Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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The Supremes put the exclamation point on "kleptocracy!"

Is the plutocrats' latest win at the Supreme Court a tipping point?

The Supremes put the exclamation point on "kleptocracy!"

Something terrible and altogether predictable happened today -- the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of rich people!!!

I know, I know...stop me if you've heard that one before. There are two ways to look at the Supremes' ruling in the so-called McCutcheon case -- in which by a narrow 5-4 ruling the High Court struck down aggregate limits on direct political contributions. Before today, an individual was barred -- under the campaign finance laws imposed after the Watergate scandal in the 1970s -- from giving more than $123,200 in total contributions to candidates or parties in a cycle. In theory, now the sky's the limit -- except the limit of $2,600 on any given candidate is still in place. Thus, you could argue the real world impact may be minimal.

Consider this: It's been reported that the billionaire Koch Brothers spent close to $400 million on their conservative network for the 2012 election -- and that was long before the McCutcheon ruling came down. That's because previous court rulings -- most famously the Citizens United case in 2010 -- have long meant that any laws attempting to stop billionaires (both conservative and liberal billionaires, for what it's worth) from buying elections were already a lost cause. The Roberts court has held that -- even in a time with record levels of income inequality -- money is just a form of free speech. It's just that a handful of very privileged people are able to speak through a megaphone as big as the Ritz.

And so my initial gut instinct was that this new Supremes ruling on campaign cash was not a big deal. If politics were a baseball game, this is like the billionaire plutocrats had already posted five runs in the top of the 9th inning -- and today they tacked on one more insurance run. With corporate lackey John Roberts at the helm at the Supreme Court, that game was rigged anyway.

That said, I was surprised at the reaction over the course of the day. A lot of people are really, really angry. Part of that anger was just the official ratification of everything that's happened in America for 30 years, that money talks and your "one man, one vote" BS walks. Part of it, I realized, was that the ruling was timed, accidentally, to coincide with the publication of the much-touted book "Flash Boys" by best-selling author Michael Lewis, which shows how Wall Street "high-speed" traders allegedly use electronic trickery to suck billions of once-honest dollars out of the stock market.

Do you see the connection? The stock market is rigged. American elections are rigged with the money they stole. What chance does the 99 percent have?

That's why the term "plutocracy" -- I tend to picture Walt Disney's big happy dog whenever I hear it -- is far too gentle for what's happening in this country. I was watching CNN (I know, I know) a couple of weeks ago and they were talking about how some international villain -- probably Russia -- had become what the reporter called a "kleptocracy" -- and the anchorwoman laughed. Ho ho! What a funny word!

Are they blind at CNN? While America's most trusted name in news was spinning its holograms and skimming trash in the Pacific trying to find that airplane, America's .01 percent was making off with billions of dollars by gaming the system -- by buying politicians who re-wrote the tax codes to their benefit, again, and again and again, and then larded on the corporate welfare while the middle class vanished quicker than the missing jetliner.

All the Supreme Court did today was add the exclamation point -- but maybe "kleptocracy!" is finally loud enough that the regular people can hear it.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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