The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


I haven't been able to lay my hands on the stats for the relative financial resources of unions and corporations. My sense is that corporations have vastly greater resources, such that there is really no comparable amount of potential power. It seems pretty clear that in some ways there are two basic world views: one that worth flows from the top down. The other that worth flows from the bottom up. Most reasonable people are at neither extreme, but a Communist position is clearly bottom up, and a Capitalist position (true Capitalism, that being people who make money by manipulating money, not by selling goods or services) leads to a top-down philosophy.

Clearly, there are rich people who adhere the left without being Communist or even really socialist. And working people who adhere to the financial philosophies of the Right.

I would think that at either end, you have a ravening, dysfunctional monster. Neither position can really work, so what you really have is oligarchy masquerading as different ideologies, playing on different fears, triggering different knee-jerk responses in order to manipulate blocks of voters into responding this or that way. I think that one of the reasons I encourage people to find balance in their own lives is the fact that most of the people who are knee-jerk ideologues are WAY out of balance in their personal arenas.

Now, that's not totally true. But it has seemed true enough to make me think that there is a healthy connection. Fear, unprocessed anger and resentment and the like clouds perceptions and even makes it difficult to access information actually held in the mind. Whenever I see people make arguments that ignore information currently held by that individual, it seems reasonable to assume that, for some reason, they didn't let themselves access it. And the natural question "why not?" arises. Easiest answer: to access that information would cause a contradiction with some belief pattern wired in at the level of emotion, beliefs that exist to protect the body or ego. And that means dealing with fear.

Political beliefs often seem wired in at the survival level, and beyond. Tough stuff to get at.


It was justifiably pointed out that I was commenting about ""Don't Ask Don't Tell" without ever having been a member of the military. Absolutely true. And I've never met a human being who didn't comment about groups he or she did not belong to. That's what people do. However, I also think that those who have served this country honorably...especially in a combat capacity, will have special insight into the issues, and I politely request such people share their feelings.

I have to admit that I will have an automatic tendency to side with the expansion of basic human rights, and arguments that were used against black people pre-WW2 aren't likely to gain much traction with me. That doesn't make me right...but it is an honest expression of my world view. "Unit cohesion" was used as a justification there, as well. And there was probably truth to it. But the military doesn't just fight. It also has a powerful feedback effect on the health and morale of the entire nation. The question can never just be what is best for any individual social organ--it is what is best for overall body politic. And that means, sometime, that we must live together. And be very careful, and very very certain, and have broad consensus indeed before even considering denial of human rights.

Otherwise, like the man says, when they come for you, there will be no one left to say "no."


I clearly remember the day my prejudice against gays broke down. It was in high school, when I realized a guy in my drama class was gay, and he was cool. And I remember when I stopped being offended that gays were attracted to me: when I realized that they liked very similar things to what women liked. It was a frickin' complement, for goodness sake. Everything after that was just frosting. I don't like watching dudes kiss in movies as much as I like watching women make out...but maybe that's partially because the actors never look as if they really enjoy it. And often, the women REALLY get into it. That's curious, and fascinating. And kinda yummy.


Scott said...

Last three sentences erased my memory of the rest of the post. So I went and read it again, and it happened again; something about capitalism and soldiers, maybe? ;-)

Marty S said...

Capitalism is a system in which there is private or corporate ownership of the means of production. It has nothing to do with whether worth flows up or down. My father owned a luncheonette with his cousin. That makes him a capitalist. He worked 60-70 hours a week to put food on the table and pay the rent on our one bedroom apartment where I shared the bedroom with my two sisters and my parents slept in the living room. Obama wants to help small businesses because that's where a lot of the job growth potential is. Small businesses, many family owned, are an example of capitalism. Are they in your mind also an example top down worth.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

Gay in the military: seems like there are simple answers to the debate.

