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If President Biden’s Build Back Better plan goes down in flames, you can blame the US Supreme Court. Their Citizens United decision, in fact, is destroying both American politics and the planet.
Case in point: Oil industry executives testified before Congress this week, suffering a barrage of questions, including particularly intense ones from Reps. Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Katie Porter.
The CEOs exhibited the same sort of arrogant insolence Mark Zuckerberg displayed in July of last year when he was hauled before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. It was, basically, a smug, “Screw you, Congressperson.”
Why were the representatives of Big Oil and Big Tech unafraid of the power of Congress?
Because, at the end of the day, they own that power. The Supreme Court gave it to them with their poisonous Citizens United decision.
It turns out that Big Oil has spent, just over the past decade, over $450 million lobbying the federal government. We used to call this political corruption or even bribery until the Court ruled in Citizens United that money in politics isn’t money: it’s “free speech.”
And, the Court added, corporations aren’t corporations: they’re persons, complete with a First Amendment right to free speech.
Representative Khanna repeatedly asked the CEOs of Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, and BP America if they’d stop funding advertising and PR efforts that are filled with outright lies about climate change. Pretty much every time he asked, he was met with a “screw you” silence.
These CEOs effectively own multiple members of Congress, as the world could see when it was the turn of the meek and obeisant Republican members to ask questions that mostly amounted to, “May I fluff the pillow you’re sitting on, sir?”
And it’s not just Big Oil. Every industry in America laughs at Congress.
Our elected representatives are there, in the minds of corporate America, to hand out subsidies and tax breaks, but if they take the smallest step toward protecting the American people from giant corporations or predatory billionaires they’re simply brushed aside like troublesome lint.
The majority of Americans don’t want Medicare privatized: but we’re more than 40% of the way there through Bush’s “Medicare Advantage” scam.
The majority of Americans don’t want our Post Office gutted: Congress sucked tens of billions out of its budget in 2006 after the PO said they were going to electrify their fleet of cars (the largest in America) and DeJoy is using that as an excuse to cut service and raise prices.
The majority of Americans would like debt-free college like every other developed country in the world: the $1.5 trillion student loan industry just makes a few phone calls and the effort dies.
The majority of Americans want a national healthcare system that actually works at little cost to citizens: the health insurance industry hands Joe Lieberman over a million dollars and he kills the public option so we’re left with an entirely corporatized Obamacare with $5000 annual deductibles.
The majority of Americans want something done about high drug prices: Big Pharma calls up Kurt Schrader, Scott Peters, Kathleen Rice, Kyrsten Sinema and a few other wholly owned members of Congress and that’s the end of that.
The majority of Americans want their banks to stop hitting them with absurd fees for the smallest errors and would like some occasional customer service: Big Banking pulls a few strings and Senators are dancing like marionettes.
The majority of Americans want something done about climate change before our planet becomes uninhabitable: Big Coal and Gas light a fire under Joe Manchin and the entire GOP and that’s the end of that.
The majority of Americans would like open and transparent elections and for their democracy to work like in other countries, without barriers to voting or bought-off politicians: neofascist rightwing billionaires will have the final say on that and it’s not looking good.
The majority of Americans would like net neutrality and for corporations to stop spying on them: Big Tech just leans on the members of Congress they own and that effort comes to an abrupt halt.
The majority of Americans would like well-funded public schools that teach things like civics and critical thinking skills: the multi-billion-dollar Charter School industry gets last word.
The majority of Americans would like to be free of gun violence in our homes and streets: the gun industry gets final say here.
The majority of Americans would like good union jobs: the nation’s giant employers have paid off politicians to gut union protections.
The majority of Americans would like a food supply free of toxic chemicals that harm children and cause cancer: giant fast- and processed-food companies laugh at us while their buddies in the chemical industry hold their beer.
Hell, the President of the United States would like all these things and a few more. He will almost certainly not get them because the Supreme Court gave corporations and rightwing billionaires final say over every single piece of legislation that goes through Congress.
We’re ripped off left and right, from airline tickets to cell phone service to cable TV and the internet: citizens of Europe, South Korea and Japan pay, on average, about half of what we do because they all enforce competition and don’t allow monopolies.
Here, every industry is now dominated by 3-5 major corporations that function as a monopoly or oligopoly, which is why the average American family pays around $5000 a year more for everything as I documented in The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream.
The US Supreme Court brought us all of this with the vile Citizens United decision and its progenitors, Boston v Bellotti, Buckley v Valeo, and Santa Clara County.
Thus, we now face a real crisis.
The Court gave control of Congress over to billionaires and their companies, and only Congress can overrule the Court (Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution). But how does Congress do that when none of the corporations or billionaires who now own Congress want it to happen?
There is only one force that can make this happen now: citizen outrage.
People are genuinely disgusted by this corruption, and they’re voting with it in mind.
Even Donald Trump was elected on a promise to “drain the swamp” of big money corruption in DC. He claimed that he knew how the game was played because he played it himself, buying off politicians whenever necessary.
During the August 2015 GOP primary debate, he called out all the other Republicans on the stage, saying: “I gave [money] to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.”
In September he ran that line again at the next primary debate, saying: “The donors, the special interests, the lobbyists have very strong power over these people,” as he waved at the other Republicans on stage. “I am not accepting any money from anybody. Nobody has control of me other than the people of this country.”
Sadly, enough Americans believed that professional grifter to get him into the White House (with a little help from Russian oligarchs), but the principle remains: even Republican voters are disgusted by this crisis of corruption the Supreme Court has foisted upon us.
More than a decade ago I did a fundraiser for the Congressional Progressive Caucus with its then-chair, Rep. Raúl Grijalva. It was a small affair with a half-dozen politicians and around 100 activists.
Because of citizen outrage with how corrupt and bought-off our politics have become since the Supreme Court rewrote the rules of politics, today almost 100 members of Congress have been elected on “no corporate PAC money” pledges and become members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Today we’re watching an epic battle to rebuild America being fought valiantly by progressives like Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Mark Pocan, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They may lose this one battle, but the path they’re on is steadily upward.
This is the only way we can now claw back our democratic republic from the corrupt billionaires and corporations.
We have to get money out of politics and the only way to do that is to get more people in office who are not addicted to or corrupted by money.
There’s an election coming up in a year, and primaries will be conducted in the months ahead. We must do everything we can to identify, elect and support politicians who openly and sincerely pledge never to sell their souls to the devil of Big Money.