The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: The Redemption Inquiry. The fifth chapter of…
Part the First—Ill Winds: In which the Soule of Humanitie is greatly vexed in many realms of human endeavoure. The Author draws upon experiences in this and other incarnations. Much darkness, little light.
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.
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The books irreconcilable, the losses astronomical. The hedge fund heavies were waiting to see if they’d be strung up by their Oxford cloth shirts. A thousand pound gorilla was loose in the room. With 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 money moguls were poised to pounce on the sleeping body politic. The spirituality market was in a state of terminal irony, headlines grabbed by a handful of corporate cults. Reverend Moon splashed 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 was the unofficial wholly owned organ of Moon’s Unification Church. The former fifteen year old perfect master, Prem Rawat AKA Guru Maharaj Ji, was anointed Ambassador of Peace for the Basilicata region of Italy. Rennie Davis, a Chicago Seven alum, was a 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.” 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, were nailed in the French courts for fraud. And for practicing pharmacology without a license. The nine hundred thousand dollar fine levied against them was chump change compared to their billion dollar war chest. In May 2009, Wikipedia imposed a “very rare ban” on some computer bots that were repeatedly editing articles about Scientology. EST, Werner Erhard’s mash-up of psychoanalysis and Eastern philosophy, with a little American enthusiast preaching thrown in, became Landmark Worldwide. It and its subsidiaries, The Vanto Group and Tekniko Licensing Corporation, posted 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’, threatened legal action against a newspaper reporting on their evangelization of school children into the mysteries of TM. Construction had begun on the deceased Guru Mahesh Maharishi Yogi’s Memorial of Total Knowledge. I remember with a chuckle the campus posters for Adi Da, the former Bubba Free John, the laughing guru. A special puja was offered in 2009 on the two month anniversary of his death. At the dawning of the year, Irving “Francis” C. Houle, an American stigmatic, died 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 was about to be fastpitched 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 gave up the ghost.
In the world of dollars and cents, the Bank of England slashed its base interest rate to 1.5%, lowest ever in its 300 year history. It would tumble further. The Icelandic government and banking system collapsed 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 protesters. Wouldn’t want any witnesses to the leveraging of the world economy as it teetered in the balance. China shoved Uncle Sam aside as number one buyer of Japanese goods. It was 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 was setting itself up for the eventual takeover of the entire US government. The first punch was 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 was delivered in one curved slow motion right hook: Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission.
Two Thousand Nine, the year corporations became people. You could hear the gears of an ancient colossus creaking and moaning as the ultimate lever arm was wedged into place. The golem was coming to life. McCain-Feingold was history. The door swung wide for unlimited corporate dollars to pour into federal, state and local electioneering. As far as the Republicans and the money men were concerned, 2010 was in the bag. The Supreme Court entertained 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 was 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, wrote for the dissent. Justice Stevens, a kid in Chicago during the Great Depression, saw Babe Ruth hit his fabled 1932 “called” homer in the World Series at Wrigley Field, met Amelia Earhart and received a caged dove as a gift from Charles Lindbergh. This libertarian free-speecher cried foul as the corporate goons hit the ball out of the park.
* * *
I didn’t know it, but Justice Stevens had cited 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 had 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 got 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 was kicked back to West Virginia with the stipulation that its chief recuse himself from judgment. Only the conservative diehard Antonin Scalia somehow didn’t deem it a no-brainer that the bought-and-paid-for chief justice should have recused himself from his lord and master Don Blankenship’s case. But in the end, Jeff and his shadowy Fortune 100 buddies got precisely what they had paid for. Though their boy had to hold his horses as the State Supreme Court retried the case, two of the opposing judges mysteriously had to step down from the West Virginia bench. The original verdict was reaffirmed on a technicality. Plus ca change. Justice Stevens had tried 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 entered 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 was, 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. But I digress.
Excitement and apprehension, the heady emotional cocktail with which I greeted my honored guest. I came in on a Sunday to make sure my colleagues had scrammed. The waiting room was repopulated by guys with curly wires sticking out from behind their ears. Over the phone in his pleasant understated Midwestern drawl he’d asked me, “Dr. Diamond, might you consider a house call, maybe a sip of bourbon and tête-à-tête in my drawing room?” I paused for what felt like an eternity, checked my pulse, and remembered one of my mentors’ admonishments, “Special care is bad care.” The frame must be maintained. After all, I didn’t know what exactly it was the justice wanted from me. “Your Honor, I am deeply flattered at your invitation,” I began in as even a tone as I could muster. “I’m sure it would be lovely to join you for a sip. But I am bound by professional constraints that tell me it’s a bad idea to change venues for the kind of work I do. 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 could 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 was that the intersection of the Venn diagram of our respective social circles was the null set.