1. For the first time in this nations history, we are fighting two protracted overseas wars using a strictly volunteer army. To eliminate a significant portion of healthy and capable potential volunteers is not wise.

2. The services are eliminating individuals on whom a significant amount of training dollars were spent. Kicking a pilot or a farsi linguist out for being gay is just a waste of money.

As a former Army officer I can say that for the younger generation of servicemen and women, it just isn't as big of an issue as people are making it out to be.

Dan Moran said...

The women kissing and enjoying themselves is the exact equivalent of the brother not getting laid. Men don't seem to be enjoying themselves onscreen when they kiss? It's not the actors; it's the audience, which isn't ready for it. Hollywood is full of men who enjoy kissing other men ... :-)

suzanne said...

the men in Six Feet Under
sure do look like they enjoyed kissing each other

Pagan Topologist said...

I admit that I do not find same sex kissing in movies to be a turn-on. I also don't object to it. Male female kissing is a turn-on sometimes, however.

Anonymous said...

"My sense is that corporations have vastly greater resources, such that there is really no comparable amount of potential power."

The recent Supreme Court ruling about corporations and the First Amendment wasn't just about unions, it was about whether the federal government of the United States of America was entitled to override the First Amendment -- ban political speech in televised, or, indeed book form -- if the political speech in question came from a corportation.

The U.S. federal government has vastly more power than any corporation. If you disagree, tell me how many ICBMs Bill Gates controls and how many wars he can start; tell me how many federal prisons he controls and how large his armed forces are. Tell me if Bill Gates or Warren Buffet could have gotten away with burning small children alive at Waco, or with starting a multi-year war against Iraq on grounds that over half the U.S. came to find deeply flawed.

The fact that a political party that happens to control the U.S. federal government has labor unions -- increasingly populated by public-sector employees rather than private-sector ones, and thus increasingly dependent on political patronage for their very existence -- among its political supporters, is no reason to assume that we can trust that political party more than we would trust Bill Gates with the ability to incinerate infants. Or to ban publication of a television show, movie, book that just happens to be critical of a Democratic politician.

It's not a question of believing in "top down", it's a question of being seriously afraid of "top down", and of recognizing that "top down" rule by centralized governments killed far more human beings in the last century than capitalism did. And even where centralized governments haven't been bloodily violent, they've had all too good a track record of retarding the economic and political freedoms of individual citizens in their countries. Argentina used to be one of the wealthiest and freest countries in the world. It isn't now. I think Peronism is more of a threat to the U.S. than outright totalitarianism, but Peronism would be bad enough.

There will probably never be a perfect balance of power, but a world in which corporations can annoy Obama and Pelosi by saying the "wrong" things during a political election strikes me as freer than one in which corporations need Obama and Pelosi's permission to speak politically.

--Erich Schwarz

Dan Moran said...

The U.S. federal government has vastly more power than any corporation.

This is true. But there is more than one corporation in the world, and only one United States. And the inability of corporations to engage in political speech bothers me not in the slightest (were it possible to enforce.) Corporations are not people, money is not speech, and I fear the power of the corporations more than I fear the power of the U.S. government ... and did, even when Bush was in power. The American government is largely an extension of corporate power in any event, though less so with Democrats.

Anonymous said...

"... there is more than one corporation in the world, and only one United States."

That's part of the problem. Because there's only one U.S., covering a vast amount of territory, it's bloody difficult to exit peacefully from one of its one-size-fits-all "solutions". If you don't like Microsoft, you don't have to buy its software; if you live in the territorial boundaries of the U.S., an amazing amount of your life is governed by federal law and you are remarkably vulnerable to abuses of the U.S. government's extensive power.

I'll say it again: no amount of money would have let Bill Gates burn small children to death at Waco, let alone start a war of choice with Iraq that couldn't stand up to rational criticism from half the country. Yet the President of the United States could do both. Can you tell me, with a straight face, why I should not fear the President more than I fear Warren Buffett?

