News & Notes June 25, 2012

The Supreme Court ruling on ObamaCare is expected today.  Consensus seems to be that the Roberts Court will strike it down.  So far this court has backed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 100% on its rulings.  Elections do have consequences.

Focus on SCOTUS is increasing as the result of the total corruption of our democracy because of Citizens United.  When 30 billionaires can funnel a billion dollars into a single campaign we no longer have a democracy.  Meanwhile Justices Alito and Thomas are getting heavy criticism for their purely partisan work.  Clarence Thomas’ wife works for a think tank opposing the Affordable Care Act.  His household gets money from those working to strike down the law.  

Fast & Furious continues being a focus of the news.  The failed program begun under George W. Bush ran guns into Mexico in the hope they could be tracked.  It failed.  Concern and outrage by the Right is missing the larger issue:  the huge flow of guns from this country into Mexico fueling the rampant violence and destabilization.

The student loan interest rate issue and a transportation bill both need to be passed this week.  Is the Tea Party House capable of passing anything meaningful and progressive?

A disturbing article about a Justice Department suit against two polygamous towns is required reading.  Polygamy is illegal and residents of these Utah/Arizona border towns are openly discriminating against their non-polygamous residents to the point of destroying their crops and killing their dogs.

East coast sea levels are rising due to global warming.  How much evidence do morons need before they stop believing what they hear from Rush and Fox?  The oil companies are fueling this denial so they can continue destroying the planet for profit.  Imagine the chaos if tens of millions of people are displaced all along the east coast?  How much will that cost?

It’s time for an increase in the minimum wage.  Low wage workers are actually earning less than thirty years ago due to inflation.  Places like Santa Fe which have living wage minimum wages prove that higher wages don’t mean fewer jobs.  The business community constantly rolls out this debunked argument when the issue comes up for votes.  In Santa Fe, where the minimum wage is now $10.29 they now have more people working in the hospitality sector, a center of low wage workers, than before 2008.  Their high minimum wage has not affected employment.

A Philadelphia jury convicted Msg. William Lynn of child endangerment last Friday.  Two landmark child molestation trials ended in Pennsylvania on the same day, both with convictions.  The Catholic Church must pay for its disregard of morality.  Penn State’s mistake wa snot shuttling Sandusky from campus to campus to better hide his abuses.  It worked for the Church for decades after all.

Voters keep electing car dealers to Congress then are mystified when the corrupt businessmen become corrupt Congressmen.  Have you ever dealt with an honest car dealer?  There’s no such thing.  The latest is Florida’s Vern Buchanan.  At least this corrupt Buchanan isn’t from Pennsylvania but we have our own car dealer in Congress:  Mike Kelly in PA-03.  Before that we had Don Sherwood in PA-11 who lost after getting caught choking his mistress.

I come from a family of teachers.  My Mom was a special education teacher, a sister is a college professor, another a retired guidance counselor and two more teach in local high schools.  When I hear idiots complaining about teachers it makes my blood boil.  They have no idea how hard these jobs are, especially nowadays.  Kids who have no interest in learning because their parents fail to instill a love of it in them when young challenge every teacher.  Would you want your job dependent on such kids?  Teachers are vastly underpaid when CEO’s earn billions.  Here’s a suggestion on how to pay teachers, gotta love it.

There are so many important areas being cut by Gov. gasbag so he can shell out tax credits to energy companies it’s hard to keep up with all of them.  The Times-Tribune covers how cuts are affecting day care centers.

Congratulations to new AFSCME leaders Lee Saunders (President) and Laura Reyes (Sec-Treasurer).  Saunders succeeds Jerry McEntee who retired after a good tenure.

In yet another tragic shooting of a Black kid by an angry white man are we entering into a race war where White men are openly killing African-Americans?  This seems to have been the real motivation for Stand Your Ground laws.

Fox News is so stupid not only can’t they get facts straight (of course they don’t want to when they can just make them up) but they can’t even get people right.  In their latest flub they showed a picture of Gov. Mitch Daniels instead of Jerry Sandusky.  It may be a freudian slip though since Daniels is screwing Indiana the same way Jerry screwed his kids.