I cleared out the place so His Honor could grace my consultory chamber. We only ended up having six sessions in toto. But my what a story they made for a post-Redemption memoir. At the time I did not know that he had cited Jeff’s case or I might have warned him. I was personally connected to a dude who was material to his vexations. We settled in for our first conversation in my office on the fifteenth of November. Straight off he asked me what I knew about Citizens United. Of course I answered his question with a question of my own, “Why does my familiarity with the case matter to you?” Turns out it had become the central moral and emotional burden of his life, soon to be shared with the rest of the electorate. I told him I was generally familiar with the case. I wanted to hear the details that troubled him. “You know,” he began, “I’m just afraid of transmogrifying myself 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 didn’t chuckle. The first session was preamble to the other five. It was the only time he assumed the psychoanalytic posture, splayed out on my sofa taking in the collection of oddball chachkes strewn about my consultation room. He gave me the barest hints as to the origins of his psychic makeup as a pursuer of justice. JP had a very complex sense of right and wrong, intense and nuanced, cultivated at a young age. There were two major events that had 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 dark 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 had come to roost in JP’s judicial temperament.
* * *
It was the day Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. My second meeting with JP. The fast of Tevet. Two and a half years before the walls of the holy city would be breached. The next fast, to commemorate the second stage of the dissolution of everything, the seventeenth of Tammuz. Then 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’d only managed to schedule the one previous session, Sunday, November 15. The High Holidays consumed a large chunk of my schedule from the time of our initial phone contact until that lone meeting. Justice Stevens kept a monstrous schedule of speaking events, teaching, writing and consultation. A force beyond our control was exerting itself to keep us from meeting again until it saw fit. Meanwhile, the news of the first couple weeks of November swirled in, a malevolent mist, setting nerves on edge across the whole embattled nation. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist, shot up Fort Hood, Texas; DC sniper John Allen Muhammad was executed in Virginia; the organizer of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was arraigned for trial in Manhattan. Someone was pointing a loaded weapon at the heart of America, but it wasn’t the ‘bad hombres’ on TV. After my first meeting with JP in mid November, Thanksgiving and an endless forced march of family and professional to-do’s pushed the second session off until Sunday, December 27.
The Fast of Tevet. There was no escaping its gravity. We had hit on the idea that we could squeeze the remaining five visits into an intensive daily marathon filling the calendrical limbo between Christmas and the New Year, Sunday through Thursday. The atmosphere in some official corners of the capital was psychotically festive. Christmas Eve 2009, the Treasury Department made the wildly unlikely announcement that it would front Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unlimited dough for the next three years. All despite acknowledging they’d screwed up to the tune of 400 billion smackers so far. Strange times. My office was usually closed over the holiday week as I gave my Gal Friday off and sent my patients packing. JP was up for the marathon, so we let ‘er rip. I remember his weary face as he explained, “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. This decision really sticks deep in my craw. I’ve got grandkids, dammit.” Silence. I couldn’t tell if the justice was fighting back tears or lapsing into catatonia. I cleared my throat and leaned toward him. Without looking at me, JP stared straight ahead and finished his thought, “They need the final version of my dissenting opinion before January 21. I want it to be a solid piece of work, nothing hysterical.”
* * *
I had one of my weirdly lucid dreams back then. It was either right before the five day psycho-amanuensis marathon or sometime in the middle of it. Not sure the exact timing, but the minute I woke up I wrote down the words that I heard in the dream. The scene was strangely familiar, but I couldn’t tell you where it was. There was an old man in a rumpled flannel shirt and jeans, thick reading glasses. He was standing on the porch of an old farmhouse reading out loud. His voice was amazing. I can still feel its deep vibration resonate in my guts. I was part of a crowd sitting on blankets in some kind of meadow, a scraggly wooded grove behind us. We were all 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 structures? Only a fool. Embrace the armies of the Empire that are fast upon me. This is a purgation one would not wish on anyone. 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 rise to the 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 on me.
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 ended. Everything went dark.