The existence of multiple corporations, each of far smaller size and power than the multi-trillion dollar yearly budget of the U.S. federal government, has another effect: it means that even given one corporation having wrong-headed or downright evil management, there's a considerable likelihood that others won't. Where is the equivalent of competition for U.S. governmental power that would be analogous to Apple or, better yet, Linux? It basically doesn't exist, unless that "competition" is China's regime.

If you're not more scared of the U.S. federal government than of Microsoft, you've got a rather different sense of likely threats than I. And if you feel happy with the idea of the federal government deciding exactly who has the right to publish political speech in an election year -- or in any year -- and who is banned from publishing such speech on pain of fines or felony, then your understanding of the First Amendment is radically different from mine.

--Erich Schwarz

Dan Moran said...


Might be radically different. The right to free speech applies to humans, and corporations are not humans.

I meant what I said about corporations. The only reason Bush was permitted to start a war in Iraq was that it didn't directly infringe upon the wants and desires of his corporate masters: there was money to be made in Iraq. The reason we're not permitted decent health care in this country is that human lives are less valuable than corporate profits.

Dems are only marginally better in this area than Republicans -- they represent a different and somewhat competing set of corporate interests, and the difference between the corporate interests behind democrats and those behind republicans is the margin of freedom in this country, in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

"... money is not speech ..."

In the real world, the right to political speech is meaningless unless one also has the right to lawfully act on it with tangible methods going beyond simply standing on a soapbox or hand-writing letters. Going beyond that level of expression costs money. Banning spending money on political speech means banning that speech, until we have a magical economy with Star Trek matter replicators in which everything is free.

To say that one only has the First Amendment for whatever speech can be paid for by an individual human being is a mug's game; it's a de facto ban on any form of speech using collective effort or division of labor to increase its scope. In fact, it would ban political speech by the New York Times, if an extremely dubious exception weren't made for "the press", which in reality means "those corporations of whose speech the government approves".

The First Amendment's also meaningless unless it can be exerted using those methods current in one's own time, and unless it is allowed to include speech that people specifically find troubling and would like to ban. This is why Larry Flynt gets to have First Amendment rights to publish his magazine in formats, with contents, and over media that would have left the Founding Fathers agog.

I think that a corporation -- whether it's an actual for-profit company, or an organization created specifically to produce some public act of political speech -- should have at least as much right to publish political material as Larry Flynt has to publish Hustler. Certainly, if one were to choose which of the two was not under the protection of the First Amendment, the writers of that Amendment would have found banning political speech while tolerating pornography an odd choice.

--Erich Schwarz

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Marty S said...

If I understand the position of the those opposed to the recent supreme court decision we will have a freer, more democratic(small d) country if the super rich like Bill Gates and Micheal Moore can politically advertise or make their own political movies, but organizations owned by lots of investors, privately, through mutual funds, and 401k's can't. And how do we distinguish between groups formed by corporations to make political speech and non-corporate groups that have a political agenda.

olddude said...

Sometimes I wonder if this might just be a paper discussion.When we examine the real dynamic that goes on,the blurry entities that we call corporations and government become harder to see and just the same thing from different angles.The components of each are shared.

Shady_Grady said...

The First Amendment was never meant to apply to corporate money contributions. Corporations were not considered people by the founding fathers, who had a much more limited view of corporate rights than is in current vogue.

The whole idea of corporate personhood comes out of a 19th Supreme Court misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment.

I don't think one can maintain an "originalist" reading of the First Amendment and also maintain that limits on corporate contributions/spending for elections is a restriction on free speech. In early America corporate contributions to politicians could be considered criminal.

Founding Fathers

Money is not speech. Limits on corporate spending really have nothing to do with the First Amendment. The First Amendment says nothing about spending limits, which is a fact that the supposedly "originalist" Court should have recognized.

