Corporate Power

I taught Business Ethics for many years and during those years I came across a great many reports of the abuse of the power of corporations. It became increasingly clear as I read and thought about this misuse that it stems from the fact that the publicly owned companies ignore the stakeholder because they are primarily (if not exclusively) concerned about the return on the dollar, i.e., profits that can  be paid out to shareholders (and overpaid CEOs who typically make 400 times as much as their  average employee). What I now take to be an obvious fact has many ramifications.

I have posted before about the oversight on the part of the founders who were so sensitive to the abuse of power and who simply did not see the possible abuses of power that might result from the millions of dollars the corporations rake in every year. — and this despite the fact that Jefferson, for one, was fully aware of the dangers of immoderate wealth in the hands of a few. But the founders simply couldn’t see this coming, clearly. They did realize, however, that the Constitution was a document that required up-dating from time to time; it is not written in stone. Henry Adam thought that when Grant was elected there would be a drastic overhaul of a document he realized was already out of date. But that didn’t happen. But, surely, one of the issues that needs to be addressed in our day is the abuse of the power of corporations that can simply buy elections and determine who is allowed to hold public office and what those who have been elected will do when in office (if they want to be reelected).

In 2010 the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5-4  in the “Citizens United” case that corporations are “persons” and have rights of free speech as protected by the First Amendment. Under that umbrella, they were given the green light to contribute to political campaigns — which they have subsequently done, in spades. Elections were increasingly a battle of the rich against the also rich, but the contributions of the corporations — not to mention those who run the corporations — have upped the ante considerably. Now we find ourselves faced with continuous requests for money from candidates and political parties to “take on” the corporations — as though this can be effectively accomplished.

I don’t buy the notion that corporations are persons and I think the claim I have seen argued that, as persons, they might somehow be shamed into behaving ethically is a bit dubious. If the shame were to result in lower profits corporate CEOs would simply pass along the losses to the customers until the PR people could direct attention elsewhere and convince the public that no real harm was done. This was the case with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the waters off Alaska a few years ago when Exxon sent a team of people up to the region of the spill where they cleaned up several hundred yards of oil from the shoreline and then had it filmed and used the film in a public relations campaign to convince customers that they had eradicated the effects of the spill. Ignored altogether, we have since discovered, were hundreds of yards of shoreline out of sight that remained covered in oil. It seems to be in the corporate DNA to do whatever it has to do to “right the ship” in the case of an accident and make sure the image of the company is not seriously damaged. They have public relations people who do nothing else but address this issue. And they have lawyers, who they often call “ethics officers,” whose job it is to see that they take no steps that could possibly end them up in court — because they identify morality with legality and pride themselves in “doing nothing wrong.”

The recent attempts by the current administration to weaken, if not eradicate altogether, the E.P.A. and other regulatory agencies is extremely disturbing because history has shown that the corporations will not police themselves and if their feet are not held to the fire they will do whatever it takes to increase profits, full stop. In an economy like ours regulations are anathema to the corporations and their highly paid officers. But from the public’s perspective they are essential.

Furthermore, those corporations should not be regarded as persons and given the right under the First Amendment to contribute to political campaigns. The founders missed this one, but we are becoming increasingly aware of the abuses of power by the corporations and the need to rein them in by limiting their impact on the public domain. The first step, clearly, is the rejection of the Citizens United decision which at least two of the judges who voted for it now realize was a mistake. And, if we cannot revise the constitution, we can certainly modify it to see to it that controls are placed on otherwise unfettered power. That is, we can if we have the will.

Enlightened Despot?

Joseph Schumpeter. whose remarkable book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, I have referenced before, alludes to the difficulties that democracies have in passing necessary legislation — and the ease with which a dictator such as Napoleon had in making it happen:

“One of the most pressing political needs of the moment was a religious settlement that would clear the chaos left by the revolution and the directorate and bring peace to millions of hearts. This he achieved by a series of master strokes, culminating in a concordat with the pope (1801) and the ‘organic articles’ (1802) that, reconciling the irreconcilable, gave just the right amount of freedom to religious worship while upholding the authority of the state. He also recognized and refinanced the French Catholic Church, solved the delicate question of the ‘constitutional’ clergy, and most successfully launched the new establishment with a minimum of friction. If there ever was any justification at all for holding that the people actually want something definite, this arrangement affords one of the best instances in history.”

