September 11, 2010

One Way It’s Been Done Before


We face the tyrannical attack of organized crime having hijacked the government, which now allows the syndicates and gangs to rampage and loot across the land. The worst examples among corporatized government power assaults are the health racket bailout and the looming food tyranny bill. These are two affirmatively aggressive policies. There’s also the passively aggressive intent to allow net neutrality and the vision of democratic broadband access to be destroyed, thus dooming the Internet as a space for economic innovation and as the last consistently democratic space in this corporate enclosure zone we call a “country”. The assault on civil liberties is a hybrid of the active and passive. All of this takes place under the blackened skies of the bank tyranny and the Permanent War.
“If taxes are laid on us in any shape without our having a legal representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary slaves?”
That’s Samuel Adams in Boston’s 1764 official Instructions to the Representatives to the Massachusetts Legislature, as the attempted British power grab was gathering force. The basic argument and tactic was the same throughout: Parliament could not represent the colonists, and therefore had no constitutional authority over them, and therefore they must refuse to cooperate even the slightest bit, lest this concede the principle.
Today the matter is clouded because “our” legislature isn’t geographically removed over the ocean, and we have modern communications. So it might seem that we don’t have as strong an argument of lack of representation and sovereignty. And yet the fact is every bit at true as in 1764. This government, having been corrupted by the purchase of stateless, alien interests, including the corporations which are literally unnatural and therefore monsters which can have no legitimate role in the human experience, has been abstracted from us every bit as surely as if it had been removed to another planet and was cut off from all communication. As Citizens United symbolically cinched, we the people are not represented*, and therefore cannot legitimately be taxed or subjected in any other way.
[*Nor does “representative” pseudo-democracy itself any longer have any legitimacy, having been empirically proven not to work. But that’s a matter for later posts. For today it’s sufficient to say this set-up can’t tax the citizens. The criminals and parasites, on the other hand, would be a different story.]
We must be clear that the health racket bailout is a severe tax. The government itself says so. It’s an arduous poll tax to be imposed on the citizen as the penalty for his very existence. This tax is intended to pay for no public service whatsoever. It’s intended to bring zero benefits to the victim. Instead, its practice and intent is to extort huge payments for a worthless piece of paper, which we can metaphorically call a Stamp. This protection money is earmarked for the personal luxury of insurance racket gangsters and the politicians they bought in order to have this hideous crime enacted in the first place. In every way this is our Stamp Act.
Speaking more broadly, the Stamp Act is everywhere a rent is extracted or police state “papers” are demanded. The health racket bailout is the poster child of it, but it all ramifies from the big banks, whose goal is to force each and every economic transaction down to the most miniscule through their toll booths. That’s why they cherish the goal of abolishing cash, and are working assiduously toward it.
So we have the broad stamp ideology and assault, as well as the proximate Stamp Act, which is the health racket bailout and perhaps the food tyranny bill. Whether it’s best to just reserve the term for the insurance mandate, I’m not sure. For a general audience, probably yes.
What can be done? How was it done the first time around?
In 1765 the proposed Stamp Act galvanized long-festering colonial resentment and grievance into systematic resistance. In Grenville’s plan to spread the burden of taxation as widely as possible he only succeeded in rendering resistance coherent among diverse interests who had previously often been at odds. Amid the spring agitation the patriots took the name “Sons of Liberty” from a fiery Isaac Barre speech in Parliament which was widely reprinted in the colonies. Over the next few months the agitators organized under this name. In June James Otis called for an intercolony Stamp Act Congress to convene in October, one month prior to the Act’s taking force, to coordinate message and resistance action. They agreed upon a broad campaign of passive resistance. They agreed to refuse to import British manufactures. They called this “Non-Importation”. Samuel Adams opined that no amount of British might could force the colonists to use the stamps or to buy British goods, and that the British wouldn’t try. (He also called for building an indigenous manufacturing economy to permanently replace the imports, but this didn’t get much response.)
The Bostonians frequently rallied under a big elm they christened the Liberty Tree, and the park under and around it they called Liberty Hall. All over the colonies activists named their own Liberty Trees. On August 14 they hanged an effigy of putative stampmaster Andrew Oliver, who was persuaded to pre-emptively resign that post. Other aspiring thugs were similarly persuaded throughout the colonies until by the time the Act took force there was no one to enforce it. Stamps were delivered but warehoused. Publication and business continued as before, stampless, in open flouting of the law. After a period of hesitation the courts reopened, without using stamps. That the colonial courts of law would now function in an openly (but just technically) illegal manner was an eloquent symbol of the Act’s own illegitimacy.
