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Ellis Weiner

Ellis Weiner

Posted: March 25, 2006 01:43 PM

An Open Ransom Note to the American People


WE (1) HAV YOURE (2) DEMOCRASY (3)...IF YOU WANT TO SEE IT ALIVE (4) AND HAV A ELECSION IN 2008 (5), PUT $$SEVIN HUNDRID MILLON DOLLARS (6) IN SMALL NON-EXECUTIVE NUMBER BILLS IN A BROWN PAPER BAG AND PUT THIS BAG IN A LEDERER DE PARIS HANDMADE ENGLISH INVESTMENT BANKER BRIEFCASE (7) AND GIVE IT TO BENNY (8) AT SIGNITCHERS RESTARANT (9) BY 12 NOON, ON JAN. 3 2008 AND NO WON WILL GET HURT (10)...NO COPS (11) WE MEAN IT (12). TALK AND YOUR DEAD.(13)

"THE" SYSTEM


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By Ellis Weiner

(1) "We"--The two-party/media/industry/lobbyist Corporate-Political Complex (hereafter: CPC) which, like its Military-Industrial counterpart, pursues as its primary goal its own perpetuation regardless of the efficiency of its operation or the efficacy of its product. If you liked the cost-plus system that brought us the billion-clams-per B-2 Stealth bomber (which, when issues connected with its vaunted "low-observability" were taken into account in 1997, boasted a "mission-capable" rate of a not-all-that-whopping 26 percent [source: GAO/NSIAD-97-181]), you'll love the way we officially elect our elected officials. To indulge in a bit of Churchillian rhetorical grandeur, Never has so much been spent by so many to con so other many to vote for the first so many to deliver so little for so long, and for what? So forget about it.

(2) "Youre" (sic)--I.e., Your. Not "our," since the relationship between us, the people, and the CPC now resembles that between the audience and the Outer Limits. They control the horizontal. They control the vertical. If we sit quietly, they will control everything that we see and hear, at least as regards whom and what we can vote for. If we don't sit quietly, they'll call us "unrealistic" or "do-gooder liberals" or, worse, "socialists." And they mean it to sting.

(3) "Democrasy" (sic)--I.e., democracy. They mean "democratic republic." The point is, they say they have it, and they do. As long as (per the Formerly Supreme Court) "money is speech," those with the most money get to speak the most, and all your fussy distinctions between "hard money" and "soft money" and PACS and "bundled contributions" are just so many Jack Nicklaus-designed sand traps and eye-pleasing water hazards to make the game that much more satisfying without, of course, actually making it prohibitively hard.

(4) "alive"--Note, here, the ransomist's sprightly sense of humor. Because really: How "alive" can our democracy be said to be, when the percentage of Americans who can vote, but do not, is, as everyone knows, currently hovering around (something. Let the reader imagine the accurate figure here). The entire government is in the control of a corporationist-plutocrato-religio-nutbar Borg-thing almost entirely composed of organisms which, if they are not either attorneys or millionaires, are millionaire-attorneys. That's who runs, because that's who can afford to run. In a healthy society, Katherine Harris would be playing the recurring role of a director of nursing ("with a secret") on General Hospital. Instead, she will plow ten million of "her own" (read: inherited) money into an effort to scare Florida into sending her to the Senate. Better, less-rich people should have long ago crowded her out.

(5) "Elecsion in 2008" (sic)--I.e., Election in 2008. The message, in the familiar terminology of the right-wing demagogues and repressed psycho-Puritans who traditionally presume to define what is "really American," is that the current election funding system is the only one "consistent with our values" unless you're a sissy, like they are in Canada. (It's a tautology, yes. It's one of our values because we have it; we have it because it's, etc.) The ability of corporations--or, to be fair, unions--to wield political power by wielding financial power will be looked on by future generations, to the extent that there are any, with the same mixture of wonder, disgust, horror, and embarrassment with which we regard a previous era's legalization of slavery. If a corporation is "a person," then pity the poor schmuck citizen who thinks he or she is one, too. And don't get me started about the church.

(6) "$$sevin hundred millon dollars" (sic)--I.e., $700 million: approximately the total amount raised by the Bush and Kerry campaigns in 2004, most of which was, in fact, spent. And here we come to the beating heart of the discussion. Everyone knows (and everyone knows that everyone knows) that money corrupts. Always. In everything. That's what it does. And yet the politicians, corporations, media, and lobbyists who comprise the CPC continue to assert, with a straight (and professionally made-up) face, that the way we elect presidents, although marinated in money, is basically sound (if, admittedly, in need of "reform").

