Friday, October 22, 2010

Today in plutocracy: the Koctopus, the Supreme Court and the future of American democracy

A report this week by Kate Zernike, Secretive Republican Donors Are Planning Ahead New York Times 10/19/2010, has understandably received quite a bit of attention from progressive writers. It tells the story of a present-day version of the Liberty League of the 1930s. Because of the heavy involvement of the oil billionaire Koch brothers of Kansas, Joe Conason is calling it the "Kochtopus".

I wrote about the Liberty League three years ago in The American Liberty League and coup plotting 10/07/2010:

When Franklin Roosevelt came to power in 1933 and it quickly became apparent that he didn't plan to restrict his economic recovery measures to balancing the federal budget and preaching optimism, a lot of the most wealthy Americans got very nervous about this whole "New Deal" business. In August, 1934, some of them formed a lobby group called The American Liberty League to defend the interests of the "economic royalists", as FDR came to call them.

The most dramatic event involving the Liberty League, at least indirectly, was a charge made by antiwar retired Gen. Smedley Butler, who was a popular figure at the Bonus Army protest during the Hoover Administration which had been put down by troops under the command of Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. He testified before a Congressional Committee about being approached by a representative of wealthy plotters wanting him to front a military coup against the federal government. He claimed that it was the some of the same people who went on to form the Liberty League that were behind the plotting.

Apparently, there is no hard evidence that the people guiding the Liberty League were directly involved in the plot testified to by Butler. And it's not clear how serious the plot was, although the people directly involved seemed to have taken the idea very seriously.

The Liberty League's main influence was in its anti-New Deal propaganda and its support for legal action against pro-labor legislation, primarily from its founding in 1934 through the Presidential election of 1936.
Lee Fang adds some important reporting to the story in MEMO: Health Insurance, Banking, Oil Industries Met With Koch, Chamber, Glenn Beck To Plot 2010 Election Think Progress 10/20/2010.

I was particularly struck by the attendance at one of their major events of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. It strikes me as very inappropriate for Supreme Court Justices to be attending what is not only a partisan strategy and fundraising event (even though officially it wasn't done under Republican Party auspices). But also a number of major corporations were represented there, companies which could well have cases coming before the Court.

Thomas' wife is also active in Tea Party Republican politics. The following bloggers commented in particular on the Justices' attendance:

Digby, Tilling The Soil With Big Bucks And Beck Hullabaloo 10/20/2010

Sam Stein, Justices Scalia And Thomas's Attendance At Koch Event Sparks Judicial Ethics Debate Huffington Post 10/20/2010

Joe Conason, Secret memo displays corporate and media tentacles of the Kochtopus Salon 10/21/2010

Since the Democrats couldn't even manage to pass the public option for health care insurance when they had solid majorities in both Houses of Congress for it, it's way too much to hope they would even considered impeaching and removing these two partisan operatives from the bench.

But they could at least hold Congressional hearings - I'm assuming they will hold on to the Senate, at least - to investigate more details of this event, and in particular how it relates to these two Justices.

Liberals for decades have defended the federal courts against Republican attacks and should continue doing so, when appropriate. But it's the responsibility of the Courts to uphold the Constitution, too. And there have been times in American history when they failed to do so, most spectacularly in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which seems to have made the Civil War inevitable and was an infamous racist piece of bad jurisprudence.

Two of the biggest blows against the democratic and Constitutional system in the US in the last 10 years were delivered by the Supreme Court: their installation of George W. Bush as President in 2000 in Bush v. Gore, and this year's Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to the secret corporate money which the Kochtopus is now pouring into this year's elections.

Robert Reich in The Perfect Storm That Threatens American Democracy Alternet 10/20/2010 characterizes the effects of Citizens United as follows: "We’re back to the late 19th century when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom."

Progressives and the Democratic Party have to explicitly addressed the corporate capture of the Supreme Court as a threat to our democratic system, a threat which President Obama explicitly recognized after the decision was handed down - recognized in words, at least.

The Democratic Congress, or what's left of it after Election Day, should take this as an opportunity to look at these two dubious partisan players on the Court through a serious Congressional investigation into their ties to the Kochtopus.

See also Joan McCarter, Kochs, Chamber, Beck and big business plot to steal it all Daily Kos 10/20/2010

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