Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Corporations v. People - a battle for rights and power

The world will be sadder this coming May when Bill Moyers retires from doing his weekly Journal on PBS. His is the quintissential expression of journalism which blends liberal thinking with a practical feeling for what is healthy for democracy and what is not. This last week's Journal is an excellent example. You can watch it for free on PBS (

The first segment I would recommend was actually shown last. Dr. Margaret Flowers ( took President Obama's State of the Union plea to bring him health care solutions that work to heart, and tried to deliver a letter about single-payer healthcare. Most every developed country in the world has found this to be the best way to provide their citizens with health care, and if monitored carefully to avoid fraud (something our current Medicare system does dismally, but which is totally fixable, given enough resources), is the least expensive solution. Mind you, it does do away with most private healthy insurance companies (but not all of them... New Zealand is an example where there is both private and public insurance for all)... but it puts the government system first, with private insurance companies as a secondary backup. Note Dr. Flowers did not have any success getting her message across, due to the fact that all of the government doors were closed to her... while lobbyists and big corporations get doors flung open for them, mainly because of the power of their pocketbooks.

This leads to the second segment (shown first on the program) about the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited political advertising by corporations up until the day of an election ( This is a debate with Lawrence Lessig and Nick Gillespie about the ramifications of this decision. Lawrence Lessig teaches law at Harvard, and is advocating for a constitutional convention to modify the constitution to, among other things, mandate for public campaign financing.

Nick Gillespie is a libertarian journalist whose message is, "the more freedom of speech, the better!" It doesn't matter if corporations can buy all the political speech they want to (and say whatever they want???). The government should not interfere with freedom of speech by anyone (or anything.)

What I found most interesting about the debate is that they were focusing on different issues. Dr. Lessig's message is that the more corporations take over the political "message-space" through their much larger pockets, the less healthy democracy we get, in terms of individuals feeling like their votes count for anything. Gillespie's message is not about democracy, it's about freedom of speech... he says that what's not healthy about our system has nothing to do with corporations having free speech, it's about government being so big that corporations can afford to pay lobbyists and Congress to get onto the government's "payroll" so to speak, through the legislation process. This is a totally different matter than corporate free speech (but is related to the "money = speech" argument.

I can see both points of view. It's clear that the structures that we currently have are not creating healthy expressions of democracy, at least for the majority of the American people. I DO support public campaign financing, if only to remove a huge burden on Congress to be constantly having to raise money, all throughout their tenure. That would help remove a lot of the influence that corporations have on Congress (but not all of it... there are still lobbyists who have much better access to Congress than the average citizen does). I also support a constitutional amendment that free speech is a right of people, not corporations. Corporations are specific legal structures with a narrow, self-interested mandate (to make a profit) allowed to exist by individual states (and countries). Given their narrow mandate, and how much they can focus power and money, their rights need to be limited, not given free rein, if we wish our democracy to survive.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cap-and-Dividend -- the healthier approach to reducing carbon emissions

I would like to draw your attention to the article in The Economist about a junior senator from Washington who is sponsoring a cap-and-dividend bill that deserves our support. Because of copyright issues, I cannot reproduce the article here, but here's the URL:
A refreshing dose of honesty
Feb 4th 2010
Maria Cantwell and the politics of global warming

This is the kind of healthier approach that we all should consider supporting, and encouraging our senators and President Obama to support as well. If the majority of Americans want this kind of legislation, then our democracy demands that it be considered, without the special interests looking out only for their own gain, getting in the way.