Monday, January 23, 2012

What If Citizens United Isn't Really the Problem?

Consequences, Symptoms and Causes

The difference between the "consequences, symptoms and causes" can become quite blurred when sought from a reactionary baseline. We can be so engrossed in "reacting" that important, "bigger picture" issues slip by us. For one thing, there is the matter of time.  Generally, time must pass between the initiation of causes and the resulting consequences -- especially when social or cultural issues are hosting the developments.

As for "symptoms," although often quite material, perhaps the most notable quality of symptoms is that they are the precursors of the actual consequences.  While very durable consequences are maturing in the background, the symptoms are the "canaries in the coal mine" which notify us that things are changing.

MeanMesa thought that we might need this short, hyper-academic, conceptual  interlude to set the foundation for the arguments which follow in this posting.

It's actually quite easy to become reactionary when considering the Citizens United ruling, its consequences, its symptoms and its causes, but let's take the effort to transcend even that, more or less, all encompassing viewpoint.  MeanMesa thinks that the most interesting truth of the matter resides in the arena which hosts Citizen United, that is, the environment which serves to lend weight to its consequences, symptoms and causes.

If the thing were no more than carelessly abandoned debris left on some deserted New Mexico mesa somewhere, doing nothing but catching an occasional tumble weed, its grave threat to American democracy would be nothing more than a theory.  

Citizens United -- as a "Symptom"
It started in our public schools.

Now, we have to look at precisely the advantage that Citizens United has delivered into the hands of those rich enough to utilize the ruling.  The first thing which comes to mind is the "discovered legality" of the process of unlimited spending to manipulate the political process.  Sure, there are a few rules, but toothless, unenforceable ones -- rules perhaps best described as "voluntary disciplines" which were made to sound workably given the strong, patriotic ideals and honor of those likely to test them.

Most Americans used to learn how to run our government. (image source)

However, all this stuff amounts to a pile of symptoms.  Yes, these are the immediate injuries the democracy faces, but a more sinister culprit lurks deeper down -- in the foundation of exactly why Citizens United works.

Remember.  It wouldn't matter if it didn't work.  But, it does.
Stripped of all the decision's judicial outrages, Citizens United has everything to do with education.  There is a largely unexamined "body of knowledge" in the mind of an American voter as he makes his way to the polls.  Further, that "body of knowledge" has a very shadowy definition and an even more shadowy set of sources.

In past days, one important source of that "body of knowledge" was the education which provided the essential literacy of the nation.  Way back then, every student in a US public school studied the mechanism of American democracy in a civics class and accumulated some sort of knowledgeable world view from the common history lessons taught in every school named after a President from Vermont to Alabama.

Another traditional source of that "body of knowledge" was provided by actual media reporting.  Radio stations, television stations and news papers caused plenty of mischievous bias in those days, but they competed with each other -- they competed with each other for credibility and objectivity.  And that competition for a reputation of "truth telling" enjoyed eager consumers.

Does the name "Walter Cronkite" ring a bell? 

A "Body of Knowledge" and an "Informed Electorate"
All this has something to do with the US Constitution.

By the time elections rolled around, a huge part of the "body of knowledge" accompanying voters as they went to the polls originated in either public school education or the media's reporting or both.  Of course, the "other part" of that "body of knowledge" came from the politicians.  The exact ratio of how much came from the first source and how much came from the second source is anybody's guess but, we can still see the results of those choices in elections.

In MeanMesa's 70 trips around the sun, precisely this serves as an example of the now hardly known requirement to operate our government called "an informed electorate."  The founders considered the idea important for the democracy, and they referred to the concept often in our founding papers.  They intended for the "informed electorate" to make informed choices in our democratic elections.

It's time for an example.  

Walking around in today's United States, it's relatively easy to find a voter who is blankly terrified with the current combination of Iranian belligerence coupled with Obama's proposed defense spending cuts.  The point made here is not an opinion on the issues involved in the argument, but with the "body of knowledge" that voter is "using" to make his very questionable decision at the polls.

The ratio between information sources mentioned above has changed.  In fact, even the sources have changed.  Our voter has been convinced that he dare not lend any particular credibility to media reporting, and he has never been exposed to enough history or civics to pique his curiosity about what he "knows."

So, where is our voter getting the information he will need to be part of an "informed electorate?"  Now, we are finally arriving at the "prize on the table" which has inspired so many billionaires to "indulge themselves" with the new legalities made possible by Citizens United.

The stakes are high -- sky high.

