This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011


There have been a slew of constitutional amendments introduced in Congress recently, each claiming to “reverse Citizens United.” This is the result of pressure from activists passing resolutions around the country calling for an amendment that would actually do this, which none of the amendments introduced to date would do.

Each of these amendments is limited to giving states and the federal government the right but not the obligation to control the flow of corporate money in elections. It is preposterous to expect that a Congress dominated by corporate money would even consider using such a power if by some miracle the thing were passed. Do not be fooled by these generally well-meaning efforts by members of Congress trapped in the mentality that they must work on only what is possible now. The fact that they are working with colleagues who have accepted the self-fulfilling prophecy that they have no choice but to sell their loyalty to the highest corporate bidder is no excuse. While some willingly sell their loyalty, others feel this is the only way that they can make a difference in Congress because they have to be re-elected to do the public any good.  

The 99% cannot give up on the electoral process if they want to effect real change. They need to recognize that we do have real representation in Congress, but they will only take risks when they know we are backing them. Some members of Congress have been elected and re-elected without being tainted by corporate money. Senator Bernie Sanders comes immediately to mind as an example. We have to ask the question why is he afraid to do what must be done: introduce a constitutional amendment that would abolish corporate personhood outright? He knows as well as anyone that only by ending the power of corporations to buy members of Congress can we hope to elect those who will put the interests of We the People over those of They the Corporations. The answer may seem clear but it is not as simple as many people think.

Although Bernie doesn’t rely on corporate money to run, he has to realize that planting a dagger in the heart of the corporatocracy would invite retaliation, making himself the target of right-wing campaign PACs like Karl Roves’ Crossroads. In addition, he would be setting the corporate Democratic leadership up by making support for the amendment a campaign issue. We all saw what happened to Dennis Kucinich and Anthony Weiner when they dared challenge Democratic leadership to put the interests of American citizens over those of their corporate Puppetmasters: Kucinich was marginalized even by real liberals in Congress like Peter DeFazio of Oregon, while Weiner was left twisting in the wind when he got caught in a scandal that had nothing to do with the performance of his duties as a Representative.

As long as Democrats and independents in Congress are cowed into following the Democratic leadership in lockstep toward the Right, voters will continue to abandon the party in disgust. Many are concluding that a party willing to be led by the nose by the same corporate entities that have wholly bought the Republican Party is not worth their support. The perception is that the difference between the two is not important enough to fight for. The Democratic Party has not so much been abandoned by their supporters so much as they have been abandoned by it.  

Democrats supporting the amendments presently in Congress fall into two categories. There are those like Max Baucus who have long ago sold themselves out to corporate interests, and those who believe that incremental change is their only choice. Baucus took in over $6 million dollars in the election cycle preceding the Democratic effort to bail out a failing medical insurance industry that was cynically labeled “reform.” The resulting gift to the corporations that comprise the medical-industrial complex was obvious. What was less obvious to many is that this was the intent of Democratic leadership when they decided to take on the issue. There are lessons here we must heed if we are going to get a constitutional amendment introduced and passed that will accomplish what the members of Congress proposing the current bills claim.

Prior to the public debate about the public option and its far worse alternatives, Rahm Emanuel put Democratic leaders on notice that single payer was off the table. Inside sources say that Howard Dean was told that he would not be a player in the debate if he could not get Democracy for America to support the public option bait-and-switch. DFA responded by claiming that their million-plus members supported the public option strategy when a simple poll would have proven otherwise. In getting other progressive leaders and members of Congress to fall in line, they managed to sell to the Democratic rank and file the self-fulfilling prophecy that single payer was “not politically possible.” 

This Machiavellian plan to satisfy corporate interests in the name of “reform” was reminiscent of the Bush Administration’s marketing of the Medicare Modernization Act that appears to have been designed to kill Medicare by establishing an unfunded prescription benefit plan whose costs were deliberately and grossly misrepresented. Among other gifts to the medical-industrial complex, pharmaceutical manufacturers were given the power to set their own prices by a ban on the government negotiating drug prices. In what came as a shock to those who are unfamiliar with how some Democrats receive underserved credit for being “liberal,” Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden crossed party lines to cast the deciding vote for this bill that is putting the viability of the Medicare program at risk.

Not surprisingly if you follow the money, Wyden introduced the only serious competitor to the public option plan, the Healthy Americans Act. It was so bad that it received bipartisan support. While quickly shelved, key elements of this mandate plan were quietly put into the Orwellian-titled “Affordable” Care Act, including massive cost shifting to the consumer that was not taken into account in the CBO analysis. As a result, health care costs continue to rise even while the Democrats proclaim victory in producing health care ”reform.” 

The bait-and-switch going on in Congress now is even more insidious and dangerous. If we do not call on these members of Congress to abandon their effort to placate the public while doing essentially nothing about the problem, the movement to abolish corporate personhood will be split and a historic opportunity lost just when the economy, the environment and the families of those serving in wars for corporate personhood cannot stand the delay. 

This is a call to action for those who understand the difference between abolishing corporate personhood and enshrining it in the constitution through an amendment that would validate the doctrine by recognizing that Congress should have the power to regulate it. If corporate personhood is abolished then there is no need to regulate corporate money going to campaigns because it will be illegal.

Those of us engaged most deeply in this modern abolition know just what is at stake. In our educational efforts we need to let the public know the danger of supporting this pig with lipstick. We can pass an amendment abolishing corporate personhood outright and win the war being waged against the 99% if we focus our efforts on making support for a proper amendment a campaign issue in 2012 and beyond.

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