In the face of an inept and stupefied Congress in this country in our day, we find numerous changes that would make our democracy work more effectively and which we know full well will never get done. I am thinking of a Constitutional Amendment eradicating the absurd Supreme Court decision in “Citizens United” that gave the corporations the power to pull the political strings in this country; I refer also to another Constitutional Amendment clarifying the Second Amendment to make it crystal clear that it is the militia that has the right to bear arms — as was the original intent of the Amendment; the eradication of PACs which coerce the government in the direction of special interests; and, of course, term-limits for the members of Congress. We know these things will not happen because those who would make them happen prefer the status quo which favors themselves and their political party.

After Warren Buffet announced on CNN recently that “I could end the deficit in five minutes,” . . . You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election” there appeared  a petition making the rounds of social media  that insists that he could remedy the financial crisis in this country with the following seven step plan:

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman / woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office.

2. Congress (past, present, & future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 3/1/17. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

Now, whether Buffet could manage to pull it off or not depends on whether he could be declared “despot for a day” and given the emergency powers to effect change. His hope that his foray into the social media will alert enough people to the problem and his solution to place sufficient pressure on the Congress to effect these changes is a bit of a pipe dream —  like the changes I noted above — much needed, but not bloody likely.

This sort of situation makes the heart yearn for an enlightened despot who would indeed be able to make the changes that are so necessary for the well-being and happiness of the citizens of this country — who are supposed to be the ones in whom the sovereignty resides. This softening of the heart goes all the way back to Plato who had a very low opinion of the democracy that condemned his beloved Socrates to death, and preferred a “philosopher king” who, like Napoleon or Warren Buffet, would make things right.

But, as we all know from reading our history (?), despots can become corrupt and instead of an enlightened despotism citizens often find themselves faced with a tyrant. At present we have a president who would be a depot if allowed — and the recent discussions in Congress about giving this man “emergency war powers” to deal with the situation in the Middle East would help bring this about. But we can see at a glance that such a man would turn that despotism into a tyranny in the blink of an eye and we shudder to think of the consequences — and sincerely hope the Congress stops such talk immediately, if not sooner.

So, perhaps, we should stop day-dreaming and simply be content to muddle through with a slow and inept (if not downright corrupt) Congress in the hope that while they accomplish nothing worthwhile they will at least keep the man in the Oval Office from making mistakes that would shake the globe and bring the democracy (or what is left of it) crashing down about out ears.

Politics As Usual

The Greek philosopher Socrates who lived from 470 until 399 B.C.E. sought to withdraw from the hurly-burly of ordinary political life in what was one of the very first democracies. He insisted that it was impossible to participate in the political life of Athens and at the same time retain one’s integrity. And in his view integrity, living a virtuous life, was of paramount importance: it led him to eventually accept the decision of a corrupt court and drink Hemlock.

 Socrates

Socrates

Politics has always been a bit of a dirty game, but it is a game that is played for high stakes and a great many have discovered how to become very wealthy playing the game, doing what they are told, and collecting their reward from the special interest groups. I have not counted recently in our political system (which is not a democracy, strictly speaking) how many can be readily identified as corrupt. But the number must be rather large. We are now caught up in a bind with “representatives” who only represent special interests and who are determined to bring government to a halt if their candidate does not win the presidency. Partisanship has replaced citizenship in this country and there are very few like Socrates around — or even those who are convinced that they can play the dirty game of politics and still keep their hands clean. I can count those few on the fingers on one hand. But there are a few.

Socrates, it has always seemed to me, was a bit too uncompromising. Surely it is possible for a person to be actively involved in politics and to remain a person of integrity? Or is it? Think of the temptations from the immensely wealthy who have millions of dollars to spread around buying the people who will make the decisions that will favor their particular business. There is no question whatever but that the corporations call the shots, especially since the Supreme Court decision Citizens United that gave the corporations the right to directly influence elections. Is it possible for a politician like Elizabeth Warren, for example, to continue to play the dirty game without getting soiled? That is an interesting question and one which will not be answered for a few years yet. But the siren song of wealth and power is always playing in her ear and she will have to be one tough cookie to remain far enough out of the mud to remain clean.

