A peeke behind the scenes of the legal fiasco, the Moral Tipping Pointe of Annus 2009, by which unchecked Corporate Power gains a fatal foothold upon the American Politickal Stage. As told to the author in his consultory chambers by a sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court. A very dark day indeed.
The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of and the fourth chapter of…
Part the First—Ill Winds: In which the Soule of Humanitie is greatly vexed in many realms of human endeavoure. Each successive part of the novel shall draw the Reader closer to the uppermost rung of the Great Chain of Being. We begin at ground level, the World of Making and Doing. The Author draws upon experiences in this and other incarnations. Here on the ground, much darkness, little light.
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A thousand pound gorilla is loose in the room. The world economy in the tank after the bursting of the ten thousand bubbles, and the markets teetering on a perch of Rube Goldberg machines, the Wall Street moguls poised to pounce on a sleeping body politic. A state of terminal irony pervades the spirituality market, headlines grabbed by a handful of corporate cults. Reverend Moon splashes his autobiography, “As a Peace Loving Global Citizen”, all over his hidden network. A best seller in Japan and Korea! He’d been honored as the Messiah five years earlier. The event was held, of all places, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The gaga pols who showed up claimed they didn’t know that The Washington Times is the unofficial wholly owned organ of Moon’s Unification Church. The former fifteen year old perfect master, Prem Rawat AKA Guru Maharaj Ji, now a motivational speaker, is anointed Ambassador of Peace for the Basilicata region of Italy. Rennie Davis, a Chicago Seven alum, has been the blissed-out spokesman for the young deity’s Divine Light Mission since the 1970’s. I still remember Abbie Hoffman, another C7 alum, wisecracking about the little guru on PBS, “If this guy is god, then this is the god the United States of America deserves.” Lucky for him he didn’t live to see the real apotheosis. Two Thousand Nine, the year of the Corporate Singularity.
L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi coreligionists, the muckety mucks of The Church of Scientology, get nailed in the French courts for fraud. And for practicing pharmacology without a license. The nine hundred thousand dollar fine levied against them is chump change compared to their billion dollar war chest. In May 2009, Wikipedia imposes a “very rare ban” on some computer bots that are repeatedly editing articles about Scientology. EST, Werner Erhard’s mash-up of psychoanalysis and Eastern philosophy, with a little American enthusiast preaching thrown in, has morphed into Landmark Worldwide. It and its subsidiaries, The Vanto Group and Tekniko Licensing Corporation, post losses of 77 million dollars in 2009. A righteous tax deduction. The Maharishi University of Management and David Lynch Foundation, the 2009 incarnation of Sexie Sadie’s ‘bidness’, threatens legal action against a newspaper that reports on their evangelization of school children into the mysteries of TM. Construction has begun on the deceased Guru Mahesh Maharishi Yogi’s Memorial of Total Knowledge. I also remember with a chuckle the campus posters for Adi Da, the former Bubba Free John, the laughing guru. A special puja is offered in 2009 on the two month anniversary of his death. At the dawning of the year, Irving “Francis” C. Houle, an American stigmatic, dies at age 83 in Escanaba, Michigan. He’d borne the painful stigmata of Jesus’ crucifixion for over fifteen years. All in all, a surreal mystical wind up for the curveball that is about to be pitched across American society’s home plate. High and inside, but the unsuspecting public never really knew what buzzed by their collective prefrontal cortex. Two thousand nine, the year the Christian Science Monitor’s much esteemed daily print edition gives up the ghost.
In the world of dollars and cents, the Bank of England slashes its base interest rate to 1.5%, lowest ever in its 300 year history. It would tumble further. The Icelandic government and banking system collapse under the weight of the meltdown. And right in the middle of the Jewish calendar’s Days of Awe the G20 meets for the Pittsburgh Summit. High security to keep out the hoi polloi. Wouldn’t want any witnesses to the leveraging of the world economy as it teeters in the balance. China shoves Uncle Sam aside as number one buyer of Japanese goods. It is nothing less than the collapse of the world financial system brought on by sleazy lending practices and market speculators betting against everyone holding paper. A right wing cabal is setting itself up for the eventual takeover of the entire US government. The first punch is the wildly successful gerrymandering scheme, REDMAP, launched by the Republican party that year in 2009 to squat on state legislatures so they could redraw the electoral map in time for the 2010 elections. Cracking and packing. The knockout corporate coup de grâce is delivered in one curvy slow motion right hook: Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission.