* * *
JP wrote like a Rhodes scholar at a prize fight. He was struggling to find his balance around three main points. Points where he felt his emotions had got the best of him, compromised the clarity of his writing. The first point was his incredulousness at the majority’s butt-headed willingness to conflate personhood with corporate identity. The second was the patently obvious, though absurdly unrecognized by the majority, necessity to reign in corporate power. Period. And finally, he was deeply disturbed at what appeared to be nothing less than the overturning of the fundamental principle of stare decisus. About that he shows me what he’s written: “Today’s ruling thus rips the guts out of stare decisis,” 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 was naturally struck by the phrase ‘rips the guts out’. I asked if he had really intended to conjure up a hunting image, or maybe something worse. “Well, Dr. Diamond, I may have gotten a bit overly dramatic there. True, those NRA goons have really gotten on my nerves. They are one of the most pernicious influences in our whole political system. Imagine, assault weapons in every home.” He shuddered, and I knew 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 laughed. Sounded like Teddy Roosevelt. The gun issue was of course a real hot button for JP.
As far as corporate personhood went, JP’s profound offense at the absurd notion dripped 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 sat there silently. I took in a few breaths before responding, “Sooo, Your Honor, “ I began, not knowing exactly how to say that ‘sociopaths’ might not be the most politic of terms to insert in this context. “I know, I know, “ he quickly interjected. “Sociopaths. 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 proceeded to cite in four part harmony Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal as his prime example. I could see how steamed he was about it, but my jaw dropped as I it hit me. My friend Jeff was JP’s unnamed nemesis in the case. The court had 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 had supplied the funds for the bulk of his election campaign. No brainer. The robotic conservative block scribbled its own nonsensical dissenting opinion. Justice Scalia wrote an additional blockheaded dissent. He defamed the majority, claimed they had somehow rendered all judicial decisions questionable. He even quoted the Talmud—”Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein”— a kind of mystification apropos of nothing. There was no amount of Talmudic rumination that would have landed any thinking jurist in alignment with Scalia’s opinion. So this time around Justice Stevens was armed for bear.
I had to jump in. I needed to confess my conflict, my connection to Jeff Small. “Your Honor, I have a disclosure I’d like to make regarding this case.” He raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. And so I told 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 included 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 sighed as I reflected on the enormity of my former friend Jeff’s malfeasance. “You should also know,” I added, “ Jeff was the guy who had the great idea during the Bush-Gore recount in Florida of ginning up a group of ‘concerned citizens’, AKA Republican political toadies, to storm the recount room and stop the whole process, the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’. That gave your neocon colleagues on the court the opportunity to throw the election to Bush.” I sighed and felt my shoulders collapse. “I’m not sure I’m much help to you on this one, as far as keeping a cool head about it goes. But I’m happy to see if we can come up with a suitable substitute for ‘sociopaths’.” JP guffawed at the wild-ass craziness of the story. “Your friend did all that?” A wave of sadness swept across my face. “My former friend. All according to his own admission, you can read a pretty good disguised retelling of the tale in Grisham’s book, The Appeal.”
So in the end JP settled 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 concluding statement for a 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 took a page from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1905 message to Congress. TR, the original trust buster, saw the exact 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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|PARTITION. The Staffordshire Saxon hoard emerged from British soil in the year 2009. One of the most important of its kind ever found. It was the very spirit of ‘Lucre’ risen from the earth. 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 deploying his trusty metal detector. At the time the hoard was stowed away, 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, caught up with art conservationists to have a look at all of the collection laid out in a cleaned state before the opening of the exhibit. Night-hawkers may 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 the 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 were later reported to have “fallen out” over the division of the money. [“The Rise and Fall of Lucre”, adapted from The Daily Mail]|
* * *
Our last session was bittersweet. JP luxuriated in the role of the chastening gray eminence that he was. We both were tickled by one particularly 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 neocon judicial activists! It really was 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, would serve as the oft quoted impetus for the emerging hacker underground. That same sense of futility begat a devoted tribe of hacktivists. Someone had to hold the corporate boogeymen accountable. So JP concluded, “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 placed the final typed manuscript in his valise, he reached in and pulled out a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve. He held it out to me along with two shot glasses. “Please don’t say no, Dr. Diamond. If you’ll kindly open it now we can toast this godforsaken New Year together.” Two Thousand Nine, the payola and the damage done.