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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In These Economic Times, What a Helpful Suggestion! 

Congressman Patty McHenry (R), from nearby Tiny Town, has finally noticed the economic collapse happening all around him -- actually, the economic collapse has been happening in his Congressional district for several years now -- and has found the magic bullet: put Ronald Reagan's mug on the $50 bill.

That will involve, of course, booting Ulysses S. Grant off the $50 bill, but we're down with that. Grant was a ruthless and successful military general, an accomplished autobiographer, and a wholly incompetent president.

In other words, an even trade. McHenry wants the Father of Banking Deregulation on the $50, the Father of Trickle-Down, the Dim Tool of the Kleptocrats.

Git 'er done, so Little Patty will have something to brag about to the home folks, especially those who worship at the altar of St. Ronny without wondering why their economic prospects have so contracted since 1981 and why Wall Street is running everything.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Foxx: So Much for Those Free-Market Principles 

Turns out that Virginia Foxx is a gutless wonder. Yesterday she voted twice to obstruct a provision that would remove the anti-trust exemption for the insurance industry, and when those efforts to derail the legislation failed, she voted for the actual bill. In other words, in this election year she turns out to be a typical politician, watching her backside and apparently not wanting to be on record as favoring the anti-trust exemption for insurance (the ONLY industry in America that benefits from that exemption, and look where that's gotten us), though perfectly willing to do what she can to prevent the reform from coming up for a vote.

The first procedural vote yesterday was to even consider the bill (H.R. 4626) "to restore the application of the Federal antitrust laws to the business of health insurance to protect competition and consumers." Every single Republican in the House (and eight blue dog Democrats including the inestimable Heath Shuler) voted to obstruct consideration of this important reform.

Then the Republicans tried to kill the bill by a motion to recommit, which also failed (Foxx voting with all the Republicans save three).

Having failed to derail the reform, on final passage Foxx and most other Republicans voted for the bill, 406-19.

So what was that all about? That was about the obstructionism the Republicans have been practicing for the last year PLUS their pressing need now in this election year to keep their obstructionism and their toadying for the corporations more or less below the radar of what most voters even notice.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

[HT: C.D.]

This British magazine cartoon from the 19th Century is titled "The Bosses of the Senate." The little midgets in the foreground are U.S. Senators of that day, and behind them, with the enormous appetites, are the corporations of that day, labeled variously "Steel Beam Trust," "Copper Trust," "Nail Trust," "Standard Oil," "Iron," "Sugar," Tin," "Coal," etc cetera.

This came to me in an e-mail with the subject line filled in: "Nothing has changed since this was published."

Except, maybe it's worse. Corporations can now openly and legally buy any elected official they please.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oregon Takes a Stand 

A state-wide voter referendum in Oregon has passed "handily" a tax increase on the wealthy and on corporations.

Oregon has not raised taxes on corporations since 1929. And this is the "first voter-approved statewide income tax increase since the 1930s."

In other words, in this traditionally anti-tax state, the people decided that the super-rich ought to pay a fair (or at least fairer) share of the burden.

We consider this a first rebellious shot by the squeezed middle class.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pity the Corporations! 

Thank Gawd SCOTUS came to the rescue of corporate America! In re Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission the all-powerful Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn a 1990 decision that upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates and a 2003 decision that upheld the part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions.

Word is that Congresswoman Virginia Foxx praised this SCOTUS decision in Rural Hall yesterday, saying it was a freedom of speech issue. Makes perfect bent sense. Freedom of speech is now a commodity open for bids. What Congress person would be such a dope as to vote against the interests of the corporations ... big banks, big insurance, big drug companies, big everything under the sun, when those Big Boys can buy unlimited TV time to trash your ass?

Incidentally, Foxx's attempt to co-opt the tea party movement in Rural Hall yesterday did not exactly bring out the masses. The meeting was held in a building at the end of a dead-end road, as if the purpose of holding the meeting was to discourage as many people getting there as possible. That creepy secrecy aside, Foxx is trying to ride a tiger that could just as easily turn and devour her.

