The birth of the American Oligarchy

Forget July 4th as a national holiday. Mark April 2nd on your calendars as a new holiday: The official birth of the American Oligarchy.

The Supreme Court handed down its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, another campaign finance case aimed at eliminating limits on individual contributions to federal elections. The plaintiffs claimed that their First Amendment rights were being violated because they weren’t allowed to donate an endless stream of cash to their favorite politicians.

According to the New York Times, “…the court’s decision Wednesday in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission struck down as a violation of the First Amendment the aggregate limit of $123,200 that an individual could divide up among candidates and parties. Because such a limit would prevent Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, from giving $1,776 to many Congressional candidates, and a bit more to a few others, it could not be justified as preventing corruption or its appearance.” The language regarding corruption prevention or appearance thereof came from the 1976 Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which basically stated that people could spend an infinite amount of money supporting themselves or purchasing advertising to advocate for their favorite candidate, but could only donate a limited amount to the campaign itself to prevent corruption or its appearance. The decision in McCutcheon essentially eliminated that limit. “There is no right more basic in our democracy,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote in the opening of his opinion for the court in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, “than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” as quoted in the Times.

Score another victory for the 1% and the .01% in their never-ending quest to purchase our government piece by piece. And in the long run, the short run, and every other run, the only people who will benefit from this latest debacle of a decision are the wealthiest people in our country. I mean, who else can donate $100,000 to a political campaign and then complain that they wish they could have donated more?

SCOTUS has overlooked, either by accident or by design, the fact that this latest “expansion” of First Amendment rights for the wealthy in the form of allowing them to donate as much money as their oversized bank accounts can withstand is also limiting the First Amendment rights of Americans who can’t afford to donate large sums of money to political campaigns. By that very same token, the poorest Americans out there have essentially been stripped of any First Amendment rights related to campaign donations based simply on the fact that they cannot afford to make donations.

I suppose that this should be no surprise whatsoever. The last president to come from any sort of regular blue-collar background was Jimmy Carter. The last president to attend a non-Ivy League school was Ronald Reagan. According to Time, more than half of Congress is comprised of millionaires. According to the Center for Public Integrity, at least five of the nine Supreme Court Justices are millionaires as well.

The point behind all of these statistics is that our government is no longer occupied by what most of us would regard as “We the People.” It is occupied by the wealthiest members of society who are too easily convinced that other wealthy people are somehow inconvenienced by such nuisances as paying taxes or limits to campaign contributions. It would seem that their argument for smaller government and fewer rules only applies to any limitation that applies to their ability to buy the country and its government for a song.

Article I of the Constitution specifically forbids the United States’ government from granting any individual a title of nobility. The framers knew all too well the dangers of a society in which there was a ruling class of people who got to hang on to power simply by having the good fortune of being born to the right family. Decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon give the wealthiest 1% the next best thing: The ability to have undue influence in elections simply by virtue of being born in the right family or set of circumstances. In essence, this is tantamount to a title of nobility.

We all know this is wrong, and We the People need to do something about it before Tom Perkins and others of his ilk convince the government to allow them to have more votes because they pay more in taxes. (FYI, this is the way voting works in corporations; the more shares you own, the more votes you get.)

Some specific actions we can take is to petition our state governments to ask for a constitutional convention to propose an amendment requiring the public financing of elections. This is no small task, as 2/3 of state legislatures are required to request such a convention before on must be called, but it can be done. Failing in that, we could also demand that those elected leaders that represent us call for the same constitutional amendment, or face the possibility of losing the power they’ve so carefully gerrymandered their way into.

In the mean time, get the word out to as many people as you know that our government is no longer working for We the People, and is instead upholding the interests of We the 1%. By getting as many people behind this movement as possible, we can force the government to change its regressive policies that are taking us back to the Gilded Age. But, we need to act soon, before the rich go back to lighting their $1000 cigars with $100 bills to congratulate themselves on the hijacking of democracy.

