Thursday, April 3, 2014

Puppetry And Invincibility

While we heard about the latest shootings in Fort Hood, Texas, and our hearts are with the families and survivors, we're not going to focus on it much today. There are too few hard facts, too many rumors, and not enough details for any media organization to make serious and substantive statements right now about that story.

Instead, we're focusing on a different danger, one where the facts are already clear and well-known, though the outcome may be just as final in the end.

Of course, we're talking about yesterday's unethical and ignorant majority ruling in the McCutcheon case by the right-wing activists on the U.S. Supreme Court. As many journalists, scholars, and commentators who understand the ruling have confirmed, the ruling effectively expands Citizens United, allowing virtually any person or group with enough money to buy any election they want.

As John Nichols of The Nation noted Wednesday, while the ruling does leave some few campaign finance laws in place, it effectively has legalized plutocracy in America - or, as Ian Milheiser of Think Progress put it, it legalized money laundering through politics.

However you think of it, what it means for American politics is simple. Individuals in this country now effectively have no voice unless they're billionaires, while politicians are no more than puppets, who will be forced to dance on the strings of whoever has the most money.

It should be noted that, with this decision, the Roberts Court now loses what little legitimacy it had left as a bastion of justice and judicial integrity. Justice Breyer, in a vehement dissent read aloud from the bench, even pointedly addressed this problem of "political integrity" in a system where the only political speech that's even heard comes from those who can effectively scream the loudest.

The Court's problem of integrity on this issue dates back to the 1976 Buckley vs. Valejo decision, when the Court began the journey towards Citizens United and McCutcheon, in both cases where the Roberts Court claims money is speech. Money is, of course, not speech - political or any other kind. The IRS acknowledged as much again just last month. Money is property, property that can be traded for tools to amplify the speech of anyone who can afford it - but money itself is not speech.

This is one of the rare items where some on the far right agree with us. Often cited by organizations like the Cato Institute, or right-wing bloggers, the idea that money is speech actually goes against not just logic and facts, but also property rights issues that many ideological conservatives consider foundational. Not surprisingly to us, RNC Chairman Reince Preibus isn't one of those people. Of course, anyone of clear conscience already knows what those like Mr. Priebus are, regardless of what price he finally negotiates with his donors.

Unfortunately, the culture that enables the kind of success that only favors those who already have money, without rewarding the work of anyone willing to do it has already been identified - correctly - by people like Robert Reich. Reich says that America is slouching towards oligarchy; frankly, after the McCutcheon ruling, we tend to think America is moving toward oligarchy at a breakneck pace. Reich also says that political action is the only way to stop this new gilded age from getting worse.

Sadly, he's wrong. It is, however, the only bloodless way to do so.

That's a point of fact that has been repeated throughout history in every major culture in the world. The difference between now and every other point in history is that now, everyone has access to the internet. As former CIA Director Clapper admitted this week, with the right tools, the internet can allow anyone access to even the most private information - which means the exact time and location of the people and things that are most important to those wannabe oligarchs are now as instantly available to a savvy potential political candidate, as they are to any angry, determined individual with time on their hands, and nothing left to lose.

As events from Fort Hood to 9/11 have shown America and the world, when all kinds of weapons, from guns to simple box cutters, are applied at precisely the right place and time, by people who feel they have nothing left to lose, no one is invincible.