'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, January 21st, 2010
U.S. Government for sale
via YouTube, h/t fferkleheimer
Guests: Howard Fineman, Jonathan Turley, Rep. Alan Grayson, Eugene Robinson
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Democracy - it was fun while it lasted. The Supreme Court rules in favor of unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns.
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SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November's elections. It won't be Republicans. It won't be Democrats. It will be corporate America.
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OLBERMANN: As Pandora's Box opens to the unlimited manipulation of every election and the purchase of every politician, some of them put up "for sale" signs.
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REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: I think the Supreme Court decisions today are a big win for the First Amendment and a step in the right direction.
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OLBERMANN: With Jonathan Turley on how the First Amendment could possibly provide the rationale for this.
With Congressman Alan Grayson who, today, writes, "If this goes unchallenged, kiss your country goodbye."
With Howard Fineman on the immediate impact on politics already dominated as much by the dollar as the ballot box.
And with tonight's "Special Comment": Move over, Chief Justice Taney, they finally had a Supreme Court decision worse than Dred Scott.
This, of all days, the president unveils his plan to rein in the out-of-control financial industries.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Never again will the American taxpayer be held hostage by a bank that is too-big-to-fail.
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OLBERMANN: Of course, he can pass whatever he wants and the banks can now spend eleventy billion dollars to buy his successor and roll it all back.
More aftershocks, more psychological shocks in Haiti: the bulldozer is not there to remove rubble.
All the news and tonight's "Special Comment," welcome to the "United Corporate States of America" - now on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
Having seen the big money corruption that has nearly strangled our politics, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision today, eliminated the nearly and sanctified the corruption. It ruled corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to directly sway federal elections.
When in the shadowy confines of a parking garage, the informant nicknamed Deep Throat told the "Washington Post" reporter Bob Woodward to follow the money, he was urging him to track the financing of burglars who had broken into the Democratic Party's national committee offices at the Watergate complex. The political money was, in total, a couple of million dollars.
What was unleashed today could easily be billions. Later in this news hour, my "Special Comment" on the opening of Pandora's Box by the Supreme Court.
We begin with the latest details: the court today overturning two earlier decisions and throwing out parts of a law that has been on the books for 63 years, which said that companies and unions can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy declaring the restrictions censorship, saying that without today's ruling, Congress could also ban corporations from publishing political books or from posting their opinions on the Internet or from releasing films like "Hillary the Movie," a Clinton-bashing self-proclaimed documentary at the heart of the case. Last year, the Federal Election Commission having blocked it from television, but the court saying today that a Hollywood movie like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" could also be banned.
The four dissenting justices today warning that individual voters will be drowned out by corporate cash as opposed to being up to their necks in water in the current health care reform debate.
The president today is siding with the dissent, saying in a statement, quote, "With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of every day Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington - while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates.
That's why I am instructing my administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We're to talk with bipartisan congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less."
Other Democrats, like Senator Feingold of the landmark McCain/Feingold campaign finance law, calling the decision a terrible mistake and telling me today it was a Supreme Court run amok.
Senator Schumer already worried about the electoral process now.
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SCHUMER: Robber barons can act like parasites striking at the very roots of our democracy. At a time when Americans are worried about too much influence, this opens the flood gates and allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy.
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OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader McConnell, reacting to today's decision as if it were the emancipation proclamation instead of Dred Scott, and the corporations were the slaves. "For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process."
This wasn't Freedom's Watch that just won, it was ExxonMobil.
The Republicans are not alone in hailing it as a First Amendment victory.
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BOEHNER: I think the Supreme Court decisions today are a big win for the First Amendment and a step in the right direction. Let the American people decide how much money is enough. Sunshine really does work if you allow it to.
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OLBERMANN: The man with the artificial tan is telling us about sunshine.
Time now to call in Jonathan Turley, constitutional law expert and law professor at George Washington University.
Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, this, whatever the long-term effects are, the effects before the case was adjudicated by the court, split the free speech community. Many believe it will lead to bad government. Others say there is no other way to rule on this.
Where do you come down on the decision?
