the next November election. It won't be Republicans. It won't be Democrats. It will be Corporate America."
Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, charged that "this is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court. With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy."
There will be a fightback against this latest right wing blow to democracy, from Congress and various liberal, progressive and left organizations. Here are the various methods under discussion.
• Public Financing: The 2009 Fair Elections Now Act (S.752, H.R.1826) is now pending before Congress. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, says it "would provide congressional candidates with an alternative to corporate-funded campaigns before fundraising for the 2010 election is in full swing. Sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Rep. John Larson ( D-CT), the bill encourages unlimited small-dollar donations from individuals and provide candidates with public funding in exchange for refusing corporate contributions or private contributions in amounts of more than $100." The proposal has some 126 co-sponsors in the House. Of course, those who want private financing may refuse public financing and opt for the corporate support.
• Restraints on Corporations: Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress Action Fund says some in Congress are contemplating requiring additional disclosures by corporations engaged in electioneering, empowering shareholders to demand that their investment not be spent to advance candidates they disapprove of." He also says Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are considering "potential fixes including banning political advertising by corporations that hire lobbyists, receive government money, or collect most of their revenue abroad."
• Constitutional Amendment: Several organizations advocate this course to overturn the new ruling, including Voter Action, Public Citizen, the Center for Corporate Policy, and the American Independent Business Alliance, among others. Says Ralph Nader: "This corporatist, anti-voter decision is so extreme that it should galvanize a grassroots effort to enact a Constitutional Amendment to once and for all end corporate personhood and curtail the corrosive impact of big money on politics."
• Impeachment: While they have lifetime positions, it is as legally possible to impeach members of the high court as it is a President or Member of Congress. First the House agrees on impeachment, then it is sent to the Senate for conviction. Only one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase in 1804, has ever been impeached by the House, but he was acquitted by the Senate.
Though the matter is hardly ever mentioned, the Supreme Court is perhaps the most supremely undemocratic of the powerful institutions in our society. The masses of people have no say in selecting the justices who will make some of the most crucial decisions in national history. The nomination is made by whatever president is in the White House when a vacancy happens to occur. If a majority of the Senate approves, as it usually does, the new justice will serve for life, without any oversight by the people. (Likewise hardly mentioned is the fact that the elitist Senate, which in effect "elects" a justice of the Supreme Court, constitutes the second most undemocratic institution in society.)
One way to reduce continuing government erosion of democracy in the U.S., such as the Court's support for increased corporate control of our society, is to restructure the judicial branch to make it accountable to the people.
All progressive thinking people have lent their support to the measures to weaken the Court's onerous attack on what's left of popular democracy. At the same time it must be understood that such attacks come from the executive and legislative branches of government as well, such as the Patriot Act and other more recent dilutions of civil liberties under the Obama Administration.
It is also well to remember that the influence of corporations and the wealthy on the electoral process was grossly excessive before the Supreme Court's latest outrage, and that if we desire truly effective campaign finance reform the entire process must be democratically revamped in favor of the masses of people, which none of the suggested measures is prepared to do.
3. HEALTH CARE COMPROMISES
The New York Times reported Jan. 21: "President Obama signaled on Wednesday that he might be willing to scale back his proposed health care overhaul to a version that could attract bipartisan support, as the White House and Congressional Democrats grappled with a political landscape transformed by the Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race."
Why are we not surprised? Compromise has been the name of this endeavor.
Compromise 1: Between the Obama Administration and the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Before legislation was ever introduced in Congress, both sides agreed on a watered down healthcare bill that would greatly benefit both industries, keep prices high, and cover more people. This agreement eliminated single payer immediately and anticipated the elimination of the Public Option and other somewhat progressive aspects when it goes through Congress.)
Compromise 2: Between Congressional Democrats and their conservative/Blue Dog Democratic colleagues. (This ditched the Public Option, and led to right-wing additions, such as the Stupak Amendment.)
Compromise 3: Between Congressional Democrats and Republicans. (This further weakened the health plan.)
Compromise 4: The post-Massachusetts election compromise will come about because the 60-40 Democratic Senate majority will be "reduced" to 59-41, not that the "filibuster proof" 60 votes amounted to much after the Blue Dogs were turned loose.
Compromise 5: Between the Senate and House to resolve differences between bills when each is finally ready.
The undoubted result of all these compromises will be a final bill approximating the legislation the Obama Administration and the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries agreed to privately in the first place.
The struggle for single-payer (or Medicare for all) has been going on in one form or another since the mid-1940s. Decades usually transpire between serious efforts to revive the measure in the White House and Congress.
If we don't want to wait another 10 or 20 years for the next opportunity it is important that the latest popular struggle for single payer continue, and that the movement stick together, win additional allies, and keep fighting year after year until victory.
4. DEMOCRATS BOOSTING RIGHT-WING POPULISM
By Norman Solomon
In his triumphant speech on election night Jan. 19, the next senator from Massachusetts should have thanked top Democrats in Washington for all they did to make his victory possible.
For a year now, leading Democrats have steadily embraced more corporate formulas for "healthcare reform." In the name of political realism, they have demobilized and demoralized the Democratic base. In the process, they've fueled right-wing populism.
The Democratic leadership on healthcare and so much else — including bank bailouts, financial services, foreclosures and foreign policy — has been so corporate that Republicans have found it easy to play populist.
Fixated on passage of something that could be called "healthcare reform," the Democratic establishment has propagated the myth that enacting such a law is vital to the political viability of the Obama presidency.
