Exxon drags its feet for nearly two decades after helping inflict one of history's most devastating oil spills ever, and the Supreme Corp--ahem, I mean Court-- renders a 5-3 decision slashing punitive damages down to a paltry few days' profits. Meanwhile, Congress' capitulation/"compromise" on FISA will essentially roll back all the hard work of folks like Senators Feingold and Dodd to protect Americans' Constitutional rights.
These are two of the most egregious of a recent influx of events that signal a quiet chipping away at the American public's safety, economic security, and legal rights. It's being done through destruction or manipulation of the rule of law, and it's what Stephanie Mencimer, in her book Blocking the Courthouse Door, called "E Pluribus Screw 'Em."
In the interest of gaining some perspective, follow me below the fold where I will pose questions and try not to rant, in hopes of facilitating some conversation about how these events are related and what progressives can do, besides lament, about it all.
In the marketplace, complicit government agencies and their accompanying under-regulated industries allow dangerous , toys, and food to endanger our health because it saves them money. And on the hill, lobbyists successfully protect big industries by weakening people's ability to file lawsuits and obtain adequate compensation for abusive corporate practices like spying on us illegally, profiting off of , and paying women and minorities less than they deserve. What do these distinct events have to do with one another? Whether it's preventing ordinary Americans from filing lawsuits at all (FISA), or reducing victims' compensation after they win a lawsuit (Exxon), the corporate lobby and the politicians they court are hard at work rigging the system to protect big business.
Unsurprisingly, mainstream media is being, to put it mildly, inconsistent in its coverage of these events. Last Sunday's New York Times article on the civil justice debate, for instance, read like an op-ed written by a Chamber of Commerce lobbyist rather than serious journalism--it practically praised big business industries for their work.
Frustrating as that may be, that means that right now is a pivotal moment for progressives and progressive media. That everything is happening in an election year, where Obama and McCain and those running for public office on the local and state levels are being asked to take strong positions, means that we have an opportunity to oranize and strategize about how to leverage our influence on the political debate and set a progressive political agenda to protect Americans' legal rights.
Let's take Obama's new stance on the FISA compromise. Knowing that Obama's politics are much more aligned with regular Americans' interests and concerns than McCain's, this stance is still a signal of the work progressives have to do, being friendly agitators of the candidates who are most likely to work with us once elected. This campaign season provides us with an opportunity to gauge just how hard we will have to work to achieve an agenda of fairness for ordinary Americans, and accountability for corporations. It also forces us to ask each other exactly what this agenda looks like. One aspect of the agenda, which has yet to be articulated on a widespread level, is to protect Americans' legal rights and access to the courts. This is essential.
Each iteration of the corporate lobby's attack on our rights provides a new opportunity to exert pressure on the candidates to take a position so as to enrich our understanding of the substance of each candidate's politics. It also serves as practice for the serious mobilizing and organizing we have to do after the election cycle--and the honeymoon--is over.