Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Intriguing, If Imaginary, Meeting

Imagine an opulent room somewhere in the Vatican, and six people are locked up in it: five of the six highest-ranking Roman Catholics in U.S. government, and their spiritual leader, Pope Francis.

The  five are Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court, and associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.  These are the five who decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in favor of big corporations, holding that they are people and as such cannot be limited in the amounts of money they spend to influence the outcomes of elections. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. It argued that the government had no place in determining whether large expenditures distorted an audience's perceptions, and that the type of "corruption" that might justify government controls on spending for speech had to relate to some form of "quid pro quo."

Pope Francis has warned the world that “we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”  In the first major document of his papacy (Evangelii Gaudium), he condemned the "new tyranny of unfettered capitalism" and the "idolatry of money."

While Alito and Scalia have supped at the lavish table of the corporate oligarch Koch brothers, and Roberts is close friends with the Bush dynasty, Pope Francis likes to dress as a humble priest  and sneak oout of the Vatican to rub shoulders with the homeless and give them alms.

I wonder if, in that opulent room, Pope Francis would ask the court's Catholic Five if, since they hold corporations to be people, corporations have souls? If they sin, must they confess? If so, who must do so: the officers? shareholders? directors? Surely the voluble Scalia -- a member of the church's powerful secret society, Opus Dei -- would wish to enlighten His Holiness on such matters.

How would he justify the American court's clear approval of ever expanding corporate power to the Pontiff who wrote:

“The absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” creates “a throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”

“What I would tell the youth is to worry about looking after one another and to be conscious of this and to not allow themselves to be thrown away,” he told a television audience in his native Argentina. “So that throwaway culture does not continue, so that a culture of inclusion is achieved.”

In his manifesto, the pope decried the current “economy of exclusion and inequality.” “Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

What, indeed, would the Citizens United justices say to their Pontiff?

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