We are closing in on the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which will occur this coming January 21st, another date that will live in infamy in our nation's history. On that terrible day in 2010, the Supreme Court gave the 1 percent of the ultra-rich the right to legally bribe our public servants as part of their efforts to take control of our government at every level -- federal, state and local. This ideologically driven, 5-4 decision made it possible for unfathomable amounts of unidentified money to be used to distract and lie to the American people in order to manipulate their votes and poison our electoral process. Corporations were granted "personhood" with that decision, with the right to "free" speech in the form of spending unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcomes of elections.
Our airways are now flooded with political ads to the point that the news is being pushed aside and journalism thwarted so these propaganda pieces can run ad nauseam on networks owned by international business conglomerates. Political ads are big moneymakers for these networks and their local affiliates, and even though we are still a year out from the 2014 elections, there are already scads of vicious, vacuous and substance-free attack ads against challengers and incumbents alike airing across the country. One can only expect the frequency and intensity of this insanity to increase exponentially over the next 12 months.
So what does all of this noise get us? In far too many cases, it leads to the election of compliant, amoral "public servants" whose primary purpose is to make their mega-rich patrons ever richer by gumming up the legislative works in Washington. They accomplish this with filibusters and other procedural tricks, preventing good bills from even coming to a vote and diluting those bills that are voted on to the point that they don't deliver anything close to what they were intended to. Another right-wing tactic is stalling confirmations of the president's nominees to high-level positions, like the three judges President Obama has nominated for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a court that has produced four justices on the current Supreme Court. These are highly respected, qualified judges, yet they are being opposed by the Republicans, for purely political reasons. They are joined by dozens more of the president's Executive branch appointees, who also continue to wait in the wings to be confirmed.
This is clearly part of a deliberate strategy by the GOP to weaken government and keep it from functioning at its intended levels, and it is not escaping notice. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had a few choice words recently on the floor of the Senate for her colleagues about one of their latest filibuster antics. Senator Warren consistently shows courage and leadership as an unapologetic Progressive voice in the Senate. Until now, one could argue that Harry Reid's leadership has been lacking on this issue, but historic change is coming to the Senate, as just yesterday it voted to change the rules and end the filibuster on presidential nominations to the Executive branch and to the courts, with the exception of the Supreme Court. Some of the president's programs can also be expected to possibly move forward now, major among them those that will create much needed jobs. Millions of Americans spoke, and the Senate heard them -- that is the power of grassroots mobilization.
The GOP has been clear in pursuing a singular mission since their Tea Party makeover in 2010 -- no taxes for the rich, and austerity and cuts for the rest of us through a slash here and burn there to many of our cherished government programs. On the legislative side, they have also blocked bill after bill on a wide range of critical issues. Immigration reform has not been mentioned recently, and has clearly been moved to the back burner in this Congress -- an immigration bill was passed with bipartisan support in the Senate in June, yet its counterpart continues to languish in the House. There has also been no movement on a bill to end discrimination in the workplace, which could lead to the loss of a job because of who you love -- ENDA must be passed. And what of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for those low-wage earners? Don't expect any movement on that anytime soon, nor anything on background checks for the purchase of guns online or at gun shows.
The budget battle will be front and center again in the next few months. I don't think the right wing will be stupid enough to consider threatening another government shutdown as a negotiating tactic this time around. They know they are dangling precariously over their own electoral cliff of total voter rejection, and too many of them fear they will be targeted for the unemployment line in 2014 if they make another catastrophic blunder like that again. Even so, the old favorites for conservative attack like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will surely be on their chopping block during the next budget fight. You can also bet that more cuts to food stamps will emerge on the heels of the cuts that went into effect November 1. There is already a drive by Republicans to cut food stamps in the next Farm Bill, which would come on top of $39 billion that has already been cut from this program. My food stamps were just cut by $11 per month, and on January 1, my Social Security will rise by just under $12 per month. There are calls for raising Social Security benefits higher by some progressive voices like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, which would certainly help retirees and aid the economy. What will it take to get our president to stop talking about "entitlements" and use the right terminology -- earned benefits? Social Security should be removed from the budget negotiations altogether, since it doesn't add to the deficit and has a healthy surplus of $2.7 trillion dollars.
Citizens United has cast a black shroud over our nation since it was dumped on the American people by an activist, ideologically driven right-wing majority in the Supreme Court. Since that decision, we have seen a steady erosion of our way of life, with millions more sinking into poverty and hunger as wages continue to stagnate and on-the-job benefits erode. Too many more still remain unemployed. But instead of supporting the programs we need to confront these multiple crises that affect so many of us, our grid-locked, bought-off Congress has done everything it can to roll back decades of progress in the form of these essential programs that our government has offered to the most vulnerable Americans. After all, isn't that a main reason for government's existence in the first place -- to look after the welfare of the people and give them a hand up when they need it so they can have a chance to do better for themselves and their children? That goal was once called the American Dream, something to which many of us no longer even aspire.
It is a relatively small band of greedy, mean-spirited, super-rich old white men like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and a few hundred other millionaires and billionaires who have taken over our country. They pump huge, unaccountable sums of money into PACs and nonprofits that supposedly support good works, but are little more than fronts for their political activities. Where is the IRS on this scam?
While all of this is plenty disturbing, there is some good news on amending Citizens United that the corporate media appears to be ignoring, but I am happy to share. There is great grassroots and individual work being done on this issue in communities across the country that continues to go unreported, unless you catch Bill Moyers on Sunday evening on PBS, or are on every Progressive organization's e-mail list, like I am. Here, then, are some of the amazing, ongoing achievements of the movement to amend Citizens United:
- Over 500 towns and municipalities now support amending Citizens United.
- Over 400 activist organizations have banded together to from a coalition to pass an amendment.
- Fifteen states and the District of Columbia now have resolutions to amend Citizens United.
- 125 members of Congress support a resolution to amend.
- There are 11 bills currently in Congress in support of such a measure or some other alternative form of campaign finance reform, and 23 additional states currently have similar initiatives now in progress.
This movement is reaching across the country in a bi-partisan way that has huge support and is resonating loud and clear with the American people.
The Amendment Gazette is a wonderful, independent source of information on all of the amending actions across the country. The managing editor is Paul Westlake, a new father of four-month old Maddie, who is compelled to work on this project for his daughter and her future. He is just one of the countless extraordinary Americans we never get to meet who do incredible things every day for our country. All of us have the capacity to be agents of real change, too, if we just put our minds and hearts to it.
There is great self-empowerment that comes from working on a worthy cause, and to get involved on a personal level is to be forever changed and enriched. Such is certainly the case with working in the movement to pass an amendment on Citizen United. There is also great satisfaction in bringing an issue to your legislator and pressing them to get involved. Such grassroots activism shines a spotlight on the need to overhaul our political system by removing the money that buys loyalty, and replacing it with the active voice of the People that commands our public servants to do just that -- serve the People. After all, isn't that what democracy is really all about?
The goal of all of these dedicated Americans is to make overturning Citizens United the 28th Amendment to our Constitution. For more up to date information on this growing movement, please also check out Move To Amend and Public Citizen's Democracy is For People.
- with Jonathan Stone