With few exceptions, the most progressive members of Congress have twisted themselves into knots to move with the choreography from the White House. The worse the healthcare bill got, the more they strained to lavish incongruous praise on it.
Defenders of the current healthcare legislation don't like to acknowledge how thoroughly corporate it is. In the wake of the Senate election in Massachusetts, we're sure to see a new wave of mass emails from progressive groups urging a renewed fight for a public option. But the Obama administration threw a public option under the Pennsylvania Avenue bus well before the GOP victory in Massachusetts finalized its burial.
Key provisions — such as a mandate requiring individuals to buy private health insurance without a public option — are giveaways to mega-corporations on a scale so vast that it boggles the mind.
Such a federal healthcare law — massively combining an intrusive government mandate with corporate power — would be a godsend to right-wing populism for decades.
Government power should be used for the common good, not for humongous profiteering. But on the near horizon is a law that would further bloat already-bloated corporate coffers while undermining basic precepts of a social compact.
The mandate places legal, financial and ideological burdens on the individual for healthcare. In the process, at best, many low-income people would only have access to inferior coverage with plenty of holes.
Rather than affirm the principle of healthcare as a human right, the current scenarios for healthcare reform lay out limited federal subsidies for private insurance premiums — in effect, an entitlement program in political terms, sure to be vulnerable to the kind of safety-net shredding that has done so much harm in recent decades.
The current versions of healthcare reform, New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt noted on Jan. 20, "are more conservative than Bill Clinton's 1993 proposal. For that matter, they're more conservative than Richard Nixon's 1971 plan, which would have had the federal government provide insurance to people who didn't get it through their job."
One of the biggest themes — repeated endlessly by pundits and meme-prone Democrats — has been the assertion that getting "healthcare reform" signed into law is essential for the political viability of a Democratic Congress and the Obama presidency. But at this point, given what's on the table under the Capitol Dome, the opposite is likely to be the case.
If Obama signs the kind of healthcare legislation now in the pipeline, it will be a political gift to the Republicans — and a crowning negative achievement of bad leadership for the congressional majority.
Key House Democrats declared throughout most of 2009 that they would only support a healthcare reform bill with a "robust" public option. Now the same members of Congress are saying they'll be pleased to vote for a final bill with no public option at all.
Meanwhile, at the grassroots, many progressives are apt to buy into a false choice between capitulating inside the Democratic Party or staying away from it. But there's another option: an inside/outside strategy that involves openly fighting for progressive power within the party while also organizing outside of it.
If we want more progressive officeholders, then elections are part of the process: beginning with Democratic primaries this year. Support genuine progressive candidates — and if you don't see any, maybe you should do some recruiting. There's no time to lose.
— Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War." He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign.
— Printed Jan. 20, 2010 by Common Dreams
5. SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST MUMIA ABU-JAMAL
The following article by Eugene Puryear is excerpted from Liberation newspaper
A new Supreme Court ruling Jan. 19 has brought African American leader and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal one step closer to execution.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Mumia’s conviction in 2008, but ruled that he deserved a new sentencing hearing because the jury had been given flawed instructions. The Supreme Court’s ruling reverses that decision, sending the case back to the Third Circuit. The lower court can either let the death sentence stand or order a new trial to hear other claims brought by Mumia.
Mumia was wrongly convicted in 1983 of the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. His trial was marred by the coercion of witnesses and the vilification of his political activism. Ten of the 12 jurors were white in a city with a black majority. Judge Albert Sabo was a well-known racist, and was overheard by a court stenographer saying he would “help them fry the n----r.”
Mumia had been a well-known local activist and investigative journalist known in Philadelphia as the “Voice of the Voiceless.” He had been a member of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia and later the MOVE organization. Both groups faced intense persecution by the Philadelphia police.
Inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case, the surfacing of new witness testimony and recantation of testimony by prosecution witnesses led to the building of a movement determined to free Mumia. Original and new evidence overwhelmingly pointed to his innocence.
The struggle to gain freedom for Mumia became the principal death penalty issue of the 1990s. Mass demonstrations around the world in 1995 and 1999 brought the case to worldwide prominence. In 1999, dockworkers in the San Francisco Bay Area shut down the port for one day demanding Mumia’s freedom. In 2006, a street in Saint Denis, a suburb of Paris, was named in his honor.
Despite the worldwide outcry for his freedom, however, the state of Pennsylvania has vigorously worked to block justice and execute Mumia. The legal battle over the death sentence will continue, but the inherently racist courts have shifted the focus away from justice. Commuting a death sentence to a life sentence for an innocent man is hardly justice. Mumia must be set free.
5. AVATAR'S WORTH VIEWING
We saw the film Avatar this week and recommend it to readers who haven't seen it yet.
Avatar is not only a fascinating futuristic science fiction adventure story with spectacular cinematic technology, but delivers an implicit criticism of imperialism and corporate greed. The subtitle could have read: "The Cruelty of Putting Profits Before People." It is excellent on the interdependent relationship between nature and human beings.
There are shortcomings. For example, it's not believable except as metaphor. This is okay, but the metaphor itself is not always clear, and sometimes drifts way too far into spiritual and magical realms for solutions to the very concrete problems afflicting our own reality.
But to us this and other problems are secondary to the attributes it brings to a mass market film production that will be seen throughout the world. The war scene, when the American corporate/mercenary army attacks a small and essentially powerless indigenous tribe, is reminiscent of the "shock and awe" bombardment that began the Iraq war, or the "carpet bombings" of Vietnam and Cambodia.