The attempt of the Republican Party to take over the tea party movement for their own benefit is both clumsy and dangerous. The National Tea Party convention, now scheduled for Feb. 4-6 at a swanky Nashville venue, has been denounced as both a high-dollar event being put on for profit and an attempt by the National Republican Party to grab the anti-government movement for themselves. Said disgusted tea-partier Kevin Smith,
"What began as cries for true liberty and a public showing of frustration with the big government policies of both Democrats and Republicans has now been co-opted by mainstream Republican demagogues determined to use this as their 2010 election platform."

That explains perfectly Madam Foxx's attendance yesterday in Rural Hall.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Cleptocracy Rules 

Oh, just go read any national news source for yourself, about this Supreme Court 5-4 decision unleashing corporations to out-and-out finish buying our government for themselves.

They were pretty much there already, but still.

Hell, we weren't using our democracy anyway.

And the corps were maybe getting a little nervous that we might make them stop giving us cancer and shit.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oh, That Smell! 

...of lobbyist cash, that is.

Sen. Dick Burr, topping the list for fundraising parties and the predictable flocking of like-feathered lobbyists who want to stuff money up his ever-lovin' patootie.

Nothing like corporatocracy and cocktails, eh, Senator?

Unfortunately, any number of Democratic Senators are also dog-paddling in those same Martinis.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Piles of Toxic Coal Ash Near You 

Bruce Henderson digs into Duke Energy's dirty legacy of coal ash deposits across North Carolina in today's Charlotte Observer ... which evokes certain memories of the Christmas TVA coal ash spill on the Tennessee River last year.

Coal ash is known to be full of arsenic, mercury, and a dozen other ingredients fit for a witch's brew, and Duke Energy's coal-fired power plants produce tons and tons of it every year. In the NC-5, "Duke had to shut down an old ash landfill at its Belews Creek plant in Stokes County last year after groundwater samples repeatedly broke state safety standards."

Some 2.7 million tons (million tons) of Duke's ash was piled out on the ground between 1992 and 2003 without protective liners that are now required at landfills.

We ain't begun to calculate the true costs vs. benefits of corporatocracy.

And don't even get us started on the fact that much of that coal comes from mountaintop removal mines north of here.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Arsenic and Old Ash 

The corporate gift that just keeps on giving! Some 13 coal ash ponds on the Yadkin, the French Broad, and five other North Carolina rivers are leaking arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead -- metals known to cause cancer, neurological problems and other serious illnesses -- at levels, in some cases, exceeding 380 times state groundwater standards.

Three of the waste ponds border the Catawba, which supplies drinking water to the greater Charlotte metropolitan kingdom.

But, who cares, really? Don't coal ash ponds signal JOBS, JOBS, JOBS? So what if a few hundred people get weird cancers? Who'll ever prove it was because of the drinking water?

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Meet the Fockers II 

To recap: the five Democrats who voted against the Jay Rock public option amendment to the Baucus health reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee: Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Carper of Delaware, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Bill Nelson of Florida.

What's the insurance market like in those five senators' states?
NORTH DAKOTA -- 89% controlled by Noridian/Blue Cross Blue Shield North Dakota

ARKANSAS -- 75% controlled by Blue Cross Blue Shield Arkansas

MONTANA -- 75% controlled by Blue Cross Blue Shield Montana

DELAWARE -- 42% controlled by CareFirst/Blue Cross Blue Shield

FLORIDA -- 30% controlled by Blue Cross Blue Shield Florida

NOTE: The U.S. Department of Justice defines a "highly concentrated" market as one where a company controls at least 42% of the market share.

An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics found that those Senate Democrats who opposed the public option amendments got more cash from insurers than those who supported it:
* The Democrats who voted against the Rockefeller amendment have collected $97,472 more on average from insurance companies since 1989 than the Democrats who voted for it -- $325,424 compared to $227,952.

