Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Moyers: "...Triumph Over Corporate Power"

Why 'We The People' Must Triumph Over Corporate Power

by Bill Moyers
December 12, 2011

Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five conservative members of the Supreme Court handed for-profit corporations the right to secretly flood political campaigns with tidal waves of cash on the eve of an election, they moved America closer to outright plutocracy, where political power derived from wealth is devoted to the protection of wealth. It is now official: Just as they have adorned our athletic stadiums and multiple places of public assembly with their logos, corporations can officially put their brand on the government of the United States as well as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the fifty states.

The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission giving “artificial entities” the same rights of “free speech” as living, breathing human beings will likely prove as infamous as the Dred Scott ruling of 1857 that opened the unsettled territories of the United States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not. It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws. God spare us civil strife over the pernicious consequences of Citizens United, but unless citizens stand their ground, America will divide even more swiftly into winners and losers with little pity for the latter. Citizens United is but the latest battle in the class war waged for thirty years from the top down by the corporate and political right. Instead of creating a fair and level playing field for all, government would become the agent of the powerful and privileged. Public institutions, laws, and regulations, as well as the ideas, norms, and beliefs that aimed to protect the common good and helped create America’s iconic middle class, would become increasingly vulnerable. The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow succinctly summed up the results: “The redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful.” In the wake of Citizens United, popular resistance is all that can prevent the richest economic interests in the country from buying the democratic process lock, stock, and barrel.

America has a long record of conflict with corporations. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy to democracy, but wealth armed with political power — power to choke off opportunities for others to rise, power to subvert public purposes and deny public needs — is a proven danger to the “general welfare” proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution as one of the justifications for America’s existence.

In its founding era, Alexander Hamilton created a financial system for our infant republic that mixed subsidies, tariffs, and a central bank to establish a viable economy and sound public credit. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson warned Americans to beware of the political ambitions of that system’s managerial class. Madison feared that the “spirit of speculation” would lead to “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty.” Jefferson hoped that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and [to] bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Radical ideas? Class warfare? The voters didn’t think so. In 1800, they made Jefferson the third president and then reelected him, and in 1808 they put Madison in the White House for the next eight years.

Andrew Jackson, the overwhelming people’s choice of 1828, vetoed the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States in the summer of 1832. Twenty percent of its stock was government-owned; the rest was held by private investors, some of them foreigners and all of them wealthy. Jackson argued that the bank’s official connections and size gave it unfair advantages over local competition. In his veto message, he said: “[This act] seems to be predicated on the erroneous idea that the present stockholders have a prescriptive right not only to the favor but to the bounty of Government. ... It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” Four months later, Jackson was easily reelected in a decisive victory over plutocracy.

The predators roared back in the Gilded Age that followed the Civil War. Corruption born of the lust for money produced what one historian described as “the morals of a gashouse gang.” Judges, state legislators, the parties that selected them and the editors who supported them were purchased as easily as ale at the local pub. Lobbyists roamed the halls of Congress proffering gifts of cash, railroad passes, and fancy entertainments. The U.S. Senate became a “millionaires’ club.” With government on the auction block, the notion of the “general welfare” wound up on the trash heap; grotesque inequality and poverty festered under the gilding. Sound familiar?

Then came a judicial earthquake. In 1886, a conservative Supreme Court conferred the divine gift of life on the Southern Pacific Railroad and by extension to all other corporations. The railroad was declared to be a “person,” protected by the recently enacted Fourteenth Amendment, which said that no person should be deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Never mind that the amendment was enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves who were now U.S. citizens. Never mind that a corporation possessed neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned (or saved!). The Court decided that it had the same rights of “personhood” as a walking, talking citizen and was entitled to enjoy every liberty protected by the Constitution that flesh-and-blood individuals could claim, even though it did not share their disadvantage of being mortal. It could move where it chose, buy any kind of property it chose, and select its directors and stockholders from anywhere it chose. Welcome to unregulated multinational conglomerates, although unforeseen at the time. Welcome to tax shelters, at home and offshore, and to subsidies galore, paid for by the taxes of unsuspecting working people. Corporations were endowed with the rights of “personhood” but exempted from the responsibilities of citizenship.

That’s the doctrine picked up and dusted off by the John Roberts Court in its ruling on Citizens United. Ignoring a century of modifying precedent, the court gave our corporate sovereigns a “sky’s the limit” right to pour money into political campaigns for the purpose of influencing the outcome. And to do so without public disclosure. We might as well say farewell to the very idea of fair play. Farewell, too, to representative government “of, by, and for the people.”