Even Cheaper Than "Bread and Circuses"
A thousand watt station versus a thousand loaf bakery

The Roman plutocrats of the Imperial period had to fork over some major cash to sway the electorate of the day.  Those old Romans were a bit pickier than modern Americans.  The more modern crowd will cave in quickly with just a few, well engineered, incendiary talking points.  However, the point remains the same.

Pompeii - distribution of Roman bread.

Just as the oligarchs' demariae flowed in ancient Rome, modern cash will still purchase what is needed to win elections now.  The difference is that the old Romans literally bought votes with their gifts while the modern oligarchs spend money to very carefully manufacture largely unexamined "mind sets" which can be trusted to behave properly in the voting booths.

"Mind sets?"  Yes, "mind sets" is a generous, collective term describing many little pieces and bits of "motivators" which are patiently and relentless implanted, day after day, election season or not, into the consciousness of the willing.  Citizens United money is now free to do precisely this -- without limit.  The scope of the wealth of those providing the cash for such endeavors is fundamentally incomprehensible to those who consume the product.

Further, although the Citizens United ruling was about a film criticising Clinton, the money need not always take such an identifiable form.  30 and 60 second toxic commercials are favorite media purchases -- by the hundreds.  Extremely mediocre books are written then purchased by such money for free distribution as the "sales" elevate them to "best seller" status and fame.

The Clinton film was an example of a  "big piece."  The wars in the election booths will be won by an immense myriad of "small pieces."  Further, the broadcast of these "smaller pieces" is cheaper, faster and more efficient than anything the Romans dreamed of accomplishing with their loaves and circus tickets.  Considered as a whole, Citizens United has turned over the task of educating the "informed electorate" to the highest bidder.

In earlier days, any political platform had an "unmanageable ally" in the settled history of any issue.  Voters had learned about such things in public school.  They might be swayed by political rhetoric during a campaign, but what was being "swayed" amounted to persuasive adjustments to mere details of knowledge attached to the much larger bodies they had learned about in school.

Did You Notice
that Politics Were Getting "Jumpy Wild?"

Further, the "distance issues could be swayed" -- the "swaying" aspect of campaigns -- was much smaller.  Political discourse was much more centered on tangible plans compared to the modern focus on ideology -- along with some the lingering, darker sides of American opinion.  For example, the race baiting and arrogant classicism of modern politics would have been unthinkable during the Eisenhower campaign.  The result was discourse much more attuned to the challenges and opportunities which were material and "on the table" -- the plans and promises of a typical campaign by either party.

To make Citizens United worth anything, the vacuum left by a failed public education system had to be in place first.  To an "informed electorate" many of the incendiary gambits which are quite saleable today would have amounted to tasteless sarcasm.  Few millionaires or billionaires would have reached into their pockets to publicize such ineffective material.

In 21st Century America there is no longer even a "comparable memory" of a functioning media.  Not only has aggressive, competitive reporting ceased long ago, the contaminated "news" presentations no longer even fear being called editorial, an indictment which would have incited terror on the city desks of the 50's and 60's.  The vacuum of objectivity which is the predictable result of such a pervasive failure might have caused market corrections back when networks competed with each other for reporting objectivity.

Now, however, that vacuum can be very efficiently filled by decidedly commercial sources -- examples of which abound as we review the media purchases of the Citizens United crowd.  "Commercial?"  Yes.  Citizens United media investments are all part of a marketing scheme, directed by specific goals of influence on voter turn out and all with an aim which includes profit somewhere down along the line -- very often in the redirection of tax money or other legislated advantages.

Modern politicians are not only generously sponsored by those whose interests they intend to serve when elected, they have become actual surrogates for those interests.  The protection offered by Citizens United money is paid for --  compensated by legislative actions which could not have previously survived the eye of an "informed electorate."  

One thing leads to another.  Stupidity turns into cash.

Evidence of the educational vacuum has really been front and center in the conduct and statements of candidates in this Republican Primary.  For example, one famous gaff of then front runner Bachmann placed Paul Revere's route in New Hampshire.

An early map of the 2012 New Hampshire Primary (image source)
However, of note here, is that this ridiculous gaff didn't lower Ms. Bachmann's approval ratings among Republican Primary voters.  Still think that an "educational vacuum" is a mere exaggeration?

Some Americans think that the only proper response to Citizens United is to strike back, that is,  do to the oligarchs what they tried to do to us.  

This won't work.  

So long as the "prize" remains on the table, either Citizens United or something similar will continue to operate.  The only way to drive a stake through the heart of this monstrosity is to remove the "prize."  Should the American electorate become, once again, somewhat informed, Citizens United will die the death it deserves, a slow, confounding demise driven home first by a dwindling credibility, then finally, by a profound lack of interest.