The Supreme Court did strike down Arizona’s “papers please” anti-immigration law this morning.  But they also struck down Montana’s law against unlimited corporate money in politics.  This is a double down on Citizens United.  From the Brennan Center For Justice:

“The 2012 elections make one thing clear: unlimited spending by super PACs and secretive nonprofits is corrupting our political process and threatens to swamp our democracy,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Increasing numbers of Americans believe our government is bought and paid for by special interests and that their votes don’t matter. By not taking this case, the Court missed a critical opportunity to rein in some of the worst excesses of Citizens United, and other rulings, that created this super PAC mess.”

Montana banned corporate election spending for more than 100 years as a result of a dramatic history of efforts by big companies to capture the state government. The state of Montana compiled an extensive and powerful factual record that demonstrated how unlimited corporate spending previously held the state hostage to mining companies and still poses severe threats to Montana’s elections and government. For the Court to strike down the state’s anti-corruption law without even reviewing that record is a serious mistake.

Government May Be Violating Tobacco Companies’ 1st Amendment Rights

by WALTER BRASCH

A controversial Supreme Court decision less than two years ago could have the unintended consequence of significantly reducing the government’s 46-year campaign against cigarettes.

In a 5-4 decision, largely along political lines, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (October 2009) that not only were parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act) unconstitutional, but that corporations and political action committees enjoyed the same First Amendment rights as private citizens.

The government’s anti-smoking campaigns, most of them the result of a combination of executive department and Congressional action, essentially have three major parts: anti-tobacco advertising and public service messages, warning labels on cigarette packs, and the outright ban on several forms of tobacco company advertising.

Government Advertising

Because the First Amendment applies only to governmental intrusion upon free expression, when the government creates advertising (whether TV ads or pamphlets), there can be no significant First Amendment issues. There may be some recourse, however small, in suits against use of taxpayer funds for political purposes, similar to the government’s role during the George W. Bush administration in forcing anti-abortion education upon women and health clinics.

Labels

The anti-smoking campaign had begun with the 1964 Surgeon General’s report that there was a strong correlation between smoking, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis.. The following year, Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act that required every cigarette pack to have a health warning: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.” The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969,  taking effect two years later, strengthened the wording on cigarette labels to: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health.”

However, the labels had minimal effect on reducing smoking. In 1984, unwilling to face political consequences from an outright ban, such as it enacted against any form of marijuana, Congress passed the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act that required even stronger messages on each pack.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration, acting within authority of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2010, ordered all cigarette manufacturers to include nine new designs on a rotating basis on all cigarette packs. The designs take up the top half, both front and back, of every pack. Several of the messages are medically-supported statements that tell users that cigarette smoking causes cancer. One of the graphics is a pair of cancerous lungs next to a pair of non-cancerous lungs. Another label shows a set of rotted teeth. Another shows smoke coming from a tracheotomy hole.

The FDA also requires that government-approved messages appear on one-fifth of every print ad.

Based upon interpretation of the Citizens United case, it would not be an unreasonable stretch to argue that the newly-required messages, with graphics and text, place an undue burden on a corporation’s rights of free speech by restricting their own message to less than half. Another argument could be made that by forcing the tobacco companies to accept pre-determined text and graphics is de facto government intrusion upon the rights of free expression.

Tobacco Company Advertising

The largest concern for First Amendment consideration is in the area of the federal government imposing restrictions upon advertising and information messages.

In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission, citing the Fairness Doctrine, required radio and TV stations that aired paid ads from tobacco companies to run anti-smoking ads at no cost. Unwilling to give up five to ten minutes a day to unpaid advertising, the stations began “voluntarily” dropping cigarette advertising.

The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which had changed the text of warning labels, also banned cigarette advertising on radio and television. In a concession to the tobacco companies, Congress permitted the law to take effect on Jan. 2, the day after the televised football bowl games. The effect of the law was a loss to radio and television stations of about $200 million a year in cigarette advertising, and a significant increase in advertising in newspapers, magazines, and billboards-and not much reduction in smoking.

A 1991 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the cartoon character Joe Camel, advertising mascot for Camel cigarettes, was recognized by 3- to 6-year-olds almost as much as they recognized Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstone. The AMA charged that R.J. Reynolds, manufacturers of Camel cigarettes, had targeted children; the company denied the charges, but eventually settled the lawsuit for $10 million, the funds to go to anti-smoking campaigns.

