But first . . .

Yesterday I suggested that our country had actually made a lot of progress – albeit not as much as many of us would have liked – and promised to elaborate today.

For all our enormous challenges, there is a lot to be encouraged about and a lot to be proud of:

1. America’s standing in the world has been restored. Most of the world now once again respects our leadership, is now once again rooting for us.

That takes only a few words to say, but is a huge change to believe in.

2. Our stewardship of the environment – and thus the future habitability of our planet – has taken a sharp turn for the better. As noted here a few days ago, the Natural Resources Defense Council begins its just-released 6-page report card: ‘The Administration has done more in its first few months to protect our air, water and communities than we’ve seen in the last decade.

3. An educational ‘race to the top’ has begun. ‘Stunning,’ writes the tough-minded Democrats for Education Reform. ‘We don’t know how else to put it. . . . . What is stunning is the tremendous wave of edu-political reform which has been unleashed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Obama administration in such a short time. The president was swept into office by a strong demand for change. But who would have guessed that in less than one year we would be looking at such significant coast-to-coast policy changes at the state level.’

4. Our Energy Secretary is a Nobel Prize winning physicist who is seeding innovation at an unprecedented pace. President Bush’s first choice for this post had, as a Senator, co-sponsored a bill to abolish the Department of Energy.

5. We are on the brink of historic health insurance reform that, as argued in The New Yorker‘s lead piece I linked to recently, is much better than most of us realize: Jonathan Cohn, the New Republics health-care correspondent, calls the bill ‘the most ambitious piece of domestic legislation in a generation-a bill that will extend insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans, strengthen insurance for many more, and start refashioning American medicine so that it is more efficient.’ Paul Krugman calls it ‘a great achievement.’ Princeton’s Paul Starr, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history ‘The Social Transformation of American Medicine,’ calls it ‘the single biggest measure on behalf of low-income Americans in more than forty years.’

All acknowledge it’s not even close to ideal – largely because the other side would never dream of allowing the sort of single-payer system (with uniquely American overlays) that so many experts agree would give us the most bang for the buck.

And maybe now the Republicans will keep it from happening at all, as they have tried to thwart so much other progressive legislation, decade after decade . . . from Social Security to Medicare to the minimum wage . . . from health coverage for kids to closing the gun show loophole to extending hate crimes protections to gay victims . . . from tobacco regulation to the Family and Medical Leave Act to the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. And on and on.

But I still think we’ll get health care done, and that, once the public sees what it is, it will get higher marks. And that once the progress has begun, the Obama team will build on it through enlightened administration and additional legislation.

6. And there’s so much more – from lifting the ‘global gag order’ and passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act . . . to restoring science to its rightful place and accelerating the stem cell research rather than impeding it (that change alone could one day save your life or free your child from paralysis or spare your parent from Parkinson’s) . . . to a long list of steps toward LGBT equality . . . to reforming predatory credit card practices . . . to giving the FDA authority to regulate the tobacco industry . . . to appointing a progressive Supreme Court Justice . . . to averting a Depression. (Surely that last is worth a mention. Clinton handed Bush ‘surpluses as far as they eye could see.’ Bush handed Obama a cataclysm.)

With so much NOT yet done, and progress so maddeningly difficult, it’s easy to take a lot of this for granted or focus exclusively on the negative. But I would urge you not to. On the matter of the Court alone, it’s easy to forget that, had so many of you not dug so deep and worked so hard in 2008 to elect this team, we would have been sunk for a generation. John McCain made his intentions clear, and they left zero wiggle room:

I’ve said a thousand times on this campaign trail,’ Senator McCain told one audience, ‘that I want to find clones of Alito and Roberts. I worked as hard as anybody to get them confirmed. I look you in the eye and tell you I’ve said a thousand times that I wanted Alito and Roberts. I flat-out tell you I will have people as close to Roberts and Alito [as possible].’

Justice Stevens, who turns 90 this April, might well have been replaced by a 50-year-old hard-right Republican; not to mention the one or two other progressive votes President McCain might have had the opportunity to flip.

Many of you kept that from happening. You elected a leader of world-class talent, vision, commitment, judgment and temperament – whose popularity remains high for good reason. Now – in a terribly difficult environment – he needs our continued help making the most possible progress toward the goals most of us share.*

*In case you want to pitch in, and so long as you’re a U.S. citizen (and not a Federal lobbyist), click here. Through the magic of modern technology, I’ll see within minutes that you’ve helped and rush to say thanks.

AND SPEAKING OF THE SUPREME COURT

Here is one take on the Court’s 5-4 decision yesterday:

Manchurian Candidates:
Supreme Court allows China and others unlimited spending in US elections

By Greg Palast | Updated from the original report for AlterNet
Thursday, January 21, 2010

In today’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled that corporations should be treated the same as “natural persons”, i.e. humans. Well, in that case, expect the Supreme Court to next rule that Wal-Mart can run for President.

The ruling, which junks federal laws that now bar corporations from stuffing campaign coffers, will not, as progressives fear, cause an avalanche of corporate cash into politics. Sadly, that’s already happened: we have been snowed under by tens of millions of dollars given through corporate PACs and “bundling” of individual contributions from corporate pay-rollers.

The Court’s decision is far, far more dangerous to U.S. democracy. Think: Manchurian candidates.