A New Year’s Resolution for U.S.: Work Together for Improvement

By: Dave Palmer

Our nation is historically rooted in the notion of collectivism. 56 men were present at at the Continental Congresses that forged the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence. When that grand experiment failed, a group of many of the same people returned to the Continental Congress to draft the U.S. Constitution, and signed the document as a group. When they discovered they forgot to protect certain fundamental rights, they drafted a Bill of Rights to protect and enshrine those rights. The First Amendment protected, among other things, the right of the people to peaceably assemble to petition for the redress of grievances.

The framers of the Constitution set up the House of Representatives to be a large group that represented the people according to the population of each state. Over the years, our House of Representatives has grown over the years to 435 members, each of whom represents a minimum of 800,000 people. Our Senate, which started as a group of 26, has grown to a group of 100 members, two for each state.

Yet, in the past thirty years or so, the trend in political arguments by individuals only concerned with their personal welfare have told us that the promise of America is working individually to achieve our national goals. These people, who recently have likened their stance to that of the colonists in the Boston Tea Party (which is radically incorrect, historically speaking) tell us that if we fail or fall, we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, fight our own fights from rock bottom to the tops of the craggy peaks.  In keeping with their misinterpretation of history, they cite the intentions of the founding fathers in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for a lack of government involvement in the lives of individuals.

It is quite obvious that the Framers of the Constitution did intend to protect people against governmental interference. They intended to prevent the government from enacting unfair laws, cruel and unusual punishments, from preventing people from having an attorney present at a criminal trial, and from invasion of their privacy in the form of unwarranted searches and seizures of their property, among other rights.

Most importantly, they protected first the right of the people to speak and publish negative or positive words about the government and the right of the people to form groups to protest government actions and not stop until they receive satisfaction or until their cause becomes unpopular.

The fact of history is that the framers of the Constitution intended for Americans to gather into groups, sort out their minor differences, and figure out a system of government that both protects the rights of the individual and allows the government to function as a group of leaders to provide the best possible experience for a majority of Americans. They never meant for us to go it alone, for leaders to refuse to compromise on principle alone, for the government to be a weak and powerless institution in the face of ruthless robber barons because they are the “job creators.”

Yet, thanks largely to a gross misinterpretation of history and the intentions of the framers of the Constitution, we have exactly that. We have leaders that refuse to compromise “because we didn’t go to Washington to compromise,” we have people on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder who believe that the role of government is protect the job creators instead of the majority of the population, and our government is becoming increasingly weak and powerless because of this latter argument.

We as Americans must work together to get our government back. We must resort to good old fashioned collectivism to get the job done, just as the Framers of the Constitution intended for citizens of this country. And if it becomes necessary, we must work outside of our currently corrupted government to do so.

I have written in the past regarding things that I believe are necessary (as a collective, of course) to correct the faulty course of this country. Things such as repealing the Citizens United  decision and putting a true limit on how much private money funds public elections, electing leaders who do not believe they have to toe the line for their donors, improving our educational system at the teacher education and finance levels, and ensuring that corporations pay their fair share of taxes. These things cannot be the product of the efforts of a single person. They must be the product of a group effort.

This year, citizens of the United States must make a New Year’s resolution to reject the idea that we need to work by ourselves to improve society. We need to ignore the false crises (like Benghazi, or the IRS scandal, or even Solyndra) that are designed to keep us distracted from gathering together to discuss real issues as mentioned in the latter paragraph. We need to make an effort to organize ourselves outside of the distracting environment of social media and chat rooms in real life to fix this nation’s problems.

Thomas Jefferson eloquently stated in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–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.”

Notice the use of the word “we.” Not I, we. We, as the current constituents of a barely functioning government, must take it upon ourselves to alter our government so that the tax system us fair for all, to alter our educational system so that everyone has the same chance to become wealthy and successful if they desire, alter our election financing rules so that anyone with two nickels to rub together could have a chance to serve in Congress or as President of the United States. Only when we work together in the spirit of collectivism to change our government will it once again become a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It’s what the forefathers of this country would have wanted.

Florida’s new squirt-gun control policy

By: Dave Palmer

Finally, Florida is going to do something about gun control in their state. Squirt-gun control, that is.

