will of the people

Steam Engines, Headnotes and 91%

mmw_SPrailroad The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1868 and Section 1 of that amendment begins this way:

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (bold and italics mine – JA)

Those are the “due process” and the “equal protection” clauses of the Constitution.  Look at the date of the amendment and consider what the amendment says and you’ll be quite clear about its intent: This was entirely about protecting and advancing the condition of former slaves.  In the wake of the Civil War many southerners did whatever they could to retain their former advantage, this to the extreme disadvantage of former slaves, now free in name only, so this amendment was both clear and necessary.

Eighteen years later a lawsuit appeared on the docket of the Supreme Court.  Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad was a tax jurisdiction case that tested the provisions of then-new California laws against those of the federal government.  The case was decided in favor of the railroad and, oddly, that turned out to be the least important thing associated with this lawsuit.

The court reporter for the Supreme Court was Mr. J. C. Bancroft Davis.  He, like other court reporters of his day, was far more than a stenographer for the cases presented before the court.  Back then the job of court reporter was a most prestigious position and Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis was actually paid more money than Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite.

Recordings of the proceedings were made with up to-the-moment technology, ink pen and paper, and Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis had the good fortune to be allowed to publish his recordings of the proceedings and collect royalties for his efforts.  Along with his best efforts to record the case by hand, he was allowed to publish what were called “headnotes”.  These are comments of the court reporter and were not part of the court’s opinions or rulings, nor intended by the court as legal precedent.  Indeed, headnotes were not even from the court proceedings, but were solely the comments of the court reporter.

Here is what Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis wrote in his headnotes to the publication of the proceedings of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case:

The defendant corporations are persons within the intent of the clause of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States  .  .  .  “

Corporate “personhood” was not tested before the court in this case; remember that this was a simple tax jurisdiction issue.  That makes what followed Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis’ writings the strangest part of this case:  Davis’ headnotes, his editorial opinion, has been cited as precedent for all of the efforts to give corporations the same rights as flesh and blood human beings ever since.

That’s right: A constitutional amendment that was designed to protect former slaves was and is being used to give artificial personhood to inanimate corporations.  It is what is allowing billions of corporate dollars to influence our elections and bend legislation and regulation to the desires of those same corporations.  It is what drives huge cash contributions to political candidates and influences voting in Congress.

Right now 91% of Americans want universal background checks and registration for all gun sales.  Legislation to accomplish that is clumsily being cobbled together in Congress but getting our corporately influenced legislators to do the will of the people is proving to be really difficult.  And to reemphasize the insanity causing that, the engine driving congressional intransigence is based not on the decision of a court, but on an editorial opinion of one court reporter

That strange and damaging precedent was set one hundred forty five years ago and we are still feeling its effect, perhaps now more than ever.  Likewise, the decisions we make today will be felt by our descendents one hundred forty five years from now.  That is to say, just as sure as the flow of impact from Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis’ headnotes to us, there will be an impact of what we do today on our great-great-great-grandchildren when they are adults just like you.

You can be passive and do nothing; that is your right as an American.  After all, you have the right to vote, but not the legal obligation.  You have the right to appeal to your elected officials to act as you prefer, but that is not a requirement of citizenship, either.

On the other hand, you might want to close your eyes and envision the America you want for your children, your grandchildren and, if you can see that far, for your great-grandchildren.  Likely, if you do nothing, that’s not what they’ll inherit.  Indeed, unless you speak up, the vision of people who want a very different America from the one you want will be the America of tomorrow, because those people will be the only ones talking.

Perhaps you really do have something to say to your legislators.  Go ahead.  Tell them.  Now.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Common Wisdom

We all know that the country is center-right.  Perhaps it’s there as a result of a pendulum swing from the socially farther left pendulum of the 60’s and the politicians and pundits now like to tell us we’re center-right almost as throw-away line.  Or maybe people just keep saying that and have done so for such a long time that we’ve come to believe it, but repetition doesn’t make the claim accurate.  Take a look at just a few issues before us.

Jobs – About 306 million of we 307 million Americans want the government to take energetic action to ramp up the economy and create jobs.  The noise from the far right is the only thing that is making it seem like there is huge opposition to that.  As a nation, we are left of center now on jobs.

