Monday, August 24, 2015

Legal Fictions

In law school I was taught about the theory of legal fictions.  For example, in business law and corporations I learned that, although it was fiction, corporations are treated in many respects like persons.  Unfortunately, our United States Supreme Court--supported by the rich and powerful--has created one step beyond the legal fiction.  Our Supreme Court has decided that money is speech and corporations are people. 

In examining what these legal fictions have brought us, the first and foremost detriment to our democratic way of life is the Citizens United decision which allows corporations and the wealthy to spend unlimited billions of dollars without voters even knowing the source of the funds.  

The thought that money cannot buy elections is truly naive.  If we, the citizens of this country, continue to tolerate what has happened without reacting with a constitutional amendment to set it right, we will deserve losing the freedom we have.  The average American is on the way to losing the power of his or her one vote.  The amount of money currently being spent on political activities is obscene.

 Interest groups have put together billions of dollars in so called super PACS which are basically unpoliced.  We are being told that even though super PACS amass untold wealth they cannot cooperate directly with the candidates and coordinate activity.  What a joke.  A great case in point is what is currently happening with our former governor, Rick Perry.

Perry’s old buddies did a great job of putting together $17 million in a PAC--or super PAC, as you may dub it.  It seems now that our ex-governor has run out of personal money, particularly since he can no longer travel around the country honing his conservative credentials at the expense of Texas taxpayers.  Now, he says he will continue to fight and is relying on his super PAC to allow him to continue his quest for president.  If you truly believe Rick Perry never speaks to the folks who put together the money concerning his future needs in order to stay viable as a presidential candidates, there are a couple of bridges around Jefferson County that I would like to sell you.  

Just as an example, one of the prime movers in fundraising for Perry’s super PAC is a former employee of Perry's with whom he co-owns property.  Do you really believe they do not share concerns about Perry’s future problems staying in the presidential race? (According to the Houston Chronicle, most came from about three large donors.) 

It seems, too, these 501 corporations--i.e., super PACS--are almost wholly without policing to see that they follow even the pitiful rules which currently exist concerning their activity.  Some folks at the IRS attempted to investigate whether or not the stated purposes of these organizations were in fact within the law, but these IRS investigators were attacked vigorously--particularly by conservatives claiming the IRS was being political and only doing so at the will of the current president.

The agency charged with the responsibility to monitor these organizations acknowledges little or no attempt at enforcement or investigation saying only they were overwhelmed and surprised by the number of such organizations created. 

The other consequence of the conservative attitude regarding corporations appears to be another legal fiction.  Corporations generally are business devices existing to insulate owners from having to take the full responsibility for the business activities engaged in via a corporate structure.  How then can or should a corporation be ruled to possess religious beliefs?  On the one hand, were a corporation to go bankrupt, business people would be appalled at the thought of requiring the owners of the stock--even were it to be only a single family--to pay the bills left by the bankruptcy.  However, our courts have ruled that the religious beliefs of the shareholders can be transferred to the corporation and the corporation can refuse to act in any way religiously offensive to the insulated owners of its stock.

While I certainly am a strong advocate for religious freedom, I have a hard time believing a corporation possesses religious beliefs.  They do not go to church.  They do not tithe.  They cannot be sent to prison for crimes committed in their name.  They do not have souls.

While a popular political statement contained in many political speeches today is, “Let’s take our nation back,” I believe the real way to take our nation back is by acting as stand-up citizens who rise up to do away with the ever-increasing power of money over our democratic system.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Donald Trump is Right (About SOME Things)

Strangely enough for many of you who read my columns, I believe Donald Trump is right on target on some things.  In fact there should be a place for Donald Trump in the national scheme of things.  Were I in charge, I would appoint Donald Trump as “Critic In Chief.”  He is correct in the long list he spouts at the drop of a hat about what’s wrong with America and our current political mess.

Listed below, not necessarily in order of importance, are the ten things Donald Trump has identified as major problems in the United States:

1. America is not dealing very well with the ISIS crisis.  While perhaps not a direct threat to America, ISIS' beheadings, and apparent success in luring Americans to their cause, at the very least is an embarrassment to the United States and does not help our image as the world power.

2. Immigration is clearly a problem in the United States.  Political inertia and partisanship has prohibited us from developing a rational and equitable system of immigration in our country.

3. Our infrastructure is suffering gross neglect from our national leadership.  The Congress, in its zeal to see how lean we can make our budget, is starving our infrastructure.  An alarming number of our bridges have been declared unsafe, and our highway system is not meeting the growing population or the growing need to maintain a modern-day economy.

4. Healthcare is a mess.  While the majority of doctors, and almost all Republicans, rail about Obamacare, none have stepped forward with constructive suggestions about how America can better deliver a health system to the majority of our citizens without remaining the number one cause of bankruptcy in America.