TURLEY: Well, I have to tell you, I find this one of the most difficult cases that I've seen in my academic career. I ultimately go with the First Amendment and with the free speechers on this. This is really - as you noted - divided the liberal community. Many free speech advocates supported the conservatives in this case, and many good government advocates went and supported the regulation.
I've never seen a split like this. And it is a very close question.
But for those of us who put greater emphasis on the free speech aspects, we don't like the line drawing. We don't like drawing a line between Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" film and "Hillary the Movie." We feel uncomfortable when the government plays that type of role.
But I think you're right. I mean, let's not delude ourselves. This is going to open up the floodgates. This is going to have a very - in my view - deleterious effect upon our politics. The Constitution doesn't protect us from bad politics or bad choices. And so, you know, there is a movement to amend the Constitution, which I'm not thrilled with, but there are other things that can be done.
OLBERMANN: What can be done? I mean, legally, what now holds the corporations back from completely taking over the electoral process, 99.9 percent of advertising, 99.9 percent of winning politicians, no limit to the ante, and no limit to what they want to do, including eliminating the First Amendment, if that was one of their goals for some reason?
TURLEY: Well, I think you're right to be alarmed. I mean, there's only about 2,000 PACs that are created under the old system. That old system really has been shredded today. There are millions of companies and corporations that could - could now directly support this political system.
But I have to tell you, I have long argued that we are in need of more fundamental reforms. Campaign finance primarily looks at the fuel, rather than the machine, itself. I think that we have a political failure in this country, a monopoly by two parties that is strangling the life out of this republic. And I think that we need to, perhaps, with this decision, look for something of a paradigm shift, to look at how we can change our political system with very fundamental issues to deal with - everything from the Electoral College, which is a disaster, to the monopoly of the two parties, to the hold of incumbents.
We can change the system in other ways beyond campaign financing. I have to tell you, I don't hold a lot of hope for President Obama's suggestion that they try to deal with this legislatively. I don't see a lot of room here for legislative maneuvering by this opinion.
OLBERMANN: This is perhaps the climax of the decisions in a long line of them, giving corporations the rights normally afforded to individuals. Since you would have however reluctantly voted with the majority, is the issue here ultimately that Santa Clara County case from the 19th century that is the flaw here - the definition of a corporation as a person?
TURLEY: Well, you know, this is part of the thing that is very difficult to address, because there is one view that corporations and unions and other organizations are the collection of people. The reason you join a union is so that you can speak with one voice to have more power than you would as an individual. And unions are benefiting in the same ways corporations are here. And so, there is that model.
What's really fascinating about the opinions of Justice Kennedy and Justice Stevens is they're both very compelling. I mean, they - if you read them, it is hard not to be convinced, but what you have emerging from these opinions is two starkly different views of the First Amendment.
Kennedy is no corporate shill. I mean, he's not - I mean, he really believes in this. If you've talked - I've talked with him and many people have talked with him, he does believe in the First Amendment aspects of this.
And for him, it is all about criminalizing speech. It's all about limiting speech. Whereas Stevens has a different view, that speech really does not guarantee that you can never distinguish between who the speakers are.
It's two very different models of two people of good faith disagreeing.
OLBERMANN: Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley of George Washington University - as always, great thanks. Let's hope we can legally talk again in the future.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: In anticipation of today's ruling, one Democratic in Congress, Alan Grayson of Florida, having introduced five bills last week, in an effort to prevent the expected flood of corporate cash. By title, they are: the Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act, the Public Company Responsibility Act, the End Political Kickbacks Act, the Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act, and last but certainly not least, the Ending Corporate Collusion Act.
Congressman Grayson joins us now.
Thank you once again for your time tonight, sir.
REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: You were in the courtroom when the Supreme Court announced this decision. What's your reaction to the decision? What has the reaction been to your five bills?
GRAYSON: I'm shocked. I'm shocked by the decision. This is the most irresponsible decision by the Supreme Court since the Dred Scott decision.
GRAYSON: . over 100 years ago. The one that you referred to, the Dred Scott decision has some analogy to it. In the Dred Scott decision, the court decided that slaves and their free born children do not have any constitutional rights.
Today, the court, in effect, decided only corporations have constitutional rights. This will lead to a drowning flood of money from corporations in exchange for favors. And it basically institutionalizes and legalizes bribery on the largest scale imaginable. Corporations will now be able to reward the politicians that play ball with them and will be able - they will be able to beat to death the politicians that don't.