There are a great many people in this country that are sick and tired of “politics as usual.” They are convinced that it is a dirty game and that everyone who plays it is soiled. Of late, to be sure, it gives the impression of a large group of very well paid men and women who spend time talking and doing nothing. Thus these voters turn to an outsider, one who is outside of politics if not outside of reality itself, and they hope and pray that this man with the funny hair and tiny hands will deliver this country from the muddy world of politics as usual. In the process, they expect, they themselves will be recognized and their hopes and dreams will become a reality, because politics as usual has passed them by and they have been left in the lurch, clutching at straws.

Unfortunately, politics is a dirty game. That is a fact, and anyone who chooses to play must get their hands at least a bit dirty. The problem that faces this country at this juncture is whether we are realistic enough to accept the fact that politics is a dirty game and seek the one candidate who is the cleaner of the two and who promises to play the game in such a way that the country will remain relatively strong and survive as at least a shadow of the republic the founders envisioned. Or will the citizens of this country be so sick of politics as usual that they will blindly choose a man who is completely unqualified to head up this government and play a game whose rules he does to fully understand, a man who is used to making up his own rules on the go?

Socrates was right. But he was also wrong. It is possible for some to play the game and retain their integrity. But it is mighty difficult and there are few who can manage to play it successfully. In the meantime, we must accept reality as it is given to us and accept the candidate who will do the best job for the country and for each of its citizens — the best under the circumstances. It’s time for realism, not pie-in-the-sky-fantasy that ignores the fact that an unqualified president will flounder and fail miserably in the dirty world of politics, a world he is totally unfamiliar with and one that will eat him alive.

Constitutional Oversights

I have blogged in the past about the failures of the authors of the U.S. Constitution to anticipate the immense power of great wealth in this country which has resulted in the present shut-down in government — following directly from the obedience of our elected officials to those who have provided the bulk of the immense amounts of money required to place them in office. This, of course, results in allegiance to those to whom much is owed and to the Party they support, making cooperation with those across the aisle nearly impossible.  These things were not, indeed they could not have been, anticipated by the authors of our Constitution writing in the eighteenth century.

At a time when the U.S. Senate was not elected but appointed by state legislatures, often at the beck and call of vested interests, Henry Adams hoped that President Grant would initiate steps to remedy at least one shortcoming of the Constitution; namely, the extraordinary power vested in a Senate that was not responsive to the electorate. This resulted in a corrupt Senate with considerable power coupled with the inability of the executive to get much of anything done, a problem that persists to this day. Adams was disappointed, and the improvements he hoped for in the Constitution never came to fruition. Indeed, despite the addition of a few amendments from time to time, the possibility of opening serious discussion about the revisions necessary in what has become a sacred, albeit dated, document have never been seriously considered. In fact, the mention of even minor changes to that document strikes many as heresy.

Now, when one goes back and reads the statements of those closely connected with the writing of our Constitution one realizes that they themselves thought that the document would be updated and improved from time to time as a matter of course. It was never regarded as written in stone. One merely has to read the Federalist Papers written by Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay to persuade New York to ratify the document, to realize how open to suggestion and change were those who first conjured up the document which was, at the time, designed to keep the colonies together (by allowing such things as slavery, for example) and mitigate against the separatism that was beginning to tear them apart soon after the revolution. One especially concerned spectator who worried that Europe would get the last laugh, and who was determined to prove that the Republic would hold together despite this factionalism, was George Washington who presided over the Constitutional Convention for the four months during which the Constitution was written. He penned a most interesting document to his friend Lafayette, lauding the document and pointing out its merits.

“First, that the general government is not invested with more powers than are indispensably necessary to perform the functions of a good government, and consequently, that no objection ought to be made against the quantity of power delegated to it.

“Secondly, that these powers, as the appointment of all rulers will for ever arise from and, at short, stated intervals recur, to the free suffrages of the people, are so distributed among the legislative, judicial, and executive branches into which the general government is arranged, that it can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people.”

Fascinating! What jumps out, of course, is his preoccupation with the limits of governmental power coupled with the presumption, which Washington shared with most of those who helped put the document together, that citizens would act “virtuously” — which was an Enlightenment notion that focused on what was regarded as the natural desire of civilized people to live together, to put the common good above their own private good.  This strikes us today as incredibly naive. But, as Washington saw it, along with brief terms in political office, civic virtue was a necessary condition if the country was to avoid “despotism.”