Unless “We, the People” — flesh-and-blood humans, outraged at the selling off of our government — fight back.

It’s been done before. As my friend and longtime colleague, the historian Bernard Weisberger, wrote recently, the Supreme Court remained a procorporate conservative fortress for the next fifty years after the Southern Pacific decision. Decade after decade it struck down laws aimed to share power with the citizenry and to promote “the general welfare.” In 1895, it declared unconstitutional a measure providing for an income tax and gutted the Sherman Antitrust Act by finding a loophole for a sugar trust. In 1905, it killed a New York state law limiting working hours. In 1917, it did likewise to a prohibition against child labor. In 1923, it wiped out another law that set minimum wages for women. In 1935 and 1936, it struck down early New Deal recovery acts.

But in the face of such discouragement, embattled citizens refused to give up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, “had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that the government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have-nots.” Not content merely to wring their hands and cry “Woe is us,” everyday citizens researched the issues, organized public events to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and exhorted. They would elect the twentieth-century governments that restored “the general welfare” as a pillar of American democracy, setting in place legally ordained minimum wages, maximum working hours, child labor laws, workmen’s safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security and Medicare, and rules to promote competitive rather than monopolistic financial and business markets.

The social contract that emerged from these victories is part and parcel of the “general welfare” to which the Founders had dedicated our Constitution. The corporate and political right seeks now to weaken and ultimately destroy it. Thanks to their ideological kin on the Supreme Court, they can attack the social contract using their abundant resources of wealth funneled — clandestinely — into political campaigns. During the fall elections of 2010, the first after the Citizens United decision, corporate front groups spent $126 million while hiding the identities of the donors, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The United States Chamber of Commerce, which touts itself as a “main street” grass-roots organization, draws most of its funds from about a hundred businesses, including such “main street” sources as BP, Exxon-Mobil, JPMorgan Chase, Massey Coal, Pfizer, Shell, Aetna, and Alcoa. The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber organized a covertly funded front and fired volley after volley of missiles, in the form of political ads, into the 2010 campaigns, eventually spending approximately $75 million. Another corporate cover group — the Americans Action Network — spent over $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in six Senate races and 28 House of Representative elections. And “Crossroads GPS” seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $17 million that NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls,” all determined to water down the financial reforms designed to avoid a collapse of the financial system that their own greed and reckless speculation had helped bring on. As I write in the summer of 2011, the New York Times reports that efforts to thwart serious reforms are succeeding. The populist editor Jim Hightower concludes that today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power. The more you spend on politics, the bigger your voice is in government, making the vast vaults of billionaires and corporations far superior to the voices of mere voters.”

Against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would be waiting on our tables and picking our crops, women would be turned back at the voting booths, and it would be a crime for workers to organize. Like our forebears, we will not fix the broken promise of America — the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all our citizens, not just the powerful and privileged — if we throw in the proverbial towel. Surrendering to plutocracy is not an option. Confronting a moment in our history that is much like the one Lincoln faced — when “we can nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope on earth” — we must fight back against the forces that are pouring dirty money into the political system, turning it into a sewer.

How to fight back is the message of this book. Jeffrey Clements saw corporate behavior up close during two stints as assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, litigating against the tobacco industry, enforcing fair trade practices, and leading more than one hundred attorneys and staff responsible for consumer and environmental protection, antitrust practices, and the oversight of health care, insurance, and financial services. He came away from the experience repeating to himself this indelible truth: “Corporations are not people.” Try it yourself: “Corporations are not people.” Again: “Corporations are not people.” You are now ready to join what Clements believes is the most promising way to counter Citizens United: a campaign for a constitutional amendment affirming that free speech and democracy are for people and that corporations are not people. Impossible? Not at all, says Clements. We have already amended the Constitution twenty-seven times. Amendment campaigns are how we have always made the promise of equality and liberty more real. Difficult? Of course; as Frederick Douglass taught us, power concedes nothing without a struggle. To contend with power, Clements and his colleague John Bonifaz founded Free Speech for People, a nationwide nonpartisan effort to overturn Citizens United and corporate rights doctrines that unduly leverage corporate economic power into political power. What Clements calls the People’s Rights Amendment could be our best hope to save the “great American experiment.”

