Twice in twenty-four hours I recently drew criticism from folks I respect. So I am doing a little soul-searching.
I was on a panel in New Haven sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union discussing the challenge new technologies pose to privacy. One of the panelists was a fellow named Mario Cerame. He’s a third-year law student at Qunnipiac University College of Law, and an advocate favoring the right to record police officers. He’s wicked smart.
When the moderator announced his affiliation with the Cato Institute, I winced. I’ve more than a little libertarian in me, so I count the folks at Cato as fellow travelers of a sort. But I am uncomfortable about the sources of Cato’s funding. Among the institute’s backers are the Koch brothers and Koch Industries – big time right-wingers with deep corporate pockets. Think Citizens United and then think the Koch brothers. These are the guys that think what is good for big business is good for America. In fact, they think big business is America.
So, being me, I said something snotty about Cato and the Koch connection. Mr. Cerame was stung, and told the group he’d take my "ad hominem comments on the chin." Apparently, you can’t question the source of funding of a wolf dressed in sheep’s skin. A while ago, when I first noted the connection between Cato and the Kochs, I got a note from one the big thinkers at Cato telling me how disappointed they were in me. Why? What’s wrong with pointing out the hidden hand that feeds?
The very next day, two lawyers whom I admire each sent me emails after argument in the Connecticut Supreme Court about whether the state takeover of the Bridgeport school board was lawful. During argument, I reminded the court that there was a point in our history where it was all right to call a cabal of business and government interests bent on undermining democratic institutions by its proper name – fascism. My remarks were offensive, I was told. At a minimum, the comment was not good advocacy.
I debated long and hard about whether to use such a loaded term before the high court. I elected to do so because my take on the Bridgeport school board issue is that private corporate interests conspired with Bridgeport Mayor William Finch to try to replace the city’s elected school board with appointees selected by the state Department of Education. The resumes of many of the new appointees bear the imprimatur of corporate sponsorship or connection. Corporate money and government clout tossed out elected officials selected by Bridgeport votes. Call me a sentimental democrat, but I find it shocking. So we hauled the folks who stole public offices from elected officials into the state’s highest court.
Is it a sign of incipient fascism to see government and industry coalesce in the name of efficiency and good social order to oust an elected body? It is a close enough cousin to merit the name fascism.
The gap between the one percent who control the nation’s wealth and the remaining 99 percent of the population exploded during the past couple of decades. People are angry about it now that the economy has faltered. Corporations have been given First Amendment rights to spend at will in elections. Bankers get bailed out at taxpayer expense. Elected officials are forced from office. Someone tell me what to call this and I’ll stop muttering the f-word.
In the meantime, to those whom I have offended: I am sorry, sort of. I’m just not prepared yet to go silently in the night. If big business and big government want to steal the dream of robust citizenship for all Americans, they’re going to have fight to get my share. Words are the only weapons at my disposal.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.