And it is precisely despotism that has replaced the Republic that the founders had in mind. Whether it was because of the disappearance of civic virtue or the rise of incredible wealth in the hands of a few unscrupulous, greedy men and giant corporations is a moot point. I suspect it is a combination of the two. After all, what is the citizen supposed to do about choosing enlightened leadership when those with great wealth hand-pick politicians who will carry out their own private agendas?

Clearly, as I have noted in previous posts, what we now have in an oligarchy, and it is precisely the type of thing the founders were convinced they had guarded against. A radical alteration of the Constitution curtailing the influence on the wealthy on elections might restore this country to a Republic, but this will never happen as long as those who might engineer those changes see them as threatening their own power and prestige. Washington’s supposition, shared with the authors of the Federalist Papers, that politicians would serve short terms has also given way to career politicians who hold their offices interminably (literally) and, in order to assure themselves of a continuance in office, simply carry out the programs set out for them by those wealthy few who have had them elected and will keep them in office. Thus, while the time is long overdue for radically rethinking the Constitution, it will not happen. Even a necessary first step, such as the adoption of an amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s abortive decision in the Citizen’s United case giving corporations unlimited access to the reins of government, is extremely unlikely. It’s a Catch 22.

 

Corporate Persons

In 1905 in his annual message to Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt declared:

“All contributions by corporations to any political committee for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’ money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts.”

As retired Supreme Court Judge John Paul Stevens points out in his discussion of an amendment he has proposed to the U.S. Constitution that would curb excessive spending on political campaigns, the courts consistently maintained for years that corporations are not persons and therefore not entitled to the same rights as citizens of this nation. For one thing, corporations cannot vote, whereas citizens can. Conservative Justice William Rehnquist in 1982 wrote for the unanimous court in Federal Election Commission v. National Right to Work Committee, “there is no reason why Congress’ interest in preventing both actual corruption and the appearance of corruption of elected representatives may not be accomplished by treating. . . corporations differently from individuals.”

The change in the Court’s position came about indirectly, beginning in 1990 in a dissenting opinion written by Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy to Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce in which they contended that corporate speech, like other expressive activities by groups of persons, was entitled to the same First Amendment protection as speech by an individual. This opened the can of worms that has become the ugly Citizens United Supreme Court case that recently maintained, drawing on Scalia and Kennedy’s opinion above, that since corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals, they have the right to support political candidates without restrictions. As Stevens notes in this regard, “[Scalia’s arguments in 1990] provided the basis for the court’s five to four decision in Citizens United overruling  the Michigan case and apparently affording the same constitutional protection to election-related expenditures by corporations as to speech by individuals.” Sheer magic: political donations are a form of free speech and corporations are people even though they cannot vote and (so far as we know) they cannot copulate.

Needless to say, the Citizens United case stands in glaring opposition to the concerns raised in 1905 by President Roosevelt and upheld by the courts for 105 years thereafter. Roosevelt was expressing the obvious concern about the undue influence of wealth on elections that would tilt the playing field and render ineffective the attempts by the less wealthy to have any voice in politics whatever. As Stevens says, one of the many consequences of this imbalance is the “public’s perception of the role of money in influencing the outcome of elections. Voters who would believe that the power of the purse will determine the outcome of elections are more likely to become bystanders rather than participants in the political process.” Indeed. One need look no further for an explanation as to why citizens have become increasingly disenchanted with the political process and why several analysts have determined that America has become a de facto oligarchy and can be regarded as a democracy in name only.

Stevens does not suggest an amendment to deal directly with the issue of whether corporations are or are not persons — as is currently under discussion nation-wide — but rather an amendment that simply allows states and the Congress to set “reasonable limits” to campaign contributions without insisting that these limitations are in any way in conflict with the First Amendment: limits on campaign spending should not be considered limits on free speech. But whether this Court or this Congress could manage to work with a nebulous concept such as “reasonable limits” is questionable, so the issue remains how to put restraints on those with great wealth who would make the government dance to the tunes they play on their diamond-studded harmonicas. — especially since those who might place those restraints on the wealthy are busy dancing to their tunes.  As things now stand, the recent Supreme Court decisions have given the corporations and the 1% of this country who control the vast majority of the wealth virtual control of the political process. Corporations and the very wealthy can determine who runs and who gets elected — and what those people will do once elected.