The British were powerless to enforce what had become a quixotic symbolic assertion even before it went into action. They had to capitulate, and the Act was repealed in March 1766. But the simultaneously passed Declaratory Act, while widely derided in the colonies as a pathetic face-saving squeak, portended further trouble. Within a few years the British would try again with the Townsend duties and suffer the same defeat.
Then, in a misguided attempt to succor a financially troubled corporation (sound familiar?), the British East India Company, the UK agreed to a tea-dumping monopoly scheme. They thought they could bail out a rich interest while finally getting their long-sought precedent, that the colonists had to pay duties on British demand.
Samuel Adams had already convinced Boston to take the lead in organizing Committees of Correspondence with neighboring towns at a vote on November 2, 1772. (He first had this idea back in 1764.) The idea was first to coordinate proclamations of principle and political messaging, to present a united front, and eventually to coordinate strategy and tactics. Although Adams’ fellow Bostonians were dubious at first (what if they got a poor response? it would be a big PR setback), the response was emphatic beyond even his expectations. Many towns demanded stronger language than even Boston had proposed.
The Committee idea spread through the colonies. In March 1773 the Virginia Legislature publicly read and approved the Boston resolution. The rebellious ideal became general. From here the fuse was lit, and it was only a matter of time.
The colonials had many advantages. They had a basically homogeneous and socially compact population; their legislature was their own (vs. the alien overseas Parliament); the interests of freedom and their commerce were clearly concurrent.
Today we have a fragmented and atomized populace. And while it remains equally true that our freedom and our economic prosperity are complements, it’s far more difficult to make that clear amid the propaganda smoke machines spewing lies about “growth”, the “free market”, “capitalism”, “libertarianism”, and all the other slogans perverted from any real meaning to the criminal interest of the elites.
As I’ve mentioned before, we also lack a geographical center of economic and political gravity comparable to Boston in 1765 or 73 or Paris in 1789.
So what must we do? It seems right that we must propagate the right ideas. It seems simple enough:
1. Understand and declare our principles.
2. Identify the enemy and analyze his attack.
3. Settle on the strategy and tactics of defense and counterattack.
4. Do it.
If anyone criticizes: “Who are you to speak for the people?”, the answer is, who else is going to? Who are we waiting for? Paul Volcker? Alan Grayson? Elizabeth Warren?
I think, whatever we are, we’re it. That means we in the blogosphere. So maybe that means we must coordinate and systematize our agitation. We’re still just “writing”, as some scoff, but trying to break out to a broader audience.
That’s the big question – how do we expand our activity beyond the Internet democracy? How do we get the truth to the masses? How do we break out of the blogosphere and either force ourselves on the MSM or find an alternative megaphone? This question is especially critical given the precarious fingerhold of net neutrality. As Samuel Adams wrote under the name “Populus”, one of his many pseudonyms:
“There is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a FREE PRESS.”
Since the corporate media has abdicated, gone to treason, and become just a vile pack of abettors, here too the full responsibility is upon the citizen journalists of the blogosphere. We’re the torch bearers of truth, and we must find a way to bring this fire to illuminate the darkness the criminals have cast upon us all.
In the light, all will become clear, and we’ll find the path to our redemption.

April 8, 2010

Constitution and the Process


Today we’re mired in the process mentality. It has brought us disasters like the health racketeering bill and a widespread willingness to accept the rogue “supreme” court’s Citizens United decision. Those who are actuated by principles of justice and the love of freedom have always insisted that core principles must guide all politics and judge all policy. The process ideology denies this, sometimes in principle, always in practice. Instead it will toss around the empty names of ideals while accepting any result no matter how offensive to the essence of the real ideals, as long as it can go through the motions of a spurious formality, the established “process”. If this is done by the book, then the book is judged only by whatever exalted word is scrawled on the cover, no matter how pornographic the contents inside.
So there’s an abyss between principled activism and fraudulent process-mongering.