"When economic power became concentrated in a few hands, then political power flowed to those possessors and away from the citizens, ultimately resulting in an oligarchy or tyranny".
John Adams

Shady_Grady said...

There was a study by a Jonathan Haidt that showed that people who identified as liberal used slightly different moral insights to make decisions than those who were conservative and had slightly different sensitivities. Neither way was "right" or "wrong" but just different. Conservatives tended to be more sensitive to ideas of disgust and purity while liberals tended to be more sensitive to fairness.

Construction of morality

This could explain some of the disagreement around open gays serving in the military. I don't think that opposition is automatically problematic.

Anonymous said...

I truly believe that we have reached the point where technology has become one with our world, and I can say with 99% certainty that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as the price of memory falls, the possibility of uploading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about every once in a while.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4[/url] DS NetPostv2)

Travis said...

ELECTION COMMISSION)does not apply to contributions and it confuses the issue to claim that it does. Countering with "money isn't speech" doesn't help because the decision is specifically about speech activities not monetary donations.

There's lots of things the founding fathers didn't envision. The Constitution applies regardless. Speaking of founding fathers the "founding fathers" link appears initially persuasive but doesn't cite a single source and contradicts other sources.

I don't like the implications of the decision but it's absolutly correst under existing law.

Anonymous said...

" However, I also think that those who have served this country honorably...especially in a combat capacity, will have special insight into the issues, and I politely request such people share their feelings."

Okay. I'm absolutly for allowing gays to openly serve. Will some people have a problem? Yep. But in every other regard the military has no problem telling people to "shut up and color" so why should this be any different? There are people who don't want to serve with blacks, or latinos, or women, or stupid people, or ... whatever. And either those people don't sign up or they are told to shut up and color.

I do happen to think that 'don't ask, don't tell' is a good standard for all work places and sexual orientations. It's not anybody's business, keep private life private. But that doesn't mean you should be penalized if someone happens to find out.

Marty S said...

Bertrand Russell had had a group of conjugations that reflect people's mind set . My favorite is

I am obstinate

You are stubborn

He is a pig headed fool.

Saying liberals are more sensitive to fairness while conservatives are more sensitive to disgust and purity is acting just the way he describes. Fairness is often in the eye of the beholder. Take the following situation. We are about to hold a hundred meter race. The contestants very in their ability. For instance one has been running and practicing physical fitness since he was little boy who's father was a martial artist and made sure he grew up fit. At the other end of the spectrum of contestants is an obese individual who is 250 lbs overweight. Is fairness making everybody where a suit of weights that make them the carry equivalent amount of extra weight as the obese individual so that everybody has an equal chance to win or is fairness allowing everybody to run unencumbered so that the person who has trained and kept himself fit gets the advantage of his efforts.

Shady_Grady said...

Some liberals would indeed argue that "fairness" does require interventions into competitive events and perhaps even equality of outcomes-which is what Vonnegut satirized so perfectly in "Harrison Bergeron".

But saying that political preferences are also impacted by psychological/biological preferences is nothing new. No sense of superiority or inferiority is intended. There are times when a heightened sensitivity to authority or disgust is a "good" thing and times when it is not.

Shady_Grady said...

But the whole idea of corporate personhood comes out of the 14th Amendment, not the 1st.

I really don't see a 1st Amendment issue limiting corporate spending during elections.

I do think that this decision will ultimately ruin any sort of campaign finance reform. The only way to deal with it is to amend the Constitution to make it clear that money is not speech and corporate influence may be limited legally.

Lorenzo said...

Large corporations have vastly more total financial resources than unions. (Though when was the last time a union went bust?) But when it comes to money to put into advocacy, things change dramatically.

Corporations are people acting together for common purposes. Corporations include non-profits and the University of Oxford. What the majority of the Supreme Court said was that the First Amendment limited government power over speech in general and picking and choosing which corporations could participate in public debate and when was not on.

