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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

"Citizens United" for More Corporate Power

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With the Supreme Court ruling by the "Fabulous Five," Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a single corporation will be able tap into its deep pockets and disfranchise a million citizens. A group calling itself "Citizens United" has just won a fight to give huge corporations more control over our politics. Even the 1886 "ruling," Santa Clara Co. v. Southern Pacific, that established a corporation as "a person" was fraudulent. Now these fictive "persons" have been granted more political rights than real human beings. What's to stop these conglomerates from using their vast stores of cash to implant their servants at every level of municipal, state, and federal government?

It's unfortunate that influential commentators, such as the New York Times' David Kirkpatrick, are blind to the grave implications of Citizens United v. FEC. Whether Kirkpatrick and others at the highest echelons of American punditry understand it or not the fact is that the next ten to twelve years promise to be a turning point in American democracy unless some drastic civic action is taken to blunt the effects of this egregious example of Far Right judicial activism. "Polls have shown that relatively few people understand or are even aware of the campaign finance rules," Kirkpatrick writes, and "some politicians say reformers . . . are unrealistic about how money and politicians mix." Kirkpatrick's point: Just go to sleep people -- nothing to see here. This over-reaching, game-changing Supreme Court ruling won't adversely affect anything. No worries.

Corporations are immortal. They don't need health care, or minimum wages, or pensions, or food stamps. They don't raise children and have families. They have no morality or ethics other than maximizing their profits. They are sociopathic.

One example of corporate sociopathology from the dawn of our corporation-loving era involves the Reagan Administration's deregulatory zeal and the pharmaceutical industry. Beginning as far back as the 1960s medical studies had shown a link between the use of aspirin, to relieve the symptoms of childhood diseases such as chicken pox, with the potential to develop Reye's syndrome, a disease that can cause severe damage to the liver, brain, and other organs, as well as death. For years pediatricians had been warning parents not to give their children aspirin when they had chicken pox or other viral infections. In 1981, the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) decided to alert consumers to the danger, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed suit, citing a "consensus of the scientific experts" calling for new warning labels on children's aspirin. The pharmaceutical industry responded by funding an astroturf group called the "Committee on the Care of Children" that launched an aggressive public lobbying campaign against the new rule. On November 18, 1982, Reagan's HSS Secretary, Richard Schweiker, withdrew the labeling mandate saying the idea had been "premature."

The battle over the warning labels continued until 1986 when the Reagan Administration finally capitulated to public pressure and imposed the new regulation. In 1980, there had been 555 reported cases of Reye's syndrome, but the year after the labeling requirement went into effect there were only thirty-six. A study by the National Academy of Sciences and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley found that of the hundreds of children who died of Reye's syndrome between 1981 and 1986, 1,470 could have been saved if aspirin had been properly labeled. "These 1,470 deaths were especially tragic," the report concluded, "because they were, typically, healthy children who never recovered from the viral infection of chicken pox." Here is but one example of corporations willing to kill American children just to save a few pennies on each bottle of aspirin by not printing new warning labels.

And there are countless other examples of corporations egregiously violating societal norms and humane conduct that far exceed the level of damage that an individual citizen could ever cause, such as when Big Coal chews up rural communities with "mountain top removal" mining; or the McWayne foundry brutalizes its workers; or Cargill uses meat processing subcontractors that spread E. coli across the country; or Nestlé's rips off Sacramento's municipal water supply in a time of drought; or Wal-Mart and other "big box" stores obliterate main street America; or Blackwater and Haliburton profiteer from war; or media conglomerates function as corporate propaganda ministries; or Aetna and other health insurance giants prey on the American people like vultures; or ExxonMobil and the energy monopolies flaunt environmental laws and gouge consumers; or the financial services companies bring down the American economy and trade derivatives based on life insurance policies betting that Americans are going to die sooner than later; and so on, and on, and on.

Today, we have levels of inequality worse than the Gilded Age and the "trusts" are bigger, more powerful, and possess a global reach that is greater than ever. The corporations have already given the country years of disastrous public policy. The health care fiasco shows their power to pull the strings in Congress. And George W. Bush's Supreme Court drops enormous new political powers in the laps of these corporate behemoths? So much for Chief Justice John Roberts' promises during his confirmation hearing to respect stare decisis. Just when you think our politics couldn't get worse you get surprised again.

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