OLBERMANN: And the entire issue of money has just changed, has it not? I mean, a corporation and I'll take the one that we're on right now, G.E., because it's the one we're on right now. And it'd be disingenuous to leave them out this of equation, but G.E. or any other corporation of relative size could buy its own Senate, couldn't it?
GRAYSON: Well, I think you won't even hear people talk anymore about the senator from Kansas or the senator from Oregon. Instead, it'll be the senator from G.E. and the senator from Microsoft. Maybe we'll end up wearing corporate logos.
But I think we can fight back. I did introduce those bills. We're circulating a petition on SaveDemocracy.net. We already got 20,000 people who signed the petition and we're going to show people power. We're going to show that you can fight back against a decision like this in very practical ways.
For instance, one of the bills that I introduced says that if a corporation is going to try to buy an election, at least they have to get the prior authorization from their shareholders. I think that's a practical thing to expect. We're also - I've also introduced another bill that says that if you're going to spend money like that, you have to disclose that to the public immediately. And the Supreme Court itself said in its decision today that that's constitutional - the requirement of immediate disclosure.
OLBERMANN: But given the passivity of voters and nonvoters, particularly in this country, is that not the real nightmare in this, that if you pass these acts, even if you pass these acts before the midterms later this year, that the corporations can roll out the bank wads and buy your successors and roll everything back by this time next year?
GRAYSON: But it's even worse if we do nothing. If we do nothing and allow what amounts to the facilitation of a corporate coup to rule America, you can kiss this country goodbye.
Justice Stevens wrote in the dissent, Congressman, "The framers took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare." Why is it that judges are only called activists when they rule against what conservatives want?
GRAYSON: I wish I knew, but the same five judges today who have overturned 103 years of settled law and relied upon no precedent to do so, these are the same judges who gave us George Bush for eight years. They have their own agenda and it's time we stopped pretending otherwise. The Supreme Court has become utterly politicized and the result of that is what you see here today.
OLBERMANN: Justice Stevens also wrote in the dissents, "Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office, because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents. Their interests may conflict in fundamental respect with the interests of eligible voters."
Does the decision really make corporations not kind of persons but actually super-persons?
GRAYSON: Absolutely. Why should they bother to run for office or vote when they can buy and sell elected officials by the gross?
OLBERMANN: And what do you do - if somebody is watching this who would understand the horrors and the breadth of this thing, what do they do?
GRAYSON: Well, for starters, sign our petition at SaveDemocracy.net and then monitor that site for more things to do. These six bills have to pass. And what we need to do is to get people involved. Call their congressmen, write to their congressmen. Make sure that this package to save our democracy actually gets enacted into law.
OLBERMANN: Representative Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida - greatest of luck on this. It is as, you suggest, vital. And great thanks for your time tonight.
GRAYSON: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That's the big picture. Later, this is Pandora's Box. It is our century's Dred Scott decision and it contains within it all the possible protections that corporations could want to prevent them ever being challenged again. My "Special Comment," the privatization of the elections.
First, the immediate impact. What does this do to politics 2010, with Howard Fineman - next.
OLBERMANN: In short, there are no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections - from tonight's "Special Comment," ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Imagine the devolution of this past year's health care reform debate and put it on steroids - were this a big oil company able to spend unlimited sums on its very own ads in support of a candidate who denies climate change, or big banks heavily funding an advertising blitz in support of a candidate who opposes the Obama bank regulations, or a mammoth Internet company rolling out a massive ad campaign in support of a candidate who opposes added privacy protection. That is just a sliver of what might be unleashed by today's fresh new pile of a Supreme Court decision. Not in some not too distant future, but starting tomorrow morning.
You will recall that just a week ago, the nation's biggest health insurance companies admitted having funded TV ads intended to kill health care reform. They did it by funneling the money through their trade group to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which then created ads saying that the reform plan was bad for small business. Of course, nothing prevented these insurance companies from advertising on this issue more directly as they did in 1993 with those "Harry and Louise" ads. That has been widely credited with killing health reform back then.