And Trump has hit the nail on the head and said what no politician will say out loud:  5. The obscene amount of money and the farce of believing super PACS, spending billions of dollars, do not overly influence the actions of our congressional leaders, governors or even local politicians.

6. Dealing with China, a problem too long ignored and continuing to grow.  Our debt to China continues to explode, and it seems no elected politician has a solution for demanding fair trade practices from this growing giant.

7. Treatment of our veterans is a national shame.  We rattle our sabers, want to boast of being the most powerful military presence in the world, and send our boys and girls to combat while too many of us feel we and our children are immune from having to face death on foreign fields.  Yet, we fail to really treat our veterans as heroes. 

8. National officeholders seem to be all over the place about how to deal with boosting America’s public education to lead the world in innovation, new ideas, technology and science. 

9. Neither party seems to have a really good idea on how to prevent Iran from developing and possessing a nuclear weapon thereby launching a nuclear contest for power.  It seems many of our congressional leaders would rather kowtow to the leader of another nation than to work with our president for some reasonable solution to the problem.

10. How to dramatically improve our economy, replace our high-paying manufacturing jobs, obtain a decent wage for American workers and encourage spectacular growth of our middle class are yet other issues of concern.

Perhaps this nation would be better off simply by all of us, whatever faith and whatever God we worship, concentrating our prayers on our nation finding solutions beneficial to all to the above-listed problems--because I doubt seriously Trump or anyone else will provide us with the relief we need.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wealth Disparity

In some circles there appears to be a growing concern about the increasing wealth disparity in America.  As early Americans discovered, free enterprise is a great system--but it has its limitations and dangers.  

Among other interesting stories contained in the early history of great American fortunes was the revelation that when Southern Pacific Railway was created with $1 million capital not one penny was spent for rails, cross-ties or spikes.  The entire million was spent bribing Congress to give huge land grants to the investors in the SP.  

There were numerous great fortunes made by the early robber-barons who became America’s first multimillionaires.  America soon learned limits should be placed on unfettered free enterprise.  The U.S. government leaders soon realized that some restraints--such as laws against monopolies--should be put in place in order to keep free enterprise on an even keel.  Early in Texas, lawyers, in order to stop the unbridled power of railroads, not only created a Railroad Commission for regulation but also put limits on the amount of money railroads and other corporate giants could spend for the purpose of buying elections.

Several recent events are contributing to the widening gap between the rich and poor in America.  Keeping that gap to reasonable limits in part, or perhaps largely, is what has made the United States a self-government beacon to the world.  Without the widening gap, all citizens believe they have a real stake in ownership of the nation.  The great Communist Karl Marx’ position, as espoused in his book Das Kapital, predicted that eventually the rich would grow richer and the poor would grow poorer until the vast majority of wealth would be concentrated in the hands of a few.  A huge gap in wealth would cause a revolt by the poor.  Unfortunately, the U.S. in the past decade has been trending in that direction.

Unfortunately, decisions of our Supreme Court--such as Citizens United, which allows corporations and labor unions to engage in unfettered spending to influence elections--has made matters worse.  Donald Trump, who gets in trouble for telling his true feelings occasionally, said it best in a recent debate.  Trump stated that he likes to give away lots of money to politicians because it fixes things where they will bend to his will.  Imagine where we are going when our new system allows billionaires to donate hoards of wealth in the billion of dollars to affect the outcome of our free elections.

If you are a person with less than one million dollars in the bank, do you have as much say in government as a billionaire?  Recently, a friend of mine put forth a plan which would narrow the gap.  His plan would cure the problem of run-away pay for managers of large corporations and the continued stagnation of worker pay.  He called his idea the “shareholder fairness bill.”  His idea was to pass a law in the United States requiring the CEOs of corporations to earn no more than ten times the amount of their lowest paid worker.  This certainly would create a pot of money more available for dividends for those who invest their money in the corporations, as well as tending to have CEOs more concerned about the level of their low-paid workers.  Currently, the average gap between worker and CEO is 300 to the CEO's favor!

Having a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United would also be in the interest of small investors in large corporations.  Currently, if I own stock in a major corporation, the managers of that corporation can take money which is partially mine from the profits of the corporation and donate it to politicians who do not vote in my interest.  Also, corporate political gifts may not be in the interest of working people who invest their labor and their money in the corporation.  

The same principle has been applied to unions for years prior to the Citizens United ruling.  Unions were prohibited from donating dues money for political purposes because it was money donated by their members, and the choices of the union leader might not square with the choices of dues paying members of the union. 

While I disagree with the U. S. Supreme Court about corporations being people, I do agree with them that today, in politics, “money counts.”

While the free enterprise based economy is the best yet devised, we should take care to put safeguards in place which will assure us that the Communist predictions of Karl Marx will not come true in our nation.