In 1998, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was the result of years of litigation and negotiation between the four largest tobacco companies, which controlled about 97 percent of all domestic sales, and 46 state attorneys general; four states had already settled. That agreement exempted the companies from class-action tort liability by citizens filing against the companies for health effects from smoking. The federal government also agreed to provide subsidies to tobacco farmers to cover losses based upon reduction of demand for their product. In exchange, the tobacco companies agree to provide $365.5 billion, with most of the funds going to the states for anti-smoking campaigns, and to allow FDA regulation. Among other provisions, the tobacco companies agreed to cut back advertising and sponsorship of activities, especially those that targeted youth. Because this was a civil case settlement, First Amendment concerns were rendered moot.

However, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2010 is a government-imposed control that brings to question distinct First Amendment concerns. That Act bans tobacco companies from sponsoring all sports and cultural events, which could loosely be interpreted as a violation of the right of association, not specifically mentioned in wording in the First Amendment but extended by the Supreme Court decisions involving First Amendment guarantees. The Act further bans tobacco companies from displaying all tobacco-related images, including their logos, on any apparel, and also requires most advertising to be black lettering on a white background. Both actions are probable First Amendment violations.

A critical side issue melds labels with the media. It would be nearly impossible for any medium to show anyone with a cigarette pack, whether in news or entertainment, without also showing the government’s message. Any attempt by the government to regulate what appears on screen or in print would violate the First Amendment.

Without the Citizens United decision, the government’s rights to regulate corporate advertising would probably not have significant basis for challenge. With that decision, tobacco corporate entities suddenly have a case.

[This column is meant to be a general overview and not a definitive analysis or detailed case study of possible First Amendment violations of government-imposed sanctions against tobacco companies. Dr. Brasch, professor emeritus of mass communications and journalism, is a specialist in First Amendment and contemporary social justice issues. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

Koch Brothers Instructed Employees on Voting

The infamous Koch brothers, Charles and David, financiers of the hard right wing, instructed 50,000 employees on whom to vote for in 2010.  The packet sent to their company personnel included a letter from their lobbyist.  Of course for whom one votes once in a secret booth is no one else’s business but coercion from a powerful employer is a line no compnay should cross.  I know because I was subjected to such coercion in 1980.  At the time I was employed by Kellogg Sales Company, the marketing arm of Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, MI, the giant cereal manufacturer.  They instructed me to vote for Ronald Reagan (I didn’t) in return for the candidate’s promise to drop a federal antitrust suit against the company for price fixing.  Six months after his inauguration Reagan had his Justice Department drop the lawsuit.  My work for Kellogg’s at the time included price fixing and led to a great deal of personal stress and soon after, my departure from the company.

No company should be allowed such control over an employee and any retaliation should be met with litigation.  This is but one more example of the horrors of the Citizens United decision.

Democratic Talk Radio 2010 Heroes and Villains Awards

by Stephen Crockett

This year we had great difficulty in making our selections. We had multiple winners in both categories.  We could have given many more awards but finally narrowed it down to just these few.

Heroes are former Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) and former MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann. Both won because they routinely spoke truth to power even when it was unpopular.

Grayson was targeted by huge amounts of corporate and Far Right money in the 2010 elections because of his honesty. He has not gone silently into the night. Like the true hero he remains, we can count on Alan Grayson to continue speaking out on behalf of working Americans being abused by corporations and the super wealthy interests who control the Republicans in Congress and state governments around the nation.

Many of us learned about Grayson’s efforts on the cable news commentary program run hosted by Keith Olbermann. In the darkest days of the Bush Administration, Olbermann was really the only voice on TV willing to expose and condemn the creeping fascism of the Republican Right. He defended the American Dream when nearly everyone else was fearful and silent.

Democratic talk Radio hopes he will quickly return to our television screens. American Democracy needs Keith Olbermann.

While nearly every Republican in Congress qualifies for the DTR 2010 Villain Award along with Fox News, the Koch brothers and the Tea Party movement, the winners are the 5 Supreme Injustices on the Supreme Court. They are Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Kennedy.

With their crazy and evil Citizens United ruling, they created out of thin air the greatest legal/political threat to our American Dream that has ever existed. They have ruled that corporations are people with the ability to spend unlimited amounts of shareholder money to influence politics. They did not even require in the ruling that shareholders must approve the way is spent or the amount of money by corporate executives.

Corporate executives run corporations. Corporations are organizations of money not people. Corporations do not die like all people do.