According to a police report quoted in the Palm Beach Post, Giovanna Borge was arrested “for Simple Battery/Domestic Violence under F.S. 784.03 for squirting water on (boyfriend) to antagonize and agitate him against his wishes.” The officer stated earlier in the report, “Based upon statements from both suspect and victim, and the three witnesses, investigation revealed that Giovanna was the PRIMARY AGGRESSOR in the incident today.”

So, according to police officers in Florida, you can be arrested for “Simple Battery/Domestic Violence” for squirting your boyfriend with a water gun. However, if you shoot someone who is carrying nothing more than Skittles and and iced tea with a real gun, that’s perfectly ok. I can’t help but wonder if Borge had shot her boyfriend with a real gun, would the police have left his body overnight, taken her downtown with them for some cursory questioning, and released her without charges?

Of course, no one can really know the answer to that question based on the facts of Borge’s case. She got into a fight with her boyfriend, and chose a non-lethal method of expressing her anger, and got thrown into the klink for it. George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin after getting into a fight with him, and today he walks free.

These facts in and of themselves prove that we are now living in a completely backward country. Apparently, at least in Florida, you can get into more trouble for resorting to non-lethal violence than you can for using lethal violence. Their squirt-gun control is more restrictive than their control of real guns.

And therein lies the problem. Here in Michigan, acupuncturists, audiologists, chiropractors, therapists, social workers, doctors, pharmacists, teachers, and veterinarians are just a small sampling of the list of people who must  submit fingerprints at their own expense  for a federal background check in order to get their license. These licenses are necessary for them to maintain gainful employment.

However, gun owners are not required to submit any sort of fingerprints for a background check, despite the fact that a majority of them do not need their guns to maintain gainful employment. In some other states, gun owners are not required to submit to any sort of background check, much less one that expires every two years like the one teachers in Michigan have to get every time they get hired by a new employer.

In spite of such tragedies such as the 2011 shooting in Tuscon Arizona where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range among 19 others who were wounded or killed, or the Aurora, Colorado shooting at the movie theater where 71 people were wounded or killed, or the Newtown, Connecticut shooting where 27 people were killed, or the most recent mass shooting in September of this year in the Washington, D.C. Navy yard where at least 12 people were killed, media coverage has been brief and fleeting at best. It’s always too soon to have a discussion about the shooting as media pundits beg for time for the families to heal until the shootings find their way out of the news cycle.

Now, network news media has turned to underreporting new shooting tragedies. According to ThinkProgress, the release of Apple’s new iPad got more press and was mentioned more on October 21 than a school shooting in Sparks, Nevada in which a seventh-grader brought his parent’s handgun to school and shot a teacher, two 12-year-old boys and himself. It is truly a sad state of media affairs when Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN all mention the release of an electronic device more than a school shooting.

A society where devices for mindless entertainment and surfing the internet gains more notoriety than a real tragedy that would normally get national media attention for days is a society with skewed priorities. A society that places tighter restrictions on toy guns than real guns is a society that has missed the mark altogether. This is the society that we live in today.

Our government is clearly no longer a government by the people and for the people. It has become a government where lobbyists for the gun manufacturers pushing to loosen background check requirements get more attention than an ordinary citizen who has to take time off from their normal job to lobby Congress at their own expense for tighter checks. Politicians consistently worry more about raking in campaign funds from the same hundred or so donors, doing what it takes to make them happy, and gerrymandering Congressional districts so they never have to worry about listening to voters who demand effective change.

In short, our system is completely broken. The steps to bringing back a sane and civil government as well as a sane and civil society are as arduous as they are large in number. But, it can be done. A start would be background checks at least as tough as what a teacher or a doctor might have to undergo to maintain gainful employment. Another would be to severely reduce the private funding of political campaigns  and eventually replace that system with one that allows private donors to make donations to public campaign funds.

Sound ideas as these may be, those that have the power to make these changes have no incentive to make those changes because they might lead to them (gasp) getting voted out of office for enacting unpopular legislation and holding unpopular opinions. We the people are supposed to have the power over our politicians, not the other way around. Before you go to the polls in November 2014, be sure to check out your Representative and see what they really stand for. If you live in a state that has a Senate seat up for grabs, check out the incumbent to see if they deserve to keep serving. If not, remember that we the people still have the power to unseat those who do not act according to our wishes.