And we devoted a great deal of time on this news hours to how much insurance companies already give to congressmen and senators directly through the maximum legal donation and through political action committees.
So what's new with today's Supreme Court decision? Now, it's no-limit poker - since a company can pay for its very own ads for the candidate of its choice.
Let's call in "Newsweek" magazine senior Washington correspondent, political columnist, MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman.
Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let's look right in front of us. What does this do to the midterms?
FINEMAN: First, I want to say, I have a confession to make. Sometimes I think you get a little turbo-charged shall we say about an issue.
FINEMAN: I think you're understating this one.
OLBERMANN: I haven't started yet. The "Special Comment" is at the back.
OLBERMANN: Yes. What startles me is that there is not marching in the street behind me.
FINEMAN: Yes. Well, you know, I'm a reporter and a lawyer, and I think I know something about the First Amendment. This is one of the more and I've read virtually all of the opinion and the concurring and the dissents - it is one of the more amazing pieces of alleged jurisprudence that I've ever read.
Now, as to the 2010 elections, two things. It changes the math on the ground. In some states, unions have had a tremendous impact and they get some mention in here, too. But both in terms of organizing on the ground and what they can do, they sometime - if you could quantify that in dollars - have outspent corporate interests in recent years and you'll hear other corporate people say that and there is some truth to it.
That is over. That ball game is over. OK, that's number one. Corporations can now totally outspend and out-organize. They can pay for organizers directly for campaigns, as far as I read this thing, in any state they want. That's number one.
Number two, Democrats in red states look out, where unions are not important, where media markets are cheap, a Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, a Ben Nelson in Nebraska, even an Evan Bayh seemingly secure in Indiana, watch out. If the power companies, the oil companies, the health care companies - anybody who doesn't like the way you're legislating decides to take you on, look out.
OLBERMANN: Is there even the political will among those who you did not mention to begin to confront this decision in some way, particularly given that any new law has to work within the new framework of this new terrible decision?
FINEMAN: Well, I saw what Congressman Grayson was saying and I talked to some people on the Hill and listened to others. They say they want to try to really go after this. Most of the people on the Hill are probably thinking, "How do I make sure either that I don't get steamrollered or I get boosted by this new, you know, high octane infusion of money?"
I think it's going to have to come from another grassroots movement when the corporations over step as they surely will. It's going to have to come from renewed attention on the Supreme Court. The notion that John Roberts and his court were careful proceduralists who looked to original intent and, you know, only went incrementally in the law, that's completely out the window. This is one of the most radical decisions in a long, long time, in my humble opinion.
So there have to be a grassroots movement. The president of the United States could probably try to get behind it and say, "We can't do it in Congress." It's probably going to help him in 2012 because surely everybody who's outraged by this is going to want to make sure that a Democrat gets to appoint new people on the Supreme Court.
OLBERMANN: Yes. The worry is, of course, what you just mentioned, all those politicians who are now re-enacting the moment when Gene Wilder in "The Producers" explains the scam to Zero Mostel, and Mostel grabs his head and goes, "I want that money!"
Is there something of a perfect storm argument to be made here to the corporations becoming more aggressive than ever in using marketing and P.R. to frame political issues? And so, this decision coming now is just monumentally worse than if it occurred 10 years ago or even 20 years ago?
FINEMAN: Well, maybe. I think they might be - try to be a little cautious at the beginning. This opens up such vast new territory that they probably want to be a little careful as they trot on into it.
Another thing that's going to happen, there are more unintended consequences in this opinion than like a bachelor weekend in Las Vegas.
For example, corporate boardrooms are going to become political cockpits now, because if you're saying that corporations are individuals that have full speech rights and can spend all they want on campaigns directly for candidates, then the decisions made by corporations in their boardrooms are going to be political acts. So, it's going to get very controversial at the corporate level. That's an unintended consequence of this
OLBERMANN: So, we have two "Special Comments" tonight, the first of them just brought to you by Howard Fineman. Well done, sir. Thank you for it.
FINEMAN: OK, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC - stay tuned.
Irony upon irony as the political winds shift due to the corporate money already spent on health care reform. The president hears the voices clamoring for wrestling Wall Street down and pinning its shoulders to the mat on the same day the Supreme Court hands Wall Street a blank check to fight President Obama or purchase a more malleable replacement for him - next.