Two Thousand Nine, the year corporations become people. You can hear the gears of an ancient colossus creaking and moaning as the ultimate lever arm wedges itself into place. The golem is coming to life. McCain-Feingold is history. The door swings wide for unlimited corporate dollars to pour into federal, state and local electioneering. As far as the Republicans and the money men are concerned, 2010 is in the bag. The Supreme Court entertains arguments in March and September. I can see them now in their oversized Lily Tomlin black leather rockers, holding the fate of the nation in their hot little hands. The result is a death-blow to the people’s democracy, the severed head of the common man all but handed to the oligarchs on a silver plate. Justice John Paul Stevens, a Gerald Ford appointee, one of the longest serving Supreme Court justices in history, writes for the dissent. Justice Stevens, a kid in Chicago during the Great Depression, sees Babe Ruth hit his fabled 1932 “called” homer in the World Series at Wrigley Field, meets Amelia Earhart, and receives a caged dove as a gift from Charles Lindbergh. This libertarian free-speecher cries foul as the corporate goons hit the ball out of the park.
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I didn’t know it, but Justice Stevens cites my friend Jeff Small’s master oeuvre, Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal, as a case in point for corporate malfeasance in the electoral process. It has been argued earlier that same year. Two thousand nine, a year to go down in infamy. Though Jeff had crowed about his Machiavellian stacking of the West Virginia Supreme Court, the case in question gets kicked up to the highest court in the land, the US Supremes, on account of Jeff’s boy not stepping aside in spite of an obvious conflict of interest. The case is kicked back to West Virginia with the stipulation that its chief recuse himself from judgment. Only the reactionary diehard Antonin Scalia somehow doesn’t deem it a no-brainer that the bought-and-paid-for chief justice should recuse himself from his lord and master Don Blankenship’s case. But in the end, Jeff and his shadowy Fortune 100 buddies get precisely what they paid for. Though their boy has to hold his horses as the State Supreme Court retries the case, two of the opposing judges mysteriously have to step down from the West Virginia bench. The original verdict is reaffirmed on a technicality. Plus ca change. Justice Stevens tries to make the manifestly sane point—if you can buy a state supreme court chief justice you can buy any elected official. You can imagine my bedazzlement when the justice enters my consultation room. Such an eminently sound and sober soul , you’d never imagine him on the couch of a prescription pad wielding shrink like me. But there he is, Mr. Deeds all six feet plus of him stretched out on my couch, baleful as a hound who’s lost the scent. I can tell you all this without fear of breaching confidentiality because at the time of The Redemption from which I am writing nothing is hidden. Everyone’s come back to life and it all looks kind of silly. JP assures me he still thinks it’s a pretty good story.
Excitement and apprehension, the heady emotional cocktail with which I greet my honored guest. I come in on a Sunday to make sure my colleagues have scrammed. The waiting room is repopulated by guys with curly wires sticking out from behind their ears. Over the phone in his pleasant understated Midwestern drawl he asks me, “Dr. Diamond, might you consider a house call, maybe a sip of bourbon and tête-à-tête in my drawing room?” I pause for what seems an eternity, check my pulse, and remember one of my mentors’ admonishments, ‘Special care is bad care’. “Your Honor, that is a tempting suggestion,” I begin in as even a tone as I can muster. “I’m sure it would be lovely to join you for a sip. But I am bound by my professional standards that tell me it’s a bad idea to change venues. I can try to accommodate your security and confidentiality needs, or I can refer you to someone else who may have a different standard operating procedure.” I hear the long intake of breath on the other end of the line. “Dr. Diamond, my investigations into your practice have been quite thorough. I am convinced you are the professional to whom I wish to spill my beans, as it were. Frankly I can’t afford to waste the time or money on vetting someone else. Also, I understand you’ve got more than a passing interest in the art of, uh, the written word. Might be very handy in this instance. So let’s see what you and I can hammer out.” Turns out one of my more likely qualifiers is that the intersection of the Venn diagram of our respective social circles is the null set.