Hat-tip: Chris Kromm & Sue Sturgis of Facing South

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

American Corporate Power & the U.S. Supreme Court 

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in an 1819 Supreme Court decision, “A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible. It possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it.”

But something happened in the U.S. Supreme court in 1886 that changed that “artificial being” into something equivalent to a human person. It took further decades, but gradually American corporations got the same protection of equal laws that natural persons have, which was (O my brethren) a fatal step we took away from democracy.

Our current John Roberts Supreme Court looks poised to take another leap down that rotten path. The special re-hearing on September 9 of Citizens United v. FEC (08-205) scratched an itch the majority conservative justices on the Roberts Court have to unleash American corporations altogether. The narrow case involves just the overturning of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform laws, as they apply to corporations. But the larger question is whether government has any right to regulate corporations at all. Every commentator we’ve seen expects the Court to throw out McCain-Feingold as regards the involvement of corporations in the buying of elections, because (hey!) corporate money is just a form of speech, no? In other words, free and fair elections, not to mention what’s left of our democracy, is about to be royally screwed.

The Worst Supreme Court Case Evah
In 1886 the most powerful corporations in the country were a part of the industrializing juggernaut – steel and railroads, above all others. While there was a strong progressive movement to curb monopolies and rein in huge financial “trusts,” there was an equally strong impulse to shield business activity from government regulation. Unfortunately, the latter impulse had the American legal community behind it.

In an otherwise obscure tax case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (118 U.S. 394), the Supreme Court ruled that California government could not tax the all-powerful railroad for the fences running beside their tracks. That was nothing. But later a court reporter, who was (just incidentally) a former railroad company president, wrote a headnote to the case summarizing the main facts and arguments, as was his job. In the headnote, which got distributed to all the legal community in the nation, the court reporter noted that the Supremes had decided, by the way, that a corporation was, legally, a human person enjoying the protections of the 14th Amendment. While the Court had not, in fact, addressed the question of corporate “personhood” nor its relation to the 14th Amendment, the court reporter’s summary nevertheless established it.

So what? you ask. The 14th Amendment, the “equal protection” amendment, was meant to shield weak individuals, who had lately been slaves, from unjust power. But forevermore, the 14th Amendment would be used to remove corporations from the control of governments. In the eyes of the law since 1886, you and the Exxon Mobile Corporation are equals.

Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1949, “the Santa Clara case becomes one of the most momentous of all our decisions. Corporations were now armed with constitutional prerogatives.”

What Justice Sotomayor Said
Corporations do bear several resemblances to (certain) human individuals: They possess no conscience, they recognize no Higher Power, they’ll eat until they burst. They are motivated by one thing: more money. They will do what’s necessary to get it.

They have put us in unsafe vehicles and sent us hurtling to our deaths. They have stuffed cancer sticks in our mouths and made us die for more. They have polluted our water, our air, and our land with their garbage. And they have made government the handmaiden of their habits. They mainly own the government because they mainly buy our supposed representatives. Their lobbyists write the laws that will regulate their behavior. We bail them out when they get into trouble. And with Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court is about to let them loose to manipulate us ever more openly with what millions of $$ in advertising can buy before an election.

However, in the oral arguments on September 9, our newest Justice on the Court, Sonia Sotomayor, became the small voice crying in this blithering wilderness of corporatism. While the conservative justices were being embarrassing lickspittles (Anthony Kennedy: “Corporations have lots of knowledge about environment, transportation issues, and you are silencing them during the election”), Justice Sotomayor made a provocative observation that might have elicited gasps in the courtroom. She suggested that the majority has it all wrong and that the court should be reconsidering those 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights of flesh-and-blood people. Judges “created corporations as persons,” said Sotormayor, “gave birth to corporations as persons. There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with ... [imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”

Sotomayor will not prevail on this present Court, of course, but at least one justice is thinking about the implications and the wrong-headedness of what a court reporter inserted as a headnote to an 1886 tax decision.

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