OLBERMANN: Right now, you can prostitute all of the politicians some of the time and prostitute some of the politicians all of the time, but you cannot prostitute all of the politicians all the time. Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts, this will now change. And tonight's "Special Comment" - ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: A year and a half ago, this news hour aired a report detailing how both Republican and Democratic dismantling of New Deal banking regulations nearly destroyed the world economy in 2008. Today, President Obama went farther than Wall Street or even Congress expected to try to rein the banks back in line. After a year of letting Wall Street allies run the economy, Mr. Obama went with former Fed Chair Paul Volcker today, saying he will return banks to the days when lending banks and investing banks were separate kinds of banks, as well as limit how big banks can grow to prevent the recurrence of banks that are too big to fail.
Although the announcement came as Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown arrived in Washington, bringing with him fear of populist rage, President Obama said the new approach is a response to banks' behavior since their recovery from the brink.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My resolve is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform, when I see soaring profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms claiming that they can't lend more to small businesses, they can't keep credit card rates low, they can't pay a fee to refund taxpayers for the bailout, without passing on the costs to shareholders or customers. That's the claims they're making. It's exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary.
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OLBERMANN: This also coming on the day we learn that FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, a Bush appointee, was negotiating with Bank of America on loans for two properties even as she was involved in bailing out that bank. The "Huffington Post" reporting she got one loan on favorable terms as a residence, despite reporting rental income on it. The FDIC watch dog retroactively declaring nothing to see here.
A similar prognostication on the other big Democratic initiative coming from Capitol Hill today. House Speaker Pelosi appearing to pour cold water on speculation that the House would pass health care by simply rubber stamping the bill that had cleared the Senate before Senator-Elect Brown's victory. "I don't think it's possible she said." Quote, "I don't see the votes."
In a gob-smacking display of what lesson House Democrats are taking from Brown's victory, Congressman Timothy Walls told the Associated Press that when House Democrats met today to discuss how to move forward, some suggested winning GOP support by letting health insurance companies sell policies across state lines, circumventing individual state laws, as if Massachusetts voters defected because Democrats don't let insurance companies run free enough.
All this perhaps explaining - helping to explain why Paul Krugman, the popular progressive columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist, wrote on his "New York Times" blog last night, quote, "I'm pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama." Let's bring in MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and associate editor of "The Washington Post." Gene, good evening.
EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Breaking off the banks where you put your dimes and nickels from the banks that bet on the rainfall in Mozambique; surely that will pass even this Congress, considering John McCain proposed it a month ago, right?
ROBINSON: Are we really going to predict what could pass even this Congress? I just mention two things. Number one, this Congress is singularly unbound by positions its members might have taken a month ago or a couple years ago. Remember, Joe Lieberman killed the idea of a Medicare buy-in in the health care plan, even though he had campaigned on that particular measure. So they don't seem to be particularly bound by that.
Second, you know, I'm under the impression that those big banks have a whole lot of money. And they might want to inject that money into the political process now, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling. And one wonders if members of Congress will be paying attention to that.
OLBERMANN: And as the first big act of the second year of the Obama administration, what is indeed the symbolism of that, as he announces he is going to beat up some corporations, and the same day the Supreme Court gives the corporations the right to spend to defeat him politically, cash in the amount of infinity?
ROBINSON: There is the symbolism of it, and there's the impact of it. And, you know, clearly, whatever you think about the first amendment implications of this decision - clearly, it tilts the playing field toward the Republicans. I mean, it just does, in that they've been the historic champions of big business, and now big business can throw as much money behind them as it wants to.
So I'd say there's a lot of symbolism there. And the symbolism is not good in terms of popular participation in the political process.
OLBERMANN: Chris Dodd says he is considering whether to pass what the Obama proposal is, and according to Reuters, financial industry sources otherwise unidentified, claim the Treasury Secretary Mr. Geithner has reservations about this. Are these indicators that the policies are good, but also that they might not wind up making it into law, no way, no how?
ROBINSON: It could be that. It could be something simpler. It could be kind of more kind of bureaucratic infighting. You know, a number of us many of us have asked all along, where is Paul Volcker? He has all these great ideas. Why doesn't the president bring him out? Why doesn't he have input into this financial regulatory reform we keep talking about?