This divide is not new, however. It goes back to the dawn of this country. In the struggle over the great question of constitution itself, the first time this rift opened up it gaped wide enough that it could bring forth a revolution.
As America entered the 1760s, as Britain began its attempt to impose a far more ponderous control over the lives of the colonies than it ever had hitherto, the question, What is the constitution?, loomed large.
The conventional view was that the constitution was co-extensive with existing institutions and mechanisms. In particular, the constitution was the body and action of Parliament itself. Principles like the right to life and liberty were considered part of this, but to exist in reality only insofar as they were embodied in institutional action. So in a sense, “liberty” was whatever the law said it was.
The loyalist Charles Inglis gave one of the best statements of this concept:

What is the constitution, that word so often used – so little understood – so much perverted? It is, as I conceive – that assemblage of laws, customs, and institutions which form the general system according to which the several powers of the state are distributed and their respective rights are secured to the different members of the community.

What did he mean by “perverted”? Although this viewpoint was the consensus in 1760, Inglis actually wrote that in 1776, in reply to Paine’s Common Sense, which was a fervent expression of the opposite concept: that the constitution was not the procedures which in theory animated the principles, but the principles in themselves. The procedures, including the very sovereignty of Britain over the colonies, were to be judged valid or invalid according to whether or not they enlivened the principles and enhanced their reality.
This idea was an outlier at first. Even aggressive patriots like James Otis tried at first to reconcile greater colonial independence with established constitutional ideas. But as the controversy intensified the evolution of thought accelerated, and the concept of constitution as fixed principle spread along with the other great political innovations of the day.
In 1768 Sam Adams wrote, “the constitution is fixed; it is from thence that the supreme legislative as well as the supreme executive derives its authority.” That same year William Hicks denied that statutes were part of the constitution as opposed to tools of it. The next year John Zubly made the strongest assertion yet, that Parliament “derives its authority and power from the constitution, and not the constitution from Parliament.” This was the most forceful direct contradiction of what had been gospel just a few years before (and of course still was to the British). “The constitution is permanent and the same”, while Parliament and its processes are just executors.
From then onward the schism became clear. It was the constitutionalism of fundamental principle vs. the constitutionalism of institutions and processes. The innovation was to separate principles and exalt them as the transcendent boundaries of government action, of the “process”. This was the true constitution, while the mechanism, the process, was degraded to a tool of this constitution, only to operate within its bounds.
(On a deeper level, this struggle of principle vs. process is a manifestation of one’s view of morality and legality in themselves. Does morality exist, or is it simply coequal with what’s legal? Do you believe the law is to serve man, or man the law? The former means the law must serve the principles which make us human, while the latter degrades the definition of “human” to being a slave of the process.)
So what’s our thesis? Just as the first time round constitutionalism and the action which springs from it had to shift from the process mentality in the 1760s to the fixed constitution of principle in the 70s, so today again freedom activists have to reclaim our constitution from the mire of “process”.     
Today we’re in a situation where the process mentality has largely engulfed the space previously dedicated to constitutional and public interest action. I’ve written about this before and don’t need to reprise the basics here.
I do want to explore this one more case study, however, since where it comes to the Citizens United case even usually good activists like the ACLU and commentators like Glenn Greenwald were capable of taking a radically pro-corporate, anti-public, anti-constitutional stance. That’s how pernicious the process mentality is among those beholden to it.
Just like with health care, with the SCOTUS case the dividing line is corporatism vs. constitution and democracy. That’s the defining struggle of our time, all issues are defined in light of it, and all political positions are positioned according to it, whether people are aware of that or not.
That’s why looking at anything from any kind of “process” point of view, like so many supposedly rational commentators have with the corporate speech case, is always wrong, and will always put you on the wrong side of things. It’s because the process itself has already been hijacked.
Yet when it counted Greenwald, sometimes able to see this big picture, chose to exalt “process” over every other value in shilling for this nonexistent “right” of racket speech.
(He also went to great lengths to analyze the decorum of the process.)
Shortly after the decision Linda Greenhouse analyzed the contradictions which mix you up when you’re beholden to process instead of principle. Greenwald thought this decision was good constitutional process? But what about jurisprudential processes: activism vs. restraint, and being consistent in how a particular court operates? As Greenhouse highlights here, the Roberts court contradicts itself in both of these process ways. Doesn’t Greenwald care about those processes? (Greenhouse wasn’t actually directly replying to Greenwald in her analysis, but I couldn’t help reading it as such a reply.)