The 5 Injustices deserve to be impeached for abuse of office. Since corporations were able to buy Congress in the last elections because of the Citizens United ruling, this will not happen this year if ever. The best we can do is give them our Democratic Talk Radio 2010 Villain of the Year Award.

John:  I co-host DTR.

Woman to Marry Corporation

In a celebration of the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court last year Sarah Steiner of Palm Beach, FL will begin searching for a corporate suitor to wed.  Since the eminent Justices decreed that corporations are persons Steiner has decided to marry one.  I hope whichever company she chooses though is male as same sex marriage remains illegal in Florida.  From the press release:

One year ago on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United

States reaffirmed that corporations have the same constitutional

rights as people (Citizens United v FEC).  In commemoration of that

decision there will commence a national search for the ideal corporate

groom for a mere mortal, Ms. Sarah “echo” Steiner.  Ms. Steiner has

made it clear that she intends to take the Supreme Court at its word

and honor her marriage when she finds a suitable candidate.

Members of the press are cordially invited to join the Bride as she

formally announces her intention to seek a corporate partner and to

unite one heart and one corporate charter in love forever (or not).  A

press conference will kick off the search for a corporate groom on

Saturday, January 22, 2011.

There have been rumors circulating that a number of potential

corporate grooms are already in the running (including green corporate

persons).  Once a suitor has been found, the Bride and her future

corporate husband will announce their plans to marry in a public

ceremony.

“The court’s ruling has opened the door to the union of corporate and

human persons in ways that were never imagined before,” said the

Bride.  “But, frankly, I’m wondering who’s going to be on top on the

wedding night.”

“If corporations are persons, then let us celebrate the end of

discrimination against them by permitting them to marry just like

everyone else … well, almost everyone else,” says Carla Christianson

of Move to Amend Florida.

But Suki DeJong of the Palm Beach County Green Party has expressed

concern for the inevitable consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“There just aren’t enough corporations to go around,” said DeJong.

“Sure, it’s okay for Ms. Steiner, but what about the rest of us?  I’d

like to marry one myself.  On the other hand, those things can live

forever.  They’re not like real people.”

The bride will be given away by Florida Move to Amend

(http://www.movetoamend.org).  Her bridesmaids will be members of the

Palm Beach County Green Party and Progressive Democrats of America,

Florida.

I think this is a great idea, especially for Ms. Steiner’s sex life.  Given the frequency with which corporations screw the public it is a match made in heaven.

Supreme Court Keeping Citizens United in the News

The Citizens United v FEC Supreme Court case continues in the news headlines because Chief Justice Roberts came out this week criticizing the President’s criticism of it in the SOTU.  The President mentioned the decision ion his address because he called for legislation to overturn this most heinous act of judicial activism seen in generations.  The Supreme Court decided that corporations can have no limits on contributions to political campaigns.  In essence they used a 19th century landmark decision saying companies are persons under the constitution to justify them having full rights to completely corrupt our government.

The nation is outraged by such activist Justices, all of whom got on the court by deriding activist Justices.  Their hypocrisy knows no more bounds than their right wing ideology which says the Executive Branch is all powerful and the Judicial, their own, and Legislative branches must submit to a “unitary executive.”

Under Citizens United democracy dies.  Well, what’s left of it will die.  Corporations and Big Business already have a hugely disproportionate influence on Washington.  We need to reduce their influence through public financing of campaigns not by greatly expanding corporate privilege.

The irony of the criticism being levied by these Justices is that they are keeping their mischievous conduct before the public.  Chief Justice Roberts is reminding us of his negligence.  Such is the hubris brought to the Court by the George W. Bush nominees.  I hope he continues because the people need to be reminded every day that Congress must do as the President requested and redress this injury to democracy.

In that regard Congressman Paul Kanjorski today addressed this issue:

Good morning.  Today we meet to examine the likely effects of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  In response to this groundbreaking ruling, Members of Congress have introduced no less than 30 bills.  While other panels in the House have jurisdiction over many of these measures, the Financial Services Committee has the responsibility to examine those bills related to shareholder rights and corporate governance.

Like many, I was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling.  In our system of capitalism, corporations enjoy many benefits designed to promote the efficient allocation of resources in a vibrant economy.  Unduly influencing elections should not be one of those privileges.  Moreover, shareholders have financial interests in companies, not political interests.  Finally, I should note that in our political system people vote; corporations lack such rights.

