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Why Ordinary Citizens Have No Say

The US could be at the forefront of creating a global green economy that runs on renewable energy. Unfortunately, we can’t beat our addiction to big money.

(Image via Shutterstock)

The United States could be at the forefront of creating a global green economy that runs on renewable energy.

Unfortunately, we can’t beat our addiction to big money.

Over the weekend, the International Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, released a new report on the actions that need to be taken right now to prevent any further devastation from climate change and global warming.

While the report looks at climate change solutions on a global level, it also points out that here in the U.S., we need to enact some type of major climate change legislation, like a carbon tax, by the end of this decade, if we want to have any hopes of preventing the most catastrophic and devastating effects of global warming and climate change yet.

Thanks to the Roberts Supreme Court, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Because of their decisions in cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the fossil fuel industry, with help from oil billionaires like the Koch Brothers, owns Republicans in Washington, and even owns some Democrats from coal and oil states.

If our politics and democratic process weren’t owned by corporate interests and the wealthy elite, if we had an actual democracy instead of an oligarchy, we could be leading the world when it comes to phasing out fossil fuels, and creating a clean and green economy.

Instead, we’re killing our planet and ourselves because the Supreme Court gave our government to millionaires, billionaires, and corporate interests who care more about money than the fate of the only planet we can call home.

But how did we get to this point in American history, where money from billionaire brothers and corporate interests is more important than human lives and the fate of our planet?

Many history books suggest it all began in 1886.

Back in 1886, the Supreme Court heard Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which on the surface was a fairly straightforward case about the taxation of railroad properties.

And while the decision in the case wasn’t controversial or out of the ordinary, the precedent that it set was.

That’s because Santa Clara marked the first time in history that the Supreme Court – or at least a non-binding headnote in a Supreme Court case – had said that the Fourteenth Amendment gave constitutional protections to corporations, just like it did to real live human beings.

To put that in perspective, the Supreme Court didn’t recognize women under the Constitution until 1920, and didn’t give full rights to African-Americans until 1954.

Now, fast-forward to 1962, when conservationist and activist Rachel Carson published the book Silent Spring, and to 1965, when Ralph Nader published his book Unsafe at Any Speed.

Both of those works helped to ignite a consumers’ movement, which woke Americans up, and got them active and civically engaged.

In response to this mass awakening of the American public, in August of 1971, then tobacco-lawyer Lewis Powell wrote the infamous “Powell Memo” to a friend of his at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In that memo, Powell called for corporate America to become more aggressive in shaping politics and law in the United States.

The Powell Memo and its contents sparked the creation of several high-profile right-wing think tanks, including The Heritage Foundation and ALEC. It also laid the groundwork for the far more politically-involved U.S. Chamber of Commerce that we see today.

A few months later, Richard Nixon put Powell on the Supreme Court, where in a series of close cases like Buckley and First National Bank, the ideas of corporate power Powell put forth in his memo were made into law by the Court he was now part of.

Decisions in cases like First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti and Buckley v. Valeo greatly increased the powers and influences of corporations in America, and led directly to today’s notions of corporate free speech and corporate personhood that were nailed into law by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen’s United decision.

Fortunately, there’s a way to stop all of this madness, and to take money out of politics: amend the Constitution.

Skeptics argue that amending the Constitution to say that money is not speech – and thus not protected by the First Amendment – and that corporations are not people – and thus are not protected by the Fourteenth Amendment – is too hard a task.

But back in 1971, when thousands of young Americans were being sent over to the battlefields of Vietnam to die, massive anti-war demonstrations sprung up nationwide, to protest the fact that young Americans were old enough to go off to war, and but not old enough to vote. Barry McGuire’s song “Eve of Destruction” led the charge.

Thanks to those massive anti-war demonstrations, the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, was passed in just five months.

Like then, Americans today are outraged. And we have the power and means to influence change and to put in place the policies that are needed to save our planet and the human race.

The new IPCC report points out that converting to a clean and green economy as soon as tomorrow would cost just a fraction of economic growth. In fact, investments in renewable energy would help to end unemployment by putting millions of Americans back to work.

But we aren’t doing any of that, because a small handful of super wealthy people who sitting on trillions of tons of carbon in the form of coal, oil and gas own our politicians in Washington, and are thus blocking any type of meaningful climate change legislation.

It’s time to start a new citizen’s movement, and get a Constitutional amendment passed that says that corporations are not people, and that money is not speech.

That might be the only way to save our planet and the human race from a complete climate change catastrophe.

Although I have no affiliation with them at all, I have to recommend Move to Amend as the best group doing work in this area. Check them out and sign up for the battle. The world – or at least the fate of humans on this world – is literally at stake.

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