Telecoms Should Not Be Immune: The BIG Picture

 “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” – Benito Mussolini. 

The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees sent a revised FISA Bill to the floor yesterday that did NOT grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications corporations for breaking the law by participating in warrentless wiretapping with the federal government.

Pachacutec has a piece in the Huffington Post today teeing off on the telecoms and reminding me of the Mussolini quip above. 

The reason the telecom industry is so bad is because it has bought congress, written anti-competitive, anti-consumer regulations into law, so that its services get worse and worse while it places itself on precisely the business path to destruction the US auto industry has already trod.

It lies to consumers on an individual level… and more broadly, launches dishonest anti-net neutrality campaigns and seeks to absolve itself from its participation in illegal surveillance of US citizens. Oh, and it tries to destroy free speech, thank you very much. The more it builds its business model around anti-competitive, anti-consumer corporate welfare and lies, the more it must cling to protectionist, anti-innovation strategies just to survive, systemically cutting the knees out from small businesses and innovative startups. It’s a slow, steady slog toward business death. Just ask Ford how that works out.

Now, it’s a no-brainer that the only way to save such dinosaurs from extinction is for government to prop them up. And the relationship that builds is not so much dominant and submissive as symbiotic. In short, a corporate state — Benito Mussolini’s preferred term for fascism — grows.  As attorney David G. Mills wrote:

The structure of fascism is the union, marriage, merger or fusion of corporate economic power with governmental power. Failing to understand fascism, as the consolidation of corporate economic and governmental power in the hands of a few, is to completely misunderstand what fascism is. It is the consolidation of this power that produces the demagogues and regimes we understand as fascist ones. 

So what’s all this have to do with FISA? Pachacutec points out

What’s more, the rumor is the Senate version of the new FISA bill, with the blessing of Harry Reid and the Democrats, will include retroactive immunity for the telecoms for their lawbreaking… we also need to let Harry Reid and the rest of the capitulation caucus in the Senate know that retroactive immunity is purely unacceptable during the next few days.

Consider the fact that the Bush Administration crossed an authoritarian line by ignoring FISA and wiretapping Americans without warrants — accomplishing this with the collusion of the telecoms. And now the same President Bush insists that the telecoms be completely off the hook, regardless of harm done to Americans citizens. Mills:

Individual rights and corporate rights, at the very least conflict, and often are in downright opposition to one another. In the court system, often individuals must sue corporations. In America, in order to protect corporations, we have seen a steady stream of rules, decisions and laws to protect corporations and to limit the rights of the individual by lawsuit and other redress. These rules, decisions, and laws have always been justified on the basis of the need for corporations to have profit in order to exist. 

Except here a new barrier is besieged. Bush wishes to justify corporations’ “need” to aid and abet his government’s oppressive violation of his fellow citizens’ rights. That’s new and that’s big.

Pachacutec ends with a plea:

Gee, are there any Democratic senators who might consider launching a filibuster on the Senate FISA bill, even against the will of the leadership, like maybe, anyone from a state that likes cheese, or a senator who guest blogs at SavetheInternet.org or anyone running for president who asserts he’s truly committed to the Constitution?

Mills, (writing in 2004!) ends with a warning:

As I have pondered what could be done about America’s steady march toward the fascist state, I also have pondered what can be done internally to stop it. The Germans couldn’t seem to do it. The Italians couldn’t seem to do it. The only lesson from recent history where an indigenous people seemed to have uncoupled the merger of economic power with governmental power is the French Revolution. The soft underbelly of consolidated economic power is that the power resides in the hands of a few. Cut off the money supply of the few and the merger between economic power and government becomes unglued. The French systematically took out their aristocracy one by one. It was ugly; the French couldn’t seem to figure out when there had been enough bloodletting to solve the problem.

The thought of an American twenty-first century French Revolution is ugly. But the thought of an American twenty-first century fascist state is far uglier. It would be a supreme irony that the state most responsible for stopping worldwide fascism would become fascist 60 years later. But far worse than this irony is the reality that an American fascist state with America’s power could make Nazi Germany look like a tiny blip on the radar screen of history.

For some years now we have lived with the Faustian bargain of the corporation. Large corporations are necessary to achieve those governmental and social necessities that small enterprises are incapable of providing. The checks on corporate power have always been fragile. Left unchecked, the huge economic power of corporations corrupts absolutely. Most of the checks are badly eroded. Is there still time to get the checks back in balance? Or will we be left with two unthinkable options?

It all depends upon what Congress lets get chipped away, and what it will not.

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