Those of us who focus on outcomes, and are guided by principles, and who respect the true underlying constitution and not just the current process constitution, don’t get into such messes.
Even corporatist Stanley Fish wrote a good piece focusing on the process vs. the consequentialist legal philosophy, which basically means that equitable, common sense outcomes should be sought within the bounds of the law, and if a law is such that it refuses to allow such outcomes, this in itself compels the strong presumption that the law is unconstitutional.
“What is the 1st amendment for?” The process ideology without further ado ignores the question and blithely says, “The 1st amendment is the process of entities speaking, and the process of courts (and pundits) talking about and deciding what it is.” With Citizens United we see how this leads to the same outcome as the law which “majestically proclaims” that rich and poor alike are forbidden to sleep under a bridge. Here ExxonMobil or ADM are the equivalents of a penniless, despised radical. The noble ideal that the 1st amendment must most of all protect fringe, weak, despised speech, is now hijacked to claim that because the people have a well-founded fear that massively wealthy corporations will use this tremendous wealth to buy influence, that this qualifies as lonely, despised speech.
The basic ideological motion here is to go from the right to be let alone to the “right” to swing one’s fist anywhere you want, no matter whose face is there.
Although Fish didn’t delve into Revolutionary history here, we see how we’re back in the original debate, asking with James Otis whether an odious law passed by Parliament, odious and therefore constitutionally void, must nevertheless be obeyed. In other words, whether the constitution is the water in which the law swims, or whether the constitution is nothing more than the ephemeral current legislature and law itself. The Founding Fathers had no problem answering that on its face such a law need not and must not be obeyed, for it is no law. The constitution is about principle and consequences, not about process as such.
So in all this we have the process pseudo-principle and a phony process goal. The bogus “principle” is 1st amendment absolutism. But the 1st amendment has to have value toward something. It’s not sacrosanct in itself, especially when a rogue court decision like this would force us into the mode of “the constitution is a suicide pact”. The phony goal is just making sure that the legislature and courts process terms like “speech” punctiliously, that they hit all the right process notes, without reference to the principle (or lack thereof) underlying it, or the end result.
(Just to make a few points on how shabby is their alleged principle, and how incompetent their “process”. If you’re trying to speak with your unassisted voice, while right next to you someone shouts through a 100′ tall speaker he was able to buy (and didn’t even build himself), you’re being censored just as surely as if you were being censored for your content. Besides, if the “market” financed artificial amplification for him and none for you, it must have done that on the basis of content censorship anyway. Indeed, the “market”, and its rigged law, probably let him steal that money.
This highlights how, if anti-censorship is the ideal, then the 1st amendment as interpreted by this court and by process liberals like the ACLU and Greenwald does not achieve that ideal, is not sufficient for it, and as a practical measure ends up subverting it.
Regarding the rigors of “process” itself. Some defenders of corporate speech as such asked about the free speech rights of non-profit groups. They’re saying “How can a public interest group have free speech rights if Goldman Sachs doesn’t?”  I have to question the competence of anyone who finds it so hard to distinguish non-profit from for-profit organizations. Sure, not every example is 100% clear, but the basic divide is clear enough, and for all the controversies I’ve heard about the IRS, I’ve never heard that they have much of a problem making this distinction. So I have no idea what Greenwald’s talking about when he pretends not to know the difference, or that you can’t figure out the difference, or that it’s somehow unsafe to impose extra restrictions on sociopathic organizations. Or deny them the full protection of public interest protections.
Needless to say, a for-profit corporation is an explicit sociopath, operating not in the public interest but at best merely amid it, and in practice always against it once the corporation reaches a certain size. This sociopathy is the explicit concept of its existence. By antithesis, the constitution is explicitly the servant of the public interest. By definition, existentially, corporatism has the goal of dissolving the constitution. So again, to say that the constitution must protect an existential traitor to it proposes to turn it into a suicide pact.
By their own congenital basis and their own testimony as to their goal, for-profit corporations are anti-social and anti-constitutional. So clearly, if we’re to tolerate their existence at all, we must allow them to exist only under very tight restrictions and the severe oversight of freedom’s vigilance.)