Well, now he does. Now Volcker is out. And one suspects that this is an argument they had internally. And I would guess that if Geithner had been wild about this idea all along, which Volcker has been promulgating for a while, we would have heard of it before.
OLBERMANN: And he's hard to lose. Mr. Volcker is like 6'8". It's very hard to misplace him. It's not like, where is he?
ROBINSON: Where is he, really.
OLBERMANN: House Democrats considering letting health insurance companies do the end run around the best of state regulations, whatever they are. This is their take-away from Massachusetts? Are we not paying our legislators enough money that we're losing them to McDonald's night shifts, and we're getting these chuckle heads who - this is their political deduction about the Scott Brown election? Why didn't they come away with the idea they should all pose nude for "Cosmo?"
ROBINSON: You know, don't get me started on their take-away from the Massachusetts election. We're getting people who don't - who apparently didn't pass arithmetic. You know, in the Senate, the Democrats have an 18-vote majority. In the House, it's a huge majority. In any other universe, this would be considered a good situation, and one would think you should proceed with the legislation however you can.
However, the Democrats are all running around in sheer panic in a way that is - that mystifies me. And, frankly, I do wish that the president would stamp his foot on this issue and say, let's go forward rather than let's just work on core issues, and core elements and some, you know - starting over again is a bad idea.
OLBERMANN: Well, but after the Supreme Court today, he doesn't have any - there is no back to go to. There's no back for him, only forward. Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of "The Post" and MSNBC, though he didn't win the Pulitzer Price for us. We still like to try to claim credit for it. Thanks for your time.
ROBINSON: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The man who just took the chief justice in the Dred Scott case off the hook of history. My special comment on the end of democracy as we know it.
More aftershocks, fewer recoveries, more delays. Haiti day ten.
When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her exclusive interview with Errol Southers, his first national TV interview since withdrawing his name from consideration to be the new head of the TSA.
OLBERMANN: With the number of homeless estimated now at two million, fear and anger intensifies at the relief bottleneck in Haiti. The earthquake is now killing those who survived its initial blow ten days ago.
At this hour, as the cries from the rubble fall silent, with 80,000 of the dead buried in mass graves, the focus now shifts to the walking wounded, those fighting for survival on the streets, suffering through 54 aftershocks, three major ones in just the past two days.
This morning aftershocks measuring 4.8 and 4.9 striking Port-Au-Prince within minutes of each other. No additional structural damage reported. The psychological damage is, by this point, incalculable.
Those with the most urgent medical need treated aboard the Navy medical ship Comfort. Nearby, a ferry, filled beyond capacity with the displaced, all hoping to get on board. These who did not manage to get on the ferry cobbling together make shift rafts of their own. A boat of naval guards charged with keeping them all away.
BBC News reporting that the homeless in the capital are now being bussed to other parts of the country. Tented settlements will be a temporary solution. Tonight, Haitian officials say they will move 400,000 people to those temporary tent cities on the outskirts of the capital by the end of this month, which could become very problematic in May, when the rainy season begins in Haiti, followed by the hurricane season.
As for the American military presence, 20,000 troops will be on the ground by Sunday. And in hopes of alleviating the 140 relief flights waiting to land at Port-Au-Prince, three additional airports on the island of Hispaniola, two of them in the neighboring Dominican Republic, two in Haiti, are now being operated by the US military.
Amid the logistical confusion, a few signs of normalcy. Small businesses reported opening their doors in Port-Au-Prince and several of the country's banks will open tomorrow. Haiti's Commerce Minister telling the Associated Press that half of Haiti's economy could be operative by Monday.
Amid the ruins, many signs of generosity. The amount of money donated by text message has reached 25 million dollars. Late this afternoon, the Senate passed a bill that allows tax payers to write off their donations to the relief efforts in Haiti when they file their 2009 tax returns.
Pandora's box meets the bottomless pit and becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton. What the Supreme Court did today. My special comment, could be the last of them, next.
OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, as promised, a special comment on the Supreme Court's ruling today in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
On the cold morning of Friday, March 6th, 1857, a very old man who was born just eight months and 13 days after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, a man who was married to the sister of the man who wrote "The Star Spangled Banner," a man who was enlightened enough to have freed his own slaves and given pensions to the ones who had become too old to work, read aloud, in a reed-thin voice from a very long, handwritten document.
In it, he ruled on a legal case involving a slave brought by his owner to live in a free state yet to remain a slave. The slave sought his freedom and sued. And looking back over legal precedent and the Constitution, and the America in which it was created, this judge ruled that no black man could ever be considered an actual citizen of the United States. "They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order and all together unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations. And so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
The case of course was Dred Scott. The old man was the fifth chief justice of the United States of America, Roger Brooke Taney. The outcome, he believed, would be to remove the burning question of abolition of slavery from the political arena once and for all. The outcome, in fact, was the Civil War.
No American ever made a single bigger misjudgment. No American ever carried the responsibility for the deaths and suffering of more Americans on his shoulders. No American was ever more quickly vilified.
Within four years, Chief Justice Taney's rulings were being ignored in the south and the north. Within five, President Lincoln at minimum contemplated arresting him. Within seven, he died in poverty while still chief justice. Within eight, Congress had voted to not place a bust of him alongside those of the other former chief justices.
But good news tonight, Roger B. Taney is off the hook. Today, the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts, in a decision that might actually have more dire implications than Dred Scott v. Sanford, declared that because of the alchemy of its 19th century predecessors in deciding that corporations had all the rights of people, any restrictions on how these corporate beings spend their money on political advertising are unconstitutional.
In short, the First Amendment, free speech for persons, which went into effect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections. None.
They can spend all the money they want. And if they can spend all the money they want, sooner rather than later, they will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from president to head of the visiting nurse service. And if senators and congressmen and governors and mayors and councilmen and everyone in between are entirely beholden to the corporations for election and reelection to office, soon they will erase whatever checks there might still exist to just slow down the ability of corporations to decide the laws.
It is almost literally true that any political science fiction nightmare you can now dream up, no matter whether you are conservative or a liberal, it is now legal. Because the people who can make it legal can now be entirely bought and sold. No actual citizens required in the campaign fund raising process. And the entirely bought and sold politicians can change any laws. And any legal defense you can structure now can be undone by the politicians who will be bought and sold into office this November, or two years from now. And any legal defense which honest politicians can somehow wedge up against them this November or two years from now, that can be undone by the next even larger set of politicians who will be bought and sold into office in 2014 or 2016 or 2018.
Mentioning Lincoln's supposed ruminations about arresting Roger B. Taney, he didn't say the original of this, but what the hell. Right now you can prostitute all of the politicians some of the time, and prostitute some of the politicians all of the time, but you cannot prostitute all of the politicians all the time.
Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts, this will now change. Unless this near mortal blow is somehow undone, within ten years, every politician in this country will be a prostitute.
And now let's contemplate what the perfectly symmetrical money-driven world of that order might look like. Be prepared first for laws criminalizing or at least neutering unions. In today's court decision, they are the weaker of the non-human sisters unfettered by the court. So, as in ancient Rome or medieval England, they will necessarily be strangled by the stronger sibling, the corporations, so that they pose no further threat to the corporations' total control of our political system.
Be prepared then for the reduction of taxes for the wealthy, and for the corporations, and the elimination of the social safety nets for everybody else, because money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations.
Be prepared then for wars sold as the new products, which Andy Card once described them as, year after year, as if they were new Fox reality shows, because military industrial complex corporations are still corporations.
Be prepared then for the ban on same sex marriage and on abortion and on evolution being taught and on separation of church and state. The most politically agitated group of citizens left are the evangelicals. Throw them some red meat to feed their holier than thou rationalizations and they won't care what else you do to this corporate nation.
Be prepared then for racial and religious profiling, because you have to blame somebody for all the reductions in spending and civil liberties, just to make sure the agitators against the United corporate States of America are kept unheard.
Be prepared for those poor, dumb, manipulated bastards, the Tea Partiers, to have a glorious few years as the front men, as the corporations that bank roll them slowly unroll their total control of our political system. And then be prepared to watch them be banished, maybe outlawed, when a few of the brighter ones suddenly realize that the corporations have made them merely the Judas Goats of American freedom.