To find out why, read on, and as you read, keep in mind the words of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, who a century ago stood up to the mighty combines of wealth and power that were buying up our government and called on Americans of all persuasions to join him in opposing the “naked robbery” of the public’s trust:

It is not a partisan issue; it is more than a political issue; it is a great moral issue. If we condone political theft, if we do not resent the kinds of wrong and injustice that injuriously affect the whole nation, not merely our democratic form of government but our civilization itself cannot endure.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

To L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa's Great Shame

Dear Mayor Villaraigosa,

I grew up in Los Angeles and have followed your political career from my new home on California's Northcoast. I always assumed that one day I'd have an opportunity to vote for you when you were ready to run for Governor or United States Senator, and I looked forward to doing so. After reading Patrick Meighan's account of the actions you first authorized and then praised at Occupy L.A., I don't expect that opportunity will ever arise. I certainly hope not. But if it does, you can be assured I will work vigorously to see that you are defeated.

I think your career in politics is over. You might have learned something from the Chancellor of U.C Davis about the use of excessive force, but apparently not. And it seems the LAPD has not only not changed since I use to encounter them as a youth on the streets of Venice, but that they and not you are really calling the shots.

This is all very sad for me, as I once held you high regard.

Please resign now and save yourself any further humiliation.

Shame on you,
Richard Salzman
Arcata CA.

(email address is: mayor at lacity dot org)
My Occupy LA Arrest, by Patrick Meighan

My name is Patrick Meighan, and I’m a husband, a father, a writer on
the Fox animated sitcom “Family Guy”, and a member of the Unitarian
Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.

I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people
at Occupy LA. I was sitting in City Hall Park with a pillow, a
blanket, and a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace” when 1,400
heavily-armed LAPD officers in paramilitary SWAT gear streamed in. I
was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat Indian-style,
arms interlocked, around a tent (the symbolic image of the Occupy
movement). The LAPD officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we
chanted “We Are Peaceful” and “We Are Nonviolent” and “Join Us.”

As we sat there, encircled, a separate team of LAPD officers used
knives to slice open every personal tent in the park. They forcibly
removed anyone sleeping inside, and then yanked out and destroyed any
personal property inside those tents, scattering the contents across
the park. They then did the same with the communal property of the
Occupy LA movement. For example, I watched as the LAPD destroyed a
pop-up canopy tent that, until that moment, had been serving as Occupy
LA’s First Aid and Wellness tent, in which volunteer health
professionals gave free medical care to absolutely anyone who
requested it. As it happens, my family had personally contributed that
exact canopy tent to Occupy LA, at a cost of several hundred of my
family’s dollars. As I watched, the LAPD sliced that canopy tent to
shreds, broke the telescoping poles into pieces and scattered the
detritus across the park. Note that these were the objects described
in subsequent mainstream press reports as “30 tons of garbage” that
was “abandoned” by Occupy LA: personal property forcibly stolen from
us, destroyed in front of our eyes and then left for maintenance
workers to dispose of while we were sent to prison.

When the LAPD finally began arresting those of us interlocked around
the symbolic tent, we were all ordered by the LAPD to unlink from each
other (in order to facilitate the arrests). Each seated, nonviolent
protester beside me who refused to cooperate by unlinking his arms had
the following done to him: an LAPD officer would forcibly extend the
protestor’s legs, grab his left foot, twist it all the way around and
then stomp his boot on the insole, pinning the protestor’s left foot
to the pavement, twisted backwards. Then the LAPD officer would grab
the protestor’s right foot and twist it all the way the other
direction until the non-violent protestor, in incredible agony, would
shriek in pain and unlink from his neighbor.

It was horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize the
rest of us. At least I was sufficiently terrorized. I unlinked my arms
voluntarily and informed the LAPD officers that I would go peacefully
and cooperatively. I stood as instructed, and then I had my arms
wrenched behind my back, and an officer hyperextended my wrists into
my inner arms. It was super violent, it hurt really really bad, and he
was doing it on purpose. When I involuntarily recoiled from the pain,
the LAPD officer threw me face-first to the pavement. He had my hands
behind my back, so I landed right on my face. The officer dropped with
his knee on my back and ground my face into the pavement. It really,
really hurt and my face started bleeding and I was very scared. I
begged for mercy and I promised that I was honestly not resisting and
would not resist.

My hands were then zipcuffed very tightly behind my back, where they
turned blue. I am now suffering nerve damage in my right thumb and

I was put on a paddywagon with other nonviolent protestors and taken
to a parking garage in Parker Center. They forced us to kneel on the
hard pavement of that parking garage for seven straight hours with our
hands still tightly zipcuffed behind our backs. Some began to pass
out. One man rolled to the ground and vomited for a long, long time
before falling unconscious. The LAPD officers watched and did nothing.