It turns out that there is very little difference between uninformed and uninterested.

Finally, a short note from MeanMesa.

Short Current Essays 
Never Intended To Report the "News"
It's all opinion.

Oh sure, MeanMesa has -- very occasionally -- scooped news stories as they were approaching.  In the first days of the Tunisian uprising, Short Current Essays predicted that the Arab Spring was poised to roam far and wide through the Middle East. [January, 2011: Over Estimating the Distance to Tunis ] When President Obama shuffled Panetta, Patraeus and Gates, MeanMesa predicted a very substantial cut to US DOD "defense spending."  [April, 2011: Part 1: The Most Serious Military Campaign in US History and, May, 2011: Part 2: The Most Serious Military Campaign in US History ]

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Citizens United: Oh Dear. It Wasn't Supposed To Be Like THIS!

So Much For "Activist Judges"

Under the American Constitutional design of the process, laws originate in the law making branch of the three part government -- the legislature.  The Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court made quite a departure from this more traditional idea, ironically, a departure often lamented previously by the most reactionary voices in that very same legislature.

It was essentially a "perfect storm" for the "up is down" folks who will say and do practically anything to keep their base aflame.  After lamenting for decades about Supreme Court "activist judges" making incendiary decisions which undercut legislative extraction schemes, the reactionary corporatists have now turned the tables.  Literally out of the blue, a tedious First Amendment case which began with a Citizens United dirt video about Hillary Clinton was transformed into a nightmarish decision in the hands of the high court.

There were plenty of other things about the Citizens United ruling which were equally troubling.

For starters, there was no precedent.  The ruling was not a mere "adjustment" to some sort of legislative gaffe or ambiguous decision of the past.  In fact, most of the scope of the final decision was never even particularly an element of the case.  In fact, the fundamentals of the ruling were virgin; they had never been before the Court in any similar, recognizable form whatsoever.

It was a dreamy "wish list" sort of pay back which had never seen the light of day beyond the drunken fantasies of ruthlessly power hungry media corporatists.  Chief Justice Roberts and his Supreme cronies scrounged up enough bold judicial backbone to take the odds for such an over reach.  

This gang was even prepared to be satisfied with a temporary victory which would last only long enough for a more reasoned legislature to officially vaporize their momentary hubris.  The corporatists could accomplish a great deal with their new freedom under Citizens United cover if it could be sustained just long enough.  Both the billionaires and the Supreme Cronies decided that the oligarchy's time table for the complete economic take over of all power was close enough to fruition.  Albeit risky, the stakes were sky high, but the moment for action had arrived.

Unanticipated Consequences

Almost immediately from the time of the decision through the subsequent months the predictable tsunami of anti-Obama "creative art work" emerged.  Every sort of bizarre imagery from outright falsehood to laughable fiction, each one lubricated with almost endless corporate resources, rushed onto the already smelly "fact fog" of the corporate media swamp.  The only subtle part of the show was the total absence of a single name in the "paid for" credits.

The menu of the moment is ANYTHING -- especially if it's already dead. (image source)
 Viewing Citizens United in the hard light of day.

Everything was rolling along "roses, simply roses" until the oligarchs realized that this snake could crawl up hill just as easily as it could crawl downhill.  When the anticipations of "the night of long knives" materialized into the very sharp fangs of a grotesque clutch of desperate GOP Primary candidates, it was the equivalent of a UPS same day delivery of ammo to a circular firing squad.

The Romney gang dismembered Newt in a week with a multi-million dollar "history lesson" about the Speaker during the Iowa caucus.  Gingrich, never one to slink out of a fight, counter attacked, trimming the low hanging fruit off the Romney bandwagon in New Hampshire before the band could even catch up.  Worse, the Gingrich gang had already contracted a smell factory in Las Vegas to finance a 30 minute "infomercial" [] about the ground up corpses left in the wake of the Massachusetts governor's corporate "rendering plant," Bain Capital.

There were plenty of other examples, too, but those attacks were funded less than the really bloody ones financed by the big boys. As usual, the Republicans made their traditional misperception error.  The damage was coming from their records, not from media manipulation.

Darn.  All of this was supposed to be happening to the President.

"Not my doing.  The out-of-control 'gangs' did it all."  

But, who were the "gangs?"

Thanks to Citizens United all these miscreant "sore losers" walked away from the mud fest absolutely unsoiled.  "Unsoiled?"  Let's just say, "Largely unsoiled."  A tiny majority of the Republican Primary voters [less than half of the Republican base has a high school diploma] were discerning enough to begin to place blame -- even in the cognitive confusion of a well engineered, media induced "evidentiary vacuum."