Voting rights – Americans believe overwhelmingly that all of us over the age of 18, with the possible exception of convicted felons, should vote.  That’s pretty much smack dab in the center, not center-right.  On the other hand, there are Republican strategists who have openly stated that the only people they want to vote are those who will vote Republican.

In the 2010 election many states voted far right legislators into office and they have enacted laws they have fraudulently proclaimed are to protect us from a blight of voting fraud.  The thing is that voting fraud almost never happens – not even in Chicago.  These laws serve solely as an obstacle to voting for young people, the elderly, the poor and those in minorities who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.  Let’s see, righty R’s preventing D’s from voting.  Hmmm.

Immigration – Most of us believe that if people do something wrong that they should bear the consequences.  And most of us believe that children of illegal immigrants, born in this country and who have broken no laws should not bear those consequences.  Righties don’t want to pass the Dream Act and they are completely out of step with the majority of Americans.  The R’s continue to oppose it because they’re afraid they’ll get “primaried” in the next election by a fanatic on the lunatic right fringe.  That keeps them disconnected from everyone but the aforementioned lunatic right fringe.

This issue is complex, but as a nation we’re pretty much in the center.

Taxes on the wealthy – Depending on the week and the poll, anywhere between 62 – 80% of Americans favor increased taxes on the rich.  Only the righties who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes, along with some already wealthy people are opposed to that.  That is to say, the country is center-left on this issue.

Contraception – Do you really need an explanation about this?  Even 98% of Catholic women have used some form of birth control and only some fundamentalist righties have a problem with it.  It’s just that a few of them have very loud voices.  We Americans are far left in favor of contraception.

Women’s choice – The majority of Americans continue to be pro-choice, although by a smaller margin now than in past decades.  In part that’s because of the loss of institutional memory of how things used to be before Roe v. Wade.  It wasn’t pretty.  We are center-left on this.

Global warming – It’s not just all the environmental scientists; most Americans believe that the Earth is getting warmer and that mankind’s activities like burning fossil fuels is contributing to it.  The only question is why anyone denies that.  To find the answer, follow the money.  It’s way on the right.  (Ref: “And another thing” below)

Social Security & Medicare – These are the two most popular programs ever created by the federal government and America is far left on them.  Only the righties want to abolish or privatize them.

Note to budget hawk absolutist righties: We made a contract with the American people, who pre-paid for these services and we must keep our word.  I know you’ll understand that.

Education – The righties want to abolish the Department of Education at both the federal and state levels.  They are starving schools of funds, so teachers, administrators and janitors are being laid off.  School maintenance and improvement projects are being halted and the disparity between the education of our poor children and the rich kids who get to go to elite schools continues to widen.  Our children are suffering, their future becomes bleaker every day we fail them and we are putting the future of America in peril.

Americans don’t like this.  They want their children to be educated and think public education is a very good thing.  The righties are completely out of sync with America on this.  This country is way left on education.

Healthcare – Most Americans want the government to do more to fix it.  All that is standing in the way is the resistance borne of the hundreds of billions of dollars being collected every year by the medical insurance companies, big pharma, big hospitals and a few others.  We’ve tried letting the market fix this.  That has resulted in our having the most expensive healthcare in the world, while at the same time we’re getting just middling results.  Only the far righties with megaphones attached to their faces think that continuing to let the free market work is the solution.  We want affordable healthcare and are at least center-left on this issue.

The list can go on until sunrise.  Those saying that we are a center-right nation have either bought into the Big Lie or think they will benefit by making you believe it.

It turns out that the common wisdom isn’t so common, nor is it so very wise after all.

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And another thing .  .  .

Have you seen the TV commercials with the pleasant looking blonde lady in a black pants suit talking about American energy?  She tells us how plentiful it is and all we have to do is go get it.  As an example, she walks across a map of the lower 48 and tells us about, ”  .  .  . tapping Canadian oil sands for U.S. consumers.”  Sounds great.

Except the plan for the Canadian oil sands crude is to transport that heaviest, dirtiest crude oil with the greatest global warming footprint via the XL Pipeline to our gulf coast for exporting to other nations.  I need for them to explain once again how that stuff is for U.S. consumers because I’m not seeing how exporting it makes it for us.

One last comment: That ad and the others like it are sponsored by the American Petroleum Industry, the promotional organization of Big Oil.  Just so you know.

“We move through life like a man in a rowboat, looking back even as we move forward.” – William Landay

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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