In a masterpiece of understatement, Stevens concludes that “The decision in Citizens United took a giant step in the wrong direction.” Teddy Roosevelt would agree.

 

Letter From My Buddy

I received this following letter by email from my buddy the President:

Hugh —

This is my last campaign, and I’m ready to give it all I’ve got.
I know supporters like you are, too.
In the past, you pitched in to help when we needed it most. Thank you so much for your support in these final weeks.
Please donate $25 or more before tonight’s deadline:
https://donate.barackobama.com/Midnight-Deadline

Thank you,

Barack

I must say, I don’t recall sending the man any money. But that was four years ago and I was filled with hope and optimism. It must be so. Besides he would know since he was the one who received the money, don’t you think? He must know me pretty well to address me by my first name and then sign the note with his first name, just like he really knows me and it’s not just some sort of computer trick to make me think he knows me and just wants me to send him some money. I’m not sure. But then he didn’t really sign it: the name is just typed.  So I suspect it is just a trick.

It does occur to me that like every politician running for office — and many who are not — he has his hand out and is eager for a donation. I dare say he would like me to give him even more than the requested $25.00. But his marketing people figure that’s all I’m good for, I suppose. Perhaps they are right. Or, again, perhaps I’m not even good for that amount. After all I read that he has people (and especially corporations) giving him tons of money in the most obscene election year ever, thanks to “Citizens United.” The corporations, of course, are buttering their bread on both sides so they play a win-win game: it doesn’t matter who wins, they win.

What will I have coming to me if I give in to this request? Will I get a thank-you from my buddy Barack? And will he ask me what he could do for me to let me know how grateful he is for my help — pitiful though it was? I wonder. If this sort of letter went out to all of Barack’s many friends (and I dare say the number of large indeed) then he is going to owe everyone something. That’s how the game is played. But I expect since this is his last campaign this is the last time I will hear from him. Politicians are a fickle lot and they tend not to keep their promises; I’m pretty sure he will forget all about me as soon as the election is over. That’s how it seems to work.

And what’s with the “midnight deadline”? Do you think if I wait until next week or next month he won’t accept the money? Maybe I should drop him a note and tell him I am a bit strapped at present and next month might be a better time.. But he probably won’t respond: I know he’s pretty busy. But then I really must do something to help make sure the other guy doesn’t get in, don’t I? Besides, apparently the President is a close personal friend.

What Money Can Buy

I have mentioned in previous blogs that the “Citizens United” decision that was handed down from the Supreme Court recently will almost certainly change the way the political game is played. That may be an understatement. A recent story tells us that:

An infusion of millions of dollars, unlike anything we have ever seen before may now be the single biggest force in American politics. Some of the players are well-known, such as conservative activist and former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business interest group long active in politics.

There’s no mention here of the Koch brothers, but their names should be at or near the top of the list. These are all people who, quite frankly, plan to buy themselves a government. They will do it by putting millions of dollars in selected candidates’ pockets and then calling the shots to guarantee they get the kinds of laws and protections they regard as a necessary return on their investment. The plan is clear. What is not yet clear is how much it will change the political landscape. But it will be radically altered, of that we can be certain.

I have also mentioned in previous blogs that the Constitution (for which I have the deepest respect, by the way) is not equipped to handle the new situation. This was clear when the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, decided that corporations were “persons” and entitled to the same protections and rights as individual citizens, including the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns under the aegis of “free speech.” There are absolutely no grounds whatever in the Constitution for this ruling. It is based on a loose reading of precedents going back to the “Dartmouth College vs. Woodward” case in 1819.  The Constitution itself simply ignores the existence of corporations — which is not strange given the times in which it was written when people took seriously such antiquated notions as “virtue” and “the common good.” Looking back from today’s perspective this seems a terrible oversight in a document whose main purpose was to limit the use of power and find a balance that would benefit all. But, again, in the eighteenth century people like the Koch brothers had not yet accumulated their billions.