The "gangs" were super PACS's [political action committees] where heavy weight oligarchs could offer up vast, raw cash to promote their personal agendas.  We can see the visible fervor of such efforts by simply looking back at the Iowa caucus.

In a race with no -- absolutely none, = 0, not a one -- delegate votes in the Republican Convention, the eager beavers among the cash laden billionaires ponied up tens of millions of dollars from their respective super PAC's -- on all sides.  The "crush Newt" operation was funded with millions.  Later, the "crush Mitt" operation was funded with even more millions.

The Roberts' decision for his corporate masters contained a single, lingering sort of toothless "limit" on the freedom it granted.  The caveat?  There could be no direct association with the products of Citizens United money and the candidate they were supporting.   Amid the tearful accusations, the comedy began with each of the benefactors claiming total ignorance of -- and control over -- the actions of his PAC's.

Lasting, Irreversible, Intuitive Brand Damage

Granted, the "hearts and minds" of the Republican base are distressingly akin to the lumps of coal Santa places in the Christmas stockings of bad children, but there is still the remnant of the now road weary GOPCon talking point claims about "smaller government," "lower taxes," "family values," "less borrowing" and the like.

Before the Democrats have even scratched the little crosses in the ends of their cartridges and rubbed them with garlic, the GOPCons are literally tearing each other to shreds like a team of Komodo dragons salivating over a rotting hippopotamus somewhere in the jungle.  Republicans have recently had a real problem with thinking ahead, and the embarrassing frenzy of this latest bunch is no exception.

Sure, all this blood letting may deliver a state or two in the Primary, but what's left in those "hearts and minds" for the General election has been permanently tarnished.  Whatever candidate they select after this torturous process will still have the baggage these Citizen United attacks nailed to his back in Iowa, South Carolina or elsewhere.

As for the all important Independent voters, they are horrified.

MeanMesa is feeling better about the 2012 everyday.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Learning: Citizen United's First Year

Everybody Doesn't Win, but Everybody Learns

It's been a year since the Citizen United decision appalled most of the country in January, 2010.  There were a few Americans with enough Supreme Court savvy to dislike the activist nature of the thing or, perhaps, be unsettled by the striking break with precedent.  There were a few who found themselves unnerved by the hubris of the fascist, Bush strewn remnants of the court.

However, the complaints and laments of 2010 were of an academic nature.  The theory of the new possibilities was troubling, but the decision's future, material ramifications still amounted to nothing more than terrifying Constitutional hypotheticals.  Americans were far too toughened by the steady stream of outrages since the 2000 election to "waste time" worrying about as of yet unrealized future judicial calamities.

In fact, the same bunch who were secretly salivating at the prospect of actually buying an entire Presidential election in 2012 had effortlessly reduced the country to a desperate, nearly coast to coast poverty, extracted the wealth which had taken decades to secure and successfully remained untouchable behind the cover of their now subservient media.  Interestingly, MeanMesa heard no voices publicly speaking in support of the judicial concept of the decision.

That silence was a clue.  Someone must have like it.  But silence, nonetheless.

One might have imagined that bottom feeders such as the Armeys, Roves, Kochs or the WalMart Waltons might have let slip something positive about Citizens United, but nothing.  Perhaps such conversation and opinions were carefully reserved for Country Club salons where no spoken word has ever escaped.

quod est necessarium est licitum
"What is necessary, is lawful." 

Our Latin omits just a few pregnant questions, but especially the question of "necessary."  Necessary to whom?  Why necessary now? 

Those in power were compelled to make the Citizens United decision.  Both the flavor of prevailing circumstance and breathless perspiration of this moment in time demanded that risk be taken, gauntlets cast down and all chips placed in ante for the game approaching.  There is, actually, a game in progress.  It is not a game that we here at the bottom might ever glimpse until it's final, bloody, last hand has closed, but the result of its very soiled consummation will be a "free horizon" for the oligarchs, opportunity, raw, soulless and completely unfettered -- unfettered by anything in the world.

Estimates at the time of this posting place the Citizens United "war chest" in the $4 Bn range as it gorges itself in preparation for the 2012 election.

Of course, the rampaging avarice for power has become cash.  Even Citizens United leaves a few, perfunctory "rules" in place, tattered shards of the old democracy, but such temporary obstacles are not permanent.  According to the plan, they will simply be left on the "to do" list until the takeover moves closer to completion.

Citizens United was necessary, given the stakes of the current political game.  The scheme to transform the republic into a modern oligarchy has made a significant, durable progress, but it is progress which still has foundation problems.  The conspirators have, indeed, increased tension during the Obama Presidency at an explosive rate, but neither the schedule nor the path has not been well managed.

