Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Supreme Court to Corporations: Take all the Megaphones You Want, It's Your Right

This week, the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to lift spending restrictions on corporations and unions, claiming that such restrictions are a violation of Free Speech, a right given to all "citizens" by our Constitution.

Given that corporations are allegedly "Persons"*, and given that there is legal precedent dating back to the 1970s for equating money spent on lobbying and advertising with Free Speech, the winning side here believes that the Constitutional Rights of these poor helpless fictional entities have been justifiably restored

To me this means we've just cleared the way for America to be a Corporate Fascist nation, not a Democracy.

Sure, there are Constitutional Purists, like Glenn Greenwald, who drank the Kool-Aid and think this ruling was about an abstract fight against the notion of limiting free speech to some category of entities.   He and others think having any such regulation in any context is paramount to censorship and must be stopped.

I don't buy it.

We're dealing here not with stopping ideas we may or may not agree with.  Glenn is right when he points out that government banning and censoring human communication in one context, but not in others, is unacceptable in a true Democracy.  Either you have Free Speech or you don't.  If you don't, you live in China and mere mentioning of certain topics will get you imprisoned or killed.

But, even if we don't restrict its content, the intent of Free Speech was never to allow one group of entities to have more of it than anyone else. The problem is how to mix all the communications channels in a fair, informative way.  Prior regulation kept the Corporate voice lower in the mix.  Now that regulation will be off.

Thanks to these Supreme Court idiots, Corporations will able to seize the control room, crank up the volume and mix everyone else out of the dialogue.

The Megaphones vs. The Unmiked.

It is not that Corporations have not been able to speak.  (They already have).

It's not that they cannot speak the particular messages they would like to (even if those might be misleading or false).

No.  The problem now is that Corporations do not speak.   With billions of dollars, they can YELL.

They can now yell louder, and across more loudspeakers and channels than any other entity on the planet.  These entities can now buy up all the megaphones and boomboxes. 

Speech?  Or Corruptive Influence

Then there is the matter of corruption.  Corruption can trump even the fairest of dialogues and messaging between elected officials and the citizens voting for them.

When a human being donates money to a politician in the hopes of getting him or her elected, there is the hope (or expectation) he or she will vote in a way pleasing to the donor.

But with a corporation, we're talking HUGE sums of money that no mere mortal human being can simply walk away from.  In effect, the politician will think twice before enacting any laws against such a "generous" donor.  In effect, the Corporate Donor has just bought the Law, custom-made for its own self-interest.

Theodore Roosevelt and our preceding governments recognized the danger of granting unlimited power to Corporations.  We had protections in place to separate government and commerce.  They gave corporations a voice, but muted so that the rest of us could be heard too.

But now our members of Congress are former members of Corporations and vice versa.  They have debts to repay, Laws to create on their donor's behalf.  This ruling will make he voice of the Corporations so overwhelmingly loud that we human beings might as well call it a day and do what Douglas Rushkoff suggests -- forget about government and do stuff ourselves.

* Albeit fictional, and only made so in the 1800s by a clerk writing notes on a court case about granting rights to slaves.

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posted by Brian at 12:42 PM

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