Personally, I would prefer to have the advocacy out in the open, where it can be seen. Moreover, limiting the right to speak also limits the right to hear. Which is really the point.

Travis said...

"But the whole idea of corporate personhood comes out of the 14th Amendment, not the 1st."

No it doesn't. It has origins dating back into English law before the founding of the US and a long history of use in the US. Originally it may have been intended more as a descriptor then an actual legal status. But that hasn't been the case for over a hundred years.

Modernly we have 1 U.S.C. §1,"In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise-- the words "person" and "whoever" include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals".

Travis said...

The 14th Amendment deals with extending legal protections to limit state interference with rights rather then only federal interference.

Lobo said...

I think we're at a point where we need to amend the Constitution. I have no idea what it will look like, but it should probably make sure every candidate has access to an equal playing field. As it is now, to extend Marty's race analogy, what we have is a race where corporations get to start 10 feet away from the finish line while everyone else has to run the full confidence course. Maybe the time has come to draw the line. Does it go against the spirit of the Constitution? Maybe, maybe not. But the framers had enough foresight to install a corrective tool for these situations.

Corporations are no more people than cars are people. Without humans around to drive, they're just papers sitting in a file cabinet somewhere. On the other hand, you can make the case that a corporation is the vehicle by which real people pursue a common goal.

The real question is about fairness. We seem to have a situation where corporate money sucks the proverbial air out of the room and makes it nearly impossible for everyone else to defend their own interests. While it may be unfair to prevent corporations to defend their interests via political contributions and activities, if you ask me it's a whole lot more unfair to allow corporations to prevent everyone else from defending their interests.

As always the real problem is the politicians who enable them, but we can't get at them while they are given nearly unlimited cover from corporate money. Remove the corporate money from the equation and then elections become a lot more equitable.

Marty S said...

Lobo: Again fairness depends upon where you stand. Much of the country today is anti-corporation. If you don't believe me read the posts on this site. With today's technology it is very easy for groups with a like political position to band together and get their message out. So if corporations are denied the right to put out their message defending themselves then the question is can they setup a separate organization to defend their interests i.e. in which case there is no real difference from letting the corporations do it themselves or do we allow only one side a voice in the discussion.

Steven Barnes said...

small business owners are the very definition of "bottom up." The problem is that there is no single accepted definition of capitalism. If our definitions conflict, this is one of the reasons polite discourse is so important. I think small business owners are one of the engines of any successful economy.

Steven Barnes said...

Dan, do you mean that the actors deliberately hold back, for fear of offending the audience? I suppose that could be true. It certainly isn't that I don't know the difference. I've seen gay porn, and those guys definitely got into it. Michael Caine and Christopher Reeves? Not so much.

Steven Barnes said...

You could be right about Six Feet Under. I stopped watching, disgusted that HBO would exclude black men in "Oz" from being sexual (when the whites so clearly were), and the only black male sexuality was gay. If only about 5% of the population is gay, when I see blacks represented as higher than that, it punches my buttons and it's impossible for me to enjoy it.

Steven Barnes said...

Some people are anti-corporation. Some are anti-union. I'm only against people who seem to think that corporations are inherently more "good" than unions, or for that matter, governments. I would have NO problem with corporations advising their stockholders or employees to vote or donate. I have HUGE problems with corporations which are actually, practically controlled by small groups of hyper-rich people being able to dump mega-bucks into our political process. That, functionally, allows rich people to have vastly more influence over the process than poor people. If they earned their money, that's not quite as bad as if they inherited it. That is the way toward a permanent aristocracy.

Steven Barnes said...