In fact, those "increases in tension" have not turned out to be all that steady.  Yes, the hill billies and the bigots in the reactionary base have literally "gobbled up" the pablum, but that success was also supposed to ensnare more rational voters who weren't paying enough attention to the details in the flood of misinformation, voters who could be drawn into the maelstrom for no reason any more compelling than the number of reactionaries who were already there.

Like the teasing near orgasm of a drunken bus station whore, the feverish pitch seemed moments from "victory" six months ago, but in the ensuing time, every pain of the Great Republican Depression of 2008 has patiently settled in like an enduring toothache.  The pain is no longer theoretical or conveniently ideological.  The pain has become far too material to lend itself to the cheap redirection the scam enjoyed before.

Over Funded, Over Reaching
and Under Sophisticated

MeanMesa stood both horrified and despondent during the scheme's early successes.  It seemed that the entire country had become even more illiterate, uniformed and uninterested over night.  The daily barrage of propaganda victories of the early campaign was supposed to saturate progressives with a strangely pervasive yet ambiguous hopelessness, and it did.

The 2010 election played its part in revving up the hopelessness, but it also signalled the effects of the scheme's early strategy to dishearten voters.  The oligarchs' Congressional scheme of total obstruction lent itself well to the popular but synthetic, horror fantasy "that all politicians are alike, that both parties are alike, and that the President is ineffective." 

However, the recent developments were not all bad.  What we had expected from Citizens United in our darkest moments never materialized, at least, never materialized in the form of the hideous juggernaut we had at first anticipated.  The takeover scheme was churning along at full throttle for a while, but as time slipped by, interesting pieces of the evil plan began to fall off the machine.

We progressives gradually realized that we had over estimated the sophistication of the uber-rich but not their cynicism.  Emboldened by their early successes, the oligarch strategists immediately over reached.  Their ambitions drove them mindlessly, miles too far from their own carefully constructed supply lines.  Their "supply" of impulsive and determined base followers faltered.

Their tea bags slowly lost their fervor as more and more of the corporate spine of that movement was illuminated.  Their nationwide voter suppression moves caught the attention of the Justice Department.  Literally millions of Americans rose up against state capitols which had been considered unassailable bastions only days before.

Governors and State Senators were being recalled.  Reactionary, class based legislation was going down in flames in electorate initiatives.  Not even the corporate media could downplay the gravity of these events, although they tried mightily.  The spigots for more and more Citizens United cash were opened wide, and the psychology departments of the think tanks flew into "fix it" mode.

And trouble for the oligarch class didn't stop there.

Their own fierce cynicism had assured them that American voters would be unable -- or unwilling -- to discern the distance between obvious truth and their glacier of propaganda.  The stock of the "lie catching business" began to rise as fact checking progressive enterprises took advantage of the eternality of modern video and internet technologies.  Poorly prepared and poorly designed [i.e. too stupid] reactionary candidates began to encounter the worst, most embarrassing  possible parts of their own history on a regular basis -- on television.

The ghostly block of Republican unanimity cracked in "debates" and negative ads from other Republicans.  Even worse, the audiences at GOPCon "debates" began to routinely humiliate themselves with jeers at active military men, cheers for executions and an immoral disinterest in everything from health care to women's rights, birth control and an affordable end to military colonialism.

No amount of Citizens United money could fix that.  No amount of Citizens United money could keep such things a secret.  These events had been engineered and financed by Citizen United money.

The bizarre over reaching began in earnest.  Candidates without campaigns -- Cain, for example -- were created with a straight flow of cash rather than any of  the traditional enthusiasm of voters.  Arcane "throw-aways" such as Perry were inflated to momentary importance with huge amounts of oligarch dollars in the expectation that if only a candidate "looked like" a candidate, the zombies would elect him.

The oligarchs had actually created a "supply side" political problem for themselves.  Their problem was that there was simply not enough of a "supply" of zombies to keep the game going.  Further, they were gradually discovering that -- even with a Citizens United check book in hand -- their purchasing agents were reporting back that the "shelves were bare."  They had already purchased -- and consumed -- the entire supply of malcontents and idiots.

No amount of Citizen United cash and no amount of meat handed, adolescent political incendiaries seemed to be able to refill the ranks.  The public opinion polls finally began to sag.  There was no more excitement to be had, just the toothache.

The Beached Whale

The Citizens United "coup d'etat" (image source)

The beached whale will smell awful by November. And, the toothache will remain more than a fleeting memory.

Almost anything else will smell better.