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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 2nd, 2010 - 00:49:02

Last rites for America�s near-death democracy
By Ben Tanosborn
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 2, 2010, 00:17

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American democracy, its vital signs fading away, received January 21 its political extreme unction from America�s highest priestly body, the United States Supreme Court. In what will turn out to be the biggest yet landmark decision affecting an �intended government� of the people by the people and for the people, the highest court in the land decided by a ruling of 5 to 4 -- clearly alongside ideological lines of both right and center -� that money and power cannot be held back. Not when defining what democracy is or should be, thus determining our fate; clearly, and unashamedly, telling us that, Constitution aside, we are committing first degree mockery when we tout to the four winds that we are a free people living under democratic rule.

After so many efforts in vain to limit the influence of money on our elections -- McCain-Feingold reform legislation in 2002 represented a small isolated success -- this decision by the court has made any future campaign finance reform, and the prospect of two branches of government somewhat uninfluenced by special interests, an improbability if not an impossibility.

Under the pretense that the public has the right to be exposed to a multitude of ideas, the doors have been blown open to allow Corporate America to impose its influence first, and then strangle democracy. While the two elective branches of government are now under special interests� continuous assault, this decision will go far beyond and render them captive. Placing unions with companies in the same light, both able to promote and spend freely on any particular candidate, is a bad ruse when we are all aware business has a manifold capacity to garner money for political action than labor.

Purely coincidental, if very apropos, on the very same day that the US Supreme Court was rendering its devastating decision for working democracy, Air America was shutting down its operations, ceasing to supply programming to approximately 100 radio stations nationwide. This progressive, low tone liberal voice, just a murmur relative to the ultra-conservative strident noise ruling the airwaves, and the sick, fascistically-exuberant patriotism of the iconic Limbaugh-Hannity ilk, did not meet its demise solely on ideology, but the sad fact that Americans must be entertained at all times whether the topic deals with mundane affairs, religion or politics. Fortunately for progressive talk radio, some of the best talent available delivering the center-left message -- a few, former Air America hosts -- were already broadcasting via syndication through other networks. It is a sad realization, nonetheless, that in this nation of ours, entertainment value ranks above information value.

What has happened to Air America may be thought of as irrelevant to politics, just one more case of poor business decision-making, and there is some truth to that. But when the abyss between the interests of business and those of the non-corporate people is so great -- no better institution to reflect that than the US Chamber of Commerce -- the exit of organizations such as Air America brings in front of us that monstrous reality: that the Right has an undeserving advantage to influence . . . no, brainwash . . . all Americans.

For years I have thought of the State of Oregon, if not a microcosm of America, at least a leading political indicator as to where America was going. Across the Columbia from where I reside, I get to observe the sister-state where independent thinking, a la Tom McCall or Mark Hatfield, always seemed to cleanse Republican politics to an acceptable humane standard . . . at par, at least, with Democratic politics. And that brings me to the most important issue of the day in Oregon politics, one that has much to do with this article�s critique of the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court.

Last Tuesday evening, while writing this column, I am watching on TV the early returns of the election held that day; two issues on the ballot, propositions 66 and 67, representing a referendum on the funding for much needed educational and social services strangled by smaller budgets during this economic crisis. In simplistic terms, source of funding was placed on the backs of those who up to now had benefited from a more regressive form of taxation (top 2 percent of wage earners and corporations). One would think that the outcome of such an election would be a no-brainer, both propositions passing with 70 to 80 percent of the vote . . . but here is where advertising money enters politics, with plenty of room for half-truths, lies and innuendo. So far, tallies are indicating a close race, both propositions passing with 55-plus percent of the vote. (Someone close to me whose career is in providing vocational support for disabled adults is probably on pins and needles watching these results!) And all this is happening even prior to any impact by the ill-fated decision of the US Supreme Court!

And while I am watching the election results, I am reading an article by Jeff Manning of The Oregonian (1-24) covering an analysis of Oregon wages, and what has happened in the state since 1990 . . . with the top 2 percent of earners having had their income increase by 29.5 percent (adjusted for inflation) while workers at the 50 percentile had only seen an increase of 2.4 percent in that same almost two-decades period. Oregon�s rich getting richer and all others falling behind! The gulf between rich and poor continues to widen not just in Oregon but throughout America.

Did I say that America�s moribund democracy had been given the last rites by this court decision? A more appropriate depiction than last rites would have been burial services, for the life support systems keeping democracy alive in America have been ready to be disconnected for a very long time.

� 2010 Ben Tanosborn

Ben Tanosborn, columnist, poet and writer, resides in Vancouver, Washington (USA), where he is principal of a business consulting firm. Contact him at

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