I’m losing sleep over the millions – or billions – of dollars that could flood into our elections from ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil corporation’s U.S. unit; or from the maker of “New Order” fashions, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Or from Bin Laden Construction corporation. Or Bin Laden Destruction Corporation.

Right now, corporations can give loads of loot through PACs. While this money stinks (Barack Obama took none of it), anyone can go through a PAC’s federal disclosure filing and see the name of every individual who put money into it. And every contributor must be a citizen of the USA.

But under today’s Supreme Court ruling that corporations can support candidates without limit, there is nothing that stops, say, a Delaware-incorporated handmaiden of the Burmese junta from picking a Congressman or two with a cache of loot masked by a corporate alias.

Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.

Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. Under the Court’s new rules, progressive list serves won’t stand a chance against the resources of new “citizens” such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats. As would XYZ Corporation, whose owners remain hidden by “street names.”

George Bush’s former Solicitor General Ted Olson argued the case to the court on behalf of Citizens United, a corporate front that funded an attack on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary. Olson’s wife died on September 11, 2001 on the hijacked airliner that hit the Pentagon. Maybe it was a bit crude of me, but I contacted Olson’s office to ask how much “Al Qaeda, Inc.” should be allowed to donate to support the election of his local congressman.

Olson has not responded.

The danger of foreign loot loading into U.S. campaigns, not much noted in the media chat about the Citizens case, was the first concern raised by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who asked about opening the door to “mega-corporations” owned by foreign governments. Olson offered Ginsburg a fudge, that Congress might be able to prohibit foreign corporations from making donations, though Olson made clear he thought any such restriction a bad idea.

Tara Malloy, attorney with the Campaign Legal Center of Washington D.C. says corporations will now have more rights than people. Only United States citizens may donate or influence campaigns, but a foreign government can, veiled behind a corporate treasury, dump money into ballot battles.

Malloy also noted that under the law today, human-people, as opposed to corporate-people, may only give $2,300 to a presidential campaign. But hedge fund billionaires, for example, who typically operate through dozens of corporate vessels, may now give unlimited sums through each of these “unnatural” creatures.

And once the Taliban incorporates in Delaware, they could ante up for the best democracy money can buy.

In July, the Chinese government, in preparation for President Obama’s visit, held diplomatic discussions in which they skirted issues of human rights and Tibet. Notably, the Chinese, who hold a $2 trillion mortgage on our Treasury, raised concerns about the cost of Obama’s health care reform bill. Would our nervous Chinese landlords have an interest in buying the White House for an opponent of government spending such as Gov. Palin? Ya betcha!

The potential for foreign infiltration of what remains of our democracy is an adjunct of the fact that the source and control money from corporate treasuries (unlike registered PACs), is necessarily hidden. Who the heck are the real stockholders? Or as Butch asked Sundance, “Who are these guys?”
We’ll never know.

Hidden money funding, whether foreign or domestic, is the new venom that the Court has injected into the system by its expansive decision in Citizens United.

We’ve been there. The 1994 election brought Newt Gingrich to power in a GOP takeover of the Congress funded by a very strange source.

Congressional investigators found that in crucial swing races, Democrats had fallen victim to a flood of last-minute attack ads funded by a group called, “Coalition for Our Children’s Future.” The $25 million that paid for those ads came, not from concerned parents, but from a corporation called “Triad Inc.”

Evidence suggests Triad Inc. was the front for the ultra-right-wing billionaire Koch Brothers and their private petroleum company, Koch Industries. Had the corporate connection been proven, the Kochs and their corporation could have faced indictment under federal election law. As of today, such money-poisoned politicking has become legit.

So it’s not just un-Americans we need to fear but the Polluter-Americans, Pharma-mericans, Bank-Americans and Hedge-Americans that could manipulate campaigns while hidden behind corporate veils. And if so, our future elections, while nominally a contest between Republicans and Democrats, may in fact come down to a three-way battle between China, Saudi Arabia and Goldman Sachs.

*********

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” Palast investigated Triad Inc. for The Guardian (UK). View Palast’s reports for BBC TV and Democracy Now! at gregpalast.com.

☞ And here is a more mainstream take on the decision – namely, a statement by the President:

‘With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington – while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.’

THE CASE OF ‘PERFECT V. GOOD’

I would not be my annoying self if I did not blame my friend Ralph Nader for all this. Had he not insisted on perfection (himself) – had he been willing to accept compromise as is so often required in the real world, settling for the merely good (Gore)* – the country would have been better off in so many ways I must physically restrain myself to keep from listing them all, and limit myself to just this one: instead of Roberts and Alito we would have had moderate, progressive Justices, and virtually all the 5-4 cases against us, like the one above, would be 6-3 cases in the other direction.

So let’s not Nader ourselves again, allowing our frustration over the need to get 60 votes for much of what we want to lead us to give up or drop out or demoralize each other. The way to help make things better IS to help. Sign up as an OFA volunteer, and/or pitch in to my little footnote above, and/or simply spread the word: the glass is half full. We need to keep filling it.

*I think Gore is way, way more than merely ‘good,’ but I’m trying to channel Nader’s mindset here, or the mindset of the 97,488 Florida voters who apparently thought Nader was better.

MORE TALL POLITICS . . .

I recognize a lot of you are coming from an entire different place. I think it’s terrific that you take the time, nonetheless, to consider an alternate point of view. Thanks for the continued feedback, some of which I hope to post next week.

 

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