Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Citizens United Catastrophe + U.S. drones

From: []
Sent: Tuesday, February 07, 2012 7:38 PM

The Citizens United Catastrophe
by: E.J. Dionne Jr. ,  
The Washington Post :6 February 2012  
 We have seen the world created by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and it doesn't work. Oh, yes, it works nicely for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, especially if they want to shroud their efforts to influence politics behind shell corporations. It just doesn't happen to work if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy.

Two years ago, Citizens United tore down a century's worth of law aimed at reducing the amount of corruption in our electoral system. It will go down as one of the most naive decisions ever rendered by the court.

The strongest case against judicial activism -- against "legislating from the bench," as former President George W. Bush liked to say - - is that judges are not accountable for the new systems they put in place, whether by accident or design.

The Citizens United justices were not required to think through the practical consequences of sweeping aside decades of work by legislators, going back to the passage of the landmark Tillman Act in 1907, who sought to prevent untoward influence-peddling and indirect bribery.

If ever a court majority legislated from the bench (with Bush's own appointees leading the way), it was the bunch that voted for Citizens United. Did a single justice in the majority even imagine a world of super PACs and phony corporations set up for the sole purpose of disguising a donor's identity? Did they think that a presidential candidacy might be kept alive largely through the generosity of a Las Vegas gambling magnate with important financial interests in China? Did they consider that the democratizing gains made in the last presidential campaign through the rise of small online contributors might be wiped out by the brute force of millionaires and billionaires determined to have their way?

"The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy." Those were Justice Anthony Kennedy's words in his majority opinion. How did he know that? Did he consult the electorate? Did he think this would be true just because he said it?

Justice John Paul Stevens' observation in his dissent reads far better than Kennedy's in light of subsequent events. "A democracy cannot function effectively," he wrote, "when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold."

But ascribing an outrageous decision to naivete is actually the most sympathetic way of looking at what the court did in Citizens United. A more troubling interpretation is that a conservative majority knew exactly what it was doing: that it set out to remake our political system by fiat in order to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy. Seen this way, Citizens United was an attempt by five justices to push future electoral outcomes in a direction that would entrench their approach to governance.

In fact, this decision should be seen as part of a larger initiative by moneyed conservatives to rig the electoral system against their opponents. How else to explain conservative legislation in state after state to obstruct access to the ballot by lower-income voters -- particularly members of minority groups -- through voter identification laws, shortened voting periods and restrictions on voter registration campaigns?

Conservatives are strengthening the hand of the rich at one end of the system and weakening the voting power of the poor at the other. As veteran journalist Elizabeth Drew noted in an important New York Review of Books article, "little attention is being paid to the fact that our system of electing a president is under siege."

Those who doubt that Citizens United (combined with a comatose Federal Election Commission) has created a new political world with broader openings for corruption should consult reports last week by Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo in the New York Times and by T.W. Farnam in The Washington Post. Both accounts show how American politics has become a bazaar for the very wealthy and for increasingly aggressive corporations. We might consider having candidates wear corporate logos. This would be more honest than pretending that tens of millions in cash will have no impact on how we will be governed.

In the short run, Congress should do all it can within the limits of Citizens United to contain the damage it is causing. In the long run, we have to hope that a future Supreme Court will overturn this monstrosity, remembering that the first words of our Constitution are "We the People," not "We the Rich."

© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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Regarding U.S. drones
Congress and the courts need to take a harder look at the moral and legal issues around the program.

February 7, 2012

When the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a report Sunday claiming that U.S. drone strikes have killed dozens of civilian rescuers and mourners in Pakistan, the American media scarcely noticed. Similarly, while other countries hotly debate America's covert program of targeted assassination, its legality has never been considered by a U.S. court and is seldom discussed by Congress, which has ceded extraordinary authority over the drone program to the president and the CIA.

That silence could well come back to haunt this country.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism's findings are worth a look — not because they're an ironclad assertion of facts on the ground in Pakistan's tribal areas, where solid information is hard to come by, but because of the questions they raise about the drone program. The three-month investigation turned up evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed when they tried to rescue people injured in a drone attack, only to be hit with another round of missiles. If this is true, it's a tactic that seems borrowed from the playbook of Islamist terrorists, who have been known to set off bombs in crowded areas, wait for rescuers to arrive and then explode more bombs to maximize the carnage.

Eyewitness accounts in such places as the tribal areas must be regarded with great skepticism; playing up alleged U.S. atrocities is a common recruiting strategy for terrorist groups. But claims of secondary drone strikes are so frequent that they call for further investigation. Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, in his recent book, "The Triple Agent," describes a 2009 drone attack at the funeral of a Taliban operative that was aimed at a senior commander; he escaped, but dozens of civilians, including children, were reportedly killed in the strike. Are funerals appropriate targets, even when they provide an opportunity to lure dangerous terrorists out of hiding?

That's the kind of question we'd like to hear asked more often, by Congress and the courts. The drone program is so secretive that until last week it was not officially acknowledged to exist; President Obama changed that in an online appearance in which he insisted that drone attacks "have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties."

Such assurances, even when they come from the president, aren't enough. Other countries have developed drone technology, and if they follow U.S. precedent, they could start targeting their own enemies across any border they like, including our own. It is past time for U.S. courts and the United Nations to explore the legal issues involved in targeted assassination and set rules that take into account advances in technology.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

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