At 9 a.m. we were finally taken from the pavement into the station to
be processed. The charge was sitting in the park after the police said
not to. It’s a misdemeanor. Almost always, for a misdemeanor, the
police just give you a ticket and let you go. It costs you a couple
hundred dollars. Apparently, that’s what happened with most every
other misdemeanor arrest in LA that day.

With us Occupy LA protestors, however, they set bail at $5,000 and
booked us into jail. Almost none of the protesters could afford to
bail themselves out. I’m lucky and I could afford it, except the LAPD
spent all day refusing to actually *accept* the bail they set. If you
were an accused murderer or a rapist in LAPD custody that day, you
could bail yourself right out and be back on the street, no problem.
But if you were a nonviolent Occupy LA protestor with bail money in
hand, you were held long into the following morning, with absolutely
no access to a lawyer.

I spent most of my day and night crammed into an eight-man jail cell,
along with sixteen other Occupy LA protesters. My sleeping spot was on
the floor next to the toilet.

Finally, at 2:30 the next morning, after twenty-five hours in custody,
I was released on bail. But there were at least 200 Occupy LA
protestors who couldn’t afford the bail. The LAPD chose to keep those
peaceful, non-violent protesters in prison for two full days… the
absolute legal maximum that the LAPD is allowed to detain someone on
misdemeanor charges.

As a reminder, Antonio Villaraigosa has referred to all of this as
“the LAPD’s finest hour.”

So that’s what happened to the 292 women and men were arrested last
Wednesday. Now let’s talk about a man who was not arrested last
Wednesday. He is former Citigroup CEO Charles Prince. Under Charles
Prince, Citigroup was guilty of massive, coordinated securities fraud.

Citigroup spent years intentionally buying up every bad mortgage loan
it could find, creating bad securities out of those bad loans and then
selling shares in those bad securities to duped investors. And then
they sometimes secretly bet *against* their *own* bad securities to
make even more money. For one such bad Citigroup security, Citigroup
executives were internally calling it, quote, “a collection of
dogshit”. To investors, however, they called it, quote, “an attractive
investment rigorously selected by an independent investment adviser”.

This is fraud, and it’s a felony, and the Charles Princes of the world
spent several years doing it again and again: knowingly writing bad
mortgages, and then packaging them into fraudulent securities which
they then sold to suckers and then repeating the process. This is a
big part of why your property values went up so fast. But then the
bubble burst, and that’s why our economy is now shattered for a
generation, and it’s also why your home is now underwater. Or at least
mine is.

Anyway, if your retirement fund lost a decade’s-worth of gains
overnight, this is why.

If your son’s middle school has added furlough days because the school
district can’t afford to keep its doors open for a full school year,
this is why.

If your daughter has come out of college with a degree only to
discover that there are no jobs for her, this is why.

But back to Charles Prince. For his four years of in charge of
massive, repeated fraud at Citigroup, he received fifty-three million
dollars in salary and also received another ninety-four million
dollars in stock holdings. What Charles Prince has *not* received is a
pair of zipcuffs. The nerves in his thumb are fine. No cop has thrown
Charles Prince into the pavement, face-first. Each and every peaceful,
nonviolent Occupy LA protester arrested last week has has spent more
time sleeping on a jail floor than every single Charles Prince on Wall
Street, combined.

The more I think about that, the madder I get. What does it say about
our country that nonviolent protesters are given the bottom of a
police boot while those who steal hundreds of billions, do trillions
worth of damage to our economy and shatter our social fabric for a
generation are not only spared the zipcuffs but showered with rewards?

In any event, believe it or not, I’m really not angry that I got
arrested. I chose to get arrested. And I’m not even angry that the
mayor and the LAPD decided to give non-violent protestors like me a
little extra shiv in jail (although I’m not especially grateful for it

I’m just really angry that every single Charles Prince wasn’t in jail with me.

Thank you for letting me share that anger with you today.

Patrick Meighan

Saturday, December 3, 2011

SHERIFF GAYLEN: "Well, if ...somebody tells me that there's going to be trouble....it's my duty to stop them."

Protesters of Occupy Eureka were physically detained with handcuffs while the EPD removed and confiscated a 10'x 15' PVC structure which was the skeleton of what could have become a canopy and was being used as an informational space within which was a table with literature, buttons and bumper stickers. While "pallets" may have been near by, no pallet or tarp was ever placed on this "structure", which remained a skeleton at the time of this police action on Nov 30th, 2011. The following is an excerpt is from an email sent on Dec 2nd by City of Eureka CA, interim Chief of Police Murl Harpham:

From: Murl Harpham
Sent: Fri Dec 02 12:04:36 2011
Subject: RE: Shameful Constitutional Violations by Humboldt County!