I clear out the place so His Honor can grace my consultory chamber. We end up having six sessions in toto. But my, what a story they make for a post-Redemption memoir. At the time I don’t know that he cites Jeff’s case or I might have warned him that I am personally connected to a dude who is material to his vexations. We settle in for our first conversation in my office on the fifteenth of November. Straight off he asks me what I know about Citizens United. Of course I answer his question with a question, “What is the significance of this particular case for you?” Turns out it is the central moral and emotional burden of his life, soon to be shared with the rest of the electorate. I am generally familiar with the case, but I need to hear the details that trouble him. “You know,” he begins, “I’m just afraid of transmogrifying into the liberal twin of that right-wing crackpot Scalia. I have to admit, though, I do sometimes get a howl out of his wildly overblown paranoid cataclysmic scenarios.” But Justice Stevens doesn’t chuckle. The first session is preamble to the other five. It is the only time he assumes the psychoanalytic posture, splayed out on my sofa taking in the collection of oddball chachkes strewn about my chamber. He gives me the barest hint as to the origins of his psychic makeup as a pursuer of justice. JP has a complex sense of right and wrong, intense and nuanced, cultivated at a young age. There are two major events that burned themselves into his evolving psyche. The first happened when JP was only 12 years old, during Prohibition. It was a home invasion, a gang armed with tommy guns. They lined up the whole family and said they were going to rub them out. Got lucky when a neighbor showed up unexpectedly and scared the thugs off. A boy doesn’t forget that. Brute criminality and dumb luck. Then there was the arrest and trial of his wealthy entrepreneur father, founder of the largest hotel in Chicago. He had embezzled funds from the family insurance business to support the hotel. Dad was exonerated in the end, but the experience left a stain in the impressionable young mind of his son. The inside out view of justice. After years of schooling and clerking and sitting at the bench, justice and mercy in equal measure have come to roost in JP’s judicial temperament.
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It is the day Nebuchadnezzar lays siege to Jerusalem. My second meeting with JP coincides with the Fast of Tevet. Two and a half years before the walls of the holy city will be breached. The next fast, to commemorate the second stage of the dissolution of everything, the seventeenth of Tammuz. Then we roll through the three penitential weeks leading up to the ninth of Av, when the children of Israel fast in mourning for the razing of the Holy Temple by the Romans. The same date on the calendar that the Babylonians led the city magi away from their smoking Temple in chains exactly 656 years earlier. Game over, the karmic archer hits his mark again. After heroic calendar juggling, we only manage to schedule the one previous session, Sunday, November 15. The news of the first couple weeks of November swirls in, a malevolent mist, setting nerves on edge across the whole embattled nation. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist, shoots up Fort Hood, Texas; DC sniper John Allen Muhammad is executed in Virginia; the organizer of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, is arraigned for trial in Manhattan. Someone is pointing a loaded weapon at the heart of America, but it isn’t the ‘bad hombres’ President Bush tells us about on TV. There is a nest of vipers in his very own political gang who are quietly delivering their venom behind the scenes. After my first meeting with JP in mid November, Thanksgiving and an endless forced march of family and professional to-do’s push the second session off until Sunday, December 27.