In any event, the Court’s decision has opened the floodgates to corporate millions and removed any nominal controls to corporate spending on political candidates that may have been in place. And don’t think for a moment that the money flow will stop with simply marketing political candidates. Once elected these politicians will be owned by the people and companies that bought them a political office. I have used the ugly word “corporatocracy” before (no, I didn’t make it up) and I will use it again. This seems where we are headed. We shall see. The game is on and those who deal have stacked the deck and have all the chips. Brace yourselves!

Of, By, and For The Wealthy

I was recently faulted by one of my readers for attacking the Republicans, particularly the Koch brothers, for their outrageous spending on political elections. I attempted to right the ship by noting that it is not the Republicans I attacked, but the spending itself (though I doubt I hid my dislike of the Koch brothers very effectively). That’s why I try to draw historical parallels, contrasting today’s political goings-on with those early on in the history of this country. Indeed, there’s hardly any basis of comparison between today’s politics and yesterday’s. Part of it is TV, of course and the lightening-fast speed of communications these days. But most of it is due to the limitless amounts of money the very rich have that they are willing to spend on political candidates — on both sides of the political aisle. A recent story in Yahoo News makes the point rather vividly:

The disparity is most evident in the race for the White House, where Crossroads GPS, Restore Our Future and other organizations aligned with the Republicans spent nearly $37 million on TV ads through the first few days of June, most of it attacking Obama. That compares with about $11 million by groups supporting the president, with much of it from Priorities USA Action.

Again, the disparity is not the issue. The issue is the $48 million that has been spent SO FAR on regaining or holding on to the White House. And it’s only early June! Moreover,  this does not include the amounts that are being spent on Congressional candidates. The only possible word to describe it is “obscene” in a country where thousands cannot put food on the table.  And, as I have mentioned (and we all know) the recent Supreme Court decision on Citizens United has literally opened the flood gates to allow the wealthy in this country to gain complete control of the government. Don’t look now, but it’s happening!

Given the fact that so many of our problems as a society transcend economics and come back to environmental abuse — global warming, destruction of habitat, elimination of animal species, oil spills and leaks in pipelines, and air and water quality — brought on by big industries that spend a fortune not only buying politicians but also fighting federal regulations, their unfettered influence should be a major concern to us all.

But as one of my readers is fond of pointing out, it’s not simply the politicians or even the corporations with their unlimited political war chests that are the problem. It’s us. All of us. We have allowed this to happen as we go about our daily lives whimpering from time to time, but always doing our own thing while watching the pocketbook to make sure it has the necessary change in it to buy the latest trinket. We are not only politically ignorant and apathetic, we are self-indulgent and spoiled. We are used to having things our way and even though we are now in the midst of deep-seated planetary changes we prefer not to think about that fact. Our continued ignorance is due, in large part, to the myriad ways those who control the media have been able to divert attention away from the real problems that confront us all. But we are willingly inattentive and easily diverted.

As long as we keep our heads buried in the sand and ignore such things as melting ice caps, thawing permafrost, rising ocean waters, overpopulation, waning food and water sources, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, things will go on as they are now. It will take a major calamity to get our attention. And by then it may be too late. Until then, we remain the problem.

It has nothing to do with which political party outspends the other. It has to do with the fact that our government is becoming further and further removed from the people who ought to control it and increasingly in the hands of a few wealthy individuals whose only desire is to advance their own agendas. This government is no longer Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It has been bought by wealthy special interests and we have let it happen.

Big Chem

Readers of these blogs will have figured out that I am no friend of large corporations. I taught business ethics for years, which involved the reading of innumerable case studies, and it became crystal clear to me that publicly owned corporations are corrupt at the core: stockholders, not stakeholders, are the only concern, and profits are the name of the game, simply. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the founders of this nation understandably failed to anticipate the immense power corporations could have and the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that defines corporations as persons and grants them “free speech” in giving as much money as they want to already corrupt politicians simply puts an explanation point at the end of the sentence. And we are about to enjoy the benefits of this decision in the form of obscene amounts of money spent on political campaigns. What was already nauseating will now get worse.

