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We the Corporations
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"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." -- Benito Mussolini

You witnessed a ritual killing last week, a public execution. Or was it a suicide?

It took Republicans several years to convince Americans they had no clue how to run a government. It took Barack Obama and the Democrats only a year to prove the same is true for them.

Despite having historically huge majorities in Congress, Obama -- whose presidency is beginning to feel eerily like Jimmy Carter's -- has virtually nothing to show for it, except perhaps pulling off the neat trick of being reviled as a socialist while at the same time funneling huge sums of money to Wall Street banks.

On Tuesday of last week came the inevitable endgame to the Democrats' year of leaderless dithering, when they let a former Cosmopolitan centerfold win the Massachusetts Senate seat Ted Kennedy held for nearly 50 years.

With it likely came the unceremonious end to what Obama himself called his signature initiative, health care reform - which itself had been corrupted by Congress into a crazy-quilt of special interest pandering and corporate sweetheart deals.

It was a fumble on the one-yard line, a missed slamdunk, a hanging curveball in the bottom of the ninth, all wrapped up into one classic, horrific choke job for the ages.

Epic fail.

So the question is: Where do we go from here when neither party is fit to govern?

Enter Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who answered that question last Thursday in no uncertain terms, like a line from The Lord of the Rings: The age of men is over. The age of corporations has begun.

The judge who told Congress during his confirmation that he was against activist judges joined four other justices in one of the most brazen acts of judicial activism in our history.

In Citizens United v. the FEC, they overturned longstanding precedent to rule that corporations -- all of them, all over the world -- have the same right to free speech in the United States as American citizens do.

The decision effectively administered the coup de grace to what's left of our barely functioning democracy. Or the last self-inflicted bowel slash of the seppuku blade, depending on how you look at it.

The first cut -- the original sin, as it were -- actually came in 1886, when in a 14th Amendment ruling the Supreme Court gave corporations equal constitutional rights with individual Americans.

Coupled with the Court's 2007 ruling that free speech=money, last week's decision means that the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Aetna, Goldman Sachs, and GE can now spend unlimited sums of money influencing elections through issue advertising.

(The only small silver lining in the ruling is that corporations must fully disclose their contributions. Justice Clarence Thomas, a Savannah native, voiced his opposition even to that modest requirement.)

It sounds wonderful, doesn't it, this idea of unlimited free speech for everything and everyone? You'd think a journalist, of all people, would support any decision expanding free speech rights, wouldn't you?

Here's how the Supreme Court has actually destroyed free speech for most Americans:

First off, politicians will no longer have to give even token lip service to raising money from small donors like you and me. If you think your voice didn't matter much before, you are completely mute now.

Obama and John McCain together raised over a billion dollars during the 2008 campaign, a record-shattering take. But that number will pale in comparison with the amounts the big multinationals will spend in the 2012 presidential election and beyond.

ExxonMobil, to name but one, currently has over $30 billion cash on hand. Imagine a few years from now, when gas is six bucks a gallon and a presidential candidate has the temerity to campaign on a green energy platform.

ExxonMobil will not only be able to buy endless propaganda with their billions, more importantly their huge cash advantage will mean they can buy up all the available media time during campaign season -- thus crowding out any other voices.

Surely the founding fathers didn't intend this.

Secondly, an even bigger effect will be felt at the state and local levels, which have much smaller campaign budgets. What chance does a city council or insurance commission candidate fighting for the little guy have against a hand-picked corporate candidate with a bottomless checkbook from Walmart or Allstate?

Thirdly, the decision gives foreign corporations, such as sheik-owned, terrorist-infiltrated Middle East oil concerns and communist-backed Chinese energy firms, unlimited ability to influence our elections.

Republicans hailed last week's ruling, sensing rightly that the deluge of domestic corporate money would benefit their side. But in a sense, conservative voters should be the ones most worried about the ruling.

Now Hugo Chavez, through his state-owned Venezuelan oil industry, or the Bin Laden family, through one of their global construction companies, or any number of drug-funded Mexican narco-firms can have a direct and overwhelming voice in backing U.S. candidates, or attacking those they don't like.

Personally, my biggest objection to the ruling is more visceral:

We live in a time when American constitutional freedoms are routinely stripped away in the name of national security and the war on drugs and the "sanctity of marriage."

And now we're told that, of all the entities in the U.S., our biggest corporations will be the only ones who will see their rights expanded?

That doesn't pass the smell test. Saying that the answer to a system corrupted by corporate money is more corporate money is no solution at all.

The founding fathers knew that in a functioning democracy, free speech is where the real power lies. There's a reason the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech leads off the Bill of Rights.

By ensuring that the most affluent among us will be the only voices heard, the Court's ruling consigns future generations to a new form of serfdom, with a vanishing middle class and 99 percent of us working to fill the bank accounts of the remaining one percent (and still with no health care reform!).

It essentially reverses the American dream.

The day may come when our children resort to cobbling together modest savings so they can emigrate to a new country, as their forefathers did in coming here long ago. Our grandchildren may laugh in disbelief in hearing that, generations before, people actually flocked to come to America instead of to leave.

President Obama says he'll fight the ruling -- but he says a lot of things, doesn't he?

There's only one way to fight back: Call or write your representative and urge Congress to craft legislation limiting the ruling's effect.

If not, well... I hear Chinese is not really that difficult a language to learn....