Be prepared then for the bank reforms that President Obama has just this day vowed to enable to be rolled back by his successor, purchased by the banks, with the money President Bush gave them, his successor, presumably President Palin, because if you need a friendly face of fascism, you might as well get one that can wink. And if you need a tool of whichever large industries buy her first, you might as well get somebody who lives up to that word "tool."
Be prepared for the little changes, too. If there are any small towns left to take over, Wal-Mart can now soften them up with carpet advertising for their Wal-Mart town council candidates brought to you by Wal-Mart.
Be prepared for the Richard Mellon Scaifes to drop such inefficiencies as vanity newspapers and simply buy and install their own city governments in the Pittsburghs.
Be prepared for the personally wealthy men like John Kerry to become the paupers of the Senate, or the ones like Mike Bloomberg not even surviving the primary against Halliburton's choice for mayor of New York City.
Be prepared for the end of what you're watching now. I don't just mean me or this program or this network. I mean all the independent news organizations and the propagandists like Fox, for that matter, because Fox inflames people against the state. And after today's ruling, the corporations will only need a few more years of inflaming people before the message suddenly shifts to everything's great.
Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh don't even realize it. Today, John Roberts just cut their throats, too. So with critics silenced and bought off and even the town assessor who lives next door to you elected to office with campaign funds 99.9 percent drawn from corporations coffers, what are you going to do about it? The Internet.
The Internet. Ask them about the Internet in China. Kiss net neutrality good-bye. Kiss whatever right to privacy on the net you think you currently have good-bye. And anyway, what are you going to complain about if you don't even know it happened?
In the new world unveiled this morning by John Roberts, who stops Rupert Murdoch from buying the Associated Press? This decision, which in mythology would rank somewhere between the bottomless pit and the opening of Pandora's Box, got next to no coverage in the right wing media today. Almost nothing in the middle and a lot less than necessary on the left.
The right wing won't even tell their constituents that they are being sold into bondage alongside the rest of us. Why should they? For them, the start of this will be wonderful. The Republicans, the conservatives, the Joe Liebermans, the Tea Partiers are in the front aisle at the political prostitution store. They are especially discounted old favorites for their corporate masters. Like the first years of irreversible climate change, for the conservatives, the previously cold winter will grow delightfully warm.
Only later will it be hot, then unbearable, then flames. Then the conservatives will burn with the rest of us and never know what happened.
What are you going to do about it? Turn to free speech advocates? These were the free speech advocates. The lawyer for that homunculus, one who filed this suit, David Bossie - the lawyer is Floyd Abrahams, Floyd Abrahams, who has spent his life defending American freedoms, especially freedom of speech. Apparently, his life was spent this way to guarantee that when it really counted he could help the corporations destroy free speech.
His argument, translated from self-satisfied legal jargon, is that as a function of the first amendment, you must allow for the raping and pillaging of the first amendment by people who can buy the first amendment. He will go down in the history books as the quisling of freedom of speech in this country. That is if the corporations who now buy the school boards which decide which history books get printed approve, if there are still history books.
So what are you going to do about it? Russ Feingold told me today there might yet be ways to work around this, to restrict corporate governance and how corporations make and spend their money. I pointed out that any such legislation, even if it somehow sneaked past this the last US Senate not funded by a generous gift from the Chubb Group, would eventually wind up in front of a Supreme Court, and whether or not John Roberts was still at its head would be irrelevant. The next nine men and women on the Supreme Court will get there not because of their judgment nor even their politics. They will get there because they were appointed by purchased presidents and confirmed by purchased senators.
This is what John Roberts did today. This is a Supreme Court sanctioned murder of what little actual democracy is left in this democracy. It is government of the people, by the corporations, for the corporations. It is the dark ages. It is our Dred Scott.
I would suggest a revolution, but a revolution against the corporations? The corporations that make all the guns and the bullets?
Maybe it won't be this bad. Maybe the corporations, legally defined as human beings but without the pesky occasional human attributes of compassion and conscience, maybe when handed the only keys to the electoral machine, they will simply not redesign America in their own corporate image.
Let me leave you with this final question: after today, who is going to stop them? Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END