In any event, Big Oil has taken the brunt of my criticism, for the most part, as I recalled such things as the way Exxon went to Prudhoe Bay after the Valdez oil spill and cleaned up a few hundred yards of shoreline and then had photos taken to show how they had cleaned up their mess — while thousands of yards of shoreline and countless damaged bird and marine species went ignored. And we are now discovering that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by British Petroleum has apparently affected marine life in that region in ways yet to be determined: mutations are already being noted. In the meantime Big Oil continues to rake in the profits, aided by $4 billion in annual tax subsidies, while the clean energy industry tries desperately to keep its head above water. So Big Oil deserves the castigations it receives from this modest blog site, and more.

But so does Big Chem it appears. A recent article in the New York Times reveals that Big Chem has been assiduously bribing Congressmen to look the other way and ignore the growing numbers of scientists who have been warning us all about the dangers of endocrine disruptors which are “everywhere. They’re in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps, and A.T.M.s. They’re in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics, and food packaging.” What do these disruptors do? They “are hormone-mimicking chemicals that have grotesque effects.”

These chemicals have been tightly controlled in England and Canada, but they are still everywhere present in this country. The chemical companies have been successful in lobbying our lawmakers into guaranteeing that they be allowed to continue to make huge profits at the cost of genetic and health damage to humans and other animal species — such as male frogs with female organs, male fish producing eggs, male alligators with tiny penises. In humans, these chemicals cause breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early menstruation, and even diabetes and obesity.

But these chemicals will continue to be produced unless congress acts to prohibit them, or at least strictly regulate them — a possibility that seems remote since the scientific community, led by such eminent scientists as Linda S. Birnbaum, the nation’s chief environmental scientist and toxicologist, has for several years sought government intervention, to no avail. For there is money to be made, a great deal of money; and much of it will find its way into the pockets of accommodating members of congress.

Proactive Court

President Obama is attempting to explain away a comment he made regarding the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision concerning Health Care. It is generally expected that the Court will take a pro-active stand on the issue of mandating health care, one of the more controversial features of the new bill. In anticipation of that decision, due in June, the President recently said: “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraintthat an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” Please note that the issue is not whether in Obama’s view the Court has the right to overturn laws that are deemed unconstitutional, but rather that they do not have the right to legislate (in effect) by overturning laws that are in fact in compliance with the Constitution. As I read the Constitution, Obama is correct.

Obama’s spokesman recently met with the press corps and spent several heated minutes trying to explain that the President wasn’t telling the court what to do, that he understood as well as anyone that the court’s job is to interpret law and determine whether laws are in compliance with the Constitution, But the President is confident that this law is in compliance and seemed to be expressing his frustration over what he anticipates the decision to be — to wit, a ruling against the mandate. It might have been wise for him to remain silent at this point.

In any event, earlier in the week, former President Clinton spoke out in favor of the law and quite candidly said that any attempt by the court to overturn the law would be politically rather than judicially motivated. As he noted, “Nobody knows how well it’s [the mandate] going to work, because it’s just now being implemented. But I don’t think it was unconstitutional in any way, shape or form. Even in the 1790s, George Washington mandated that shipping companies insure their employees, he signed a bill mandating that able-bodied citizens have firearms in their home because they thought the British were coming again, John Adams signed a bill to mandate that individual seamen have hospitalization insurance. To me, it’s hard to take the constitutional argument seriously, so I think there’s a little more politics.” Washington’s mandating the carrying of firearms came as a result of the unwillingness of the Quakers to bear arms in spite of the fact that the Bill of Rights guaranteed them that right. Those who holler loudest about the “right to bear arms” ignore how closely tied that right was to the felt necessity of an armed population in a country without a standing army.

In any event, a mandate is not a new thing, going back as it does to George Washington. But, as Clinton noted in his remarks, in appearing before the Court the government failed to point out relevant precedents in the law that would allow one to see that the Health Care mandate is not in any way unconstitutional. This may turn out to have been a capital blunder, if it is true. But as it happens, the court seems to be blatantly political these days, insisting in both Bush vs. Gore in 2000 and more recently in Citizens United that their role is to force their political ideology on the commonwealth rather than seek to determine on a case by case basis whether the legislative body is doing its work properly, as determined by the Constitution. It does appear we are at a most interesting period in our history and can anticipate a new chapter in the workings of the American government, though I confess it’s not one I am eager to read.