Friday, January 22, 2010

Fed Up

Bipartisanship is a two-edged sword.

In Barack Obama's hands, it's been like watching a 12 year-old grab a razor-sharp but unwieldy broadsword and cut himself to ribbons with it. In the hands of the skilled, such as Rep. Alan Grayson, it can be quite an effective tool.

Then again there's the case of Chris Dodd, whose old school Irish corruption could make him an honorary Bulger here in the Boston area. Chris Dodd, as a parting volley, has secretly worked with Republicans Judd Gregg of NH and Richard Shelby of AK to scuttle Alan Grayson's and Ron Paul's six bills that, among other things, would bring more than a modicum of accountability to the Federal Reserve.

Barney Frank recently informed the Financial Services Committee that Dodd will seek to expunge the Grayson-Paul bills in the Senate version with Judd Gregg's help, even though Gregg, an old foe of the Grayson-Paul bills and basically any regulation of the banking industry, brazenly lied to the HuffPo that he knew nothing about it. However, Gregg did say last November that
(P)assage of the Paul Amendment by the House Financial Services Committee is a dangerous move by this Congress to pander to the populist anger currently directed against our central bank, the Federal Reserve.

Paul's amendment (HR 1207, which has 317 co-sponsors, thereby enjoying very broad bipartisan support) would impose a stricter audit of the Fed by the Comptroller General of the US, something that's hardly ever been proposed.

(Apparently, populism is valid only when Republicans try to jump on whatever rickety bandwagon passes their way, such as their risible insistence that most Americans are opposed to the health care bill because it would involve a Socialist takeover of the health care racket. Other than that, responding to the voice of the people is a crime akin to pandering.)

Fearing the right wing Supreme Court would vote the way they did yesterday, Grayson successfully worked with Ron Paul to create and pass one of the very few bills in this generation that would bring some transparency and accountability to the autonomous Federal Reserve. To boil it down, the SCOTUS, by a 5-4 ruling along, typically, ideological if not party lines, overturned 104 years of precedent and stare decisis (respect and/or observance of legal precedent) by saying, "Money talks. And speech is protected by the First Amendment."

(Congressman Grayson's petition to oppose the court's decision can be accessed here. Between two and three dozen people a minute are signing it.)

One of the two major precedents that marginally restricted corporations from advocating for one political candidate or another was McCain-Feingold, one of the very few bipartisan, progressive bills to come out of the Bush era. But the SCOTUS's ruling yesterday leaves such massive, corporate-friendly loopholes that one hesitates to call them loopholes at all. It's more like a gutting of whatever modest restrictions that formerly were on corporations seeking to sell their influence to corrupt politicians.

A brief description of three of these bills follows and the very names of these bills is a refreshing counterpoint to the veiled sarcasm that we witnessed with the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 and the USA PATRIOT Act:
The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act would impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns. The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act would require public companies to report what they spend to influence public opinion on any matter other than the promotion of their goods and services. The End Political Kickbacks Act would restrict political contributions by government contractors.

The other measures would apply antitrust regulations to political committees and bar corporations from securities exchanges unless the corporation is certified in compliance with election law.

God knows we need more sunshine laws, especially in the political/corporate arena and it's a shame that such a measure would have to be championed by a guy who's already so wealthy that he doesn't need to rely on corporate campaign funds to ensure incumbency.

What's so disturbing about the SCOTUS's decision yesterday is that the focal point of their ruling was not so much in gauging the possibility much less the blatant evidence of corruption of our campaign finance system but the insistence that corporations have personhood status, the only way in which the court's right wingers demonstrated any modicum of stare decisis.

With candidates able to reject public campaign financing, as Obama did during his own campaign (breaking a campaign promise), and relying on corporate donations only inhibits the actual individuals' right to free speech, if one must equate money with personal expression. All the court's decision and Dodd's opposition to the bills did was ensure that the status quo would be maintained, which is that corporations have exponentially more pull in influencing candidates and maintaining higher political access than any actual individual enjoys and that the Fed should be allowed to bleed the taxpayer dry through one autonomous bailout and risky high wire act after another.

So why is the presence of wealth so much louder a voice than that of the vox populi, whose voice ought to be louder because of the alarming shrinking or absence of any wealth?


At January 22, 2010 at 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This type of final game plan has been a long time coming. Corporations should never have been given person-hood possibilities to begin with back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This just hammers home the fact that corporations don't just influence elected officials but appointed ones as well.

The easiest argument against this decision is the fact that corporations were created to limit liability and responsibility. Responsibility is something that every 'human' individual has to have when they get involved in our political process whether they want it or not.

At January 22, 2010 at 3:39 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Right on, Anon. As Ambrose Bierce once defined them:

Corporation,n- An ingenious device whereby individual profit is obtained without individual responsibility.

At January 22, 2010 at 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Devil's Dictionary comes in quite handy once in awhile.

At January 23, 2010 at 5:04 PM, Anonymous StevenWells said...

One reason the voice of the vox populi isn't louder is because it isn't used. For example, the FCC recently closed the public comment period on Net Neutrality rules, having garnered 120,000 comments. This was considered a good result, but in a country with our population, it's pathetic. Everyone has the time and energy to complain, but hardly anyone takes the time to direct those complaints where they can do some good. Simply voting every 2 - 4 years isn't enough. A voice unused is unheard.

At January 23, 2010 at 5:35 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

I think access to these forums is another issue. If you don't know about them, there's no access. And you can't say the FCC goes out of its way to publicize this forum.

Other than that, we have the ballot box at least every other year, which is where, I think, we really and most criminally fail.


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