GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 15, 2013

Letter: Citizens United and the 'corporate store'


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Are you as amazed as I am by Youtube.com?

You can type in just about anything of interest and get video. Recently, I had a hankering to hear an old favorite singer of mine, Tennessee Ernie Ford. When I typed in his name, not only did I pull up videos of him (which I haven’t seen in decades), I found a terrific one hosted by Dinah Shore, on her television show. She introduced Tennessee and he sang his great hit “16 Tons.”

“You load sixteen tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt.

Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go,

I owe my soul to the company store.”

It is a sad song about a long and miserable time in our country’s history — a time before Teddy Roose-velt stood up to the robber barons of Wall Street and before his cousin Franklin pulled America out of the Depression with the “New Deal.”

A century of such progressive and liberal legislation erased memories of “the company store” and the rigged system that saw to it that working people lived their lives in debt and lifelong insecurity. And so the era of “16 Tons” gave way to the flourishing of the biggest middle class in the world.

Today, we do not even remember what a “company store” was. It was where working folks shopped for the basics because they were paid not in cash, but in some sort of voucher only redeemable at “the company store.”

The company could also force working people to live in company housing — little better than squalid slums, and the rent was automatically deducted from their pay. That way, no one could save for the future, no matter how hard they worked and no matter how many tons they loaded. It was a harsh system and it was rigged to benefit the few at the expense of the many. And so, back then, there was only a small — if any — middle class.

With a tip of the hat to FDR, you might call that era the “Old Deal.” No one has shown any nostalgia for the “Old Deal” — until recently.

Now the middle class is under assault — economic and political — by corporations under the banner of the Supreme Court decision, “Citizens United.” This decision overturned a century of anti-corruption legislation at the state and federal level. Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into elections at every level of government in order to elect politicians who want to eviscerate the New Deal and re-instate the “Old Deal.”

The coming months will see a prolonged congressional battle of “Old Deal” proponents of austerity for the many and bailouts for the few. They will want to shred the Roosevelt legacy while guaranteeing tax cuts for the few — if the few pay anything at all.

All this is facilitated by the Supreme Court decision that found that money equals free speech and that corporations are “people.”

Really? Corporate personhood? I admit if has been a long time since I last checked Gray’s Anatomy, but I doubt if corporations have been added to the newer editions!

We do not have to lose the gains of a century. We do not have to endure the total corruption of our democracy by big money.

We can forbid the usurpation of our human rights in the Constitution by artificial entities called corporations. We can regulate political contributions from any source and require the full disclosure of those contributions to the public.

Rick Nolan, a congressman from Minnesota, introduced an amendment to the Constitution to overturn “Citizens United” earlier this week to do just that. We can and must work for the adoption of this constitutional amendment! Or, we can allow “16 Tons” to become an anthem of our times.

Do we want to return to the “Old Deal”? Is it time to ask ourselves the old question Tennessee Ernie Ford asked on the Dinah Shore Show?

Do we want to “Owe our soul ... to the corporate store?”

MICHAEL D. O’CONNOR

Granite Street, Rockport