The Fast of Tevet. There is no escaping its gravity. We finally hit on the idea that we can squeeze the remaining five visits into an intensive daily marathon that fills the calendrical limbo between Christmas and the New Year, Sunday through Thursday. The atmosphere in some official corners of the capital is psychotically festive. Christmas Eve 2009, the Treasury Department makes the wildly unlikely announcement that it will front Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unlimited dough for the next three years. All despite the acknowledgment that they’d screwed up to the tune of 400 billion smackers so far. Strange times. I cannot forget the weariness of the judge’s craggy face as he explains, “You see, I’ve always prided myself on being able to maintain a sunny yet pragmatic outlook, not prone to fits of melancholy or dire predictions. But I just don’t know. I can’t shake the feeling that I am witnessing the doom of our civilization. The court’s decision really sticks deep in my craw. I’ve got grandkids, dammit.” Silence. I can’t tell if the justice is fighting back tears or lapsing into catatonia. I clear my throat and edge closer. Without looking at me, JP stares straight ahead and finishes his thought, “They need the final version of my dissenting opinion before January 21. This is my last shot.”
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I have one of my weird lucid dreams. It is either right before the five day psycho-amanuensis marathon or sometime in the middle of it. Not sure the exact chronology, but the minute I wake up I write down the words that I hear in the dream. Seems important. The scene is eerily familiar, but I can’t begin to tell you where it is. There’s an old man in a rumpled flannel shirt and jeans, thick reading glasses. He’s standing on the porch of an old farmhouse reading out loud. His voice is immortal. I hope I’ll hear it again someday. I can still feel its reverb in my gut. I am part of a crowd sitting on blankets in some kind of meadow, a scraggly wooded grove behind us. We are mesmerized by the man’s oration:
Earthquake rumble, temblor pass through me, let fly the bricks from the outer wall to the city. I am preparing for nothing. I want to take back those words but it’s too late. Hysteresis. What do engineers know? A type of process, once begun, the devil to reverse. Who would hold out their hands to catch the bricks as they shake loose from the walls? Who would gather the dust of centuries shed by the crumbling structure? Only a fool. Embrace the armies of the Empire that are fast upon me. This is a purgation one would not wish on anybody. All mine. The memories of over half a lifetime packed into boxes or tossed into a dumpster in the driveway. Yet there are treasures, long hidden, that surface—a map of an imaginary universe, a bag of silver coins. Where is the bliss in this? Zeroing in on nothing. Today I will have nothing to eat.
So many separate pieces, all floating away from each other at the same speed. Goodbye stories, goodbye garden rake, goodbye atoms. Nothing to hold it all together. No ownership. Real estate is a figment of the imagination. The jubilee year is now.
Listen, all you slaveholders, the price of continuing to hold onto your slaves: you will bankrupt your family, despoil your legacy, send rivers of discontent flowing far into the future. The slaveholder’s dream. Yes you can regulate your transactions. Keep them honest and on the up and up. But in the end it’s slaveholding all the way down.
King Solomon had a vineyard in the land of plenty. We are the caretakers, the stewards of the harvest, our only recompense the continuous stream of sensory experience. Fact: something made, something invented, something created by hand. The flower of compassion, our smiles for one another’s comfort. No matter the noise.
What world do you dream? With what heroes populate it? What catastrophe did you have in mind? Steady man, the good news in the midst of the flying apart of everything is that it’s happening everywhere all the time. You won’t miss a thing. There you go flying apart.
At the concession stand at the edge of existence, we all buy it, ugly or not. There is no other, only you. And even so, well, I can’t catch it. What book of phrases could ever help you? W-O-R-D. Dance of the lotus blossom swaying over the water’s surface. Cross section of an ancient tree. Centuries of flow captured in a parquet tile. Suggestion of a story. So many patterns of flow, impossible to move with them all. Which one chooses you now? Will you stand, espaliered, against the garden wall? Beautiful.
The dream ends. Everything goes dark.