(7) 5.5" 19"x13"x4" $2,199.95

(8) "Benny"--Probably not his real name.

(9) "Signatchers Restarant" (sic)--I.e., Signatures. Washington, D.C. restaurant owned by Jack Abramoff. Presumably mentioned by ransomists as a place the CPC feels especially at home, but flagged by me as an example of the kind of names of restaurants and shops I can't stand, like "Illusions" and "Reflections" and "Concepts" and "Elements." I just can't stand them.

(10) "no won will get hurt." (sic)--I.e., No one will get hurt. More ransom note drollery, since everyone who is not a corporation (which one so seldom is) has been and is already "hurt." Like the ladies complaining at the resort about the terrible food "...and such small portions!", we get such terrible representatives! And such a small portion of their talents and abilities! The rest is spent hobbling, rigging, or sneaking through legislation to please corporate givers of--when, that is, they're not ignoring their legislative tasks entirely to engage in the naked pursuit of (because everyone knows you can't get re-elected without plenty of money) money--money. "Duh," yes, but like the saying goes, things are "duh" because they're true.

(11) "No cops."--It's unclear whether this is a warning or a boast, because it's already a reality. Who is there to police this moolah-rific cash-fest? The Federal Election Commission? We're better off calling the Justice League of America. The Abramoff scandal has already resulted in a call for "ethics reform" which drew rousing cries of support in the living room even while it was quietly being smothered in the nursery.

(12) "we mean it"--They do. Just as, in Hollywood, an executive's primary job is to not-lose his job, so in Washington, D.C. a pol's job is to harvest enough dough to get re-elected, in order that he or she may return to office and set happily, briskly about the business of getting re-re-elected.

So of course they mean it. They have to. It's literally their job. Because, while there may be legal limits on individual contributions to a candidate, there is no limit to what a candidate or a party can raise and spend. So every candidate (or incumbent) faces an endless struggle with his or her opponent's potential ability to raise, not ten million or even ten zillion, but infinity dollars. Just as, on the Dune planet Arrakis, life is defined by the scarcity of water, so in our politics is life defined by the threat of being outspent. Thus half a Senator's time is occupied with raising money, and the other half in rewarding previous donors (and cultivating future ones) with legislation, "access," etc.

Worse: the pols enlist or blackmail their constituents into fighting this fight with them. Their opponent's ability to raise money becomes *our* problem. "Senator Putz recently held a fundraiser on the moon. If I'm to beat him in November, I must ask you to pawn your children and send the proceeds to the address below."

(13) "Talk and yore dead" (sic)--I.e., "Talk and you're dead." Perhaps, although this could be mere hoodlum hyperbole. There has always been talk about changing the system, but talk is cheap. See for yourself how inexpensively I can say the following:

Presidential campaigns, after a suitably regulated series of primaries, should be funded via a one-time, fixed grant from the Federal Government--at, say, $20 million per viable candidate, the definition of "viable" to be subject to debate. But that's it: no hard money, no soft money, no gelatinous money, no money-in-an-undefined-state-of-quantum-flux. No corporate contributions. No private contributions. No unions, PACs, trade groups, Swift Boat Vermins for "Truth," or personal family money.

And yes, twenty million (a figure I painstakingly made up), which should be just about enough to pay for a skeleton staff, a few phony-baloney advisers, and some bumper stickers and buttons. The rest of the campaign should be on tv, on a series of debates using airtime provided free by those stalwart guardians of the public trust, the major networks. No attack ads, no slush funds for bankrolling dirty tricks, no paid-for crowds of thugs (James Baker, John Roberts, etc.) sent to Florida to harass vote counters.

"But how will the candidates be able to take their case to The People?" someone always bleats. "What about the time-honored glorious foofaraw of stumping the hustings on the campaign trail? What about the back-slapping whistle-stop town meeting in the lonesome New England prairie church social! What about kissing hands and shaking babies at soap-box derby double-headers, and shooting your Brownie Hawkeye at a plate of ham and eggs on biscuits and gravy from sea to shining sea! How can we get the heft of a fella and tell if we'd want him to kiss our sister and dandle our dog over baseball and baked beans and beer?"

We don't need it. That's why we have tv and media. Money talks, yes, but ever since money became speech it's become a loudmouthed bully who's intimidated or grossed out most of the good people. And the results? The results speak for themselves. So we have to tell money to shut up.