February 11, 2011

We all live in a Mafia neighborhood now

Sam Smith

Opponents of the Supreme Court case that unleashed corporate funding of campaigns have largely concentrated on its effects upon elections. But it is becoming ever more clear that the Citizens United decision is corrupting the daily work of legislators every day at every level in American politics and can fairly be described as one of the worst criminal acts in our history. We all live in a Mafia neighborhood now.

To declare that a corporation has the rights of a human person is to create a form of segregation and discrimination based not on ethnicity but on wealth. More than a little of the mounting madness of American politics can be traced to politicians no longer caring what their voters think, but only about the views of a tiny, rich minority that controls their chances of holding office.

Take Maine, the state in which I live and one that has had a reputation for decency and forthrightness, especially in environmental matters. But backed by out-of-state corporate funding, the new rightwing governor, Paul LePage (who won with only 39% of the vote thanks to a Democratic-independent split of the rest) is proposing a series of fake reforms that are totally out of keeping with the traditions of the state.

What is both fascinating and scary about these measures is that not even your average Maine conservative was demanding them. So why push them?

Colin Woodard in the Portland Phoenix gives the answer:

|||| The governor has continued to insist that "most of the proposals" he developed came "directly from business owners and managers who have attended the Red Tape Workshops," but the wish list itself tells a different story: it literally has the marks of corporate lobbyists all over it.

The official copy of the wish list LePage submitted to the legislature has lobbying powerhouse Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios's distinctive eight-digit document tracking numbers stamped on each page, suggesting it originated not in Augusta, but at the law firm's offices at Portland's One City Center.

"For God's sake, if you're going to stab Mother Nature in the back, at least wipe your prints off before you drop the knife," said Representative Bob Duchesne of Hudson, the ranking Democrat on both the environment committee and the new regulatory-reform committee. . . "I think this shows the lobbyists created the list and gave it back to the governor."||||

Woodard notes:

|||| Lobbying disclosures on file with the state Ethics Commission show both PHRMA and Merck paid [lobbyist] Robinson to defeat the Kid-Safe Products Act, a 2008 law that phased out toxic chemicals in toys, car seats, baby clothes, and other children's products. The American Petroleum Institute and drug maker Astrazeneca paid [lobbyist] Aho to do the same. The governor's wish list calls for "revisions to prohibitions of chemicals and materials in products" saying that "if the state is going to regulate consumer products at all, it should only do so when clearly justified on risk-benefit or cost benefit basis.". . .

Another of [lobbyist] Robinson's clients, the Toy Industry Association of America, was among the out-of-state interests that tried to stop the Bureau of Environmental Protection from banning the use of Bisphenol-A in baby bottles, sippy cups, and other food containers last year. BPA has also been banned in the European Union, Canada, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Chicago; Wal-Mart and other major retailers have stopped selling baby products containing the substance. LePage's wish list seeks to "Repeal BPA rule and rely on federal EPA and FDA standards," which permit the substance.||||

Was this the result of a grassroots rebellion against safe sippy cups?

Said Amanda Sears, associate director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center: "Not a single Maine business testified in opposition to the regulations on BPA. The opposition to these proposals from these corporate lobbying firms is entirely about national precedent setting."

Adds Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine: "I think you can safely say that there is unprecedented access for big out-of-state companies to influence legislative proposals in the state of Maine. . . Repealing these laws will not create a single job in Maine. There isn't a single Maine businessperson who says, 'you know, the reason I can't grow my business is that law that gets brominated fire retardants out of mattresses or BPA out of babies' bottles.' It's ludicrous."

Yes, ludicrous, but tragically real. And if this is the sort of thing that can happen in one of the nation's cleaner states, think of what goes on now in Illinois, California or Texas.

It couldn't be happening at a worse time. With budget crises as the foil, politicians at every level are using the economy as an excuse to do exactly what the big bucks have been demanding all along: cut social welfare, community services, attack labor unions, do away with health and environmental reforms and so forth.

Leading the con is our own president, Barack Obama. Billions for banks but a drastically failing foreclosure rescue program. High speed rail for the upper classes but a massive cut in heating fuel assistance for the poor. And so on into the ever darkening and ever colder night.

And at the heart of it all: the Supreme Court's decision to let corporations pretend that they are human persons, one of the most destructive lies ever concocted in American politics. If corporations were really persons, the ones now daily bribing our politicians would be in jail instead of in power.

There are things we can do about it, such as a grassroots rebellion including amending the Constitution to end corporate personhood. But in the meanwhile, don't let the politicians and the media fool you. It's not really about politics anymore. Your vote is now worth a fraction of what it once was. It's about bribery, the most successful form of bipartisanship in America today.

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