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JP writes like a Rhodes scholar at a prize fight. His struggle is to find his balance around three main points. Points where he feels his emotions get the best of him, compromise the clarity of his writing. The first point is his incredulousness at the majority’s butt-headed willingness to conflate personhood with corporate identity. The second is the patently obvious necessity, though absurdly unrecognized by the majority, to reign in corporate power. Period. And finally, he is deeply disturbed at what appears to be nothing less than the overturning of the fundamental principle of stare decisus. On that topic he shows me his draft: “Today’s ruling thus hacks the guts out of stare decisus,” then quoting Vasquez v Hillery, “‘the means by which we ensure that the law will not merely change erratically, but will develop in a principled and intelligible fashion’ that ‘permits society to presume that bedrock principles are founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals.’ ” I am naturally struck by the phrase ‘hacks the guts out’. I ask if he really intend to conjure up a gory hunting image, or maybe something worse. “Well, Dr. Diamond, I may have waxed a bit overly dramatic there. Those NRA goons have really gotten on my nerves. That bunch of corrupt clowns is one of the most pernicious influences in our whole political system. Imagine, assault weapons in every home.” He shudders, and I know why. “But that’s another issue. How about a boxing metaphor, ‘strikes at the vitals’. It’s virile, yet not quite so over the top.” I laugh. Sounds like Teddy Roosevelt. The gun issue is clearly a trigger, so to speak, for JP.
As for corporate personhood, JP’s profound offense at the absurd notion drips from every word: “In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. 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 sociopaths, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters.” We both just sit there in silence. I take in a few breaths before responding, “Sooo, Your Honor,“ I begin, not knowing precisely how to point out that ‘sociopaths’ is not the most politic of terms to insert in this context. “I know, I know, “ he quickly interjects. “Sociopaths.” He sighs. “It’s just a placeholder until I come up with something a little more palatable. But you see, that’s just the point. You have no idea the corporate malfeasance I’ve seen.” He then proceeds to cite in four part harmony Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal as his prime example. I could see that he was pretty steamed about it, but my jaw dropped as it hit me between the eyes. The plaintiff’s name was heretofore unknown to me. This is the very case I heard from the horse’s mouth, my old friend Jeff, JP’s dark nemesis in the narrative. The court heard Caperton on appeal in March and rendered its opinion in June, authored by His Honor Justice Kennedy. Seems a judge ought to recuse himself from a case involving a party that supplies the funds for the bulk of his electoral campaign. No brainer. The robotic conservative block scribbles its nonsensical dissenting opinion. Justice Scalia writes his own supernumerary dissent. He defames the majority, claims they had somehow rendered all judicial decisions questionable. He even quotes the Talmud—”Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein”— a kind of mystification apropos of nothing. There is no amount of Talmudic pilpul that would land any thinking jurist in crazy territory with Scalia. Justice Stevens is armed for bear.
I jump in. I have to confess my conflict, my connection to Jeff Small. “Your Honor, I have a disclosure I’d like to make regarding this case.” He raises an eyebrow in mild surprise. And so I tell him with circles and arrows and paragraphs of explanation the torrid tale of Jeff Small’s take-down of the sitting Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court. I include the part no one knew about, the covert goons’ assignment of the clerk who would write the new chief justice’s opinions. “So you see, I find the term ‘sociopaths’ right on the money when it comes to these folks.” I sigh as I too reflect on the enormity of my former pal Jeff’s malfeasance. “You should also know,” I add, “ Jeff was the guy whose brilliant idea it was during the Bush-Gore recount in Florida to gin up a group of ‘concerned citizens’, AKA Republican political toadies, to storm the recount and stop democracy in its tracks, the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’. That gave your reactionary colleagues on the court the opportunity to throw the election to Bush.” I sigh again and feel my shoulders collapse. “I’m not sure I’m much help to you on this one, as far as keeping a cool head. But I’m happy to see if we can come up with a more politic substitute for ‘sociopaths’.” JP guffaws at the wild-ass craziness of the story. “Your friend did all that?” A wave of sadness sweeps across my face. “My former friend. All according to his own admission, you can read a pretty faithful disguised rendition of the tale in Grisham’s book, The Appeal.”
