Friday, November 18, 2011

Corporate Plutocracy or Faux Democracy?

When only large corporations and the wealthiest among us rule politicians, democracy is lost, and we are no longer self-governed.

Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal and direct participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.

Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is often contrasted with the concept of parliamentary sovereignty and with individual sovereignty.

Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept when he wrote, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns." (Popular sovereignty also can be described as the voice of the people. Is your voice ever heard?)

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. In a representative democracy, every vote is supposed to have equal weight. ("All men are created equal")

Political freedom is a central philosophy in Western history and political thought, and is one of the most important features of democratic societies. It has been described as a relationship free of oppression or coercion; the absence of disabling conditions for a particular group or individual, and the fulfillment of enabling conditions; or the absence of lived conditions of compulsion, e.g. economic compulsion.

Karl Marx wrote: "...they were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as “voluntary” criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed."

In England this legislation began under Henry VII in 1530 when beggars who were old and unable to work received a beggar’s license. "...on the other hand, whipping and imprisonment for sturdy vagabonds. They are to be tied to the cart-tail and whipped until the blood streams from their bodies, then to swear an oath to go back to their birthplace or to where they have lived the last three years and to put themselves to labor. For the second arrest for vagabondage the whipping is to be repeated and half the ear sliced off; but for the third relapse the offender is to be executed as a hardened criminal and enemy of the common weal."

* I mention this when I think of the forced mass-unemployment of 14 million Americans, those who could no longer work "under the old conditions that no longer existed" and "chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers" (As when the Republicans accused them of being lazy, drug addicts, alcoholics, ignorant, and only wanting to "game the system".) And also because Americans are being denied tent cities and other means for survival, such as the Republican's push for cuts in budgets for Medicaid, food stamps, TANF, Social Security, and Medicare. And also for the unfair recalculation of cost-of-living raises in Social Security, driving already impoverished elderly citizens into further poverty.

Political freedom also include freedom from "internal" constraints on political action or speech. The concept of political freedom is closely connected with the concepts of civil liberties and human rights, which in democratic societies are usually afforded legal protection from the state.

The United States of America is not just a democracy – it is a constitutional democracy. What that means is that our government is designed to express not only the will of the majority (democracy), but also to simultaneously protect the unalienable rights of minorities and the powerless (such as the poor, the unemployed, and the elderly). That is an extremely important point because it is the constitutional protections of minorities and the powerless that add civility, humanity, and decency to what could otherwise be a barbaric nation – democratic or not.

In other words, democracy alone does not ensure that a nation will act humanely and decently. A majority can at times be quite cruel and unfair, as we've witnessed from the Republicans, the Tea Party, and Fox News -- because they only represent the interests of the very wealthy and large corporations). Lynch mobs will generally express the will of the majority ("the mob mentality"). The majority of whole nations can at times approve of and do terrible things. Even genocides can at times express the will of a majority. And that is precisely why our Founding Fathers recognized the need for a Constitution that would protect the rights of minorities and the powerless.

Recognizing that too much concentration of power in the hands of a single individual or a tightly knit group could lead to tyranny and the trampling of individual rights, our Founding Fathers took great care to separate the powers of our federal government so that they would that were supposed to check and balance each other, using several mechanisms to do that in the first three Articles of our Constitution.

The power to enforce the laws of the land, and the authority given the President as Commander-in-Chief during war time are especially important to check and control because arbitrary enforcement of laws, which are especially prone to occur during time of war, are a notorious means of denying rights to vulnerable individuals. For that reason, our Founding fathers balanced those executive powers by giving Congress the sole power to enact laws and declare war (all U.S. wars since World War II were "undeclared wars", such as in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, to name but a few).

The First Amendment was meant to protect our right to speech, to assemble, to practice our religion, and to petition our government; and our First Amendment protects us against punishment for expressing our opinions, regardless of how unpopular those opinions might be. But you cannot exercise this Right while under the employee of someone else while being paid, or you can be terminated from your job, depriving you of your livelihood (your Right to Life).

Many "occupy" protesters have been denied their First Amendment rights in numerous ways, such as the right of the protesters to be heard by confining the right of protest to “first amendment zones” and making them purchase special permits and insurance (such as in Las Vegas, where their encampment is more like a government sanctioned protest against the government). In NYC the local government (via the police force) denied
access to journalists when the police had evicted the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park on November 17, 2011.

The Second Amendment gives us the right to form militias, but in reality, this is a very futile fail-safe mechanism of last resort for protecting us against our government in case it decides to abuse our rights. After all, the government has the force army and law enforcement, and they use it lethally, even though:

"...all men are created equal...that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness...But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." - Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

The Fourth Amendment was meant to protect our privacy by disallowing “unreasonable searches or seizures”. It does this by requiring that searches or seizures by government be preceded by specific warrants that are based upon "probable cause" and is supposed to be approved by a judge (Think of the Patriot Act, airport screenings, and drug testing).

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the worst of all the abuses of minority rights. Our Founding Fathers initially allowed this terrible affront to humanity. Today, think of the privatization of our prison system as an open invitation to forced labor (i.e., slavery) and how the penal system currently uses prison labor for corporate profits and directly competes for jobs when we have a high unemployment rate. Just like with military spending, the cost is a "public cost", but the profits are "private profits".