I think you're thinking about it wrong if you compare the "armies" of corporations and those of governments. Corporations are not geopolitical entities, and have no need to protect territories. But they can buy governments, and influence them that way.
And--for those of us who believe that global warming or pollution is a real and dangerous factor--they are seen to poison and distort the discourse, such that millions might die as the result of their policies. I understand that this makes no sense if you don't think global warming is a problem--I'm asking you to grasp that you might be wrong (as I might be wrong in my position). Seen that way, corporations can put out cars that explode, poison water and air, back coups to install favorable local governments, and increase recidivism rates because private prisons are profitable. All because individual human beings are no more important to a corporation than individual cells are within your body. In no way do I think that corporations are like evil Terminators who would like to destroy mankind. Are you kidding? They'd be a lot more like the MATRIX universe--they need us alive, but mostly asleep. Most people will actually be pretty happy and comfortable. There will be no wars. But autonomous nations will be a thing of the past, and most people won't even notice.
I'm not even sure I should care. But those of you who worry about the United Nations stealing our national independence have, if I'm right, been watching the front door so closely that you didn't notice what snuck in the back.

Dan Moran said...


Yes. I think most male actors who play gay, even if they're not gay, could do a better job of simulating enjoyment, if that was what the director wanted. I think, exactly as with the directors who shy away from black male sexuality, their hindbrain goes, "Audience isn't going to like this, better tone it down."

Same with the actors, if they're not actually gay -- Tom Hanks can play a gay man, but he doesn't want the audience thinking he's really gay -- there go all those leading men roles. Coming off like you're getting into it is bad for business.

The equation is different for women -- plainly women kissing passionately doesn't harm box office noticeably, or it wouldn't happen either.

Some day black men will get laid, and gay men will get to kiss as if they're enjoying it, and the box office won't suffer noticeably -- and then there'll be more of it, going forward. But someone will have to show it making money first.

Marty S said...

Steve: You say there is no single accepted definition of capitalism,but here's the links to the definition of capitalism at four different online dictionaries. The definitions are all similar and they all agree the essence is private ownership of the means of production.

This contrasted with socialism which is variously described as government or collective control of the means of production.

I suspect if you compare the economic well being of individuals in capitalist countries versus socialist countries I suspect you will find people who live under capitalism are much better off than those who live under socialism.

Pagan Topologist said...

The Scandinavian countries are the most socialist in the world today. They seem to be doing pretty well.

Marty S said...

Scandinavian countries are not socialist by the definition of government/ collective control of the means of production. In fact if you read this pdf

Scandinavian corporate governance resulted in the ownership of a corporation by single dominant person or group rather than widely dispersed ownership we have here. This makes them in a sense more capitalistic than us. When you say that the Scandinavian countries are very socialist you apparently not talking about their economic system.

suzanne said...

You could be right about Six Feet Under. I stopped watching, disgusted that HBO would exclude black men in "Oz" from being sexual (when the whites so clearly were), and the only black male sexuality was gay. If only about 5% of the population is gay, when I see blacks represented as higher than that, it punches my buttons and it's impossible for me to enjoy it.

I can;t say about Oz
because I stopped ordering/watching somewhere in the second season, I think
however seemed to me
most of the sex was gay/homoswexual
because it was in prison

in Six Feet Under
the two men who clearly act/enjoy the sex (with each other) are Michael Hall and Matthew St. Patrick. Best and most normal depiction of gay love (not just sex) and how like straight love it is, that I've seen

suzanne said...

If only about 5% of the population is gay, when I see blacks represented as higher than that, it punches my buttons and it's impossible for me to enjoy it

I did a little research
on percentages of population gay
from Gallup here:

In August 2002*, Gallup asked Americans, in an open-ended format, to estimate the percentage of American men and the percentage of American women who are homosexual. The average estimates were that 21% of men are gay and 22% of women are lesbians. In fact, roughly a quarter of the public thinks more than 25% of men and 25% of women are homosexual. It should be pointed out, too, that many Americans (at least one in six) could not give an estimate.
not a firm stat
but whadda gonna do

and here the population figures
(2008) from the for percentage of African-Americans

the GAllup link about homosexuality is worth reading the whole report

Black or African American alone 12.4% 37.6 million

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