So in the end JP settles on the pastily neutral ‘nonresidents’ as both factual and non-objectionable. Sic semper juris. I can’t prove it, but I think my tale of Jeff’s covert ops may have contributed to the ardor of the justice’s concluding statement for the corporate portion of his dissent—”It is with regret rather than satisfaction that I can now say that time has borne out my concerns. The legislative and judicial proceedings relating to BCRA [McCain-Feingold] generated a substantial body of evidence suggesting that, as corporations grew more and more adept at crafting “issue ads” to help or harm a particular candidate, these nominally independent expenditures began to corrupt the political process in a very direct sense. The sponsors of these ads were routinely granted special access after the campaign was over.” JP borrows a page from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1905 message to Congress. TR, the original trust buster, saw precisely the same shenanigans in his day, “…where there is no governmental restraint or supervision some of the exceptional men use their energies not in ways that are for the common good, but in ways which tell against this common good. The fortunes amassed through corporate organization are now so large, and vest such power in those that wield them, as to make it a matter of necessity to give to the sovereign—that is, to the Government, which represents the people as a whole—some effective power of supervision over their corporate use. In order to insure a healthy social and industrial life, every big corporation should be held responsible by, and be accountable to, some sovereign strong enough to control its conduct.”
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|PARTITIONS. The Staffordshire Saxon hoard emerged from British soil in Annus 2009. One of the most important of its kind ever found. It was the very spirit of ‘Lucre’ risen from the dirt. Over 3,500 items, a total of 5.1 kg of gold, 1.4 kg of silver and 3,500 pieces of garnet cloisonné jewelry. The hoard was most likely buried in the 8th century, its artifacts dating to the 7th and early 8th centuries, with some of its sword pommels as old as the mid 6th century. The hoard was discovered near the village of Hammerwich in a farmer’s field next to the A5 in July 2009 by the indefatigable treasure hunter Terry Herbert whilst deploying his trusty metal detector. In the days that the hoard was secreted in the soil, Staffordshire was the heartland of Mercia, a warmongering kingdom ruled by the likes of Beornwulf and Aethelred the Unready. The gold was likely booty from wars with the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia. Fred Johnson, the farmer on whose land the treasure was discovered, joined the art conservationists to have a look at the collection all laid out in a cleaned state before the opening of the exhibit. Night-hawkers are reported to have stripped the most valuable booty from a newly discovered Anglo-Saxon royal settlement. Sir Michael Bunbury, a descendant of Oscar Wilde’s imaginary sick friend, owns that farmland. He contacted local council archaeologists after becoming concerned about illegal night-time activity. Terry Herbert, the finder of the hoard, and Fred Johnson, the farmer on whose land the hoard was found, each received a half share of the GBP 3.285 million raised by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. The two men later fell out over the division of the money. [“The Rise and Fall of Lucre”, adapted from The Daily Mail]|
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Our last session is bittersweet. JP, luxuriant in all his grave gray eminence, a chastening archangel. We both are tickled by the kickass crescendo in his dissent: “Today’s decision is backwards in many senses. It elevates the majority’s agenda over the litigants’ submissions, facial attacks over as-applied claims, broad constitutional theories over narrow statutory grounds, individual dissenting opinions over precedential holdings, assertion over tradition, absolutism over empiricism, rhetoric over reality.” Take that, you reactionary judicial activists! It really is refreshing to see the old boy sock it to ‘em. As for his mental health, well, a little truth goes a lot further than Prozac. The last paragraph of his dissent, a tad ironic in tone, will serve as the unofficial raison d’être for the emerging hacker underground. That same sense of futility in the face of unbounded corporate power begets a devoted tribe of hacktivists hellbent on keeping the moneymen from stealing all the marbles. Someone has to hold the corporate boogeymen accountable. JP concludes, “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” As JP places the final typed manuscript in his valise, he reaches in and pulls out a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve. He holds it out to me along with two shot glasses. “Please don’t say no, Dr. Diamond. If you’ll kindly open my little testament of appreciation now we can toast this godforsaken New Year together.” Two Thousand Nine, the payola and the damage done.
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