The best we can say of this mindset is that in mustering pseudo-principles it dreams of the good old days. It’s nostalgic for the heyday of the Warren court, for when the amendment procedure functioned sometimes for the public good, for when elections might sometimes offer real choices and not have been subject to outright theft. (Ironically, Citizens United only further tightens the spiral into the abyss. But it sure is punctilious “process”.) But this is no longer our democratic elections, the people’s SCOTUS, the people’s Congress, the people’s executive; all are rogues. But the process mentality is complacent about the names and the formalities. In order to cover up its bankruptcy of principle and moral shame it makes a fetish of the process, and in this way tries to redeem the simulacrum of everything it threw away.
The process ideology can only trap us in a vicious circle. Something like Citizens United only further corrupts the election process to keep government in the stranglehold of criminals, who further turn the whole system into kleptocracy, while every step of the way the process liberals support the intensifying vice as they implicitly applaud the results even as they often nominally decry them. They may shed crocodile tears, they may rend themselves in lamentations, but wherever real reformers declare that the berserk process must be arrested, even the best of the process liberals side with the process. Never mind that something like Citizens United promises more war, more torture, more assault on civil liberties, and greater assaults on true free speech. To the process freaks, it’s simply incomprehensible that the name and the form and the process “free speech” could be hijacked away from the real principle and the real essence.
[To the extent that these process rogues style themselves “free speech” absolutists, as if they can conjure up a coherent principle there, we see a prime example of how anyone with a special interest is unreliable for the real freedom struggle. I call them myopics. A myopic may sometimes or even usually be able to see the big picture. A generally good principle like free speech may usually lead to the right positions on civil liberties, torture, war, many other things. But it’s a convoluted path, because it derives not from an objective view of the broad anti-corporate struggle, but from the myopic path of some subjective parochial “absolute”.
As I said, under optimal conditions this can usually be alright, but under the adverse conditions of a kleptocracy and renegade structures like this SCOTUS, it forces one inexorably into self-corrupting “process” betrayals if one is to be able to hold onto the myopic principle under those conditions at all.
Only that can lead a good freedom activist into such a perverse result as supporting the Citizens United decision. In the end any myopic, however upstanding when the weather’s fair, is likely to double-cross any bigger cause, no matter how much he claims to support it. The way the whole menagerie of “progressives” happily sold out single payer and then even the meager “public option” crumb (and got nothing in return) will probably go down as the most complete self-collapse, the most thorough scouring of the deepest abyss of spiritual decrepitude and moral cowardice, our age will have the misfortune to experience.]
I should stipulate that the original “process” ideologues of the 1760s were still motivated mostly by principle. Even John Adams originally held that the constitution was “a frame, a scheme, a system, a combination of powers”. Today, on the other hand, they’re almost all mercenary corporatists just seeking the most profitable outcome. (I chose to focus on Greenwald precisely because although he’s the rare exception who is not a shill, when he lapses into process mode he still ends up being just as incoherent and self-defeating.)
[Just to chuck in one more example of process, a truly disgusting one. (I’ve had this note sitting around since the Bernanke hearings waiting to be used somewhere.) In voting for cloture even though he intended to vote “No” on confirmation, Al Franken put on a real clinic in process taken to the level of insanity. According to his explanation, Franken’s principle isn’t that heads must roll, that Bernanke must be punished for his monumental screwups, that he should be punished as one of history’s worst economic criminals, or that he should even be prevented from continuing his crimes. No, his “principle” is the sanctity of the process, without reference to any other principle or goal, utterly unmoored from any moral context. (We can say the same of those who still want to do away with the filibuster on “democratic process” grounds even though we know this Senate will never again pass good legislation, only bad, and so from here on the best we can hope for is gridlock.) Prozess uber Alles.
In this he’s typical of politicians and everyone involved with politics, including the MSM.]
We freedom activists, we creatures of principle, must redeem constitutionalism from its relapse into “process”, and the constitution from its Babylonian captivity at the corporate royal court, where it’s painted and laden with garish jewels to dance for the lascivious pleasure of Wall Street and Washington.
Only by combining direct, on-the-ground democracy, freedom vigilance, and constitutional theory as based on avowed principle, with laws odious to this principle being void in the extreme sense, can we build a coherent, just new society.