The Fifteenth amendment gave freed slaves the right to vote, although after briefly making use of that new right during the Reconstruction Era after the American Civil War, the defeated Southern states effectively and almost completely denied that right until the Voting and Civil Rights movements of the late 1950s and 1960s, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today many Republican-governed states are now saying the "freed slaves", the poor, college students, and the elderly need a state-sanctioned government picture ID card to hinder their
voting right. The Republicans have been actively engaged in voter suppression. (Also see the Twenty-Fourth Amendment)

The Sixteenth Amendment allowed the use of the federal graduated income tax to raise money for use by the federal government. The use of this amendment recognizes that excessively wide gaps in income are bad for democracy and results in a lack of opportunity, as well as the trampling of rights for a large portion of our citizenry. Franklin Delano Roosevelt explained this best, speaking of what he termed “economic royalists”:

"It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man."

George W. Bush, on the other hand, has done everything in his power to re-expand the income gap that hadn’t previous existed in our country since the Gilded Age of the “robber barons”. He’s done this in every manner conceivable, from awarding billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts to his corrupt friends to pushing through a large array of tax plans that are meant explicitly to benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else by reversing the salutary effects of our Sixteenth Amendment. Bush justified his unbalanced tax proposals by saying “It’s your money” – thus implying that the federal government (i.e., we the citizens of the United States) have no right to it. But we do have a right to it, and that right is explicitly written into the Sixteenth Amendment to our Constitution.

The Republican's pledge to Grover Norquist to not raise taxes in unconstitutional; he was never an elected representative. We didn't vote for members of congress to be beholding to any one man, corporation, or a "super-committee" - - or to relinquish their vote (our votes) to any other individual, or corporate or political entity.

This Twenty-Fourth Amendment was another attempt to solidify the right to vote for the descendants of former American slaves (and other vulnerable minorities). It did so by abolishing the poll tax, which posed a distinct barrier to voting by citizens who were relatively lacking in financial resources. Today we see the Republican Party, in a desperate attempt to gain more power, re-instituting poll taxes in a number of states, disguised as requirements to ensure that people don’t vote twice.

Also: Under Constitutional guarantee one may travel at his inclination along the public highways or in public places, and while conducting himself in an orderly and decent manner, neither interfering with nor disturbing another's Rights, he will be protected, not only in his person, but in his safe conduct." (American Jurisprudence 1st, Constitutional Law, Section 329, p. 1135). Yet cash-strapped local governments have sold vast stretches of publicly-funded highways and bridges to corporate interests to profit from our use with tolls.

Elections are what democracy is about. But the prominence of our Constitution in the birth and history of our country means that we are much more than just a democracy. Our Constitution represents a bulwark against the tyranny of the majority for those times when the majority may be tempted to act in a tyrannical manner. Times of crisis – or proclaimed crisis – are precisely the times when majorities are most tempted to act in a tyrannical manner against minorities and the powerless, out of fear or hatred. We are in such a time now. As is usual, the Republicans are using psychology to promote fear and causing a fake crisis to gain power and control. But with all the mass accumulation of wealth by a very few, the huge income disparity and economic inequality, and the political power that corporations wield because of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (corporations are people), this could very well be the beginning of the end for our Constitutional democracy.

When only large corporations and the wealthiest among us rule politicians, democracy is lost...and we are no longer self-governed. I fear we're already living within a corporate plutocracy and it may already be too little, too late, for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Maybe it's time we all re-read our Founding Father's Declaration of Independence again, and remind ourselves that we are supposed be living in a democracy (where everyone's Rights are respected, and everyone has a voice), and that living under a corporate plutocracy is not freedom, but tyranny.

List of U.S. corporations that last year had ranked near the top of the Forbes Global 2,000

JP Morgan Chase, with over $2 trillion in assets, beat out G.E. from the year before as the largest corporation in the world.

From Salon.Com on the Occupy Eviction

It was only a matter of time before a coordinated police crackdown was imposed to end the Occupy encampments. The reason the U.S. has para-militarized its police forces is precisely to control this type of domestic unrest.

As Madeleine Albright said when arguing for U.S. military intervention in the Balkans: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” 

That’s obviously how governors, big-city Mayors and Police Chiefs feel about the stockpiles of assault rifles, SWAT gear, hi-tech helicopters, and the coming-soon drone technology lavished on them in the wake of the post/9-11 Security State explosion, to say nothing of the enormous federal law enforcement apparatus that, more than anything else, resembles a standing army which is increasingly directed inward.

Most of this militarization has been justified by invoking Scary Foreign Threats — primarily the Terrorist — but its prime purpose is domestic.

I remember quite vividly the war-zone-like police force deployed against protesters at the 2008 GOP Convention in Minneapolis, as well as the invocation of Terrorism statutes to arrest and punish them, with the active involvement of federal law enforcement. Along those lines, Alternet‘s Lynn Parramore asks all the key questions about the obviously coordinated law enforcement assault on peaceful protesters over the last week.

Nothing highlights the validity of the movement’s core grievances more than watching a piggish billionaire Wall Street Mayor — who bought and clung to his political power using his personal fortune — deploy force against marginalized citizens peacefully and lawfully protesting joblessness, foreclosures and economic suffering. If Michael Bloomberg didn’t exist, the Occupy protesters would have to invent him.

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