To limit the influence of the Citizens United decision, the Capital Markets Subcommittee now has under consideration several proposals.  These thoughtful bills generally aim to increase shareholder participation in the electioneering decisions of public companies, enhance public transparency on corporate campaign spending, and contain corporate political activities.

At the very least, we ought to act to empower shareholders to determine whether and how corporations can spend their money for political purposes.  Shareholders should not expect that a company will use their money to invest in candidates that the shareholders themselves do not support.  In this regard, corporate management should obtain some form of approval from their shareholders regarding corporate campaign expenditures.

We also ought to enhance public disclosures of corporate political expenditures.  Many have said that transparency is the best disinfectant.  Better information about how corporations spend money on political activities will help to hold corporations accountable for their actions.

Today, we will examine pending legislative proposals introduced by Mr. Ackerman, Mr. Capuano, Mr. Peters, Mr. Grayson, and Ms. Kilroy that achieve these desired ends.  We will also explore ways to refine these bills.  I look forward to a vigorous debate at this hearing so that we can determine the best way to move ahead on these important policy matters.  Moreover, because we have many ideas concurrently in motion, I am also hopeful that we can work today to achieve consensus, improve coordination, and ensure a comprehensive legislative reaction.

In sum, while courts have long granted corporations the status of personhood, they are not actually people.  We need a legislative response to the Citizens United case in order to restore balance in our democratic system, and corporate governance reforms represent an important facet of an effective solution.  Such reforms can give American citizens – the living, breathing, voting people we are here to represent – faith that our system of representative democracy will long endure and thrive.

Kudos to Kanjorski for leading the way on this most important issue.  Now let us hope Justices Roberts and Alito continue reminding voters what they did and the President’s call to action to change this precedent.

Shareholders Forced Political Spending

by Stephen Crockett, host of Democratic Talk Radio

When we make an investment by buying shares in a corporation are we endorsing the political goals of corporate CEO’s or other corporate executives? For most American citizens, the answer is clearly “NO!”

The recent Supreme Court ruling stating that corporations have the right to spend the shareholders’ money to influence federal elections seems designed to trample on the property rights of individual shareholders, empower the international corporate executive class and distort the electoral process in favor of the pro-corporate Republican Party. It completely fails to protect the property rights of shareholders against politically-motivated abuse by corporate executives.

While the ruling was both bad law and bad for American democracy, as most commentators have stated publicly, few editorialists or pundits have examined how badly the ruling tramples on the property rights of shareholders. I might want to buy shares to fund my retirement or meet unexpected future financial demands. I want my money used in the core missions and functions of the business. I did not invest my money to have it misused by corporate executives to fund their political goals or agenda instead of mine.

Why did this radically activist Supreme Court empower corporate executives to use my money for politics instead of for the legitimate business purposes that are the reasons shareholders bought shares in the first place?  

Every member of Congress should support a new federal law that would require all shareholders agree before any corporate money can be spent to influence elections. This does not violate the premise of the Supreme Court ruling that states (incorrectly in my opinion) that corporations have the right to spend corporate funds on elections. Such a law would not require a Constitutional Amendment.

Shareholders should never be forced to make a political contribution to a candidate or campaign that the individual shareholder does not support. These forced contributions are unjust. In fact, corporate executives who spend corporate funds on influencing elections are frankly stealing from the shareholders.  

Even before the new federal law is passed, shareholders should consider suing any corporate executives who misuse corporate funds to influence election outcomes directly or indirectly. The lawsuits should seek both to injunction the corporation from using shareholders money without universal approval from all shareholders and to fire the corporate executive involved “with cause” so that any “golden parachute” provisions (where more shareholder money gets stolen by executives) might get blocked.

Any officeholder who fails to support a new federal law restricting corporate executive power and empowering individual shareholders to veto spending corporate money on elections is helping in the politically-motivated theft of shareholder property! We need to identify these officeholders regardless of political party and vote them out of office. They are corrupt!

While corporations are not people, shareholders and corporate executives are people. The corporate executives should not overrule shareholders when it comes to political spending of corporate funds. The corporate executives work for the shareholders and never should be legally permitted to forget this basic fact.

Written by: Stephen Crockett (Host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio… ). Mail: 698 Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, Delaware 19702. Phone: 443-907-2367. Email: midsouthcm@aol.com.