I landed here in Colorado on Thursday for a short visit with some old friends. I must say this place is on fire! Forget the arid 100+ degree heat. The flames outside of Fort Collins and Colorado Springs have ravaged surrounding landscapes, taking entire planned urban developments (PUDs) – including homes, cars, and several lives with them.1 Certainly, the loss of life, property, and hope is unfortunate and tragic, but not to be unexpected given the density of these communities and the aggregation of property there. Yet, here in Denver it seems just another Pleasant-Valley Saturday. In fact, you might never know anything was amiss around the state, unless you were hooked-up intravenously to the local television news where they eagerly provide hungry spectators with scorching, blow-by-blow descriptions and visuals without commercial interruption. But the smell of the burnt destruction flashing through those very images on the screen must have been overwhelming.
No need to fear, however, the “hopey-changey” man was coming to town. That’s right, the Prince of Peace was taking some time off from his busy war-planning and terror-management schedule to make a show of sympathy while engaging in a little promotional campaigning right here – as Colorado burns. The shameless political pandering proffered by any disaster like this is, what shall we say… shameful. Still gloating over his apparent healthcare win in the Supreme Court, Obama was busy congratulating every public employee and manager on bloated federal, state, and local government budgets.
So the Affordable Care Act apparently survives as law now, reluctantly blessed by the same psychotic judiciary that brought you corporate personhood and the corporation’s right to free speech (aka., political donations). Yet, what has really transpired with the dueling opinions proffered by the schizophrenic Chief Justice Roberts? Well, on the one hand, he has confirmed the obvious – that Congress (our legislature) is really in the business of regulating (controlling) behavior, what we citizens can and cannot do. He says,
Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do.
Of course, we already knew this. Yet, what his argument in the majority opinion further achieved was to lay a subtle legal basis for imposing limits on governmental regulation of commercial (economic) relations. In other words, he is building the case (precedent) for further de-regulation of the marketplace. Bingo! That is exactly what his “free-market” casino-capitalist CEO paymasters desire. He did this by specifically arguing against expanding the regulatory powers of the State over commerce.
Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority… Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do.
According to some analysts, this lays a groundwork for the coming attraction – future rollbacks in the scope and ability of the Feds to regulate business, effectively giving the corporate oligarchs free reign over the face of the earth, much like Yahweh, as if they did not already possess it. So, while Obama and his flunkies believe they have won the battle, they may have lost the war.2 A legal basis for reducing the size and reach of the federal government has now been established in the judiciary. Of course, it is only a loss for anyone who still buys into the dominant neo-liberal theology of the State. Obviously, I don’t.
From my perspective, the Roberts Rule provides several key takeaways. On the one hand, it represents an immediate (if only short-lived) expansion of Federal power to tax US citizens. In this respect, it also enhances the Fed’s ability to further dictate individual behavior by compelling us to be commercial insurance consumers by force of law. Call it a tax, if you will, either way its net effect is control. Additionally, his opinion opens the door for corporations to exercise increasingly aggressive roles in the fleecing of America, as apparent government oversight diminishes. Indeed, we will become less cognizant of the increasing incidence of the sorts of shenanigans described in a recent case with British-based multinational pharmaceutical, GlaxoSmithKline.
GSK’s sales force bribed physicians to prescribe GSK products using every imaginable form of high priced entertainment, from Hawaiian vacations to paying doctors millions of dollars to go on speaking tours to a European pheasant hunt to tickets to Madonna concerts, and this is just to name a few,” said Carmin M. Ortiz, U.S. attorney in Massachusetts.3
Yet, ultimately, the Roberts Rule represents just another clever distraction from the real issue, expanding the sphere of control and increasing manipulation of the body politic by the corporatocracy.
However, it now appears that even the president and his handlers may be uncomfortable with the wording of this big win, at least with the circuitous logic that allowed Roberts to suddenly flip his position. Obama and his minions have systematically shied away from use of the “tax” word at all costs.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, appearing on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, sought to characterize the mandate as a penalty, not a tax. 4
It certainly appears as though the Daily Mail in Britain had it about right: “A Pyrrhic victory at the Supreme Court as Obamacare becomes Obamatax.”4 So perhaps the conservative Chief Justice, an unlikely political trickster figure, was smarter than everyone by half, handing the president a victory at the cost of his own reelection hopes. Now, wouldn’t that be sweet, poetic justice!
Nevertheless, it seems that such tinkering, or side-stepping, with language is now de rigueur in this crazy game of pretzel-logic-law-making-cum-political-huckstering, as we discussed just last week. The wily, but not so feral, Chief Justice simply redefined terms of the debate in order to justify the opinion he feels compelled to deliver. And, in so doing, he provides that Pyrrhic victory for the visiting team; but then the marketing experts, err… career politicians, go right back to work trying to circle the wagons and reconstitute the discussion on other grounds. And they engage in this sport, endlessly, whenever it suits their needs.
It appears that in this world, where A=A, and only A, we rather enjoy this game of wordplay, perhaps because it expands our already deluded sense of freedom, like the way we feel empowered when we encounter all those different brands of deodorant for sale on the grocery store shelf. Of course, the legislators, judges and politicians love this game of scrabble as well; it allows for ongoing public distraction from the main event – a tightening death-grip on the citizenry – each new law bringing us under stricter control by the metropole – the colonizers, the imperialists and their corporate paymasters.
Nevertheless, we sit enthralled by the spectacle, awaiting further acts of dissemblance, manipulation, justification, and outright lying by the various parties involved in the latest dispute. I am certain we shall hear much more from legislators of all stripes, the administration, and the bench, as the race for the White House and the vote tally nears its final leg late this fall. Isn’t the Spectacle exciting? But it creates such a stench that is becoming harder to ignore. Try not to get lost in the swirling, decaying miasma.
As the fires continue to ravage Colorado, and the American hegemony ravages the globe, Roberts may just have ravaged the president’s reelection bid, while Obama in turn ravages us, and we continue ravaging the earth. When will all these appetites be sated?