" ....We even told them that they could put up a pop-up canopy to protect their handouts. But they pushed the envelope and put up a second and a third and then put walls around them and hauled in 23 wooden pallets for a room and people started living there again. After we removed that, then what happened? Less than a week later [Nov 30th] they brought in more pallets and started constructing a 10’ by 20’ structure..."
Flash back to:

March 1966

Robert Kennedy, as member of the US Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor he served on the committee hearings in Delano, Calif., during the early days of the UFW grape pickers strike.

Sen. Kennedy, who was one of the last to arrive on the third days of the hearings, along with an aide, Rev. James L. Vizzard, S.J., had to push by a local policeman after the policeman refused to budge, claiming that the local fire marshal was forbidding anyone further from entering the hall, despite Sen. Kennedy identifying himself as a member of the subcommittee.

More than 100 people were in the hall as the senators began taking their places at the committee table. Another 400 stood outside waiting for admission.

The left side of the auditorium was reserved for various classes from Delano High School, which rotated throughout the day. The middle section of the hall was occupied by members and friends of the anti-union Independent Kern-Tulare Farm Workers Association (IKTFW). Beside them and against the far wall were members of the NFWA and AWOC.

Sen. Harrison Williams (D-N.J.), the committee chairman, opened the session with a quick announcement that a rotation system was being worked out and at the lunch break the auditorium would be emptied and those presently waiting outside would be allowed to enter. He also warned the audience against demonstrations while testimony before the subcommittee was being given.

Mayor Clifford Loader was the first witness, welcoming the senators to Delano, but quickly pointing out that he felt their trip was unnecessary, since no strike really existed in the area. "The simple truth is, gentlemen, that there is no strike in Delano," he said.

Complying with the request made by Sens. George Murphy (R-Calif,) and Williams after Cesar Chavez's testimony in Sacramento on the opening day of the hearings, law enforcement officials from Kern and Tulare counties appeared before the subcommittee in Delano.

After several other witnesses testified, the law enforcement officials were asked to answer charges made by Chavez regarding their harassing of pickets and extending preferential treatment to the local growers.

Kern County District Attorney Kit Nelson acknowledged to the subcommittee that he had not arrested or taken any of the growers to trial because he personally held a "reasonable doubt" that the were guilty. He went on to emphasize to the senators, however, that he had warned a number of growers "not to break the law in the future, or I would have to enforce the provisions of the law."

Sheriff Leroy Galen from Kern County then answered questions put to him by Sen. Kennedy on the allegations that he and his department had badgered striking grape pickers by stopping them frequently on no charge, making unwarranted arrests, and repeatedly taking their pictures.

A subsequent exchange between the former US attorney general and a local symbol of "law and order" would later become the stuff out of which legends are made -- almost tantamount to sacred scripture -- in the farmworker communities throughout California's valleys, where the law has always stood for the will of the local growers, and order the enforcement of that will.

SEN. KENNEDY: "...When they [the pickets] are just walking along, what did you arrest them for?"

SHERIFF GAYLEN: "Well, if I have reason to believe that there's going to be a riot started and somebody tells me that there's going to be trouble if you don't stop them, it's my duty to stop them."

KENNEDY: "Then do you go out and arrest them?"

GAYLEN: "Yes."

KENNEDY: "And charge them?"

GAYLEN: "Charge them."

KENNEDY: "What do you charge them with?"

GAYLEN: "Violation of -- unlawful assembly."

KENNEDY: "I think that's most interesting. Who told you that they're going to riot?"

GAYLEN: "The men right out in the field that they were talking to said, 'If you don't get them out of here [the pickets], we're going to cut their hearts out.' So rather than let them get cut, we removed the cause ..."

KENNEDY: "As the former US attorney general, this is the most interesting concept, I think, that you suddenly hear talk about the fact that somebody makes a report about somebody going to get out of order, perhaps violate the law, and you go out and arrest them, and they haven't done any thing wrong. How can you arrest somebody if they haven't violated the law?"

GAYLEN: "They‚re ready to violate the law ..."

CHAIRMAN SEN. WILLIAMS: "We will recess ..."

KENNEDY: "Could I suggest that the district attorney and sheriff reconsider their procedures in connection with these matters, because it really is of great concern to me. In the last five minutes, it's a considerable concern to me."

GAYLEN: "Before I do anything, I ask the district attorney what to do. Just like these labor people out here, they ask their attorney, 'What shall we do?'"

KENNEDY: "Can I suggest in the interim period of time, the luncheon period of time, that the sheriff and the district attorney review their procedures and start by reading the Constitution of the United States!"